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I'm the Nitpick Critic. Here I write and post reviews of films that I've watched and hopefully will be of use to anyone who reads them (no spoilers). Thanks for visiting the nitpicker's profile.
You can also visit my blog listed as the account name - breakdownthatfilm.blogspot.com
Also if you want slightly different content visit my youtube channel!
There I do more in depth reviews on specific films I feel need more attention and I do Thomas & Friends Episode Commentaries!
A disturbing and unsettling period horror film
Any genre has all kinds of avenues to explore when it comes to storytelling. The setting alone can be a factor as to how a story will play out. Specifically period pieces. These types of tales can be a bit tricky to handle based on the accuracy the picture and the direction the narrative heads in. If there was a time though to focus on that was one of the scariest, it would be when witches were a big deal. Witch trials were a serious thing during their medieval times and onward. As soon as a witch was even spoken of, things would go south pretty quickly. People would begin having fanatic fits of hysteria and meltdowns, all to be sure such creature was never present. This is more or less what happens here in this uniquely horrifying film.
The story to this film is about a family in the 1600s who is banished from their plantation after a religious dispute. After moving out and settling elsewhere, the family's newborn son is snatched away as to what was surmised as a witch. Fearing the worst, the family begins to suspect everything around them, including themselves. Writing and directing this was Robert Eggers, in his first feature film debut. Accomplishing this is not an easy task to begin with, which already is an impressive start. The script is simplistic yet effective in its story to show just how little is needed to make it good. One of the contributing factors to this experience is the atmosphere that is felt. Much of it is unsettling and ominous looking because of how secluded the location is.
The cast are believable in their roles. Thomasin (Anya Taylor-Joy), the first born daughter who witnesses her youngest sibling's vanishing gives a memorable performance. That and her chemistry with her father William (Ralph Ineson) and mother Katherine (Kate Dickie) are quite the struggle. Thomasin's other siblings Caleb (Harvey Scrimshaw), Mercy (Ellie Grainger) and Jonas (Lucas Dawson) are also perform well. Caleb comes in second to that of Thomasin for length of screen time. Both Ralph Ineson and Kate Dickie were in the HBO series Game of Thrones. While Anya Taylor-Joy was in Split (2016) and Glass (2019). Bathsheba Garnett and Sarah Stephens who play the witches are quite unnerving to say the least and are very convincing.
The minor issues in the story are the parts that are not explained. Some characters' fates go unresolved. Nothing is shown what might have happened to them. This is critical when it comes to showing closure in a story. The other flaw was the cause of the whole plot. As the narrative is executed, the thought of someone being a witch begins to surface. Yet it is never explained as to who was the witch, if at all. Understandably so there will be confusion, but also clarity should be brought to light on the inquiry. As for horror, there's only one jump scare and it doesn't even involve a sting which is great. The rest is unrelenting dread that is displayed. There is blood and gore but not much. It's more of the sense of being left alone that is more horrifying.
Cinematography was well shot too. Handled by Jarin Blaschke, the camera remains steady and focused. Many times, the lens is aimed strategically at one place in order to cause unrest with the viewer. Blaschke also filmed for Blood Night: The Legend of Mary Hatchet (2009) and Fray (2012). Lastly there's the film score composed Mark Korven. The music heard is a mix of ethereal female chants, minimal strings and very light percussion. All of which present this story in such a disturbing way, it will make the audience feel like there really is something among them that is not right. Korven also scored films like White Room (1990), Cube (1997) and Cruel & Unusual (2014). Either way, it is simple for all the right reasons.
Minor points like character resolutions and definite cause of plot is the only issue here. The actors give solid performances, the visuals are quite discomforting (in a good way) and the music is creepily memorable.
Bullet to the Head (2012)
Mindless action romp
Action films have come a long way from what they used to be. Violence would only contain so much graphic details and the length at which action scenes would be were for shorter periods. This all changed though when the 1980s rolled around and the opposite happened. The actors who in part influenced this were people like Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger. Coinciding with them were their directors for their various films. What's interesting is when those traits are attempted to be replicated in films nowadays. Sometimes, what worked in the past doesn't produce the same result later on which is more than likely what happened with this film. Originally being headed by Wayne Kramer, the story and direction was intended to be darker. But due to disagreements between him and Stallone, it can be assumed the type of film this was supposed to be changed.
The story is about hitman James Bonomo (Sylvester Stallone) and detective Taylor Kwon (Sung Kang) being forced together to take out a common enemy. The reason for this is both their partners were killed by the same person. That person is Robert Morel (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje) a wealthy business man who is in cahoots with Marcus Baptiste (Christian Slater). The person doing the killing is Keegan (Jason Momoa). That's really all that this film is, one big revenge action film with nothing deeper than that. The script was written and adapted by Alessandro Camon (The Messenger (2009)) from a graphic novel by Alexis Nolent and Colin Wilson. That is it though, aside from director Walter Hill taking over instead of Wayne Kramer. Realistically, this film is just another call back to buddy cop films of the 1980s and nothing more.
When it comes to plot, there isn't much for the audience to get behind. Stallone plays his usual grizzled self and Kang plays the inexperienced foil to that of Stallone. Scene after scene the actors go around interrogating and killing and the cycle continues. It's not a bad film if a viewer is into that, but it offers nothing new. The narrative is as generic as it comes. The way Jimmy Bobo and Taylor Kwon are connected to a single person and how that person is connected to others is beyond bland. All the supporting characters are cardboard cutouts of some high powered authority who has "all kinds" of connections. Christian Slater and Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje are just there to look big, but mostly they amount to very little. It's rather unfortunate.
The other supporting cast members try too, but again are not that intriguing. Marcus Lyle Brown plays Kwon's backup and Sarah Shahi plays Lisa, Jimmy Bobo's daughter, a tattoo artist. Her history is explained a little, but not given much else. However even with all these critiques that doesn't the mean the actors don't have chemistry. Stallone and Kang work well off each other. Shahi is one tough actress and the person who looked like he had the most fun was Jason Momoa as Keegan. While this was before his Arthur Curry / Aquaman days, Momoa was known for other roles like in HBO's Game of Thrones. For what it's worth though, the action in this film is entertaining. Stallone still has the moves as well as Kang, Momoa and Shahi.
Being that Walter Hill began his career with action films like 48 Hrs. (1982) and later on like Undisputed (2002), it's no surprise that the action is a strong component to this feature. The cinematography was taken care of by Lloyd Ahern II who also worked on Last Man Standing (1996), the god awful Turbulence (1997) and also Undisputed (2002). Here, Ahern's camerawork is nice and steady though and works well with the action. More surprisingly was the film score composed by Steve Mazzaro. Being that this was his first feature film, the sound is unlike the usual action cues. Since this takes place down south, Mazzaro includes lots of guitar and harmonica which suits the setting. While he has composed additional music for other composers, his first outing here is a nice welcome.
Unfortunately, this is a bare bones action film that doesn't require much to keep the brain engaged. Something more could have been done, but instead it's just mindless fun, the actors work well and the music is nicely composed.
Cute but generic storyline
The wealthy and the middle class have always been too different worlds. A rich person's concerns are on a separate scale to that of someone of lesser financial status. Yet the two distinguished classes live among each other for the most part without bothering one another. However, when the factions clash, they tend to clash hard. There are also times where the mixing of the two work out, but it's usually a tossup. Which is kind of how this movie plays out. Stories that rely on such improbable events to happen can be a real stretch at times and this film tries hard to convince its audience that it couldn't. Luckily, there are redeeming qualities, but its best to keep in mind how unlikely this story is.
The plot is about average widower carpenter Dean Proffitt (Kurt Russell) trying to make ends meet by working for a living. His four sons, Charlie, (Jared Rushton), Joey (Jeffrey Wiseman), Travis (Brian Price) and Greg (Jamie Wild) are rowdy, need proper parenting and education. Making matters worse is when Proffitt is called to a job for rich snob Joanna Stayton (Goldie Hawn) and is then fired after doing the job not according to her standards. Shortly after though, Joanna accidentally falls off her yacht and when recovered, suffers from amnesia. This gives Proffitt the idea for payback by claiming her as his wife. Directed by Garry Marshall and written by Leslie Dixon, this movie is an okay comedy for its time. What helps in this story is its cute narrative and characters, but there are still issues with it.
First of all, wrongfully claiming someone as your own is kidnapping. Dean Proffitt is already making a bad move. Also what kind of name is that? I would expect a little better naming convention for our protagonist coming from the future writer of Mrs. Doubtfire (1993), Pay It Forward (2000), Freaky Friday (2003) and Limitless (2011). The direction is also generic. Viewers can see from a mile away how events will play out, which makes this a very clichéd story. Again, coming from a director who would later helm Pretty Woman (1990) and The Princess Diaries (2001), seems strange they would be at this level to start. Aside from the initial misstep on Proffitt's behalf, the story is cute because the development of the Joanna and Dean are likable. Kurt Russell and Goldie Hawn have the required chemistry to make it work. It's just the surrounding Proffitt family that make it feel not as special.
There's several scenes with inappropriate dialog spoken by Dean's kids. Whether they're looking at playboy magazines, spouting out curses or making rude remarks about other women just feels wrong. Fine, the audience is supposed to see how uncontrollable Dean's kids are, but visuals are enough. On top of that, some of those lines are meant for laughs, which they do not produce one. That's not to say this film isn't funny, but the child actors are not the highlight. However, the performances from Edward Hermann as Joanna's original husband, Katherine Helmond as Joanna's mother, and Roddy McDowall as Joanna's butler all give funny showings. Even Mike Hagerty and Hector Elizondo have small roles.
The cinematography was adequate for the film. John A. Alonzo who handled the cameras has various shots that cover interiors of the yacht Joanna lives on, to the utter squalor that is Dean Proffitt's house. Considering Alonzo's best known work was for Chinatown (1974), it's good that he maintains the right look for this film. There's a bunch of neat visual gags involving little contraptions that do things in the Proffitt household too. Cheesy but again, cute. Lastly there's an early film score from Alan Silvestri who makes the most of the music even with only a couple synthesizer instruments. The main theme is catchy and the more sentimental scenes that use piano are also easy on the ears. For an early work, it is still a great listen.
