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Red (2010)

I remember the CIA being tougher.

— Marvin Boggs

I was sold going to see Red was when the image of the regal Helen Mirren in holding a machine gun spraying at the bad guys. I was over for me. I had very little knowledge of the limited comic book series created by Warren Ellis a couple of years ago. My research showed that the comic and film are two different entities and I wish that it was like the comic book.

Former CIA black ops agent, Frank Moses (Bruce Willis) is not content been retired, living alone in his empty Cleveland house. The only break to his monotonous life is calling a customer service rep for the Social Security Administration, Sarah Ross (Mary-Louise Parker) who he likes.

In the middle of the night, a group of South African militants try to kill Frank, but he quickly disposes of them. He sets out on a road trip that vaguely reminds me of Knight and Day last summer. Frank knows that the people trying to kill him bugged his phone. Sarah could be in danger. He is considered R.E.D. which means “Retired Extremely Dangerous.” Going to Kansas City, the reception of Frank’s presence is not what he expected. He has no choice but to kidnap and protect her.

After the botched assassination attempt, CIA operative William Cooper (Karl Urban) is dispatched to personally bring down Moses, because of what he knows about a mission in Guatemala in 1981.

Frank knows the same information when a New York Times reporter is killed because of uncovering the story and compiling a list of people who where there. Frank seeks the advice of fellow Joe (Morgan Freeman), who is in a rest home in New Orléans to find out who is still alive and find out why the CIA is coming after old operatives in their retirement.

They enlist the help of Marvin Boggs (John Malkovich) who due to his years long exposure to LSD is extremely paranoid about anything and everyone around him and a former assassin for the MI-6, Victoria (Helen Mirren) to bring down the bad guys once and for all.

Learning about the original comic plot with Moses dealing squarely with the CIA would have been a great action thriller. I don’t mind that writers Erich and Jon Hoeber made dramatic changes to the movies to make a team of retired operatives taking down their former bosses, but I thought the movies was very clunky. I understand that director, Robert Schwentke wanted to make an action comedy, but the romance part of the movie with Frank and Sarah seemed off-putting. An act of Stockholm Syndrome in a comedy is a fantastic plot device. (I was being sarcastic.) Some of the jokes fell on deaf ears.

I did enjoy the actors, especially Helen Mirren (My girl) and Malcovich! The action sequences were expertly well done. I enjoyed the hell out of the movie when that was going on, but the rest left a lot of be desired.

Judgment: Helen Mirren shooting a machine gun. Come on. It can’t get any better than that.

Rating: ***

Invictus (2009)

This country’s changed. We need to change as well.

— François Pienaar

Since the announcement of Clint Eastwood on the next LAMB in the Director’s Chair, I am trying to watch more of his movies for the upcoming three-day fest. I thought I might kill two birds with one stone with seeing Invictus. Based on the novel, “Play the Enemy” by John Carlin, the movie tells the story of Nelson Mandela trying to unite the nation after Apartheid. This movie is getting some critical acclaim. I don’t see why it does.

Morgan Freeman channels Mandela as the movie chronicles five years in the life of Mandela beginning on February 11, 1990 when he was released after two decades of imprisonment. The country is torn apart by a civil war brewing between the Africans and the Afrikaans.

Mandela becomes president and when takes the office some of the white staff threaten to quit. The remnants of racial tensions are still thick in the air. Mandela needed to find a way to unit the country of South Africa as one. He goes to a rugby match where the Springbok rugby team, headed by François Pienaar (Matt Damon). The team is not doing their best.

Mandela wants to meet with the captain of the Springbok team to discuss how they could help the nation heal from Apartheid. The encouragement of Mandela inspires the team to train for the World Cup in 1995. Mandela almost pushes his presidential duties aside to focus on the rugby team and make them succeed.

I don’t know jack shit about rugby. It looks like American football to me without the figure hugging spandex. The biggest problem of the movie was that. Americans don’t care about sports that know nothing about. I thought I was going to see a movie about Mandela struggle to readjust to civilian life after a lengthy imprisonment, but I have to research that myself.

Morgan Freeman and Matt Damon are getting some critical acclaim for this film. I thought that they were fine. Freeman looked like Mandela, but his accent slipped in and out when he monologued about retaining the Springbok’s colors or when Freeman did his signature voice-over. That took me out.

Matt Damon’s character was just there. He was the pawn for Mandela. Move here. Move there. You can win the World Cup if you do as I say. Mandela felt like he was obsessed with the team that he would risk his health and even the state of country in order for the Springbok to succeed.

