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Sunday, August 31, 2014

The November Man 2014 * * * Stars

The November ManDirector: Roger Donaldson
Year: 2014
Rated R
Rating: * * * Stars
Cast: Pierce Brosnan, Luke Bracey, Olga Kurylenko

Would you like a sterilized, stylistic R rated version of a Bourne movie? Or a condensed, exceedingly more violent version of a Bond flick? Or Taken? Or better yet, do you prefer your action sequences as the movie equivalency of red meat, right off the bone? Well, you'll surely dig 2014's The November Man. Truth be told, I had moderately low expectations going in to see it. After all, this rogue thriller hit theaters in late August where most films are part of your everyday, end-of-the-season scrap heap. Dare I say though that it ranks as the most profoundly surprising release of the summer.

Shot by the guy who brought you 2003's The Recruit, showcasing an almost unrecognizable Will Patton (taking on a more serious role here as opposed to stuff like Armageddon and Gone in 60 Seconds), and featuring enough cell phone interplay to boost sales for Verizon Wireless, The November Man is based on a novel entitled There Are No Spies by Bill Granger. The proceedings begin with retired ex-CIA agent Peter Devereaux (Pierce Brosnan). He lives a quiet, stress free life until he is immediately brought out of retirement. His mission: to watch over a witness (Mila Filapova played by the stunning Olga Kurylenko) who was sexually assaulted and who's family was murdered during the Chechen War. Along with this current plight, Brosnan's Devereaux must also dodge his ex-CIA protege (David Mason played by Luke Bracey) sent to hunt him down and prevent a despicable foreign president (Lazar Ristovski playing President Arkady Fedorov) from being elected again.

Things to watch for if you decide to take in a viewing of "November": a scene where Pierce Brosnan's character knocks out two suspicious dudes and wraps them in cellophane with little straws to breathe through, a scene in which a fancy car is intentionally crashed (going 80+ miles an hour) giving new meaning to the term, "don't forget to buckle up", and a solid use of lush locales via the countries of Montenegro and Serbia

Now The November Man with its obvious intentions to avoid anything tongue-in-cheek, is willfully directed by Ronald Donaldson. He serves up plenty of gruesome, vilified action with blood that flows red aplenty. There are lots of gunfights, stabbings, and beatings that are meant to shock an audience. He stages violence as a virtuoso, a sort of symphony conductor who takes on multiple movements. There's a slickness, a hollowness, and an emptiness to what's on screen. Basically, everything feels like it's out of Luc Besson's playbook. But here's the thing: Donaldson does Besson better than Besson does Besson (and that's a good thing).

In the arena of casting, it's obvious that Brosnan is a little too old and worn down to currently play 007. But that's okay because his performance here is similar yet better than anything he's ever done in a Bond film. Pierce must have had a chip on his shoulder after not getting asked to return to that long running film series. The result: he comes back with a vengeance. He's badder, nastier, colder, and more hard edged than he ever was as the famed super spy. In a nutshell, his Peter Devereaux (aka The November Man) could beat the snot out of Jimmy boy and then some. Even though Brosnan has always had strong physical gifts as an actor (he looks believable holding a gun, he uses his hands well which in turn is an effective tool for acting, and he has a pretty cool movie "walk"), I always thought he was kinda wimpy in the role that he inhabited from 1995 to 2002. With The November Man, he's ticked off and overacts a bit, but he gets a chance to play a Bond type in a more gritty, more adult-themed setting. His days playing the suave British Secret Service agent may be over but being James Bond is like being president anyway. Sooner or later, you have to hand the baton over after one or two terms.

