Thursday, November 29, 2012
Steve Buscemi's harrowing Prison drama
After a "third strike" marijuana bust, young Ron Decker (Edward Furlong) from a respectable family, is sentenced to ten years hard labour in Eastern State Penitentiary, a harsh grade-A prison, where stabbings occur amongst inmates daily. Guards miss the attacks and end up dragging away the injured to the prison hospital or, worse still, bringing in the body bags.
Following his comparatively mild debut Tress Lounge in 1996, Animal Factory is Steve Buscemi's second film based on the novel by Edward Bunker - an uncompromising, almost docustyle look at life in a present-day US prison, through the eyes of a young rookie befriended by a veteran Earl Copen (a shaven-headed Willem Dafoe) whose motives are shown to be curiously ambiguous.
Initially, Decker's entry into this underworld governed by rival gangs and racist factions causes anxiety. With his fresh-faced and boyish good-looks Decker becomes the object of unwanted attention, especially in the showers. His introduction into the shady world of Copen, so well connected that at one point he boasts that "this is my damn prison", causes a different kind of anxiety.
Why does Copen befriend Decker? Will Decker get into bad ways thorough the intimidatory tactics that Copen adopts to get his way? Should Decker pay more attention to his jailbird transvestite cellmate "Jan the actress" (Mickey Rourke in drag) whose very exclusion from the gang world at least keeps him out of trouble? Will Decker ever be able to persuade the parole board (led by a suited Buscemi in a smaller role) that he is worthy of release or will his exploits in Copen's gang, count against him?
Animal Factory should keep you guessing until the final reel. As prison dramas go, it does have a few surprises up its sleeve. Performances are uniformly strong with Dafoe and Furlong giving every ounce to reveal how the bond develops between their two characters.
Although the storyline may seem to offer a little less than the sum of its parts, this is still a curiously affecting piece that sticks in the memory, not least because of the astonishing performance of Mickey Rourke, who almost steals the show in a virtually unrecognizable cameo role. On the whole, a great prison drama without much of the usual cliche. Danny Trejo, Tom Arnold and John Heard co-star. Mostic
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Sunday, November 25, 2012
JohnnyTwoToes tells you why he loves this superstar Actionfest
The simplest way to describe Expendables 2 is that if you liked the first film (I did), then you will love the second. This time, in addition to the rest of the A list cast (Stallone, Lundgren, Statham, Li, Couture, Willis & Schwarzenegger) we are treated to Chuck Norris, Liam Hemsworth, Terry Crews, rising B-film action star Scott Adkins and Jean Claude Van Damme (who apparently refused the first part) playing the main baddie. There is also Nan Yu, the lone female in the ensemble cast as Maggie an operative for Church (Willis).
This time, the mission of the mercenary group is to retrieve a hard drive from a special safe inside a plane wreck in hostile territory near Russia. Once Van Damme steals the hard drive, it is payback time for Barney Ross (Stallone) and his demolishing crew. One thing is for sure, action buffs will not be disappointed. Expendables 2 is nothing that will change your life but it serves its purpose as an entertaining 100 minutes of solid action.
The film starts with a rousing opening sequence in which the team rescues Trench (Schwarzenegger) from a rat's nest in the middle of Nepal, reminiscent of early 80s and 90s action films. Trench it seems was there to rescue a Chinese billionaire which re-introduces the character we saw briefly from the first film.
From there, the film jumps back to the States where Church (Willis) pays Barney (Stallone) a visit. "You owe me $5 million. I told you would pay me back and this is it, " growls Church. Don't look for much depth in this film. It is not that kind of film, however the Booker character (Chuck Norris) adds some levity. "I thought you were dead," Barney states, "I heard you were bitten by a cobra." Yea, and after five long days of pain and agony......the cobra died," Booker responds with a paper thin smirk.
The film has a number of humorous one liners like these and the script penned by Stallone and Richard Wenk wisely spreads them out to all of the characters. Stallone also has given the directing chair over to Simon West. West is a British director who helmed other fine action films like Tomb Raider, Con Air and more recently The Mechanic (also starring Statham). Stallone directed the first film but reportedly opted out for more time to hone the script.
The surprise here no doubt is Jean Claude Van Damme as Vilain (yes, that's his name in the movie). After a string of dull celluloid action flicks, it is refreshing to see him back and he does a fantastic job of playing a cool, remorseless baddie.
