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Archive for the ‘Action’ Category

This was not the best introduction to the Pang Brothers.

I really felt at a loss to describe Bangkok Dangerous.   The plot and ending are so loaded with cliches, it’s almost as though the screenwriters constructed a movie solely out of tired, over-used devices.   The directing is adequate, although the blue filter applied to some of the scenes gets old fast.   The primary problem with Bangkok Dangerous is Nicolas Cage.

If you read this blog on a regular basis, you know that I have a bit of a soft-spot for Cage.   My theory is that Cage got his Academy Award and then set about purposefully destroying all critical acclaim he had.   I think Cage makes bad movies on purpose.   This, however, doesn’t explain the horrible performance he turns in.

Normally, Cage likes to overact.  I can appreciate this.  It’s broad, it’s bold and it takes guts to act like that, even if it turns out to be ridiculous.

This one, however, Cage doesn’t act like much of anything.   He stares at fixed points, his face unmoving and mask-like, while he monotonously narrates unnecessary voice-overs.   Since he plays an assassin, you’d think he’d want to blend into his surroundings, but his hair is so bad you wonder when Nic Cage stopped bathing and stopped cutting his hair.   Said frightening hairdo is the most interesting thing about his entire character.  Considering this is Nicolas Cage, he of the “why is it burned?  WHY IS IT BURNED?!” fame, I am not quite sure what was going on.  Did someone give Nic elephant tranquilizers?  Was he under constant hypnosis?   Did he forget he was filming a movie?

I don’t know.   It does feel depressing that Cage is so not there that creating facial expressions seems to cause him real pain.  What sort of crazy mixed up world is this?

I watched this movie twice.  It felt like an eternity.   I’d take a pleasant, friendly visit from some Cenobites over a rewatch.

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Aside:  WOOOO KATHRYN BIGELOW!

The Hurt Locker opens with Specialist Eldridge, Sergeant Sanborn and Staff Sergeant Thompson out on a daily task.  As members of an EOD unit, they are assigned to defuse bombs in Iraq.    Thompson is the guy who puts on the suit and defuses the bomb.  Sanborn and Eldredge hang back and provide cover against any threat.   The assignment goes tragically wrong.  Thompson dies and Bravo Company is assigned a new leader, Sergeant James.

Sanborn is appalled by James’ behavior.   James seems reckless, refusing to stay in communication with the two guys covering his back, going against standard operating policy and putting the unit in what Sanborn feels is unnecessary danger.   Eldridge worries obsessively over his own fate and safety.   The constant thought of death occupies Eldridge’s mind, leading an Army psychiatrist to set up regular sessions with him.

The only other person has any emotional connection with is a young Iraqi boy who calls himself Beckham.   As Bravo Company’s time in Iraq dwindles to a close, what the three men want out of life and how they intend to live it is thrown into sharper focus.

The Hurt Locker moves fast and goes long.   Most of the shots are close and tight; Bigelow directs with a sense of urgency and tension that grows as the film progresses.   There are a few beautiful moments in the film that are atypical, to be sure.  When Thompson is killed by an IED, Bigelow shoots in slow-motion the ground rumbling and the dust moving off a rusty, bombed out car.

The message of the film is right in the title cards:  war is a drug.  Some like it, some don’t.   Eldridge desperately wants to go home alive and nothing more.  Sanborn comes to realize no one would care much if he died.   It eats at him.  He professes a deep hatred of Iraq.

It is James, the “reckless”, “unstable” guy who can’t get enough of war.   He enjoys his job, taking souvenirs of bombs not only as tokens of times he nearly got killed but out of genuine interest in how bombs are assembled.   He struggles to do what he believes is the right thing even if he forgets to weigh the cost in human lives at times.

The Hurt Locker is well executed and smartly crafted, but it also examines the stress of this war in particular.   Disarming bombs is dangerous enough, but the EOD unit must contend with snipers, remote bombers, and realizes everyone on the street may be against them.   And how do people react to war?   Some think it’s hell, some hate it and some really and truly appreciate their jobs no matter how dangerous.   It’s a frightening thought, but Jeremy Renner does a masterful job of portraying Sergeant James as a guy initially perhaps unable to cope with his need to do the job he does who manages to reconcile it in the end.  The tension and differences between Sanborn and James against the war-torn city they work in is part of The Hurt Locker‘s strength.   Bigelow’s sensitivity toward James is compelling, given that it’s easy to take that character and simplify him in such a crude fashion, but James is given depth.   Jeremy Renner creates a guy who can be unsympathetic and at times obnoxious, but you understand why he does what he does.

