Monday, December 24, 2012

Jack Reacher

After the disastrous John Carter earlier this year, I’m wary of films that have a man’s first and last names as its title. That being the case, I allowed myself to become hopeful regarding Jack Reacher, the new film by Christopher McQuarrie (director of The Way of the Gun) starring Tom Cruise and based off the book One Shot by Lee Child (who had a cameo in the film as the policeman behind the desk when giving Cruise back his belongings). Unfortunately that hope was misplace because, once again, a man-named film left me both unsatisfied and disappointed.

Before I jump into the things I like and didn’t like about the film, you might want to know what it’s about. Here’s how IMDb describes it: “In an innocent heartland city, five are shot dead by an expert sniper. The police quickly identify and arrest the culprit, and build a slam-dunk case. But the accused man claims he's innocent and says ‘Get Jack Reacher.’ Reacher himself sees the news report and turns up in the city. The defense is immensely relieved, but Reacher has come to bury the guy. Shocked at the accused's request, Reacher sets out to confirm for himself the absolute certainty of the man's guilt, but comes up with more than he bargained for.”

The trailer for the film, which can be viewed below, made it seem as this might raise the bar for the Action/Crime/Thriller genre, as I’ve heard Child’s books have in literature; however, what I found was a rather run-of-the-mill action movie. To be honest, saying it was run-of-the-mill may be too kind.

The story itself started out strong by depicting a heinous crime, and from there the plot thickened with the slow revelation of a conspiracy; however, before too long the film began to stall. Suddenly Reacher, who began to come off as an “Average Joe” superhero as opposed to a former military policeman, was pursuing low-life criminals while trying to save a woman stuck in a cycle of abuse.  

My old man was the buddy for this movie.

Cruise was decent as the title character, but I didn’t really feel there was a lot of development regarding Reacher. He’s initially shrouded in mystery, and the little we do find out about him becomes so far reaching that it’s unbelievable. For instance, he’s suddenly an expert marksman when he just so happens to be working a case involving a sniper. Likewise, he just so happens to come across an ex-marine, played by Robert Duvall, who is willing to help him illegally take on a criminal enterprise just because he saw him shoot years earlier? C’mon man!

Don’t get me wrong, things like that can be found in dozens of action movies, but that’s exactly my point, Jack Reacher isn’t anything special. Everything it had to offer I’ve seen before, and to be honest, if it didn’t have the big-name actors that it did, it would have been terrible. Luckily Cruise, Duvall, Richard Jenkins, Rosamund Pike and David Oyelowo did a good enough job to keep me watching. I wish I could say the same for the main villain, played by Werner Herzog, but he was about the least intimidating and fear-striking bad guy I’ve seen in years.

Jack Reacher barely kept me entertained, and at times I felt like it was insulting my intelligence—definitely not what I want to see after spending $10 on a ticket.  It’s definitely not worth seeing in theaters, and I wouldn’t recommend it on DVD either, unless of course you’re having a boring night and have seen everything else. Save your money.

Buddies Forever Movie Club Rating: 45%

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Sunday, December 23, 2012

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

After I saw the Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring way back in 2001, I rushed out and read all J.R.R. Tolkien’s books, starting with The Hobbit. I continued to enjoy the LOTR trilogy over the next two years, and I must admit, I am excited for The Hobbit Trilogy a decade later. Granted, three movies may be too much and a ploy by the Peter Jackson moneymaking machine, but I really don’t mind—it’s more to enjoy.

Here is a lengthy description of the first in the new trilogy, The Hobbit: An UnexpectedJourney, courtesy of IMDb: “Bilbo Baggins is swept into a quest to reclaim the lost Dwarf Kingdom of Erebor from the fearsome dragon Smaug. Approached out of the blue by the wizard Gandalf the Grey, Bilbo finds himself joining a company of thirteen dwarves led by the legendary warrior, Thorin Oakenshield. Their journey will take them into the Wild; through treacherous lands swarming with Goblins and Orcs, deadly Wargs and Giant Spiders, Shapeshifters and Sorcerers. Although their goal lies to the East and the wastelands of the Lonely Mountain first they must escape the goblin tunnels, where Bilbo meets the creature that will change his life forever ... Gollum.”

