Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Abraham Lincoln Vampire Killer (2012)

JohnnyTwoToes cant stand this ridiculous vampire spin of American History

I hope this does not seem like I am bragging but I have seen a lot of films in my 44 years on God's planet. Some great, some good and some, well shall we say, not so good but Abraham Lincoln Vampire Killer (2012) has to be one of the silliest, baddest, most ridiculous, most outrageous films I have ever seen. 

Abraham Lincoln Vampire Killer tells the story from Abe (Benjamin Walker) as a boy who watches his mother getting devoured by vampires so he yearns for revenge no matter how long it takes. Years later Abe as a young adult is trained in the ways of vampire hunting by Henry Sturges (Dominic Cooper) and the weapon of choice - a big ass axe! No crosses, Holy Water or any of that nonsense  No, Honest Abe carries an axe. He is so handy with it he can take out an entire tree with one swing. Not a simple little piddly ass tree. No, but a big mammoth sized Oak tree. It gets worse, too. 

In his travels to banish and kill all vampires from the face of the earth, he manages to find the culprit who killed his mother and also the main leader of the vampire clan - Adam (Rufus Sewell)  a racist Southerner who intends to change the great United States into a country of the living dead! The rest of the film is about as odd as this. While Abe is killing vampires, he begins to get the vibe from the local girl, Mary (Mary Elizabeth Winstead). Oh and lest we forget he begins to get into politics as he heads for the Presidency. Yeah! a vampire hunting President!

Abraham Lincoln Vampire Killer is preposterous from start to finish. Russian director  Timur Bekmambetov directed two much better vampire films Night Watch (2004) and Day Watch (2006) that were blockbusters in his home country. They also helped him earn a entry in Hollywood with the high octane actioner Wanted (2008) starring Angelina Jolie, James McAvoy, and Morgan Freeman. In those two films and also in Wanted, there was the urgent sense of comic book energy and it worked to a point. In this movie though,  is just bad film making, and Seth Grahame-Smith's screenplay based on his own novel (yes, the only literature this film is based on is this guy's own book), is lacking in any humor or intelligence at all and this strange brew of action, fantasy, history and horror ends up leaving you irritated. And the fact, it was co-produced by the talented Tim Burton adds the agony.

Lets just say that Abraham Lincoln Vampire Killer is stupid and ludicrous. The cast does the best they can but in the end, you get the feeling even they knew what a dumb dog and pony show this was. It can be true to say that Hollywood will make a movie out of ANYTHING. Let us hope Bekmambetov does not screw up the forthcoming sequel to Wanted which he is supposed to direct too. Abraham Lincoln Vampire Killer- *1/2 out of 4.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Taken 2 (2012)

JohnnyTwoToes is not taken in by this insipid sequel !

The original action thriller Taken (2008) slickly directed by the French cinematographer Pierre Morel, best known for directing From Paris with Love and District 13, was a surprise smash hit which jettisoned Irish superstar Liam Neeson to action hero status, even though he is a fine actor who had done countless other films. Lots of great films, actually. 

In Taken, Neeson's daughter is kidnapped and sold into a sex slavery ring along with her best friend when they go to visit Europe. It was a tough and solid action picture where the audience connected with the hero. I mean who wouldn't do everything in their power to save their daughter? 

Taken 2 picks up after Taken ends. It's been a little while but everyone is still just a little on edge. Kim (the daughter taken in the first film and played by Maggie Grace) is trying to get her drivers license and she has a boyfriend, whom she likes but is not sure she loves him, yet. Lenore (Famke Janssen) is Bryan Mills' (Liam Neeson) wife and she who has been separated from Bryan from the first film is now living in a extravagant estate but is having issues with her new beau. It seems he won't take them to China like he promised. So back into Bryan's arms she falls in need of comfort. The two are so nice to one another you wonder why they ever were separated to begin with. Ah, but who's cares, right? 

Bryan comes up with the great idea. "Hey I have a business trip in Istanbul for three days. After those three days why don't you and Kim come out?" Bryan says with a soft understanding voice. For the films expediency I will spare you the shock. They both go to meet Bryan in Istanbul and soon the action licks in. 

Taken 2 pits the father of the men that Bryan killed in the first film against Bryan in the second. Apparently the father, Murad Krasniqi (played by Rade Sherbedgia) has an endless array of other sons and thugs all too willing to participate in another kidnapping. This time of Bryan and Lenore. I guess when you have a film like Taken 2 you have to have bad guys thump like rabbits to produce all the offspring you need to facilitate the necessities of a ludicrous plot. I mean most people don't have an army of home grown minions to sacrifice time after time. But this is Hollywoodland so Taken 2 sadly ends up being another in the long line of ill advised sequels that should never have seen the light of day. 