A fantastic film.   It earned its Best Picture nom.   I can’t say the award, since I haven’t seen all of the ’09 nominees, but damn, it’s a great film.

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QT Week: Death Proof

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Death Proof is an often criticized film.  While I don’t disagree that it’s not Tarantino’s best work, I think there’s a lot more to like about it than a lot of people give it credit for.

In Austin, Texas, a group of girlfriends roam about town and end up in a bar on their way to a friend’s house on Lake LBJ.   This particular bar scene involves the usual:  sleazy guys scheming to get into the girls’ pants, lots of booze and beer and tunes playing on the jukebox.   Enter Stuntman Mike, a seemingly affable but dated fellow who shows up to hang out at the bar.   What starts out as a fun night degrades into horror for the group of girls and their acquaintance Pam, as Stuntman Mike commits some vehicular homicide.

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Mostly unbeknownst to the girls, Mike’s been stalking them and taking photos.   Pam dies a grisly death, begging for her life to be let out of Mike’s car after she asked for a ride.    Mike informs her that his death proof car, which he had crowed over earlier, is in fact proof.   “…But to get the benefit of it, honey, you really need to be sitting in my seat”, he tells her.

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Stuntman Mike then causes a head-on collision with the other car full of girls, ripping off limbs and driving over faces.   It’s not a pretty scene and it pisses the local law enforcement off.   They suspect Mike is guilty of killing all six girls, but have no way to prove it.

Fourteen months later in Lebanon, Tenneessee, four friends are reunited for a vacation.   They’re working on a film set that’s shooting in the area and one of them is a stuntwoman with a dream to play a dangerous game called Ship’s Mast on the hood of a 1970 white Dodge Challenger – the car driven in Vanishing Point. Of course, there happens to be a 1970 Challenger in the area, so after sweet talking the owner to let them drive it on their own and leaving a friend for collateral, three of them head off to play Ship’s Mast.

It’s basically a game of holding on to the car with belts while you ride around free-wheeling on the hood.

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It’s not long before Stuntman Mike shows up; he’s been stalking these girls, too.   After scaring the shit out of them, one shoots at him and injures him.   He takes off running, but the girls give chase and hunt him down.   It is the proverbial end of the road for Stuntman Mike.

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Death Proof does suffer from one massive, almost fatal flaw:   it is not actually one movie.   It’s really two movies with Stuntman Mike as the connectivity between the two.

The first half is the girls in the bar (Arlene and friends) and the second half is the girls in the car (Abernathy and friends).   Mike is the common thread here, but the sudden and jarring switch between the two is somewhat bizarre.   Tarantino goes from a color-saturated environment right into black and white.   It’s like watching a whole different movie.

In a lot of ways, it is.   The girls in the bar have similar conversations in a lot of ways to Abernathy and her friends; small talk about boys and other things is involved.    But Abernathy and her friends fight back against Mike’s brutality but Arlene and company are never given a chance to fight back as such.

Abernathy and friends are the victims changing the balance of power and Stuntman Mike, who for all his crowing and creepiness, is really just a wussed-out jerk who hides in his car.   He spends the end of the movie sobbing in his car, begging for mercy from girls who have none for him.

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Death Proof is a weird amalgamation of slasher movie and car chase movie.   Indeed, the car chase parts are perhaps the best bits of the movie.   There are none of the annoying, more modern multiple quick cuts to be found here, thank God in heaven, whether it’s Zoe Bell hanging on the hood or Abernathy and Kim screaming their heads off in the car as Mike terrorizes them.

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My thoughts on Kill Bill are this:  it should have been one movie.   One very long movie, but one movie nonetheless and that Volume 1 makes Volume 2 pale in comparison.

I don’t know if Tarantino can ever top that House of Blue Leaves scene.  It has so much good in it and so much going on that everything after it looks not as good as it is.   (Poor Volume 2, although I will say that the Bill monologue at the end is some fantastic stuff.)

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I’ve only taken screencaps from Volume 1 (you don’t want to see how the caps from Volume 2 turned out; it was bad, bad, bad) but Tarantino took an age-old theme of vengeance upon those who have wronged a person.   He twisted it into something original with heavy doses of nostalgia and the usual tips of the hat to his favorite flicks.

