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THE DAMN REVIEW: Abduction

Ladies and gentlemen, or should I just say gentlemen because I can only assume no females read this blog? Either way…it’s been a while. It’s funny because in my years of being a conscious internet user I’ve had a handful of blogs. I’d review music, movies, TV shows, draw cartoons, or just write stuff about my life. And after a few months the blogs would just fade into obscurity and no one would care. So in October after reviewing Taken, I was really gassed out. I felt like this blog didn’t have a voice, that I was just being another annoying movie reviewer. Fast forward a few weeks after that when an old friend I hadn’t seen in a while said something to the effect of, “Hey man, I really like that action movie blog you write! What’s up next?” and the same thing happened to me quite recently, but more along the line of, “Why haven’t you been updating the blog more?” So that motivated me to sit down and turn on a flick…

A few months ago on the Shop Chillin podcast (episode #1) I explained this blog to a handful of my friends. During our conversation the Taylor Lautner vehicle Abduction was brought up and I briefly mentioned how I was certain that it wouldn’t get a good review from me. So fast forward to a few weeks ago when I was trying to find a flick to get my blog-mojo back. I thought about what bases I haven’t covered yet. I’ve done a classic with Die Hard, I’ve done an ensemble flick with the Expendables, and I’ve done a so-bad-it’s-good movie with Road House. One thing I noticed was that I hadn’t really tackled a legitimately bad action movie. And with good reason! Who wants to subject themselves to a bad movie for the sake of research? Well…the answer is me. And I did.

The first thing you need to know about Abduction is that John Singleton directed it. The guy responsible for Boyz n the Hood. Yeah. I mean, he did go on to make some less than spectacular films, but seeing his name attached to this made me breathe a sigh of relief. I thought, ‘There’s no way it can be that bad if John Singleton is attached to it.’ Oh how wrong I was. This is easily one of the worst movies that I have ever seen in my life.

The plot is relatively simple, yet entirely too convoluted for its own good. Lautner plays Nathan, a ridiculously irresponsible high school senior. He and his friends burn money, ride around in fancy cars, and crash parties in the name of rebellion. His parents, Mara and Kevin, have him on a strict regiment of extreme combat training and unreal cardio (how else can he have those abs?) to punish him for his irresponsible ways, and send him to a psychiatrist played by Sigourney Weaver to stop apparent rage issues. Great. A smart, attractive, emotionally unstable 17 year old killing machine with a devil-may-care attitude towards life. What’s not to like? Oh, and Nathan is also attracted to his neighbor Karen (Lily Collins) who is his partner in a class project. On a whim Karen and Nathan are looking at missing children websites when they find a photo of a lost child that bears a striking resemblance to Nathan himself! Struggling to figure out who his parents are, who he is, what his feeling are for Lily, Nathan does the logical thing…calls the number listed on the website.

What happens after the phone call is basically the most absurd thing I have seen in film. Some terrorists come to Nathan’s house, kill his “parents” and let the entire suburban home EXPLODE. Yes folks, no need for subtlety. Nathan and Karen escape the fiery scene and find themselves on the run from these terrorists. Also tailing them is the CIA, lead by Alfred Molina. The secrets unravel and the movie continues. And then it ends. That’s my synopsis. If it’s not detailed enough for you…I’m not sorry. That’s really all there is to it. It’s not anything special.

The plot of this movie is awful. Apparently the terrorist, a fellow named Nikola Kozlow (played by Michael Nyqvist) needs Nathan alive as a source of leverage to get some document Nathan’s biological father has just conveniently stolen from him. So think of that plot in real time, keeping in mind the events of the movie take place over a mere two or three days.

  1. Nathan’s biological father steals Kozlow’s file.
  2. Nathan finds himself on the missing child site and calls the number to investigate.
  3. Kozlow suits up and takes action. His minions blow up Nathan’s house and proceed to stalk him.
  4. CIA follows suit in stalking.
  5. Chaos.

That’s just way too convenient for me to even try to enjoy. Even ironically. It’s just bad. Flimsy writing. And apparently Alfred Molina’s character is not supposed to be trusted either, and Nathan figures him out in like 2 seconds just to keep him around in this grey area for the rest of the movie. Why have the protagonist figure out the twist and still keep the character around for the duration of the film? I have no clue.

molina“If we pretend the audience is dumber than you it will make everything move faster Nathan.”

Acting-wise this movie is an enigma. Alfred Molina is a fine actor, as is Sigourney Weaver. Not to mention Jason Isaacs plays Nathan’s adopted father. Even Nyqvist is good as Kozlow, regardless of how little he is given to work with. But Taylor Lautner is…awful. Aside from his physique, there is nothing to be impressed with in Lautner. His delivery is robotic and his facial expressions are non existent. And not to be rude, but whoever did Lily Collins’ makeup did their best to make her look like a 14 year old who is entirely average, yet the apple of Nathan’s eye. In 2011 when this movie came out, Lautner was on the fast track to being America’s favorite piece of male eye candy, and he’s paired with this run of the mill female. If all this flick meant to do was push Lautner as a star, they could have done a much better job pairing him with a female that rivaled his apparent attractiveness. Call that a minor gripe, but in a flick where the whole point is to sit back and be entertained, that’s a huge issue for the straight male audience.

abduction-taylor-lautner-lily-collins3I literally don’t remember what part of the movie this is from.

