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Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Safe House Review


Genre: Action
Directed by: Daniel Espinosa
Starring: Denzel Washington, Ryan Reynolds
Release Date: February 10, 2012


The Plot

Matt Weston (Ryan Reynolds) is a CIA operative in charge of guarding a safe house in Cape Town, South Africa.  Trouble is, the US government has never sent anyone to the safe house for protection during Weston's 12-month assignment.  Just as his frustration becomes unbearable, Weston is finally informed that someone is being escorted to his safe house. 

When the mysterious visitor arrives, Weston discovers that it is Tobin Frost (Denzel Washington), a CIA agent gone rogue who had dropped off the grid a year ago.  The safe house is soon attacked by experienced gunmen who are trying to capture Frost.  To keep Frost safe, Weston sneaks him away from the safe house.  Thus begins a cycle of driving, running, fighting, and shooting that will test Weston's skills and endurance.


What's Good

  • The film is suspenseful throughout.  The calmer scenes get shattered by sudden gunshots that escalate into intense combat sequences.  These sequences dominate the movie.  While the hand-to-hand combat is brutal, there's not much variety.  One bad guy getting his face bashed in or his neck snapped is pretty much the same as the next.

  • The car chase scene is harrowing.  But I'm amazed that Weston is able to navigate the congested city streets while talking on a cell phone, dodging bullets, and fending off an attacker.

What's Not

  • Reynolds and Washington are both strong actors.  Unfortunately, their talents are never properly displayed.  Mostly, the two actors just wear intense expressions throughout the movie.  In Weston's interactions with his girlfriend, though, you can see his humanity breaking through his tough exterior.  These scenes are among the most touching in the movie.
  • Despite a nice plot twist, the story is so straightforward that it's a little dull.   But the story isn't the real focus here.  Nor is Reynolds's habit of removing his shirt so that women can gawk at his musculature.  The real focus is Weston and Frost pummeling bad guys.

  • The film is strongly reminiscent of The Bourne Ultimatum, even sharing some plot elements.  Safe House just has a less intriguing story, less memorable characters, and less stylish action.

The Drum Roll Please . . .

I know my negative comments outweigh my positive, but the truth is I enjoyed Safe House, simply because of the relentless action and suspense.  It's a good movie to watch if you want to get your adrenaline pumping.  Just don't expect to see anything new.

7 out of 10

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Underworld: Awakening Review


Photo by cumi&ciki

Genre: Action
Directed by: Mans Marlind, Bjorn Stein
Starring: (the sizzling hot) Kate Beckinsale, Scott Speedman
Release Date: January 20, 2012


The Plot

Humans have finally confirmed the existence of vampires and werewolves, or Lycans.  (With the trail of carnage that resulted from the vampire and Lycan encounters in the first three movies, it's hard to imagine what took the humans so long.)  Now, in an attempt to regain their status as the dominant species, humans have taken it upon themselves to wipe out all vampires and Lycans.

With her lover Michael (Scott Speedman), the vampire Selene (Kate Beckinsale) attempts to escape the reach of the humans.  In the attempt, she is knocked unconscious by an explosion.  When she regains consciousness, she discovers that twelve years have past, during which time she has been cryogenically frozen in some sort of lab.  After a bloody escape, Selene goes on a quest to find Michael, who she believes woke her from her cryogenic slumber.

What's Good
  • True to the Underworld series, the action is bloody and relentless.  Think decapitations, ripped-out throats, internal explosions, and a blood-spattered camera lens.  Executions are clever and stylish.
  • It's not just a gore-fest, though.  Scenes of surprising tenderness contrast with the brutal violence.
  • Underworld: Awakening contains enough plot twists to keep it interesting.

What's Not
  • Awakening is a short film, and much of its runtime is taken up by fighting sequences.  Although the bloodshed is entertaining, the plot is kind of thin.  A few key questions will be left unanswered until Underworld 5.

The Drum Roll Please . . .

Underworld: Awakening is pure bloody fun.  It's the kind of movie that doesn't force you to think deeply, that appeals to the id with awe-inspiring violence and a heroine to whom I would gladly donate a little blood.

