Archive for April, 2010

Command Performance (Dolph Lundgren) 2009

Posted in C on April 29, 2010 by moviemoses

Command Performance is about the Russian Premier and several others being held captive at a concert.  The drummer of the opening act Joe (Dolph Lundgren) survives the initial assault and is determined to fight back.  Many people just label  this another Die Hard but I like to be a little more specific.  I prefer to think of this as a little Under Seige (I’m just a cook/drummer) with a bit of Sudden Death (Die Hard at a hockey game).

It is seeming that the action movie stars of old have become the providers of good B-movie action: Sylvester Stallone, Jean Claude Van Damme, and now Dolph.  No I am not including Seagal.  While he is good for a laugh occasionally, none of his movies are really that entertaining and he whores himself out to anyone with a box of Ding Dongs.  But to get back to what I was saying, these former stars know what the audience wants.  They don’t try to reinvent the wheel but to make the most entertaining genre pics they can.  With Sly I love the latest installments of Rocky and Rambo, and with Van Damme you have JCVD, Universal Soldier Regeneration (highly recommend), and even to a lesser extent Wake of Death (though he didn’t direct it).

I guess the point of this tangent is that it seems Dolph is starting to get that as well.  I could give a hundred movies that ripped off Die Hard but Dolph doesn’t care about that.  He just wants to make this movie entertaining which he does.  As just a simple drummer, Joe is able to kill terrorists with all sorts of instruments.  He is able for example to get the drop on a pair of people going to kill hostages by turning the amps to 11 and deafening them with a bitchin’ power chord.  And he doesn’t use guns because, according to his words, bad things happen when he gets guns.  So let me get this straight, this guy who in the previous scene just staked a man in the heart with a guitar neck, says bad things will happen if he gets a gun.  First, that’s freaking awesome.  But I am still curious how getting STABBED IN THE HEART WITH A GUITAR NECK is not bad.  Maybe he means things only get worse when he gets guns.  Anyway…

So yeah, this movie has a lot of fun action and cheesy one liners.  There are a few things that don’t quite work.  The villain (played by Dave Legeno) doesn’t really do anything that memorable.  He more or less just stands around and grunts that he will kill hostages if his demands are not met blah blah blah.  He has no scenes where he is allowed to chew the scenery.  I will also say while Dolph is an alright director, he does have his shortcomings.  It is bad when at times I am mentally setting up how the shot should be.  Overall he does good but there are a few action bits where it is too close and the cutting too choppy for my tastes.  And while this isn’t a flaw I found this kind of amusing.  Dolph’s ego is showing quite a bit as every female character has to remark that Joe is a sexy man and how they want to bed him.  I’m not saying Dolph is ugly (he looks great for his age) but it is a bit laughable when we attempt after attempt of near jail bait trying to get in his pants.

Command Performance isn’t anything you need to rush out to see.  I am its target audience and I would only consider buying it if it was in some multi pack deal with other Dolph Lundgren movies.  But this is better than 95% of other DTV movies and I know a few of you out there have the same odd tastes as me.  If you like cheesy actionsploitation you may want to give this a rental.

Paragraph 175 (Rob Epstein, Jeffrey Friedman) 2000

Posted in P on April 29, 2010 by moviemoses

Paragraph 175 is about a German law used during WWII to imprison homosexuals into concentration camps.  About 100,000 homosexuals were imprisoned and only about 4,000 survived.  And of those survivors, less than 10 were still alive during the time of the documentary to give interviews.

I know, yet another WWII movie.  But as I have said before, I don’t mind going over old territory as long as they find a new angle to explore.  In this case I have heard absolutely nothing in the past about the problems homosexuals faced during this dark period in history.   I realize the documentary doesn’t have all the information you would like to have seeing as how there are only five survivors that are still alive and willing to talk about what happened, but there actually is a fair amount of info.  Its kind of sad that the some of the only info about homosexual prisoners in the Holocaust library is provided by the very director of this movie.

About 8% of Germany’s population in the 1930’s was gay/lesbian and the public reaction toward the gay community was surprisingly tolerant.  It was when Hitler came to power and started preaching genetic purity views changed.  Homosexuals thought the prosecution would not be that bad because Hitler’s head of the SA (later changed to the SS) was a well known homosexual.  But when he was executed and replaced by Himmler, persecution was ramped up.

