Archive for the ‘movies/tv’ Category

Taken: efficient fast paced action

December 3rd, 2008

Liam Neeson's character Bryan Mills has been likened to an older Jason Bourne. That is accurate, to a point. Mills is a retired CIA operative with a family. He bears a certain resemblance to Ludlum's Bourne in "Ultimatum" (not the Bourne in the movies, that is), single minded about his daughter and without a second care in the world. But the story is very different from a Ludlum story, it's as if you grabbed all the action and little else. No tangled web, very movie friendly. Or put it this way, the web is there, but Mills unravels it at superb speed, the movie audience doesn't have a moment to wonder about where this is heading. Mills is also more cruel that Bourne, and not as good at interrogation.

The story bears more likeness to "Man on Fire", with Denzel. Both plots to rescue a captured girl by unscrupulous rescuers. Both backed by a high degree of police corruption, making it one man against everyone else.

I am quite impressed with Liam Neeson. I haven't seen him in this kind of role before, but I think he fits it well. Then again, he takes on quite a wide spectrum and fares well wherever he goes. Oskar Schindler will always been in our memories, but he was a submarine officer in "K-19", and then played the Batman villain in "Batman Begins". There are those actors who just seem to fit in whatever the environment, without making a big splash, part of the scenery almost. And you think they've always just been there. Neeson is one of them.

Chuck: properly farsical

November 15th, 2008

A lot of really bad "comedy" movies have been made to portray the despair of suburbia. People whose lives revolve around work in a big supermarket or other chain, empty most of the time, so they try to find something, anything, to distract themselves from the daily routine.

The premise for Chuck is the same. He's a geek, he has a pity-friend geekier than him. He works at a big electronics chain. And he has a "normal" sister who wants him to be "normal".

Then it happens. His old college buddy, a CIA agent gone rogue, sends him a message containing every government secret he's stolen in his "rogueness". Chuck somehow absorbs the whole thing, the computer breaks, and now he's the only one with the secrets. Except he's still the geeky suburbia guy, so two agents from competing agencies show up to make sure nothing "happens" to him. Needless to say, he cannot divulge anything to his sister or his friend, so he has to pretend like nothing has changed. The agents, in turn, get jobs near him and have to fit into the suburban landscape.

You're probably thinking "with a premise like that it could so easily suck". And I'm with you. But it doesn't. Chuck is pretty good in his role, and the whole spying thing is sufficiently farsical to be funny, but not so overdone that it's stupid.

Shooter: could have been decent

October 25th, 2008

A conspiracy thriller with a redneck in the lead. An unusual angle, but worth a try. The story is he was a sniper in the army, then he got called in for a very special job with the FBI: to plan the assassination of the president cause they believed someone else was going to do it and they wanted him to tell them how it could be done.

Not a great story, but not a bad one either, there is enough to work with no doubt. But that's kind of where the positives end. Mark Wahlberg in the lead.. not bad frankly, but for a role like this you need an actor who can be sensitive, someone who can express the turmoil that he's going through, and Mark just isn't it, the best he can do is look serious. If you think that is revealing, you're onto something. The big problem with this movie, nay disaster, is casting. The casting is horrendous, to the point that not a single actor is right for his/her role.

There is Danny Glover, so admired from the Lethal Weapon epic. For some reason he doesn't even have a voice to speak with, barely producing the words. But he's one of the better ones. The eager detective Nick Memphis who just started at the FBI. Eager yes, but playing a detective like you would a bartender, no feel for it. Swagger's female friend looks like a contestant for Miss America, dolled up like she's going shopping, lives on a farm. Again, no personal drama that anyone would buy. And so it goes, the standard FBI/police war room personnel in a movie like this, all of them misfits, badly cast. Same goes for the bad guys.

I felt the first half of the movie was going somewhere, but the ending is crying out for a rewrite. When you're doing a plot like this you can win the viewer over by building up to something. It's a matter of trust, you tell a story that captures the viewer's interest, and based on that you make a promise to deliver something later on. I'll agree to hold my judgment and go along with you. That's why you have to deliver at the end, you can't just walk out, or the trust is broken. A feeling of betrayal ensues.

A good director could have taken this plot somewhere, maybe even with the ending as it is. But the casting is unbelievably bad.


June 15th, 2008

What a weird frickin movie. Picture a superhero comic book without the wholesome moral values and you're getting close. It's so strange to imagine that someone would have written and directed this, and just when the actors thought they were way off the mark would have said "yes, yes, that's exactly what I want". That someone is Luc Besson, who's gone considerably more Hollywood since.

So basically we have a timid, illiterate hitman who lives mostly on milk and cookies. Contrary to that whole ninja school of combat, he's not one of those "my body is my temple" types. He has a sort of rugged fitness which is kept in check by doing sit-ups every morning (and the constant milk, calcium mhm-hm). He's probably not very fast on his feet, cause at no point is there any running. His main gimmick is hanging from the ceiling, so that when the bad guys come into the room they don't see him (a poor man's ninja if you will). Oh, and he's the best hitman in town, sublime when on the job (less so off of it).

Not much is known about his past, but apparently he came to America as a poor, helpless immigrant, taken pity on by a generous Italian restaurant owner. All these facts are stretching poor Jean Reno's acting skills to the limit. Reno has a thick French accent with no vocal skills to get around it, how the hell do you claim he's Italian?