Story wise, it is fairly predictable in every way possible no thanks to the direction. The script also includes scenes that are rather in bad taste involving the protagonist's offspring. However, the overall execution is cute, the main leads are credible and the music is catchy.
Between the Darkness (2019)
Not exactly what it presents itself to be, in a good way
Horror films that revolve around spiritual entities can be a gamble sometimes. Presentation is everything when it comes to the viewer's perception of the beast in question. However, it also depends on where these apparitions fall in line with the narrative being told. Creatures like these exist in all sorts of cultures and have been depicted in a number of ways. The frustrating part is that many people don't know whether they are foreshadowing upcoming good or bad events. This seems to be the struggle for this one family who is going through a tough time. It's hard to know what's really the cause of these mysterious events, but religion is a path people take in order to try and make a justification for said moments. Which is exactly how this story begins.
The premise is about the Grady family, made up of Roy (Lew Temple), a widower, Sprout (Nicole Moorea Sherman) and Percy (Tate Birchmore) who recently lost another family member Magda (Daniela Leon). Together they move to a remote location where they strive to bond with one another and learn to let go of the past, holding true to their beliefs in Greek mythology. Soon after though, Sprout and Roy begin having strange dreams at night, being visited by ghostly figures. The script and direction was headed by Andres Rovira, in his first feature length film. With that said, this a very strong first outing of his. Being a screenwriter and director at the same time is not always the easiest of tasks to handle. What works best in the screenplay for this film is it's disturbing coming of age plot. Viewers follow Sprout on a journey of self-discovery and growth, not all of which is pleasant.
There are certain rules she is required to abide by, like giving an hour of silence to the gods or not mingling with the opposite gender. Such as in the case for the local park ranger Stella Woodhouse (Danielle Harris) and her son Max (Max Page). Stella enjoys visiting Roy, while Roy wants Max to befriend Percy. Yet, Stella thinks Max should get to know Sprout since they have something in common. Both their parents' partners passed away. Things only get more ominous the more Sprout begins to grow out of her comfort zone. Performance wise, the actors all do a great job. Nicole Moorea Sherman as the main lead is very convincing and its entertaining to see her character develop. Sherman was also in The Queen's Corgi (2019), but this really should be her breakout acting role. Her chemistry with the other actors is well matched too.
Tate Birchmore who has also been in other movies like Peppermint (2018) is believable in his role as a little brother. The only thing that doesn't make sense is his affinity for covering his hands. Whether it be plastic wrap or oven mitts, his hands are covered. Not sure what that's all about. Lew Temple as Roy Grady certainly does his best to be a caring father as well as showing his massive flaws. His interest in pagan religion however, would have been nice to get more background on. Having played in other movies like The Devil's Rejects (2005), Unstoppable (2010) and The Lone Ranger (2013), Temple is competent in his role. The same could be said for Danielle Harris who rose to fame from her days in Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers (1988) and Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers (1989). Harris as Stella Woodhouse plays her roll with sass and is somewhat of a sister figure to that of Sprout.
The visuals to this feature are a decent spectacle too. Being that the horror elements to this feature are more ghostly and psychological, there's very little blood spilled and that's okay. Thankfully there are no jump scares. The camerawork handled by Madeline Kate Kann was well done too. Seeing that this is also her first feature length film, this is great. There are several shots from a bird's eye view and when it comes to the nightmarish creatures, Kann uses the camera to keep what viewers want to see right out of focus to keep their attention. Smart. However, there is a specific location that felt rather random. Almost like there was more to it. A scene being left out maybe? Lastly, the musical score composed by Diego Rojas is fair for what was heard. Much of his music consists of light piano with an occasional string draw. It's simple and that's all that was really needed.
Usually, coming of age films are dramas. This one though. combines family drama with a much darker twist. While there are occasional areas that could have used more explanation, the story of a family struggling to seek emotional closure is definitely an intriguing watch. The cast of actors work well, the music is elementary but effective, and the visuals are competently crafted.
The Crow: City of Angels (1996)
Not a bad sequel, but lacks the emotional heft
When original films go down as a classic of its own, it is usually, if not always very hard for a sequel to ever reach the same status. The Crow (1994) was a special project for many who worked on it, mostly because of the unfortunate death of star Brandon Lee from a fatal gunshot. While the film did make enough money and gained quite the following, studios wanted to continue making films about the character. Thankfully, they decided to focus on a new character who obtains the supernatural powers instead of trying to continue the original. In some ways, this works out. In other ways, not so much. This kind of uphill battle should be expected, but for what was done, it's obvious effort was put in. Viewers just have to remember that.
The story is about a new unlikely hero by the name of Ash Corven (Vincent Perez), a father who is killed along with his son after they witness a gang murder. Only to be revived by the mystical crow, and then seek revenge on the gang who ruined his life. The person who stumbles upon Corven is Sarah (Mia Kirshner), a local tattoo artist who's been having dreams about him. The script was written by up and coming comic book writer David S. Goyer. While the film itself had much studio interference by the time it was released, what was left of Goyer's script is doable to some degree. What doesn't make sense however is the backgrounds to the characters aside from Corven. The film was directed by Tim Pope, who would have this theatrical film only to his credit.
Supporting characters to this feature more or less get the ax here. Sarah's dreams are not explained nor is she given much of a backstory and how she connects to Corven. The gang who murder Corven, is led by Judah Earl (Richard Brooks) and consists of Curve (Iggy Pop), Nemo (Thomas Jane), Spider Monkey (Vincent Castellanos) and Kali (Thuy Trang). They too don't receive much development aside from being shown that they killed Corven and his son. Judah's motives especially aren't the clearest. He wants to have the crow's powers, but it's not explained as to why he developed such a goal. Along with that, the lore and how the rules for the crow work seem to not be as transparent this time. It's understood that the crow is the weak point of the powers, however that doesn't explain if this power exists only in one crow or all of them. The acting for the most part is acceptable.
Vincent Perez as the new crow is fairly believable. His attitude towards his enemies is about as likeable as Brandon Lee's performance and his looks aren't too far off either. Perez for the most part has remained in the foreign film industry. Mia Kirshner is alright, but without her backstory it's not as strong. Kirshner would go on to star in films like Cowboys and Angels (2000) and The Black Dahlia (2006). Richard Brooks is interesting to watch, mainly because he goes from rather soft spoken to over the top energetic, it's off putting but kind of funny. Brooks has remained more a TV actor since. Iggy Pop is,...well Iggy Pop, known for his musical career. Thomas Jane is well known for what he would go onto to play in Marvel's second attempt in The Punisher (2004) and other films. Vincent Castellanos stopped acting no long after and Thuy Trang unfortunately died shortly after. There's even an appearance from Beverley Mitchell.
As for visuals go, the action is fairly entertaining. While much of the film is in this monochrome sepia tone tint, it works in its favor. There's several shoot outs and fist fights. Some of which can get rather bloody and it entertains. The cinematography was handled by Jean-Yves Escoffier, who also worked on Dream Lover (1993) and 15 Minutes (2001). For what Escoffier shows, it captures several areas of the urban landscape involving buildings and rooms. Never has so much trash been a part of a city. Lastly, Graeme Revell returns as the composer to this and he mostly keeps all the feeling intact. While Revell does resurrect a theme from the original film, the rest features beating drums and spiritual sounding music. That's a great thing.
The story is not as emotionally hard hitting like the original, but the actors try. The problem lies in the script with very little backstory to the supporting characters and the lore behind the crow. However, the music, cinematography and action still entertains. It's a watchable sequel.
A film that deserves more attention
Animated films are no small industry as it once was. After Pixar and Dreamworks hit it big with their films in the late 1990s, several more studios jumped in to try and compete. The thing was though, many were competing for the same demographic. That demographic was more family friendly than anything else. Only recently has the film industry seen an interest in making more adult related animated features for theaters to distribute. A film that would come to mind would be Sausage Party (2016). That though was in the genre of comedy, which needed an R rating. However not all adult films need to be rated R. A perfect example would be this feature film.
The story here is about a rag doll labeled number 9 (Elijah Wood), who wakes up in a strange setting. His surroundings consist of a massive wasteland, only to discover other rag dolls like him with other numbers. Number 8 (Fred Tatasciore), 7 (Jennifer Connelly), 6 (Crispin Glover), 5 (John C. Reilly), 4 & 3 are silent twins and 2 (Martin Landau), all led by 1 (Christopher Plummer). Even Alan Oppenheimer has a small role. The difference is, 9 found a green glowing piece that seems to be important. Unfortunately, none of them know what its purpose is for. To their dismay, this isn't their only problem. The dolls are also being hunted by mechanical predators made from animal parts that are seeking though take their lives.
The script was penned by Pamela Pettler, the same writer from Tim Burton's Corpse Bride (2005) and Monster House (2006). Seeing that, it is quite obvious where the darker elements to the film came from. For an animated film, the premise to this is far grimmer than some may think. The post-apocalyptic setting is refreshing and horrifying (in a good way) at the same time because how unexpected things are depicted. There is death shown and it's not exactly hidden from the viewers' eyes. Credit needs to be given for Shane Acker who has only directed this film. Since then he has been a previsualization artist for other projects like Total Recall (2012) and 47 Ronin (2013).
What doesn't work in the script's favor is the logic behind it. There's a kind of science that is used in this film that doesn't go into great depth. Sure, this film is a fantasy, but even so the idea behind the plot is bizarre. The time at which this takes place doesn't seem anywhere near the current day. The same could also be said for the purpose of the plot. The dolls have a reason for being there, but once it is revealed, it's questionable as to how it'll help. It's really not clear at all, but the voice actors behind the characters make up for that. All of them have moments that feature them in a way so the audience gets a chance to relate and understand the dolls.
The animation to this film was well done. While it is unclear how cinematography assisted in this project, Kevin R. Adams was the director of photography. Aside from this, he has remained in the art department. The animators behind the film though did a great job. The rag dolls are expressive and the antagonists they come across are also quite intriguing to watch in their movements. The music however was even greater with its sound. Composed by Deborah Lurie, the score has fantastic sounding music that works well with the action, horror and more emotional moments. She has also composed for Dear John (2010) and Footloose (2011). Luckily for her, a score was released to show just how good she is.
While the details in the plot itself and the logic behind it isn't all that believable, that doesn't mean the film doesn't entertain. The voice cast, animation, dark storytelling and the music all help in making this a mature animated film fun to revisit.
