Change Your Image
Upload An Image
Crop And Save
Continuing on my journey to review at least 75% of the movies i've seen.
Up next: TRON -> Kill Switch -> Survive the Night
ListsAn error has ocurred. Please try again
1-19: Disaster, one of the worst things I've ever seen 20-29: Really bad, almost not worth watching at all 30-39: Bad, lots of problems, but still has merit 40-49: Sub-par; mediocre for the most part but with a major flaw 50-59: Thoroughly average/mediocre; a mixed bag 60-69: Pretty decent, nothing special but still enjoyable 70-79: Very good, has issues but is well worth the time 80-89: Great all around, but may have a few minor issues 90-99: A banger; nearly flawless and one of the best ever made 100: Masterpiece
If there's no rating then I haven't seen it, but have it on here for future reference.
Speed but slow
Heist was directed by Scott Mann, written by Stephen Cyrus Sepher and Max Adams, and stars Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Dave Bautista, Gina Carano, Mark-Paul Gosselaar, Morris Chestnut, Robert De Niro, and Kate Bosworth. It's about a man who's escaping a heist he pulled on his crooked casino-owner boss.
The Plot: Sepher and Adams play fast with Heist. Not fast enough to hide the clear lifting of elements from 'Speed' and a little 'John Q', but the energy the movie runs off of and the many twists are able to sufficiently distract and keep viewer interest. Silva, AKA "the Pope" (De Niro) is attempting to reconcile with his daughter Sydney (Bosworth) and week away from stepping down from his role as casino owner and his employee Luke (Morgan) needs $300k for his daughter's medical bill. Can't have too much originality. After being declined a loan from Pope, Luke joins in on a heist being pulled by fellow employee Jason (Bautista). It goes expectedly wrong and the men have to escape on a bus, which is now being pursued by Pope's man Derrick (Chestnut) and cops Kris (Carano) and Marconi (Gosselaar). As Luke and Jason escape, things get complicated with shifting allegiances, destinations, and tempers.
The Characters: A large and regretful letdown is a lack of characterization. While Luke and Kris are likeable enough and the Pope is dislikeable enough, there isn't much given to any of the other key players in the story. Luke is an ex-soldier now making do in life back home, working at the casino for "too long" to support his daughter's needs. He's clear-headed and clearly a kind soul who has reservations about further violence; deciding to work with Kris rather than fight her and the cops. Jason is merely a heavy, insisting on doing things the blunt way and dealing with who or whatever may come next. He fights a lot with Luke and that's really it for the second lead. Kris is the trusting officer, sure that there's more to Luke than being a highjacker and is willing to disobey orders to see to a better end. The Pope is a decent antagonist who's everything Luke isn't: apathetic, violent, and greedy. He more or less just spouts orders and some solid lines to everyone around him. Performances are almost unanimously sound, with Carano the odd one out, showing little emotion in an otherwise good thriller/melodrama.
The Thrills: Thankfully, Heist mostly makes up for what it lacks in character with energetic scenes of confrontation and threats. It's entirely absurd but the movie truly does not care, which helps it move along at a brisk pace. The titular event is well done in its execution which does a bit of time jumping and has some narration that actually adds personality to the proceedings and it has logic to boot. Hostage survivability is never really called into question though, thanks to Luke's good heart and multiple defusals of Jason which takes away a potential layer of stress but does help to reinforce his attributes. During the times that Heist lurches into action mode it achieves moderate success, more than when it's focused on Luke versus the cops (kinda) versus Jason (kinda). The higher speed chases, a mid-transit medical problem, and the finale are all thoroughly engaging but a little too low in quantity to give the movie more impact.
The Technics: For a movie that is all about going (moderately) quick, the camera does a generally good job at capturing the spectacle on hand; the cinematography is nice to look at even when the thrills are reduced to deal with character drama and despite some shaky-cam, Heist is a pleasure to view. Pacing is a coin toss due to the aforementioned reductions in assaults, chases, and tense situations. During said slow periods Heist isn't boring by any means, but few of the more dramatic moments are things that haven't been done better before. Music can be a bit overbearing too but the score is pretty good so it isn't too much of a bother.
There's enjoyment to be had with Heist thanks to some genuinely white-knuckled moments and good performances from Morgan, Bautista, Gosselaar, and De Niro but struggles to maintain its pacing which lets the derivativeness show. Still, Heist took my time and I'm in no hurry to steal it back.
Hero and the Terror (1988)
A very good hero with too little terror
Hero and the Terror was directed by William Tannen, written by Michael Blodgett and Dennis Shryack who adapt from Blodgett's novel, and stars Chuck Norris, Brynn Thayer, Jack O'Halloran, Ron O'Neal, and Steve James. It's about a cop trying to stop a serial killer who was once thought dead.
The Plot: Some creativity resides within the mostly conventional story in "Hero", most apparent with its antagonist and the usage of a movie theater as a location; but the movie does get bogged down with its own subplots. O'Brien (Norris) is a local idol for taking down serial killer Moon (O'Halloran) (who's been dubbed "the Terror" by locals) at his lair at an old amusement park. It's been six months and O'Brien has a requisite pregnant girlfriend, Kay (Thayer) and a new house; but O'Brien is having nightmares about Moon. Moon escapes an asylum but dies in a car crash. Some years later more murders are committed and the mayor (O'Neal) wants O'Brien to downplay them. Sure that it's the Terror, he declines and puts his life on hold and begins his search with partner Robinson (James). Although the movie is more than fine with diving into it while sidelining the killer, which helps give the movie more weight but provides a struggle with identity.
The Characters: I've gotta say I'm consistently surprised with the level of texture that exists in this and several other Norris starrers, but maybe that's just luck pointing me towards the more human Norris roles. O'Brien is a workable protagonist with a good level of personality and depth. A quiet and physically capable man with hopes of being a father and a husband, he's trying to make things work with Kay and edge towards marriage but can't find peace knowing that the Terror is still alive. Kay is a good foil by no coincidence. She was his therapist who evidently took a liking to him but has issues with indecision but only means well. Moon is definitely imposing as he's adorned with bluish white skin, teeth as yellow as the sun, and not a word to say. An animal is a good comparison and the movie makes it, noting that he acts solely on instinct, scoring zeros on every personality test; leaving nothing but brawn for Norris to take on.
The Drama: Unlike most of Norris's starring roles, "Hero" is more focused on the imprint that having dealt with a twisted killer like Moon has left on O'Brien. It's never great but the small moments that O'Brien shares with the other characters sheds light on what seeing the things the Terror did firsthand by way of mentioning his life being lived with fear in the back of his mind at all times and showing his attempts to escape it by working out and going to sleep consistently. O'Brien's acceptance after his initial that Moon could still be alive is decent but fairs worse than the internal drama due to subpar balancing of bits involving O'Brien the husband and O'Brien the detective, along with a lack of on-screen moments with the Terror that would've helped to drive home the kind of animal he is and his return to the living. Still, for a Norris vehicle, it ain't bad.
The Technics: The movie is shot extremely well, making use of long takes that establish O'Brien's state of mind with a voyeuristic look, smoky appearance, and thinly lit interiors when he's the only person present in certain scenes. On occasion the movie does get a bit carried away and lets the shots linger longer than necessary though. Pacing is generally okay but the runtime goes on a few minutes too long and goes for too many stretches without scenes that involve the Terror; which is the most egregious misstep Tannen makes here since the bad guy is too good to leave in the dust.
Chuck once again delivers a solid performance and chemistry he shares with Thayer. Hero and the Terror is a well put together crime/drama that unfortunately skimps on the crime, but despite the neglect of the baddie; the movie around him makes for a good time.
Armed with an arsenal of blanks
Arsenal was directed by Steven C. Miller, written by Jason Mosberg, and stars Adrian Grenier, Johnathon Schaech, Nicolas Cage, Lydia Hull, and John Cusack. It follows a man on a mission to rescue his brother who has been kidnapped by a mobster and his men.
The Plot: Very little of the events that take place in Arsenal are original, and even less are worth mentioning. Similar to 'Pride and Glory', the movie intends to tell a compelling tale of two brothers on opposite ends of a criminal situation; but this movie holds no urgency and too much histrionics. After the death of their parents, brothers JP (Grenier) and Mikey (Schaech) go down different paths, the latter of them getting involved with mobster Eddie (Cage). 23 years later, JP has his own company and a daughter with wife Lizzie (Hull) and Mikey has remnants of a family and does less than legal jobs for cash. Mikey tries to flip some drugs to pay Eddie back for something or other but when that falls through and gets Mikey captured, it's up to JP and armchair detective Sal (Cusack) to come up with the cash or save him.
The Characters: Mostly sticking to convention, Mosberg's script offers little to dig into, despite a decent setup for the brothers. JP was a quiet (seemingly anyway) kid who got mixed treatment from his brother and none at all from their parents. After being second fiddle to Mikey in their formative years, JP has become a generic success with a company to his name, a house, and a family. Mikey was, and still is, a troubled person; dishing out violence at home and abroad for the military but retains a good heart. They're still close, bonding over baseball and beer, but their relationship never changes throughout the runtime, leaving their dilemma feeling pointless. Lizzie doesn't do much as the wife; and neither does Sal who just hands out details to JP. Eddie is... something. A malevolent, coke-snorting, fake nose having maniac with an indeterminate accent. He's vivid i'll give him that. Performances are mixed, Grenier and Schaech do what they can with a limited script and Cage goes off the rails but everyone else phones it in.
The Crime: While less-is-more is a good approach to writing and movies, this movie does so little with the small sparks that it does have that interest waned fast. A cut and dry rescue scenario or a more in-depth investigation with some intrigue would've worked here but Mosberg achieves neither. Drug deals and violence are prevalent but Arsenal merely presents the basics without involvement, throwing leads at JP for him to pick up on that eventually send him on the right trail but the information they provide all comes across more as the logical next steps JP and Sal would've taken and less as curious or surprising discoveries. Not helping matters is the obliviousness that JP shows as he attempts to identify Mikey's captor, given Mikey's past, he should have a pretty good idea of who might be responsible. To sucker punch an already limping crime story is the suggestion that Mikey might not be as loyal as JP once thought; which is made note of a couple times and promptly tossed. Oh well.
The Technics: Aside from a myriad of missed opportunities and plot holes plugged with padding and gratuitous violence, Arsenal doesn't offer much to look at, listen to, or a reason to pay much attention. Cinematography by Brandon Cox is typical for big-budgeted actioners, filled with needless shaky-cam and an inordinate number of closeups; but feels out of place in a low-budget crime/thriller. Sometimes there are places or shots that are nice to look at but it's too little too late. The sound design is worth noting because of the movie's insistence on showing nearly every violent moment in slo-mo really puts some weight on the audio track to pick up the slack. Bones breaking, bat thwacking, and bullets penetrating are all well done and at least adds another layer of competence to a movie whose script desperately needs it.
