Check out both reviews!
Madison Monroe (She Said) gave it four stars and Alyn Darnay (He Said) gave it five out of five!
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Madison Monroe (She Said) gave it four stars and Alyn Darnay (He Said) gave it five out of five!
Can you spend all your life running from a mistake made in your youth? In April 2013, we found out you may want to keep running, but life has a way of catching up with you.
Directing this 125 minute thriller is Robert Redford.
The great cast is: Robert Redford as Jim Grant/Nick Sloan, Jackie Evancho as Isabel Grant, Shia LaBeouf as Ben Shepard, Susan Saradon as Sharon Solarz, Terrence Howard as Agent Cornelious, Brendon Gleeson as Henry Osborne, Julie christie as Mimi Lurie and Anna Kendrick as Diana. With other great stars making appearances like Nick Nolte, Chris Cooper, Stanley Tucci and Sam Elliott.
In our youth we all make decisions, and depending on how strongly we feel, sometimes we take action. Back in the 70′s we saw a lot of groups take action, they were called activists. A few of these groups became known as radicals because some of their actions were illegal. Like, in this case, robbing a bank where an off duty cop gets killed. Not wanting to get caught for this crime the group known as the Weather Underground splits up and hides.
The members take on new names and scatter to different places, doing what ever is needed to stay off the radar. Since you can’t run forever, Sharon decides to turn herself in and pay for her crime which ignites a media storm. One reporter, named Ben, wants to get the scoop. What starts out as simple assignment quickly becomes his obsession.
The realistic storyline was very easy to fall right into and get hooked on. This was only reinforced with the great work done by the cast. It is a little slow paced but well worth the watch.
A comedy of errors with a truly horrific twist – it really happened!
Swift shot:¬† This is a true story, and yes it is also tragically funny.¬† It’s hard to explain how it made me feel, because as Michael Bay put it, “I want people to be conflicted.”¬† Well, that about sums up how I feel . . . conflicted.¬† One one hand you have a bizarre comedy about Americans that want it all without putting in the hard-work, and on the other hand you have a true crime that affected real people in the South Florida community.¬† Is this a good film, yes, is this a horrible story, yes, will you find yourself laughing several times, yes.¬† Is this a ground-breaking film?¬† Yes!¬† I am struggling to come up with a true story that is as dark and tragic as it is horribly funny that was made into a film.¬† I am drawing a blank.¬† There are many dark comedies that are pure fiction, and I have no problem laughing at those.¬† But in the case of Pain & Gain, they kept reminding us that “this is a true story.”¬† Real people died.
Daniel Lugo (Mark Wahlberg) is not a normal person, in his mind he is an exceptional physical specimen that demands respect and royalties from life.¬† To see someone making more than he does, without really putting in much effort, grates on him.¬† And in Miami Beach, the discrepancies over the haves and have-nots is crystal clear.¬† Lugo wants to live the American dream . . . to the Max!
After serving a short stint in prison for some kind of ponzi scheme on old folks, his career options are pretty limited.¬† He comes across the Sun Gym and notices the need of gym owner, John Mese (Rob Corddry).¬† His gym is filled with ‘old floaters’ and Lugo promises to not only sexy up the place but to triple membership in a month!¬† Mese can’t resist giving the con a shot.¬† Lugo simply gives free waxes to new members and gives free membership to strippers . . . voila!
Lugo’s gym-rat friend, Dorable (Anthony Mackie) is like the pup circling his boss, essentially worshiping at the Lugo altar, and he also wants more out of life.¬† He wants a large woman for which he can provide a house and a family.¬† Enter Rebel Wilson, of course.¬† Rebel provides most of the pure comedy in the film as juicy, penis nurse Robin, and fans of hers won’t be disappointed in the least.¬† She even manages to add some real depth to an otherwise character-actor role.
Victor Kershaw (Tony Shaloub) is one of the ‘haves’ of South Beach, not only does he have it, he enjoys rubbing in your face the fact that you DON’T have it . . . and probably never will, because you aren’t willing to do what it takes.¬† I have watched EVERY episode of Monk, and I can set your fears at Bay (as in Michael Bay) that you will NOT see Kershaw as Monk within seconds of his on screen introduction.¬† Credit to Director Bay for making his entrance do exactly that, break the Monk mold.¬† Shaloub is one of my favorite actors, since Wings even, and he deserves some kind of accolades for pulling off a credible creep in Kershaw.¬† He’s a character that is easy to root both for and against with mere seconds apart.
Lugo spends a lot of time thinking about self-improvement, as he puts it, “I believe in America, I believe in fitness.”¬† One evening he falls for self-made millionaire pitch-man, Johnny Wu’s seminar (played by the mad-Korean, Ken Jeong) and it changes his life, and many other lives . . . forever.¬† Once a new hire at the gym enters his circle though, fantasy becomes reality as he starts to plan something sinister and real.¬† Paul Doyle (The Rock) is also an ex-con with a bizarre personality as a born-again Christian teetotaler that frequents strip clubs and is easily swayed by Lugo’s charms as the master mind.¬† This might be one of the rare times The Rock gets to show off his acting muscles without primarily relying on his muscles . . . or his trademark eyebrow.¬† He manages to go from a reformed ex-con, born-again Christian, to a full-on coke fiend with a pseudo-sociopathic decline.