Beyond the Gates (2016)
A good mix of ideas, needs a little more though
Independent films are the place for all up starting filmmakers. Unless one has a solid connection to a big name movie studio, the likeliness of getting a noticed is slim. However, if one is truly passionate and uses all their connections to their advantage, something may come of it. Not every indie filmmaker has this dream, but it is a large majority. Sometimes the best way to get viewers' attention is by bringing them in with nostalgia. This has to be done correctly though, otherwise audiences will think they are being sucker punched into a joke. Thankfully there are filmmakers out there who care to make a quality feature; like this one.
Take Jackson Stewart as an example. Directing his first feature film and making himself known for it with good publicity. The plot to this feature is about distant brothers Gordon (Graham Skipper) and John (Chase Williamson) coming together after their father's disappearance. Only to learn that their father (Henry LeBlanc) was last around playing a VHS game called "Beyond the Gates". Out of curiosity, Gordon's girlfriend Margot (Brea Grant) joins. To their dismay, the three learn that after starting the game, they must finish it risking their own lives. Writing the screenplay was also Stewart and Stephen Scarlata. Prior to this, Scarlata wrote for Final Girl (2015).
What Scarlata and Stewart do with their screenplay is take a couple different films and make an interesting hybrid out of them. The closest this movie comes to is Insidious (2010) meets Jumanji (1995). However, instead of the board calling the shots, it's overseen by some lady on a TV (Barbara Crampton). What the filmmakers do get right is the premise. The execution is what could have used more development. There just wasn't enough focus on the board game itself, its history, and lore. There would be so much to discover. Instead, much of it tends to lean more on the usual horror clichés. While not all of the execution can be seen from far away, it is fairly predictable.
That's not to say the actors aren't credible though. The three main leads do share decent chemistry together and that's important. Even the supporting cast is fine with Matt Mercer playing a local cop and Justin Welborn playing a rude friend of John's. Chase Williamson was in Victor Crowly (2017). Brea Grant was in Halloween II (2009), as was Justin Welborn. Matt Mercer was in Contracted (2013). And of the crew, Barbara Crampton is the veteran having been in movies like Re-Animator (1985) and Chopping Mall (1986). The visuals were also well taken care of. The gore effects were very bloody, but nothing that looked overly fake and ridiculous.
That also goes for Brian Sowell's work as the director of photography for this feature. Having worked as a camera operator for other films like Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse (2015), Annabelle: Creation (2017) and The Disaster Artist (2018), Sowell's skill shines through on this. He keeps the cam steady and has some creepy shots filmed too. Lastly, the film score composed by Wojciech Golczewski was great listening to as well. Creating a theme using a music box type instrument, the tune will get the viewer's attention. Golczewski has also scored for Eraser Children (2009) and Night of the Wolf (2014). Off to a great start.
The movie isn't perfect, with far too little attention put on the premise. The actors on the other hand make up for that. As well as the skilled cinematography, decent practical effects and catchy music.
An interesting look at the Hollywood Legend
Among the movie industry, several Hollywood actors have come and gone. Many are remembered for their roles in various films, but the ones that have been immortalized were the pioneers of the era. Some have come even before the time when films contained sound. Of this category, Charlie Chaplin was one of those innovators. Making a name for himself by making several of his own movies before he even hit 30 years of age, Chaplin made it big far in advance. No surprise that a biopic was made on the thespian too. For what it's worth, it was a very well constructed film. Also it is one the films that put Robert Downey Jr. on the map.
Headed by Richard Attenborough, the same director of Gandhi (1982), audiences get to see how Charlie Chaplin came to be. With the help of writers William Boyd, Bryan Forbes and William Goldman (Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969)), this crew was able to put together an engaging drama that reflects on Chaplin's life experiences, through his eyes. Playing Chaplin in his good likeness is Robert Downey Jr., who at the time was still finding his place. This really could have been the movie that made his career, but that wouldn't be until Marvel's Iron Man (2008). Starting out though, this was a good first step.
Along with him are numerous other well known faces like Geraldine Chaplin playing Charlie's mother. Paul Rhys plays Chaplin's step brother Sydney. Anthony Hopkins plays the author who talks to Chaplin in his older years. Kevin Kline plays Douglas Fairbanks, a close friend of Chaplin. Moira Kelly plays Oona, Chaplin's final wife. There's also appearances by Dan Aykroyd, Marisa Tomei, Penelope Ann Miller, Maria Pitillo, Milla Jovovich, Kevin Dunn, Diane Lane, Nancy Travis and James Woods. All of which give believable performances in the characters they portray that were apart of Chaplin's life experiences. There is one flaw to the screenplay though.
While the film has plenty of run time to explore certain aspects of Chaplin's life events, there seem to be too many characters for the story to cover. Certain individuals arrive and leave not long after each other, with very little said about them. If this be the case, leave them out entirely. However this doesn't mean the dramatic elements to the story aren't effective. Several points are made throughout Chaplin's lifetime, displaying how much he played with fire. Whether that be making films involving politics, or having personal issues with his estranged wives that left him over the years due to his obsessive work life. He had a lot going on all the time.
The cinematography handled by Sven Nykvist was well shot. There's lots of practical sets featured within this film. Some are behind the scenes to other films Chaplin made in his career, which is very cool to see. Then there's John Barry who worked as the composer for this movie. The music is one the most beautiful renaissance sounding scores heard and Barry provides a theme for the film too. While the entire album itself is not as long as the feature, it captures all the right cues that are absolutely iconic. The tone that is heard is a romantic, yet melancholy mix. One of Barry's best compositions for any collector.
Numerous characters to keep track of can be a bit much for viewers, but that's the only trouble this film has. RDJ charms as he becomes Chaplin with a deep story, classic camerawork and wonderful sounding music. Not to mention all the actors who take part in it too.
No improvement,...just a downgrade
From the original TV show, to the big screen, Charlie's Angels had an interesting premise. It starred several female leads in action roles and made use of their charm to really bring audiences in to watch. Being that Drew Barrymore, Lucy Liu and Cameron Diaz were all in popular films before this, the first installment only cemented their names that they could star in the action genre. The movie adaptation of the show however was practically a mixed bag. While it had the right actors, the storytelling was weak with clichés and obsessive focus on the feminine appeal in all the wrong ways. It wasn't super crass, but it definitely could cause multiple eye rolls among the audience. But it made enough money to guarantee a sequel, and it's not any better.
The film sets off with a new adventure for the leads after rescuing security agent (Robert Patrick) with a special ring that contains important information to the witness protection database. As they begin to dig deeper, they learn more to the plot than there was before. Having the screenplay written by John August, Cormac and Marianne Wibberley didn't do a whole lot. Seeing that August was the only writer from the original and the Wibberley's wrote for The 6th Day (2000) before this, the story is overly drawn out. Even with McG coming back to direct, the pacing seems to go for excessive amounts more than it should.
That's not to say Diaz, Liu or Barrymore don't give their characters charm, they just unfortunately don't have much to work with except have cheesy dialog or dress in highly sexualized attire. Bernie Mac as the latest Bosley has better moments than Bill Murray's performance. That and all the other cameos and returnees that show up. There's appearances from Bruce Willis, Carrie Fischer, John Cleese, Ashley Olsen, Mary-Kate Olsen, Robert Forster, Shia LaBeouf and reappearances from John Forsythe, Luke Wilson and Matt LeBlanc. But they all have limited presence and only help further the plot, exposition wise.
Of those characters, the ones that were more captivating to watch were Crispin Glover as the thin man. Justin Theroux plays an ex of Drew Barrymore's character and Demi Moore plays an ex Angel briefly. These three actors actually have moments in the movie that are more surprising to see. Sadly, they don't receive as much attention as they should. The action sequences in the film certainly have effort put into them. Seeing that McG is very familiar with these kinds of scenes, they are carried out very competently. The only flaw may be that there may be a little too much emphasis on the slow motion. At least it's not shaky cam.
However that doesn't mean the special effects are always top notch either. Even for 2003, CGI did look good in several films before this. But here, there are some shots that don't look as polished, which is unfortunate. The camerawork, again handled by Russell Carpenter who worked on the first film did an okay job but it still doesn't make up for some of the weak visuals. Lastly the score by Edward Shearmur was barely present to begin with. Much of the film contains cues from other well known artists like John Bon Jovi, M.C. Hammer, The Who and Natalie Cole. It's fine, but there's no identity to the characters so oh well.
It's not a terrible film, but it's also pretty bad. The material is too bland and cliché to make anything special out of it. The actors trying their best and the action sequences are really the only aspect that is almost completely flawless.
Much better than Part V
Jason Vorhees is one of those special villains who manages to stay a float no matter how bad the films revolving around him got. The first three films told one storyline centering around Jason's mythology. Then the fourth and fifth films connected to those by introducing a new character by the name of Tommy Jarvis. After seeing friends and family massacred by the machete wielding masked killer, Tommy has remained haunted by those moments since. However by this film, storytelling was way off, the characters were uninteresting and the series was really hitting a slump in its creativity. But for the series sixth outing, it actually managed to step it up a bit. By no means is it fantastic, but it is better than the previous entry before it.
Tommy Jarvis (Thom Mathews) is now a bit older than previous events and has made it his mission to destroy Jason (C.J. Graham) and the grave where his body rests. After failing to do so when a lightning bolt revives Jason from the dead, Jarvis heads back Camp Crystal Lake now renamed Camp Forest Green to warn the authorities headed by Sheriff Garris (David Kagen). Much to no one's surprise, Garris does not believe Jarvis and holds him captive. Meanwhile Jason begins doing what he does best; racking up the body count. All the while Garris' daughter Megan (Jennifer Cooke) wants to get to know more about Tommy. The script and direction was taken care of by Tom McLoughlin. Who actually helps make this film much more watchable.
The script isn't perfect because it still has big hurdles to overcome, but it shows there was effort put in. First the problems. Being that the last film concluded rather obnoxiously, McLoughlin sort of had to overwrite the prior story. This leads to bad continuity in this second saga of Jason Vorhees Vs Tommy Jarvis. On top of that, much of the supporting characters are still as bland as ever. David Kagen plays his role like every other non believer, Kerry Noonan, Renée Jones, Tom Fridley and Darcy DeMoss are completely oblivious as to what's happening. The only three actors to really make anything of it was Thom Mathews as Tommy Jarvis, who at least has way more personality than John Shepard in the last film.