7 out of 10

    Sunday, December 12, 2010

    The Matrix Review


    Genre: Sci-fi/Action 
    Directed by: Andy and Lana Wachowski 
    Starring: Keanu Reeves, Laurence Fishburne, Hugo Weaving 
    Release Date: March 31, 1999


    The Plot


    Thomas Anderson (Keanu Reeves) is a young office worker who suspects that something is wrong with his world.  In his free time, Anderson uses his skill at computer hacking to search for answers.  One night, he is contacted by a man named Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne).  Morpheus gives Anderson knowledge that will forever change how Anderson views his world.


    What's Good


    • The story is original, compelling, and disturbingly plausible.
    • Many of the scenes in The Matrix utilize strange, greenish lighting, emphasizing the foreignness of Neo's world.
    • The action sequences are intense.  For some reason, watching people burn through huge amounts of ammo in short spans of time is immensely entertaining.  The martial arts action adds variety to the fighting scenes.
    • Hugo Weaving does a good job of playing the serious, tough agent-in-charge.
    • The story features emotional themes like betrayal, loss, and self-sacrifice.


    What's Not


    • The scene at the climax of The Matrix is sappy and nonsensical.
    • Keanu Reeves's acting is unimpressive.  Throughout the film, his face shows little emotion.


    The Drum Roll Please . . .


    The Matrix is sure to be remembered as a classic because of its superb plot.  But it's a shame that the film ends with a scene that would be more appropriate in a Disney movie.

    8 out of 10



    Friday, December 10, 2010

    Dirty Harry Review



    Genre: Action
    Directed by: Don Siegel
    Starring: Clint Eastwood, Andrew Robinson, Harry Guardino
    Release Date: December 23, 1971


    The Plot

    Harry Callahan (Clint Eastwood), aka “Dirty Harry,” is a San Francisco policeman who always ends up getting stuck with the jobs no one else wants.  When a madman who calls himself Scorpio (Andrew Robinson) goes on a killing spree, Harry is ordered to stop him.  Harry decides that his superiors are using the wrong strategies to try to capture the killer, however, so he decides to stop the killer using his own methods. 


    What’s Good

    • Dirty Harry features frequent suspenseful sequences culminating in brief fighting sequences.  This formula was fairly effective in maintaining my interest.
    • Harry is likable in that he is willing to risk his job as a policeman to see that the killer is brought to justice.  His rude manner and nontraditional methods of accomplishing his police work contrast with his inner goodness.  The complexity of Harry's character makes him memorable.
    • Andrew Robinson plays a very convincing madman.  Scorpio's inhuman cruelty and ultimate cowardice make him a fascinating character to watch.
    • The end of the film is both exciting and affecting.

    What’s Not

    • Dirty Harry is a dirty film.  I did not appreciate the pornographic segments.
    • Some of the film occurs at night in poorly lit sections of the city.  The director may have used poor lighting to build suspense, making the viewer feel as if the madman could be lurking in any one of numerous shadows.  However, I found the poor lighting annoying rather than unnerving.
    • The first half of the film was rather slow-paced. 

    The Drum Roll Please . . .

    Dirty Harry invites the viewer to ponder whether it is morally acceptable to take justice into one’s own hands when the authorities are not properly handling a situation.  This thought-provoking question provides an excellent premise for the film.  In addition, Harry’s character is memorable, and the villain is shockingly evil.  I just wish the obscene elements of the movie had been omitted.

    7 out of 10

    Wednesday, December 8, 2010

    Leatherheads Review




    Genre: Comedy/Sports
    Directed by: George Clooney
    Starring: George Clooney, Renee Zellweger, John Krasinski
    Release Date: April 4, 2008


    The Plot

    It is 1925, and the Duluth Bulldogs, a professional football team, is broke.  To keep the team together, quarterback Dodge Connelly (George Clooney) makes a deal with college football star Carter Rutherford (John Krasinski).  Dodge tells Carter’s agent that Carter will be guaranteed to make $10,000 per game if he quits school and joins the Bulldogs.  Dodge reasons that having Carter on the team will enable the Bulldogs to attract enough fans to pay Carter and still make a profit.

    Carter joins the Bulldogs and soon takes Dodge’s place as the leader of the team.  Meanwhile, Dodge falls in love with a reporter named Lexie Littleton (Renee Zellweger), who is writing a story on Carter that could destroy his reputation as a former war hero.