Let me start by saying how refreshing it was to see some familiar face in The Hobbit. Ian McKellan’s portrayal of Gandalf in LOTR is the stuff of legends, and he picked up right where he left off—which is amazing considering he's a decade older. Likewise, it was nice seeing Cate Blanchett, Hugo Weaving and Christopher Lee reprise their roles, albeit limitedly, as Galadriel, Elrond, and Saruman respectively; meanwhile, seeing Ian Holm and Elijah Wood in cameo spots gave the film true LOTR authenticity.

In addition to the familiar faces, there were a bevy of new characters introduced in the film including the dragon Smaug, Martin Freeman as a young Bilbo Baggins, and a fellowship of dwarves led by Thorin Oakenshield, played brilliantly by Richard Armitage. The dragon really won’t become a factor until The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug in December 2013, which brings me to Freeman.

I’ll admit I didn’t know much about Freeman prior to his casting other than the fact that he was on the BBC’s The Office. Even so, I wasn’t worried as all of Jackson’s LOTR casting choices have been spot on. Freeman not only handled the role of Bilbo admirably, he knocked it out of the park. He perfectly balanced the steadfast contentment and cautious wanderlust that characterizes Bilbo, and he also did a great job building the character’s confidence. Watching Bilbo’s progression turned out to be an unexpected journey of its own, one the culminated in a memorable interaction with Gollum, once again brilliantly played by Andy Serkis (Can someone please get that guy an Oscar?).

Ben Robertson & Dan Almerli were the buddies for this movie.

As far as the dwarves were concerned, they were entertaining, though a bit hard to keep track of. Thorin was properly fleshed out and is the Strider/Aragorn of the film, but the others were hard to distinguish from one another. With that said, there are still two full-length films to go, so I’m sure that problem will resolve itself.

In regards to the story, I loved how the focus was on the dwarves’ journey but there were also side stories that feed into the LOTR lore. For instance, the necromancer living in the abandoned castle—that’s Sauron; likewise, Radagast the Brown, played by Sylvester McCoy, provided a sneak peek into the wider world of wizards. The story had me entertained throughout, so in that regard it did it’s job well.

While I liked The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey as a whole, I had one major qualm—some of the visuals were overwhelming. At times there was so much going on that it was near impossible to process it all. This usually occurred in the action-packed, CGI-generated scenes, like when the dwarves were running through the Orc kingdom. Granted, I didn’t see it in 3D (I wish I had but my friend’s eyes don’t allow him to see 3D movies), so it’s possible such scenes look better in the third dimension.

For me, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey was a great installment in the LOTR saga. It uses the same formula, a wise decision as it’s a proven success, and the consistency of the actors and filmmakers makes the film authentic—by that I mean it doesn’t feel as if it was thrown together to make a quick buck; instead, it’s been made in such a way as to do justice to both the source material and the fans. It’s a little more whimsical than its predecessors, but keep in mind that’s the way the book wass written (for children as opposed to young adults). To put it simply... if you liked LOTR, you should like The Hobbit—I know I did.

Buddies Forever Movie Club Rating: 90%

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Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Killing Them Softly

I recently had the opportunity to see Killing Them Softly, the new film by Andrew Dominik, who last directed 2007’s superb film The Assassination of Jesse Jamesby the Coward Robert Ford, which also starred Brad Pitt. I’ve always enjoyed dark crime films, and this film peeked my curiosity the first time I saw the trailer (which you can view at the bottom of this review).

In case you’ve never heard of Killing Them Softly, which is based on George V Higgins’ 1974 crime novel Cogan’s Trade, here’s how IMDb describes the movie: “Jackie Cogan is an enforcer hired to restore order after three dumb guys rob a Mob protected card game, causing the local criminal economy to collapse.”

The crime/drama film was reminiscent of last year’s Drive, starring Ryan Gosling, in that it’s a dark, realistic film noir. The story is simple and familiar, but Dominik puts his own spin on things. Instead of taking the usual shoot-em-up route, Dominik pulls back and lets realism, as well as the characters, drive the film by taking viewers into the underworld (as opposed to bringing the villains into the real world). It’s there they get a pessimistic and dark-comedy look at the different tiers of felonious players.

