Iron Man 3

IronMan3PosterIron Man 3 is the kind of crowd-pleasing adventure picture that has no business being so good.  After a sensational first installment from Director Jon Favreau that surprised audiences with its quick-wit and towering performance from leading actor Robert Downey Jr., the minor pitfall of Favreau’s uneventful Iron Man 2 was only salvaged by the contagious antics of Downey who embodies Tony Stark so well.  Then last summer’s The Avengers swept up audiences around the globe and expanded Stark’s world across an entire Marvel universe of other movies.  The result was an overpraised but undeniably fun success. Be sure to see/brush up on all three previous outings.

Iron Man 3 strikes only a year later with a new director and co-writer Shane Black whose previous writing credits include Lethal Weapon and Last Action Hero, and he commandeers a final product that rivals the sheer entertainment value of the first Iron Man film.  As long you don’t see it in its flat 3D format of course.

This is Tony Stark’s journey, not Iron Man’s.  Downey narrates the film’s opening moments and a few other segments of the picture.  His life has certainly changed since the world was exposed to Loki and his invading alien army—and the giant green guy—-and the flying hammer dude—and the other ‘human’ characters that can run around and shoot.  Not to mention wormholes and other dimensions.  Needless to say, Stark has a lot on his mind and he develops crippling anxiety episodes that prevent him from sleep and his ordinary business.  His relationship with Pepper (Gwyneth Paltrow) suffers and he spends his hours of insomnia devoted to developing advanced Iron Man suits.

A new villain enters the scene by the name of the Mandarin (Ben Kingsley), a middle-eastern terrorist threatening the American way of life.  He plants suicide bombers in various U.S. locations, but investigators quickly learn that his destructive pigeons have no formal explosive parts or materials.  Stark’s trusted bodyguard, Happy (Jon Favreau) follows one of the suspected threats only to be found victim to another terrorist attack.  In a rage, Stark invites the terrorist to his front door for a mano-a-mano confrontation.

kingsleyJust when our hero’s former botanist colleague, Maya Hansen (Rebecca Hall) arrives at the Malibu fortress to warn Tony of suspected terrorist involvement from the odd-duck geneticist, Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce), the Mandarin unleashes a massive attack to wipe out Iron Man for good.  The structure of Stark Industries falls to rubble.  Tony awakens abandoned, homeless, and all but defeated in a snowy Tennessee town.  His only armored suit has run out of juice, he’s been considered dead, and so he seeks refuge in a shed with the aid of starry-eyed boy, Harley (Ty Simpkins).

To stop the Mandarin from his further promised attacks (namely on the U.S. president), Stark investigates a trail of coverups involving an American soldier terrorist who may have been brainwashed by the Mandarin.  The truth about his death may procure the information Stark needs to defeat his most devastating human foe thus far.  Young Harley and Col. Rhodes (Don Cheadle) provide Stark the assistance he most certainly needs to stop the ultimate threat.

What to say about Iron Man 3?  How about: It’s awesome.  Flat-out awesome.  It’s witty.  It’s funny.  It’s action-packed.  It has more memorable moments than I can count.  I enjoyed it even more than The Avengers.  Some won’t.  And that’s fine.  But as a character-driven film with a concrete villain and driving plot, Iron Man 3 is a breath of fresh air.  I’d love to talk about some great sequences and some great moments of dialogue, but why spoil the fun?  Just know, this movie is funny, witty, quotable, and features breathtaking action sequences and the sharpest of digital effects.  It has to because the list of digital effect credits was seemingly endless.

But underneath all of its witty lines and gargantuan fireworks is a resonating story about a great protagonist up against a powerful villain.  Writer-director Shane Black (this guy from the 1987 masterpiece Predator) wisely pushes Stark to the brink and brings his story full-circle.  The film doesn’t have the gravity of a Christopher Nolan superhero picture, but Iron Man 3 is stupendous in its own regard, and a film I would return to much faster than any of those Batman films.  If the audience reaction from the crowd I saw it with was any indication, this trilogy-capper will be a massive hit and entirely well-received by viewers.  I can’t wait to take my wife and see it again.  As for a star rating?  Should I do it?  Should I really do it?  Ah, I’m all in (even if I regret it later).

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Pain and Gain

Pain and Gain Crime doesn’t pay.  Director Michael Bay goes the distance to remind audiences of that necessary lesson because it also gives him the opportunity to glorify and glamorize every ugly facet of it.  Sitting through Pain and Gain, an alleged black comedy that exposes the danger of American greed, I’m left to contend that the writers and actors sought to dig up a fascinatingly dark tale spun so unbelievably from the ground up that 15 percent of it must actually be true.  After all—this is a true story.  I could have used a newspaper clipping of said story or even a mere tweet.  Bay’s punishing drama lasts 130 gruesome minutes.

