I know it’s in vogue to just automatically dislike any new take on beloved childhood icons, but I don’t have the energy for hating things I haven’t actually experienced. As such, I took the Michael Bay-produced, Jonathan Liebesman-directed Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie from a few years back with a grain of salt. I had to cover a lot of the pre-release outrage for Spinoff back when it all happened and yet still decided to give it a watch on On Demand recently. Continue reading We Want Action: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2014)
I’ve long given up on trying to figure out why certain films kill at the box office and others don’t. Take The Lone Ranger for instance. Much like it’s filmic cousin, Pirates Of The Caribbean, this film stars Johnny Depp as an offbeat character, was directed by Gore Verbinski and features a ton of fun action set pieces. And yet 2011’s POTC: At World’s End made over $1 billion worldwide and Lone Ranger pulled in a mere $206.5 million. At the end of the day, as a viewer, these things don’t matter to me aside from the fact that a poor performance in the real world will kill franchise potential which is too bad because I did like this film.
I was never a Lone Ranger fan. I remember the reruns being on the Disney Channel when I was a kid, but I avoided them (Zorro was more of my jam back then). I did read the first arc or so of Dynamite’s initial comic series which was solid, but that’s about where my experience ends. So, I went into this without many expectations and was pleasantly surprised by what I was presented with which was a big, fun popcorn movie featuring Armie Hammer developing into the Lone Ranger persona with the help of Tonto (Depp) while running afoul of the always-fantastic William Fichtner.
Sure, the film probably could have been a little shorter — it clocks in around the 2.5 hour mark as it is — but I didn’t find it lagging, personally. There’s a solid mix of character as Hammer’s John Reid moves from the law abiding district attorney he is at the beginning of the film to the masked vigilante at the very end. We even learn interesting things about why Tonto’s so crazy and get looks at a lot of interesting character as well as a bevy of train and shoot-out based action scenes that are always fun.
My one complaint about this film is that they went with the origin story. Much like with comic book films, I think that screenwriters, directors and producers fall into this trap when they’re making films based on existing properties and that is this desire to devote the first film to the character’s earliest days learning to be a hero. I’m personally much more in favor of the Die Hard method of action film storytelling in which you just show the lead being awesome and give details about their past as they’re needed. I wonder if a full-on Lone Ranger film would have done better than the story of the guy who becomes the Lone Ranger. Still, I enjoyed the movie, think it got a bad wrap and would suggest spending a lazy Saturday or Sunday giving it a watch.
It seems impossible to tell if Nicolas Cage is a good actor. Instead of playing a character, he just controls how much of his inner lunatic he decides to let the camera see. Drive Angry from director Patrick Lussier (Dracula 2000, the My Bloody Valentine remake) lets Cage unleash the full flow of insanity as Milton, a guy who escaped hell to get revenge on cult leader Jonah King (Billy Burke), who killed his daughter and snatched his grandaughter. Along the way he teams up with Amber Heard’s Piper, a tough young woman without much going on in her life aside from a cheating boyfriend and a crappy waitress job. As they operate their automobile in a perturbed fashion, Milton and PIper also have to stay several steps ahead of The Accountant (William Fichtner), an agent of Hell looking to bring back the escaped Milton.
Lussier — who co-wrote the script with Todd Farmer (Jason X, the My Blood Valentine remake) — does a great job of having fun with this story. It’s not overly gory, but plenty of blood is spilled and bullets fired. The gore effects that do exist look just as gross as they should considering the wounds inflicted and the over-the-top style of the film. While the movie doesn’t get into hand-to-hand combat too often there’s plenty of excellent driving scenes, lots of gunplay and a few run-ins that show just how silly it is for regular ol’ humans to go up against supernatural entities.
Actually, Heard gets her fists dirty more than anyone else in the movie and does a pretty serviceable job going up against dudes much bigger than her. She smacks around the woman her boyfriend’s cheating on her with before trying to give him the business end of an ass kicking. Later on, she throws down with King on an RV. After saying he’s going to kill her she drops this fantastic bit of dialog: “Between now and then, I’m gonna f*ck you up.” You might not think it to look at Heard in her other roles, but she delivers it like she means it, then backs it up. Good for her.
When it comes to the chase scenes, of which there many, Lussier gets pretty inventive with the car-eography. After a lifetime of watching car chases on television and in movies, they can get a little boring, but this one uses a lot of fun elements like the Accountant driving a Hydrogen truck into a small army of cop cars, stepping out on a truck and Milton driving just so to avoid the explosion. Sure, it looks a little CGI-y on Blu-ray, but it’s over pretty quickly and the idea is cool enough to outshine some execution flaws.
