Tag: badass (page 1 of 5)


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I’m afraid we must again lament the fact that the movie of the week is not available on Netflix Instant. However, the lamentations are for different reasons. Last week I covered a classic action comedy steeped in supernatural tea which would make for a quick laugh and a good time when necessary. Taken, on the other hand, is what you should reach for when your brain needs a direct injection of adrenaline.

Courtesy 20th Century Fox

Liam Neeson is cast as Bryan Mills, a retired CIA prevention specialist trying to patch up his relationship with his 17-year-old daughter. Being 17 and a little spoiled, she absconds with a friend to Europe to follow U2 on tour. Bryan warns her that precautions should be taken but Kim isn’t really interested in such things as much as she is hot rock stars and playing her parents against each other. All that changes, however, when mysterious men break into the Parisian home of her friends’ cousins with intent to kidnap the girls. Fortunately, Kim’s on the phone with her dad. Preparing her for the worst, the phone is picked up by one of the kidnappers. Bryan says the following:

I don’t know who you are. I don’t know what you want. If you are looking for ransom, I can tell you I don’t have money. But what I do have are a very particular set of skills; skills I have acquired over a very long career. Skills that make me a nightmare for people like you. If you let my daughter go now, that’ll be the end of it. I will not look for you, I will not pursue you. But if you don’t, I will look for you, I will find you… and I will kill you.

You can guess what happens next.

Courtesy 20th Century Fox
Yeah, kidnapping the girl doesn’t make Daddy happy.

Casting Liam Neeson in this role was a stroke of genius. Imagine if most other Hollywood actors had taken on this two-fisted unfettered covert operative on a roaring rampage of rescue. From Mel Gibson to Matt Damon, it would have been very difficult for most of them to pull of the consistent, cultured restraint that informs every word Bryan says and every move he makes. It’s this behavior, this very focused and very direct method of executing action, that has caused comparisons to arise between this character and 24’s Jack Bauer. And we simply wouldn’t have that without Liam Neeson. He’s fantastic in this role.

He’s also what holds the whole affair together. Without his electrifying performance, there wouldn’t be much to Taken. I mean, I had to liven up the plot description with some of Liam’s lines. The story’s as straightforward as they come and you’re likely to see most of the turns coming well in advance. But let’s face it, you’re not here for nuanced and deep storytelling, you’re here to watch Liam Neeson make the Paris underworld cry for its mommy.

Courtesy 20th Century Fox
And if Daddy ain’t happy…

That isn’t to say that Taken is dumb, by any means. It’s a dead simple premise, sure, and most of the characters are obstacles of one type or another for Liam to overcome with a good punch to the throat. But the way in which the action is executed, the composition of its shots and the lack of shaky-cam acrobatics keep the film grounded, all the better to conduct the aforementioned electricity. The abduction doesn’t happen for a good 20 minutes into the film, and all that time is character building for Bryan in a very smart way. It’s like seeing a lion at the zoo when it’s close to feeding time, the great beast pacing back and forth with barely contained ferocity while still looking majestic. Taken is what happens when that cage is opened after the lion’s been poked and prodded a little by fat, annoying tourists.

There are some who might say that it’s mere wish fulfillment for fathers who have become estranged from their children and long for the means to prove themselves in a crucible other than long court proceedings and awkward visitation incidents. There’s also the fact that Liam Neeson, a white Western European man, is going after Albanians and, at one point, an Arab or two. There are probably some unfortunate implications that can be read into that. However, this is played less for a feeling of jingoistic vengeance than it is for… well, people in Bryan’s way who are too dumb to move when he kicks down the door. Color, creed, sex and money mean nothing to this man; come near his family and he will ruin your life, which may not be very long past meeting the man. Meet the man yourself by watching Taken. This character played by this man single-handedly pulls the movie out of the sea of similar action-thrillers and lets it stand on its own as an interesting character piece as well as a very satisfying thrill ride that I highly doubt would leave you disappointed.