Most films are made for different reasons but this one is meant for action fans. Expendables 2 is pure, solid, balls to the wall action with style and energy to burn. There is a real effort to entertain and it did that for me. Will it appeal to everyone? Probably not, but if you are in the mood for some slambang first grade action, check Expendables 2 out. Its a great watch!
Friday, November 23, 2012
Big budget bombastic Action movie with a female touch!
The Long Kiss Goodnight (1996) is an entertaining action thriller that also tries to spice up the typical Hollywood action formula with a gender switch. Geena Davis in a unconventional role plays a standard looking suburban mom who overcomes her amnesia and learns she was once a trained government assassin. Once she blows her cover, feds and killers come after her with guns a-blazin' and bombs exploding!
This film is on the level of Schwarzenegger's Eraser, the difference only being that you have a woman lead playing the action hero(ine) who miraculously escapes beatings, drownings, explosions, thousands of rounds of machine gun fire and an assortment of other dangerously bad situations.
Davis's then husband Renny Harlin (Cliffhanger, Die Hard 2, Deep Blue Sea) directs, and the ever-likable Samuel L. Jackson costars as a cut-rate private investigator who gets dragged along for a wild ride - providing much the same comic support that he did in Die Hard with a Vengeance.
What makes this movie worthwhile is the dialogue of screenwriter Shane Black (Iron Man 3). Among Black's more successful efforts was Lethal Weapon and Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, but even in ludicrous stuff like The Last Boy Scout there are lines that amusingly crack up. Throughout The Long Kiss Goodnight, Black keeps up a steady stream of quips and amusing bits of business for the characters, like having Jackson continually making up words to "Bad to the Bone," his own personal theme music. Yeah, it's dumb, but it's a good popcorn action movie for Friday or Saturday night.
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Wednesday, November 21, 2012
Sunday, November 18, 2012
JohnnyTwoToes cant stand this juvenile Spy vs Spy
This Means War (2012) is the kind of date movie that you take a girl to just to make out. You don't REALLY watch the movie so you don't miss much, but then again there is not much to miss. She spends all the time gawking at the two handsome male leads (Tom Hardy and Chris Pine) and you stare at Reese Witherspoon. That is when you're not.....you know.....
Anyway, This Means War is a date movie to watch when you don't want to actually WATCH a movie. It is so trite and goofy, only Hollywood could pump this stuff out. It stars Tom Hardy and Chris Pine as two best friends and super agents that can't seem to find the right girl to settle down with.
Tuck (Hardy) is a sensitive bloke who was married and has a son but is now divorced and can't seem to make this work with his ex-wife or son. FDR Foster (Pine) is a consummate ladies man who is always on the make and he changes women like we change socks. Reese Witherspoon is Lauren. She is a bossy ad exec who, of course, is married to her work and nothing else. She wants to find the right guy but he will always come second.
As for Tuck and FDR Foster, they are married to their work, too but only because they have nothing else. Somehow they both meet Lauren at different times unbeknownst to the other. When the guys realize they are dating the same girl a challenge arises. Which one will she choose?
Lauren, of course does not know the two men she is dating know each other and are crime fighting best friends. Foster's off handed comment that Tuck has been out of the dating game for so long that Foster would win her hands down, pisses Tuck off. "Let the best man win." Now they must fight the baddies, and get the girl all at the same time.........*yawn*.
I really wanted to like this film. The cast is attractive and there is a certain charm but this wears out quickly as the viewer is treated to stale retread bits from other film. True Lies comes to mind. They use Drones, tranquilizer guns, surveillance equipment and all kinds of shmoozing to try to find out what the other guy is doing. Company resources that most people would be fired for, I might add. But this is a romantic action comedy so that is ok. Right? As long as the plot needs it, they use whatever the hell they want.
The problem is we have seen it all before. Then there is the obligatory meeting of the families while Lauren laments who she will choose. This Means War is a one joke film that has a few chuckles but nothing more. It is the kind of film that thinks it is a lot funnier than it really is. Director McG knows how to stage the action but the script by Timothy Dowling and Simon Kinberg runs out of steam very quickly.