It is not an awful film but it is contrived, predictable and filled with stock characters that don't need names. They are just lambs for the slaughter; gimmicks to fill the plot. This sequel does not have the energy, style or the connection to the hero like the first film. It simply exists to make money (and it did) and make way for a third one. Taken 2 only succeeded in boring me, as the action was pretty routine as well. Neeson does what he can and he does carry this lame duck for a while. But Oliver Megaton's (Transporter 3) direction is scattershotly effective and the script by Luc Besson and Robert Mark Kamen does nothing to give this film any originality. You can have sequels, just make them about something rather than just rehash the original. Taken 2 is uninspired and just plain boring. It's deja-vu in a bad way all over again. Taken 2 -** out of 4.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Savages (2012)

JohnnyTwoToes finds this quirky crime thriller flawed but entertaining!

Oliver Stone lets his "free love" fly in this offbeat drugs themed thriller Savages (2012). This is a odd little film that came and went rather quickly earlier in 2012, and although it is not very great (and not very bad either), it is just intoxicating enough with a A-rate ensemble cast to boot that you might actually end up liking it. 

Savages tells the story of 3 drug dealers; O played by the lovely Blake Lively, Chon played by current Hollywood fav Taylor Kitsch and Ben subtly played by Aaron Taylor-Johnson. They have a beautiful house on the beach in sunny LA, have tons of money from their drug trade and a relative care free lifestyle. They are quite famous too because everyone is using their product; from entertainers to a corrupt DEA officer named Dennis (John Travolta). 

O as she is called loves both Chon and Ben and they represented what she looks for in a guy only, here it takes two, apparently. "Ben makes love to me, whereas Chon and I have sex", O muses. Chon is a tortured Gulf War vet who met Ben while Chon was running black market goods while still in the military. 

The three main leads are excellent. Blake Lively loves both her men but can't seem to part with either one of them. Chon is a seemingly decent but an impulsive bloke and Kitsch plays him well as both violent but always knows more than he lets on. Ben is smart no doubt who does most of the figuring and processing of the pot  but Johnson plays him as a sweetly naive lad with new age spiritual leanings who only wants to provide pot to those who just want to get high for whatever reason. 

After the three receive a horrifying email from a ruthless rival, they agree to a sit down with the competition run by Elena (Salma Hayek) who is both beauty and the beast. They are told "bring all of your knowledge on how to grow the best pot or we will be very angry." Ben gulps with fear but Chon is pragmatic about it. They say no and that is when O is kidnapped by Elena and her crew run by Lado (Benicio Del Toro in terrific form). 

Savages is gritty and gruesome. And being about drug dealers and drug runners, it is understandable that these are not the nicest people in the world. Lado is especially cruel as he dishes out voilent punishment for anyone who crosses the "organization". There is the constant threat of betrayal on both sides that is understood and Stone's direction lets it boil slowly but effectively. 

The script written by Stone, Shane Salerno and Don Winslow (based on his novel) is well researched and seems to know what it is talking about. There are some touches of very dark humor along the way but in the back of our minds we know this is all coming to a head. It does drag in a few spots and the ending was interesting if not kind of silly. Still this is a decent (but flawed) film and not for the squeamish. 

There is an underlying theme for legalizing drugs (pot in particular) in Savages which I feel could have been done without. This has long been an issue close to Stone's heart but that is another story. Somehow , he worked into this film and I found it distracting. I mean he wants to legalize drugs but everyone in this film are people we would not want to spend anytime around, so which is it, Ollie? Drugs are either great or they attract some of the lowest scumbag dealers around. Savages can't seem to provide any answers to either of those questions. Still, I was interested by the characters in Savages and liked most of what I saw. 

For the most part,  Savages is entertaining, well acted, well written and the cinematography by Daniel Mindel is simply gorgeous. I mean any film that has a rich cast like this and the minds behind it can't be that bad. 

There are two versions to Savages; an R-rated version and an uncut version. The R-rated version is decent and has a run time of just over two hours, whereas, the uncut version is almost two and a half hours in runtime and is a more complete film. Skip the rated version and watch the uncut edition - it is more better, more stylish and if I could add, more savagely satisfying.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Killer Joe (2012)

JohnnyTwoToes feels let down by a ruinous ending (in spite of a great cast)

Oscar winner William Friedkin has long been a Hollywood legend with some of the finest films to come out of Tinsel Town in a long time. He has done it all - from action, comedy, adventure to horror (Exorcist) and now comes Killer Joe, a truly disturbing neo-noir dark thriller with Matthew McConaughey as the title character. It's hard to know what Friedkin was going for in this one but it will be one for the book of the weird. 