Portraying these players was an impressive cast of actors (there were no actresses other than a bit prostitute part). They included Pitt as the practical and down-to-earth Jackie, who took a systematic and badass approach to cleaning up the mess left behind from the robbery. Pitt’s character is a crude businessman, and this, as well as the other’s ineptitude, is brought to life by the backdrop of the 2008 financial crisis. Basically the little mob niche was symbolic of the country as a whole, and Jackie wasn’t going to be caught in the crosshairs.

Carsen Nachreiner was the buddy for this film.

Scoot McNairy, who played one of the aforementioned “three dumb guys” who robbed the poker game, also did a great job as Frankie the junkie. Despite being the catalyst of the situation, he was also the protagonist of the film. You find yourself pulling for his survival despite the drug addiction and rashness, but at the same time you know he deserves what’s coming.

The film was bolstered by fine performances from Richard JenkinsJames Gandolfini and Ray Liotta. The seemingly straight-laced Jenkins plays “Driver”, the middleman between the mob and Jackie. He’s an awful lot like Jackie except that he’s held back by conventions. Likewise, Gandolfini plays fellow hit man Mickey, though he’s not calm, cool and collected like Jackie. Instead, he’s past his prime, an alcoholic and barely holding on by a strong. It’s a sad state in reality, but in this film Gandolfini owns it and captivates every second he’s on the screen. Finally there was Liotta, who played Markie Trattman, the low-level mob man who ran the poker game. I’m used to seeing Liotta play badass characters, but in this film his character was rather meek and it was fun watching him play a pussy.

Killing Them Softly was certainly different. When I left the theater, I wasn’t sure how I felt about it. Part of me hated it, but another part of me loved it. After processing things for a while, I came to the conclusion that it was actually a rather decent film, not only because so few movies leave me feeling so conflicted (which I think is a testament to their influence), but also because it was unique. It’s ironic that such a dark and depressing movie can be so refreshing.

Buddies Forever Movie Club Rating: 70%

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Monday, December 3, 2012

Life of Pi

Ever since Avatar reigned supreme at the box office in 2009, the 3D craze has swept Hollywood. While I’m a fan of 3D movies, too many of them take the cheap route by adding 3D in postproduction and sacrifice story in the name of visuals—I do not like that. Fortunately that wasn’t the case with Life of Pi, the film based on Yann Martel’s novel of the same name.

For those who don’t know, here’s how IMDb describes Life of Pi: “Based on the best-selling novel by Yann Martel, is a magical adventure story centering on Pi Patel, the precocious son of a zoo keeper. Dwellers in Pondicherry, India, the family decides to move to Canada, hitching a ride on a huge freighter. After a shipwreck, Pi finds himself adrift in the Pacific Ocean on a 26-foot lifeboat with a zebra, a hyena, an orangutan and a 450-pound Bengal tiger named Richard Parker, all fighting for survival.”

Academy Award winner Ang Lee (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon; Brokeback Mountain and Sense and Sensibility) directed the film, and he was intent on utilizing 3D technology to its fullest potential. Right from the get go the viewers are hit with some amazing visuals as the camera jumps from animal to animal at a zoo. It was almost like a fighter flexing his muscles before a fight, one that you just knew was going to be good.

Not only did Life of Pi make a strong first impression, it continued to impress throughout its entirety. An epic shipwreck, a swarm of flying fish and a field full of meercats were just a few of the scenes that captivated. The visuals were truly breathtaking, but it was even more impressive that they were designed to support a great story. The film is an Adventure/Drama that sees Pi take an “epic journey of adventure and discovery". I won’t spoil what those discoveries are, but I feel everyone will relate to what they see—I know I did.

Carsen Nachreiner was the buddy for this film.

Newcomer Suraj Sharma, who was actually cast after accompanying his brother to an audition, played the title character, and he turned out to be a gem. He carried the majority of the film by interacting with non-speaking animals, which was not an easy task. On a side notem the animals were actually portrayed in a very realistic manner, which had been a big concern of mine. Anyway, Sharma did a tremendous job bringing the animals to life, such as the (mostly) CGI-produced Richard Parker, who became a strong supporting character. Irrfan Khan, who you may recall from Slumdog Millionaire, also did a great job as the adult Pi as I found myself hanging on his every word each time he was onscreen.