No true story about a gym would be complete without a gym-bunny, and Bar Paly provides the perfect “American” woman of the nineties.¬† Sorina Luminata is an illegal-immigrant and rebel without a clue, coming from Romania by way of Mexico.¬† She unwittingly, and it has to be unwittingly, because if she had half a wit, she’d be a half-wit, gets tricked into the team.¬† Lugo convinces her that he is “with the government” and asks her to serve her new country with him in the CIA.
With the team all assembled, they set out to kidnap Kershaw and make him sign away all his possessions to Lugo, and he will share it with the rest of his crew.¬† This is where Shaloub shines, as there are several botched attempts to kidnap Kershaw, and when they finally do get him, they are so sloppy and ill-prepared for just how strong-willed this half Colombian half Jew is!¬† His family survived the Nazis, and he is not an easy mark.¬† While his torture is hard to watch, it is actually hilarious at the same time, as certain toys are used on him that you might never associate with torture . . . well, some of you sick bastages might!¬† If you’ve ever seen Eight Heads in a Duffel Bag you’ll see what I mean how torture could be funny. The Lugo, or Sun Gym, crew gets creative, and Michael Bay let the cast do some improvisation in these scenes that is sure to leave a mark.
As inept as they were at kidnapping Kershaw, they are WORSE at killing him!¬† You might think it would be easy to kill someone, and just like anything in life, you need the right tools . . . and the right operator.¬† In this case they had some interesting choices for how they were going to kill Kershaw, but they always managed to screw it up!¬† Finally convinced that Kershaw is dead, they move on.
Kershaw wakes up in a hospital and is pretty mangled but he is alive.¬† Because he is half Colombian, and this was the 90s, the Miami-Dade cops aren’t buying his ridiculous story.¬† They leave him in the hospital to rot!¬† The Lugo crew finds out he is alive and, yet again, they try to kill him.¬† But, this time he manages a miracle of what would only ever be believed in a “convenient writing” scenario as Kershaw picks up a phone book in the hospital and calls DuBois Detective Agency.
Thing is, DuBois has been retired for a long time, but he does eventually take the case.¬† That is what was so unbelievable, here is a detective that ends up taking a case because he is bored.¬† His client has no money, because he signed it all away to Lugo.¬† DuBois (Ed Harris) takes the case more for something to do besides golfing and fishing.¬† Harris is a freaking monster actor, with a tiny part he manages to become this character with a wry attitude and Miami style.
With DuBois on the case it is really only a matter of time before he puts all the pieces together.¬† He can’t believe it himself, and this was a guy who both retired from the police force and his own detective agency.¬† To put it simply, he’s not easily surprised, but this case managed to do just that.¬† It’s why the film should leave you conflicted.¬† He does try to warn the Miami-Dade police that these guys will strike again, even though they believe the gang is just a fiction of this “Colombian” who probably pissed off the cartel.
The Lugo crew are an odd bunch of players.¬† Sorina is convinced she is working with CIA and her partner is Doyle.¬† Doyle is convinced that he is protected by God and can do as much cocaine as South Beach can pump up his nose.¬† Dorable is convinced that he is a good provider for his girl, and they do get a small house in a nice neighborhood.¬† Lugo himself is convinced that he DESERVES greatness, because that is what America is all about.¬† Thing is, they are ALL wrong!¬† Their combined delusions of grandeur eventually catch up to them, and no amount of grilled evidence can keep them unscathed.
Michael Bay got his start in Miami with Bad Boys, and he has a not-so-secret love affair with the city and people.¬† I asked him at the Press Junket in South Beach if he would be making more films here.¬† Based on his answer, it is clear he will.¬† He may have a hard time finding a story so incredibly dark yet so terribly funny again in his career that is actually a true story.¬† But, as the saying goes . . . “Welcome to Miami Bitch!”
Again, if this weren’t a true story, it would be hilarious and most people would call it brilliant writing.¬† But, in this case, the architects of the inane events were actual inept criminals that destroyed many lives with their get-rich quick devious schemes.¬† How did I feel about it?¬† Conflicted . . . but the hell if I wasn’t laughing throughout!
Click the image for more screen captures of Evil Dead (2013)
The H-Bomb: Or perhaps a better subheading would be, “Gory!” Very, very gory. For the initiated, this should come as no surprise, there will be blood… lots of it. Stands to reason, as it is a remake of one of the most unabashedly gruesome films ever made. 1981′s The Evil Dead is a homegrown horror flick shot on a shoestring over a period of several years that is now considered a classic by gore junkies the world over, and that started the careers of director Sam Raimi and B-movie demigod Bruce Campbell. Raimi and Campbell would later collaborate on two sequels, both of which also achieved cult status, and have now re-teamed to produce this remake. That they’ve overseen the project directly is probably the reason why fanboys are willing to give this redo a shot, instead of reacting with their typical knee jerk, vitriolic outrage.
Like the original, this one starts with five friends heading out to a remote cabin in the woods to spend the weekend. They include nurse Olivia (Jessica Lucas), academic Eric (Lou Taylor Pucci), mechanic David (Shiloh Fernandez), David’s girlfriend Natalie (Elizabeth Blackmore), and David’s sister, Mia (Jane Levy). You may have noticed there’s no one named Ash in that group, which is kind of a bummer, but really, who wants to see anyone besides Campbell in that role, anyway?
Unlike the original, these twenty-somethings are not gathered at the cabin to party. As it happens, Mia has a serious drug problem, and after a near fatal overdose, her friends have brought her out to the middle of nowhere as a last ditch attempt at an intervention. So, she has a fun weekend of torturous withdrawal to look forward to, while her brother and friends get to put up with her ugly episodes as they keep her locked in the cabin and away from her magic fairy dust.