So, nit picking about females aside, let’s get down to brass tacks, the damn veggies. The action. It’s bad. Surprised? Sure, Lautner can kind of do parkour and MMA style chokes, but every time he does it’s unreal and annoying. Calling it uninspired would be a compliment. There’s a sequence in a train where Lautner goes toe to toe with a middle aged terrorist that would get his ass kicked by the 17 year old killing machine within a few seconds. Somehow the dude manages to hold his own before being choked to death and tossed out the window. And the worst part is he gets a few shots in on Nathan, like that’s even believable. The most insulting part of the film, the final nail in the coffin, is the finale. Nathan agrees to meet Nikola in a public place to give him the incriminating document. What public place does he choose? A Pittsburgh Pirates game. Really? And the final action sequence is Nathan running away from an armed Nikola…just to see him get gunned down by a sniper who is revealed to be Nathan’s birth father?! Really?! None of that MMA training gets put to use against the MAIN VILLAIN?! It’s obscene.

Don’t watch Abduction. Just don’t. I basically spoiled the whole movie anyway. I have no problem with these throwaway flicks that are just intended to boost up an actors credits, but this goes beyond that. This movie isn’t fun, it isn’t easy to watch, it isn’t even mindless enough to just turn on when you’re hungover. And I think just one more time I should mention that it stars Taylor Lautner. Just one last reminder about that for you in case you forgot. An action flick starring an actor from the Twilight series? It just doesn’t make any sense. Yuck.

So…what’s next on my plate? Let’s try another classic to get back into the groove of things. How does Predator sound?

ADDED TO THE DAMN RANKINGS: Taylor Lautner

(All photos and videos of Abduction are copyright Lionsgate films)

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THE DAMN REVIEW: Taken

In the 2000’s the action genre was in a bit of an odd landscape. In the 80’s and 90’s the world had the likes of Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone, Bruce Willis, Tom Cruise, Mel Gibson and a handful of others in peak condition and age making kick-ass flicks, yet as the 2000’s dawned a new type of blockbuster hit. The comic book movie. In the 80’s studios would dish out money for sequel after sequel of anything that involved a bulked up foreigner firing a machine gun. In the 2000’s we had 3 X-Men movies, 4 Spider-Man movies, 2 Hulk and Fantastic Four movies and a slew of others that dominated the box office and has continued to do so into the 2010’s. Sure, there were a handful of action franchises like Crank, The Transporter, Craig’s Bond movies, a Bourne trilogy, and a few Terminator movies, but even standalone flicks, there aren’t that many memorable action movies from this past decade in comparison to memorable comic book ones. It’s like the genre had lost its relevance almost entirely.

Enter Liam Neeson. A 56 year old man whose last memorable role was the voice of a Jesus-like lion in The Chronicles of Narnia. Sure, he was in Schindler’s List, Kinsey, Batman Begins, and served as the only legitimate actor in Star Wars: Episode I, but as far as the 2008 atmosphere of cinema was concerned, Neeson was not really jumping out on anyone’s radar. And then Taken came out.

Taken pits Neeson as retired CIA agent Bryan Mills, a divorcee trying hard to spend time with his teenage daughter Kim. The only thing getting in the way of that is his ex-wife’s husband Stuart, a very wealthy individual who provides Kim a lifestyle Mills cant even fathom.  But fear not! Mills is a brilliant CIA protector living in a ranch house researching karaoke machines that will hopefully make his daughter forget the wealth of Stuart. Maybe he should have just stuck with CIA instead of competing with that kind of bank…

After his heavily researched birthday karaoke machine is upstaged when Stuart buys Kim a horse, Mills goes home and acts depressed for a few days before he gets a call from Kim asking if he’ll have ice cream with her. Jumping for joy, Mills goes to the local ice cream parlor only to find that Kim needs his permission to travel to France to see museums, er to see U2, er to party. Mills, after a series of “Come on Dad!”-like statements, breaks down with all sorts of ridiculous requests and sends Kim and her friend off to Europe. What a reasonable, concerned father. Then, once in Europe, Kim is kidnapped abruptly by a group of strange men. Thankfully, she is on the phone with her father as the captors drag her from under the bed and take her away. We get one of the most memorable bits of dialogue the movie has to offer.

So, in true CIA fashion, Mills gets on the phone, finds out that Kim is probably being sold as a prostitute and only has approximately 4 days before she’s either sold or dead. The rest of the movie is a blur of absolute ridiculousness. Mills gets to Paris and proceeds to cause a ruckus on his way to finding Kim. The action only dies down briefly for Mills as he attempts to get information from his friend and fellow former operative turned desk jockey Jean-Claude. When Jean-Claude tries some funny business Mills promptly shoots his wife in the leg before shouting the Monty Python one-liner “It’s a flesh wound!” From there on out havoc is wreaked and shots are fired in very, very exciting fashion.

The cast of this movie is more or less inconsequential aside from Neeson, who shines in this role. He conveys the need to get things done quickly and effectively perfectly. And for a guy that’s not a buff macho man, Neeson really brings it in the fights. There are only a small handful of other characters that matter to the plot aside from Mills and Kim. Stuart and ex-wife Lenore, played by Xander Berkeley and Famke Janssen respectively are perfect as the stuck up rich couple being thwarted by the humble Mills. Aside from that no one else really matters identity-wise. There are a string of evil people that lie between Kim and her father, goons, brothel owners, investors, basically every job that is incorporated in the prostitution business gets caught in the crossfire. I think this entire lack of caring for the middle-men makes the audience identify with Mills a whole lot more than they would if we saw a bit more of the bad guys. The movie is manic and we feel the rush of Mills’ need to find his daughter and maybe we don’t catch names and roles of certain people, but when Kim might die, we just gotta move with Mills.