All and all, throughout its relatively short running time of an hour and 48 minutes, The November Man is humorless, witless, and devoid of any true human compassion. Frankly, it doesn't have time for these sort of shenanigans. This action thriller is all about business. Initially while viewing it, I wanted to rename it "November Rain" (no pun intended on the 1992 Guns N' Roses ditty). The plot at times, seems all wet. There were way too many characters, too many jumbled story lines, and you couldn't differentiate the good guys from the bad guys. Thankfully, director Roger Donaldson masks this notion by keeping the viewer intrigued and interested anyway. This vehicle is extremely fast paced with lightning quick editing. Once things reach their heightened, staggering conclusion (with a twist I didn't see coming), all the plot puzzle pieces seem to come together just fine. As for its grizzled up, weathered star, all I gotta say is welcome back Pierce Brosnan. You're better off in this world than in the Bond world any day.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Sin City: A Dame to Kill For 2014 * * * Stars

Sin City: A Dame to Kill ForDirectors: Robert Rodriguez, Frank Miller
Year: 2014
Rated R
Rating: * * * Stars
Cast: Mickey Rourke, Jessica Alba, Josh Brolin, Joseph Gordon-Levitt

Towards the end of Sin City: A Dame to Kill For (the flick I'm about to review), Mickey Rourke's character Marv and Jessica Alba's character Nancy Callahan (a centralized exotic dancer) join forces to bring vengeance on a vehemently distraught Senator. Right before they partake in a final gun-riddled bloodbath, Marv looks over at Nancy with her multiple face lacerations and ratty hair and says, "I think you look hot." Oh man, you gotta love Rourke's Marv, always looking for a fight, or his next kill, or some bad guy to torture. And as duly noted in the previously released Sin City (the 2005 film that "Dame" is a sequel to), he'll always have a thing for Nancy, his female induced heartbeat.

So here we are in the doldrums of August and what do I see? A rare, long awaited second helping that has just enough trippy eye sores to trump the original. Sin City: A Dame to Kill For almost comes off as a copy rather than a sequel to the sweltering, groundbreaking hit from 2005. To a degree though, it works much better than its predecessor ever did. "Dame" is shorter, tighter, leaner, meaner, and easier to follow. Its also got a more modernized look that will truly knock your socks off. Whereas the first Sin City went a little over two hours and wasted time on tedious, upsetting torture scenes, this new installment (out in theaters more than nine years later) is more action-oriented (yet surprisingly less violent) not to mention more rooted in its devilish film noir style.

"Dame" is co-directed by Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller. Rodriquez, who's Once Upon a Time in Mexico made me a fan, has always had a certain talent. He's a film maker's filmmaker and just like a lot of other great directors, loves movies and is a huge fan of many genres (Westerns, vampire flicks, revenge thrillers, etc..etc.). His only Achilles heel may lie in the fact that his storytelling capabilities have always been rather glib. He's good with the camera but the plots of his films seem all over the place. In the closing credits of most of his work, you'll see the title, "shot and cut by Robert Rodriguez." That basically means that he edits his own shtick. Not his strong suit. He should just hire a well revered editor to sift through his hyper kinetic footage. Thankfully he doesn't need to spend that extra money here because just in time, and to the chagrin of this critic, he manages to do his best chop job yet. That is what ultimately garners my surmised recommendation.

Filmed in a way in which the actors emote in front of a green screen, told through four overlapping vignettes or stories (containing themes of revenge, greed, hallucination, and drug addiction) and based on the writings of graphic novelist Frank Miller, Sin City: A Dame to Kill For gives you the following tidbits: a frat boy gets killed over calling Mickey Rourke's character a "Bernini Boy" (based on the coat he was wearing), a happy-go-lucky card shark wants to win a big stakes poker game against a powerfully snide Senator named Roarke (played by the always menacing Powers Booth), a former detective pines for the woman he loves (green-eyed Eva Green) only to get the pulp beat out of him by her one-eyed, violent chauffeur, and an alcoholic go-go dancer can't shake the memories of the suicide committing by her lover (Bruce Willis as John Hartigan). And through all these events, there's good old Marv played with face altering makeup by Mickey "scotch and water for all my friends" Rourke. Mickey's character hangs out at Kadie's Saloon, the bar that is constantly depicted in "Dame." He knows everyone's business, wants in on all the action, and thinks he may or may not be a psycho killer. Oh and he likes to say, "that's a darn fine coat you're wearing" right before he kills the person who he said it to. What a swell guy! Not.