All of that, however, soon proves to be the least of everyone’s problems, as when they arrive at the cabin, they find it’s dingy, disgusting, and in complete disrepair. It’s a dilapidated old dump that not even a hobo would squat in, and there’s a really foul stench coming from the basement. When the two men of the group venture down into the basement, they find several dead cats, along with signs of some ritual, a shotgun, and weirdest of all, a really creepy looking book that’s wrapped shut with barbed wire.
Everyone agrees that they should just attend to Mia and leave all that spooky shit alone, but egghead Eric, who acts as this movie’s Jeff Goldblum, can’t resist the urge to open the creepy book, flip through its creepy pages, and read the creepy incantations inside. Little does Eric know, he has just opened a Pandora’s Box from Hell, as ancient demonic spirits will soon descend on the cabin to claim the souls of those within. Now our young heroes will have to find a way to fight off this army of darkness, or they will all be dead by dawn… sorry.
Now I, like many, am pretty cynical when it comes to remakes, especially more recent ones, because their high aptitude to suck. I did go into Evil Dead more optimistic than usual, but I still had my reservations, as the original film is a personal favorite and kind of sacred to me. Having now seen it, I can say that even my slightest fears were entirely misplaced, as it is an absolute blast! I really must say, if all remakes were as flat out fucking fantastic as this, I wouldn’t have such a big problem with them.
What we have with Evil Dead is a truly twisted re-imagining that stays true to the bloody insane spirit of the original, while at the same time completely doing it’s own thing. Director Fede Alvarez tips his hat to the original in a number of ways, such as recreating some of Raimi’s most memorable shots, like the moving point-of-view shots through the woods, as well as re-staging the infamous ‚ÄúTree Rape‚ÄĚ scene. He also sets up some very familiar scenarios, then takes them in entirely new directions that actually provide a great deal of jolts, jumps, and genuine surprises throughout.
And that is something I really have to give Alvarez props for, aside from just making the flick bloodier than a used Maxi Pad, he also made it relentlessly intense, with a batshit crazy atmosphere of pure chaos that made me feel terrified for the characters. I also have to hand it to him for keeping the tone appropriately dark and serious. While I love the sequels, they took a more humorous route, to a point where the third film became more or less a supernatural slapstick comedy. All the hijinks has been dispensed with, this one is one hundred percent grim all the way. Grim… but oddly enough, still fun.
Another thing that makes this Evil Dead potent is, surprisingly, the amount of character development. All of the characters, with the sole exception of Blackmore’s Natalie, who is given nothing to do except die, are given much more depth and definition than your typical splatter flick fodder. At first, I thought that all the drug intervention drama felt way out of place for an Evil Dead movie, but as it turned out, that actually helped me invest in these people, and it got me to root for them once they started getting picked off in the most grisly and disgusting ways imaginable.
Which brings me to a point I feel I need to make, a kind of disclaimer of sorts. I may be overstating the obvious, but there is nothing PG-13 going on around here. This flick contains guts and gore galore, with people getting dismembered and disemboweled in all kinds of creative ways, ways which made even me wince once or twice… that bit with the tongue and the box cutter… eew!!! I don’t know how many gallons of fake blood were used in this movie, but I’d be very surprised if it didn’t set a record. Believe me, nothing was watered or sanitized for this remake. If the original Evil Dead was too gross for you to stomach, then you don’t want to go anywhere near this new one.
But, if you’re a blood thirsty freak like me, then this nasty ass remake is just your cup tea. It is a wild, ferocious thrill ride that does the Evil Dead brand name proud. It thoroughly kicked my fat ass all over the theater and left me begging for more like some demented, masochistic bitch boy! If you love the Evil Dead series, or horror flicks in general, then check this sick bitch out, pronto! And when you do, make sure you stay through the end credits, where a groovy surprise awaits…
Swift shot:¬† In the 70′s, Yale University (where else?) conducted a now infamous experiment on obedience, you can read all about the Milgram Experiment here.¬† Essentially, it proved that people were all too willing, given the slightest bit of authority, to punish or otherwise control their fellow man.¬† I heard about the McDonald’s “prank call” event a few years ago, where a caller pretended to be an officer and manipulated a store manager into performing a strip-search on one of her female employees. Compliance, directed by Craig Zobel gives you a chilling behind-the-scenes look at this American tragedy.¬† Why is it a tragedy? Because it illustrates how easily controlled, and stupid, we have become as a nation.
Ann Dowd plays ChickWich (AKA McDonald’s) store manager, Sandra, who has the spine of a flatworm!¬† In the audience’s introduction to her, we see how she lets a subservient humiliate her . . . and she doesn’t stand up to her bully.¬† She is the perfect patsy for what happens next.¬† And, mind you, the entire film you will be practically screaming at the screen . . . oh, COME ON, no one is that stupid, that easily fooled, that so willing to . . . comply.¬† But, stick around for the final credits for a chilling surprise of just how many people are in fact incredibly . . . compliant.
Sandra has a busy Friday ahead of her, and someone left the cooler open the night before and all the bacon was ruined.¬† There is a secret-shopper expected at the store, and with no pickles and no bacon, Friday is not going to be a fun night.¬† She barely manages to control her young workers, chiefly Becky, Kevin and Connie.¬† Lucky she has Marti (Ashlie Atkinson) as a kind of go-between, but even Marti doesn’t possess enough backbone to say what everyone should be saying throughout the film.¬† “NO!”¬† And, this isn’t just a film, it is a dramatic re-enactment of actual events.