Steven C. Miller has had a bumpy career so far, consistently making good films after bad ones with that streak continuing with Arsenal; the bad southern crime movie with little to remember aside from a crazy Cage. At least First Kill turned out good.
The devil's in the details... and the elevator
Devil was directed by John Erick Dowdle, written by Brian Nelson and M. Night Shyamalan, and stars Chris Messina, Logan Marshall-Green, Bojana Novakovic, Bokeem Woodbine, Jenny O'Hara, Geoffrey Arend, Jacob Vargas, and Matt Craven. It's about a group of people in an elevator trying to find the devil amongst them before it picks them off.
The Plot: Dowdle does a lot with what could easily be clipped and become a little, presenting a unique look at guilt and forgiveness in a short time, wrapping it up in a tight package. Detective Bowden (Messina) is called to investigate a scene where a person who died of sudden impact has strayed from the site, tracing the jump to a tall building. In that same building, a mechanic (Marshall-Green), a young woman (Novakovic), a guard (Woodbine), an old woman (O'Hara), and a salesman (Arend) fill an elevator that promptly gets stuck. No, really, this movie wastes no time. While investigating, Bowden meets with staff members Lustig (Craven) and Ramirez (Vargas), who sees that things aren't right. After one of them is battered, it's up to Bowden to get everyone out before the devil among them strikes.
The Characters: While no real arcs are given to those in the elevator, there are enough small touches provided by the characters' actions to create distinction between them. Bowden is a recovering alcoholic trying to get back on track after his family was killed by getting sober and interacting with people again. He's lost his faith, not helped by superstitious Ramirez who finds a face in the security footage of the elevator. The mechanic is a no-nonsense kinda guy, getting down to business and answering questions as soon as possible while doing his best to protect himself and the others. The young woman is a bit stuck up and seemingly playing the victim but it isn't the case. The guard is a temperamental temp with a fear of tight spaces, but still does what he can to help in a dire situation. The old woman is just bitter, and the salesman is sarcastic and a clear weasel. Performances are all solid here, with everyone showing emotion and personality where needed.
The Mystery: Devil sets itself apart in that it doesn't confine (get it... because the elev- oh you get it) itself to any one particular genre but excels in most of what it sets out to accomplish. Mystery is the most applicable, though, and thanks to ever-shifting emphasis it's fairly difficult to put blame squarely on one character. New discoveries in the shaft and surrounding areas are able to cast reasonable doubt on everyone, with the guard having a few violent encounters in his past, as does the mechanic, the salesman had a bad bout with the BBB that burned a lot of people, and the young woman does a lot of posturing and tries to slip her way through security on multiple occasions. Power dynamics shift slowly but have a big impact when characters are either cleared of suspicion or killed entirely. While a person with a more trained eye for mystery/thrillers may have an easier time discerning the imposter, it's still a well devised whodunnit.
The Technics: Like the best claustrophobically inclined movies, Devil is helped along with nearly perfect pacing. Nelson and Shyamalan don't string events along for too long and allow the audience to put pieces together faster than intended, but they don't breeze past details in order to be cheap with the mystery. It's taut, and although there are some questionable aspects of the writing such as an over-the-top scene involving Ramirez and a belated character introduction; Devil sustains interest for the whole runtime. Also of note is the fantastic camerawork that dials up the tension and puts the already limited location under a microscope. A couple of false scares, a cliche or two, and some bad compositing keep the movie from greatness.
While there's never a doubt surrounding the supernatural element thanks to a heavy-handed poster and symbolism, Devil is never dull and provides enough red herrings and gripping scenes to be a very, very good (and underrated) mystery/thriller.
The Penitent Man (2010)
Plenty here to change
The Penitent Man was directed and written by Nicholas Gyeney and stars Lathrop Walker, Lance Henriksen, Andrew Keegan, Melissa Roberts, and Adrien Gamache. It's about a therapist having to deal with the knowledge from a patient that the future may be far worse than he could've imagined.
The Plot: Taking a page from The Man from Earth, the movie tries to deal with accepting the impossible. Jason (Walker) is a therapist that can hardly make ends meet for himself and his wife Evelyn (Roberts). Between his many hours waiting on things to get better, one of his few clients, Mr. Darnell (Henriksen) comes to him to talk. Darnell tells of a time in the future that opened the past, delivering a message of the seemingly inevitable. Jason is unsure of the tale and speaks with his friend Ovid (Keegan) and must decide how to act upon the information, or to act at all. It's a cracking idea but it's not refined as many of the details feel extraneous and some odd character decisions cause for confusion than legitimate question.
The Characters: Some great character work is presented but all of the good stuff is handed to Darnell, leaving main character Jason limp. Jason is having a rough go of it: a failing marriage, uncertainty about his job, and no family left. Aside from occasional references to other events in his life, there's too much weight just to get his character to have a reason to listen to Darnell's talk of time travel and future failure. Ovid and Evelyn are just here to ground Jason in some reality. Darnell is the star here, a man wishing for change, his story is mostly interesting: he found a way to peer into the objective past without changing it, which seemed to be the next step forward but became a backwards free-fall. His personal life was destroyed and he only wants to tell someone about the future so at least one person will be prepared.
The Drama: It seems like the Penitent Man wanted to be a dramatic mystery but it drops the ball as soon as the opening credits finish by showing Darnell using his creation to travel back in time; so any question is struck down before it can be posed. A good chunk of the scenes between Jason and Darnell are spent doing some explanations about wormholes and black holes and the like, and while they're interesting; they don't hold up like the more significant scenes debating Darnell's story. The way that Darnell presents his case, purporting to have discovered a way to use what he'd found and how everything came back to haunt him is fantastic but the frequent interjections from Jason come off as redundant since he essentially parrots Darnell. Phenomenal drama is here, but it's covered in a layer of dusty, dry dialogue, waiting to come out.
The Technics: A lack of consistency lands a hard blow to the Penitent Man's look as well as its dramatic impact. There seems to be a different series of angles within each section of Darnell's talk with Jason which are broken up with Jason talking to Ovid every ten-ish minutes and then returns to Darnell's session where everything is shot differently than the last time the movie was there. It throws things off and feels like there was a gap between filming. The soundtrack is also inconsistent, sometimes there's a pleasant layering of background percussive instruments and violins and other times the music is overbearing and competes with the dialogue. When the scenes are shot well and the sound editing is proper, the movie is great; but when that's not the case it hurts.
A classic case of a mixed bag, the Penitent Man does offer some great scenes that coast on Henriksen's strong performance, but more faults than i can breeze past. There's a great movie here, but not in this cut.
A drama out of time
Norman was directed and written by Joel Guelzo, co-written by James Banks, and stars Stephen Birge and Melissa Yowell. It follows a time traveler and his A.I. companion as they attempt to invent their way out of the past before the world collapses.
The Plot: Guelzo and Banks have come up with a very original concept here, so there isn't a comparison i can make to give an idea of where Norman falls. It loosely resembles 12 Monkeys but it's still entertainingly different. Norman (Birge) is stuck in time and has been for over a thousand days. On the verge of giving up hope of ever getting back to the present he has an encounter with Jenny (Yowell) which triggers visions in his head; visions that reignite his hope. He restarts his A.I., ANI (voiced by Yowell), and she finds that they only have an eight day window to return. Norman works against time and must decide whether the present is worth going back to before it's too late (a very interesting dilemma). After making his choice, things aren't the same.
The Characters: Since there are only a handful of characters, the movie gets them all right. Norman is an easily sympathetic protagonist since (as he himself admits) he's just a normal guy despite his clearly high level of intelligence. Headstrong, he does everything he can to pull himself out of the situations that he puts himself in. It's risky to have a character that takes just as many steps forward as he takes back, but the realistic argument he has with himself, as well as a lonely present, makes his indecisiveness feel organic. ANI is a fun counterweight to Norman since she knows most of what Norman doesn't, it's interesting to see her assist him to a point. She weighs in on Norman's decisions with an air of sarcasm and acts as the audience surrogate. Jenny is a minor character in the grand scheme, although she works well enough as the manifestation of Norman's desire to stay, but more could've been done.
The Drama: Guelzo excels with his time traveling study of life. The movie itself isn't an adventure or a thriller in the usage of multiple locations and breathless, life-threatening set pieces, as most of the runtime is spent with Norman and ANI in a house that they've been working in as they attempt to put the portal back together. Norman does fit into those genres though, as it does just as much asking as it does explaining. Scenes where the both of them mention the ramifications of their actions hold up the best because of the level of involvement that is handed to the audience, asking them to put themselves in Norman's place. This may all sound like things that would fall under the 'characters' section but it doesn't. Norman works best as an introspective drama when the titular character is given room to go further back (forward?) in his life as his mind wanders to places where it's clear he doesn't want it to go.
The Technics: This is a beautiful film. Guelzo took part in setting up the shots and his DoPs were meticulous about putting the film together into something that rivals studio grade productions as far as looks go. Similarly, the score by Daniel Ciurlizza is fantastic and does a lot of legwork during the quiet scenes. His music encapsulates the mood of the movie; a slow, ponderous journey about an impossible enemy. While the set design is clearly limited, as is the scale, everything still works and Norman comes out looking like a lo-fi period piece. I like that. There are some issues with the writing though. A couple groups of people are shown after Norman makes his big decision that don't get much in the way of explanation. Some of the visions Norman has fare similarly in that locations are shown but never returned to.
Joel Guelzo's long journey in creating Norman has paid off very well. Despite some issues that stem from being a first timer such as introducing some things that don't get utilized and perhaps a little too much of the plot being pushed back to focus on pertinent questions; Norman is never less than interesting and highly impressive.
An unlocked number of twists
Unlocked was directed by Michael Apted, written by Peter O'Brien, and stars Noomi Rapace, Orlando Bloom, Makram Khoury, Toni Collette, Matthew Marsh, Michael Epp, John Malkovich, and Michael Douglas. It's about a CIA interrogator who's roped into a ruse that she must now prevent from ending with a terrorist attack in London.
The Plot: In line with a Tom Clancy novel, Unlocked presents a lot of intrigue, some creative gadgets, and grinding politically-minded action. However unlike a Clancy novel, a lot of this movie feels derivative which dampens the potential but still allows for some fun. Alice (Rapace) was a CIA interrogator, now working a desk job. When CIA director Hunter (Malkovich) and MI5 operator Knowles (Collette) learn of a possible terrorist attack planned by known leader Khaleel (Khoury) and Muslim convert Mercer (Epp), Alice is called in by Sutter (Marsh) to question a courier, encouraged by her handler Lasch (Douglas). She learns his message, and gets called to interrogate; only she's already there, indicating the people she met aren't CIA. Alice flees and hides out in Lasch's safehouse where she finds Jack (Bloom) who tags along as Alice tries to unlock (get it?) the identity of the impersonators and eventually, after an inordinate amount of time spent not caring about the driving force, stop the attack.