Action-wise Taken is great. It’s a lot of ‘real world’ style action. While Neeson does go through dozens of guys, he does so believably. Sure, there are times when I was like “Really?” but more often than not it gets overshadowed by a resounding “Damn!” after Neeson does something amazing. There’s not too much diversity in the action itself, though this movie is much more about finding Kim than it is about glorified violence. The action is in the journey, not necessarily in the fights. The pace created by Neeson’s need to finish the job before his daughter is killed makes every scene feel important. It’s not like some of these movies where guys kind of toss ideas around in empty bunkers, Neeson NEEDS every minute that passes to help him find his daughter. He can’t step back, he can only step forward, otherwise his daughter might die.

“So yeah…we’re going to blow things up eventually but in the meantime this is a knife that I bought.”

At the end of the day, Taken is a modern action classic. It doesn’t reinvent the wheel, but it did reinvigorate a genre that truly needed something different. I’m truly upset at the critical panning of Taken 2, but you know what guys (I say guys because I can only assume there are no females reading this)? I may end up seeing it, just as a showing of faith I have towards this film, this classic. I mean, I couldn’t even think of quirky photos and fake quotes to use so you know this flick has done something to me!

Ahhhh…you know what’s next folks? It’s a Mission. And it’s Impossible. And it stars Tom Cruise. Oh yeah.

ADDED TO THE DAMN RANKINGS: Liam Neeson

(Taken photos and video are copyright EuropaCorp, The Expendables photo and video are copyright Lionsgate.)

THE DAMN REVIEW: Men in Black

Before I get to the damn review today, I’d like to take a moment to send my condolences to the family, friends and fans of director Tony Scott.  While none of his films have yet to grace this blog, I am certain that several will find their way here. The action genre owes Scott a great debt, and sadly we can’t pay him back. I suppose the best way to pay tribute to this lost director is to enjoy his films, and show them to our friends and family. Rest in peace Tony Scott.

Now…up until this point I haven’t really reviewed a movie that was a staple of my life on this fine blog. Sure, The Expendables, Road House and Black Dynamite have their places in my heart, and I’ve had great times watching them with friends, but none of the movies I’ve reviewed have been in my wheelhouse for more than a few years. Men in Black, however, has been a staple in my life since it came out. I had Burger King kids meals from it, I waited an hour at Blockbuster video to rent the VHS, and watched it twice in two days with my brother, I tuned into the Kids WB cartoon, hell I even saw Men in Black II twice in theaters! But, as I got older, I realized that all of my obsessing as a kid didn’t mean quality was a guarantee. I mean, Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace was my all time favorite movie, and overhyped toy peddling kids flicks like Space Jam and The Pagemaster were top tier as well! So, as I grew from nerdy kid to an angsty teen to a misguided college student to misguided adult, I’ve realized that the best way to judge my character at any given stage of my life is to revisit it. And with that in mind, I was really excited to revisit this action/sci-fi/comedy classic.

I don’t have too many fond memories of this song aside from it playing at my sixth grade party.

Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones star in Men in Black as Detective’s J and K respectively. The premise of the flick is rather simple, K is an intergalactic detective who needs a new parter, J is a rowdy New York cop who accidentally chased down an alien and almost took him out without even knowing he was from another world. J fills the void that K needs filled, all the while acclimating himself with a world full of talking dogs, coffee drinking worms, black suits and a silver cylindrical flash bulb that makes people forget. You don’t even need anything else for this movie to be awesome! Aliens! Suits! Talking dogs! What more could a geek ask for!?

From the get go MIB is great, the introductory scene really sets the tone perfectly, bringing manic action, top notch computer generated characters and quirky humor to the table. We see a van full of illegal immigrants riding down a dark road only to be stopped by local police, who are quickly interrupted by the Men…in black. The doofy locals question the authority of the men (one of whom is Jones) as they interrogate the illegals and select one who laughs when questioned in Spanish. Once removed from the rest of the group, this illegal alien is revealed to be a space alien who famously appears next to Will Smith in the rap video for the track “Men in Black”. As the local sheriff snoops over to see the alien we see crazy guns that essentially coat the area with blue goo. And from there it only gets funnier and crazier.

The plot really thickens as a saucer crashes in the middle of nowhere, one that seems to be carrying an intergalactic bug who is out to capture a ‘galaxy’ of some sort and bring the universe to an untimely end. The bug, who uses the skin of an innocent hillbilly named Edgar (and is played brilliantly by Vincent D’Onofrio) runs around New York trying to find this ‘galaxy’ and has some hilarious hijinx along the way. We see some of the best makeup used in the movie through these sequences, as D’Onofrio genuinely looks like a man who has a giant cockroach bursting through his skin. His awkward limping, choice dialogue and slacked jaw really make Edgar the perfect opposite to the slickly dressed MIB.

“Sugar…and water.”