Besson makes no effort to justify Leon's career choice. It's not because he grew up in a war torn country, because his parents were killed or because he read too many comic books, he was just poor. And killing seemed as good as anything else, eh? Then again, he does put on those dark sunglasses when he clocks in, no doubt there is a deep and heart wrenching ethical conflict there, but it goes unarticulated. (Personally I would suggest his superego needs a small tune-up.)

And there is a girl. Dad does coke, family gets nailed by bad guys, same old, same old, yadda yadda yadda. Mathilda takes refuge at Leon's, teaches the big bear (or shall I say pig, that's his favorite fluffy pet) to read, he teaches her about guns, the usual story. If you've read this far just to find out if the "I love you"s are forthcoming, they are.

If you like the idea of Reno as a hitman and you want to see him in a far stronger part, check out "Ronin", it's quite good in more ways than one.

what makes RoboCop such a great movie

December 9th, 2007

Some works are just.. the only ones of their kind. RoboCop is such a work. The first of the series dates back to 1987; the last, to 1993. Altogether the three movies form a body of work that stands out from the plethora of supposedly similar works, action movies, cheap-story-big-boxoffice productions. It is simply.. art.

On the face of it, RoboCop is a lame story about the decay of society as a pretext for violence. The world portrayed in the story is dystopian, there are raving bands of hoodlums, there is organized crime, social order is all about defeated. And it's a cold world, filled with cruelty, void of compassion, a world of desperation. And above all, a world where corporations have taken over.

In this world, the dead police officer Alex Murphy becomes the cyborg RoboCop. A robot with a half-human mind, preserving some of his memories and emotions. But programmed by the powerful Omni Consumer Products (OCP) corporation to obey the directives he has been given. Essentially a killing machine, but a somewhat restrained one. Imagine a slow thinking, emotionally numb human, in terms of decision making.

Irony and comedy

But appearances can be deceiving. Sure enough, there is enough gunfire to go around, but the writers saw no reason not to have a little fun with the story. Picture your average worker stuck in a dead end job who has to pretend he's taking it very seriously, but when the boss isn't standing over him, he finds ways to amuse himself.

In order to drive home the point of a violent world in need of an enforcer like RoboCop, we have Media Break, the news program that reports nothing but violence. Since the writers already had this means of narration, they decided to put in some commercials as well, just like on real tv. These ads are wonderfully ironic and humorous. One is for a board game called Nukem, showing your average family sitting around a table playing wargames, where the culmination, of course, is the nuclear strike that wipes out everything.

Another ad goes like this:

*attractive woman by the pool in a robe* They say 20 seconds in the California sunshine is too much these days. Ever since we lost the Ozone layer. *takes off robe, now wearing a bikini* But that was before Sunblock 5000. Just apply a pint to your body *stars smearing herself with an opaque blue substance* and you're good for hours. See you by the pool. *by now completely covered in the blue stuff*

But there are other humorous angles to it. Take how RoboCop, who is by no means the brightest intelligence, suddenly develops deep sensitivity, so that when the little girl says she misses her parents, and he scans his data to learn that they were killed in the riots, he decides not to tell her. For a robotically enhanced killing machine he's also quite polite (compared to the humans around him), never curses people, the worst he ever called anyone is scum. In a rather unfortunate reprogramming mishap he even becomes politically correct, condemning wrong doing by lecturing delinquents rather than arresting them. Then, in a risky act of self-sacrifice he electrocutes himself to restore him own judgment.

Or take how in order to wrap up the story (whose premise it is that the OCP corporation controls the world) in some fairly definitive way, the writers decided that an unannounced, amateur broadcast of 2 minutes over the corporation's network would result in OCP's stock to drop to zero within 5 minutes. Problem solved. Then, just as we remember from The Karate Kid, Part II, the powerful owner of the Japanese company which absorbed the OCP in a hostile takeover came out to meet the people who had valiantly defended themselves against their corporate aggressors, decided he had made a mistake and paid tribute to them.


For all the parents out there on the fence about whether they should let their kid go see RoboCop, there is plenty of educational value in these movies.

Lesson #1: Crappy tv commercials never go away

That commercial with the bald guy and the hookers who says "I'll buy that for a dollar" appears several times in the first movie, and reappears in the last one.

Lesson #2: The success of the corporation is the suffering of humans

The big, evil corporation OCP is plotting to tear down all of Detroit to replace it with some sort of high tech metropolis called Delta City. But before that can happen, goes the story, crime must be brought under control. They even deploy their own special "security force" to speed up the process. And they own the police, so they can tell them what to do. The only incentive for any corporation is more profit, which means ever decreasing freedom for the average person, and ever increased in-fighting inside the corporation itself. Another movie that explains this is in great detail is The Corporation, so have that one ready when the kids start asking about it.

Lesson #3: Media is run by corporations
Media Break is driven by an agenda to be a scare mongering institution, a propaganda device. All they ever report is violence domestically and violence abroad. This is exactly like modern day media institutions which have lost all credibility and only pander to corporate interests. CNN, anyone? But at least Media Break has more of a conscience, as one of their reporters walks out in the middle of a newscast because she can't stand to dish out the misinformation.

Lesson #4: A system can only be secure when it's physically secure

Over the course of the three movies various people get their hands on RoboCop and reprogram him. In the third movie the little girl even plugs into the ED-209 robot using her laptop and makes it friendly to the rebels. This is the truth about computer security that everyone knows. If your system is physically compromised, you can't trust it. Sending a robot out into the world gives everyone access to it and they can plug into it just like you do at the lab.