The Characters: Like most of the rest of the movie, the people at play are of highly variable quality. Alice is a good protagonist. She has plenty of skills at manipulation and reading people as well as a superb sense of situational awareness. Sometimes anyway, given that the "death" of a major character around a third of the way in is faked as clearly as a window. Alice is granted a redemption arc that works to add a feeling of prior existence to her as well. Jack is a cockney burglar that's so conveniently placed that any modicum of potential trust is rightfully stripped away. Khaleel is a generic bad guy that becomes second fiddle and eventually he's given a good reveal. Knowles is a nothing character and Lasch is another generic figure. The only other standout is Hunter due to some fantastic lines and a commanding presence as the go-between for Alice and everyone else. Performances are solid all around thanks to an extremely talented cast.
The Thrills: Individual scenes and set pieces from Unlocked are great, but the movie's refusal to pick up one of its ideas and run with it in favor of a twist every 5 to 10 minutes takes center stage instead of a consistent series of engaging escapes and spy techniques, leaving the plot zigzagging to the point of insanity. When focused solely on Alice and her efforts to get out of the spotlight to figure out what's going on, the movie excels, such as the initial reveal that she played into the hands of whoever is planning on making use of the message in order to manipulate it and cause a terror attack; which features a white-knuckled conversation and a good bit of action. Other highlights include a scene where Alice meets with Khaleel and another set in a wooded area. Taken on their own, those bits are great, but Unlocked fails to piece them together into a more memorable whole.
The Technics: Aside from some dismal editing at times (the death of one character is cut so short that i was expecting him to still be alive and come back later), a readily apparent antagonist made even easier to point out thanks to unadventurous casting, and a dozen too many twists; Unlocked does well. It looks very good and the locations are on par with bigger budget actioners despite being of the mid-budget variety. And it sounds good too. Sound design isn't a big part of the movie, but it hits when it counts.
Michael Apted's final film is regretfully conventional and occasionally confusing, but after the barrage of twists stops for a few minutes it gets tolerable; in no small part thanks to some thrilling scenes and a menagerie of solid performances. Seek out Malkovich's scenes with Collette for a smile.
Hemsworth and Cohen are killer
Killerman was directed and written by Malik Bader and stars Liam Hemsworth, Emory Cohen, Zlatko Buric, Nickola Shreli, Diane Guerrero, Malik Bader, Suraj Sharma, and Mike Moh. It follows a money launderer who wakes up from a car crash with drugs and without his memory as he tries to uncover his identity and evade the cops.
The Plot: Somewhere in between the Bourne Identity and Ronin lies this movie. While never living up to the standard of Bourne, Killerman does hold its own and make good use of a tiring plot device. Moe (Hemsworth) and Skunk (Cohen) are money launderers working for Skunk's uncle Perico (Buric) who wants them to make $20 million in drops in 10 days. Perico delays their start and Skunk decides to take the initiative and deal with the money they have, setting up a drug deal with Fedex (Sharma) which goes sideways when corrupt cops Leon (Shreli) and Martinez (Bader) show up. During their escape, Moe and Skunk get into a crash and Moe loses his memory. They try to piece Moe's memory back together before they leave by going back to old apartments, acquaintances, and Moe's girlfriend Lola (Guerrero), but things don't fit back like they're supposed to and revelations ensue while they evade their pursuers.
The Characters: Bader tries to take good care in nurturing the development of the two leads and only partly succeeds. While Moe and Skunk are interesting, a feeling of repetition never quite escapes the frame. Moe was/is a money launderer and a jeweler who was trying to make moves to get into the higher end of the lowly life. Mostly calm and to-the-point, meeting Skunk and Lola put him where he wanted to be and gave him a reason to care who he associates with. Skunk is a more typical character, somewhat relegated to being the one with potential and few opportunities from his family; although he does have loyalty and a personality that makes up for the lack of originality. Leon and Martinez make for extremely aggressive and unpredictable villains, and Perico is a wildcard that helps the surprise factor grow. Lola is weak as the hidden girlfriend that only comes into play to help clue the audience into more of Moe's life; but does make a good impression while present.
The Crime: While deriving some elements from classics like the French Connection, the movie does retain its own sense of place and personality through its characters and crimes. Bader knows how to make the connection from the leads feel sympathetic by making the baddies worse. It's tried, true, and a little cheap but it works. The crime plot starts confusing but makes more sense as things go on. Moe and Skunk work for Perico who works with the city counsel and buys off the cops who try to get around Perico by ripping off his supposedly bought-off deals while Moe and Skunk try to make their own dealings which comes back to bite them since the drugs they wanted to buy are "on loan" from the evidence locker, bringing them back to Perico who comes around to trusting Moe again and assists Moe in his retaliation against the cops and so on and so forth. It's complicated and there's a handful of extraneous parts that make for more confusion and a bit of contrivance, but the end result is satisfying and mostly makes sense.
The Technics: Despite a fair few hiccups with the writing, some over-plotting, and some underdeveloped characters, Killerman has things to offer. Production aspects like the locations and lighting are phenomenal, clearly throwing back to mid '70s crime films with a heavy emphasis on grime. Very few places, if any, feel like sets specifically designed for the movie, and the marked contrast of dark alleys, clubs, apartments, and seedy buildings against fluorescent white lights just adds to that semi-nostalgia. Cinematography is equal parts throwback and modern. Plenty of shots have a voyeuristic touch to them while others use angles and height to great effect like the best dramas of recent memory. However, the runtime is a little ragged and self-indulgent with an abundance of establishing shots and lingering silences, which does keep the movie from being as efficient and breathless as possible. The minutia doesn't take away from the whole.
Bader made a strong impression that has plenty of inspiration and a dose of originality lying under some familiar settings and characters. A comprehensive dive into the shambles of a wounded mind, an investing crime, and two fantastic performances from Hemsworth and Cohen keep this sometimes overlong movie arresting.
Soldiers of Fortune (2012)
An unfortunate misfire
Soldiers of Fortune was directed by Maxim Korostyshevsky, written by Alexandre Coscas, Robert Crombie, and Joe Kelbley, and stars Christian Slater, Freddy Rodriguez, Sean Bean, Dominic Monaghan, Ving Rhames, James Cromwell, Charlie Bewley, Oksana Korostyshevskaya, and Colm Meaney. It follows two ex-soldiers as they guide thrill-seekers through a warzone where they come upon a battle they must engage in.
The plot: It's as bonkers as it sounds, and that doesn't make it good. In the middle east, army captains McCenzie (Slater) and Reed (Rodriguez) are on a mission to do, uh, something, when it's compromised by CIA agent Mason's (Meaney) arrival. McCenzie saves Reed to Mason's dismay and they're discharged due to Mason's influence. Years later, they're broke and gambling for scraps; but approached by Cecilia (Korostyshevskaya), a rich thrill-seeker who wants to go to an island warzone. Also on-board are millionaires St. John (Bean), Tourneur (Rhames), Tommy (Monaghan), Herbert (Bewley), and Haussman (Cromwell); all of whom want to train on the island, now reigned by Mason and Lupo. The writers don't ask the audience to take it seriously, but they never manage to achieve the campy glory that would've made the movie memorable. McCenzie and Reed take the job where it inevitably goes south and wrongs must be righted.
The characters: Caricature is the name of the game here, and while that would be easy to accomplish, the writers instead try to make sense of the stupefying decision-making process that most of them have instead of just running with what they have. Craig and Reed share a thirst for vengeance, and Reed has a family that he can't provide for. Due to the writing glossing over any real development, they come off as flat. Cecilia is the requisite island tie-in where she was born and raised. The movie starts cynically, to a point of black comedy, but her attachment to the land is in direct contrast tonally. All of the millionaires are deliberately over-the-top, painted in broad strokes of comedy during their introduction, but this angle gets dropped in an attempt to make them legitimate heroes. I was highly entertained by Haussman though; a man who wants to die so his wife gets none of his money. Mason is just Eric Roberts' character from the Expendables. At least the actors had fun, as shown in their performances.
The action: Korostyshevsky has no hesitations on getting straight into the action, from the title card to about 10 minutes in, the movie is all action. It's hard to deny the enthusiastic approach to the movie, but the poor staging of the vast majority of the motions dulls what should be a striking impact layered with a dark world view. Nearly every explosive scene resembles the worst of cheap 80s action movies: with no geography, no choreography, no flair, and no coherence. Clearly this movie had some money thrown at it, and most of that must've went to the cast and the pyrotechnics, which are cool to look at but again leave little impression due to the lack of finesse in their filming and the subpar characters. The most engaging sequence the movie has is the training montage. While it's not a real "action" scene, it does make use of the very likeable cast and has a sensical flow to it. If the rest of the movie's draw were like that things would be different.
The technics: Again, it is clear that the movie had some money; not much, but enough to stretch out to make Soldiers of Fortune look good. Aside from the action sequences the cinematography is alright. It's not special by any means but the locations lend themselves extremely well to cameras. Pacing is mixed. Korostyshevsky takes time to sit down with bad people in between the action scenes in the second half of the movie, which only ends up hindering it. If there were less of the millionaires that McCenzie had to take care of, the downtime may've worked better in its attempts at grounding crazy characters; but it's spread so thin that they all remain caricatures.
Soldiers of Fortune never finds its footing; stuck in between satire and strait-laced, and nothing ever compels due to heel-turns and misplaced sympathy, but it's fun to watch the actors enjoy themselves.
The 2nd (2020)
Not 2nd rate, but not great
The 2nd was directed by Brian Skiba, written by Eric Bromberg and Paul Taegel, and stars Ryan Phillippe, Jack Griffo, Lexi Simonsen, Casper Van Dien, Richard Burgi, and Randy Charach. It follows a special forces agent as he tries to protect his son and his friend from terrorists.
The plot: Essentially a(nother) 'Die Hard' scenario action movie, there's not much new in the movie except for its college campus location. Vic (Phillippe), a special operator, attempts to pick up his son Shawn (Griffo) from campus to go camping. At the same time, Driver (Van Dien) and his goons are on the way to kidnap Erin (Simonsen), the daughter of Justice Walton (Charach) so they can use her as leverage in an upcoming Supreme Court case. Now, one would think that the political bent would have some real relevance in the plot, given the use of current political heads, and one would be right to do so; but aside from an uninteresting subplot involving CIA director Phillips (Burgi) it never does. Once Vic realizes something is wrong he gets the two kids beside him and fights back; one goon at a time.