Now when I reviewed The Rundown I made the comment that there are two sides to every action/comedy, now with this action/comedy/sci-fi we are dealing with a three sided…coin and this flick is one of the rare ones to get everything right. Comedy-wise MIB is great, Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones play off each other perfectly. K has seen it all and is just trying to do his job the way he’s been doing it for decades. J, on the other hand, is green as grass to this whole intergalactic alien thing. When we meet pawn shop owner Jeebs (Tony Shalhoub), J thinks he knows him, and as K threatens him with a gun we see a great bit of dialogue between the three men that ends up with a lot of green goo everywhere (goo everywhere is a thing in this movie), a shrunken headed TV detective and a room full of intergalactic guns. You see, J and K are perfect for each other, and the world around them is the best place for their relationship to unfold. What better place to put the classic straight man/comic stereotype to the test? Add Edgar to the mix and MIB leader Zed (Rip Torn) and you have a whole ton of really funny parts. Oh yeah…and the talking dog is brilliant.

Laughs aside, the science fiction aspect of this movie is really good too. I mean, the movie is no Star Wars as far as world exploring is concerned, but it certainly rivals the Hellboy series in terms of creating unique and awesome creatures to simply place in the background. The idea of finding a hidden galaxy and using it to bring the world to an end could be placed in the hands of Han Solo, William Adama, Malcolm Reynolds or any other sci-fi protagonist and it has potential to be great. Throw in the fact that it’s on earth, in the busiest, most culturally diverse city in the world and you have yourself a truly original take on a great plot. I mean…maybe this movie won’t hold up against the likes of 2001: A Space Odyssey or District 9, but for a popcorn flick it certainly manages to have a creative sci-fi storyline that’s not about aliens fighting boat fleets.

“They wouldn’t let us in Episode I so we took this gig.”

Now onto the damn veggies. The action. Men in Black packs some pretty awesome fight sequences. They don’t come every two minutes, but they are certainly creative. The introduction of Smith’s J really handles a classic chase scene very well. The way they hint that the man he’s pursuing may be more than just a normal dude is subtle and Smith’s reactions as things get more and more bizarre are great. If you hadn’t seen MIB and turned on that scene without knowing the premise, it might genuinely surprise you. The weapons these guys use are really fun too, who can forget the first time they saw J fire the noisy cricket fire? The final showdown here is pretty amazing too, and that’s where this blog gets the chance to add a new wrinkle to the damn rankings! This is the first flick that I’ve reviewed for this blog that features an action scene dominated by a computer generated character. After Edgar boards one of the ships at the 1964 World’s Fair site, and has it brought down by the MIB in one of the most iconic shots of the whole movie, we see the man-Edgar replaced by a giant computer generated cockroach that is ready to kill. And you know what, it does it. It gets the job done. Even in the primitive 90’s where Jar Jar was the king and Yoda was still a puppet, the giant intergalactic roach holds up and is believable. It swings hard and tosses the MIB around like they’re ragdolls and climbs around…it’s believable and well done. Jones really takes the back seat to Smith in most of the climax too, which adds a nice generation gap mentality that makes the big reveal of the end of the movie so much more potent. He’s definitely a factor in the equation, and one that fills his role perfectly.

BO$$

Oh yeah…there’s also a half assed love story with the stiff and uninteresting Linda Fiorentino. But this blog ain’t about that lovey dovey crap now is it?!

“Now just look into the light and we’ll forget about you in the following two sequels.”

At the end of the day Men in Black is a classic summer popcorn flick. It’s so multifaceted that a lot of people don’t even really consider it an action movie, but it definitely succeeds at being one. Granted, it’s no Die Hard, but there are some awesome things going on and it’s creativity can’t be denied. See it if you haven’t. It’s an essential view.

What’s next fair readers? Well…let’s get Taken away!

ADDED TO THE DAMN RANKINGS: Tommy Lee Jones, Will Smith, Computer Generated Image

(All images and video are copyright Columbia Pictures)

THE DAMN REVIEW: Black Dynamite

Blaxploitation is a genre that has a strange aura surrounding it. For those unaware, the subgenre stemmed from the success of flicks like Shaft, Dolemite, Superfly,The Mack, and Foxy Brown, all of which featured similar qualities. For one, they all had funky soundtracks, some of whom were scored by greats like Isaac Hayes and Curtis Mayfield. They also had strong protagonists that fit black stereotypes of the 70’s, jive talk, big afros, flashy suits and bad attitudes. And perhaps the best part of the trend was the fact that blaxploitation flicks were made on the cheap, so forty years later we’re treated to terrible acting, bad choreography, swapped actors, boom microphones in the shot…I can keep going on and on about famous errors in the genre forever if I wanted to, but I won’t! Because in 2009 martial artist and actor Michael Jai White spearheaded a spoof/tribute in Black Dynamite, and my lord, is it great.

Jai White stars as the titular Black Dynamite, an ex-cop, ex-army officer, and current ladies man and pseudo private detective.  He’s essentially the biggest bad mother (shut your mouth) of all time and everything revolves around him. The events of the flick start with a drug deal gone wrong thanks to a snitch, a bumbling man revealed to be BD’s brother Jimmy, who is quickly gunned down. This lone act kicks Black Dynamite into a spree, as he has to find Jimmy’s killer and clean up his streets.

From the get go, the comedy is laid down hard, but done so in a truly unique way. In a lot of action comedies (Rush Hour, Beverly Hills Cop) we have comedic actors playing comedic parts for laughs, look at Seann William Scott in The Rundown for chrissake! In Black Dynamite however, every actor plays their parts as if they are in a serious movie. There are no beats left for laughter, no jokes that are allowed time to soak in. The gags are either meant to be taken as serious bits that are unintentionally funny, or just errors that couldn’t afford to be fixed. In that seriousness this movie goes from a Scary Movie style spoof to tribute to. The chain of events is absurd enough to work with comedians as stars, but in the same vein it could easily have starred any blaxploitation stars of the 70’s and been released to relative success back then.