While homosexuals were spared the incinerators, they were “experimented” on by scientists during the war and might be an equally reprehensible action.  One of the more odd events is when a few gay prisoners were granted a release from prison only to be recruited to the army during WWII’s last days.  One of the films more heartbreaking moments is when one survivor explodes at the director and reveals a horrible tragedy that happened to him at the concentration camps.  What is truly sad is that homosexual survivors really came out with less than nothing unlike say Jewish survivors.  Homosexuals were still labeled criminals on their permanent records, some were imprisoned multiple times under the same law in the 50’s and 60’s (yes, they didn’t even repeal the law until about 1969), none have received any form of reparation and absolutely NO ONE has received any form apology from the German government.  Their livelihoods were crushed by the imprisonment and they have been emotionally scarred for life by the events inside prison.  One survivor tearfully recounts how he has not confided in anyone (not even his family) of the events that happened in prison due to unbelievable shame.  Of course, I am not even going into the many people imprisoned because of pure hearsay or false evidence used to capture say political prisoners.

The movie moves at a blistering 70 minutes and because of that doesn’t really lag at any point.  You can probably only find this movie on an online rental company like Netflix or Blockbuster Online, but I think it is worth it.  It is very short and is about a practically unknown subject.

Defiance (Edward Zwick) 2008

Posted in D on April 29, 2010 by moviemoses

Yes, another WWII movie and another “from a true story” story.  As I said before, I take the “true story” with a grain of salt as many times the writers just plum make sh*t up for dramatic convenience.  Anyway this true story is about three Jewish brothers who take thousands of Jews into the Belarussian forest to escape from the Nazis.

I was looking forward to this movie for awhile.  I do like the movies of Zwick (even though he is a hamfisted with his political messages) and of course Daniel Craig.  Sadly this movie is very average.  I do think this story does need to be told, however I think the best way to see it is in documentary form.  I was genuinely curious as to how they evaded capture for so long, how they managed to feed thousands a day, how they established a working community, and their interaction with the Russian army.  Zwick does give a few answers, however it seems he is more committed to action and the storyline about the brothers.  So we get a little shafted when it comes to really learning anything.

From a dramatic standpoint, there really isn’t that much from the plot that stands out.  The only characters that stand out are the brothers and we practically ignore the thousand other Jews that are also on this journey.  And even of the brothers, we only really hear from Craig’s character Tuvia and Liev Schreiber’s character Zus.  Zwick invests a lot of time with this odd siblings rivalry side plot between Tuvia and Zus.  We spend a lot of time with scenes of Zus being jealous with Tuvia’s actions and Zus being portrayed as a hothead but it doesn’t amount to anything.  You spend all that time and you leave that plot thread hanging?  There also isn’t a clear destination with our plot.  It seems like we meander through the plot as the story is simply about survival and not about fighting a clear enemy or going to an exact location.

For those going to see Daniel Craig f*ck some Nazis up will also be disappointed.  As I said before, the goal is survival and not about fighting.  We only get a few action scenes and what we get are quick fights in fog filled forests.

Nothing is bad with Defiance, its just nothing really stands out.  Everything is so blandly good that the tired theme of WWII movie drags the whole production down.  As I said before, I really think this would have worked better as a documentary than a mediocre action/drama.

Ghost in the Shell (Mamoru Oshii) 1995

Posted in G on April 29, 2010 by moviemoses

One of those animes which brought Japanimation to Western audiences.  I wanted to really like Ghost in the Shell, buuuut I had a few reservations with it.  GitS is absolutely beautiful and probably one of the best animated.  I guess my main issues have to come with the plot and the endless running of the mouth philosophizing.  If you thought the Matrix was bad with endless debates on fate and free choice, you will groan at the monologues on identity.  At one point I thought all the characters were going to have a sit down debate ala Dinner with Andre.  The second issue is with the overly complex plot.  Usually I shake my head at people who don’t get 2001 or the Fountain but I was really paying attention and was having trouble with what the hell was going on.  Of course, that may have to do with the dubbing and the subtitles being two entirely separate entities.  I swear it would be the same as watching Blade Runner and having the dialog being from Alien 3.  I mean, one line would be translated “It must be her time of the month” and in the dubbing it would be “Must be a loose wire”.  Loose wire?  WHAT THE F*CK ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT!  I was watching with both the dubbing and subtitles on and was absolutely floored by how different they are.  I don’t feel so bad about not understanding the Puppetmasters plot or what Section 6 is all about when the people writing it don’t even know what they are talking about.  The movie also seemingly wants to have its cake and eat it too.  It wants to be a thoughtful and intelligent sci fi movie yet also wants to appeal to bloodthirsty ADD fanboys.  Within the first five minutes the lead strips down nude and blows a few people away.  You can’t give me porn one minute and ask me the next to deliberate on evolution.

GitS is a good movie (for all my bitching).  I will eventually see it again to better understand all the concepts and themes.  The animation again is beautiful and the action is solid.  There are a few problems with the execution and writing which hold me back from really liking it.