The characters: While none of the characters are going to become part of the action icon pantheon, some of them are good. Vic Davis is a solid hero with enough personality to keep attention. He's a Green Beret and Delta Force operator who enjoys his job but resents the fact that he hardly ever speaks with Shawn despite his attempts to rectify that. Shawn seems fairly indifferent to that fact though. Shawn himself is alright too. A theater major with a love for sparring and an affinity for blunt delivery, he's thankfully somewhat useful in the movie and doesn't feel like extra baggage. Conversely, Erin doesn't get to do much aside from being a plot device and a romantic interest for Shawn. She's just there most of the time and sometimes makes bad decisions. The Driver and his crew are all just generic bad guys, as are the politicians. Performances are mixed. Phillippe is committed and lends a soul to an average character, as does Burgi. Griffo is miscast here but does what he can. Simonsen and Van Dien clearly don't care, doing the bare minimum of performing.
The action: The one thing (aside from Phillippe's performance) that keeps the 2nd going is the action. Nothing is extremely inventive but the fights involving Vic are pretty solid thanks to Phillippe's skills in Tae Kwon Do and some decently lengthy hand-to-hand scenes where most of the environment is used by Vic and whomever he is fighting at the time. Shootouts are thoroughly unimpressive and one particular bit where Vic is shooting at a guy on some stairs is obscenely dragged out and bland; consisting of shot-reverse-shots for its entirety. Thankfully, most of the fighting in the movie is brutal hand-to-hand. Also of note is a car chase in the second (get it?) half of the movie that looks alright for a majority of its length, but some obvious doubles hamper the effect.
The technics: In dealing with the budgetary restrictions, the 2nd does well, despite some of the in-movie reasoning (satellites can track phones, but people? Come aaaaaaahhhhn.) feeling a bit cheap. It's unfortunate that the location itself hardly feels like a school. Numerous nondescript hallways are the host for much of the action, along with a couple of dorm rooms instead of the locations inside of any school. No cafeterias, no classrooms, no staff lounges. Nothing. Pacing is brisk and helps to mask the flaws in the locations and in a lot of the writing (like a fifth of Vic's dialogue is yelling Shawn's name) to a degree. Cinematography is fine. DoP Adam Biddle thankfully stays away from the tendency for shaky-cam in low-budget action movies and makes everything else look 3 dimensional, if not interesting. The 2nd is largely competent but deeply flawed in the details.
Skiba's first action film is far from perfect. It has little sense of place and chooses a hot-button catalyst but never says anything about it; but it does have some decent fights and a very good performance from Phillippe. I suppose that's good enough.
Escape Plan: The Extractors (2019)
Escapes the purpose of the first two
Escape Plan: the Extractors was directed and co-written by John Herzfeld, written by Miles Chapman, and stars Max Zhang, Harry Shum Jr., Sylvester Stallone, Devon Sawa, Malese Jow, Russell Wong, Jaime King, 50 Cent, Lydia Hull, and Dave Bautista. It follows Ray and a partner as they try to break his girlfriend and the daughter of a Chinese tech mogul out of a prison.
The plot: While stronger than the second movie, the third outing still lacks the drive of the first, despite having some solid motivations and a couple surprises. Daya (Jow) and bodyguard Bao (Shum Jr.) are searching for a place to setup in America on behalf of her father, Wu (Wong), a businessman. After acquiring space in Ohio, Daya is kidnapped by Lester Clark Jr. (Sawa) (son of D'Onofrio's character in the first) who leaves a flashdrive for Ray (Stallone) and puts her in a Latvian prison. Shen (Zhang) takes a flashdrive (different from the one Bao has?) to Ray and his team: Abigail (King), Hush (50), and Jules (Hull). Bao somehow gets there at the exact same time, showing his drive which has the prison in the background. Ray gets into contact with Trent (Bautista), who organizes the way there. Abigail is also kidnapped, to add even more motivation i assume; although it feels unnecessary. Ray, Bao, Shen, Jules and Trent go to Latvia and assault the prison, working to kill the ruthless (and i mean RUTHLESS) son.
The characters: Again the characters are better than the previous installment but unequal to the ones in the first movie, although there are issues with the utilization of some of the characters. Bao is the new head bodyguard for Wu's company, making him a chaperone for Daya. Since he was beaten by Clark's men, he's motivated to make up for his failure. It's simple, but it works. Shen fares better, having a personal gripe with Wu and his company; more specifically the lack of ethics as Wu has been putting his tech into the prisons from the previous movies. Ray is the same as last time, lacking his mental processing power from the first movie, becoming more of a straight-up bruiser instead of a mastermind; and gets sidelined at that. Clark Jr. is the most interesting due to his sheer rage directed at everyone even tangentially involved in his father's death. Again, simple, but his unflinching violence, impulsiveness, and willingness to deny the truth to serve his own angle is thoroughly entertaining, and occasionally surprising. Performances are iffy overall, but Stallone and particularly Sawa are magnetic.
The thrills: In 'Extractors' thrills become the primary focus again, fortunately following in the footsteps of the first instead of "Hades". Unfortunately, the thrills are mostly predictable, with the movie lagging for long periods of time to reiterate the motivations that the main characters abide by. A majority of the runtime is spent watching Ray, Shen, and Bao get prepared; with a few fights and expository conversations spliced throughout. Some small questions are raised, mostly surrounding the location of the prison and the specifics of the Zhang corporation's involvement in the current events; but there's never anything as inventive as in the first movie which leads to this outing in an unnecessary trilogy stranded with little intrigue. Scenes with Clark Jr. are much better though. His unpredictability is in stark contrast to the rest of the movie's convoluted linearity and as such he becomes the main attraction. Everything in between Sawa's scenes is forgettable.
The technics: Technically "the Extractors" is definitely under-funded, with heavy reliance on an empty and drab warehouse as one of the main locations; as well as an empty and disheveled prison as the main location. Since Chapman and Herzfeld's script is only related to the first Escape Plan in the loosest of senses, it doesn't get the feeling right. Violence is used to mask the distant relationship with the first, and it works just enough to maintain investment, but doesn't come close to resembling what the title says. Pacing is mixed here too, with a dismal first half that slogs its way through the setup of new characters, locations, and motivations in a partial effort to undo (or at least forget) the events of "Hades". Thankfully, once the first half is over, the flaws are glazed over with some moderately engaging action as a consolation.
The third and (hopefully) final installment in a trilogy that should've remained a one-off is far from the thinking-man's blockbuster of the impetus but does satisfy just enough violent urges to justify a one-time walkthrough of an all-new prison.
Escape Plan 2: Hades (2018)
Escape Plan 2: Hades was directed by Steven C. Miller, written by Miles Chapman, and stars Xiaoming Huang, Jesse Metcalfe, Chen Tang, Sylvester Stallone, Wes Chatham, 50 Cent, Jaime King, Dave Bautista, and Titus Welliver. It's about Ray's protege as he is locked up in a maximum-security prison as he survives and tries to escape, just like his boss did years ago.
The plot: Plotting is similar but different from the first Escape Plan in that the sequel does clearly retain the same basic setting but tries to focus its efforts on lightly engaging character drama and frequent brawls instead of the more straightforward finagling of the first. Shu (Huang), Luke (Metcalfe), and Jaspar (Chatham) meet with Ray (Stallone) who sends Shu on another job. On the way he meets with his cousin, Yusheng (Tang), owner of a tech company that has been given offers of a buyout. Both of them are kidnapped and dumped into Hades, a new prison; supervised by the Zookeeper (Welliver) and controlled by an (underdeveloped) AI. Most of the runtime is spent with Shu and his thoughts until he runs into Jaspar. Ray and Luke get themselves inside as Abigail (King), Hush (50), and old friend Trent (Bautista) try to find the prison and get the guys out before they break.
The characters: Characters are very weak in an inversion from the first movie. Shu isn't given much to work with aside from his abilities which are the same as Ray's from the first movie, only less tactile, less creative. Aside from that, all that's able to be garnered is that he's a natural leader blessed with the ability to make people move the way he wants them to; although everything in the movie shows the opposite. Yusheng only exists to create larger stakes and to suggest an attempt at greater human drama between him and Shu but ends up taking away screen time from Shu as the inkling of a dilemma is quickly feigned. Jaspar is the jealous sidekick whose arc is clear from his introduction, leaving little to the imagination. Ray becomes more of a mentor but doesn't have the same opportunity for creative escape like before. Luke and Hush are essentially the same character, as is Trent to Ray; and Abigail is sidelined.
The action: Action takes center stage in the second entry in the Escape Plan trilogy, and it's for the worse. The first movie was more about a few guys using the strengths of their minds and the weaknesses of the facility to craft an escape, whereas "Hades" is almost all brawn with only a few hints at the surprising techniques of the first. Action does benefit with the starring roles going to Huang, who is a very talented martial artist, and Metcalfe who's a solid brawler; so it becomes more of a shame that the fights are so choppily edited, usually shaking, and given mostly mediocre choreography. Quantity seems to be the name of the game here, not quality. Chapman's script paints Hades as an "In Hell" (2003) setting; with frequent fights that don't make sense in context. Since this new prison serves the same purpose of keeping powerful people alive but kept away, the every-other-day fighting seems like a conflict of interest anyway.
The technics: Mechanically the movie is subpar but does try to hide its flaws. The writing is a lot less polished in the sequel than in the debut; with short glimpses of emotion, a less intimidating warden, undercooked sci-fi elements, faulty logic, worse characters, and most painfully: near zero creative escape plans. Production design is a highlight though, with most locations in Hades having a suitably low-fi look to them courtesy of minimalist set design, neon lighting, and a stark color palette. Sound design is also decent, with most of the hits during melee combat providing a visceral crackle to the proceedings to pick up where the editing drops the ball.
Unfortunately the sequel to Escape Plan doesn't recapture the thrills of the first. Despite some solid direction, acting, and a visually interesting setting; Hades sacrifices brains for poorly edited brawn and a shoddy script. It's never hard to watch, but it's far from clever.
Escape Plan (2013)
Escapes cliche and keeps a straight face
Escape Plan was directed by Mikael Hafstrom, written by Miles Chapman and Jason Keller, and stars Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jim Caviezel, Faran Tahir, Vinnie Jones, Sam Neill, Amy Ryan, 50 Cent, and Vincent D'Onofrio. It follows a prison specialist and a prisoner as they try to break out of a secret prison.