Anyway, in Sin City: A Dame to Kill For, Rodriquez and Miller treat each violent, cartoonish sequence as if it's art being painted by Picasso himself. Longtime bud Quentin Tarantino would be proud of the way they film sword wielding stuff in the vein of say, Kill Bill: Vol. 1 (in black and white with white blood no less). With glorious comic book overtones, these two mavericks create a sumptuous background rooted in black and white hues interspersed with some reds, oranges, and blues (these colors are thrown in to possibly introduce an important protagonist, a plot point, the color of a dress, the color of lipstick, or a mild image of bloodletting). Finally, they do a great job with dissolves and flashbacks. I especially like the way they shoot a character falling through glass, in dense space, or in a free fall made to look like something out of a dream.

As for the cast of "Dame," well it includes actors/actresses new and old. Welcoming additions to the Sin City cavalry include Joseph Gordon-Levitt (who has amazing screen presence here and with slicked-back 50's hair, the perfect look for a comic book-induced nightmare), Josh Brolin (taking on an atypical Josh Brolin role), Christopher Meloni and Jeremy Piven (the only actors who seem to be out of place with the material), and Ray Liotta playing a troubled businessman named Joey. As for the players making a return from the first go around, you've faithfully got Mickey Rourke, Rosario Dawson, Powers Boothe, Bruce Willis and my favorite character in the whole shebang, the silent assassin referred to as "deadly little Miho" (Jamie Chung).

In conclusion, Sin City: A Dame to Kill For is a late summer movie to root for. It's sadistic, splashy, edgy, film noir gold. In fact, it's even more film noiry than its predecessor. I only wish the ending wasn't so abrupt, or quick, or radically unsavory. It's as if the filmmakers ran out of budget or time and just needed to wrap things up. In essence, I wanted more and I wanted a better prelude to a third Sin City (I read that Rodriguez and Miller are planning on truly extending the franchise). Regardless, this 2014 release is something I plan on seeing many times over. And to the critics out there who found it boring, I'm curious. Did you see the same movie I did? Anyway, during "Dame's" intense theatrical trailer, the character of Johnny (Gordon-Levitt) says quote unquote, "Sin City's where you go in with your eyes open, or you don't come out at all." Well after taking in a viewing, I "came" out of the theater with my eyes wide open, a rollicking macho grin on my face, and an enthusiastic thumbs up! Good day at the office.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Thursday, August 21, 2014

The Expendables 3 2014 * * Stars

The Expendables 3Director: Patrick Hughes
Year: 2014
Rated PG-13
Rating: * * Stars
Cast: Sylvester Stallone, Harrison Ford, Mel Gibson, Wesley Snipes, Dolph Lundgren

Do you remember when the month of May rolled around and that meant another Star Wars movie? Or when October came (falling leaves and all) and that meant another Saw movie? Or when Thanksgiving was in our midst and that meant another Twilight monstrosity? Well here we are in the dog days of August and that means one thing: It's Expendables time! You know, the series of films where Sylvester Stallone hires a director, persuades a bunch of his action star buds to jump on board, gives the audience a chance to see tons of cardboard villains bite the dust, and revels in countless excuses to you know, blow stuff up. Yeah, that's the mindless, late summer ticket. Or is it? Whereas the first couple of Expendables flicks were gory and rated R, this new one holds back on the blood and guts department to garner a PG-13 rating. Was this a ploy to bring in a wider audience? I guess so. But I just saw "3's" box office take and it looks to bomb out in ticket receipts. A PG-13 marketing technique garnered to make money hasn't worked (in the past) and probably will never work (an example would be the debunked Terminator Salvation). The first two rated R installments of Sly's pet project grossed over $500 million worldwide. This new one might possibly just break even. What a shame.

With a plot that is as thin skinned as a hairless cat, a soundtrack straight out of a Michael Bay vehicle (oh no!), camera angles that remind you of a bad B movie, and a cameo by Jet Li that registers so much as a gesundheit, The Expendables 3 basically involves a conflict between the protagonist (Sylvester "droopy" Stallone) and the antagonist (Mel "darn I got phone tapped" Gibson). Mel Gibson plays Conrad Stonebanks. He's a arms dealer and former founder of the Expendables team. Stallone plays the other founder (and current leader) of the Expendables in Barney Ross. On a job with his cohorts consisting of intercepting bombs that are going to Somalia, Ross spots Stonebanks who he supposedly killed a long time age. It turns out that Stonebanks is the conspirator behind this treacherous weapons deal. What ensues is a huge gunfight with one of Barney's men becoming severely wounded (Terry Crews playing Hale Caesar, guns specialist). To get revenge on Stonebanks by hunting him down, Ross drops his old Expendables team and quote unquote "reloads" with a new one.