Killer Joe is a Dallas homicide detective who moonlights as a hit-man. He has been hired by Chris (Emile Hirsch) and Chris's father Ansel (Thomas Haden Church) to kill Chris's mother for her $50,000 life insurance policy. It seems Chris is deep in debt with the local crime syndicate and unless he comes up with the money, he is fish food. 

Killer Joe is the man for the job, but  Chris and Ansel don't really have the money to pay Joe for the hit. That is until Joe gets a sight of Chris's sister, Dottie (Juno Temple). Dottie is the sole beneficiary of the policy but is a little slow since the mother tried to smother Dottie with a pillow when she was just a child. Why make your daughter the beneficiary when you hate her so much you try to kill her? I guess the mother was trying to make amends. But since Tracy Letts script based on his play still runs with the idea that no one likes the mother, the idea of Dottie be the benefactor seems odd. But ok, let us accept that premise. Joe likes Dottie and says to Chris and Ansel, "We can talk about a retainer. I will see Dottie until I get my money." From there everything goes wrong. 

Matthew McConaughey is simply superb in this role. Joe is such a creep and McConaughey is so chillingly convincing as he "romances Dottie who is barely of legal age. "Do you trust me, Dottie?" Joe asks. "Not quite" , Dottie replies. "That's good", Joe responds with a icy coolness. He is not the man to piss off. 

The rest of the cast does an excellent job, as well. Thomas Haden Church garners lots of laughs as Chris's father who is as dumb as day old fecal matter. Emile Hirsch is superb as Chris, a kid who does not realize he is on over his head until it is too late. It was also great to see Gina Gershon in a large role as Chris's step-mother who seems to know more than she lets on. Juno Temple as Dottie has a sweet naiveness but, also seems to be smarter than people give her credit for. 

I liked Killer Joe up to a point. It's odd creepiness and dark humor generated some uncomfortable laughs and propelled Letts' script past being too morose but the final act was a total let down. Killer Joe has all of the elements to be Fargo-ish; something the Cohen brothers might do. But the ending had me so angry that I can't really give Killer Joe a hearty recommendation, despite all that it has going for it. 

Did Friedkin, who brought us such well scripted and directed films like The French Connection and To Live And Die In L.A., suddenly give up on the end? Did he just say, "Screw it ya'll figure it out." I don't know. But with a resume of such character driven films, these characters and audience deserved better than to be left hanging. For me, Killer Joe is a 'could have been good' film that seems incomplete and leaves you with a unsatisfied finish. 

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Heist (2001)

An underrated crime classic from David Mamet 

Few cinematic pleasures can compare to a brilliant cast of talented actors allowed to practice their craft using a great script and being guided by the assured hand of an ace director who understands something about storytelling and movie making. Heist, the 2001 crime thriller from playwright-screenwriter-director David Mamet is one among them if not one of the very best. At the risk of sounding like a wuss, it's enough to make you cry. 

Gene Hackman stars as an aging thief who manages to get caught on camera during what was supposed to be his last caper. Complicating matters is the fact that Hackman's fence (Danny DeVito) has screwed him out of his share of the loot, forcing our againg hero to take on one last heist. 

While the plot is as old and hackneyed as they come, Mamet breathes new life into a tired formula, bringing the twists, turns and betrayals that have become the trademark of his best work (House of Games, The Spanish Prisoner.). 

But the other thing that makes the film really work is the aging cast, which includes Hackman, Delroy Lindo, DeVito and Ricky Jay. These older men, with their lifeworn faces, are cut from the same cloth as action and noir heroes of the past, like Lee Marvin and Robert Mitchum, and prove that Hollywood's crop of young Turks (Sam Rockwell here) can't hold a candle to men old enough to be their fathers (or maybe even grandfathers).

And while Heist, may not bring a tear to your eye, it will bring a smile of gratitude to your face, because Mamet never assumes his audience is so stupid they need their hands held. A very enjoyable crime film! Less said, the better!

Free Video Link - Streaming and Download - VeeHD

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Resident Evil: Retribution (2012)

JohnnyTwoToes cant stand this boring 5th installment nor will you!

Resident Evil: Retribution is the second to last film of the video game inspired Resident Evil  series before they start remaking THESE films (see my earlier review for Total Recall (2012) as a reference). 

