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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Monday, November 5, 2012


Flight, the new live-action film from Robert Zemeckis, has been on my radar for quite some time. I have a small fear of flying, and the plane crash premise intrigued me right off the bat. Plus it stars Denzel Washington, and he brings any movie instant credibility. Flight finally hit theaters this weekend, and it was a no brainer that I was going to see it, which I did with my old man.

Here’s the premise of Flight as described by IMDb: “An airline pilot saves a flight from crashing, but an investigation into the malfunctions reveals something troubling.” It sounds like bit of a feel-good movie, but nothing could be further from the truth; in fact, the place crash serves as the backdrop to the real story—addiction.

The “something troubling” alluded to in the description is pilot Whip Whitaker’s alcoholism, which may or may not have played a part in the crash. Watching him explore the depths of his addiction was heartbreaking, but also mesmerizing. The juggling act Whitaker undertakes in his bid to balance his heroic deeds with his demons left me conflicted, and I loved it. Should I like this character? Am I really rooting for him to succeed or do I want him to do the right thing?

Washington played the part brilliantly, and it's one of his finest performances to date. Training Day is still tops in my book, but Flight isn’t too far behind. I wouldn’t be surprised in the least if he got a Best Actor nod come Oscar time.

While Washington was the star, he was surrounded by an excellent supporting cast. John Goodman, whose name has been mentioned as a possible Best Supporting Actor nominee for his part in Argo, was excellent as Harling Mays, Whitaker’s old friend and enabler; while Nadine Velazquez and Tamara Tunie made for sensible flight attendants. None of them were prominent characters, but each had a crucial role to play.

I was also blown away by Kelly Reilly, who played drug addicted Nicole. She was an unlikely love interest and was on the road to recovery while Whitaker was headed in the opposite direction. Reilly, perhaps best known for her role in the Sherlock Holmes films, was tragically graceful, and a real pleasure to watch. There’s no doubt in my mind Flight will propel her into a higher tier in Hollywood.

I’d also be remiss if I didn’t mention Bruce Greenwood and Don Cheadle as Charlie Anderson and Hugh Lang respectively. The former plays the part of Whitaker’s old friend and pilot’s union rep, while the latter is a criminal defense lawyer. Both try their best to support Whitaker, despite the difficulties, and end up becoming affected by his addiction.

The buddy: My old man getting ready to see Flight.

The plane crash scene, which serves at the film’s hook, was forceful. I fly a lot for work, and in the back of my mind I’m always worried about the plane going down. I assume a lot of people are like me in that regard. With that said, watching the scene was scary. The panic in a situation like that has to be underpinned with sheer terror, and I definitely got that feeling. When Whitaker asked one of the flight attendants her son’s name and then told her to say she loves him for the black box, well let’s just say it sent shivers down my spine.

Flight is provocative, engaging and a bit tragic as it explores addiction and how one man can deny its existence while being consumed by it. At no times was it glamorized, but showed how pervasive it is in our society, even among professionals and those we trust with out lives. There’s a big difference between what people present to the world and what’s inside, and Flight does a great job of bringing that to the big screen. Top it off with a slew of electric performances, and it makes for one of the year’s best dramas.

Buddies Forever Movie Club Rating: 89%

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Thursday, November 1, 2012

Cloud Atlas

I was extremely intrigued when I first saw the trailer for Cloud Atlas, though I admit I wasn’t sure what it was about. What I did know was it was a film combining numerous story lines over the past, present and future, and was based on a novel by David Mitchell. I also know it was a film by the Wachowski’s, best known for The Matrix Trilogy, and boasted a hell of a cast including Tom Hanks, Hugo Weaving and Halle Berry.

Here’s the premise as described on IMDb: “Everything is connected: an 1849 diary of an ocean voyage across the Pacific; letters from a composer to his friend; a thriller about a murder at a nuclear power plant; a farce about a publisher in a nursing home; a rebellious clone in futuristic Korea; and the tale of a tribe living in post-apocalyptic Hawaii, far in the future.”

I'd seen plenty of positive reviews prior to seeing this film, so I must admit my expectations were high despite not knowing what Cloud Atlas was really about. Unfortunately, I walked out of the theater disappointed. I was impressed with the acting and storytelling technique, but I more disappointed in the stories themselves and left with a feeling that I missed something—I'm still not sure what Cloud Atlas was all about and feel like I missed something.

Let me start with the things I like, the first of which was the acting. All of the aforementioned actors, as well as a bevy of others, each starred as numerous characters in the films, one in each of the timelines. For instance, Hanks was a doctor in 1849, a cocky author in the publishing farce, and a futuristic tribesman in a post-apocalyptic Hawaii. It was cool watching all of these actors tackle various roles, ones where they were oftentimes unrecognizable, and I'd be thrilled to see others do it in future films.

Hanks did a good job as always, as did Berry, but my favorite performances came courtesy of Weaving and Ben Whishaw, the former as hilarious as Nurse Noakes, while the latter killed it as composer Robert Frobisher. This was my first time watching Whishaw, and I can already tell he’s going to be a major player in Hollywood in the years to come. Other actors who did a fine job were Susan Sarandon, Hugh Grant, Keith David, Jim Sturgess, JimBroadbent and Doona Bae, just to name a few.

I also thought the filmmakers did a good job telling six different stories via one medium. It was a tall task and I thought it flowed well; however, the movie was a little too long for my liking, coming in at three hours, and there were times where I thought, "When is this going to end." Never a good feeling to have when I just paid to be entertained.

Along with the length, I wasn’t thrilled with the individual stories. While the filmmakers put them together well, their interconnectedness wasn’t as profound as I expected. It’s my belief that if each story had been made into a film all its own, they’d each be on the weaker side (the composer storyline was the best in my opinion). Don’t get me wrong, I can see how the happenings in one story lead to repercussions in the others (which was the film's goal), but overall it was kind of bland.

Cloud Atlas wasn’t terrible by any means, but it was not the profound, revolutionary movie that was being billed. The story-telling technique was cool, and I could see it working quite well in other formats (i.e. comic book movies), but as is I wasn’t impressed. Cloud Atlas was too long, filled with tiresome stories, and failed to inspire. I’d wait for the DVD on this one.

Buddies Forever Movie Club Rating: 45%

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