The story takes place in 1995 where a Miami fitness guru, Daniel Lugo (Mark Wahlberg), a smarmy snake with muscles, slithers his way into a senior position at a gym and manages to triple its membership within a short amount of time.  But the cash isn’t green enough, and after a few interactions with self-made titan sleaze Walter Kershaw (Tony Shalhoub), Daniel decides he can give the jerk what’s coming to him and steal all of his dough.

To do it, Daniel recruits the bronze mammoth and reformed ex-con Paul Doyle (Dwayne Johnson) and the steroid abuser Adrian Doorbal (Anthony Mackie).  Together the odd-trio team attempt a series of failed executions at nabbing Kershaw before finally kidnapping him and then torturing him for three weeks until he signs over all of his finances and possessions to the unorthodox bodybuilders.  The gang seals the deal by killing him, or so they think, and Kershaw escapes near death.  Held captive in a hospital bed, Kershaw’s repelling personality and lack of convincing evidence regarding his abduction cause the police to laugh off his account of events.

Left broke and broken, Kershaw hires a retired private investigator (Ed Harris) to find the three tank-sized clowns that stole everything from him.  It ends up only a matter of time that Daniel and his pals fall victim to the temptations of the wealthy lifestyle and they compromise their plans, setting off a series of idiotic judgments and actions that lead them to further murder and destruction.

pain and gain imagePain and Gain happens to illustrate everything about soulless filmmaking.  Despite decent performances from the cast, the script never allows us to care for anyone of these hulking doofuses because they’re all so vile and violent.  Wahlberg’s character should carry the story in a tragic fashion, but he’s so unlikable in every conceivable manner, as are the other characters who fall victim to his manipulations.  Johnson has the most well-rounded role as the beefy aggressor who has found Christ, only to immediately find the devil in Daniel.  Mackie plays the third hand with little of interest added to his character.

When the characters fail, Bay makes sure we feel the pain.  His music video-style only glamorizes the violence and depravity.  These three men become enforcers of brute punishment, and rather than explore any psychological dimensions of these characters, Bay plays the outrageous blackness of the film for laughs, only they don’t hit as hard as his three leading actors—if ever.  Instead the director lights up the screen with oil, sweat, and sunlight and plays his misogynistic melee tale for all its worth, consistently objectifying women and playing up the volatile chumps and their violent ways as something to be desired.  From the outset, we don’t understand these characters in any possible way, so why spend 130 slow minutes trying to laugh off their bloody antics?  Bay thinks he’s delivered a cautionary tale, but instead his penchant for cinematic destruction provides a herd of antagonist morons doing grotesque things that are meant to look ‘oh so cool’—which reminds me of another one of Bay’s ugly and overlong crap chutes from ten years ago.

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Oblivion

OblivionMovie-Critics are calling Oblivion a mixed bag of sparse sci-fi plot threads strung together loosely and liberally.  They’re right.  I expected as much.  After all, what ground could the post-apocalyptic thriller have left to cover?  A future decades ahead.  Earth laid to waste.  Little to no survivors.  Futuristic machinery patrolling a ravaged globe.  Human technicians assigned to operate and repair the machines.

That’s the premise of Oblivion, which I suspect will mirror the upcoming thrillers After Earth and Elysium to some degree.  From The Matrix to 2001 to Moon to Wall-E to I, Robot and on and on, I could compare Director Joseph Kosinski’s film to many a science-fiction pictures of past.  That doesn’t hinder his film at all.  I anticipated I would spot similarities.  The film’s title even suggests where the story is headed.  Yet Kosinski’s canvas opens with mystery and intrigue that leads to grand places and ideas, even if they’ve all been mined before.

Tom Cruise plays Jack Reacher Harper, a pilot in the futuristic Earth, and one of the few survivors from an alien invasion led by Scavengers.  The Scavengers took out half of the moon causing vast planetary natural disasters, and humanity responded with nuclear warfare.  In the end, the aliens left, but Earth became a devastated habitat full of nuclear radiation.  Humans moved to a space station while Earth regenerates its ability to sustain life for a large population.

Huddled clans of Scavengers still roam the grounds.  Thus an army of government-produced drones monitor and control enemy activity.  But sometimes the drones are shot down or malfunction.  Harper, a drone repairman, keeps the drones up and running.  Outside of his job, he lives above the clouds in a technically advanced floating home base with his girlfriend and assistant, Victoria (Andrea Riseborough), who monitors his movement on the ground level.  She also communicates with the command base from which she receives orders including Harper’s daily itinerary.