Thanks to superb visuals, a sturdy story, and deep performances, Life of Pi truly takes the viewer on an adventure. It reminded me of a combination of Castaway and the Lord of the Rings Trilogy (at least the adventure/visual aspect), and it blended well. I’m comfortable saying that Life of Pi tops the list of 3D movies I’ve seen up to this point (Yes, I liked it even more than Avatar), and I wouldn’t be surprised to see it nominated for several Academy Awards. Any serious cinema fan will surely appreciate this movie, but make sure you see it in 3D as its well worth the few extra bucks.

Buddies Forever Movie Club Rating: 86%

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Saturday, November 24, 2012

Red Dawn

Ever since tackling the iconic Marvel Comics role of Thor, Chris Hemsworth has become quite the rising star in Hollywood. Since then he’s had a couple of movies come out including Cabin in the Woods and this weekend’s Red Dawn, a remake of the 1984 cult classic starring Patrick Swayze and Charlie Sheen (it was the latter’s feature film debut). However, did you know that both of those films were actually made way back in 2009?

It’s true. They were filmed long before Hemsworth was known to movie fans, but shelved due to MGM’s financial troubles. Originally schedule to be released on November 24, 2010, the new Red Dawn, which was directed by first-timer Dan Bradley, finally made it to the big screen this weekend.

Even though I was a huge fan of the original, I was skeptical of the new one. Remakes of 1980s films tend to fall short both critically and at the box office (i.e. Conan the Barbarian, Fright Night, Friday the 13th, etc.), plus all the post-production problems (which is where the antagonists were changed from Chinese soldiers to North Korean, both digitally and in dialogue, in order to better their chances for an international release) made me wary. With that said, I went in with stunted expectations, while secretly holding out hope for something more.

The original’s story involved the start of World War III when the Soviet Union and Cuba invaded the Midwestern United States from Mexico, splitting the country in half and forcing a group of high school students to wage guerilla warfare. The premise of the remake is largely the same, though it’s been updated. Given the Soviet Union no longer exists and the Cold War is over, the villain was changed to North Korea; in addition, instead of an invasion of the Midwest, the setting was changed to the Northwest—Spokane, Washington to be exact (this makes a lot more sense in my opinion). Finally, technology has changed tremendously in the last 30 years, so that’s been reflected in the film as well. I appreciated all these changes and thought them necessary to appeal to a modern audience.

Now, I must admit, I actually enjoyed the new Red Dawn, though I fear I may be one of the few. Granted, it’s not going to become a cult classic like the original, but I thought they did a decent job following in the original’s footsteps, incorporating a few small changes here and there.

The buddy for this film was my old man, Larry Holloway.
It didn't take long for my skepticism to disappear; in fact, it happened in the opening sequence when paratroopers were invading the United States. It was a bit different than the original's, but it was still every bit intense, at least for me. I thought the confusion, panic, and terror associated with such an event was spot on, and I quickly lost myself in what I was watching. That continued through the first third of the film, which is when things stalled a bit.

For instance, the whole sequence when the Wolverines, which are what the teenage militia called themselves, trained to become a cohesive unit was way too rushed. In a matter of minutes they went from scared kids to a well-oiled killing machine. It wasn’t terribly done, but it could have been better, a theme that would repeat itself from there on out. Additionally, the action sequences were oftentimes too fast, hard to properly determine what was going on, and could have been more polished.

The movie was on the short side at around 90 minutes, and I can’t help but think how much better it could have been had it had more time to develop. There were certainly holes that could have been filled and character development that should have been done, but alas it ended up being bitty. Speaking of the end, I thought that was a little weak. Not what transpired just prior to it, which surprised me, but the note it ended on lacked a significant punch.