Crossing Over (2009) Wayne Kramer

Posted in C on April 29, 2010 by moviemoses

Production Budget: unknown

Worldwide Gross: $3 million

Subsequent Earnings: $1.7 million

A few notes on this movie before starting.  The movie’s release was pushed back from 2007 to 2009 with 20 minutes cut out.  The director wanted the full movie but the Weinsteins threatened to release it direct to video if he did not edit the movie down.  Sean Penn actually had a supporting role where he investigated an Honor killing.  But when the Weinsteins thought that would be too provocative so the whole subplot (and Penn’s performance) was entirely removed.  This footage is also not on the DVD either.

So consider this movie almost like a direct to video version of Crash but about immigration.  I’m sure many of you already believe Crash to be direct to video quality, but let’s table that for the moment.  My comparison is more with the story structure and how we have many (almost too many) plot threads with interconnected characters.

I am only going to go over the major plot threads because if I outlined every uneventful subplot I would need a flowchart and maybe another hour.  Probably the most screen time goes to Max Brogan (Harrison Ford) who is an ICE agent.  He actually gets two plots since he is so special.  The first is about Ford deporting a mother whose child is still in the US.  Brogan helps the child and is trying to locate the mother who disappeared crossing over again.  The second plot thread is about him investigating an honor killing…sorry, that’s too provocative.  The more sensitive terminology they used in the recut version is a murder involving honor.  Yeah, that’s much better.  Anyway, Brogan’s partner Hamid (Cliff Curtis) is somehow implicated in it.  Another thread deals with a 15 year old Middle Eastern kid who writes a school paper where she defends the 9/11 terrorists, gets labeled a terrorist and is deported.  There is a plot thread where Ray Liotta is blackmailing a woman for sex who wants a green card.  Cause when you think sleazy slimeball, you hire Ray Liotta.  Jim Sturgess tries to get a green card pretending to be a Jew (???).  Yeah, I don’t get that either.  And Ashley Judd is trying to adopt an African child.  Ok that one is a big waste of time.  Let’s move on.

Movies structured like this with an agenda are so easy to read.  Just picture the absolute worst thing happening to these people to manipulate the audiences emotions, give a few happy moments (like Judd getting the adoption), and your statement movie is complete.  You can pretty much guess though that this person is gonna die, that one is getting raped, and that one is getting screwed over in more ways than one.  And maybe it’s just me, but I sensed a bit of misogyny in this movie.  With the exception of Judd’s microscopic role, all the women in this movie are either helpless creatures or targets of physical or sexual abuse.

The storyline about the 15 year old and her school paper is the one I was scratching my head at the most.    For one, which teacher would approve a presentation by a student saying 9/11 was a necessary thing.  I nearly got detention for peppering in some jokes to my paper about my summer vacation.  It reminds me of the Seinfeld episode where Kramer spread Communist propaganda as Santa and he was moaning about the fact he didn’t think it was that big of an issue.  To which Mickey screams “Communism!?  You didn’t think Communism was that big of an issue!?”  The storyline really tries to paint the girl as being innocent and just expressing her First Amendment rights.  Well, in theory that works, but we learn a few things which cause us to pause.  She is not as completely innocent as the movie would have you believe (she is proven to be associated with extremists/possibly terrorists).  I could also get into a long discussion about the law and the responsibility of visitors but why bog down the issue.  It just didn’t work for me.

The other sub sub plots are just dull to me.  The Sturgess/Liotta plot lines have no real climax or tension to them.  They just appear and peter out by the end.  I could also argue the movie is telling a messed up message by showing the two storylines of Sturgess and Liotta as a kind of parallel.  Buuuut it could be argued it was incidental and I don’t want to read more into the movie than there already is and I would just complicate things more, etc, etc, etc.  Then we have stories like with Judd and another one I haven’t even brought up about some Asian gangster.  Those plots have nothing to do with anything and they just bog the movie down with pointless filler.  Really, if the director had to cut some time out, he should have removed those threads instead.

By far the best storyline is the Brogan one.  Not only does Ford’s character get the most character development, but he also gets the more interesting storyline of finding a killer.  I know Ford gets a lot of shit for seemingly being a grumpy old man but I still like him as an actor.  He makes me genuinely interested in this character and what motivates him which I can’t say for many characters in this movie.  He also gets a nice Jack Ryan-esque “How dare you sir” type speech near the end which I liked.  I also really liked the performance of Cliff Curtis who plays the psychologically tortured partner of Brogan.  It was a better performance than this movie deserved.

I know I should have been more pissed off by this movie but for some reason I just didn’t care enough.  Maybe I was in a good mood and I am forgiving because of Harrison Ford but I simply thought this was a mildly bad movie and not a sh*tty one.  There were some good performances and some scenes that I did like.  Overall it is a poor attempt to emulate Crash and is not worth your time.