During a routine maintenance scout, Harper finds a radio beacon activated by Scavengers.  Questions abound.  What or who are they calling?  When they attempt to capture the leery pilot, Harper must investigate what little he knows about the Scavengers, what they might be planning, and how they might be tied to his dreams about a mysterious woman (Olga Kurylenko) whom he does not know but seems to remember.

oblivion-searchFurther developments lead the narrative into even bigger territory, and most of what is offered has been recycled but not necessarily for the worse.  Kosinski’s film is set apart from its film-brethren by its visual landscape.  This is an amazing movie to look at.  I’m shocked this film wasn’t converted and released in 3D.  I admire a director and studio not following the herd for an extra buck.  Lush nature is contrasted with the decay of nuked civilization, and giant hydrocopter versus computerized war drone battles couldn’t be composed any better.

The story eventually introduces a colony of humans led by the great Morgan Freeman, but unfortunately, much of the supporting human characters are underused.  Cruise leads the show, and proves ever-capable, but if Oblivion falls under the weight of its grand ambition, it’s because the script misses the underlying human factor.  The film focuses less on humanity’s impact, and more on the impact to the Harper character who must come to terms with the painful reality of his place and identity in a devastated world.

The plot doesn’t exactly move at a fast clip either.  Oblvion, while featuring some stellar visuals and action, meanders more often than drives.  Harper investigates location after location.  He returns to home base and discusses his findings with Victoria again and again.  The movie reaches the halfway-marker before really diving into some meaty ‘events.’  There’s a lot of eye candy throughout the film’s entirety, but this movie needed to pick a destination and operate via a concrete route.  This is where the film borrows heavily from other films and that’s okay.  But choose some key check points in the story along the way.

Kosinski’s Oblivion is still a film to admire in many respects.  Despite insanely good visuals, I really felt like the film didn’t have the feel of a studio product.  It felt like the objective of a filmmaker brought up under some great sci-fi movies who set out to pave his own from used parts.  He doesn’t deliver slam-bang-pow-wow entertainment.  He gives us a thoughtful action film supported by a magnificent production design and visuals that will last long after the story fades from memory.

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Summer 2013 Preview

The blockbuster season is so close you can smell the shrapnel.  Luckily for us movie fans the studios have begun trotting out some of the big tentpoles early ever since the year 2011 when Fast Five broke the mold and opened a week before the typical Summer launch which has been the first weekend of May for over a decade.  The Vin Diesel-led action-sequel turned out to be a roaring success, even besting final grosses of the almighty Thor which kicked off the ‘season-proper.’  Now the studios are realizing audiences will pay to see a big movie any time of year if the anticipation is there.

I haven’t done this for a few years, but I miss the optimism in looking ahead to the movie season rather than the disappointment in looking back.  What movies are on my radar this summer?  Actually quite a heap.  Nearly every weekend has a movie I’m eager to see which is likely a major problem for studios as supply is very high this season and the competition will be fierce.  Hopefully my adoring wife will hold my hand through them all… or most.  I’m sure there will be big winners and major losers in this bunch.  But the real question is: will there be any surprises?  And which am I looking forward to most?

The Dark Horses:

pangPain and Gain (4/26): We have seen a lot of Dwayne Johnson lately.  And he will be around a lot more yet.  With Snitch and the G.I. Joe sequel still in theaters, he’s about to star in an uber-violent action-comedy from Michael Bay about criminal bodybuilders.  Johnson co-stars with Mark Wahlberg, Ed Harris and Tony Shaloub.  The trailers for the film definitely have some personality and signature Bay visuals—tan human beings drenched in sweat (or is that the camera lens), gunplay, car chases and explosions.  But I’m not sold yet.  The film looks a little more niche than expected and may play just as well at home if it’s any good at all.  TRAILER.

greatgatsThe Great Gatsby (5/10): It’s not the first title that comes to mind when I think ‘summer.’  That might be because the studio moved it from its Christmas award season slot last year to May 10th where there will be less… competition.  Right.  The trailer looks visually arresting and I’m surprised to see the film getting a 3D release.  As a film adaptation directed by Baz Luhrrman and starring Leonardo DiCaprio, this could be fantastic, but I’m not entirely sure it will break out at this time of year. TRAILER.

This-is-the-End-2013This is the End (6/12): A slew of comedic actors who’ve all shared the screen together in some capacity star as themselves caught up in an apocalypse.  Seth Rogen, Michael Cera, James Franco, Craig Robinson, Jay Baruchel, Aziz Ansari, Paul Rudd, Jonah Hill, Jason Segel, Mindy Kaling, Danny McBride… Yes, they’re all in this movie and they all play their celebrity selves.  Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg wrote the film.  They also wrote Superbad and Pineapple Express.  And Green Hornet… and The Watch… If you are still reading they also wrote Drillbit Taylor (Remember that movie?  Owen Wilson was in it.  No one saw it…)  Their latest movie, looks like an intriguing concept…which could in fact turn out to be The Watch all over again (and that movie was a complete disaster).  But the trailers have me convinced this could be funny… or maybe too raunchy for my tastes.  Sadly this is one of the few comedy choices we have this coming season so we can only hope. TRAILER.