Josh Loomis can’t always make it to the local megaplex, and thus must turn to alternative forms of cinematic entertainment. There might not be overpriced soda pop & over-buttered popcorn, and it’s unclear if this week’s film came in the mail or was delivered via the dark & mysterious tubes of the Internet. Only one thing is certain… IT CAME FROM NETFLIX.


Logo courtesy Netflix. No logos were harmed in the creation of this banner.


The fourth wall is a long-standing term for the concept of separation between an on-screen performance and its audience. Most straight productions act as if the fourth wall is a concrete barrier, entirely encapsulating the fictional world within. Comedies, especially parodies and spoofs, tend to treat the fourth wall with as much irreverence as anything else. They can paint it, lean against it or ignore it entirely. 1993’s Last Action Hero is one of the few films that bodily throws a guy through the fourth wall.

Courtesy Columbia Pictures
Even the posters are hilarious in retrospect.

Arnold Schwartzenegger is Jack Slater, a supercop best described as the illegitimate love child of John McClain and Dutch from Predator. He blows up Los Angeles on a regular basis, chases goons into spectacular gun fights and explosions, and messing with his family is, as he tends to say often, a big mistake. Jack Slater is the hero of young movie buff Danny Madigan, who cuts class and stays out late just to watch Jack Slater do what he does best. His favorite theater is shutting down and, as a last quiet hurrah, the aging projectionist offers to show Danny the new Jack Slater film (brilliantly titled Jack Slater IV) before anybody else gets to see it. He also gives Danny a golden ticket, a gift from Harry Houdini, which happens to possess magic powers in the presence of cinema. Next thing Danny knows, he’s in the back of Jack Slater’s car during the action movie’s first major chase scene. Nobody’s more surprised than Danny, except maybe Jack.

Last Action Hero is perhaps one of the most thorough deconstructions of the action movie genre I’ve ever seen. When Danny is in Jack Slater IV, he’s very quick to point out tropes and plot points to the point that he quickly goes from endearing to irritating. He’s not a dumb kid, though, so he does mellow out as the story goes on, much to Jack’s relief. Jack, on the other hand, spends most of the second act denying that he’s a fictional character until circumstances catapult him back into the real world with Danny. So while the second act is a deconstruction of the genre, the third is a deconstruction of the hero, as well as an exploration of a concept that the world is myth.

Courtesy Columbia Pictures
Is he taking aim at the goons, or the writers?

If all stories do in fact exist in some form, that would mean that someone is writing your story, right now. What would you say to them, if you could? Last Action Hero addresses that question, as well as what might go on inside the mind of your stereotypical action superstar between the gunplay and cheesy one-liners. While nobody was going to win Oscars for what’s going on here, the writers do give Jack a surprising amount of humanity and depth, considering how most of the movie’s a light-hearted action romp, while the villain Benedict has a chillingly gleeful revelation when he, like Jack and Danny, cross over from the world of their movie to the world of the movie we’re watching. It’s a world much closer to our own, where cars don’t explode when you shoot them, it hurts to punch things, and bad guys win all the time.

The sudden change in mood between the nature of Jack’s adventures and his experiences in the ‘real’ world might put off some viewers expecting a straight-forward action comedy. There are also some rough spots in the execution, a couple of jokes that might be more ridiculous than necessary and some problems with overall tone. It’s hard to tell in places if Last Action Hero is simply being tongue in cheek about things or wants to be downright cheeky about the action movie roots of its star and director. After all, Arnold was best known for his big, loud, ultra-macho action movies. John McTiernan was also known for the big, loud, ultra-macho Die Hard. I think that, in 1993, these two coming together to do a big, loud, ultra-macho genre deconstruction took a lot of folks by surprise.

Courtesy Columbia Pictures
Honestly, he’s probably my favorite kind of villain.