The plot: Escape Plan's story is of pretty high concept and makes few detours, creating a fun and fascinating meat-and-potatoes game of smarts and endurance. After breaking out of a prison, Ray (Stallone) meets with a CIA lawyer and his own team: businessman Lester (D'Onofrio), assistant Abigail (Ryan), and hacker Hush (50) about testing a private facility. He accepts and is taken but his transponder is cleaved out, waking up in a glass box surrounded by faceless guards. Ray is "introduced" to warden Hobbes (Caviezel) and guard Drake (Jones), who refuse to let Ray go. Realizing that he's dead in the water, Ray teams up with fellow prisoners Rottmayer (Schwarzenegger) and Javed (Tahir), with some help from the prison doctor, Kyrie (Neill); all in an effort to circumvent the book he wrote and escape (plan).
The characters: Most of the characters are good enough. While the main characters are decently interesting, the side characters are pretty bland and their subplots far less interesting. Ray is solid; a professional escape artist, he has a seemingly infinite pocket of ideas as to how to ascertain escape routes, create tools, and navigate confined areas. These skills paired with a strong ability to appeal to emotion make him interesting and easy to root for. Rottmayer is a magnetic presence. A man with seemingly nothing to lose, he helps in whatever way he can, regardless of risk. Armed with an acute ability to piss people off, he's a strong asset to Ray (literally). Hobbes is a control freak with a knack for collection, eager to illustrate his power, his first choice is torture, and his backup is negotiation. There's a domineering coldness to him with a Bond-esque element of cheese. All the others fill out their roles well but aren't special. Performances are very good all across the board, although Stallone does play his role too seriously at times, and Caviezel a bit heavy.
The thrills: Excitement is abound in the prison. The one thing Hobbes allows i suppose. Ray's escape in the first 10 minutes gives an excellent idea of what the man can do and what he can create with such a limited amount of help and resources; and once he gets stuck in the prison with Rottmayer, it's extremely arresting and hard to look away. From using the wax lining of cardboard milk cartons to expanding steel with the use of toothpaste, there's never a lack of curious contraptions and schemes to come from Ray and Rottmayer. Even when the movie isn't focused on makeshift tools, the things that Hobbes does to the both of them, like putting them in metal boxes with searing lights, and waterboarding; there's never an easy task or a dull moment. What makes all of this even better is the realism of the methods that Ray and Rottmayer use; since the producers and writer consulted prison experts and studied real prison breaks, it all feels plausible.
The technics: Technically the movie is pretty good. Production design is the most notable thing that Escape Plan has to offer aside from the very good writing. A cold steely atmosphere combined with the glass cells and demoralizing color palette (the place is mostly blue and grey with spatters of yellow); the look and feel of what's essentially a top secret trash can is attained with ease. Pacing is also above average, with very few moments in the movie that don't serve a purpose, there's never a reason to look away. Some issues are present but take little from the movie overall. While the practical stuff is good, there's some bad CGI from time to time. It's mostly related to exterior shots, but it can be distracting. Hobbes' comeuppance is a bit weak and the subplot with Ray's team isn't as involving, though thankfully the movie steers away from it for long periods of time. It all comes out well in the end.
Escape Plan strictly denies cliche in lieu of realism. Thanks to large doses of creativity, a star-studded cast, and a strong sense of place; there's always something interesting going on, even if the movie ends up where you'd expect it to.
10 Minutes Gone (2019)
I wish i only lost 10 minutes
10 Minutes Gone was directed by Brian A. Miller, written by Kelvin Mao and Jeff Jingle, and stars Michael Chiklis, Meadow Williams, Lydia Hull, Kyle Schmid, Swen Temmel, Sergio Rizzuto, Texas Battle, Bruce Willis, and Tyler Jon Olson. It follows a bank robber with a gap in his memory as he figures out who double-crossed him and why.
The plot: '10 Minutes' starts off weakly and never finds momentum, clumsily lumbering from cliche to cliche. Robber and lock breaker Frank (Chiklis) and brother Joe (Olson) have joined crime boss Rex's (Willis) crew, including Griffin (Schmid), Baxter (Temmel), and Marshall (Rizzuto), to steal a case of diamonds from a bank. Obviously it goes bad, ending with Joe being shot and the case being stolen after Frank was knocked cold during the escape. To hide any links and satisfy his buyer, Richard (Battle), Rex sends his cleaner, Ivory (Hull). Frank begins tracking his cohorts with Joe's girlfriend Claire; getting into repetitious encounters for the following 70ish minutes before Frank begins to think with his head instead of his trigger, and fights to make things right.
The characters: Characterization is strictly prohibited in Cincinnati, and by extension, the movie. At least that's my understanding after viewing this and Miller's "Reprisal". Frank is a reliable lock breaker with an extensive knowledge of the criminal world, known by bosses for his abilities and results. The movie also opens with him comparing crime to poker but nothing ever materializes. Claire is Joe's girlfriend and the bartender at the crew's meeting place who tags along with Frank and yearns to get into the action, frequently asking to be armed. Rex does and says generic crime stuff and gets upset when things don't go as planned, quick to turn his back on his crew if it means he lives. Everyone else is just fodder. Acting just sucks. Chiklis does a damn good job at showing anger and grief when possible, and easily outperforms the rest of the cast with just a glance.
The thrills: Exciting moments are obscenely rare for a movie that primarily falls into the 'thriller' genre. Mao and Jingle's screenplay is so predictable and derivative that nearly every significant event is a forgone conclusion. Miller tries to stage some macho standoffs between Frank and his former crew members but the characters are void of personality to the point where all the scenes involving them are moot. While there are a few good lines during these scenes, they don't make up for the many times that characters give their take on the job, allowing the movie to reuse its biggest (and worst) action sequence to try and distract from the evident point that they aren't the ones responsible. Another dropped ball is the case itself; while there was an opportunity to deny the audience some certainty by hiding its contents, the movie is all too eager to give them away instead of creating even the most minor of mysteries.
The technics: Technically the movie may somehow be the worst of Miller's "works". Aside from the recycling of footage, there is an apparent lack of sets, or location dressing for that matter. Every scene plays out in an abandoned factory, unfinished building, or alleyway. Cinematography is also terrible. While never unintelligible, everything is choppily shot for no discernable reason. Actions never register on a physical level in the most literal way, with the usual reliance on digital bullet marks landing on guys to create mostly digital blood. The score has a couple of decent, if hardly memorable, tracks on it; and at least this movie isn't as purple and blue as most of Miller's other movies.
Brian A. Miller has enough bombs in his filmography to level a city, and 10 Minutes Gone only adds to that arsenal. Aside from Chiklis striving to provide a reason to watch, Hull's statuesque hitwoman, and one decent scene with Willis; there's nothing here.
Red Planet (2000)
An unconventional setting for a fairly familiar adventure
Red Planet was directed by Antony Hoffman, written by Chuck Pfarrer and Jonathan Lemkin, and stars Val Kilmer, Carrie-Anne Moss, Tom Sizemore, Simon Baker, Benjamin Bratt, and Terence Stamp. It follows a crew of astronauts as they struggle to survive after a botched colonization mission on Mars.
Plotting on the planet is relatively simple: a place-to-place walk, battling ever diminishing odds of survival. Bowman (Moss) leads the MARS-1 crew, consisting of Burchenal (Sizemore), Gallagher (Kilmer), Pettengill (Baker), Santen (Bratt), Chantilas (Stamp), and robot AMEE (Autonomous Mapping Evaluation/Evasion) on a checkup and colonization mission to Mars, as the oxygen that was sent there has diminished. Upon entry the ship is hit with a gamma-ray burst and Bowman sends the rest of the crew to the surface as she tries to fix the ship. Chantilas is killed in the landing and the base that was setup in advance has been destroyed. Previous missions made Mars's atmosphere breathable and the crew can wait until Houston sends a rescue team or they can make their own way back, but AMEE has gone haywire and "nematodes" are hungry for anything they can get.
Characters are as thin as mountain air, with the script painting in broad strokes in order to create every potential thought process one might have in the situation to very little success. Gallagher is the mechanic of the group, bringing levity and technical knowhow to a dire situation. He's quite idiosyncratic, having a preference for Mick Jagger and very 2000s sunglasses in space. Bowman has the biggest brain (and other things) on the ship, always cool under pressure and caring for her team like a family. There's some clear Alien(s) influence. The nod to 2001 is appreciated. Burchenal is pretty narcissistic but almost justifiably so given his biological smarts and ability to put pieces together when people don't add up. Pettengill is the seed of doubt among them. Hopeful but never confident, and only exists to stir the pot. Santen and Chantilas are nothing characters. Performances are subpar. Kilmer, Moss, Sizemore, and Baker are all fine but Bratt and Stamp are clearly uninterested.
Adventure-related goings on are competently presented, showing small signs of something even better. As soon as the crew takes steps forward, there's another setback. The long walk to the base is kept interesting, with the landing craft already landing off-course, causing disputes within the crew on where it may be; and when they get there to find that it's gone it's like a gut-punch. It never feels easy, taking full advantage of the Martian setting to eke out issues tied to the planet, including ice storms and repetitious terrain. Sci-fi related trekking is more accurate than not, despite taking several creative leaps with the science. Aside from all the clear "fi" parts in of the genre, like floppy map things (i have no idea what to call them) and military trained robot in civilian hands; most of the important scientific pieces of the script have the right idea. Things like the landing craft using circular airbags and waiting between space-faring communications are given proper attention. More worldly problems like food and water are still kept in the mix. While the journey is mostly satisfying, some of the human elements (notably scenes involving Pettengill) just seem like overkill; and the "nematodes" are underwhelming.
Technically the movie holds up. An immediate focal point is the great cinematography. While the movie can go for stretches without giving substantive adventurous or sci-fi thrills, there is always something beautiful to look at. Personal bias does get to me here: I'll never tire of looking at stunning landscapes. Costume design and set design are also highlights here. The suits and spaceship are all interestingly created and shown, but also realistic enough to sustain immersion for the length of the runtime that doesn't have to do with combustible nematodes. Dialogue is the biggest downside in the movie, with characters speaking comedic lines causing conflict with the more down-to-earth (Mars?) tone and a noticeable lack of urgency when seemingly insurmountable odds have been overcome.
Red Planet is far from a flawless Sci-fi/adventure film, but the core genre requirements of tense situations and cool gadgets are met and occasionally exceeded. It's the characters and the tone that don't stand up to scrutiny, but the ride is engaging nonetheless.
The Prince (2014)
I'm not loyal to this prince
The Prince was directed by Brian A. Miller, written by Andre Fabrizio and Jeremy Passmore, and stars Jason Patric, Jessica Lowndes, Gia Mantegna, Rain, Bruce Willis, 50 Cent, Johnathan Schaech, Tyler Jon Olson, and John Cusack. It follows an ex-hitman as he returns to the life he left behind in order to save his daughter.