Pictured: Black Dynamite vs. The Fiendish Dr. Wu

Now, aside from BD we have a handful of hilarious characters, first there’s the always rhyming Bullhorn (Byron Minns), the slick well dressed Cream Corn (Tommy Davidson), militant leader Saheed (Phillip Morris, Jackie Chiles from Seinfeld) and the apple of BD’s eye Gloria (Salli Richardson). Though to be honest, none of them are really clearly defined, more than likely on purpose. And that certainly adds to the fun, as characters like Cream Corn disrespect and run away from BD just to apologize and be openly accepted back into the group. For a killing kung fu machine, Black Dynamite is very forgiving to his fellow brother. However, as great as the ensemble may be, this is Dynamite’s movie and he gets most of the focus. Jai White plays him perfectly, a mix of always on the verge of breaking someone in half, sharp tongued, straight faced and a just a dash of legit crazy. And he actually can destroy people, so he’s not just a goofy funnyman put in an action role a la Mike Meyers in Austin Powers. As an avid comedy fan this mix of buff badass and legit comedy chops is a rare thing, and Jai White really worked hard to achieve that status. Props to him for that.

“JIVE TURKEYS!”

Action-wise Black Dynamite is decent at best, but on purpose. There are a whole ton of fights that just get stranger and stranger, and they all have BD kicking ass and taking names. We see him kung fu-ing a group of ninja goons in what turns out to be his weekly kung fu class, he chases Cream Corn around the city from roof to roof just to have the man apologize to him as I mentioned previously, and BD even kills a rival with a boomerang he threw before even entering the room! However, it’s the escalation of these fights that make them fun. Black Dynamite is consistent in the kicking of the ass, it’s just the ass he kicks gets more and more ridiculous as the fight goes on. It turns out cleaning up the streets is a lot more ridiculous than he thought, and it’s not just drugs poisoning his fellow brother. I won’t spoil anything, but let’s just say the conspiracy leads all the way up to the top of the American ladder, and when it gets there, Black Dynamite has to throw down.

So while Black Dynamite might not offer up the best action, it’s homage to a classic genre and it’s sheer absurdity make it worth your time. I wouldn’t just go review a movie with weak action on this blog without reason! The movie is so awesome that it’s spawned an Adult Swim cartoon that’s on every Sunday at 11:30 PM! Watch it! It’s good! The movie…and the cartoon!

Speaking of Black…lets keep this hybrid thing going and get to the damn veggies with the Men In Black! And with Men In Black the Damn Rankings are getting an injection of….CGI!?!?

ADDED TO THE DAMN RANKINGS: Michael Jai White, Tommy Davidson, Byron Minns

(All images and video are copyright Destination Films)

THE DAMN REVIEW: Casino Royale

First and foremost, apologies this too so long to write. I now have FOUR backlogged action movies in my memory, so I’ll be back writing a lot more!

Reboots, remakes and pseudo sequels seem to be all the rage these days…from Spider-Man to 21 Jump Street to Total Recall to Prometheus…it seems as though there are a lot of flicks out there that are profiting off of slightly stale characters. That reason alone is what drove me to re-watch and review the 2006 James Bond remake/reboot/sequel Casino Royale. Now before we get into the damn veggies of this review please let me just say that I never imagined that someone could take a character that had just fenced Madonna and had sex with Halle Berry on a carpet full of diamonds and make them dynamic, original, badass, interesting, and compassionate. Much credit is due to Neal Purvis, Paul Haggis and Robert Wade for doing that.  Also, in that same vein, I never thought I would want to know the motivation of the spy that has graced pop culture for more than half a century. I was always gleefully under the assumption that James Bond was just an amazing secret agent that loved to sleep with amazingly attractive women. So, Casino Royale really smacks you in the face with the fact that it is a real film. One that’s full of absurd explosions and womanizing and quips and alcohol, but a real film nonetheless.

“What do you mean you don’t want to hear my back story?”

The first thing about this movie that is obviously different is Bond himself. Daniel Craig, who’s obviously not a brown haired gentleman, is strikingly different from the rest of the Bond’s who have graced the film medium. The second is that he’s not an established killing machine womanizing super-spy; this is the beginning of his journey to becoming one! And Craig plays Bond thusly, as a cocky rookie with something to prove. Appropriately playing the authority figure trying to keep a leash on 007 is Judi Dench, reprising her role as M. Her matronly back and forth with Bond does a really good job at telling us exactly how far he’s gotten in the agency, and just how disobedient he is. Also, Craig’s one liner delivery is top notch. I never really saw Bond as much of a quip dropper in this ‘real’ world, but he finds room for a ton of great, hilarious one liners.

Apologies for the fadeout…stupid uploaders.

So, after parkour-ing down a bomb maker in Madagascar in a ridiculous and awesome chase, Bond finds himself in the Bahamas, tracking the bomb makers contractor Alex Dimitrios. Now, Dimitrios has been working with big bad Le Chiffre (Mads Mikkelsen), an investor who works closely with African freedom fighters, among other lowlifes. After Bond successfully derails Dimitrios and ensures that Le Chiffre’s playing of the stock market fails, he is entered into a poker tournament thrown by Chiffre (is Le his first name?) wherein we meet the wonderful Vesper Lynd (Eva Green) who slowly melts Mr. Bond’s heart. It’s precious.