I thought François was written like a caricature. There was nothing remarkable about him. I didn’t believe that he would lead a rugby team to the World Cup. (Oh, please, it’s not a spoiler. It’s history.) I couldn’t help but wonder if Matt Damon has a prosthetic nose. If he did, it was distracting.

Eastwood still delivers stunning visuals of the multiple fans in the Ellis Park Stadium watching the Springbok play. The mix of shadows and light is always great, but the film as a whole felt empty. In the climactic match, there was a lot of slow motion. Too much slow motion. Even the spectators watching the game were in slow motion. Why? That match was as slow as molasses.

Judgment: The movie was awkward, clunky and uninspiring. I was disappointed.

Rating: **

Unforgiven (1992)

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I’ve killed women and children. I’ve killed everything that walks or crawls at one time or another. And I’m here to kill you, Little Bill, for what you done to Ned.

— William Munny

I can cross Unforgiven from my list of great movies that I have never seen. Touted as Clint Eastwood’s final western the movie went on to win a four Oscars, including Best Picture, Best Director for Eastwood and Best Supporting Actor for Gene Hackman. As many of you know that I am not a big fan of westerns, but this one is different. The #110 movie of All Time on IMDb, this movie transcends the traditional template of a western.

The crux of the movie is about a dispute in Wyoming between a cowboy Quick Mike (David Mucci) cutting the face of a prostitute, Delilah (Anna Levine) who questioned the size of his manhood when they were trying to have sex. His partner Davey Bunting (Rob Campbell) comes into the room and takes part in the brutal slashing.

Little Bill (Gene Hackman), the sheriff of Big Whiskey wants to give the boys a couple of lashings with a whip, but the girls wanted them to receive a worse punishment. Little Bill lets the boys go by just taking half of their horses as their punishment.

Seeking justice, the lead madame, Strawberry Alice (Frances Fisher) and the rest of the girls gather all of their money together– a thousand dollars– as reward for any gunslinger that would gun down.

The news travel throughout the land when The Schofield Kid (Jaimz Woolvett) seeks out retired gunslinger from Kansas, William Munny (Eastwood) to join him in killing the cowboys. He changed his ways from the drink, the cussing and the killing. He hasn’t picked up a gun in over a decade and doesn’t know if he could get back in the saddle.

Eventually, William takes him up on his offer. Along the way, William recruits his friend and another former gunslinger, Ned Logan (Morgan Freeman). Going on the way to Big Whiskey, the trio realizes some truths about themselves.

Meanwhile in Big Whiskey, a known marksman, English Bob (Richard Harris), known for killing Chinamen moseys onto the town with his biographer W.W. Beauchamp (Saul Rubinek). He is met with some resistance by Little Bill and the lawmen.

There is an ordinance says that all outlaws must surrender their weapons. Little Bill doesn’t want to be cut down by an assassin’s bullet in his town. He becomes more paranoid that another marksman is going to turn his town into a shooting gallery.

This quiet film might not sit well with rough and tough, shoot ‘em up kind of viewer. I thought this was subdued brilliance. The shadows filled the scenes in dark bars or dimly lit rooms like a film noir. You get the sense of authenticity when see this film.

The themes of regret and redemption interwoven throughout the movie with William going back to life of being a criminal after her has made a promise to his dead wife or the way that The Schofield Kid reacted towards the end of the movie about killing a man.

Judgment: A fascinating portrait of gunslingers way past their prime in the Old West.

Rating: *****

Million Dollar Baby (2004)

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“Anybody can lose one fight, anybody can lose once, you’ll come back from this you’ll be champion of the world.”

— Scrap

It has been five years since I saw Clint Eastwood’s Million Dollar Baby in theater when it was on the shortlist to clench the Oscar for Best Picture. I thought that I might see this movie again to see if I had the same reaction I did then.

The movie won four including, Best Picture, Best Director: Clint Eastwood, Best Actress: Hilary Swank and Best Supporting Actor: Morgan Freeman. It currently #144 of all time on IMDB. This was my top favorite film of 2004.

The movie deals with an aging trainer/manager, Frankie Dunn (Eastwood) that loses his best male boxer, Big Willie (Mike Coulter) to a rival manager, Mickey Mack (Bruce MacVittie) in order for his to get a title shot.

Dunn runs the gym with a retired half-blind fighter, Scrap (Morgan Freeman). They deal with crazy characters like the scrawny featherweight, Danger (Jay Baruchel) who wants to be beat a welterweight champion of the world that retired years before. Also, there is Shawrelle (Anthony Mackie), a cocky boxer that could knock you out with a left hook, but he is unfocused.