Kill Bill is really Tarantino’s love letter of sorts to kung fu and samurai cinema with a dash of spaghetti westerns thrown in.

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I would say that Kill Bill is actually my favorite of all Tarantino flicks, something I know that borders on heresy in some quarters, but it’s the perfect blend of homage and originality.     The Bride might be up there with Ellen Ripley in terms of my favorite female action characters ever.

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It’s a colorful and stylized two volume set that runs at a smooth pace.   Oddly enough, it is the House of Blue Leaves scene that ends Volume 1 that, as I said before, does Volume 2 some heavy injustice.   The Bride’s final interaction and showdown with Bill, muted and as somewhat anticlimactic as it is, is pitch perfect.

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The usual Tarantino fare is there, from the close ups to the crazy foot fetishism, but he upped his game with Kill Bill.   Everything is bigger, brighter and bloodier.   The soundtrack, a medium in which Tarantino had demonstrated remarkable adeptness at picking out catchy forgotten gems to paste into his movies, was even better than his previous three film efforts.   If you saw Volume 1, you can at least pick out the strains of Twisted Nerve (the song Elle Driver whistles in the hospital) and place it in reference to the movie.

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Unlike, perhaps, Inglourious Basterds, Kill Bill offers no apologies or questions for the long trail of severed limbs and hacked up bodies left in the Bride’s wake; it’s a mission justified for which the reward is offered up in the last scene of Volume 2.

There is nothing to question about it; it is the story of one woman who sets out to punish those who wronged her in an uber-violent fashion.    And when she’s done … she’s done.   But along the way, Tarantino makes everything interesting and captivating even at its most brutal.

Given everything that’s effectively smashed into the movie, all the pop culture references, nods to various styles of cinema, musical cues and plain Tarantino oddities, it’s funny that Kill Bill works as well as it does, but it works very well.

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To celebrate the release of the long awaited Inglourious Basterds on Friday,  I had planned to do a whole week of Tarantino flicks (and still do), only to have some sort of nasty shoulder problem flare up Sunday and continue through Tuesday.   So we’re picking up today and I’ll be picking up the rest of the slack through the week, provided I can find all my copies of Tarantino flicks.

I’m starting out with Pulp Fiction, not Reservoir Dogs, which chronologically makes no sense.   Pulp Fiction, though, was the first Tarantino film I ever saw.   I was eight and my parents rented it.   We made it through about fifteen seconds of the Royale with Cheese scene before my parents shut it off.   They were horrified and returned it shortly thereafter, never to be brought up again.   (The subject of Quentin Tarantino to my parents is one massive eyeroll, I think).   Another eight years later or so, I would finally watch the whole thing.

To an eight year old, I think those first five or six minutes of Pulp Fiction were about the coolest thing you could see.

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Watching Pulp Fiction for me still brings back strange thrills of being young and feeling like maybe you were watching something you weren’t supposed to watch, even though I know better since I’m a grown woman now.   Instead of dissecting and analyzing Pulp Fiction since thousands of others have done so more thoroughly and better than I could ever do, I’m just going to reminisce a bit.

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It’s hard to believe that we are in the fifteenth anniversary of  Pulp Fiction’s release.  It can’t have been fifteen years, can it?   Nothing seems quite right about it.

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Then again, nothing about Tarantino’s second movie feels quite right.   It’s like the movie itself exists in a reality connected to ours with a few threads clipped away.   The choppy timeline only serves up more disorientation.   Traditional product placement is replaced with now easily recognizable Tarantino staples like Red Apple cigarettes and Jack Rabbit Slim’s (which is on its own like a retro diner ground through a bad acid trip, if you ask me).

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#1553: Sudden Death

Nothing to start your day off right like some Van Dammage.

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Image found here.

Van Damme plays a fire marshal who takes his kids to a Pittsburgh Penguins hockey game.   It’s not just any hockey game, it’s the last game of the Stanley Cup Finals.   The only thing he didn’t count on — cue the ominous music — is a madman who shows up and takes the Vice President’s box hostage to secure some $1 billion of government slush fund money.

It’s a ridiculous premise.   What’s hilarious is that it doesn’t take long for it to get more over the top.

As with all the Van Damme/Seagal/bad action flicks, Van Damme gets some useless plotting to portray what a loving dad he is.   An unnecessary scene involving him showing up to get his kids from his ex-wife is stupid and tired.   The ex-wife is a shrew!  Van Damme’s a really good guy!    He loves his kids more than anything!