“I intend on sleeping with married women exclusively, please don’t be so hot around me.”

Enough of hearts melting, what about faces melting?! The action in Casino Royale is among the best of the 2000’s, for several reasons. The first of which is that it feels real. Yes we see Bond in a parkour-off with one of the sports pioneers Sebastian Foucan, that leads to the top of a crane atop a construction site. But every time Bond jumps more than 5 feet it’s visible that he’s a human being and he has to at least stop and pant before running onward. Too many action movies play their heroes as superhuman, and while that is entertaining, it’s also a nice diversion from the norm to have the protagonist actually move and react like a person, granted he is a ridiculously toned and well trained person. Another reason the action is so good is because there’s just so much of it on such a grand scale. With some of the movies I’ve watched for the action is relatively contained, Die Hard is obviously set in one place, Road House is confined to a small town, even the Expendables deals with a lot of 2 good guys vs. 10 bad guys style fights. Casino Royale is a globetrotting festival of all things action. Bond, like I said, free runs through Madagascar, destroys a man in a bathroom, watches a building collapse in Venice, fights a man in a gas truck in Miami, beats up Africans in Montenegro and even makes two games of poker seem tense. Yes, the poker in this movie is definitely something that is well done. There are a few techniques that get repetitive, most notably showing one mans great hand just to have it beat by the man opposite the table of him. If this was used once it’d be great, but the fact that we have to deal with it several times makes it one of those things where as a viewer I found myself going, “Well yeah that hand is great, but since I’m seeing it he has to lose!”

The characters in the world really make everything work overall, which is a great thing. I’ve mentioned Bond and M, but there are a few others that really add some reason and rhyme to the world of 007. Eva Green is perfect as Vesper Lynd, an accountant with a tongue as sharp as Bond, but who has absolutely no idea how terrible the day to day activities of a secret agent are. Her job of melting Bond’s heart makes sense. Bond doesn’t want her at first, and through their interactions, and her reactions to putting holes in people’s heads, he sees how fragile she is, and just how absurd his job is. Also, we have everyone’s favorite informant Rene Mathis played by Giancarlo Giannini, who not so subtly pushes Bond and Vesper together. He’s just a suave older guy trying to help his fellow man (OR IS HE). However, I must admit, that Mathis’ suavity is sidelined during the poker tournament, as he  constantly feels the need to narrate the game to Vesper, who apparently has no clue what poker is. Lines like, “A full house!” and “He’s rubbing his eye!” really add a corny commentary to intense sequences. Even the sadly underdeveloped Le Chiffre is a Hans Gruber style bad guy who outwits Bond several times over, again showing Bond’s rookie status. His crying blood and using an inhaler are corny traits, yeah, but for a Bond bad guy, it could be worse. Also, a small fraction of credit must be given to the bumbling loser who can’t quite get the job done in Jeffrey Wright’s Felix Leiter. His awful poker skills and outright revelation to Bond that he is an American secret agent strangely fit, regardless of how awkward they are. The whole point of these interactions build a world for this new Bond to dwell in, and they do a great job with it.

“When I’m short of breath I use my inhaler.”

My biggest problem with this movie comes in it’s fourth act. After the poker game, when Vesper and Bond are in Italy, the plot gets really whacky and all sorts of ridiculous things happen in a matter of five minutes. Knowing that the Bond series is indeed a franchise, I think this act would have been an awesome act one for the next film in the series. Leaving the movie on the note it did felt a bit uneven, especially considering this was a Hollywood affair. But that’s not even a huge deal!

So yeah…for a remake/reboot/sequel Casino Royale is incredible. The performances are all there, the new world of James Bond is great, and left me as a fan waiting for more. Shame Quantum of Solace wasn’t all that great…

I said I watched four more movies to write reviews for now did I? Well…what’s next. I don’t know..something outta sight. Something that’s just right. Something like Black Dynamite!

ADDED TO THE DAMN RANKINGS: Daniel Craig

(All images and video are copyright Columbia Pictures)

THE DAMN REVIEW: Die Hard

I went to watch Die Hard a few weeks ago and found myself in a non-action mood. I flipped through my DVD book trying to find a movie to something to keep me occupied. What I ultimately chose was another Bruce WIllis flick, M. Night Shyamalan’s Unbreakable, a superhero origin story that has Willis play a man coming to terms that he may indeed be different than the rest of the world. There’s a sequence in the film when Willis’ David Dunn is talking to Mrs. Price, mother of whacky comic collector and ‘breakable’ Elijah Price (Samuel L. Jackson) when this bit of dialogue comes out…

Mrs. Price:This is one of Johann Davis’s earliest drawings. See the villain’s eyes? They’re larger than the other characters’. They – insinuate a slightly skewed perspective on how they see the world. Just off normal.

David Dunn: Doesn’t look scary.

Mrs. Price: Mm-hmm. That’s what I said to my son. But he says there’s always two kinds; there’s the soldier villain – who fights the hero with his hands; and then there’s the real threat – the brilliant and evil archenemy – who fights the hero with his mind.