As far as the characters were concerned, I was impressed with the cast. Oftentimes young actors sink a film, but that wasn’t the case here. Hemsworth, who played Jed Eckert, proved once again that he is more than capable of being the leading man, and Josh Peck showed he has some acting chops as the younger Eckert brother, Matt. Josh Hutcherson, who is making a name for himself in the Hunger Games series, had a nice supporting role as Robert Kitner (obviously he’d have been used in a more prominent fashion had the film been made today, but in 2009 he wasn’t really a big name), and Adrianne Palicki was sufficient as Toni Walsh, the memorable strong-willed woman fighter from the original. It was also nice to see the highly underrated Jeffrey Dean Morgan as U.S. Marine Tanner, though we don’t see him until more than halfway through the film.

On the other hand, Brett Cullen, who played the father of the Eckert boys, had a limited role early, but he made use of his time onscreen. Likewise, the adopted son of Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman, Connor Cruise, had a major role as Daryl Jenkins, one of the younger Wolverines. The now 17-year-old, who was even younger at the time of filming, obviously learned a thing or two from his old man, using his youth, enthusiasm and innocence to make a connection with the audience. No doubt he’ll be making a name for himself in Hollywood in years to come.

Red Dawn, which will benefit from the two-year delay due to Hemsworth’s celebrity, was good and actually surpassed my expectations, but it wasn’t great. If you’re looking for a fun weekend action movie, I say throw down the price of admission, buy some popcorn, and just relax. Red Dawn won’t make a big impression on you, but it will entertain.

Buddies Forever Movie Club Rating: 68%

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Friday, November 23, 2012


Rumors of an Abraham Lincoln movie directed by Steven Spielberg reverberated throughout Hollywood for the better part of a decade, but it wasn’t until recent years that it became a reality. Lincoln, a film based on Doris Kearns Goodwin's book, is a biopic of the 16th president focusing on the last few months of his life, which is when he pushed hard to pass the 13th amendment.

As IMDb explains: “As the Civil War continues to rage, America's president struggles with continuing carnage on the battlefield and as he fights with many inside his own cabinet on the decision to emancipate the slaves.”

As a history major in college, concentrating on American History, I was extremely excited to see this film. Throw in Spielberg as director and an all-star cast, and Lincoln the movie seemed destined for greatness. Unfortunately, I may have set my expectations too high, because I left the theater feeling a bit disappointed.

Don’t get me wrong, Lincoln was by no means bad, it just wasn’t all I thought it’d be.
At times it was slow, but that was to be expected from a biographical and historical drama. There was no significant action, most of the conflict existed in the House of Representatives, and the drama developed slowly. That was all fine and good, but to me the flow of the movie was just off. For instance, I felt the scale of time was poorly represented, with scenes often jumping from one geographical location to another with no regard for how long it’d take for such travel in that day and age. That was a small, nitpicky detail, but things like that do not go unnoticed and detract from the overall product. In other words, Lincoln was a little rough around the edges and not as polished as I'd come to expect from Spielberg.

The movie itself is dialogue driven, which means having the right cast is absolutely crucial. In that regard, Lincoln excelled. Daniel Day-Lewis is selective in his roles, coming out with a new movie every 2-3 years or so (his last one was 2009’s Nine, and before that 2007’s There Will Be Blood). Obviously the role of Lincoln, which originally went to Liam Neeson before he dropped out, was too good to pass up, and Day-Lewis nailed it. His portrayal of the historical icon was mesmerizing and he truly brought the character to life. It’s rare for an actor to be better known for his roles than his personal life, which I think is a testament to their ability, and Day-Lewis has certainly done it.

Furthermore, the supporting cast was as strong as I’ve ever seen, with solid performances all around. Sally Field, who had to fight tooth and nail for the role, made a great Mary Todd Lincoln (despite being 20 years older than her character was at the time), while Joseph Gordon-Levitt excelled as their son Robert Lincoln.

I also thought both David Strathairn and James Spader, who played William Seward and W.N. Bilbo respectively, did amazing jobs. The former helped drive the story as Lincoln’s Secretary of State and right-hand man, while the latter provided comic relief as a 13th-amendment vote getter. Other solid performances came courtesy of John Hawkes as Robert Latham; Hal Holbrook as Preston Blair; and Jared Harris as Ulysses S. Grant, just to name a few.