So what entices the average moviegoer to see these movies? Well it's the cast I tell you and it's comprised of Sly's peers, old school co-stars, and assorted UFC fighters (Wesley Snipes from Demolition Man, Antonio Banderus from Assassins, good old Dolph Lundgren from Rocky IV, fetching Ronda Rousey, and Kelsey Grammer). Harrison Ford, a newbie in the franchise playing CIA pilot Max Drummer, gives a substantial performance but his line readings seem a little too serious for the material. Then we have Mel Gibson who's less uptight as madman Conrad Stonebanks. His turn is the best of the bunch even though his role is a little neutered and underwritten. That leaves storyteller and screenwriter of "3" being Sylvester Stallone. Stallone's acting has definitely gotten worse over the years. As Barney Ross, he reluctantly picks up another lucrative paycheck. His current routine in every film is to be closed off or moody while virtually mumbling his lines off of cue cards. He's kind of like the Adam Sandler of action movies because he makes fun of or thinks he's above every other character around him.

Now with a huge cavalcade of a cast consisting of macho, bullet-happy butt kickers, you have to ask yourself this question: Is this 3rd Expendables film action oriented? Sure it is. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that it's main purpose was to parody action films or just plain make fun of them. After the final credits rolled, I reverted back to my childhood when I found myself watching 1984's Missing In Action or episodes of The A-Team. The Expendables 3 copies off this in that the villains get shot up with virtual ease while the heroes (or hero) come(s) out of the whole debacle with not so much as a neosporin scratch. If "Expendables 4" is in the works (and it probably is), I was trying to figure out what action hero from the past (or present day) could join Stallone's relatively has-been posse. Liam Neeson perhaps? Gosh I hope not. If somehow Neeson gets contacted and gets the proverbial peer pressure from Sly, I'm praying that he does what was reiterated in the 80's and "just says no!".

All in all, this 2 hour slop has PG-13 induced violence (lots of people die with machine guns and knives but you only see little smidgens of blood a la red food dye corn syrup), a minimal plot, mostly inane dialogue, and momentously phoned in performances. In layman's terms, The Expendables 3 is an action flick that is indeed uninspired and just plain empty. It's pretty much "expendable" unto itself.

Of note: (Spoiler alerts) The Expendables 3 concludes with a much anticipated, long awaited showdown between Gibson and Stallone. Basically it's a pedestrian fistfight that lasts about 1 minute (I'm not kidding). Oh and co-star Wesley Snipes states that his character just got out of prison for quote unquote "tax evasion." Way to state the obvious there Wes. Finally, at the end of the two hour running time, we see an elaborate bar moment where almost every cast member gets together to down some brewskies. Of course the Terry Crews character who was shot up earlier and looked like he was an inch away from death, somehow appears untouched and unscathed. He joins the crew for spirits and it's as if nothing ever happened to him. Sheer nonsense!

Written by Jesse Burleson

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Vamos de polis 2014 * * Stars

Vamos de polisDirector: Luke Greenfield
Year: 2014
Rated R
Rating: * * Stars
Cast: Jake Johnson, Damon Wayans, Jr., Rob Riggle, Nina Dobrev