Jennifer Cooke also tries to help when needed. C.J. Graham as Jason works too, with his lumbering yet imposing presence. What does work in the script though is the satirical tone that is used. Right from the beginning, the intro credits are introduced by Jason walking in on the screen like he's 007. There's also a character that references the fact that "any weirdo wearing a mask isn't friendly". These are things not expected, but clever. There's also a little more tension to this feature because the campsite is actually populated with kids this time. That can be scary. Unfortunately, the kills and the cliches that bring them are still not the best. It is still a step in the right direction though.
The cinematography shot by Jon Kranhouse was well lit. Seeing Jason walking around during the day is different even though over time, the settings convert to night time. Even then, the images filmed are nicely lit. There's an underwater scene that looks very impressive too. Kranhouse would also film for Kickboxer (1989), Decoy (1995) and Something More (1999). Lastly was Harry Manfredini's score which also has improved and has thankfully stuck around. The score not only continues its usual Friday the 13th stings, but also includes the latin hymn Dies Irae into it as well. This not only makes the motif for Jason more distinguishable, but also more memorable. Nice.
Concluding the Tommy Jarvis saga wasn't as good as it could have been, but it definitely finished better than expected considering its prior entry. The characters are still not that interesting and the kills are regaining some of their uniqueness, but it's not there yet. What really stands out though is the music, camerawork and some of the satirical additives the script throws in.
Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot (1992)
Not the worst comedy, but not good for Stallone
Taking on a gig just to outdo a competitor isn't usually the wisest idea. When you make haste, you lay waste. Unfortunately for Sylvester Stallone, he learned the hard way, when he and Arnold Schwarzenegger were neck and neck. Both stars were at the top of their game when it came to action films, and both were highly sought out. Especially after James Cameron's blockbuster hit Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991), Stallone was more than likely looking for a way to one up Schwarzenegger. His rival thought otherwise and began a rumor that he would be signing on to the project that would become this movie. As for Stallone, he took the bait and fully regrets the decision.
Written by three people Blake Snyder, William Osborne and William Davies, the story is about Joe Bomowski (Sylvester Stallone), a good cop trying to keep things together. Not only with his career but his love life involving his lieutenant Gwen Harper (JoBeth Williams). However, when Joe learns his mother Tutti (Estelle Getty) is coming to visit, things get tougher for him, because his mother embarrasses him every step of the way. Whether it be on the job or in front of his snobby colleague Ross (J. Kenneth Campbell), Joe can't cut a break. With two writers who would later pen The Scorpion King (2002), Flushed Away (2006) and How to Train Your Dragon (2010), it's amazing they made it past this.
This is not even an okay comedy at all, but it also isn't awful either. It's just bad. With director Roger Spottiswoode at the helm, viewers would think there must be some redeemable qualities. This is yet to be completely seen though when it comes to how the cast performs. Sylvester Stallone as Joe Bomowski is not much of a compelling character. He's constantly grinding his teeth and griping about everything. Understandably so since Estelle Getty as Joe's mom is completely oblivious as to what his son needs, which is personal space. There are things she spews out to the public that just shouldn't be repeated. How anyone thought this was cute doesn't make any sense.
For comedy, there's only a few chuckles from time to time, but much of it is cringe worthy and silly dialog. The fact that the other characters think Joe is too uptight and his mother is really sweet is truly unbelievable. There's also appearances from Roger Rees, Martin Ferrero and Richard Schiff. This doesn't add much to the experience though seeing that they all share the mediocre load of the film. One redeemable aspect are the action sequences since they are fairly quick and entertaining. Further down the run time an interesting set piece takes place that some viewers may not ever get to see done practically. By today's standards it would all be done via CGI.
Visually, the film doesn't have much style. It is as bland as the material presented on screen. The cinematography handled by Frank Tidy was competently shot, it just didn't do anything for the viewing experience. While he has worked on other films like Hot Pursuit (1987), Code of Silence (1985) and The Mean Season (1985), this particular work by him is just standard. The film score was composed by Alan Silvestri who does his best to make sure he's known throughout the film. Here he creates a comical theme for the scenario and it's quite different from that of his more contemporary works. His action cues also contain a lot of percussion, again not heard much in his later career. Well done.
The problem with this comedy is that it's just not funny and it has really silly material. The cast try to make this work, but it falls flat with uninspired camerawork, and ludicrous circumstances. The only parts that are worth noting is the music and a couple different action sequences. It's good just to see how low Stallone's career was for him at the time.
I Am Mother (2019)
A sci-fi thriller that leads its audience to believe things more than they should
Science fiction futures are becoming more of a reality every day. Technology is becoming smarter, quicker, more dynamic and more independent. While most of these attributes are good things, for every plus comes a negative, or vise versa. For all the science fiction films that brought audiences cute and happy Johnny Fives from Short Circuit (1986), there will always be a T-800 from James Cameron's The Terminator (1984). It's something that us humans need to be mindful of every time we tinker with these artificial intelligent contraptions. If we're not careful, as many public figures have expressed, we humans may be responsible for our own undoing. Which is pretty much how this film starts off.
In a not so distant future, viewers are introduced to a sentient robot who calls herself mother, voiced by Rose Byrne. There she artificially conceives a baby using enhanced biotechnology. Time passes and we learn that things have become rather rotten outside and Mother doesn't want her daughter (Clara Rugaard) to go outside. But like any young adult, her curiosity gets the better of her. More specifically, when an outsider gets her attention played by Hilary Swank. This new introduction in the daughter's life begins a battle between who is telling the truth. Both the female stranger and her mother begin saying things that seem questionable. The question is, who is more right, or, right at all for that matter?
The script was written by Michael Lloyd Green who had only written for two short films before this. The same could be said for director Grant Sputore, who had only worked on one short and the Castaway series. However, things seemed to turn out okay because of the limited cast for this production. Most newcomer directors and writers have a harder time when big name stars, studios or productions are involved. That's not the case here though. Both Green and Sputore use their limits to the max by providing a tightly knit story with several layers of thought provoking commentary on human morals and where the decisions are no longer a yes or a no. Situations are not always two choices.
Yet, the one thing the screenplay does not do justice for the film are the results of those decisions. There are a few vague setups that are open for interpretations that aren't exactly clear. This can be frustrating for viewers who will want some kind of resolve for various things. Really though, this is the only weak point within the movie. The actors cast for this feature do a competent job. Luke Hawker who plays the physical movements of Mother does a good job. Even without a face, expression can be understood through body language. The same could be said for Rose Byrne who voices Mother. Her vocals are not only soothing, but quite impressive for a robot who has one eye like that of Hal 9000 from 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968).
Clara Rugaard and Hilary Swank also work well on screen together. Swank is obviously a veteran in her career but Rugaard plays a second best to her. Rugaard has also been in Teen Spirit (2018). As for the visuals, the special effects were very believable. Mother is quite a piece of machinery, kudos to the person who designed her. The cinematography by Steve Annis was good too, considering he's only shot for Kissing Candace (2017). The film score was also very appropriate, mixing synthesizers and classic orchestral components, making the story that more engaging. Composing the score was duo Dan Luscombe and Antony Partos; both have had their fair share of projects.
Vague setups left for interpretation is probably the only shaky area to this feature. The cast, music, camerawork, effects and underlining themes are the soundest parts a viewer will come across in this intriguing sci-fi thriller.
Better than Stallone's Avenging Angelo (2002)
Parodies among various genres can be tough to pull off correctly. It must lightly make fun of the subject it is presenting without stepping on anyone's toes. It can be challenging, because swinging either way to an extreme will make the story not funny at all. It'll either insult the audience watching it, or it'll be just flat out boring. For Sylvester Stallone, comedy was never a strong point of his. In the few that he did partake in, nobody found it funny nor did he get positive recognition from it. However, there is one film that proves he could do it and this is the feature. Whether it's because he was involved with the right crew or if he found the right material to work with, both of these possible solutions are what helped in the viewing experience.
Stallone plays Angelo "Snaps" Provolone, an Italian mobster who is forced into a change in lifestyle when his dying father Eduardo (Kirk Douglas), asks him to go into a different profession. Soon after, "Snaps" moves into the banking business, but needs to convince a set of bankers first that he qualifies. The day of this meeting, he learns his accountant Anthony (Vincent Spano) wants to ask his daughter for her hand in marriage. Turning things even more upside down is learning that his daughter Lisa (Marisa Tomei) is pregnant but from a fired employee of "Snaps" called Oscar. All the while, the cops led by Lt. Toomey (Kurtwood Smith) is trying to pin "Snaps" for something illegal.
The script was written by Michael Barrie and Jim Mulholland, who would later write for Bad Boys (1995) and then the Late Show with David Letterman. Directing the feature was John Landis, famously known for his widely popular The Blues Brothers (1980). The writing to this feature only has one critical flaw and that is, it may move just a little too fast for some viewers. Mainly because the plot written above contains only some of the complexities to this story. However, this is also what makes it so intriguing to watch because of how many subplots cross, and yet they manage to all stay on track and resolve themselves over the course of the running time. That is impressive since many stories suffer from this kind of pitfall.
The comedic elements to this feature are a bundle of laughs. Stallone gives a great performance thanks to his googly eyed reactions, quick retorts and 4th wall breaking looks he gives to the camera. His henchmen led by (Aldo) Peter Riegert and Connie (Chazz Palminteri) go with the flow. These three are the ones who more or less fall into the parody genre since they have tropes that make fun of Italian mobsters. Marisa Tomei as Lisa is fantastic, being that she would later become Aunt May, it was a rather wonderful surprise. Even Tim Curry shows up for some fun as Dr. Poole, a teacher in linguistics to help "Snaps" get better at talking like a normal person.
That and the rest of the supporting cast work well off each other. There's also appearances from Yvonne De Carlo, Don Ameche, Eddie Bracken, Art LaFleur, Martin Ferrero and Harry Shearer. For cinematography, the camera was handled by Mac Ahlberg. Having worked on other films like Hell Night (1981), Re-Animator (1985), House (1985), DeepStar Six (1989) and Robot Jox (1989), Ahlberg's work uses all of the settings to his advantage for clear and picturesque views. Lastly Elmer Bernstein composed the score for this film. Unfortunately the score isn't as much as some would hope, but it does fit the film very well. The film also utilizes older music too from other artists like Bing Crosby.