The Descent: Part 2 (Jon Harris) 2009

Posted in D on April 28, 2010 by moviemoses

I swear I thought Neil Marshall was returning for the sequel.  Now that I finally rent it I find out he is just producing it.  What a let down.

So anyway, this takes place immediately after the first movie where Sarah escapes (I guess the original ending was full of shit).  So there is a massive search going on for Juno, who is apparently the daughter of a Senator or some big wig.  So immediately after Sarah is checked into the hospital she is checked right back out to help searchers navigate through the caves.

I just love that.  I mean, Sarah is so shell shocked that she has literally blocked the incident out of her memory, and the sheriff is just like “Bah! Throw a helmet on her and she will get over it.  Damn women and their vagina issues!”  Who the hell thought this was a good idea?  In fact, while we are somewhat on the subject, let me go off on a bit of a rant.  Why is it there is a common horror movie theme of bringing back people with severe trauma back to the scene of the horrible incident?  Descent 2, Friday the 13th part 5, Psycho 2; they all deal with people coming back to the scene of where they went crazy in some bass ackwards attempt to cure them of their trauma.  Who was the quack who thought Norman Bates needed to go back to the damn hotel and why the hell would it be good for him?  Its like chucking an alcoholic in the middle of a brewery and going “Believe me, you will be a better person for this…”

Anyway if you get over that insane bit of plot contrivance, we get a new group of rescue searchers who get trapped in the caves and confront the creatures.  Most of the new people you won’t remember except for the stereotypical cracker sheriff and the caring female deputy that helps Sarah out.  Everyone else is a whiny/dickish type meant to rack up a body count.

I will start by saying that Marshall is missed in this sequel and you see truly what a great job he did in the original.  I am not just talking about the characterization but also in the shooting of the whole movie.  The first movie had an intense sense of claustrophobia with the very dark caverns (illuminated by few lights) and very, VERY confined spaces.  This movie could almost have been a horror movie about people just trapped in a cave.   Adding in the creepy monsters just made it that much better.  In this movie though, the characters are nameless fodder, the cave is suddenly very well lit, and the spaces are much bigger.  Where the original felt like a real cave, in this movie, many of the scenes look like obvious sound stages.  I don’t mean to make this director sound horrible.  The movie still works and Harris does do a good job of setting up some great scenes.  But you really see what a difference Marshall made in the director’s chair.  Harris is good, Marshall was great.

I do also have to credit Harris for trying to spice up the action.  This is not just people being picked off one at a time.  There are some good action set pieces put in.  For example there is a scene where some of the group has to get away by using one of the people who died previously.  She died hanging by a rope from the ceiling and they use her as the rope.  There is another where two face off against a monster in a pit.  There are also some nice jump scares which are actually built up very well and not just some cat jumping out for a cheap scare.

I read a few reviews and they all seemed to share the common gripe it is an unnecessary sequel.  I suppose that’s true.  But then again, I guess you could say that for 95% of all horror movie sequels.  You do get more of the same (nothing really new added to the story) but for what its worth Descent Part 2 is surprisingly good for a quick sequel.  It still has a good amount of suspense and action to keep fans of the first interested.  I’m surprised I actually liked it more than I thought I would.

Teenage Zombies (Jerry Warren) 1959

Posted in T on April 28, 2010 by moviemoses

I saw this movie for one because I am a masochist, and two because I keep hearing it mentioned among the worst movies ever made.  Jerry Warren is probably most well known work is from Wild Wild World of Batwoman done by MST3K.  And if people are saying THIS is worse than Batwoman, then we are talking some epic shit right here.

The movie is about a group of teens that go on a water skiing trip.  While on said trip then decide to explore a mysterious island where they get captured by an evil scientist who wants to turn them into zombies.  Meanwhile, friends of the original group go to try to find out why they haven’t returned from their trip.

I guess the biggest problem this movie has is that it is dull.  Nothing happens in this movie.  Characters roam around the island, they get captured, evil scientist explains her plot, other people go looking, more walking, some escape, more walking, more walking more walking more walking.  Jerry Warren must have taken lessons from Roger Corman on padding movies with excessive walking.  The “zombies” in this movie are not really the normal walking dead zombies you think of.  Instead it is just a gas used to make the victims into mindless slaves.

Even with Batwoman and other Warren movies you expect a certain level of camp.  And while you have some funny touches like a guy in a bear suit (always a bad movie staple) and some goofy lines, there isn’t really enough to make the viewing worth it.  There truly isn’t anything here really riffable.

Is this one of the worst movies ever made?  I don’t think so.  There are movies that are far more agonizing than this.  This movie only clocks in at 70 minutes.  Hell, this probably isn’t even the worst Jerry Warren movie ever made.  So even if you are a bad movie aficionado, I don’t think this movie is worth it.