An “Officer Daniels” is on the phone asking to speak to the store manager.¬† Sandra speaks to him as he explains that one of her employees stole from a customer’s purse and is describing one of her employees to him.¬† The description matches Becky (Dreama Walker) a thin, blonde 19 year old who is working the register.¬† He asks Sandra to go get Becky and bring her to the backroom.¬† Sandra . . . complies.
Officer Daniels explains that Sandra needs to search Becky for the missing money, and Becky at first says no, but then the Officer asks to speak to Becky.¬† Using the threat of jail time on Becky, he convinces her that if she has nothing to hide she won’t mind, and if she did do it, she’ll be behind bars longer as he will make sure to note that she didn’t cooperate.¬† Becky . . . complies.¬† Sandra searches Becky’s apron and her pockets.¬† Of course, there is nothing.¬† Not convinced, the Officer instructs Sandra to escort Becky to her employee locker and confiscate her cellphone and search her purse for the money.¬† Becky and Sandra . . . comply.¬† So far, Becky’s civil rights have been violated twice, and she is nervous, but afraid this Officer holds some power over her, she doesn’t raise that much of a fuss.
Sandra, being a perfect sap, follows the next instruction which is to have Becky wait for him to arrive. But, there is one more thing he needs before he can show up.¬† He needs Sandra to strip-search Becky. Instead of consulting the store manual, Sandra (who thinks the Officer is also speaking to her Regional Manager on the other line) . . . complies.¬† Becky wants NO part of this, this has gone on long enough, but like a church-mouse, she only manages a feeble defense when Sandra puts her on the phone with Officer Daniels.¬† Sandra and Becky . . . comply.
She is down to her skivvies now, humiliated and frightened . . . at this point, the film shifts to where you always knew it was going.¬† A Sub-Dom fantasy is being created before your eyes, as Officer Daniels is controlling not just Sandra, and not just Becky, but everyone who gets sent to the backroom.
Ultimately, what happens next should only ever happen in those fantasies, where reality should kick in and everyone should say . . . “NO!”¬† But, Officer Daniels chose the perfect target, and even he can’t believe his luck as by the film’s end, “bad things” surpassing a mere strip-search happen to Becky.
Dreama Walker is spectacular under Zobel’s direction.¬† She literally looks like a scared, scarred fawn, with large eyes and a frail frame.¬† She is terrified, and she gives herself to the role in a way that is completely off-putting.
The tension in this film is real, backed by the fact that this event actually happened, it is a chilling commentary on how easy it is to manipulate the meek.
I was really impressed with Craig Zobel’s direction, it was strangely akin to Refn in execution.¬† The music was almost like a dirge to common sense, which was sadly lacking in most of the characters in the film. Zobel used a lot of close-up work, and each actor really delivered a credible performance, maybe with the exception of Kevin (Phillip Ettinger).¬† His performance was not as genuine as the other cast members.
For obvious reasons, this is a film not intended for younger audiences, but it serves as a reminder to that most sacred of American ideals . . . freedom is not just some buzz word.¬† It is only real if you understand that it applies to you.¬† You are allowed to question authority – in fact, you should question how those people even GOT authority in the first place!
If you don’t watch this film, at least brush off the Bill of Rights and realize that you have them.¬† You have a right to deny illegal detainment, illegal search and seizure and you sure as hell have a right to keep your private parts, private.¬† The day we let compliance over-rule freedom is the day we’re trapped in not a fantasy, but a nightmare!
West of Memphis is a masterfully pieced together documentary that tells a captivating true story. Despite the long run time, West of Memphis delivers the emotion and power every great documentary should.
West of Memphis tells the story of Damien Echols, Jessie Misskelley, and Jason Baldwin. At the ages of 18, 17, and 16 respectively, Echols, Misskelley, and Baldwin were imprisoned for the murder of three 8 year old boys in West Memphis, Arkansas in 1994. Echols was sentenced to death, Misskelley was sentenced to life imprisonment plus two 20 year sentences, and Baldwin was sentenced to life in prison.
But what if these three boys weren’t the murderers? What if the real culprit (or culprits) are still out there? This is how the stage is set for West of Memphis. The film is about searching for justice. It takes us through every stage of the West Memphis Three investigation. From the day the children were murdered, through every day of trials, and every piece of evidence, West of Memphis opens our eyes to the real story behind the murder of Stevie Edward Branch, Christopher Byers and Michael Moore; three 8 year old boys murdered in cold blood.
West of Memphis doesn’t leave anything up for interpretation, it lays out the tale of the West Memphis Three with the intent to prove their innocence. It makes a strong case by meticulously plotting out each flaw, exposing every hole in the prosecutions case. Witnesses who spoke before the jury in ’94 are brought back and interviewed. Did they lie on the stand? Were they even sober enough in the courthouse to be a reliable source when they gave their testimony?
Damien Echols’ wife Lorri was aided by producers Peter Jackson and Fran Walsh (Lord of the Rings Trilogy), along with other celebrities such as Eddie Vedder and Henry Rollins, to put money and resources into new DNA testing, further investigation, and public awareness to prove the innocence of Echols, Misskelley, and Baldwin. In addition to trying to debunk the wrongful imprisonment of the West Memphis Three, this further investigation starts to bring to light who may have really murdered those three young boys.