If you've seen the trailer for 2014's Let's Be Cops, well you've probably seen the whole movie. Man I hate when that happens. All the best parts are shown and every major plot point is touched upon (in 2 to 2 and a half minutes give or take). I think if I avoided seeing any teaser clip, any advertisement, or anything posted on YouTube, I probably would have embraced "Cops" a little more. It would've been fresh and not completely objectionable or off-putting. Indeed this is a goofy comedy that takes the notion of "it's so stupid, it's funny" to almost catastrophic levels. And its implausibility factor is even further off the charts. I mean how else do you explain two knuckleheads actually being able to impersonate police officers for what seems like a long period of time. In reality, they would have been arrested in less than a day (they drive an unmarked police car that was bought online sans license plate, are you serious?!). Bottom line: this is a movie that knows it's gonna be loathe by critics, it knows that it's not a work of art, and frankly, it probably even knows that it's a steaming pile of crap. Here's the thing though: it doesn't care. And even in the moments when things turn dark and violent (there is a strength in what's on screen and it involves escaping the aspect of being a one joke vehicle, especially towards the last half), Let's Be Cops still never seems to want to take itself seriously. It's hip-hopped, weed toked, lacks logic (not to mention a public disregard for human safety or decency), and blatantly just wants to have fun. There in lies its morbid problem despite a few funny moments.

Directed by the guy who brought you the wretched Something Borrowed (New York native Luke Greenfield) and harboring a little less gross-out humor than I initially thought would occupy such a movie (a scene with a naked sumo wrestler however, will give you the heebie-jeebies), Let's Be Cops focuses on two L.A. residential sad sacks in Ryan O'Malley and Justin Miller (played by New Girl tandem Jake Johnson and Damon Wayans, Jr.). They live together, have few friends, are stuck in lousy jobs (at least one of them anyway), and spend their nights getting drunk and singing karaoke tunes (The Backstreet Boys "I Want It That Way," seriously?). When they go to a costume party billed as their college reunion (they dress up as police officers and it's a masquerade party not a costume party, oops), they become embarrassed, chat up a few people, and leave. Anyway, as they're are walking the street back to their car, they notice that people really think that they're cops. Girls stair at them (which is nice) and guys make a path for them. Basically, they have absolute power so they decide to run with it. Johnson's O'Malley becomes the ring leader of this operation. He takes total control by buying a police car on eBay (uh huh), learning police codes and procedures from YouTube videos, and also learning law enforcement fighting techniques (also from YouTube videos which I guess, have less than 500 views, interesting). Miller and O'Malley continuously go out on the town and use their police powers to do a number of asinine things. They even somehow get a radio in their car which actually disperses them to real police calls. Of note: Miller and O'Malley get a domestic disturbance call from two sorority sisters and are the only cops that show up. You'd think that actual L.A.P.D. badges would get there before them or at the same time. It doesn't make a lot of sense, right? Anyway, these two lunkheads despite being oblivious to the concept of doing real prison time, continue to exercise their fake police powers even as they get caught up/entangled with the local mob. This is when things turn a little dark, a little violent, and uneven (kind of like what went down in director Greenfield's earlier effort, The Girl Next Door).

Now despite being overly juvenile and having a movie IQ of possibly 7, Let's Be Cops still manages to have somewhat of a fairly likable cast. I especially liked Andy Garcia playing the icy Detective Brolin. I'm not sure whether he played an actual mob boss or an undercover detective posing as a mob boss. Regardless, he is quietly cool and it was great seeing him on screen again. Then we have Damon Wayans, Jr. (son of veteran comedian Damon Wayans) playing the reserved, conservative, and confidence-deprived Justin Miller. Wayans, Jr. looks like his dad, acts like his dad, and harbors some of the same mannerisms. He even does a solid job with the demands of physical comedy as well (there's a scene where he falsely interrogates some bad guys and his character makes them do some scandalous, suggestive dance moves, funny stuff). Nina Dobrev as Josie, is pretty appealing as the love interest. That leaves Jake Johnson in the lead playing a real doozy of a character in Ryan O'Malley. Listen, I think Jake Johnston is a pretty good actor. He's paid his dues and I'm happy that he finally gets to tackle a real top-billed role (as featured here). He's like the everyman of comedy. He doesn't look like a movie star. He just looks like a normal person aka the dude you would just see walking down the street. You know the guy who's wearing a robe, a wife beater, with a cigarette in his mouth, having a pair of loafers on, and going to buy the daily newspaper. He gives a decent performance but I can't dismiss how messed up his character is. His O'Malley has a real screw loose. He was supposedly a former college football quarterback even though his personality and stocky frame suggest otherwise (there's no way in the world he would even come close to playing football at Purdue). His character also doesn't work except for a stint doing a commercial about genital herpes (he gets paid $11,000 dollars for said commercial and lives off this money for five years, yeah right). Basically, no matter how much jail time he's looking at for impersonating a cop (we're talking about 15 years as the film suggests), he still doesn't give a hoot. What's worse is that he drags his poor, luckless roommate with him on this totally illegal excursion. Of note: Johnson's O'Malley tries to run over some kids playing football in a nearby park (what the?!!?) and even at the end of the film, he's somehow able to continue being a cop, get sworn in as a cop, and drive a cop car for reasons I just couldn't figure out. Frankly, this dude doesn't need to be on the streets fighting crime. He needs help, professional help in some sort of institution if you know what I'm saying.