Plotting is entirely derivative. If you've seen 2008's "Taken" then you've seen this. After Paul's (Patric) daughter Beth (Mantegna) stops answering his calls and her house looks vacant, Paul ventures to Louisiana to check in. He confirms her absence and goes to her old hangout spot and is given nothing by the staff; however, he runs into her friend Angela (Lowndes) who tells him she fell in with Eddie (Olson), a drug dealer. The two make their way to Eddie and Paul tries to shake Angela off as he goes to The Pharmacy (Fiddy) but she won't go. The majority of the movie is a string of "go here, see him" scenarios that rarely breaks its own pattern. On the way they pick up tails belonging to Omar (Willis), a previous target for Paul. Before the meeting with The Pharmacy, they visit Paul's old friends Sam (Cusack) and Frank (Schaech) who supply Paul with ammo and info to take on Omar and his henchmen, including Mark (Rain) to save Beth.
Characters are all as stock as chicken soup, with exceedingly little to grab onto that hasn't been done better in Taken. Paul is a man with a checkered past that includes a dead wife and an accidental slaying of Omar's family that put him out of the game. While cliche, there was room for interesting interplay provided some key details were changed. Angela is supposed to be the unintentional sidekick but feels more like a kick to the head with her stupid decision making; including doing cocaine while trying to find her friend and refusing to listen to simple instruction. Sam and Frank are just the quick and easy ways for Paul to get the equipment he needs. Omar is the ruthless cookie-cutter bad guy with a lust for power, and Mark is the generic goon. Acting is minimal, with Patric the only one trying to articulate some steely anger beneath a quiet surface, the rest are all collecting checks; and as usual, Willis only wakes up for one scene at the end.
Action is present but comes after long intervals of uninteresting characters spouting chiche and often vague dialogue. Unfortunately, instead of a brief reprieve from leaden plot stuff, the action isn't anything particularly special. While the gunplay is competently kept in frame and rarely shaky enough to be truly annoying, there's so little flare with the camerawork or character movement or even the weaponry that all gun-related scenes except one in The Pharmacy's den fall flat. Miller tries to stage a car chase, but that too comes off as unimpressive and more like some kind of prerequisite that needed to come in tandem with a rescue-related action/thriller like this. Some scuffles and hand-to-hand is here too, but it's overedited and shakily shot. That's a shame because Patric looked like he was doing fairly well with melee, or maybe the editor did too good a job at shaking the camera to give off that impression.
Mechanically (get it?) the Prince is weak. Clearly shot for cheap, with presumably most of the budget going to getting famous faces like Willis, Cusack, Rain, and 50 on-board with the shoddy script. Locations are all how Miller likes them: dingy and barely lit, which does in some ways help the movie to better capture the griminess of city life and a lethal profession, but is equally damaging in that it just illustrates the priorities of the director; that a few names and faces are more important to him than the actual movie. Color grading is just like Vice (2015), which he would go on to direct and bathe in blue steel and purple tones to little effect aside from minor annoyance. Just a few props, some more stunts, or any set dressing would've gone a long way to mask the restrictions.
I highly recommend Taken and its sequel, but the Prince just rides the coattails of those two movies, replicating their formula but not their energy, stuntwork, or pacing. Of all Miller's movies, this is one of his better efforts; although that doesn't mean much.
Break it down for you? This movie's already broken
Reprisal was directed by Brian A. Miller, written by Bryce Hammons, and stars Frank Grillo, Johnathan Schaech, Olivia Culpo, Bruce Willis, Natalia Sophie Butler, Colin Egglesfield, and Tyler Jon Olson. It's about a bank manager who's life has been stalled trying to find and punish the man who harmed him.
Plotting is typical revenge fare minus the enthusiasm and motivation. During what should be a normal day, bank manager Jacob's (Grillo) workplace is robbed by armored, well-prepared, and silent assailant Gabriel (Schaech). After Gabriel escapes, Jacob is questioned by FBI agent Fields (Egglesfield). The robbery essentially gets Jacob fired(?), who goes home to wife Christina (Culpo) and daughter Sophia (Butler). Jacob begins putting pieces together with his neighbor, James (Willis) who helps Jacob find that the robbery looks exactly like a string of others, pointing to the weaponry, armor, time between, and lock used in each one. Whole scenes are devoted to the lock, oddly enough, and it becomes a plot point; linking Gabriel to the area. Jacob follows a lead and gets too close, which causes Gabriel to kidnap Christina and Sophia in retaliation. Now Jacob must fight back alongside James and others including Casey (Olson) and Fredericks.
Characters are surprisingly, the most thought-out aspect of an otherwise inane movie. None are all that compelling in execution, but some inklings of a second dimension are handed out to a couple of them, assisting the low stakes nature of the movie. Jacob is a struggling man. At least that's what Hammons' script keeps telling the audience via reminders about his financial trouble and withering incentives despite contrary evidence like a gardener. He's also a loving father that clearly cares for his daughter. Christina is a flat wife character that is always on Jacob's back, reminding him that she wants the man she used to know (we don't); and Sophia is the diabetic daughter. James is a haunted ex-cop who doesn't want Jacob to have the bad memories he has, relying on pills and beer to get him through his days. Gabriel is a man robbing for his ill father, moving from place to place to pay his bills and keep him alright. Performances are bland; Grillo and Culpo are checked out and Willis only tries during one scene. Schaech is really trying here in a movie that doesn't deserve his efforts.
Crime-related events should be a blast here, as heist and robbery movies usually are; but Miller again misses the mark. Gabriel's method of robbing a bank in one state and moving to the next, keeping three days between each job is a good idea but the movie squanders it and throws out its own character's pattern to keep the shooting locations limited. Using the guidelines Gabriel was set up with, he should've hit Jacob's bank and moved on, but instead he goes for an armored car in the same city (Cincinnati for those wondering). Jacob and James' investigation could've been intriguing, following a ruthless man by connecting Gabriel's previous hits on franchises and a potential motive; but instead we get a big, red, rectangular, specialized lock. Some set pieces are entertaining (the armored car robbery that Jacob gets involved in and the finale are decently done) but the movie teases better ideas and sticks to well-trodden paths.
Technically, Reprisal is mediocre. Like Miller's prior efforts, there isn't much of a budget, and therefore not much in the way of scope. With a script that had more meat on its bones there could've been a solid outing of criminal investigation and vigilante justice, but the movie spins its wheels in several places like the aforementioned scenes focused around that good old lock, and a penchant for neglecting its most interesting ideas. Cinematography is also an issue, with the camera rarely being held steady, probably to create some visual interest out of settings that only occasionally give the impression of something worthy of the actors involved. During action scenes, the shakycam is still present, but makes sense; when it isn't ramped up anyway.
Reprisal represents another disappointment coming from a prolific director known for churning them out. While there are a few cool sequences and interesting variations on characters, everything else is as thin as mountain air and bland as its title. At least i got a new catchphrase.
Headaches abound in a bad lost-memory mystery
Backtrace was directed by Brian A. Miller, written by Mike Maples, and stars Matthew Modine, Ryan Guzman, Tyler Jon Olson, Meadow Williams, Colin Egglesfield, Christopher McDonald, and Sylvester Stallone. It follows a bank robber after he is sprung out of prison, tasked with finding the loot years after it all went down.
The plot: Backtrace's plot had a lot of potential for a windy road of twists, turns, and revelations; but the movie resigns itself to formula. After a bank heist, Mac (Modine) encounters some goons waiting to take the score, during his interaction his cohorts are killed and he's shot and taken to prison. He awakens from a coma and is sent to prison for seven years where he meets Lucas (Guzman), who springs him out and gives him an experimental memory enhancer with the assistance of Farren (Olson) and Erin (Williams). As the three search for the money, FBI agent Franks (McDonald) and detective Sykes (Stallone) try to put the pieces together in parallel; sending detective Carter (Egglesfield) to find them before they get what they were looking for.
The characters: The characters here are pretty thin, following archetype like law and taking personality as a suggestion. Mac had a family at one point or another and turned to being a criminal after his pension was severed. While not the most complex by any means, it is easy to feel sympathy for him due to that and the constant pain he's in due to the memory enhancer. Lucas is a guy who knows a lot about Mac and will do whatever it takes to fix his memory. Erin was a nurse, and Farren is just a regular criminal. Carter is a strait-laced cop, as is Sykes, although he's not very competent; having been working on the case for seven years and coming up with nothing. Franks is a typical shady FBI agent. Performances from the supporting cast are unanimously bad, Guzman, Olson, Stallone, and McDonald are all checked out and Williams can't act anyway. Modine is the only one here putting in any effort, trying to dig into a non-existent character.
The mystery: Intrigue shows no trace (get it?) here. While Miller and Maples are clearly drawing inspiration from Memento and the Usual Suspects, they both are just not strong enough creators to make a compelling question or spark any dramatic tension. Plenty of procedural dialogue is spouted, as are "revelations" about the who and the where of the deal-gone-bad; but it all rings hollow because nearly any audience can put some details together and draw a rough conclusion about backstabbers. Because none of the characters are filled in with detail it all comes down to identifying archetypes and typical motives. Since the movie opens in the location where the money is hidden, any chance to identify with Mac's journey backwards is lost.
The technics: Technically the movie is really, really bad. Locations are extremely limited and almost certainly as a measure to save money on production space and use that money to get Stallone on the shoot for a couple days. From abandoned houses to abandoned factories, to open fields; the movie never tries to hide its cheapness. That, together with a significant lack of color in the feature makes it easy to succumb to terminal boredom. Some ADR is very clear too, when Erin talks in the factory her words barely match her lips. Most annoying is the artificial screen shaking meant to show Mac's mind being tortured by the drug. Flashbacks are already color corrected to look (even more) grey, and the shots in the same area make the difference in time clear. Miller doesn't trust his audience and just wants to piss them off.
Much like most of Miller's movies, Backtrace does the bare minimum with its concept. While not original to begin with, some pizzazz, pacing, rewriting, and technical details would've made this enjoyable. So basically everything but Modine is scrambled in Miller's incapable hands.
Takes off well enough, gets turbulent mid-flight
Altitude was directed by Alex Merkin, written by Tyler W. Konney, and stars Denise Richards, Greer Grammer, Kirk Barker, Jordi Vilasuso, Dolph Lundgren, and Chuck Liddell. It follows an FBI agent as she spoils the plan of a group of robbers on-board an airplane.