For parodies on the Italian mobster, this film is as good as it gets. The script has some sharp dialog and a very interesting plot. The actors all do a swell job, the camerawork is competent and the music is all easy on the ears. Just be sure to keep up with the pacing.
Messes with the story a little, but altogether solid
In 2014, Phil Lord and Chris Miller's The Lego Movie (2014) was a surprise hit and turned out to be one of the more successful movies of that year. Prior to that, the Lego brand had delved into motion pictures before, but none in this fashion. The animation was unique because it was not completely animated in CGI and the cast of actors assigned to the characters had a much bigger presence. On top of that, the overall message behind the film hit most families close to home being that many have experience playing with the brand before. Shockingly, getting a sequel to the big screen seemed to be the biggest challenge for the sequel, instead of actually making the sequel itself. Usually studios want one within two year's time, but five is unorthodox. And like most sequels the freshness was not as new but it is still a very good continuation.
With story still being written by original directors Chris Miller and Phil Lord, the story was bound to be handled adequately. The directing though was handed over to Mike Mitchell, who's mostly known for Sky High (2005) and Shrek Forever After (2010). Literally five years after the end of The Lego Movie (2014), what was once Emmet's world is now a dystopian future. In real life, it was Finn's (Jadon Sand) lego universe being invaded by his younger sister Bianca (Brooklynn Prince) and her creations. The world around Emmet (Chris Pratt) has become tougher including his girlfriend Lucy (Elizabeth Banks), except Emmet has not. When the leader abducts Emmet's friends, he decides to go after them, only to cross paths with someone who inspires him to become tougher. His name is Rex Dangervest (also Pratt).
For majority of the film, things remain as they were from the original movie. All the supporting characters like Batman (Will Arnett), Benny (Charlie Day), Metalbeard (Nick Offerman) and Unikitty (Alison Brie) return and continue the charm that made them memorable to begin with. There's also additions like General Mayhem (Stephanie Beatriz), Ice Cream Cone (Richard Ayoade) and Queen Watevra Wa'Nabi (Tiffany Haddish) who come from the universe Bianca creates with her Legos. Sadly, other characters from the original do not appear for long like President Business (Will Ferrell) and even Good/Bay Cop (Liam Neeson). And then there are random cameos like Bruce Willis playing himself, Jason Momoa playing Aquaman and Will Forte playing Abraham Lincoln.
The parts of the narrative that doesn't work are two things. First, is the fact that the feud between Finn and Bianca has been active for five years. That's a long time. The other issue being is the continuity between that time and how it connects to the plot. In some ways it makes sense, and in other ways not at all. However, aside from this the rest of the aspects to the film work really well. The animation still has that stilted look like it was almost filmed completely in stop-motion animation and yet it still has a natural visual appeal to it. This also goes for the live-action sequences where the audience sees how the real life decisions affect the lego universe it pertains to. Much of which have pretty cute ways of renaming the land that it references.
For camerawork, Chris Ekstein provided his experience to this. While it wasn't abundant nor was it for long periods of time, the scenes shot work well with what is shown. For the musical score, Mark Mothersbaugh has provided his talent to this franchise once more. After creating the score to the original and to other films like The Lego Ninjago Movie (2017) and Hotel Transylvania (2012), the music is quite appropriate for this feature too. Thankfully a score got released for this feature but with even more content than the last film. This is always a great thing for any film score collector. And while there are some other songs sung throughout the movie, the most memorable is the "Catchy Song", which is bound to be one of the most positive ear worms to date. Nice job Mothersbaugh!
Aside from being slightly off the mark when it comes to how things work in this lego universe, all other components to the film work together like it wasn't an issue. Everything is solid for this sequel, from the actors, music, dialog, and animation.
The pirates before Disney's pirates franchise
Long before Disney's Pirates of the Caribbean franchise took center stage in mainstream films, Hollywood had tried to produce action films involving pirates before. Sadly, pretty much all of them were dead on arrival, including today's feature film. All managed to accrue massive budgets with little to no pay off when they were released theatrically. All of which also were much more light in tone and more about being a family friendly adventure. However, for the infamous director Roman Polanski, he wanted to make a film in the same vein (involving comedic elements), but also sought to use the usual tropes that are commonly associated with pirates. That's rare because not a lot of pirate films utilize these attributes, mostly because they just aren't very nice things to do.
The story is about a pirate named Captain Red (Walter Matthau) and his first mate Frog or Jean-Baptiste (Cris Campion). While out at sea, they happen to cross paths with the Neptune vessel, owned by the Spaniards. Aboard is Don Alfonso de la Torré (Damien Thomas), Boomako (Olu Jacobs) and María-Dolores de la Jenya de la Calde (Charlotte Lewis). Upon being captured by the Spaniards, Boomako shows Capt. Red and Frog a special artifact on the ship located in the armory. With that Capt. Red makes it his mission to take over the ship and take the treasure for himself. All the while, Frog and Maria begin having feelings for each other. The script was written by Gérard Brach and Roman Polanski and for the most part the film entertains quite well. For just a random adventure of two main characters, a lot happens.
The are two weak areas to the script though. First is the relationship Maria and Frog have for each other. It's not the strongest of chemistry's, neither does it completely get fleshed out. It is definitely not the same magnitude as Elizabeth Swan and Will Turner. The other issue is the highly attractive artifact Capt. Red has his eyes fixed on. At one point, the captain of the Neptune states that it holds a curse, almost like the ark of the covenant from Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981). But nothing comes of it,...so what was the point of even bothering to mention it? Aside from this though the rest of the film sticks to what it does best. While Walter Matthau is no action star nor are the action sequences themselves choreographed like they are today, the adventure is still there and so is the energy.
There's swashbuckling sword fights, blood, musket shoot outs and all kinds of sneaky things going on. This specifically is where the comedy works too. Being that Walter Matthau has comedic chops, his facial expressions and reactions to various situations will produce the needed levity to all kinds of situations. Even the other actors like Damien Thomas, Charlotte Lewis and Olu Jacobs have a couple scenes that features them. It's also quite amazing just how detailed everything is when it came to the practical effects. The costume design is very authentic and the way the actors play the royal Spaniards is downright uncanny. As compared to Matthau who plays it equally as memorable but to the exact opposite that the others play their roles.
The set pieces are astonishing to look at being that nothing was green screen at all. The Neptune ship itself is massive. This is depicted exceptionally by Witold Sobocinski, the films cinematographer. The sweeping shots of the ship and ocean surrounding it is as real as it comes. Not to mention the land scenes as well. Perhaps the most impressive supporting component though was composer Philippe Sarde's musical score. While his credits rarely delve into the domestic territory, this collection of tracks is definitely a film score enthusiast should have. There may not be a reoccurring main theme for this film, but the tunes created for each scene is charismatic and appropriate to the situation without losing its character. A great selection of pieces.
The script may not be fully complete with a couple subplots falling short and the fact that it's directed by Roman Polanski. However, the cast of actors, the fantastic cinematography, the action, the comedic scenes and music all make up for that with a pirate film that has gone widely forgotten.
Almost to the point of pointless
Fast cars and racing is usually an exciting activity. There's lots of energy surrounding the sport and octane only amps it up to intense levels. That's the kind of feeling a viewer should get when watching a film related to such an activity. At least, that's what one would think. It can be confusing when the opposite occurs because it just doesn't seem to fit at all. In that case someone should have said that to the people behind the production of this movie. Sadly, the early 2000s was not kind to Sylvester Stallone who stars in this feature. And this one is quite possibly the reason why nothing worked out right, because, this film is just boring. Kind of shocking when it's directed by Renny Harlin, who has worked with Stallone before.
The story revolves around Jimmy Bly (Kip Pardue), a rookie racer who's making his way up to the big leagues and may have the chance at winning the world competition. Managing him from behind is Carl Henry (Burt Reynolds) and his brother Demille (Robert Sean Leonard). Looking to win as well is Bly's competitor Beau Brandenburg (Til Schweiger). Both Brandenburg and Bly begin to lose focus of their goals when they get caught up between one girl, Sophia (Estella Warren). Noticing the slips, Henry calls in Joe Tanto (Sylvester Stallone) to get Bly back on track before he ruins his upcoming major break. The screenplay was also written by Stallone, and whatever he did, did not make much sense at all. The focus of the story is very much generic and bland.
Aside from this main thread, Tanto also has a subplot going on about him between an old flame Cathy (Gina Gershon) and a reporter he begins talking to named Lucretia (Stacy Edwards). Unfortunately, this doesn't really go anywhere because the old flame already has a new main squeeze; Memo (Cristián de la Fuente). The biggest issue with this film's story is the pacing. The movie isn't overly long in reality but majority of it feels like an eternity. Renny Harlin should know better, but the story just drags. Most of the main leads do not help in making it any more watchable. The only character to actually feel worth rooting for is Til Schweiger's character. Partly because he's the one has an interesting arc, while the others don't. Kip Pardue is as lifeless as they come and some of his character's decisions make no sense.
It's even worse when veteran actors like Burt Reynolds and Sylvester Stallone are not even a highlight to the picture. They really have no charisma to their characters at all, which is sad to see. The love triangle between the Stallone and Pardue characters are cliché and overdone. It's just baffling to think this is still a thing. Not even the racing scenes are that entertaining. While there is some tension on what'll happen to certain characters, much of it is flat and random. Again, this is disappointing when Renny Harlin and Sylvester Stallone both have worked together and have done action before. There are crash and burns, but it has no weight almost all the time.
Then again, half the time those scenes weren't very clear because the editing team on this feature butchered it so haphazardly. There are scenes in consecutive order where they are different angles of the same shot. It is bizarre to watch. Thankfully the cinematography shot by Mauro Fiore looked professional. Fiore who would also be a cameraman for Get Carter (2000), Smokin' Aces (2006), Avatar (2009), The A-Team (2010) and Southpaw (2015), makes the scenes filmed look decent enough. This doesn't take away though from composer BT's stock score to the film. Even if BT has the skills to produce complex synthesized music, here it's not very prevalent. Oh well BT, maybe film scores aren't your thing.