In conclusion, I mentioned at the beginning of this review that Let's Be Cops had that "it's so stupid, it's funny" vibe to it. Unfortunately, the humorous overtones were way more "stupid" than "funny". Yeah I laughed and chuckled a few times, but I couldn't help but label "Cops" a second rate Harold & Kumar flick that seemed to be on autopilot (Damon Wayans, Jr. plays a version of straight man Harold to Jake Johnston's ludicrous adaption of Kumar). Also, I felt like a lot of the gags and jokes relied on bad language as a mask for generating laughs. As a result, "Cops" holds back somewhat on the funny when it could have pushed the envelope more in the vein of say, 2012's 21 Jump Street. Oh well, I did like the title though. Let's Be Cops has a certain simplicity and a catchiness to it. Too bad what's on screen couldn't back things up a bit more. Let's Cop Out is more like it.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Into the Storm 2014 * * Stars

Into the StormDirector: Steven Quale
Year: 2014
Rated PG-13
Rating: * * Stars
Cast: Richard Armitage, Sarah Wayne Callies, Matt Walsh

Into the Storm (the 2014 release I'm about to review) is about tornadoes and there are lots of them. Compared with the ones featured in 1996's Twister, they are far more terrifying putting you the viewer, in a much more heighten state of fear. The special effects used to project "Storm's" assortment of horrific natural disasters are realistic, standardized, yet somewhat over exaggerated (it's just not fathomable that there would be 5-6 normal sized funnel clouds followed by one ginormous F5er all in one town location). Unfortunately, if you take the eye-popping gimmicky away from Into the Storm's shockingly brief makeup (its running time tops out at a cookie cutter themed 89 minutes) the film as a whole, is virtually unwatchable. I almost walked out of "Storm's" first act in which almost nothing happens. And to be honest, I decided to stay in the theater only to harbor feelings of wanting to throw popcorn at the screen, a screen that seemed to be littered with silly, all too familiar, cloned up characters (or as I like to call them, caricatures).

Copying 1999's The Blair Witch Project by having the main protagonists do a video confessional right before they die (or almost die), containing an uneven mix of humor and heavy action/drama (believe me, it wasn't needed) and relaying a tired, annoying adage in which most of the cast has to film everything (and everyone) regardless of the horrific peril or danger they are in, Into The Storm begins with two intertwining stories. One involves a group of storm chasers led by Pete (an extremely unlikable lad played by Matt Walsh). They've been unable to locate any type of tornado activity and because of their limited budget, their time in terms of funding, has virtually run out. The other story involves a graduation of high school students in the small town of Silverton which I guess is in Oklahoma (naturally). Even though this high school has a principal, the vice principal seems to be the more vocal role (the vice principal's name is Gary Morris and he is played by Richard Armitage. His character is sort of a poor man's version of Dennis Quaid's Jack Hall from The Day After Tomorrow). The two stories come together via the second act when both groups of people somehow meet in Silverton. The high school students (and their parents) just wanna seek shelter while the storm chasers wanna capture footage of funnel clouds that would make Antie Em herself jealous ("it's a twister! it's a twister!"). Eventually, everyone involved becomes trapped and seized by a host of tornado barrages designed to get nastier and nastier each time (look for a scene where a twister picks up a host of 747's weighing thousands of tons and hurls them all over the place. It's pretty freaky).