Obviously that had a big effect on the rest of Unbreakable, but it also really put words to a theory I’ve always loved. I love that The Joker is no match physically for Batman, but he’s so crazy that he can pull of these plots and be even more effective than a Killer Croc or Clayface or any other brute in the Rogue’s Gallery. The same theory applies in so many things I love, pro wrestling, video games, TV shows, and I just so happened to luck myself into Die Hard with this theory ripe in my head.

1988’s Die Hard is one of, if not the, most celebrated movie in the action genre. It’s the main reason I made this blog, as prior to a few days ago, I’d never seen it front to back! The story is relatively simple, New York Cop John McClane (Willis) is out in Los Angeles for Christmas visiting his career driven wife Holly (Bonnie Bedelia). Upon arriving at her office building he settles in only to have the place taken over by terrorists lead by the legendary villain Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman). McClane has to take down the terrorists and save the occupants of the building along with help from Carl Winslow eh-hem Al Powell (Reginald VelJohnson). Me summarizing this is kind of foolish, as I’m close to certain I’m the only person in the world above the age of 15 that hasn’t seen this movie. So yeah, Christmas spirit meets terrorism meets bad ass cop. An equation that can’t be messed with. And if you want to add a pretentious feather to your cap, it just so happens to be based on a book, Roderick Throp’s Nothing Lasts Forever! I wonder if the book is better than the movie.

PROBABLY NOT!

The first good thing about this movie is that Willis is so good as McClane. He’s just natural. I’ve never been the biggest Willis fan, so I was rather surprised at just how pleasant he made the role. McClane is an everyman put in a ridiculous situation and he reacts pretty crazily. It’s fun. Hans Gruber is also amazing, a role that Alan Rickman plays to perfection, easily the best role I’ve seen him in (sorry Harry Potter fans). He’s the perfect mix of brilliant, evil, and collected. He’s the “brilliant and evil archenemy” preached about in Unbreakable. And the two work off of each other so well. Average Joe Cop meets Evil Genius Terrorist. Polar opposites who just happen to cross paths on this Christmas Eve. The banter they have is great, and it spawned one of the greatest lines in film history!

While McClane and Gruber’s main plot is really awesome, what truly puts this movie in the upper echelon of action flicks is everything going on around them. There are so many secondary characters that just flesh out the entire story. There’s the LAPD officer Al Powell, frantically trying to explain to other officers that McClane is worth trusting, based solely off a hunch. Also we get hilariously naive Argyle the limo driver, blissfully playing with a teddy bear and blasting Run-D.M.C. in the garage of the complex, Harry Ellis, the smarmy executive who wants Holly and truly believes he can convince the terrorists to leave the building, and of course Holly herself, who plays the perfect half-bitch half-loving wife. And on the flip-side we have Gruber’s small army of terrorists are well played too, especially the menacing Karl played by the late Alexander Gudonov. What’s great about Karl is his motivation. How many movies have goons with actual motivation aside from following orders? Not many. So Karl avenging his brother’s death (McClane killed him first!) and getting fed up with McClane’s successful attempts to avoid death really give him an important role. Also, Gruber’s hacker Theo adds some American flavor to the mostly European terror attack. He’s the Argyle of the bad guys, not just in color, but in tone.

They had this photo framed at Terrorist HQ.

You’re probably saying “Enough about how good the story is bro! How about the people killing each other and things blowing up?! That’s why we’re here!” and for that I say the action is good. One thing I like is the consistency of it. When McClane gets to the building he takes his shoes off to relax, and as the attack begins he doesn’t have the chance to put on shoes, so there are several instances where his feet are put at risk. Stupid? On the surface yeah, but it’s a small detail that with repetition actually feels important. How many action movies can make a detail as small as footwear a point in a fight? Anytime Karl is involved in a fight it’s almost guaranteed to be brutal, and he provides some of the most bad ass moments of the movie. Knowing that there are three other Die Hard movies, I was still at the edge of my seat when Karl was battling McClane.  And the final sequence where Gruber and McClane actually go at it is amazing and one of the most badass deaths of all time. Guess who dies?!

So yeah…Die Hard is iconic for a reason. It’s a perfectly wrapped Christmas package. Gruber is one of the most hateable villains in the history of film and McClane is one of the most relatable heroes. It just works. Simple as that.

“It really does work guys! Check it out!”-John McClane

What’s next, fine readers? Well let’s cross the pond with a nice 2000’s reboot that’s about gambling and drinking! Let us head to Casino Royale!

ADDED TO THE RANKINGS: Bruce Willis, Alexander Gudonov

(All images and video are copyright Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation)

THE DAMN REVIEW: The Rundown

Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson is a household name. He has an instantly recognizable face, and a reputation that’s effectively simple and straightforward; a former pro wrestler turned action star. It sounds so basic, but in reality, Dwayne’s journey is far more interesting. First, let’s put a little emphasis on “former pro wrestler”. Johnson is a 3rd generation “former pro wrestler” who dominated the World Wrestling Federation/Entertainment, gaining sixteen various championships, in a matter of seven years, the time it takes most pro wrestlers to even ‘break into’ the business. Then he decided it was time to move onto bigger and better things, namely, the movie biz. So, in 2001 he had a bit part in The Mummy Returns and then a year later starred in its spinoff The Scorpion King. Neither film gathering much critical acclaim. In 2003 Johnson starred in his first non-Mummy vehicle, the action/comedy The Rundown, and in the first scene of the film he has a strong action star endorsement….