Maybe they can do a better job, as these films never were very good in the first place but sadly, they have become progressively worse with each sequel. I say "second to last film of this series" because the film's star Milla Jovovich has said she would do maybe 2 more films. This is the first of her two. Like a prison sentence only WE actually are doing the time watching this crap.

Like its predecessors, the film opens with Alice (Jovovich) explaining, yet again, why and what has happened. As if the viewers are comatose and have no idea what they are watching or never played the damn game the films are based on. Still, we sit and listen to Alice drone on with all of the flashy visuals telling us about the T-virus; blah, blah & blah, blah, blah. 

I actually liked the first film of this series - it  was a trendsetter in the sci-fi zombie genre but the sequels have gone absolutely nowhere and the fifth film Resident Evil: Retribution is like flogging a dead horse. There are some interesting creature effects, impressive action sequences and the scores by various composers from Marilyn Manson to Tomandandy have been standout achievements. The writing, however has sunk like a stone to the bottom of Stupid Lake. 

This time, we have Alice waking up in the middle of room clad in only a towel and grilled for information by Jill Valentine (Sienna Guillory) who now works for the evil Umbrella Corporation. After, Alice is let loose clothed in a rather nice leather outfit fitted with some cool weapons, she is forced to battle her way out of Umbrella underwater base in the arctic circle. The only problem is she is forced to get out via some kind of bio-war research dome that has places from around the world as possible nests of the undead. As she conquers one location, say The Kremlin, then New York City's Times Square pops up next, and so on. 

If my explanation is maddening, imagine just watching it for yourself. It was like watching someone play a video game that never lets you play. In spite of the presence of Michelle Rodriguez and Sienna Guillory, the script, acting and direction are as lame as the plot sounds with only Jovovich to do the heavy lifting to try and carry it to the finish. 

This edition was written and directed by Paul W.S. Anderson who also directed Resident Evil 1, 4 and now 5. He is the same man who also brought us Alien Vs. Predator and the latest un-needed remake of The Three MusketeersHe is in the tank for number 6 coming up so get ready and hope sequel 6 is better. Keep your fingers crossed just don't hold your breath. A far this edition, skip it! Resident Evil: Retribution-* out of 4.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Total Recall (2012)

Is it real ? Is it recall? JohnnyTwoToes tells you all about this sci-fi 90s reboot!

As Hollywood gets around to remaking EVERY film ever made, I suppose it was only a matter of time before they came up with the remake of Total Recall. Now, I can say director Len Wiseman had a tall order to fill with this remake based on the classic sci-fi hit from 1990 with Schwarzenegger. While critics and many fans may not agree at all, Wiseman does a decent job although the scriptwriters have taken out a key plot point that made the original work so well. 

Colin Farrell plays Douglas Quaid who is so bored with his life in the mines and his beautiful wife, Lori (played by Mrs. Len Wiseman, Kate Beckinsale) that he goes into Rekall for a little excursion in his mind as a secret agent. As most know who have seen the original, he actually is an agent but for whose side? This Total Recall is not nearly as good as its predecessor, but that was not to be expected, at least by me. I mean did any one watch the Underworld movies? 

So, ok, this Total Recall can stand on its own merit as its own film. It is not a bad film, has some nice changes and kept me interested. Never mind the fact that they have completely written out Mars and the hoarding of oxygen that worked to well in the original. Still it has some fine acting and the script by Kurt Wimmer and Mark Bomback has some good lines worth remembering. Any movie that has both Kate Beckinsale AND Jessica Biel can't be THAT bad. 

Bryan Cranston (TV's Breaking Bad and Drive) is an odd choice for Cohaagen. He is a phenomenal actor but here he is not seen in the flesh until almost 80 minutes into the film. You see him a couple of times on a TV screen but he is not interacting with anyone until the film enters its fourth act. When we do see him, he looks like the weather man on channel 5 news at 10; complete with a tie, Kevlar vest and a quasi bouffant hairdo. He is decent as Cohaagen but I missed the original villians - Ronny Cox and Michael Ironside

Total Recall is fun to watch and the visuals are stunning. I respected their way of trying to do something different and found their approach.....well.....ballsy. When you have a classic film directed by Paul Verhoven, starring an icon like Schwarzenegger and great bad guys like Ronny Cox and Michael Ironside and you take a giant leap like Wiseman and the writers have done with this film; I tip my hat. 

Yes, in the days of Hollywood remaking classics this one is decent. I would recommend the director's cut which has about 15 to 20 minutes of additional footage that really enhances the story. Total Recall is gutsy, fast, stylish and who knows? Maybe in twenty to twenty-five years maybe they will try to remake this version of Total Recall. Stranger things have happened. Total Recall-*** out of 4.
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