As mentioned earlier, Into the Storm is about twenty minutes shorter than your average disaster movie. Therefore, character's personas aren't developed or fleshed out. The result: You don't know enough about these terrified victims to care about their well being or invest in what happens to them. You do however, want to yell through the screen and say to them, "find a basement for gosh sakes! You guys have heard of basements right!?"

Along with poor character development comes Into the Storm's biggest misstep which stems from the fact that it is poorly acted by novices (almost everyone was cast through an open audition, huh? For a big summer blockbuster of a movie like this?). These unknown actors or actresses have a main job and that is to basically bring their characters to life. That unfortunately doesn't quite occur here. And it doesn't help that the script these people are saddled with, contains dialogue suited more for a sitcom (without a laugh track no less) as opposed to an actual movie. Then, we have "Storm's" openness of being virtually originality free. It rips off everything from 1974's Earthquake to the previously mentioned Twister (1996) to 2004's The Day After Tomorrow to 1978's Avalanche. Oh and don't get my started on the fact that what we have here is yet again, a freaking found footage/documentary type flick. If you've witnessed the look and feel of The Blair Witch Project, Cloverfield, Project X, Quarantine and those goofy Paranormal Activity exercises, well get ready for more of the same with Into The Storm. What's worse is that its found footage contained doesn't really look like found footage. Therefore, we as an audience can't tell whether we are watching what one of the characters shot or I guess, the actual cameraman behind the scenes. Truthfully, if this whole film was deemed completely hand-held camera schlock, well it comes off about as inconsistent as you could ever imagine.

All in all, this vehicle's amazing visual wonderment can't hide the fact that it contains cliched characters (the dad who lost his wife and has to take care of his sons who he has no connection with, blah blah blah) in cliched situations (the shy, nice guy tries to win the heart of the hot girl who never talks to him. Oh and they get trapped in a bad place while waiting for someone to save them) saying cliched dialogue (see the "of note" section of my review). I'm a disaster flick junkie so I decided to (gulp) go anyway despite the 20% notation on good old Rotten Tomatoes. Bad move. During the second half of Into the Storm, an unemployed, drunk townie jokingly says, "I was in the tornado man and it really sucked!" Same goes for the movie if you completely take away its special effects. These special effect shots, which are the only thing "Storm" really has going for it, are its equivalency of a nutrition free, fattening meal ticket. So in conclusion, skip the opening thirty minutes, turn your brain off when the actors attempt to speak, or just avoid taking in a viewing all together. Because this is justifiably an early August dud. Just call it "Vista Twista."

Of note: (spoiler alerts) You know the clip in "Storm's" trailer where a helicopter gets sucked up by a tornado thereby throwing itself at defenseless, toothpick constructed buildings. Well that carnage is never shown in the actual movie. Oh and look for the ending where Into the Storm tries to inject some comic relief through the interpretation of two nimrod, adrenaline junkies. After families are ruined, homes are destroyed, and certain people lie dead, it comes off as totally inappropriate. Finally, I pronounce that Into the Storm becomes the movie equivalent of a drinking game via college students and other assorted party animals. Every time a character says, "you gotta take a look at this" or "let's get out of here," you have to take a sip of beer. Classic!

Written by Jesse Burleson

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Guardians of the Galaxy 2014 * * 1/2 Stars

Guardians of the GalaxyDirector: James Gunn
Year: 2014
Rated PG
Rating: * * 1/2 Stars
Cast: Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Bradley Cooper, Michael Rooker

In my forty years of existence, I've seen plenty of films based on Marvel Comics. I've seen the good (Spider-Man 2, Blade, Iron Man), the bad (Hulk, Ghost Rider), and the flat-out ugly (Howard the Duck). Guardians of the Galaxy (the flick I'm now reviewing) falls somewhere in between. And at just over two hours, it plays like this: bang, bang, punch, kick, punch, tell a joke, blurt out a zinger, shoot, shoot, kill, knife, throw up against a wall, strangle, tell more jokes, etc..etc. It's safe to say that this thing never lets up. It's dark and dangerous with nasty characters and even nastier creatures. And there's an opening scene (which involves the quietness of death and dying) that might make you forget that "Guardians" even has plenty of tongue-in-cheek overtones to boot.