There’s also the fact that it opened the same year as movie juggernaut Jurassic Park. Be it due to box office receipts, actor confusion or critics blasting the movie for some decisions in execution and its necessary contrivances, Last Action Hero was not seen as a great success. In fact, many feel this was the movie that was the start of a downward spiral for Arnold, the following year’s True Lies being a notable exception. His puns and general beefiness would draw him into movies far worse than this one and ultimately he ended up in politics. And yet there’s a measure of self-awareness that some might miss. In what might have been intended as a throw-away gag, Jack Slater comes face to face with Arnold Schwarzenegger, and the character tells the actor “You’ve brought me nothing but pain.” He echoes the sentiment of future movie-goers and some of the population of California in 2011.

Despite its box office performance, Last Action Hero holds up better than some of its contemporaries. The fact that some of the tropes played with, averted, invoked and downright torn to shreds here are still alive and well in action movies today underscores the laziness inherent in relying upon such conventions. Had it been a straightforward action comedy, it likely would be unmemorable and boring. Framed as it is and leading into its crucial third act, it instead defies typical classification and exists as a rare specimen that’s fascinating and strange. It stumbles in a couple of places and it’s never certain if McTiernan and the writers really love the action movie genre or want to rip it to shreds out of spite, but it’s a fun movie with some really interesting concepts at work. Fans of deconstructionist work, TV Tropes or actors having a laugh at their own expense should check this out on Netflix. As time goes on, and more ridiculous action movies come out while their stars become imitations of themselves, Last Action Hero will, I feel, continue to age with grace. Like a fine wine. Full of explosions.

Courtesy Columbia Pictures
“Have a nice day.”

Josh Loomis can’t always make it to the local megaplex, and thus must turn to alternative forms of cinematic entertainment. There might not be overpriced soda pop & over-buttered popcorn, and it’s unclear if this week’s film came in the mail or was delivered via the dark & mysterious tubes of the Internet. Only one thing is certain… IT CAME FROM NETFLIX.


Logo courtesy Netflix. No logos were harmed in the creation of this banner.

{Audio pending}

Capitalism is, in its current form, a very Darwinian way of life. Only the wealthy survive, and if you want to make it you need to cleave yourself to someone with pockets much deeper than yours in exchange for the means to keep on living. Lately the cleaving has been to large corporations instead of individuals. This is why you’ll see public sports arenas bearing the names of dispassionate banks and energy companies instead of the luminaries of the sport. This is called privatization, and it’s the basis for Paul Verhoeven’s Robocop.

Oh, and there’s a robot. Who’s a cop.

Courtesy Orion Pictures

In a near-future vision born of the 80s and bearing a sharp, cynical edge, the police of Detroit have become owned and operated by Omni Consumer Products, a military subcontractor looking to bulldoze a crime-ridden part of the city to build an ultra-modern business district. When the old guard’s robotic answer goes awry during a demonstration, a young turk puts forth his own idea, involving the use of ‘some poor schmuck’. That schmuck is Murphy, a hard-working well-meaning cop transfered into the most violent precinct in the city just in time to killed in the line of duty. OCP scrapes him off of the operating room table, drops him into a robotic body and wires him with primary directives: Serve the public trust, protect the innocent, uphold the law. This is RoboCop, their hottest product ever, but inside the titanium and kevlar, does Murphy still exist?

RoboCop’s one of those movies I grew up with. When I first saw it, I was too young to understand a lot of the underlying themes of the work, but I understood the basics of the plot in and of themselves, and hey, badass robots! Seeing it again, I can appreciate it more on levels beyond mere spectacle and distraction. In fact, watching RoboCop as an adult, it’s hard to shake the notion that Verhoeven might as well be saying “This is what happens when people with money run everything” in big, bright letters.

Courtesy Orion Pictures
Your move, creep.

That said, this is a Verhoeven entry much more in line with Starship Troopers than Black Book. Even more so than the theme of military pseudo-fascism, privatization is something that has remained a pertinent and very real possibility in our modern day and age. There are some of the classic Verhoeven tounge-in-cheek touches, like the stock tickers above the urinals in the OCP executive longue and the 8.2 MPG automobile called the 6000 SUX being hailed as “an American tradition”. These moments of levity not only serve as bridges between the visceral violence but also drive home the point our director is making.