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I suppose if Van Damme can get his cinematic children Game 7 SCF tickets, he really can do anything.

Kids in tow, Van Damme heads to the game where an elaborate ruse is already being conducted.   People all over Pittsburgh are being held hostage.   Old people are being shot.   Powers Boothe is rockin’ a tuxedo.   These dudes are EVIL.

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Why hello there, Mr. Boothe.   What are you doing here?  Fancy a drink?  Rrrrrrrawr.

Aside from the fact that Sudden Death is a testament to the insane shit people will come up with after smoking copious amounts of marijuana, Powers Boothe really is the entire reason to see this movie.    He plays the unnamed villain with a great sense of the fact that he’s in a film shitpile.   I’d like to think Boothe just spent the enter time being completely outrageous on set, showing up with a whiskey in one hand, cigar in the other and spouting silly axioms that made no goddamned sense.    Boothe plays it half-drunk, half-Bond villain.

Van Damme doesn’t get involved until some damn dirty bastard abducts his daughter to the VP’s box after she sees some bad shit go down.    It is more than a little hilarious that said damn dirty bastard is Icebergh.   That would be the Pittsburgh Penguins’ mascot.

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Icebergh:  Abductor of children, hostage taker, killer.   Also:   Bringer of joy to thousands of Pittsburgh fans!

Now, we know Van Damme can’t let that slide.   That’s his daughter, man.  We previously established is the best father ever, so …

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What other movie can you watch that offers Jean Claude Van Damme fighting a penguin mascot in a fight to the death involving meat slicers, fryers and a professional grade dishwasher?

That’s not all!   This one-time offer also includes a bizarre scene in which Jean Claude Van Damme plays a few minutes as the Penguins’ starting goaltender in order to hide from the bad guys!   Yes, you heard me right.   JCVD plays in a Stanley Cup Final to hide from the bad guys.   Because that makes TOTAL SENSE.

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Goaltender extraordinaire.

Whatever.

Anyways, the bad guys have developed an unnecessary and intricate plan to have the money wired to them in chunks that correspond with the periods of the hockey game.  If their instructions are not followed, they shoot hostages in increments that involve math.   I never was very good at the arithmetics, so fuck that noise, but needless to say, it’s complicated.   They shoot old women and children.  These dudes are bad, bad men.

Of course, it all ends with Powers Boothe in a helicopter crashing to the ice rink at Mellon Arena.   Seriously.   If you didn’t see that coming, well … in the words of Cher from Clueless, “duh”.

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It’s so atrocious but fun.

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Oh, Guillermo del Toro!

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Poster found here.

Hellboy II picks up mostly where the first left off.   The paranormal team is still fighting the good fight sans Harry, who was shipped to Antarctica, and a new member comes aboard.   Johann Krauss is a German ectoplasmic man in a steampunk looking suit and he’s a stickler for rules and regulations.   Naturally, he and Hellboy don’t get along well.

In other parts of the world, Prince Nuada of the elves has returned from exile with a mission — to unite all the pieces of a long forgotten crown broken apart in a truce between elves and humans in order to reawaken an indestructible Golden Army.   As fate would have it, Hellboy and friends are the only ones who can stop Nuada from extinguishing the human race.

I don’t know if there’s another director out there who can top Guillermo del Toro, who directed this, the previous Hellboy movie and films like Pan’s Labryinth, Blade II and others, for flawless style.   Del Toro’s films are almost always jam-packed with rich and stunning sets with laborious details.

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Hellboy II is odd because it’s an inviting action/sci-fi flick.  It’s filled with warm reds and golds as well as these crazy sets and creatures that del Toro dreamed up.

Beautiful, striking features only carry you so far and that’s where Hellboy II stumbles.   The story is nothing new or inventive, of course, but the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Blah Blah Blah is so tiresome, so banal that you wonder why the camera lingers with them for so long.   Selma Blair’s Liz Sherman gets a new haircut and some new power control but remains the same wishy-washy sort of girl from the first movie.   Hellboy obsesses over Liz but refuses to do dishes, griping about it all the way.   Abe Sapien has a childish crush on an elven princess.   These stories are engineered to make an audience feel receptive or sympathetic but all they do is grate on one’s nerves.

The slog through the boring character arcs is worth it for the gorgeous visuals; no expense was spared on special effects and sets and it shows.   If Hellboy II had reached a little higher on the characters, it could have been much better, though.

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