The downside to the film is that it tries to fill you in from square one then bring you all the way to the present. The film ends up with a very long run time that will test the patience of some movie goers. For me, however, I was kept engaged throughout the whole thing. As someone without any prior knowledge of this fascinating case, I was hanging on every word. That’s another point to bring up: if you have followed this story outside of the film, you’ve already been spoiled.
If you’re an avid follower of the West Memphis Three case, then you already know how the film ends and then some. This film has had real life implications. So, if you’ve read the news, you might know already what fate has dealt the West Memphis Three. If not, I highly recommend you see this film and find out.
Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, Part 1
“I’m your worst nightmare.¬† The kind that makes you cry out for your mother.”
The H-Bomb:¬† It’s been ten years since Bruce Wayne (Peter Weller) hung up his bat suit and bid adieu to crime fighting for good.¬† The 53-year-old billionaire now spends his days driving race cars and his nights swilling down scotch with his old ally, Commissioner James Gordon (David Selby), who’s about to join him in retirement.¬† Now a melancholy type, Wayne has resigned himself to simply sit by and watch as his beloved Gotham City has gone completely to shit over the past decade… and it’s only getting worse.
A new gang of hoods, the Mutants, lead by some gigantic, muscle-headed meatball with razor sharp teeth, have been raising hell all over the place, and have started to gain a real foothold in the city.¬† While that’s going on, Harvey “Two-Face” Dent (Wade Williams), has supposedly been rehabilitated, complete with surgery that fixed his facial disfigurement, and is being released from Arkham Asylum.¬† Unfortunately, almost immediately upon being set free, Dent goes right back to his old ways, creating even more mayhem in a city that has already seen more than its fair share of it.
Wayne can no longer stand on the sidelines.¬† His conscience, his nightmares, won’t let him.¬† So, against the wishes of his faithful butler, Alfred, as well as the warnings of his own aging body, Wayne dusts off the cape and cowl, and swings back into action, letting the scumbags of Gotham know that they do have something to fear.¬† The Batman’s return is met with a mixed reaction from the public, as pundits on the tube debate whether his return will help or harm the war on crime.
One Gothamite who’s glad to see him back is Carrie Kelley (Ariel Winter), a young teenage girl who has had her fill of the Mutants terrorizing her city.¬† Inspired by the Dark Knight’s comeback, she goes out to take on some crooks of her own.¬† Of course, Carrie has no clue what she’s doing, and in all likelihood will only get herself killed with her foolish antics.¬† However, if the Batman were to take her under his wing, and teach her a thing or two, she could have potential.¬† Maybe, just maybe, he’ll find a valuable partner in her…
Just when we thought we were all done with Batman, the fine folks at Warner Premiere hit us with this animated film adaptation of the first half of The Dark Knight Returns, the groundbreaking 1986 graphic novel by Frank Miller and Klaus Janson.¬† The surface similarities between this and Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises are apparent.¬† They both start with an older Batman, who’s not quite what he used to be, coming back after a lengthy absence.¬† Both also feature a key plot point in which Batman is forced to confront a physically superior opponent and end up the worse for it.
There are other little bits and pieces that Nolan stuck in as homage, as The Dark Knight Returns is an obvious source of inspiration for the concluding chapter of his Batman trilogy.¬† The two works, however, are entirely different.¬† Nolan’s film is somber, dark, and set in a realistic looking universe.¬† Miller’s story, while dark, is not so much somber as it is satirical, as the politics of having someone like Batman in society, and the debate that would bring about, as well as how such epidemic levels of crime should be fought, are all brought to the forefront.¬† Miller makes it clear, from how events play out, which side he is on, as the liberal “appeasers” are presented as a bunch of double-talking candy asses who are dangerously naive and completely out of touch with reality.
This political “subtext” is so present and “in your face” that whether or not you agree with Miller’s stance could actually affect your enjoyment of the film.¬† Me, I don’t feel too strongly one way or the other about it, as I had a helluva lot of fun with this cynical interpretation of the Batman universe.¬† It’s an intelligently written, surprisingly bloody (parents take note) work that manages to both feel fresh and unique, while honoring this classic character at the same time.¬† Its pacing is perfect, telling a fairly epic story without ever feeling sluggish or bloated, and the animation, while obviously not Pixar quality, is still beautiful nonetheless.¬† See this in high def, if you have the capabilities.
As far as the voice acting goes, everyone is good enough, though there is merely one standout among them, Batman himself, as voiced by Weller (the original, and only true Robocop).¬† His voice is aged, yet strong, with a wise, authoritarian air to it, which makes him perfect for an older Bruce Wayne, and he can sound menacing as hell when he wants to, which makes him perfect for an older Batman.¬† There’s one scene, in which Batman comes crashing through a wall and grabs a perp from behind, that I could swear is a direct homage to a scene in Robocop.¬† I haven’t read the graphic novel, so I don’t know if it’s in there or if it was something the filmmakers stuck in to honor Mr. Weller, but either way, I got a nice little kick out it.
[H-Man Trivia: Frank Miller co-wrote the screenplays for Robocop 2 and Robocop 3]
Do I have any issues with the movie?¬† Yeah, a couple of minor ones… very minor.¬† There’s a point where Batman picks up a gun and shoots a thug with it.¬† Granted, he only shoots to wound, but we all know this is still completely out of character for him, as Batman is second only to MacGyver as the hero who hates firearms.¬† Another problem I had is that the whole Harvey Dent subplot seems peripheral to everything else in the film, and the character disappears way too soon.¬† He either should have been more essential to the central plot, or not in it at all.