The 3 leads don't do much except blather on with tired dialogue and the although the action is competently staged, it is the mystery of the bad guy that is never explored. Lethal Weapon was the kind of movie This Means War was trying to be. Lethal Weapon had a great script, great action and solid acting. The bad guys were real scum-sucking vermin and we could get into what was happening to the characters. We cared about the good guys and hated the bad guys. This Means War has nothing more than cookie cut-out characters that serve a dimwitted plot.
Like I said, there are a couple of chuckles, the cast does the best they can and like I said before, I really did want to like this film. No matter how hard I tried, it was just a silly and hackneyed film from start to finish all dressed up with no where to go. This Means War-*3/4 out of 4.
Wednesday, November 14, 2012
JohnnyTwoToes rues his disappointment with the blazing phantom rider
It is no secret around Hollywood that Nicolas Cage loves to spend his money on everything from castles to cars to artwork and even to islands. Cage spends so much money he seems to be running out of it which is why we (his fans), get stuck watching crap like Ghost Rider 2: Spirit Of Vengeance.
It seems to me, anyway that Cage will do any film that throws some green his way. I will say that this Ghost Rider is a little better than the original which was about as exciting as watching someone push mow their yard. Still by saying it is better, is not saying much, believe me.
This time around Johnny Blaze (Cage) is protecting a young boy (Fergus Riordan) from the dark one himself (Ciaran Hinds) who wants to control the boy so that the world will be engulfed in darkness. The boy's mother, Nadya (played with voluptuous zeal by Violante Placido), will of course do anything to stop her son from being corrupted by the evil forces at work. Blaze has a friend in the form of Moreau (the awesome Idris Elba) and the two join forces to protect the child, the mother and the world from the likes of the evil minions of the dark one.
You know you have problems in a film when your leading star is the least interesting person on the screen. I don't know how else to describe it except if you take out the title character this film might be more fun. That is sad. Nicolas Cage can be extremely good (The Weather Man, Lord Of War, Matchstick Men, Face/off) or he can be REALLY bad as in Ghost Riders 1 and 2. There does not seem to be a middle of the road with Cage's projects.
Ghost Rider 2 has all the elements for a good picture but it stumbles every time Cage comes on screen. Is it all Cage's fault? Not really. The script seems to be recycled out of other horror & supernatural movies, but the rest of the cast holds the film together, despite the cliches and a predictable direction of the film.
There is a tired scene where Blaze teaches the 12 year old boy to ride his big motorcycle and there is the obligatory slow motion smile from the boy who has a fleeting moment of happiness. If only he was not the son of Satan. Damn, I hate it when that happens.
I was actually stunned when they announced that Ghost Rider was going to have a sequel. I was even more stunned to find out that the original Ghost Rider grossed over 100 million dollars at the box office. It was so poorly received by critics and audiences that I thought we would be spared this inept film.
If I were making the inevitable 3rd film in this series, I would start over and start from scratch with a new star to play Johnny Blaze. From there, I would find someone who could write a decent script and really get into the psyche of Johnny Blaze. Find out what makes him tick instead of him riding a Hog that catches on fire.
Part of the reason Christopher Nolan's Batman films are so damn good is the fact that we try to figure out the man behind the mask. Why he does what he does and the toll it takes not just on the man and hero but the people around him. Ghost Rider is nothing more than cheap, dimestore tricks hurled at the screen with little cause or effect. Do yourselves a favor and watch any of the Nolan's Batman films if you want to see a true battle within the man and the hero. Ghost Rider 2: Spirit Of Vengeance is a waste of your time and money. Ghost Rider 2: Spirit Of Vengeance- *1/2 out of 4
Saturday, November 10, 2012
Friday, November 9, 2012
Not the Sixties that you think you knew already
I detest the sixties. Actually, I adore the sixties. No, I hate them. Actually, I wasn't even there in the first place, so I guess it's most precise to say I both hate and love a muddled compilation of images of the sixties, alike only in that they're all fake and made-up.
Among a sea of individual versions of the sixties, I'm influenced in my opinions by the sixties imagined in my own mind, the sixties desperately clung to and forced upon me by middle-aged burnouts and sellouts, and the sixties of inaccessible historical facts.