The plot: Events are played loose, with a strolling pace making way for interaction between characters and is bearable; although derivative. FBI agent Blair (Richards) has just made a decision that put her life at risk but saved a perp from a bullet, for that she is sent to do desk work across the country, during her boarding, she sits next to Terry (Barker), who offers her millions of dollars to help him get off the plane alive and out of the hands of thieves Sadie (Grammer), Sharpe (Lundgren), and Rawbones (Liddell); all of which have hidden themselves from Terry. They want a bunch of diamonds that Terry scored, and it's up to Blair, with a little help from air marshal Luke (Vilasuso) to throw a wrench in the works.
The characters: Characters are exactly what most have come to expect from contained action/thrillers. Blair is essentially Jane McClane, a (kinda) witty cop who doesn't take a liking to any kind of authority. The only real difference is that she has no arc, no backstory, less charisma, and more botox. Terry is a career criminal that has a knack for deductive reasoning and a flip-floppy attitude towards his dire situation. One scene he's shaking in fear, the next he's cracking jokes. Sadie is Terry's ex that angrily commands her goons, although she has no right to be so mad at them when she's just as incompetent. Sharpe is her new boyfriend and accomplice, and Rawbones is the heavy. Acting is mixed, Richards is believable in her action role, Barker has fun. It's the baddies who are weak, Grammer is less than menacing, Lundgren is checked out and Liddell is the same as usual.
The action: Action is far from optimal. While the movie is understandably restrained in its location, it's evidently been decided that the movie would work better if the audience had little clue what's going on in front of the camera. Choreography is equally dismal, with the actors doing little that seems effective, some hits are traded and kicks are performed, but most of what happens in quarters that close looks too fake to suspend disbelief. Also of note is the scene in the cargo hold where Blair fights Rawbones. While Richards is indeed playing a highly trained FBI agent, it gets crazy when she takes on a hulk like Liddell but struggles against Grammer. There are sequences in the third act that take a diversion into the insane. Said sequences involve landing on a burning(?) runway and fighting with open doors. It becomes a denial of what was a fairly grounded (get it?) premise.
The technics: Technically, Altitude is mediocre. While the writing is admittedly pretty diverting for a large chunk of the runtime, if never award-winning or convention-breaking, the entire last act and resolution is groan-inducing. Parts of the production are definitely passable, like the entire interior of the plane itself and the lighting, but the outside looks awful and shouldn't have been included in the movie at all. A different ending that better suits the lower budget would've kept the last act more in line with the previous two, kept the stakes at a reasonable level, and looked all the better for it without the subpar CGI and greenscreen effects.
Altitude started out knowing exactly what it is, a fairly derivative actioner with a simple, easy to digest plot. Somewhere along the way Merkin lost track and went off-the-rails. Combine that with weak villains, bad effects, and a turbulent tone and you have a subpar movie that should have been good.
House of 1000 Corpses (2003)
Call the HOA because this house needs fixin'
House of 1000 Corpses was directed and written by Robert Zombert and stars Rainn Wilson, Chris Hardwick, Erin Daniels, Jennifer Jostyn, Bill Moseley, Sheri Moon Zombie, Karen Black, Sid Haig, and Matthew McGrory. It follows a group of young adults as they try to survive their captivity at the hands of a depraved family.
Plotting is pretty much non-existent, with little of importance or necessity to anything. Young road trippers Bill (Wilson), Jerry (Hardwick), Denise (Daniels), and Mary (Jostyn) need gas and stop at a station/theme ride owned by Captain Spaulding (Haig). Upon hearing of a site of local legend, the crew ride to it and pick up hitchhiker Baby (Zombie) on the way. During their trip a tire is popped by Rufus, and Baby leads the group to her home, occupied by adoptive brothers Otis (Moseley), Tiny (McGrory), and Mother Firefly (Black). The sadistic family entertains themselves and the "visitors" with violence and threats while the sheriff works his way to the house due to a crime committed by Spaulding.
Characters are mostly terrible, Bill and Jerry are stupid, adventurous, nerdy guys who like pop-culture stuff; whereas their girlfriends Denise and Mary complain about stuff. The Fireflys don't fare much better, with Mother and Tiny acting as half-measures of the main three family members. Baby is by far the weakest, only ever shown off as a piece of ear-ringing eye candy for the audience, sometimes doing something nasty. Otis is the most outwardly violent, a self-serving agent of chaos that preaches and performs violence of all sorts to anyone who gets near him. Spaulding is the best, a hellbilly clown with some memorable lines and an idiosyncratic personality. Performances are generally awful, with the normal leads being uncharismatic, Zombie being plain annoying, and everyone aside from Haig and Moseley banal.
Horror is equally terribad. While the movie strains itself to push the viewer to their breaking point with physical violence, sexual violence, and psychological violence, it only ever comes off as Zombie trying to get a rise out of the audience. There's a lot of torture, some manhunting, and some unprofessional surgery, but none of it shocks in the way it clearly wants to; aside from Fishboy. Can't forget about Fishboy (not that that creation is scary or anything, but it is bizarre). Several of the movie's scenes are less nods to and more rip-offs of much praised classics like a dinner scene entirely aping the Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and chase scenes reminiscent of slasher franchises like Friday the 13th and Halloween. While not a high bar to pass (with the exception of the original Halloween), Zombie still fails to bring anything new or even energetic to the screen.
Technically the movie is a garbage fire. Zombie has a distinctly awful approach to his film making, much like his music. Writing is just pitiful like the worst of screenplays, confusing a string of expletives for creative interactions; lots of F-bombs and slang plague the script and it wears on the senses after the first 500 utterances. Editing is the pits. Spliced between scenes are bits of non-sequitur footage with the Fireflys spitting random, vaguely related dialogue; other times it's of characters that have never appeared. Also edited in are color-changing transitions meant to reference grindhouse films of the 70s, but they only bring up memories of better homages. Pacing is lumbering, finding the 89-minute movie struggling to pad scenes out to feature length by means of slo-mo, musical interludes, and long pauses. It's a mess.
I do believe all films are pieces of art, but some are on a different level, House of 1000 Corpses for example, has a ramshackle plot, mostly uninteresting characters, and a script most likely written in crayon. If this is called one of Zombie's best, i want nothing to do with his worst.
Murder by Numbers (2002)
A very accurate title
Murder by Numbers was directed by Barbet Schroeder, written by Tony Gayton, and stars Sandra Bullock, Ben Chaplin, Ryan Gosling, Michael Pitt, Agnes Bruckner, R.D. Call, and Chris Penn. It follows two detectives as they work to solve a murder case committed by a pair of high school students.
Plotting is what it says in the title: by the numbers, despite the potential for a riveting game of cat and mouse. High school classmates Richard (Gosling) and Justin (Pitt) want to prove they can commit the perfect crime. Detectives Cassie (Bullock) and Sam (Chaplin) are sent to investigate a crime the two have already committed in which they purposely left some DNA that setup their drug dealer, Ray (Penn), and to Richard. After Richard worms his way out, Cassie becomes obsessed with him and is taken off the case by Captain Cody (Call). Between the boys is Lisa (Bruckner), who causes tension while the investigation rages on.
Characters are all over the place, with Cassie the most bland: a detective with a pained past that has little bearing on the plot. She's difficult to empathize with since she has a habit of treating everyone like a pawn. Sam, the new guy to the CSI team is more objective, until he isn't. Richard is the most intriguing of the bunch; with an undeniable swagger about him, always witty, yet condescending at the same time. Although moderately well done, his backstory and arc are cliche: little attention from his parents, very intelligent, womanizer. Justin is his foil, but shares a lot of backstory; the main difference is that he has social issues. Lisa only exists to drive an unbelievable wedge between the two. Performances keep the movie watchable; Bullock is surprisingly believable as a detective, and Chaplin shows his aptitude. The best acting is from Pitt and Gosling who bring emotion to such banal characters.
Crime is centerfold, but thoroughly unsurprising. As mentioned, the bored kids with little to do conceit has been done before; and the movie doesn't do very much to set itself apart from the others. They do the same thing, act the same way, and end up at the same place. Alongside the derivation from numerous other movies, the investigation, while potentially interesting, sways from well set-up to convenient. So many things are articulately placed for the detectives to find that it makes any suspicions the police force may have seem conspiratorial; however the kids purposely place evidence implicating them which is just stupid and contrary to how they were portrayed up to that point. Perspectives aside from Cassie's change at the drop of a hat and makes everyone else look inept.
Technically the movie is cookie-cutter stuff. It's competently directed, decently paced, and well produced. What brings it down is the subpar writing in many critical spots, most egregiously in the last 15 minutes, and a general feeling that the only people who really had any faith in the production were the actors. Dialogue, cinematography, music, and direction all comes off as something churned out for the sake of a potential return on investment for the producers. The concept isn't new by any means, but some effort would have gone a long way.
Murder by Numbers does little different from others of its ilk. Despite some convicted performances from the four leads, everything is efficiently done at the cost of memorability. I would've given a higher score for its competence, but a bad ending spoils even that bit of praise.
Kill Chain (2019)
Less of a straight chain, more of a pretzel knot
Kill Chain was directed and written by Ken Sanzel and stars Nicolas Cage, Anabelle Acosta, Enrico Colantoni, Eddie Martinez, Ryan Kwanten, Alimi Ballard, and Angie Cepeda. It's about a bunch of hitmen who face off in a hotel over rewards they've all been promised by their clients.
Plotting is anthological, with each character having a job to do that segues into the next character. Interesting concept, but the blunt delivery and odd spacing of said stories is the downfall. In a seedy hotel, sniper Markham (Colantoni) is waiting on a target, only to find out that Sanchez (Martinez), a fellow hitman, is hunting him; set on him by his intel guy. After Sanchez does his job he's paid in diamonds and is robbed by a cop, Ericson (Kwanten). Ericson intends to take the diamonds and use them for his lover, Renata (Acosta), who faces off with Gabrielle (Cepeda). In due time she ends up at the hotel, owned by Arana (Cage), who is talking to another hitman (Ballard). They battle it out for the prize.
Characters are solid at best, but the median are subpar. While a relatively similar amount of time is spent with each major character, only a couple of them are worth said time. Arana is a man with a troubled history that ranges from mercenary work to driving trucks to bartending, his past has caught up to him and he's fine with that. He's given quite the backstory that mostly sticks, and is nimble in his wording. It's good stuff. The others are mediocre: Markham is a sniper with a daughter, Sanchez likes killing, Ericson is corrupt, and Renata is a criminal. Some relations get hazy with a massive exposition dump towards the end which doesn't help things. Cage and Colantoni are the only performers who bring anything to the table; the others are fine but can't compete.
Criminal behavior is shown in heaps, and while in some "chapters" is well done, it can get sloppy in others. A whole host of things, from blood diamonds to human trafficking, are touched on and it's all meant to convey the cyclical nature of violence. The point is made in a blunt fashion and begins to get unbelievable the deeper the rabbit hole goes. Most of what's shown is entirely predictable and just as largely forgettable since the film never picks something or someone to focus in on, and because this message loses its clarity by the end; it doesn't impress.