I’d also be remiss if I didn’t mention Tommy Lee Jones as Thaddeus Stevens. Many have praised his performances as the extreme abolitionist advocate, even suggesting he is a favorite for a Best-Supporting Actor Academy Award. I’ve never been shy about praising Jones (see my review ofHope Springs), but I have to admit he didn’t blow me away. He certainly did a satisfactory job, but I don’t agree his performance was remarkable.

I enjoyed Lincoln, but I wasn’t overly impressed. I had recently watched HBO’s miniseries John Adams, which is of a similar nature; however, in my opinion that film, starring Paul Giamatti as the second president of the United States, was both better done and more entertaining. Granted it had a whole miniseries to flesh out the story, but I’d be more prone to watch that again than Lincoln (which probably would have been better suited for a miniseries).

I’m glad I saw Lincoln, because it was a decent film—it just wasn’t as good as I had hoped it would be.

Buddies Forever Movie Club Rating: 70%

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Saturday, November 17, 2012


I went and saw the new 007 film last week at a special midnight showing at my local AMC Theater. I had planned on having this review up sooner, but unfortunately procrastination got the best of me. With that said, I present to you my review of Skyfall, the third film starring Daniel Craig as James Bond.

I’ll admit that I’m not overly familiar with the older Bond films; in fact, I think the only ones I’ve seen have been those starring Pierce Brosnan and Craig. I’ve been a fan of the latter's turn at the iconic character and highly enjoyed 2006’s Casino Royale (minus a ridiculous poker scene). To a lesser degree I also enjoyed 2008’s Quantum of Solace, which had an overlapping storyline to its predecessor, but in my opinion Skyfall, which did not continue the story established in two before it, proved to be the best of Craig's three.

Here’s the premise of the new film as described by IMDb: “Bond's loyalty to M is tested as her past comes back to haunt her. As MI6 comes under attack, 007 must track down and destroy the threat, no matter how personal the cost.”

It amazes me that the Bond formula continues to translate into success after all these years. Sauvé secret agent pursues terrorists while seducing beautiful women without an emotional connection—ok, well I guess I can understand; anyway, this film was much the same, which means there wasn’t a great deal of originality. It was the same old story told in a different way, but it still proved entertaining. Skyfall wasn’t mind blowing by any means, but it lived up to expectations, or at least my expectations.

The first thing I liked was the opening song by Adele, who I believe is tremendous musical talent. The Bond films always open with a big action sequence followed by an original song, and Skyfall’s (written and performed by Adele) is one of the best I’ve heard. The other highlight for me were the characters and cast. A lot of Bond films have inane characters, which can be made all the more ridiculous by miscasting. That wasn’t the case here.

Craig was great as bond. His unobtrusive aggression is perfect for the role. He's suave but possesses a bevy of other more prevalent qualities such as stoicism, fortitude, and levelheadedness. Craig isn’t your traditional dark-haired Bond, and in my opinion his casting was a risk that has paid big dividends.

The buddies for Skyfall, Ben (L) and Carsen (R).
I also loved Judi Dench as M; what’s more, I loved that she played a major role in Skyfall. In Quantum of Solace and Casino Royale she was merely a supporting character that popped in every now and again, but in Skyfall she is one of the three major characters alongside Bond and villain Silva, played brilliantly by Javier Bardem. If you like the “Dench Stench”, then you’ll get a big ole whiff in Skyfall. Speaking of Bardem, his character was eclectic, flamboyant and set on revenge, an interesting combination of qualities for a lead villain. Throw in some funky hair ala No County for Old Men, and Bardem is once again at his finest.

I was also impressed with Naomie Harris, who you may recall from 28 Days Later, as Bond girl Eve; Ralph Fiennes as M6’s Gareth Mallory; and Ben Whishaw as the new, younger Q. I mentioned in my review of Cloud Atlas that Whishaw is a superb talent and one of the best up-and-coming actors in the industry. It was nice seeing him land such as iconic role. Finally, Albert Finney was good as the Scottish innkeeper Kincade, who had a special connection to Bond’s past. Finney is a fine actor, but he’s cut from the same cloth as my favorite actor, Brian Cox; as such, I can’t help but think of what it’d have been like had Cox landed the role.