The-WolverineThe Wolverine (7/26): What?? Not in my top ten?? No.  Ever since Director Darren Arronofsky famously dropped out of the this dark prequel/sequel/standalone/spinoff or whatever it is, my anticipation went down.  I want to see it, but I’m not particularly excited.  James Mangold is a capable director.  But Walk the Line and Knight and Day aren’t exactly titles that tell me he was the right choice to revive this installment after the dumping ground that was X-Men Origins: Wolverine.  Hugh Jackman has the chops to still deliver a great solo Wolverine movie, and the trailer looks pretty good, but how can a trailer for this movie not ‘look’ good?  TRAILER.

despicable-me-2-picture03Despicable Me 2 (7/3): I have to admit I really enjoyed the original surprise hit featuring the voice talent of Steve Carell.  Will this movie be a simple cash grab or a worthy follow-up?  I don’t know.  Time will tell.  Sequels to animated films generally don’t retain the magic of the predecessors, but I have no doubt that the writers could come up with something truly special.  Or maybe those yellow minions will be incredibly annoying the second time around.  TRAILER.

the-heat-trailerThe Heat (6/28):  Melissa McCarthy and Sandra Bullock as hardcore law enforcement?  Sounds like comedy to me.  But will this movie have enough wit in the script or will it be an onslaught of profanity substituted for genuine ideas?  I believe both of these actresses are capable of delivering a very entertaining comedy and would likely make a dynamic pair, but I’m on the fence and entirely not blown away by the trailer. TRAILER.

LonerangThe Lone Ranger (7/3): This actually looks very entertaining, regardless of the naysayers.  This honestly just looks like a fun movie—batty, goofy, action-packed, impressively shot.  But it still has an iffy air about it and so it didn’t quite make my top ten list.  But Johnny Depp as Tonto strikes me as awesome.  Armie Hammer as the Ranger?  Hopefully a star is made out of him.  Plus Gore Verbinski is directing, and if he can recreate the magic of his first Pirates of the Caribbean film, then we may have something here.  TRAILER.

MonstersUMonsters University (6/21): Pixar Studios have been wanting sequels left and right all of a sudden.  It’s been off-putting for me as they typically come up with great original storytelling.  The teaser trailer for this Monsters, Inc. prequel also rubbed me the wrong way portraying monster college to children as a mindless wild party atmosphere (just without the booze).  Then a follow-up trailer filmed as a university advertisement was a bit more daring and original.  I think Monsters Inc was a very solid movie, but I’m not enthused for another.  TRAILER.

AftEarAfter Earth (6/7): My biggest question mark of the season… M. Night Shyamalan’s After Earth.  The studio hasn’t been putting his name in the ads.  Why?  Because you probably laughed out loud when you read his name.  The man has been cursed.  At one point in his career everything he touched turned to gold.  Sixth Sense, Unbreakable, Signs.  He was the next Spielberg.  Then… The Village, Lady in the Water, The Happening, The Last Airbender.  Make it stop!  After Earth, a post-apocalyptic sci-fi thriller starring Will Smith and Jaden Smith looks both good and bad.  I don’t know.  I suppose if this wasn’t a Will Smith-starrer I would look the other way.  I don’t see it as a resurgence for Shyamalan, but anything is possible.  Maybe it’s just that southern drawl in the actors’ voices that has me confused.  TRAILER.

world-war-z-trailerWorld War Z (6/21): I’m a big fan of The Walking Dead TV show mainly because of the high production values and searing drama amongst the human cast.  World War Z, which appears to be a very loose adaptation of its novel source, looks like a solid suspenseful ride.  But I have my doubts about Marc Forester directing (not to mention the highly-public troubled production)—he was behind Quantum of Solace and Finding Neverland.  The zombies look like dodgy CGI creations on speed, sort of like I am Legend.  Brad Pitt stars which adds some leading man power, but despite a promising trailer, I have a feeling Forester will deliver a completely digital film that misses the human element, the realism, and the drama.  Will I still see it?  Um, yeah.  TRAILER.

The Top Ten:

1183878 - WHITE HOUSE DOWN10) White House Down (6/28):  Okay.  I just saw Antonie Fuqua’s version of this movie and it was bad.  But come on.  The trailer for this Channing Tatum-Jamie Foxx version looks surprisingly good.  I’m game for another White House takedown movie even if it stars Channing Tatum because Director Roland ‘Independence Day‘ Emmerich is taking it down… and he has a profitable history in doing so.  Hopefully the villains, the heroes, the script, the plot, the visual effects and everything else in between are better than Olympus Has FallenTRAILER.