My biggest issue would be that this is Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, Part 1, meaning that this is only the first half of the story.¬† Not a terribly huge gripe, as it does, to an extent, work just fine as a stand alone film, as opposed to say, Kill Bill, Vol. 1, which I do love, but it feels like half a movie.¬† This one doesn’t have that problem, it’s just that I found it so immensely entertaining, I didn’t want it to end.¬† Though, I must say, it does end with a fantastic cliffhanger, re-introducing an old friend of Bats, that provides a thrilling set-up for Part 2.¬† Speaking of Part 2, let me get back to you on that…right now!
Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, Part 2
Hero non grata.
The H-Bomb:¬† Three months after making his triumphant return, the geriatric Batman (Peter Weller), and his new Girl Wonder, Carrie (Ariel Winter), continue to wage their war on crime as TV pundits endlessly debate as to whether the Caped Crusader is a hero or a menace.¬† A new street gang of Bat-inspired vigilantes, the Sons of Batman, has risen to “help” rid the city of its criminal element.¬† Unfortunately, they’re just a pack of thugs who are every bit as ruthless as the felons they fight, and they’ve only added fuel to the fire that Batman is part of the problem and not the solution.
The mounting pressure to do something about the Dark Knight is being felt on every level of Government, from Gotham’s new Police Commissioner, Ellen Yindel (Maria Canals-Barrerra), all the way up the State and Federal ladders to the Gipper himself (!), who calls in a “special friend” to handle the situation.¬† But they shouldn’t be too hasty, as Batman’s reemergence has woken the Joker (Michael Emerson) out of years of catatonia, and now he’s on the loose, and reeking all kinds of mass destruction.
This puts Batman in quite a bind, as he has to not only contend with a hostile police force, more determined than ever to take him down, but also battle his lifelong arch-nemesis one last time.¬† Let’s not forget the president’s “special friend,” who may be too much even for Batman to handle.¬† Bats, you are getting way too old for this shit.
Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, Part 1 flat out kicked ass when it landed on DVD/Blu back in October, and after three long months, we finally have the concluding half to this epic animated feature based on the Frank Miller/Klaus Janson graphic novel.¬† Since I truly dug the first part of Miller’s take on Batman’s golden years, I was mucho excited to see how the rest of this saga would play out.¬† So, having now taken in Part 2, I can certainly say I liked it… but not as much as Part 1.¬† Most of it worked, but there were some aspects of the story, in particular the direction it took, that I simply didn’t agree with.
But I’ll get to my hang-ups in a moment.¬† Let me just say, if you’re a fan of the graphic novel, or of the first half of this film adaptation, or of Batman in general, then this is, without a doubt, requisite viewing.¬† You will enjoy it, that I can guarantee.¬† It takes the darkly satirical tone of the first part and goes even further with it.¬† Yeah, the blind-to-reality hippies are still lampooned, but so is Reagan and the policies of his government during the Cold War.¬† Yes, this definitely dates the story, but some will relish that the Right is forced to consume as much crow as the Left, this time around.
Like with Part 1, this one moves at a swift pace, while never feeling rushed, and clocks in at a lean 76 minutes. The fact that both movies are under eighty minutes does make me question why it needed to be split in two (aside from obvious financial double-dipping motives).¬† Some say it’s an animated film aimed at kids, and therefore, for the sake of the children’s limited attention spans, it should be kept short.
Yeah… let’s just examine that claim for a moment, shall we?¬† One poor sap gets his throat cut with a broken coffee mug, while another fool gets his head crushed by roller coaster gears, and yet another sucker has his eye put out with a Batarang… yeah, this movie is for kids… and Larry Flynt publishes children’s books!¬† I’m not complaining about the violence, that’s partly what makes these animated flicks work, but like the live action Nolan films, these are absolutely, positively, 100% not for children.
Speaking of Christopher Nolan, it’s interesting to see, just like in Part 1, how influential this graphic novel was to The Dark Knight Rises, and how Nolan appropriated a number of the book’s elements, and weaved them into his film.¬† One may also notice things that Tim Burton lifted and used his 1989 Batman film, such as the Joker’s chosen method of terrorizing Gotham City.
While I’m on the topic of the Joker, I should point out that Emerson does a fiendishly good job of voicing the legendary villain.¬† He’s not quite on the same level as Mark Hamill in terms of Joker voice actors, but he’s stellar, nonetheless.¬† I loved how the final confrontation between the Clown Prince and the Bat played out, with one fiery image that is simply haunting, but I didn’t love that the Joker is merely the secondary villain who’s story thread is resolved roughly halfway through the movie.
The movie’s main villain, or more appropriately, antagonist, is someone else from the DC Comics universe, someone who has crossed over with Batman before.¬† And now we arrive at my main beef with the story, the direction I really wish it hadn’t taken.¬† Now, I don’t know how I can go into this, or identify this antagonist without violating iRatefilms’ No Spoilers law, so I’ll merely say he’s not a bird, he’s not a plane.
I have a number of problems here.¬† First, while there have been past crossovers, I personally feel that these two characters should never share the same universe, because a world that had this unnameable hero would have no need for Batman.¬† That’s a general gripe.¬† Something that bugged me about his involvement in this particular story, is that we’re supposed to believe that Batman, an old and feeble Batman at that, could actually hold his own in a fist fight with this character.¬† Sorry, Mr. Miller, but NO!¬† Even if he is wearing a special robot/armored suit thing, the answer is still NO!¬† Come on!