Which isn’t to say that RoboCop is all cerebral anti-privatization rhetoric. There’s plenty of action to be had. From the gunfight in the coke factory to the showdown with ED-209, you’re certainly not going to be bored. It’s hard to shake the notion that the film’s age is starting to show in places, and some of the deeply-seated nuclear fears of the age seem a touch laughable, but the film has the good sense to laugh right along with us. However, it’s also hard to shake the feeling that some of the trends we see in the film – the beleagured, underfunded civil servants, the thriving corporations with rhetoric and iconography disturbingly close to a certain regime from the 1940s, the apathy of the public, the sensationalist news media – came to life all too vividly.

Courtesy Orion Pictures
Say hello to Dick’s little friend.

On top of everything else, Peter Weller does a fine job in the lead role. As Murphy, he’s a nice guy in a bad town, wanting to do the right thing and impress his son while not being a very good shot and making a couple mistakes that lead to his demise. As RoboCop, it’s clear OCP has done all it can to strip him of his humanity, giving him an improved form and more accurate function while watering down all that made him who he was. The struggle he undertakes to regain what he lost, even in some small sense, inhabits this movie with some real heart that, while a touch melodramatic at times, nonetheless makes for a perfect final element to round out a great film.

I was afraid that the years had been unkind to RoboCop. While I did laugh at some of the stop-motion that chilled my blood as a child, I noticed a lot more now that I’ve grown. And everything I noticed just makes the movie better. If you’ve never seen RoboCop, be it because you were too young or you wished to avoid Verhoeven’s signature ultra-violence, do yourself a favor and queue it up on Netflix. Be it blazing action, darkly comedic satire or an intereting twist on a Frankensteinian character, there’s appeal for most within its runtime. It’s well worth your time.

Josh Loomis can’t always make it to the local megaplex, and thus must turn to alternative forms of cinematic entertainment. There might not be overpriced soda pop & over-buttered popcorn, and it’s unclear if this week’s film came in the mail or was delivered via the dark & mysterious tubes of the Internet. Only one thing is certain… IT CAME FROM NETFLIX.

Movie Review: True Grit

I grew up with Westerns. The big music and booming voice of John Wayne is something I’m quite familiar with. Unfortunately some of my childhood memories are a bit spotty, and the only thing I really remember from the 1968 version of True Grit is the famous scene of The Duke riding towards four men with the reigns in his mouth, a rifle in one hand and a six-shooter in the other. So I walked into the 2010 version of the film with an open mind as a fan of both the frontier genre and one Jeff Bridges. I knew it was a story of a headstrong teenage girl, Mattie Ross, hunting down the man who killed her father with the enlistment of the aging, overweight, one-eyed drunkard Marshall Rooster Cogburn. Other than that basic premise and the knowledge that this is a straight adaptation of Charles Portis’ novel rather than a remake of Wayne’s Oscar-winner, when the lights went out I went into this one cold.

Courtesy Paramount Pictures

The Coen Brothers, filmmakers known for quirkiness and scenery, seem to have taken all of their quirks out of the equation and focused on the authenticness of this Western experience. In addition to capturing the breathtaking landscapes that made up the untamed territory into which the protagonists ride, they also encapsulate some of the finer details of that period of American history. Houses, courtrooms and shops look lived in, hand-built, rough and tumble like the people within them. Guns sound off and kick realistically. Nobody uses contractions. It sucks you in very quickly and you can almost feel and taste the dust of the road.

Every bit as authentic are the performances. In general, nobody here can be accused of phoning in a performance, or telegraphing if you will. What shows this off are some of the briefest performances managing to stick out. Barry Pepper and especially Josh Brolin are very effective frontier villains for the short time they’re on screen, and Dakin Matthews as the blustering shopkeeper with whom Mattie must haggle in the film’s opening cement the tone and timbre of the piece. Most of our time, however, is spent with three disparate yet inextricably bound individuals, and every performance here is solid gold.