Cinematography and literally one character stand out as the things to like with this film. The action isn't anything special, the cast of actors are not impressive with their performances and the story is a giant snooze fest. That's rough considering it involves high speed vehicles.
Robot Jox (1989)
Light Entertainment Only
People have always painted the future as either bleak or bright. No matter what though, the thought of the future having robots involved has always been a thing. Whether they're being used as tools by man to help them do things or just coexisting, robots will continue to remain as a staple of the future. However, the idea of using robots to fight in the place of humans is an even smarter idea seeing that war has plagued mankind for centuries. If the fight could be isolated to just a single match that would depend on the success or failure of another party, then the war would be avoided altogether. This is at least the idea that was brought to life by Stuart Gordon for this feature and it does have some replay value.
The story by Gordon and script written by Joe Haldeman is about a group of individuals called Robot Jox in an apocalyptic future. Where superpowers win wars by having people fight in giant robot suits. Whoever wins, wins for the place they represent. The premise itself sounds very entertaining and is an interesting way of settling major combat. Fighting for the Americans is Achilles (Gary Graham), while Russia is fought by his sworn enemy Alexander (Paul Koslo). As Achilles enters the end of his contract with his 10th match coming up, he plans to make it his last. All the while, it seems that important information is leaking out about secret weapons being used in the robot suits. Supporting Achilles is his boss Tex Conway (Michael Alldredge) and weapons developer Dr. Matsumoto (Danny Kamekona).
Gordon's premise for the film is an intriguing and creative one. Feeling like a test film for Guillermo Del Toro's Pacific Rim (2013), the setup is almost the same. There are also feels to be inspiration from Japanese mecha suit animes. To see it performed in live-action though is a completely different spectacle. This is a separate topic of discussion though. While the setup looks good, the main cast isn't as magnetic and the story execution is unfocused. Achilles also meets Professor Laplace (Hilary Mason) who is developing genetically modified people known as tubies. The one standing out among them is Athena (Anne-Marie Johnson), where Achilles and her form some kind of connection. But this is where it ends, because it never goes further than that.
This unfortunately leaves a couple of subplots left unresolved and the leads lacking character development. Gary Graham as Achilles is okay at what he does. But as a romantic lead, not so much, especially when his co-star looks much younger. Not sure what Haldeman was thinking for the script on this but he didn't go to write for any other movies after this. Paul Koslo does make Alexander a fun villain to watch. The visual aspect entertains too. When Achilles and Alexander are in their robot suits fighting, the stop motion animation is really enjoyable. Being that it's an older special effect, it really gives the action sequences much more energy and character. Seeing the giant pieces of machinery use all kinds of tricks and mechanical weapons looks great.
These components also go hand in hand with Mac Ahlberg's cinematography. With other pictures under his belt like Re-Animator (1985), House II: The Second Story (1987) and Deep Star Six (1989), Ahlberg did a fine job here too. The mixing between models and actual large scale sets is practically seamless. Then there's the musical score provided by Frédéric Talgorn. While Talgorn is not as well known in the mainstream realm, his music is just as exciting as if he were. Not only does he create a main theme for the feature, but it's all organic. This is rare considering many composers resorted to synthesizers during the 1980s. It's very well composed and it helps all the more bringing in some kind of emotion into the story.
The premise to this feature is fun, but the characters aren't fully fledged out. Graham and his co-stars try, at times though they seem confused. Several supporting elements to this film work really well though. The premise sounds fun, the special effects are worked in competently and the music is a nice surprise.
Hellraiser: Hellseeker (2002)
Would have been better if it wasn't Hellraiser related
After the final theatrical installment of Clive Barker's Hellraiser (1987) series with the release of Hellraiser IV: Bloodline (1996), everything went to home video release. While this usually means a decrease in quality, Hellraiser V: Inferno (2000) wasn't as bad as it could have been. For a home video release, it actually had a slight advantage over the film before it and Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth (1992), because of how plot was executed and the direction headed by Scott Derrickson. Even for a script that wasn't initially going to be related to the series, the way it was used wasn't perfect, but it did use them differently as opposed to being totally wasted. It's unfortunate though, because this film had larger potential and missed the opportunity.
Just like Hellraiser V: Inferno (2000), the script was originally going to be just a crime thriller. However, it was decided to jam in Barker's Hellraiser characters again. Except this time, the insertion of them into the story was not done well. Trevor (Dean Winters) and Kirsty (Ashley Laurence), from the first three films, are a couple who get into an accident. As Trevor wakes up in the hospital, he discovers Kirsty is missing. Determined to find out what happened to her, he begins talking with Detective Lange (William S. Taylor). All the while, Trevor continues to suffer from weird hallucinations and headaches. The screenplay was written this time by Carl V. Dupré (Detroit Rock City (1999)) and Tim Day in his writing credit debut. Even with that said, it's surprising what these two initially tried to do.
The fact that both Dupré and Day both tried to tie back this video sequel to the original film is commendable. They actually tried to explain a little more to Kirsty's background after the events of the first movie. And with Kirsty missing, the mystery of the plot is intriguing at first. Rick Bota, the director to this feature also tries but this is where the effort ends. While the premise is fine, the use of its title characters is widely undercut. Doug Bradley as Pinhead, our favorite lead cenobite and Ashley Laurence are barely around for the feature. The horror aspect to the film is there but it involves very little of the cenobites. There's blood, gore and other usual gruesome things but it all can be dreamed up. Nothing unique about it.
Making things worse is that the lead, Dean Winters. Mr. Mayhem himself from Allstate's Insurance commercials is very bland. Nothing he says stands out or has one change in vocal pitch. He just walks around confused, thus leading to the audience being confused. For once, he's in the midst of the mayhem instead of actually causing it. The character who is the most interesting though, is William S. Taylor because he's the one who outputs the most energy into his character. Taylor was also in The Fly II (1989) so he does have some horror film experience. Special effects weren't awful for home video release. There'll always be some areas that don't look as good, but mostly it holds up. Thankfully otherwise that would be even worse.
The rest of the visuals aren't that good though. The editing by Anthony Adler and Lisa Mozden wasn't enjoyable. There were way too many cuts in the same scenes. Some of which were the same shot right after another. There's no point to that. The camerawork by John Drake isn't much more notable either. There's not a large variety of locations and much of them are rather forgettable. Apartments, bus interiors, and police departments are really the only places featured. Thankfully music was a small saving grace thanks to composer Stephen Edwards. By no means is his work a match to prior scores, but he does try and there are a couple themes heard that go with Pinhead and Trevor's. Edwards also composed the score to Bloodsport II (1996).
As a semi followup to the original film years later, it's apparent someone had the right idea. Unfortunately, that's it. The music and the premise are okay, but the with main stars barely around, the lead being highly dull and the camerawork being rather uninspired, this direct-to-DVD sequel is the least entertaining thus far.
Twisted Pair (2018)
The charm is wearing thin
Neil Breen has come a long way since his debut back in the mid-2000s. While his features Double Down (2005), I Am Here...Now (2009) got him on the road, it was Fateful Findings (2013) that got people talking about him. Since then, his reputation has inflated to bigger proportions. His next film Pass Thru (2016) was an even bigger success, which has led us to this. Twisted Pair (2018) is by far Mr. Breen's most ambitious project to date. It's apparent that Breen truly has a passion for what he does, but his ambition can only go so far. Every single one of his features have all had similar topics of discussion and this one is almost no different from before. The only real change displayed is the visual style, but that's it.
The plot to this film of Breen's is about as nonsensical as the rest that came before it. Neil Breen plays a set of twins Cade and Cale Altair. Both were given extraordinary powers at a young age. One was able to excel with their power, while the other became corrupt with it. One does his best to help others, while other acts as a vigilante to "help" others his own way. The rest is very much the same kind of subplots, There's drama between the twins and their respective significant others, there's deception among the public with wealthy figures and super human feats shown. These are all the usual tropes Breen has resorted to for all his other features and it's beginning to get old. What made Fateful Findings (2013) entertaining was that it felt like the point of which Breen perfected his talent of bad film making.
Here though, it feels like he went into hyper mode and amplified it to where the spectacle is just boring. With similar things happening in every film he makes, the charm is beginning to wear thin. The bland acting by the cast is no longer amusing. About half the dialog is Neil Breen doing voice over narration and even some dubbing over certain scenes he very well could have just recorded initially. The rest of the cast is even more forgettable. Sara Meritt who plays Alana, the good brother's wife is no different from past love interests. And Denise Bellini who plays the agency director in charge of the good brother for his missions is dull. There's even a muse (Ada Masters) who flies around spreading magic dust. For what reason, it's never given.
Padding is still as atrocious as usual. There's loads of scenes that drag on with pauses longer than needed. Breen's script repeats several lines throughout his film. In consecutive order no less, so that gets annoying. There's scenes with people doing the exact same action they were doing earlier or later in the story. Responses don't feel connected or timed properly with the events going on around them. It just feels extra lazy with all the rip-offs Breen pulls from his other films. The story also has trouble trying to put together what antagonist to focus on. The evil twin or the actual character who's evil enough to have his voice distorted almost to the point where their lines are inaudible. The visuals are really the only strong point to this feature.
Of all of Breen's features, this has the most action in it. And while the action itself is also very lame, it's the first time he has actual explosions going off. John Mastrogiacomo is finally serving as Breen's cinematographer and for the most part, it is shot decently. Being that this is Breen's first film with no day scenes, it is certainly a different setting. There are no desert scenes and nothing involving computers surprisingly. This is also Breen's first time using green screen effects, which in some cases look better than expected for his regular standard of filming. Music though was still disappointing with much of the cues being cycled over and over with hard bass blasts that make scenes more intense for no reason. He's obviously trying but his focus is all off.
It may be Neil Breen's biggest film production, but the interior quality of it is possibly more lackluster than his prior efforts. There's less unintentional comedy and more boring things. The only aspect that stands out are the visuals because it's never been done in any of his other films.