My issues with the movie’s latter section aside, I found Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, Part 2 a satisfying, entertaining conclusion to Miller’s dark, mature, and slightly off kilter version of one of the most complex and intriguing comic book heroes ever created.¬† The graphic novel was considered revolutionary back in the 80′s, and if you loved Nolan’s films, and want to see where those more or less came from, then this two-parter, along with 2011′s Batman: Year One, is absolutely worth seeing.
Swift shot: Dog Soldiers is an obscure British film set in the highlands of Scotland. And while it is a horror film, there are some brilliant moments particularly focusing on the use of perspective. Some interesting camera angles and varying lens filters completely immerse you as a spectator. This one is truly terrifying, and yet can easily stand alone as a military action flick, because the dialog draws you into each character‚Äôs plight. You will genuinely find yourself rooting for each of them to make it . . . and for some of them to become dog food.
A routine training mission goes horribly wrong, as a British Commando Unit, led by ‚ÄėThe Sarge‚Äô (Sean Pertwee) encounters a pack of blood-thirsty werewolves in Scotland. Deep in the middle of nowhere, their mission is simply to provide an opposing force to some Special Forces group in the area. And while they have blanks and blank-firing-adapters on their rifles, they are taking things seriously, because they know Special Forces operators tend to get overzealous.
The team is made up of Cooper (Kevin McKidd), Joe (Chris Robson), Terry (Leslie Simpson), Bruce (Thomas Lockyer), and finally their craziest tool, Spoon (Darren Morfitt). Director/Writer Neil Marshall builds these characters without cliched soldier dialogue. It‚Äôs a lot like Predator in that sense, but sadly sans the arsenal. But what the unit lacks in firepower, they more than make up for in lethal ingenuity. In fact, they don‚Äôt just think outside the box . . . they go through it! These aren‚Äôt the type of horror victims that run up the stairs and wait to die; they bring down some pain!
Liam Cunningham plays Captain Ryan, commander of the Special Forces unit that winds up holed up with ‚ÄėThe Sarge‚Äô and his squad. They run into a civilian, or rather she runs into them, Megan (Emma Cleasby) who manages to gain them access to the small two-story cottage far out in the woods that becomes their hampered sanctuary. Megan is a friend of the owners who are nowhere to be found.
Trapped in a two-story box with wounded men, Cooper assumes command and tries to piece together both his troops and a plan to get some payback on the savage pack just outside the door. The wolves don‚Äôt just constantly attack, like zombies, they actually use strategy and teamwork . . . much like a military unit.
They are hellish.
The makeup work on the werewolves is incredibly well-done, they are menacing, dog-like, towering, lanky, yet vicious in their appetites. You will see them several times throughout the film, and the different angles, again, and the power behind these scenes is what makes this one of my favorite werewolf films of all time. They don‚Äôt use the same monster angle over and over again, sometimes you will see a close-up, sometimes only a glance, sometimes they will just stand there looking directly at you, and sometimes you will just see what they leave behind.
There are plenty of surprises in store for a first-time viewing, and this is a film you can watch more than a few times and catch something different each time. With jump-scares, lots of gun-play, blood everywhere, and an incredibly well developed cast, Dog Soldiers is a must watch for anyone looking for a solid werewolf film that they need to share with their friends.
Justice is served.
The H-Bomb:¬† Some time in the not so far off future, nuclear war has radiated most of United States (a set-up that never gets old), and people have been forced to live in walled-in Mega-Cities.¬† Mega-City One, which stretches from what used to be Boston to what used to be Washington D.C., has a population of 800 million inhabitants, and the streets are over-run with crime.¬† A new designer drug, Slo-Mo, which causes users to perceive time in slow motion (Duh!), is only making matters worse.
The only hope for law and order in this post-apocalyptic toilet of a society are the Judges; elite, highly trained cops who have the authority to apprehend, convict, and immediately pass down sentences to criminals, even death, if the situation calls for it.¬† One such Judge is Dredd (Karl Urban), a notoriously quick-triggered Peace Officer who shows no mercy to those who come down on the wrong side of the law.¬† He usually works alone and prefers it that way, which is why he is none-to-appreciative when his superiors saddle him with a new partner.
It’s not enough that this new partner, Anderson (Olivia Thirlby), is a woman, she’s not even a full-fledged Judge, but a trainee who happens to have a rather unique ability… she’s psychic, a mutation from the nuclear war.¬† Dredd has been assigned to assess her job performance throughout the day and then give her a final evaluation at the end.¬† He’s less than pleased about this arrangement, but orders are orders.¬† Little does Dredd know that he and his trainee are in for one hell of a day, when they respond to a triple homicide at a massive, two hundred story apartment complex.
This mile-high apartment block happens to belong to Ma-Ma (Lena Headey), a much feared crime queen with a jagged scar on her face and a talent for emasculating men with her mouth.¬† She also happens to be the main manufacturer and supplier of Slo-Mo, and when one of her top lackeys is arrested by Dredd and Anderson in connection to the triple homicide, she knows that he could spill everything about her entire operation.¬† So Ma-Ma places the entire complex under lock down, closing off all possible exits, and orders her entire army of thugs to hunt down and kill the two Judges.¬† It would seem like all the odds are in Ma-Ma’s favor, but little does she know, she’s fuckin’ with the wrong Judge!