    What’s Good

    • The dialogue is witty and clever throughout the movie.  The rapid-fire exchanges between Clooney and Zellweger are particularly hilarious.
    • The soundtrack does an excellent job of establishing the time period of the film.  It made me feel as if I had been transported back to the 1920s.
    • While all the acting in Leatherheads is good, Clooney’s acting is the most impressive.  Through his facial expressions, Clooney clearly shows his character's thoughts.
    • When Carter takes over Dodge’s team, Dodge obviously resents losing his position of leadership.  But because Dodge treats Carter with respect instead of malice, he is an extremely likable character.

    What’s Not

    • Because the film consists mostly of dialogue between characters, it feels a little slow at times.
    • While Leatherheads was enjoyable the first time I watched it, it is not the kind of movie I want to watch over and over again.

    The Drum Roll Please . . .

    Leatherheads is a clever and genuinely funny comedy.  The well-written lines and Clooney’s great acting make this film memorable.

    8 out of 10

    Friday, December 3, 2010

    The Emperor's New Groove Review



    Genre: Animated/Comedy
    Directed by: Mark Dindal
    Starring: David Spade, John Goodman, Eartha Kitt, Patrick Warburton
    Release Date: December 15, 2000


    The Plot

    Emperor Kuzco (David Spade) is a selfish young ruler used to getting everything he wants.  One day Kuzco summons Pacha (John Goodman), a peasant, to his palace.  Kuzco informs Pacha that he is going to destroy Pacha’s village to make room for his summer home. 

    In an attempt to assassinate Kuzco, his evil advisor Yzma (Eartha Kitt) accidentally turns him into a llama.  In a remarkable twist of fate, Kuzco ends up in Pacha’s village.  Kuzco, still in llama form, demands that Pacha helps him find his way back to his palace.  Pacha agrees, on one condition: that Kuzco changes his mind about destroying Pacha’s village.


    What’s Good

    • In his voice acting, David Spade perfectly captures Emperor Kuzco’s whiny, demanding personality.  
    • The way the characters are drawn is humorous.  Kronk, with a massive chest offset by a girlishly slender waist, both exaggerates and epitomizes the figure of a wrestler-type man.  Yzma’s character is an amusing portrayal of the effects of aging.
    • The positive results of friendship and forgiveness are powerfully illustrated.

    What’s Not

    • The story is standard animated movie fare. 

    The Drum Roll Please . . .

    The Emperor’s New Groove is without doubt one of the funniest cartoon movies I’ve ever seen.  The makers of this film knew that they were going to be making a cheesy comedy, and shamelessly embraced this calling.  The result is an unique and surprisingly entertaining film.

    8 out of 10

    Monsters, Inc. Review



    Genre: Animated
    Directed by: Pete Docter, David Silverman, Lee Unkrich
    Starring: Billy Crystal, John Goodman                
    Release Date: November 2, 2001


    The Plot

    Unbeknownst to humans, there exists a city called Monstropolis, which is populated with monsters.  At the city’s power supply company, Monsters Inc., monsters use portals to access the human world.  They then scare children and collect their screams, which are used instead of electricity to power the entire city. 

    Although children fear monsters, monsters also fear children.  Monsters believe that human children are highly toxic.  One night, a human toddler enters the monster world and forms an immediate bond with Sulley (John Goodman), the leading scarer at Monsters, Inc.  Sulley must find a way to return her to the human world before her presence incites mass panic.


    What’s Good

    • The monsters have an impressive variety of shapes, sizes, and colors.  In addition, many of the monsters have distinct and amusing personalities.
    • Monsters, Inc. contains great emotional depth, as Sulley quickly becomes a father figure to the human child and experiences the joys and sorrows of raising a child.
    • The film has some funny moments, especially near the beginning.

    What’s Not

    • The movie has a few ridiculously improbable segments.  But then, the entire story is about the existence of monsters . . .

    The Drum Roll Please . . .

    When Monsters, Inc. came out in theaters, I was eleven.  I saw the film three times in theaters and loved it each time.  It is a testimony to the film’s quality that I still see Monster’s Inc. as an exceptional movie now that I’m twenty-one.  This film will make you laugh and maybe cry.

    8 out of 10