That’s right Arnold F’n Schwarzenegger! In 2003! When Rocky only had 2 roles under his belt he got an endorsement from the Terminator! How awesome is that? I remember being fourteen years old, having seen ONE Schwarzenegger movie (it was Batman and Robin) saying to myself, “That is the blessing of a lifetime!” without even knowing how amazing Arnold’s action-ography was. So, yeah. That’s how The Rundown starts. After the nod from the god, Rock’s Beck has to grapple a football team who owes his employer money. This fight scene is pretty amazing, and the use of the nightclub environment is perfect, not to mention Rock delivers an augmented Rock Bottom to one of the players, to the delight of WWE fans. After leaving the job and returning to his boss, we learn Beck wants to get out of this ‘retrieval’ game and focus on his main passion, the culinary arts. However, there’s one more job for Beck to complete before getting his final $250,000 payday and opening his own restaurant. He has to go down to Brazil and bring his bosses son home.

Once he arrives in the town of El Dorado, Beck realizes that it’s controlled by whacky businessman and relic hunter Cornelius Hatcher (Christopher Walken). Hatcher has allowed Beck’s target, Travis (Seann William Scott) to live in El Dorado, under the promise that he will retrieve ‘el gato diablo’, a priceless relic, and get Hatcher in on the profit. Beck finds Travis almost immediately thanks to bartender and (SPOILER ALERT) freedom fighter Mariana (Rosario Dawsom). After attempting to simply walk out of El Dorado with Travis, it’s made clear that Hatcher and his small army have zero interest of allowing him to leave. So, Beck fights off some goons and winds up crashing a Jeep into the jungle, where he and Travis have to work their way out. Once out they have to basically destroy Hatcher. Everything in the middle is what makes this movie really unique.

The cast really shines in this movie for the most part. Rock really shows off his chops as Beck, the aggravated hitman with one final item on his to do list. Also, it must be noted that Beck absolutely hates guns, and prefers to get his job done using his bare hands, a character trait that makes the fight scenes quite interesting. Considering his Mummy roles before this, Rock really does prove naysayers wrong with his charm and presence. Seann William Scott is also pretty good as Travis, though his character is played off as clumsy and stupid and then in the blink of an eye he’s an Indiana Jones/National Treasure style explorer. Walken is brilliant as Hatcher, one of those slimy villains that sends his goons to do his work while claiming all the profit (shades of Brad Wesley?). And his doofus brother Harvey is played by Jon Gries, Uncle Rico from Napoleon Dynamite! The one real weak link here is surprisingly Rosario Dawson, who hardens all of her T’s when trying to put on a Brazilian accent. She doesn’t add much to the plot and really just acts as a female presence. She’s not a concrete romantic interest to either Travis or Beck, and she doesn’t dress in revealing clothing, nor does she fire a gun. She just is there. It’s bizarre. One thing I really, really appreciate about this movie is the complexity of the premise. No one ever looks at this movie for what it really is. It’s essentially sending The Transporter down to South America to capture Indiana Jones. Yeah, it sounds simple, but that’s pretty audacious. Two opposite themes for action movies forceably combined to make one crazy movie. That’s pretty awesome if you ask me. The best part of that is how it actually works. Bold premises sound great on paper, but how often is it that they actually deliver?

“Arnold has been saying great things about you.”

With any action/comedy there are two obvious sides to the coin. Action. And comedy. In this film the former succeeds whereas the latter fails. The action in this flick is top notch, mostly due to Rock’s ability to relentlessly kick ass. There’s one particular fight scene between Beck and freedom fighter Manito, that is seriously out of this world. Manito (the vastly underutilized Ernie Reyes Jr.) flys off of trees, flips, spins, and destroys Beck through most of the fight and Beck strikes back with some amazing power offense. This fight is like watching an MMA match on crack. It is easily the highlight of the movie. Credit must also be given to Hatcher’s lead hitman Swenson (Stuart F. Wilson) who yields not one but two whips. There are some sweet visuals involving these whips tearing through things and just causing damage. The final firefight is also pretty epic, Beck clotheslines pillars of concrete, saves Travis from a burning bus, and uh-oh, picks up a firearm. There’s a reason Beck doesn’t like using guns, and it may or may not be because he is a killing machine.

“DAMN!”

The other side of the coin is the comedy. Which is vastly less kick-ass than the action. I don’t mean to say it fails entirely, because the back and forth between Beck and Travis is at times genuinely humorous, and Hatcher is always funny. It’s just the comedic gags that fall completely flat. Two in particular. One involving hormone full apes, and the other involving hallucination inducing fruit. I’m not going to go into anymore detail, but I will provide these visuals.

EXHIBIT A

EXHIBIT B

So The Rundown features a lot of awesome action, some so-so comedy, and a lot of fun. There are visible flaws with this flick, but it’s ballsy premise more than makes up for them, and Rock, Walken and Scott’s performances hold the whole thing together. This is a genuinely good movie experience, and I highly recommend it to any and all parties interested in performance driven action. It’s funny, because this film has been sort of tucked under the covers when people bring up awesome action movies, even though it delivers awesome action in spades, and is almost completely devoid of any and all awful performances. Arnold passed the torch to the right guy.

BO$$

Thanks for reading! And next time I’ll tackle a classic that I have never seen! Let’s just say it rhymes with ‘Fly Shard’!

ADDED TO THE DAMN RANKINGS: Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Seann William Scott

(All images and video are copyright Columbia Pictures Corporation)