Fast-Furious-6-Official-Super-Bowl9) Fast & Furious 6 (5/24): Remember how Fast Five came out two years ago and blew away expectations?  I have a feeling returning Director Justin Lin will take it to a whole new level with this sixth installment.  I can’t believe I’m writing these words.  I mean, the awful Tokyo Drift was three movies ago!  Actually, Fast Five didn’t blow me away like everyone else, but I did enjoy it enough to be very excited for the entire cast returning for even bigger action, bigger chases, and even further ridiculousness.  Just don’t try and follow the titles of these movies, because they only want you to be confused.  TRAILER.

elysium-neil-blomkamp8)  Elysium (8/9): —UPDATE: The trailer arrived and it did not disappoint.  In fact, I should be moving this film higher on my list.  It looks great!— I have not seen a single frame of a trailer for this movie, but the production stills have me intrigued enough.  Plus the Oscar-nominated hit District 9 was my favorite movie of 2009, and Director Neill Blomkamp is now back with this new sci-fi action-thriller starring Matt Damon and Jodie Foster.  What’s it about?  IMDB lists the synopsis as: “Set in the year 2159, where the very wealthy live on a man-made space station while the rest of the population resides on a ruined Earth, a man takes on a mission that could bring equality to the polarized worlds.”  Sounds good to me! TRAILER.

now_you_see_me_xlg7) Now You See Me (5/31): This trailer jumped out of nowhere and arrested me at gunpoint.  Magicians who rob banks, but for what purpose?  Is there something greater going on behind the curtain?  Count me in.  It has the intrigue of The Prestige with the fun of The Italian Job.  Plus the cast is absolutely top notch.  Something good in the script must have attracted them all.  Woody Harrelson, Jesse Eisenberg, Morgan Freeman, Isla Fisher, Michael Caine, Mark Ruffalo.  Ticket.  Bought.  TRAILER.

2_Guns_26) 2 Guns (8/2): An action-comedy in vein of Lethal Weapon starring Denzel Washington and Mark Wahlberg.  It looks action-packed, but most surprisingly, it looks funny!  I can’t remember the last time Washington ran for some laughs.  This has all the right ingredients for a good-old buddy-action-flick and also looks to be a fresh break from all the comic book heroes and science fiction running amok.  TRAILER.

oblivion201212109117055) Oblivion (4/19): Summer starts very early this year and Tom Cruise is prime set to deliver a sprawling sci-fi actioner about a post-apocalyptic Earth and the aftermath of humanity leaving the planet (which is also the synopsis of After Earth).  Joseph Kosinski directed and the man is a visual talent, but can the story also deliver?  His previous film was Tron: Legacy which I actually enjoyed a lot.  I think Oblivion has grown on my radar the more ads I see for it.  Plus Cruise rarely stars in a bad film, especially his big budget fare.  I’m in.  TRAILER.

three-new-posters-for-pacific-rim-123740-02-470-754) Pacific Rim (7/12): Okay.  I know.  Giant robots versus giant monsters battling to the death.  I know!  But come on.  There’s people inside the giant robots manning controls.  And Charlie Hunnam who is a force to be reckoned with on Sons of Anarchy has what is potentially his big breakout role here.  Plus!—this is a Guillermo del Toro film who is a fantasy genius and he creates incredible creatures and worlds.  He’s the man behind Blade II, Pan’s Labyrinth, and the Hellboy movies.  I think he’s got us covered.  Pacific Rim looks like Transformers meets Godzilla with hopefully more brains than either of those.  And it looks awesome!!  TRAILER.

ironman3-poster-jumbo-jpg_1621423) Iron Man 3 (5/3): This ‘proper’ season kickoff will be huge.  Iron Man 3 luckily has the advantage of looking like a sequel to The Avengers (which everyone loved, and that film nearly doubled Iron Man’s previous domestic audience) rather than the mild disappointment that was Iron Man 2 three years ago.  New movie.  New director.  New tone.  And it looks like Tony Stark may have a lot to lose this time around.  I swear looking back—did anything actually happen in Iron Man 2?  Now the chips really start to crumble for Stark and it looks like an absolute blast.  TRAILER.

STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS2) Star Trek Into Darkness (5/17): J.J. Abrams is the new deity of dorks.  But cool people love him too.  So now there really isn’t such a thing as dorks anymore.  Abrams is a genius… yes I’m in that camp.  And no, I haven’t seen Lost.  But his movies get better and better.  Mission Impossible III, Star Trek, and Super 8.  Soon he will deliver Star Wars Episode VII.  But for now let’s talk Star Trek and the upcoming sequel.  It looks amazing and I’ve only grown more fond of Abrams’ 2009 Star Trek reboot over the years.  He did everything right in making Star Trek accessible to a mainstream audience.  The film was action-packed, funny, witty, well-acted, and the nods were everywhere for hardcore fans.  But if you missed them as a casual moviegoer, you still loved the movie!  So how can I not be ecstatic for the new Star TrekTRAILER.

mosposter1) Man of Steel (6/14): As I’m typing this I feel absolutely blown away that Man of Steel is in my number one spot.  I’m not a Superman fan!  I just don’t dig the character.  I don’t dislike him.  I just think he’s not that exciting of a character.  He’s basically indestructible, so where is the fun in that?  But Christopher Nolan is producing.  Zack Snyder of 300 and Watchmen is directing.  And the trailers look… amazing.  I’m honestly still skeptical, but I can’t deny that I’m most interested to see how this one turns out.  Kevin Costner, Diane Lane, Russell Crowe, Amy Adams, Michael Shannon, and Henry Cavill (as Clark Kent)… that’s a solid cast.  The visuals looks great.  The emotion looks in place.  The story and themes seem to be just right.  It has that Nolan-feel.  Maybe that’s it.  We had this same anticipation experience back in 2006 when Bryan Singer’s Superman Returns was set to usher in a new era for Superman.  The movie was a box office disappointment (only because Warner Bros spent way too much on the film because it performed exactly the same as Batman Begins the year prior) and people went from worshiping the film to outright hating it over the years.  I don’t know how people keep repeating these phases in moviedom.  The same thing happened to Indiana Jones 4 and Terminator 3 and Prometheus… and okay I’ll stop there.  But I really think Nolan and Snyder will deliver a Superman movie that finally makes me a fan.  TRAILER.

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Olympus Has Fallen

olympus_has_fallen_posterThe first of two ‘White House-taken-over-by-terrorists’ flicks this year, Olympus Has Fallen, looks, sounds, and feels exactly like an action-picture relic from 1995, right down to the obvious dialogue and dated special effects.  It borrows heavily from genre staples like Die Hard and Air Force One, without ever providing a winning homage to either.

Olympus, from Training Day director Antoine Fuqua (who has spent the last 12 years of his career reminding us he made that movie), is heavy on loud banging, but devoid of any and all smarts.  Had this movie been made 20 years ago with Sylvester Stallone in the lead role, it might be one of my classic go-to actioners, or at least a passable two hours of commercial-broken cable TV programming.  But instead, we are brought to a silly 2013 setting in which North Korean invaders savagely attack the most secure building in the world—and do so rather easily by cinema standards.  At least the film is unintentionally timely.

Aaron Eckhart plays the U.S. President whose staff majority and himself are locked away in the lower bunker of the White House with a group of baddies who want to start some good old nuclear war.  Cue the always reliable Morgan Freeman as the new ‘Acting President’ in negotiation with the terrorists, and Gerard ‘This is Sparta!’ Butler as the one ex-special forces Secret Service agent, Mike Banning, who escapes Korean detection and runs amok killing off henchman in the blown-up and barricaded war zone of the Executive Mansion.

Olympus-Has-Fallen-GI’m actually shocked this idea hadn’t made it to the big screen before now.  Soon Roland Emmerich (Independence Day, 2012) will bring his brand of Armageddon-ography to the proceedings with Channing Tatum protecting Jamie Foxx.  But for we now we get Fuqua’s efforts which rely heavily on insanely stupid plotting under the guise of enormous and unnecessarily gratuitous action salted with some awkward patriotic propaganda.  I wanted to like his movie, but his ‘Die Hard-in-the-White-House’ extravaganza doesn’t hold a candle to the action classics of yore.  Butler is serviceable but not great.  Freeman is always a plus in any movie.  But the rest of the cast is wasted, especially Melissa Leo (who is beaten to a pulp and dragged away saying the Pledge of Allegiance—an awkward scene) and Ashley Judd as the first lady who is only given the most uninspired dialogue in her precious screen time.

Not to mention every single scene in the film has been done with far more skill and assurance in cinema past.  Fuqua’s movie carbon copies some great Die Hard, Speed, Air Force One, etc. moments and can’t up the ante.  It can only dumb it down incredibly, ultimately becoming one of the year’s dopiest films as it marches decades past its expiration date.  I say skip Olympus and wait to see what Emmerich brings to the table.

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A Good Day to Die Hard

GoodDayDieHardI will cut right to the chase as I’ve wasted enough time already enduring this so-called entry in the Die Hard canon.  John Moore, director of such ‘memorable classics’ as The Omen (2006) and Max Payne, rides into the land of 20th Century Fox studios and takes the reigns of all things Die Hard, only to make the marginally decent fourth Die Hard look like the class-act original Die Hard. Moore’s 97-minute implosion stems from an anemic script by Skip Woods who seems to have written an entirely different protagonist, but simply swapped out a name for John McClane.