An interesting look at the life of the famous artist
It truly is an odd sight to get to understand the history of someone's life of someone so famous. It is the public perception that all famous individuals live a life of luxury and no concerns. It is far from truth because many artists have similar issues and sometimes in larger volumes. Frida, a Mexican artist who is known for her work is celebrated by many and yet her back story of how she became what she's known for is so saddening. Being an artist is not always an easy thing like it is portrayed to be. But the crew involved with making the biopic of this Latin American woman really put in the time to make this film as good as it is. It still has an issue but not compared to the rest of its strengths.
Basically covering Frida's view of life before and after her turning point accident, the script has lots of great details to cover. It's surprising too when looking at who helped write the script. Clancy Sigal and Diane Lake are two of the four involved who had no history before or after working on major films. This usually hits a red flag. However, the other two, Anna Thomas and Gregory Nava had worked on projects and the fact they were able to all put it together deserves applause. Julie Taymor serves as director to this feature, which is also rare recalling how many female directors were around. A few years before Taymor also directed Titus (1999), which received strong reviews too.
The cast of actors hired to play their parts do a great job at diving into their roles. Salma Hayek as Frida very much captures the essence of the artist in multiple ways. From the visual look, actions and dialog. Viewers will really sympathize with her role seeing the kind of roller coaster her life becomes. Playing her right hand man (literally) is Alfred Molina as Diego Rivera, Frida's real life on and off lover. Not only does Molina show what kind of person Diego Rivera was, but viewers may also sympathize with him too as wildly unpredictable he ends up being. Both Molina and Hayek have great chemistry together and display it well on scene. There's one part to them that doesn't get much clarity though.
Character motives seem a little out of place at times. This occurs mostly for the two leads, but it also happens with some other supporting characters. Not much detail is given so it doesn't make a lot of sense as to why a certain character will make a decision on something. It's almost like it was impulse only. However, the supporting actors are great to watch too. Frida's father Guillermo (Roger Rees) plays a likable parent for his open mindedness. Valeria Golino plays an ex-wife of Diego Rivera and even talks to Frida about various topics. Golino was also in Rain Man (1988) and Escape from L.A. (1996). There's also appearances by Edward Norton, Ashley Judd, Mía Maestro and Geoffrey Rush.
The visual look of the film is also well done. Shot by Rodrigo Prieto, a native to Mexico, handles the cinematography. The film contains much of what Mexico looks like including some very old architecture. There's even a stop motion animated scene that reminisces to that of something Tim Burton or Tom Sellick would like. The music is also another well accomplished component. Featuring a mixture of Latin singers and a score by Elliot Goldenthal, the soundtrack to this picture is elegantly structured in a way that really flows well. Goldenthal's transition cues blend nicely with the scenes until the Latin singers take over. All in all very well represented.
Watching this film will show fans of the artist the kinds of issues Frida had to deal with on a frequent basis. With the right actors, music, writing and visuals, viewers will come out knowing what kind of tough cookie she was.
Dark Blue (2002)
A decent cop thriller
Officers of the law are supposed to be and created for a means of protection. To keep the innocent safe and put away the corrupted. And while that is majority of the case, there's always one bad apple who fouls it up for everyone else. When these kinds of reports hit the news, it becomes harder for the public to trust those who sworn to uphold the law. However, in cities where crime is up far beyond the capabilities of the local departments, judgement can get skewed on what's right and wrong. For James Ellroy, best known for his novel L.A. Confidential, cops seem to be a common theme in his works. While according to him his written work was not adapted at all here, it sure fits his mode of thought. The product here is definitely an entertaining piece because scenarios like this can happen in the real world.
The plot is about a special unit within the L.A. Police Department that work to take out all the bad people in town. The problem is, their method of getting the job done isn't always proper. Kurt Russell plays Eldon Perry, a detective who grew up in L.A. learning from his Father how to be a cop. Working under Jack Van Meter (Brendan Gleeson), Perry will do what it takes to get the job done. Under Perry is new recruit named Bobby Keough (Scott Speedman) who is still learning what to do. However, after an encounter gone wrong involving two perpetrators Gary Sidwell (Dash Mihok) and Darry Orchard (Kurupt), another official named Arthur Holland (Ving Rhames) is on the tale of both Meter and Perry. All the while, Keough is having a fling with Beth Williamson (Michael Michele) and Sally (Lolita Davidovich), Eldon's wife is having second thoughts about their marriage.
Writing the screenplay to this feature was David Ayer, who also wrote for Training Day (2001) and The Fast and the Furious (2001) at the time. For not baring any relationship to Ellroy's work, Ayer's interpretation is well covered for the most part. The story is compelling enough to believe both sides of the argument. While it may seem like putting away people who committed crimes but not for that reason seems validated, it isn't justified in that way. People should go to jail for the crime they committed, not for someone else's. It's this kind of conflict in morality that helps develop several of these main characters. It also displays to the audience how rough it can be choosing sides when it feels like both sides are right in their own way. Ron Shelton heads this picture and his direction is fairly focused aside from one plot point that gets dropped. Shelton's also the director of White Men Can't Jump (1992) and Cobb (1994).
The cast of actors brought on for this feature perform well too. Kurt Russell as usual does his very best to embody his role to the fullest. While he seems rough around the edges, he does have his softer side. Scott Speedman and Michael Michele work well off each other too. Of the two though, Michele is the stronger half showing great emotion in her role. Then there's Gleeson's character who really puts the command in his orders. As for Ving Rhames, a little more focus could have been put on him. Rhames plays his character calm, cool and collected even with other people breathing down his neck. Even Lolita Davidovich and Khandi Alexander who play Eldon and Arthur's wives, do an adequate job considering they fit in just for sub plots. It can be a real challenge to fit all the characters in for enough time, but this was done fairly well.
Supporting components to the story did their job. Since this was more of a thriller, the action in this film is not as abundant. So for those who are looking for some energetic action, they might be disappointed. However, the cinematography shot by Barry Peterson works for the setting. While urban terrain usually ugly and unappealing, Peterson is able to give the setting scope and depth showing just how out of control L.A. has gotten. Peterson would also shoot for 21 Jump Street (2012) and Central Intelligence (2016). As for music, composer Terence Blanchard took the lead. Incorporating all kinds of instruments like flute, drums, organ and bass guitar, the sound is not from the typical film score. This is what makes it sound all the more unique. Occasionally a trumpet is included as well to emphasize a more dramatic scene. Well done.
The action and one part of the story is weak but that's it. The story is an interesting look at corrupt and loyal officers of the law and how it affects society. The main cast do a good job, the camerawork matches the mood and the music stands out from many other film scores.
Really doesn't clear up a lot
Watching the deterioration of a franchise that began so strong is quite disheartening. John Carpenter's Halloween (1978) and following sequel of Halloween II (1981) were films that told a tense but gripping story. After the flop that was Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982), producers wanted to turn back to the Myers story, thus leading to Halloween IV: The Return of Michael Myers (1988) and Halloween V: The Revenge of Michael Myers (1989) revolving around Laurie Strode's daughter Jaime. Unfortunately, the attempt wasn't enough with the last two having a bunch of continuity issues and other subplots being introduced without exploration. This entry really doesn't conclude that.
It's six years later and viewers see that after the events of the last film, Jaime Strode (J.C. Brandy) is back but now with a newborn child. With the same cloaked villain from the last entry on the chase, she flees to get away from not only them but Michael Myers (George P. Wilbur) himself. Meanwhile, more Strode relatives such as Kara (Marianne Hagan) and her son Danny (Devin Gardner) move into the house that belonged to Michael Myers, however they don't know that. Next door is Tommy Doyle (Paul Rudd) who ever since the first film has been studying Michael to understand him better. At the same time, Dr. Loomis (Donald Pleasence) is requested from colleague Dr. Wynn (Mitchell Ryan) to come out of retirement.
Written by Daniel Farrands, the screenplay to this sequel tries to make sense of the confusion but fails in almost every way. While the story itself did go through several re-edits, it still suffers from lack of clarity. The unknown cloaked man is touched upon now as well as the new thorn tattoo that was featured in the last film. But this doesn't really solve the haphazard story. Kara's son Danny sees visions of the cloaked figure but the reason for them influencing him isn't explained. Nor was it really explained as to why exactly Michael Myers is involved with all this. It's just very muddled and adds unnecessary complexity to it all. The film was directed by Joe Chapelle, who has had no experience with the franchise prior to this. Sounds about right.
Of the characters, the only two to come out seeming somewhat likable was obviously Donald Pleasence as Dr. Loomis since he's been at it since the beginning, and Paul Rudd as Tommy Doyle. Everyone else from Marianne Hagan, Devin Gardner and even George P. Wilbur don't really don't stand out. They're just actors playing characters that feel highly remote to the story at hand. It's actually more surprising Paul Rudd even has a role in this film considering where he is now being Ant-Man and all. The fact that his and Donald Pleasence's role have a connection to the beginning is what makes it more interesting. Yet, that's really all the audience has to go on because everything else is so remarkably dull.
For a horror film, it too is a bumbling mess. The violence and gore is fine if weren't chopped up so much by editor Randy Bricker. Having all kinds of flashing lights and random scene cuts is annoying. Hopefully his skills improve. The cinematography by Billy Dickson isn't that great either. Having much more experience filming for TV movies, his camerawork isn't that special nor does it even try to emulate past DPs from other sequels. Thankfully music is a slight bit better. While the re-edited score contains guitar rips from Paul Rabjohns (most likely), Alan Howarth returns once more to score the film. And while it's not as great as his past scores, it still manages to hold up.
With the second story timeline coming to a close for the silent killer, this entry in a string of sequels neither concludes all of the questions from the past film nor answers the new ones it creates. While the gore, music, Paul Rudd and Donald Pleasence remain the highlights, the rest of the cast is boring, the cinematography is uneventful and the editing is obnoxious.
From Paris with Love (2010)
A decent action spy comedy but highly unrealistic
Action fluff pieces are workable projects. They may not always produce a large volume of devoted followers, but they do have their own set of admirers. For actor John Travolta, who has had his fair share of ups and downs, he has also shown to be a versatile performer. Playing in musicals, drama, science-fiction and action films, Travolta has been all around. But like many other actors, Travolta has also chosen certain roles that don't seem either plausible or just a good match. This film however seems to disprove that to some degree. Produced by a team of people who have worked with John Travolta and Luc Besson's wife to boot, this film is an odd mix of comedy and action set in the spy genre. The thing is, even with that said, it's still a mindless shoot 'em up.