An amateur boxer, Maggie Fitzgerald (Swank) wants to be trained by Frankie, but he doesn’t train girls. She works as waitress and she is almost penniless. She struggles to support herself and her family.

After Dunn’s repeated attempts to drive her away, her stubbornness and tenacity breaks Frankie down until he takes her on.

As she begins to gain experience, she becomes overly-confident with fame and fortune that unexpected incident happens that changes her life forever.

I still have to same feelings as I did five years ago. I still think that Maggie was get to cocky for me to root for her. The characters in this movie had too much pride with a particular thing and they have to be brought down a peg.

As in any Eastwood film, Catholicism is front and center in story. Dunn tries to reconnect with her estranged daughter, Katie, who we never get to see. He goes to mass everyday to harass Father Horvak (Brían F. O’Byrne) to atone for a sin that the audience doesn’t know about.

Judgment: If you haven’t seen this movie in a long time, I would suggest revisiting it.

Rating: ****1/2

The Shawshank Redemption (1994)


Let me to tell you something, my friend. Hope is a dangerous thing. Hope could drive a man insane.
— Red

I was not expecting to see The Shawshank Redemption last night. It was a pleasant surprise. I was flipping through the channels and it was starting on Encore. I thought, “What the hell?” Don’t hate me, but I haven’t seen the film from start to finish. I caught bits of the film in the past couple of years since it was released in 1994 on basic cable.

I thought that this is masterful storytelling by writer/director Frank Darabont. Based on the novella, Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption by Stephen King. It so weird. My favorite movies of all time were based on Stephen King’s material.

This was a vastly under appreciated movie that lost to that certain emotionally manipulative Tom Hanks vehicle that year at the Oscars. It was nominated for seven Oscars and didn’t win a single one. It is a crime.

It tells a compelling story about friendship developing between two inmates in Shawshank Prison, Andy Dufrense (Tim Robbins) and Red (Morgan Freeman). It dealt with the struggles from day to day in order to survive. Dealing with a corrupt staff that includes the Warden (Bob Gunton) and the Captain (Clancy Brown). It also deals with innocence and what is gained from seeking justice.

It is a wonderful film that is number one on the IMDB Top #250 list for a reason. It goes to show you that the Academy doesn’t know shit about awarding deserving movie, instead of atypical Oscar-grabby movies.

Judgment: If you haven’t seen this movie, you should be ashamed. Watch it immediately.

Rating: *****

Wanted (2008)

Kill one, maybe save a thousand.
— Fox

Wanted was nominated for two Academy awards last Sunday for Best Sound Mixing and Sound Editing. It lost both in both categories. I was surprised that it was nominated at all.

I’m not saying that it was an atrocious movie. It was an action packed movie, but it was light on the plot.

The movie is about a wimpy account manager, Wesley Gibson (James McAvoy) that is unhappy with the mundane life is recruited into “The Fraternity”, a secret society of great assassins. The leader of the group, Sloan (Morgan Freeman) introduces him to a world that he has never known. He leaves his old life behind to be a bad ass killer like his father that he has never known.

He is introduced to his handler, Fox (Angelina Jolie), who teaches Wesley the ropes about “The Fraternity”. He also meets The Exterminator (Konstantin Khabenskiy) that kicks his ass to try to toughen him up. Then, he is “healed” by The Repairman (Marc Warren) in some white goo. Lastly, Gunsmith (Common) teaches Wesley about having a clear shot of the target.

I thought that this movie was kick ass, but the plot is so stupid. I will be giving away some plot points. Be forewarned.

I have a couple of questions to ask. Wesley believes that Mr. X (David O’Hara) that was killed in the beginning of the film was his father and then it turns out that the “villain”, Cross (Thomas Kretschmann) is his real father. Thomas was born in ’62 and McAvoy was born in ’79. Think about it.

The assassins get their orders from a magical loom with binary codes. Say what?

There is the lazy screenwriting technique of having the main character do a voice-over. Why? I was surprised that Morgan Freeman didn’t do it. he is an expert at it.

This movie wass based loosely on the graphic novel by Mark Millar. The original concept of the graphic novel was not about a team of assassins. It was about a bunch of super-villains that had taken over society in 1986. A wild departure. This is the typical Hollywood watering down fringe material into a mediocre plot line.

Judgment: The movie was nothing, but a bunch of curved bullets, preposterous plot twists and a magical loom. It’s eye candy, not brain candy.

Rating: **1/2

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