Where do we find America’s favorite wrong place-wrong time cop, McClane (Bruce Willis)?  He’s trotting about Moscow in an attempt to rescue his son, Jack (Jai Courtney), a CIA operative trying to extract an important Russian informant with a target on his back.  In the midst of protecting said Russian man, the estranged father-son duo exchange shallow barbs with each other and fire machine guns in all directions. Jack’s mad at Daddy for not being around much.  McClane doesn’t get it.  Boo-hoo. Do you think the banter is ever as biting and fresh as what we got from Samuel L. Jackson and Willis in the third Die Hard?  Heck, I would even take some Justin Long/Bruce Willis banter at this rate.  The studio and even Bruce Willis, himself, clearly had no intent to make a worthy installment.

Seriously.  The meeting for this movie went something like this.  “We have an idea for a Die Hard slogan: Yippee Ki-Yay Mother Russia.”  The studio executive says: “I love it. Perfect poster.  Green light.  Starting shooting tomorrow.  Worry about the script when you’re halfway finished.”  Willis jumps aboard and zones out the entire time.

Mr. Willis clearly isn’t here to play his most famous character.  He simply bobs around the international landscape taking a backseat to his son’s attempts at executing a plan.  None of what makes McClane the hero we love exists in this lazy cash-grab featuring a nonsensically convoluted yet surprisingly thin plot that could fit through the eye of a needle.  Honestly, the plot is so invisible, you will wonder for what reason all this mayhem took place when the end credits roll.

Yes, we get all the insane action and violence the CGI budget of a $92 million production can offer.  But McClane was never much for technology.  Willis’ continually yells, “I’m on vacation!”  Five times he repeats this.  I kept yelling to myself—no you aren’t!  You flew to Russia to save your son… What does that have to do with vacation?!  I concluded the catchphrase was intended as foreshadowing regarding what Willis was going to do with his hefty paycheck.  Consider this cash cow milked.

 

 

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The Last Stand

thelaststandIf 2013 quickly begins to look like 1988, you’re not crazy.  The great triumvirate of action stars (and Expendables buddies) Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone, and Bruce Willis return to cinemas laying the smackdown with their own respective starring films.  February kicks off with Sly’s Bullet to the Head, and V-Day brings the fifth(!) entry of the Die Hard franchise for Willis.

Schwarzenegger launches the retro time warp this weekend with his return to the big screen in leading man capacity after a 10-year absence.  He was busy governing a state or something and racking up a bevy of bad press.  The 65-year-old icon sets out to prove he’s still got the chops to be a seasoned action hero by headlining The Last Stand, a modern-day western set in southern western corner of Arizona, in the small town of Sommerton Junction which shares the border of Mexico.

Ahnuld plays the small-town sheriff Ray Owens looking forward to his day off when he spots two mysterious truckers in the local diner.  Something feels out of place, and it’s ironically not the senior citizen, Austrian-accented tree trunk in a sheriff’s uniform sitting at the breakfast bar.  Meanwhile, federal agent John Bannister (Forest Whitaker) attempts to a transport a highly dangerous incarcerated drug cartel leader, Gabriel Cortez (Eduardo Noriega) to a death row facility, but his team inevitably finds an intercepting band of assassins that snatch the criminal from the Feds’ slippery fingers.  Cortez escapes in a specially modified ZR1 Corvette—faster than any chopper, and utilizes his men to run off all law enforcement blockades.

Somehow the sleepy town of Sommerton and the 200 mph fugitive will cross paths, and Owens knows this after finding a local farmer murdered by a high-caliber weapon.  He exchanges a few words with Agent Bannister about how the events are connected, but Owens “has seen enough blood and death, and he knows what’s coming.”  The muscled sheriff locks down Sommerton and brings his lackluster team of three local cops (Luis Guzman, Jamie Alexander, Zach Gilford) and two appointed deputies together (Johnny Knoxville and Rodrigo Santoro) to stand in the way of the cartel before the evil Cortez can speed his way into Mexico and out of the hands of the law leading to a rough-and-tumble shootout of epic proportions.

Directed by the highly praised foreign filmmaker Jee-woon Kim, he brings Schwarzenegger to light like we’ve never seen him before.  The Last Stand is a slow boil, with more character and nuance than any of Arnold’s earlier shoot-em-ups.  As ballistic and violent as this film is, it is very much a good old fashioned western in a modern small town setting.  Even though this is the former governor’s show, the supporting characters actually have a great deal of development, and a surprising amount of humor spills over into nearly every scene.