Written by Adi Hasak, who hadn't penned a script since Shadow Conspiracy (1997), surprisingly was able to create a story not too derivative for such a long hiatus. The plot involves James Reese (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) a fresh employee to the US Ambassador of France, seeking to ramp up his profession. He recently gets engaged to his fiancé Caroline (Kasia Smutniak) only to be assigned on a top notch job that may change his life for good. The job is stopping a suspected terror plan to happen at a summit and the only person who can help is a man named Charlie Wax (John Travolta). Wax who's from the United States, follows no rules and is quite unreasonable, yet makes the time to snort coke and enjoy occasional fornication. Sounds like a really nice guy to work with.
For what it's worth, the whole concept behind the story is absolutely ludicrous. Why on earth would the US Government hire someone like Travolta's character to do jobs like this? Viewers are not let in on Charlie Wax's background so there's really no understanding as to how he got the way he is. Sure, films like xXx (2002) is about as equally silly, but, viewers knew where the character was coming from. Whether it be Darius Stone or Xander Cage. Where is Charlie Wax from, profession wise? Why is his name Wax, because of his head? The same could actually be said for Johnathan Rhys Meyers' character too. In the run time, certain pieces of information are revealed that will have the viewer asking, "Why hasn't he learned this yet"? Some of these instances involve very simple things, which seem so obvious when seen in hindsight.
While these are critical aspects to the character depth, the rest of the feature works okay. While Charlie Wax and James Reese are nowhere near being a great match or a memorable action duo, they do have some chemistry on screen. James Reese does receive character development while on the job with Wax. That and the dialog exchanged between the two can be funny at times seeing that Wax is serious but takes it easy doing his work. While Reese is more uptight and unsure of how to do what Wax does. The action also entertains. Being that it's rated R, blood is readily available to flow, but really it's just Wax and his foul mouth. Some of the more energetic scenes though involve gunfights, hand-to-hand combat and various other loud weapons.
With director Pierre Morel heading this feature, it's understandable why the action is suitable. He was the one who directed Taken (2008) which was heavily praised for that reason. For visuals the cinematography was not that engaging. Michel Abramowicz who also worked on Taken (2008) and would also film for The Thing (2011) didn't provide a whole lot to look at. Most of the terrain is urban and in cramped quarters. Not a whole lot is seen. Music on the other hand was adequate. Composed by David Buckley, the score incorporates a blend of synths, guitar and percussion for most cues. Though sometimes a trumpet or piano is highlighted for softer moments. While it's not the most memorable score, it is certainly better than his score from Parker (2013).
An action film that's more fluff than anything else, John Travolta and Jonathan Rhys Meyers can be interesting leads, but the writing behind their characters are underdeveloped. Even with uninspired cinematography though, the action sequences are fun, the chemistry between the leads work and the music is sufficiently engaging.
xXx: State of the Union (2005)
Not a bad sequel but not really that good either
When Vin Diesel starred in xXx (2002), the concept behind it was similar to that of The Fast and the Furious (2001). The Fast and the Furious (2001) was to try and popularize the craze of underground street racing. The early 2000s was also the time where things were trying to be emphasized as the next generation of "whatever". xXx (2002) was about trying to popularize stunts and extreme sports, which was what the character Vin Diesel played was all about. And while the film itself was loud and stupid at times earning middling reviews, it was granted a sequel. However, Vin Diesel did not return. Thus a last minute recasting was done and a short was produced titled The Final Chapter: The Death of Xander Cage (2005) showing exactly that. Was it the best call? Ehh,..no but the following execution probably was more the issue.
After being ambushed at their headquarters, Augustus Gibbons (Samuel L. Jackson) and Agent Shavers (Michael Roof Jr.) recruit Darius Stone (Ice Cube) as the new "xXx". Being that Stone had a history in the military, Gibbons felt like he'd be a good fit to take over. The problem is, there is a concern that a mole within the president's cabinet is secretly plotting a coup. The person in question is George Deckert (Willem Dafoe) who serves as secretary of defense to the president (Peter Strauss). Writing wise, the script is very basic and not that interesting for a couple of reasons. One being that having Willem Dafoe as the antagonist is not even surprising. He has played so many other villains in the past, his performance doesn't stand out.
The script for this sequel was the debut for writer Simon Kinberg, the same person who would go on to write for X-Men: The Last Stand (2006), X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014) and X-Men: Apocalypse (2016). Sadly, as a first for Kinberg, it shows. For one, the motivation for Willem Dafoe's role feels very unclear. General Deckert shares a past with Gibbons and Stone, however what specifically Deckert wants to accomplish as an end goal is muddled. That and the other being that the dialog relies too heavily on referencing the first movie when this story acts as a completely different animal. The style and themes presented in the picture don't involve anything related to sports and acrobatic stunts. Because Stone is from a military background, there's more military type action sequences involved. Yet it still tries to be like it's the same xXx.
Directing this feature was Lee Tamahori, best known for Die Another Day (2002), another spy film and Once Were Warriors (1994). Sadly, with this experience, he doesn't seem to know how to transform it into a spy film. If anything it just boils down to a standard action romp and nothing more. The action is entertaining though. Anything using a tank to punch holes through thick walls is always fun and while some other scenes are entirely unrealistic, it is entertaining. Even Ice Cube, Michael Roof Jr. and Samuel L. Jackson do their best to keep scenes interesting. It's just the rest of the cast like Scott Speedman, Xzibit, Sunny Mabrey, Nona Gaye and John Gleeson Connolly who don't add much to it. All play characters that are just there for convenience of plot.
Visuals are also a mixed bag. The special effects are a hit and miss at times. Being that it's from 2005, depending on the scene it can look out of place. Though the cinematography by David Tattersall was decent. Capturing as much as possible, Tattersall made sure to include as much action as possible, whether it be on a train, aircraft carrier or in the white house. Tattersall was also credited to The Green Mile (1999), Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace (1999), Star Wars: Episode II - Attack of the Clones (2002) and Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith (2005). As for music, Marco Beltrami replaced Randy Edelman as composer. And while there is a main theme, it's not as memorable as Edelman's. However, seeing that the lead has changed and is more rough, Beltrami's sound fits more with this version.
While there are still some strong components to the feature, the sequel is regrettably not as good as the original. Ice Cube and the returning cast try, but the dialog relies too much on reminding viewers of the first film. The villain's motivations also are a bit hazy as well as some of the special effects.
Clash of the Titans (2010)
Entertaining but only light fluff
Remakes in general have a pretty big hill to overcome. Whether producers, actors and studios alike think they're doing the fans a service, it is still very likely approval will be low. A remake of an original work can't have tributes alone to satisfy viewers. But this is also the problem, a remake has to do something different from the original but also not completely alter everything, or it will alienate its base. The only way a remake can truly have success is if the original was either not that good to begin with or it manages to step up its game. Most of the time, these kinds of opportunities are far and few between. For this remake, competing with the original Clash of the Titans (1981) was already a tough call. With so many aspects of the original enjoyed by many, this film had to meet some high expectations. And while it wasn't as well received, it did manage to still produce some popcorn fluff. Just not in all the right places.
With Travis Beacham (who would later work on Pacific Rim (2013)), Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi (Æon Flux (2005)) as writers to this film, it is apparent that they tried to make it similar to the original. When a man named Perseus (Sam Worthington) witnesses his family's death to a god, he sets it his mission to fight back. This motivation is only reinforced when the city of Argos, a rebellious city is threatened by Zeus (Liam Neeson) to be destroyed. With Hades (Ralph Fiennes) being granted permission to let the kraken loose on the city thanks to the queen (Polly Walker), Perseus and Argos' strongest men seek the answer on defeating it. Directed by Louis Leterrier, a guy with many action films tied to his name like Transporter (2002) and Transporter 2 (2005), certainly has what is needed for a film that needs lively energy. The biggest issue though is the script and Sam Worthington as the lead.
While Worthington can grimace, yell and move athletically, his emotional range needs some work. Being that the script relies more on the loss of his family and less about romance, there lacks an emotional balance in the story. There's barely a time where Perseus even cracks a smile or wise remark. As a result, the lead feels less charismatic and more just a pawn in the story. With the writers' screenplay failing to incorporate more of this, it feels as though they forgot the heart of the story. Yet somehow they did remember to include charming and more favorable dialog for the supporting actors like Mads Mikkelsen, Liam Cunningham, Hans Matheson, Ashraf Barhom, Mouloud Achour and Nicholas Hoult who play Argos' top warriors. So, not sure how that works. Even Ian Whyte who plays some mysterious humanoid scorpion creature is more interesting to watch.
Aside from this, the writers do include some other references to the original like Jason Flemyng who plays the cursed Calibos. Even Bubo the mechanical Owl appears for a cameo. Action sequences are by far the strongest this film has to offer. Whether the fighters are fending off other human attackers, human sized creatures or giant monstrosities, the action is lively and engaging. The best set piece is when Perseus and company come across super-sized scorpions. Even the battle between Perseus and Medusa (Natalia Vodianova) is fairly entertaining even though it won't ever top the original. The weakest was probably the one between Perseus and Calibos. All this is most likely due to Louis Leterrier's experience working with action set pieces. Believe it or not though the graphic content is turned down. Although that's probably just to attract a wider audience.
Visuals to the film are an unfortunate mixed bag. While the imagery, makeup effects and creature designs are creative, their CGI counterparts tend to suffer. Although watching movies can be used as an escapist activity, to watch actors walking around and interacting with various settings that are CGI ruins the whole experience. There's barely a place that feels like it is physically tangible. The cinematography by Peter Menzies Jr. (The 13th Warrior (1999) and Lara Croft: Tomb Raider (2001)) was adequate, it was just the CGI scenes that felt the least credible. Producing the music was composer Ramin Djawadi, who had worked on Blade: Trinity (2004) and Iron Man (2008). Relying heavily on strings and electric guitar, Djawadi makes an interesting interpreter for the film. Sadly, it has very little resemblance to that of the upbeat and adventurous sounding score from the original.
The supporting components to this remake are probably the best thing it has to give. From the supporting cast, to the music, cinematography and action. Yet the fault in the foundation are the CGI effects, a less than charismatic lead and rather unemotional screenplay revolving around the lead. It's fun but not for frequent revisiting.