Courtesy Paramount Pictures
Don’t let the pigtails fool you. She’s not to be trifled with.

Hailee Steinfeld is in the mix with some heavy Hollywood hitters and yet comes out as just about the best performer in the movie. Her portrayal of a fourteen-year-old girl doggedly pursuing frontier justice breaks down all kinds of barriers that some would find insurmountable. She’s brave without being fearless and it’s clear that she’s grown up fast and hard in a world that would have her staying at home, crochetting and waiting to get married off to some landowner. Intelligent, well-spoken and tenacious above all, Mattie’s an immediately memorable character. Hailee’s work is Oscar-caliber, and while I haven’t seen The Fighter yet and can’t say for certain she got snubbed, it’s difficult for me to reserve judgement.

For all the fun that gets poked at him, Matt Damon really earns his spurs as Texas Ranger LaBeouf (boy, am I straining the Western puns or what?) who’s looking for the same man as Mattie for different reasons. He comes off as an arrogant, city-clicker dandy, but that might be a smokescreen to obfuscate just how dangerous he really is. Faced with the inplacable Mattie and the slovenly Cogburn, LeBeouf has to demonstrate patience was well as tenacity in the pursuit of his own goals. Damon does a great job with this, elevating a character that could have ended up as Cogburn’s sidekick as someone that stands entirely on his own.

As for Jeff Bridges… what can I say, that man can act. As if playing both ‘the Dude’ and Obediah Stane hadn’t demonstrated his range in recent years, his inhabiting of Rooster Cogburn once again shows just the kind of performance he can bring to the table. When you look at Rooster in this film, you’re not seeing Bridges in any of his other roles, you’re seeing a one-eyed lawman who isn’t afraid to bust a few rules to do his job, loves his liquor almost as much as running down the bad guys and demonstrates a hilarious tendency for understatement. As far as I can tell, John Wayne was playing the role as Rooster, while Bridges is Rooster, at least for this film’s run-time.

Courtesy Paramount Pictures
Just about every time he opened his mouth, I was grinning.

If I have any complaints about True Grit, it’d be linearity. There aren’t many diversions in the story and no major twists to speak of. As much as a straightforward storytelling exercise is not necessarily a bad thing, there are those who have come to expect a level of complexity in the narrative that this movie lacks. However, the characters have more than enough depth and nuance to make up for this, and the acting and scenery are so captivating that you’ll want the film to continue, not because there’s more story to tell but because these characters are such a delight to watch.

Stuff I Liked: Realism and authenticness in this Western go a long way. No actor turns in a bad or lackluster performance.
Stuff I Didn’t Like: A little more development of Ned Pepper and his gang would have been cool, but really wasn’t necessary for the story so I understand why we didn’t have it.
Stuff I Loved: The scenery is absolutely breathtaking, the three principles are quite stellar and the movie as a whole stands on its own as everything a good Western yarn should be.



Logo courtesy Netflix. No logos were harmed in the creation of this banner.

{No audio this week. We apologize for the inconvenience.}

The nice thing about not being an official or professional movie critic is I can be surprised by things. I’ll read, watch and listen to other reviews and keep an eye and ear on the upcoming stuff hitting cinemas, but for the most part when I fire up the DVD player or pick an Instant selection, I can do so free of outside influences and deadlines, other than the polls. I’ve been trying to do that more since a couple people seem to think I need to have more thoughts of my own. In any event, I’m happy to say Predators surprised me. And it surprised me by being more than halfway decent in a really cool way.

Courtesy Troublemaker Studios

A guy in military kit with a wicked automatic shotgun gets dropped – literally – into a rainforest he doesn’t recognize. He soon encounters other folk with similar gear and just as much memory as him regarding how they got here, which is to say none. It soon becomes apparent that this ragtag group of strangers have been plucked from wherever they happened to be and have been brought to an alien world for a purpose. Like stocking a fishing pond with trout, these unfortunate folks have been put into this place just so they can be hunted by the eponymous Predators. Not all is what it seems, however, and the longer some of them survive, the more they learn about this world and the nature of their captors. Other than their wickedly advanced technology and that whole spine-ripping thing.