TheLastStand2Knoxville and Guzman get the best laughs, as do a few random locals.  But Schwarzenegger gets the most applause, again commanding the action and even bringing some much needed vulnerability to the beady-eyed old-timer that is called upon to do the impossible.  The action in this film, in its limited scope, is some of the most impressively shot of Arnold’s career, updating the star’s fisticuffs and bullet-dodging to a gritty and current visual aesthetic impressively captured by the sharp eye of a wild-card choice for a director.

The Last Stand doesn’t do anything particularly original with its story, but the action set pieces are undeniably creative and impressive.  Sitting through this thriller, I realized how small of a film it really is, far from the excessive branding brought on by Arnold’s wildest adventures from the 90s like Eraser and True Lies.  This is a character-based slow burn Western that eventually bursts into a full-blown war zone.  I enjoyed Last Stand more than I thought I would, and for different reasons, even though I was predisposed to enjoy it as a Schwarzenegger fan.  This is likely his most out-of-place action film, but I think patient audiences will love it, and I for one welcome the return of Ahnuld who has most definitely still got a punch or two left in him.

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Jack Reacher

jack-reacher-poster-internationalThe film adaptation Jack Reacher is guilty of a lot of crimes, but perhaps its largest is that of bad timing.  This thriller looses the mystery of a mass shooting in which five innocent victims wind up the target of a deranged assassin one fateful morning.  How this eerie resemblance to real life of late hasn’t blown up bigger in reaction to the film boggles the cortex.

From the picture’s outset, the audience knows the identity of the real perpetrator, but investigators follow a concrete trail of breadcrumbs leading directly to a military sniper, James Barr (Joseph Sikora), complete with a mental history that resulted in the cold-blooded murders of four army cohorts.  Barr demands the feds find someone to assistant his defender, Helen (Rosamund Pike) in order to find the truth.  He calls on Jack Reacher, a military cop-drifter, living entirely off the grid.  The audience only views the back of Mr. Reacher’s noggin for his first few scenes.  Why is he so secretive?  Because he’s a hard-boiled limb-snapper with nothing to lose.  You think he’s a hero?  He is not a hero.  He doesn’t care about the law.  He doesn’t care about proof.  He only cares about what’s right.  Yes, you’ve seen the ads.  They might as well have said, “Dear bad guys: he will find you.  He will kill you.”

The noggin belongs to superstar Tom Cruise, whose career has bounced around the building blocks for the last eight years.  They love him.  They hate him.  They tolerate him.  They love him again.  They hate him again.  Luckily none of that matters as Cruise has always brought 100 percent to his work—even made-for-cable thrills such as Jack Reacher, which gloriously miscasts Cruise, drives through cliches with a snowplow, runs about twenty minutes too long, and somehow manages to still reward audiences with plenty of bang for their buck.

Even though Cruise would be considered pint-sized against author Lee Child’s hulking intimidator from his Reacher novel series, the actor still brings charisma and believability (as far as any believability can go in this film) to the part.  Did I believe he could lay waste to five perps bare-handed and single-handedly?  Absolutely.  Do I think he can take a baseball bat to the back of the skull and still maneuver?  Hmmm.

JACK REACHERBut let’s be honest here—Cruise blows up any action movie he touches in a good way, even when he doesn’t belong.  Jack Reacher is a prime fit for him if we didn’t already know this was a franchise originally intended for a Dwayne Johnson-type.  Once audiences get past that glare, they can settle into a grimy thriller from writer-director Christopher McQuarrie, a frequent collaborator with Director Bryan Singer (The Usual Suspects, Valkyrie) and now of course Cruise (the upcoming All You Need is Kill and Mission Impossible 5).

McQuarrie lets Reacher settle in a placid violence.  The action often results in painfully brutal imagery.  The shooting.  The fisticuffs.  Then there’s the menace of his villains, Jai Courtney (the actual shooter) and the brilliant insanity of filmmaker Werner Herzog who steps in front of the camera as the maniacal, foggy-eyed embodiment of evil referred to as the Zec.  The performances throughout the film range from fair, to good, to wild.  It’s actually all quite fascinating.  Then McQuarrie underscores the events with unmistakable dread.  Somehow his movie escaped with a PG-13 rating probably because there’s little blood.  But the violence is blunt, brutal and lingering.  Think Taken and Bourne on a depressant, in which the action doesn’t cut and jump around to a head-spin.  Instead McQuarrie let’s the moments of violence build and linger.

This is where the writer-director somehow blends the formulaic proceedings of the plot with the odd dose of casting and mixes in his bitter penchant for the deep-rooted cold, making Jack Reacher an unexpected kick to the gut.  Is Reacher, the enforcer, a hero?  The question is never exactly answered, but I’m guessing as a potential franchise for Cruise, the powers that be will think so.

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