What I detest most about the sixties is that it's the decade that gave birth to the hippie, a cultural type that is still living and reeking among us today. More specifically, I don't hate individual hippies so much as I loathe the finicky type of rebuff fundamental to the hippie worldview. In hippie creed, the watered-down strains of several misunderstood philosophies - bastardized Eastern religions, socialist utopian assertions, whitewashed peace dogmas and psychedelic music - are merged, made fuzzy by the smoke of cheap pot, made difficult by a foundation in bottomless concession, and all hardened into a kind of self-serving and willfully puerile theory and practice.
When I think of the sixties with anger, I imagine a massive percentage of young white America thinking and acting informed by this simplistic and narcissistic worldview. What charms me about the sixties, though, is the downbeat image of that shiny, happy rejection, the gloomy and chaotic unending bummer that this deplorable scrim of self-delusion has got to be hiding.
I don't even need solid experience of the time to know that it was a profoundly messed-up, confusing one - I need only refer to the aforementioned historical data: the Cuban missile crisis, the war in Vietnam, the genocide in Cambodia, the murder of a popular President, the murder of a even more popular civil rights icon. And the presence of more American young people than ever before, young people who had to deal with the sterilized bullshit of the fifties crumbling to flimsy pieces underneath them.
So screw those dancing bellbottoms, screw those polka dotted skirts, screw those long beards and hippie hairdos, screw those druggy flowers in hair, and screw contemporary media's cheesy nostalgic theme park packaged version of the sixties that later kids like me have come to accept as our primary image of that whole decade. It's time to do your own 60s homework now!
Tuesday, November 6, 2012
Weepy Guns and Roses Misfire
Here's another movie from 1996 but this one you should avoid. What a horrible misfire of a movie. Women will sneer and probably say, "Oh, you just don't like chick films." Piffle. To borrow an idea from Oscar Wilde, I'm not interested in whether a certain film is a guy film or a chick film - I only care whether it's good or bad.
To tell the truth, I eagerly awaited the arrival of In Love and War (1996) in the theaters. It promised an epic-scale wartime romance (I've forgotten how many times I've watched Casablanca, folks), and it threw in my then dream date Sandra Bullock for icing on the cake. Besides, it was directed by the great Richard Attenborough. I'm a sensitive, romantic guy, you know, and on the day this film arrived, I was there with a very special date. I had to elbow an elderly couple away from the shelf, but I managed to snag the last tickets.
If you've ever wondered why the English have a reputation for being lousy lovers, check out this film. It's supposed to be a love story - about the young Ernest Hemingway falling for a Red Cross nurse in an Italian hospital - but it contains nothing that even remotely resembles passion.
Chris O'Donnell and Sandra Bullock, as much as I like them both, are simply miscast to begin with; moreover, there's no way they can generate any sparks given the wet noodle of a script they've been saddled with. They end up looking pretty foolish.
Richard Attenborough should have directed this fiasco - by fax, apparently. The kindest thing I can say for him as a director, in general, is that he didn't ruin Closing the Ring (2007). In addition to a real script, this movie about Americans in love needed an American sensibility and not the proper British reserve Attenborough anesthetized it with.
This is a very empty, very dull movie, boys and girls. The sad thing is, a lot of women probably took some heat after making their husbands or boyfriends view it. Avoid!
Thursday, November 1, 2012
Socially Awkward 100% Raw Hilariousness
Okay, with some measure of embarrassment, I confess that MTV's Beavis and Butt-head has always been one of my guilty pleasures. And while I'm fessing up to lowbrow indulgences, I might as well say that I also like the Three Stooges (the recent 2012 remake by the Farrelly Brothers was also very good), in small doses. But only the ones with Curly, mind you.
I do have standards. The first full-length B&B feature directed by Mike Judge that released way back in 1996 to super successdom kicks off with a truly off-the-wall opening-credit sequence done in the style of seventies blaxploitation movies, complete with Isaac Hayes music. Though it rarely rises again to that level of inspired lunacy, the whole movie turns out to be an utter delight for hardcore fans like myself.
It takes the normally couch-confined nitwits, sets them off on a cross-country adventure, and lets them go through their whole repertoire of jokes in all-new situations. The caveat here is that you have to know and love the gags from the TV episodes in order to appreciate the variations in the movie. For that reason, it's not likely to win many converts, but it's a must for both new and longtime fans.
If you are a Beavis and Butt-head fan, who has still not seen it or someone new to the dim-witted, socially awkward duo's hilariousness, now is the time to relive the fun.
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