I did have one small qualm with the film, which was the story’s shift from the theft of Skyfall, a list undercover agents, in order to focus on Silva's revenge on M. The one storyline may have played into the other, but it seemed like the former was sacrificed, and almost dropped, at the expense of the latter. Both were interesting storylines, but I think the Skyfall plot could have been fleshed out more.

Skyfall isn’t going to win any awards, but it was an excellent chapter in the Bond saga; in fact, I think it was the best since Craig took over the role. I feel I got my money’s worth and look forward to the next one.

Buddies Forever Movie Club Rating: 75%

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Tuesday, November 6, 2012

The Man with the Iron Fists

I wasn’t very excited to see the new film The Man with the Iron Fists, but when you’re a part of the Buddies Forever Movie Club, sometimes you have to acquiesce to your friends. In this case it was my old friend Carsen Nachreiner who was adamant RZA was going to make a good Kung Fu movie. We talked our other friend, Ben Robertson, and together the three of us went to see the action flick.

For those who don’t know, here’s the premise of The Man with the Iron Fists as described by IMDb: “On the hunt for a fabled treasure of gold, a band of warriors, assassins, and a rogue British soldier descend upon a village in feudal China, where a humble blacksmith looks to defend himself and his fellow villagers.”

From what I understand, the film was a labor of love for RZA, who not only directed and starred in the film but also penned the screenplay alongside Eli Roth. It’s a well-known fact that RZA, who you may recall as the co-founder of the hip hop group Wu-Tang Clan, is a fan of martial arts, so it wasn’t too surprising to see him construct a film around his infatuation. Luckily for him, he had Roth, who directed Cabin Fever and Hostel, helping him, and had the benefit of Quentin Tarantino presenting the film, though he didn’t have anything to do with it as far as I know. It just goes to show you the power of name recognition.

While this wasn't a Tarantino film, you could tell it was made in his style. The martial arts feel was reminiscent of the O-Ren Ishii scenes in Kill Bill Vol. 1—ironically The Man with the Iron Fists also starred Lucy Liu—with all the limb snapping, blood spraying, and brutal deaths. If Tarantino is the master, Roth and RZA are his protégés.

Speaking of RZA, I think he did a decent job directing the film, which reminded me a lot of an outlandish comic book movie; by that I mean it contained wacky characters battling to different ends. The Man with the Iron Fists didn’t stray from the simple story, and incorporated the Tarantino-esque corny acting and camerawork, which I liked. If you go in thinking the filmmakers are going to play it straight, you’ll likely leave disappointed. As it was, I had low expectations and was pleased with how the film unfolded.

With that said, I wasn’t thrilled with RZA the actor. He just didn’t inspire as the title character, and there are at least a dozen actors I can think of better suited for the role. As a martial arts fan, it seemed RZA wanted to make this film for his own self gratification, so of course I can’t blame him for wanting to star in it. I’m just saying the role was better suited for someone else.

Ben and Carsen were the buddies for this movie.

Other than , I thought the acting was solid all around. Liu essentially reprised her Kill Bill role as her Madam Blossom wasn’t all that different from O-Ren Ishii (maybe a tad less brutal), and Russell Crowe was extremely entertaining as Jack Knife. I’m used to watching Crowe tackle serious roles, so it was cool to see him have a little fun.

I was also impressed with wrestling star Dave Bautista, who portrayed one of the film’s more memorable characters—Brass Body. Very few people meet the physical requirements of that role, and he did a good job stepping out of the ring and onto the big screen. I also think Rick Yune, ByronMann and mixed-martial artist Cung Le did great jobs with their roles and added a lot to the film.

I heard the film was originally over four hours long and RZA wanted to turn it into two films. Thank goodness they didn’t do that because, quite frankly, it’s not in the echelon of films that deserves such special treatment. Instead, it was cut down to a modest 98 minutes, and I think that was plenty of time to do it justice. Anything longer would have been too much.

The Man with the Iron Fists wasn’t spectacular, but it entertained. Surprisingly, I liked it the best out of the three buddies, no doubt a upshot of my low expectations. If you like kung fu and Tarantino-type movies—though you must remember he didn’t make this film—then I’d say it’s worth your time. If not, then I’d say it’s not for you.

Buddies Forever Movie Club Rating: 66%

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