There’s always been something of an undercurrent of disappointment with sequels to the original Predator up until this point. Instead of increasing the scale of the action in what seems logical to those of us familiar with the success of Aliens as compared to Alien, the immediate sequel to Predator simply changed the setting to a humid LA landscape just slightly reminiscent of Robocop‘s privatized Detroit. From there the Predators got coupled with the aforementioned xenomorphs in some lackluster AVP entries that were nowhere near as awesome as the original graphic novel cross-over. They vanished from movies for a bit to appear in a couple video games, until one of those half-mad genius visionaries decided to give them one more chance at kicking some ass: Robert Rodriguez.

Courtesy Troublemaker Studios
From left: Heavy Weapons Guy, Surprise I Don’t Die First, That’s Mister Brody To You, Totally Not Ziva From NCIS, Badass Silent Yakuza Hitman

I covered his exploits as a director extensively last week, one or two factual hiccups aside, but this guy is actually to the production side of movies what “triple-threats” like Gene Kelly and Justin Timberlake are to the acting side. Not only is he a visionary director and a bold if somewhat tongue-in-cheek screenwriter, he’s also a no-nonsense producer. He’s backed almost as many films as he’s directed, and while some of them have been his own work, Predators is a project he’s thrown himself behind with obvious positive results. Nimr√≥d Antal had shown his directoral chops with small entries like Vacancy and Armored, and here Rodriguez has pointed his aesthetic sense directly at this long-awaited ‘genuine’ follow-up to that much-beloved if somewhat flaming 80s action classic.

Now, this isn’t exactly the next Inception, here. Don’t misunderstand. As much as I was having fun watching a genre-saavy Adrien Brody and several other notable character actors tromp through the jungle and wondering when and how the Predators were going to start picking them off, I couldn’t quite shake the feeling that half the reason this movie got made was almost as an apology to long-suffering Predator fans who’d felt cheated out of a proper sequel for decades. It’s a B-movie, and makes no apologies about being a B-movie, so viewers interested in keeping their eyeballs unsullied by B-movies will want to give this one a pass. Finally, Predators tries to stand on its own to the degree of more than a few expository scenes filling time with back-and-forth with the characters about where they are and what’s going on as opposed to who they are.

Courtesy Troublemaker Studios
“Go ahead. Make fun of The Pianist again. Did you forget I’m an Oscar-winner, bitch?”

Then again, that might be part of the appeal of this sort of movie. The composition of the protagonist team is just diverse enough in personality as well as nationality to give us a snapshot of the kind of people the Predators feel ‘worthy’ of their attentions, and as much as this is not exactly a script that makes the ancient farts at the Academy salivate into their porridge, none of the actors seem to be phoning it in. There’s just enough sincerity to make the audience generally interested in what happens to these people, and just enough tongue-in-cheek callbacks to the original, reaching back over years of lackluster abuse of the IP, to give it a much-needed injection of awesomeness.

Fans of Predator, your years of disappointment are at an end. Fans of science-fiction action, this one’s right up your alley. Fans of Adrien Brody… well, he looks pretty cut and he’s actually got some decent one-liners, so yeah, give it a shot, but it’s not for the squeamish. It’s waiting for you on Netflix, but minor spoiler alert, folks: there are no helicopters in Predators. So, if you were hoping Adrien or perhaps Danny Trejo would have the opportunity to yell “GET TO DA CHOPPAH!!!”… sorry to disappoint.

Josh Loomis can’t always make it to the local megaplex, and thus must turn to alternative forms of cinematic entertainment. There might not be overpriced soda pop & over-buttered popcorn, and it’s unclear if this week’s film came in the mail or was delivered via the dark & mysterious tubes of the Internet. Only one thing is certain… IT CAME FROM NETFLIX.

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