With non-stop action, plenty of sturdy violence (think lots of martial arts and assaults with space age stun guns), and writing that permeates at times to be lazy, Guardians of the Galaxy takes place in present day 2014 (just in a completely different realm or you know, terrestrial realm as Charlie Sheen would say). Four space criminals consisting of a thief (Star-lord), a trained killer (Gamora), a warrior (Drax), a humanoid (Groot), and a genetic animal (Rocket), join forces to save the universe from an evil ruler named Ronan the accuser. They steal a sphere-like artifact from this blue, pigmented maniac that if activated, can kill millions of people.

Now from what I observed, the look of "Guardians" feels like Star Trek meets Stargate. It has characters that reminded me of the ones from Star Wars and even The Wizard of Oz (Chris Pratt as "Star-lord" is a modern day Han Solo while Groot somehow gives off the whole Chewbacca vibe). They are differing personalities and they come together as journeymen looking for one common purpose.

"Guardians" also has a top notch cast bringing these characters to life. They are comprised of actors/actresses that are known and not so known. The best performance, well it belongs to Bradley Cooper. He doesn't appear on screen but he's perfect as the voice of the talking raccoon named Rocket. Vin Diesel does voice work as well and he plays the branchlike Groot. I've heard how much money Vin demands per movie. If he got paid handsomely for uttering just one line (all he says is, "I'm Grrroooott!"), I'm insanely jealous.

What drove me nuts however, was how military peacekeepers played by Glen Close and John C. Reilly only appear in maybe two scenes total. Was their material left on the cutting room floor? Who knows. But here's the thing: solid and well established movie moguls like Close and Reilly deserve a more respectable level of screen time. Then we have Zoe Saldana channeling her earlier stint in 2011's Columbiana. She handles as usual, a lot of the butt kicking here playing hungry assassin Gamora. That leaves quirky lead Chris Pratt as Peter Quill (aka Star-lord). Based on "Guardians" ginormous box office take, it seems like he might emerge as a huge star one day. He's not bad but despite getting physically fit for this role, he still sort of goes through the motions. If you wanna see his true comedic gifts, check him out in 2013's Delivery Man. He's the best thing in it (and the only good thing in it).

Finally, there's the clunky, musical soundtrack which seems like the film's main selling point. As a young boy, Chris Pratt's character (spoiler alert) gets abducted by aliens and has his walkman with him during said abduction. The songs in the background are heard through his obsolete relic and are fully comprised of ditties from the 1970's (even though they are recorded on a tape labeled "awesome mix volume 1"). Hey, I like bell bottom induced music just as much as anybody else. But with the exception of the song "Cherry Bomb" by The Runaways, most of the playlist featured, is comprised of material that has been sledgehammered (or overplayed) on radio stations everywhere. Personally, I'd rather hear a hidden gem like Jethro Tull's "Look Into the Sun" as opposed to "Hooked On a Feeling" for the umpteenth time.

In conclusion, I tried hard to embrace a film that critics and audience members (all over the world) have been salivating over with glee. Sadly, I consider this to be familiar stuff. I couldn't help but be reminded of the space operas of George Lucas and many of the other imitations that took place previously in a galaxy far far away. Guardians of the Galaxy left me feeling empty while yearning for a sense of mystery and aura that I didn't receive. Its one hook, is that it provided humor (very mild humor consisting of a few chuckles) in places where so many other Marvel Comic movies tended to pile on the seriousness. Here though, it's uneven and the obviousness by director James Gunn in terms of distributing a certain brand of funny, is purely noted (the villains are hideous and caddy while the heroes are the class clowns). To the chagrin of most moviegoers, I'll probably avoid a second or (gulp) third viewing of Guardians of the Galaxy. It may be hailed as an entertaining, exhausting sci-fier with status as a critical darling. But in my humbled opinion, it's just another excuse for me to pop in my DVD of Episode IV one last time.

Of note: I had a feeling that during the film's ending, I'd see some kind of closing credit titles stating that all the characters in "Guardians" would be back for more giddy fun in the franchise's next installment. I was right and the effect which seemed completely lifted from the Star Wars movies, didn't feel as earned as it first did back in 77'. Nice try guys.

Written by Jesse Burleson