Technically, Kill Chain is alright. Production values don't exactly leap off the screen, but for the setting it chose, they don't need to. What does stick out is the bad cinematography, whenever anyone does literally anything the camera goes handheld, after the first 20 minutes it just becomes a bother. Editing could have been much better too, the movie opens with Cage (who is definitely the best part of the movie) which gives some core details out way too early; effectively making at least a third of the journey a moot point. Cutting out the first 7ish minutes would have allowed for intrigue to snowball instead of blueball.
Kill Chain has a few things going for it: Cage, Colantoni, and some good dialogue; but the movie seems content to introduce uninteresting characters and vaguely interesting scenarios, only to abandon them in mere minutes. Each chapter could be fleshed out in their own movies and been all the better for it.
One Missed Call (2008)
Let it go to voicemail
One Missed Call was directed by Eric Valette, written by Andrew Klavan who adapts from the novel by Yasushi Akimoto, and stars Shannyn Sossamon, Edward Burns, Ana Claudia Talancon, Ray Wise, Azura Skye, Johnny Lewis, and Jason Beghe. It's about a girl who receives a message containing her date of death trying to save her friends, who have also received them, from their incoming deaths.
Plotting is a low-intensity mish-mash of elements from better movies like Final Destination and the Ring. A girl is on the phone with Leann (Skye) and is distracted and pulled underwater to her death. Later at a party, Beth (Sossamon) meets with Leann; who gets a call from the girl's number from the future, containing a message with her voice. Days later, Leann has hallucinations and eventually ends up dead on the date the message came from. Friends Taylor (Talancon), Brian (Lewis) get the same treatment. No one will hear Beth's theory except for detective Andrews (Burns), who search for answers before they both meet their marked dates.
Characterization is absolute garbage. Not one of the cast members is given anything even close to competent to work with. Beth is a psych major. That's it. While it is repeatedly made perfectly clear as to what she does, nothing comes of it. Andrews is a detective whose sister had also (supposedly) received a call with her information detailed; so he buys Beth's story. Taylor, Leann, and Brian are all do-nothings that literally do not get one single bit of personality; and Ted (Wise) and Purvis (Beghe) are televised exorcists that pops up for a couple of minutes and have no bearing on the plot. Performances are just awful. Usually reliable actors like Sossamon and Burns are sleepwalking their way through this drivel to collect a check, and while i can't blame them for wanting some money, i can blame them for not picking a better movie to lumber through.
Horror simply is not a genre that this movie falls into, despite making several attempts at justifying itself. The "answer this" or "watch this" and die premise has (and had) been done better numerous times, and the movies mentioned had an established order of events; they worked. An idea as stupid as ghostly phone calls couldn't be good on its own terms, so Klavan apes it and tries to spin it with a red candy that pops out of characters' mouths when they die. It's just as dumb as it sounds. The selection of who dies next doesn't even make sense, it's just whoever happened to be in the last person's contact list. When the knockoffs and candy don't work, the movie throws in some jumpscares as a last ditch effort. Hoo boy.
Technically the movie is just as bad as everything else. Pacing and production is very workman-like, with character and atmosphere development being sacrificed to get to the next plot point, even though either of those two elements would've reduced the need for padding; which is in abundance here. A good score would've helped, but there isn't one, in fact; the movie could've gone acapella and nothing would change. The explanation for the plot is stupid too, having to deal with a mother abusing her child. Visual effects are even worse, the faces and objects that characters see in their hallucinations are eerily reminiscent of early 7th generation console games. Make no mistake, that's the only eeriness One Missed Call has in store.
The phrase "phoning it in" could not be more applicable in the case of One Missed Call. Blatant theft and blending of premises, unenthused actors, and goofs instead of horror are all that are calling out for your attention. Don't answer.
The Delta Force (1986)
Few "bravos" for this Delta Force
The Delta Force was directed by Menahem Golan, written by Golan and James Bruner, and stars Chuck Norris, Lee Marvin, Robert Forster, David Menachem, Martin Balsam, Joey Bishop, Lainie Kazan, Shelley Winters, Bo Svenson, and George Kennedy. It follows a a plane hijacked by terrorists as they negotiate with the US government for the release of others while a unit of the Delta Force is sent in to remedy the problem.
The plot: Surprisingly for an 80's action movie, the plotting is way overdone. There are some attempts at grand politics followed by mindless action which makes it feel like two different movies. In mid-flight, Lebanese terrorists Abdul (Forster) and Mustafa (Menachem) take over flight 282 en route to New York. The pilot, Campbell (Svenson) obliges but contacts the US embassy which puts Col. Alexander (Marvin) and his Delta team, including Maj. McCoy (Norris) on standby. The terrorists separate the Jewish passengers, including Harry (Bishop), his wife Sylvia (Kazan), Ben (Balsam), wife Edie (Winters), and Father O'Malley (Kennedy) who stands in solidarity as they attempt negotiations. More join the operation and the Delta Force plan their rescue.
The characters: Every single character is comically obtuse, with little aside from religion and rank. McCoy and Alexander are given very little to work with aside from the fact that they are well-trained and cool under pressure. McCoy is at least shown to be willing to put his life at risk as long as there's a chance that it would help, no matter the odds. Abdul and Mustafa are strangely the ones given the closest semblance of humanity, despite the movie's intentions. Abdul is calmer and more collected, willing to listen to bargaining from the Americans and whoever else may speak; whereas Mustafa is more twitchy and violent, but neither of them are especially evil. All things considered anyway. Conversely, the passengers are the most unsubtle 'woe-is-me' saints of the 80s. Nearly every line is them comparing the hijacking to the holocaust or Nazism, being sure to hammer the 6 million home as many times as possible before the end. Performances are mostly fine, with the sole standout being Forster, who makes for a very intimidating, if underwritten bad guy.
The action: Disappointingly, action is largely restrained until the last 50 minutes or so, and is mostly enjoyable when it finally does show up. The more score-laden, explosion-heavy nature of what has been put in the film is much more in line with the limply written dialogue and meek attempt at socio-politics. Plenty of car chases, cool military gear, and shootouts are (eventually) gifted to the viewers and they're passably entertaining; but not memorable. Prior to all of the expected chaos, some fights break out on the plane; and is just barely enough to satiate the appetite for action in between the bad dialogue. Filming technique here is similar to numerous other low budget 80s actioners, with plenty of shot-reverse-shot and inserts of people getting blown up. It's not innovative but it works.
The technics: Production-wise, the movie is very of-its-time and of-its-budget, with many of the settings clearly lit by studio grade lights and constructed on backlots. When the movie lags, it only amplifies the feeling of cheapness that radiates off the screen, but when it's in no holds barred action mode, it adds character to a movie that desperately needs it by the time it arrives. The score by Alan Silvestri also aids the movie's interchangeable downtime; it's big it's loud, and it's most certainly proud. Runtime is a major issue, a script with little to say or do different from almost any other action movie elongates what should be a breathless action/adventure to a second-rate drama; some major editing was needed.
Menahem Golan's goals are opaque: paint one side in a victimized position and the other in the negative. He succeeded and my thoughts on that debacle are irrelevant; it's just a shame it took so long to get it across. While the action is good and the acting is fine, the Delta Force just isn't worth wading through to get there.
Behind Enemy Lines (2001)
Less Moore, more clarity next time please
Behind Enemy Lines was directed by John Moore, written by David Veloz and Zak Penn, and stars Owen Wilson, Gene Hackman, Vladimir Mashkov, Joaquim de Almeida, Marko Igonda, Olek Krupa, and Gabriel Macht. It's about a Naval navigator who is shot down over warring Bosnia; now tracked by Bosnian forces, the pilot must evade capture.
The plot: Veloz and Penn's plotting is a relatively cut-and-dry series of coincidences and characters running, without the originality or depth that would make it stand out. Pilot Burnett (Wilson) is about to quit the Navy, as punishment, admiral Reigart (Hackman) sends him and copilot Stackhouse (Macht) on another routine recon mission over Bosnia. While on said mission the duo fly over a mass grave of civilians and are shot down by commander Lokar (Krupa) and Stackhouse is killed. Burnett tries to get an extraction from Reigart but is denied by Piquet (de Almeida). Burnett must survive being tracked by Lokar and his men; including tracker Sasha (Mashkov) and Bazda (Igonda) until he can be rescued.
The characters: All of the characters are reiterations of cliches that have been played out dozens of times, only this time these stock characters are placed in a war and not on the streets in a crime movie. Burnett is a cynical pilot who has been in the Navy for 7 years and without any action to speak of, decides to leave. It's the soon-to-be-retired trope but in the military. He is an ace pilot, trained to survive, but still naïve about combat. Reigart is a generic military officer, hardheaded and only wants the best for his men; even if he doesn't show it. Once he sees the predicament that Burnett is in, it spurs his empathy and gets him into live-saving gear. Sasha, Lokar, and Bazda can only loosely be called characters since they are just bad guys who do bad stuff and get dramatic push-ins and closeups. Performances are alright. Wilson's first real dramatic role showed his capability, but not his full potential. Hackman is decent as well, being able to dig into a personality that was never written.
The thrills: Thrilling engagements are merely occasional and rarely surprising in content. Since a majority of the runtime is spent following Burnett as he flees to extraction, the obstacles and people he encounters should be doing the heavy lifting in between more quiet scenes involving him. Since there are only two times where Burnett runs into people who aren't bad, and they only take up a few minutes of screen-time; there's no added depth to the conflict or opportunities to create tension outside of endless shots of running. While the execution of Stackhouse does provide a sense of overwhelming odds and a showcase of the enemy's brutality, it all feels superficial since Sasha is largely alone in his search. Aside from a good set piece involving Burnett running through a minefield, there isn't much to raise a pulse.
The technics: Mechanically the movie is weak. Sound design thrives here, with every footstep and crunching branch making a distinct sound that clues the audience in on the terrain and the possibility of an incoming attack. While this attention to audible detail rarely ever comes into play, it does help a slight bit in regaining some thrills that the movie otherwise lacks. Editing is what damages the tone. Moore, as usual, can't sit still; and neither can the camera. Nearly every scene has crash-zooms, shakycam, slowed down and sped up footage, and unnecessary slomo. A handheld camera style would have worked for a movie like this, but Moore can't restrain himself. Writing is generic and introductions are generic, with the opening scenes attempting to familiarize the audience by putting character names on display in case they forget the cardboard cutout characters. It's a well-financed mess.
Moore's feature length debut is vaguely competent, but there is so much that could have been fixed with another draft or a better director that it only left me rattled thanks to the scrambled technical aspects.