Speaking of of the Blu-ray presentation, it’s possible this movie looks too good. This is completely subjective, but since the film takes a lot of its cues from the grindhouse flicks of the 70s, you sometimes want it to look a little less clean and pristine. It’s kind of like listening to a completely remastered version of a live Ramones show. Everything’s still there, but the grit is gone. That’s not to say this is a clean movie, there’s lots of death, carnage and nudity to go around, it all just looks really crisp and clear.
A few other highlights from the film include Tom Atkinson’s role as a local police captain. That guy’s pure gold in everything. Speaking of being great in everything, watching Cage and Fichtner on screen together is delightful. The fact that this is an original story with some big stars and a fairly good effects budget is also cool and something we’re seeing less and less of at the movies. After being disappointed with how Parker didn’t add much to the revenge/heist genre, it’s good to watch something like Drive Angry that did as much as it possibly could with the materials available.
Finally, did anyone see this in 3D? It was shot that way, but the Blu-ray rental from Netflix didn’t have the option. Drop a comment and let us know.
Neill Blomkamp blew us away with what he could do with a small budget and actors who aren’t super well known in District 9, . Now he’s got Elysium coming from Sony starring Matt Damon, Jodie Foster and William Fichtner. The film finds Damon’s character getting a cybernetic enhancement surgically grafted to his body in order to make his way to Elysium, the floating city where the rich live above the rank and file dregs of humanity. The recently revealed scene finds Damon in a firefight with one of Fichtner’s robots, which doesn’t end well for the ‘bot cop. Just from this clip, it’s clear that Blomkamp hasn’t lost his touch for bringing the surreal to life on screen and making it look awesome.
Elysium opens Aug. 9.
I first discovered Equilibrium while perusing my beloved Family Video. Since it came out in 2002, I must have checked it out while home for the summer from college and was drawn in by Taye Diggs and whoever that Christian Bale guy was wearing Matrix-like gear holding guns. It’s not like I had heard anything about it and dug around for it, it just appeared one day, looked interesting enough and I remember enjoying it, but never really got back to it.
When I saw it on Netflix Instant I was pretty excited, remembering that there was a fairly interesting sci-fi future as well as some interesting marital arts action that cleverly used firearms (called “gun katta” apparently). Said future was an incredibly structured one that keeps humanity emotionally muzzled by forcing them to take a suppressant drug. The governing body has a group of warriors called Clerics who make sure that no one’s feeling. Part of that job involves tracking down works of art and destroying them along with vagrants who live on the outskirts of society, struggling to survive, but feeling every minute of it.
Bale plays a Cleric who winds up skipping a dose and becoming that which he’s sworn to persecute: a sense offender. As he regains emotion and feelings, Bale’s character uses his position in the organization to try and make up for some of the things he’s done.
Much as I remember liking this movie and did enjoy it this time around, I’ve got to say, there are some pretty silly elements. If you’re a government organization whose sole focus is to keep the populace under a metaphorical emotional blindfold, why would you put that in their hands? Why wouldn’t the drugs be administered by way of water supply or provided food? That seemed like the kind of plot point that only exists to move the story along. The movie also gets a little slow at times, but I think that’s only because I went into this movie with an action flick mindset and it’s a lot more of an emotional journey than you might expect. If you’re looking for more and more fights and gun katta, then a slower talking scene can feel like it’s going on way too long.
But, the point of this post is to talk about fight scenes in movies. Sometimes I’ll watch an action movie, thinking it’d make for a great FF entry only to discover that most of the violence in the film involves gun play. That’s the case with Equilibrium, but it just so happens that the film combines those two elements in a lot of fun ways. The idea behind gun katta is that the guys can not only shoot really well, but also knows all the best physical positions to get their bodies in to do the most damage as quickly as possible. He can also use his guns as blunt weapons and do all kinds of cool flips, picking up weapons and using them in several different ways.
The problem with some of these fight scenes is that, sometimes, they look a little too set-design-y. There’s a good deal of Power Ranger-like posing and whatnot as well as sets that seem only developed to look as cool as possible. I’m not sure whether my definition of cool has changed over the years or director Kurt Wimmer and I just don’t jive on that subject, but it seemed a little too overwrought at times.
But, I still thought it was an enjoyable movie. If you saw the poster or cover and avoided it because it looked like a Matrix rip, it actually has nothing to do with that film aside from the fact that they share the same taste in jackets. Plus the cast includes a lot of great actors like Bale, Sean Bean, Taye Diggs (he’s great in this, you guys), Sean Pertwee, Emily Watson and Prison Break vets Dominic Purcell and William Fichtner. So, if you’ve got some time, give it a shot and see how it makes you feel. PUNS!