When Dredd (or Dredd 3D, as it was called in theaters) was released last September, it tanked fast and hard, despite some surprisingly strong reviews.¬† I would imagine that the main reason people passed it up in theaters, even with the positive word-of-mouth, was due to its unavoidable association with an earlier attempt to bring the comic book hero by John Wagner and Carlos Ezquerra to the big screen, the wretched 1995 Sylvester Stallone vehicle Judge Dredd, which featured what had to be Sly’s most embarrassingly abysmal performance ever.¬† His reading of the now infamous slogan, “I AM DUH LAAAAAA!!!” was so hilariously Dredd-ful that his own sidekick, Rob Schneider, actually mocked it in the movie!¬† And when even Rob Schneider has room to ridicule your performance, you have got to be doing something wrong!¬† Hell, I was fourteen years old when it came out, and not all that discriminating a moviegoer back then, and even I walked out thinking, “God, that sucked!”¬† I’m convinced it was the movie going public’s not-so-fond memories of that epic poop storm that caused them to stay far away from this new, and entirely different, take on the character.
In fact, I remember some months back, our editor Rick Swift, expressing his own lack of interest in the movie, saying that Judge Dredd wasn’t exactly screaming for a redo.¬† I must respectfully disagree.¬† Something like Total Recall, which they got right the first time, shouldn’t be remade.¬† Judge Dredd, on the other hand, which they royally fudged up the first time around, is exactly the kind of movie that should be redone, so that, hopefully, they can finally get it right.¬† It should be noted, I’ve never read the Judge Dredd comics, so obviously I can’t call myself a fan of the character.¬† But, the idea of cops in the future who act as judge, jury, and executioner does has the potential to be pretty fuckin’ cool, and if someone actually manages to make a good movie out of it, I’d be interested in seeing it.
Well, Dredd is that movie.¬† Dredd is very much that movie.¬† It’s a kind of action flick that’s rare these days… the kind that doesn’t nueter itself and pander only to children.¬† No sir, this is an unflinchingly violent bullet fest in which brains decorate the walls and torsos are turned inside out, all compliments of a defiantly un-PC hero who isn’t the slightest bit squeamish about getting a little blood on his hands, nor is he even remotely interested in being any kind of role model.¬† As you’ve probably guessed, this roller coaster ride wears its R-rating proudly on its sleeve, and as directed by Pete Travis (Vantage Point), once it gets rolling, it doesn’t stop for nothin’.
Travis really did some fantastic work, coming up with 3D shots that were truly inventive.¬† I should note that I didn’t see this in 3D, but I hear they were quite jaw-dropping, and given that they look pretty slick even in 2D, I’m willing to buy into the word of mouth on that one.¬† Travis also deserves props for using slow motion in a way that feels fresh and that’s actually a part of the story, and not just some cliched gimmick.¬† The sequence where a character falls 200 stories to their death in slo-mo… that I would give my left nut to see in three dimensions.¬† And even though the action is almost non-stop, it never became numbing or repetitive, so Travis definitely deserves props for that.
On to the cast, I just need to say, Urban is fucking perfect as Dredd.¬† Forget any of that hammy shit that Sly tried to shove on us, this guy is Judge Dredd.¬† He’s got balls of steel and a “don’t you dare fuck with me” authority to him.¬† Put ten of him in every major city and watch the crime rate drop to nothing.¬† Urban manages to convey so much more than Stallone ever could, and we can actually understand what the hell he’s saying, to boot.¬† Yeah, the voice he’s using is another variation of the Christian Bale Batman growl… but he does it so well, and he manages to utter the line, “I am the law” without sounding like some slurry, punch-drunk fucktard.¬† This movie should’ve made Urban a full fledged star, if only anyone actually went to see the damn thing.
Thirlby, portraying the very green Judge Anderson, brings a perfect mix of naivete and nervousness, and is quite credible when the story finally calls on her to stand up and start kicking ass.¬† Headey, as the vicious, wiener-biting bitch, Ma-Ma, is a real delight.¬† Trying hard to look ugly and almost succeeding, its obvious she knows exactly what kind of movie she’s in, and she’s clearly just having a blast amping it up to the max as this awesomely ruthless villain.¬† I fuckin’ loved her.
Now, if it isn’t obvious, yeah, I liked Dredd… a lot.¬† But, that doesn’t mean I don’t have a complaint or two.¬† It struck me as I was watching the movie, and then bugged me even more after I really thought about it; throughout the film, no matter how badly Dredd was outnumbered, or how dire his predicament got, Dredd always seemed to be in control of the situation.¬† Any time trouble would arise, his demeanor was always, “Step aside, Rookie, I got this.”¬† And yeah, he always “got it.”¬† Most of the time he got it way too easily.¬† So while the action never ceased to entertain, Dredd’s cool-headed and swift handling of every problem kind of robbed the movie of any real suspense it could’ve had.¬† The final confrontation with Ma-Ma was especially way too pat.
But hey, I can’t begrudge the movie that, because I had such a great time with it, nonetheless.¬† Yeah, it’s nothing revolutionary.¬† This isn’t the second coming of Citizen Kane.¬† It doesn’t reinvent cinema as we know it.¬† It’s simply a bullet-spraying, schizoid-crazy action fest, and ya know what, that’s good enough.¬† I’m even willing to forgive it for completely ripping off the plot of The Raid: Redemption, another fantastic action flick from the past year.¬† Like pretty the much the rest of the planet, I missed Dredd when it crash-landed into theaters, and you know what?¬† It was my loss, and yours, too.¬† We all share in the guilt for allowing it to flop so undeservedly.¬† Now, that it’s out on Blu-ray/DVD, is the time to undo that grave injustice.