These are brief reviews of the guy flics I’ve seen the last few years to assist you in deciding what to spend time/money to watch/rent/buy/download/steal/whatever …
Usual disclaimer: no low-brow comedies, no trashy horror, no weepy dramas – just eye-candy & mindless, adrenaline-filled, fast-paced, gratuitously violent entertainment fit for guys who still remember what it was like to be 13.
16 Blocks – if you like Bruce Willis and his perpetual shit-eating grin, you’ll like this flic. Playing a tired and down & out NYPD cop, he tries to take a witness 16 blocks to court to give testimony that a lot of crooked cops don’t want him to give and they’ll do anything to stop the witness and Willis. Lots of action, snappy dialogue and the usual Hollywood sappy ending. March 2006.
2 Guns – Denzel Washington and Mark Wahlberg play two crooked undercover agents in this ‘buddy film’ where their mismatched personalities create a surprisingly successful chemistry. This flic is a combination of Training Day and No Country for Old Men and the tried and true formula for all other entertaining buddy films with well written, tongue-in-cheek banter, double-dealing and double crosses, over-the-top gratuitous violence, excellent script and directing and a great supporting cast create a summertime guilty pleasure. August 2013.
2012 – If they had spent a little less on special effects and a little more on screen writers, this 2 ½ hour apocalyptic, end-of-the-world flic could have been so much more interesting. I should have parked my brain at the door because the endless and preposterous narrow escapes, the predictable catastrophes, the repetitive action, the maudlin drama, the dull and silly plot, the cheesy, clichéd dialogue, the junk science and the formulaic heroism at the end would have put me to sleep were it not for the $250 million special effects. Stretching for something positive to say, I’ll admit it had a few chuckles although I’m not sure they were intentional and it was well paced between thunderous action and dull drama but Shakespeare figured that out 400 years ago on a shoestring budget. November 2009.
28 Days Later – Good horror flick, Modern day bio-zombies. Odd ending, so expect the DVD to have several endings. July 2003.
28 Weeks Later – this gory, sci-fi horror flic is the sequel to 28 Days Later where Britain is devastated when the government-created Rage virus (imagine Zombies on speed) destroys life in Britain. Now, 28 weeks later, the U.S. Army (why are they in Britain?) declares the Rage virus has been eliminated and the resettlement of Britain begins anew. As you can guess, the virus emerges again and the Army has to cleanse the newly inhabited areas by wiping out the new inhabitants. Fast paced with lots of chase scenes but a poorly developed story. The shaky camera was annoying and the editing was so fast and sloppy I couldn’t tell who was killing whom (assume the bad Ragers are killing the good people.) Not great but about what you’d expect from a sequel. May 2007.
300 – this is destined to be the ultimate “swords and sandals” guy flic. Spartan King Leonidas leads a mere 300 Spartan soldiers to the Battle of Thermopylae to block Persian King Xerxes invasion of Greece with his vast army of warriors, ninjas, magicians, battle elephants, a rhinoceros and a giant. They hold out for several days against incredible odds and their ultimate sacrifice shames the bickering politicians back in the city of Sparta to finally throw the Greek army into the battle. Incredible photography that ranges from color to sepia to black and white and may usher in a new generation of film-making. It has a fantastic soundtrack and the slo-mo action is gory, brutal and endless. Critics will hate it but guys will love it. March 2007.
3:10 to Yuma – there aren’t many Westerns filmed nowadays but if this is what’s possible then we need more. This flic is a remake of one made about 50 years ago and based on an Elmore Leonard short story, and nostalgia aside, this one’s acting is far superior to the older one. Christian Bale is the struggling rancher who is part of a posse bringing Russell Crowe as the charming and roguish psychopath to meet the prison train to Yuma. Both actors are reason enough to see this flic whether you like Westerns or not. This is a smart. well-written and directed action-adventure, fast paced with lots of gunplay. We are torn between rooting for the black hat or the white hat but with a surprising ending. September 2007
10,000 B.C. – don’t let the inaccuracy of the title put you off to a splendid movie. Wooly mammoths had probably died off before that date and certainly weren’t present in Egypt in any case, the bronze age didn’t begin for more than 6,000 years after nor did the building of the Sphinx or the pyramids. Aside from considerable license taken with the date, the movie has spell-binding visuals, starts out slow but builds in intensity and suspense as a young man tracks those who enslaved his tribe’s hunters and his wife. The critics hated this film and it may be better seen at a theatre than on a small TV screen but is still worth seeing. March 2008.
The Adjustment Bureau – is an excellent flic based loosely on a story by one of my favorite sci fi writers, Philip K. Dick (Mr. “What is Reality?”). Other films inspired by Dick include Blade Runner, Next, Total Recall, Minority Report, etc. The Adjustment Bureau are men who alter people’s lives to fit a pre-arranged plan. As an atheist, I vehemently disagree with the juvenile notion that “someone up there is taking care of us”. It’s a comforting thought but then comfort is the basis of modern religion that attracts those who are too weak to stand on their own. It must be remembered that, thought-provoking as Dick’s stories were, he was, after all, insane. Nevertheless, the movie stars Matt Damon and was carried largely by the intense chemistry between him and Emily Blunt plus a strong supporting cast that overcome the maudlin ending of a film that combines suspense, action, sci-fi, well-crafted romance, existential questions and great fedoras. March 2011.
Aeon Flux – Futuristic thriller starring scantily clad Charlize Theron as an elite assassin caught between warring factions in earth’s last remaining cities. Superb cinematography, fashion, action and violence is set in an other-worldly atmosphere. Great eye-candy! Dec 2005.
The Alamo – Great, inspiring story. They get wiped out this time, too. Less jingoistic patriotism and more realism than previous Alamo stories. Apr 2004.
Alien VS Predator – In ancient times, Predators find Earth, show mankind how to build and are worshipped as Gods. Every 100 years, they hunt Aliens for sport and humans willingly sacrifice themselves to breed Aliens for the predators. Fast forward to 2004 and it’s hunting season again. Lots of violence and action, great FX, good story, no acting. August 2004.
The American – “Meet Jack, James Bond’s boring big screen cousin. Jack wears Eddie Bauer fleeces, has a pay phone instead of high-tech gadgets, and actually has to pay for sex. He makes assassin work look more boring than an H&R Block gig on April 16.”
I did not write the above. I have no idea where it came from. There’s gremlins in Windows 7. It’s not my style but I like it. Also, I have no idea where this came from … “It’s like ordering a hamburger and getting escargot. Which is OK if you like snail, but it’s an acquired taste.”
Anyway, the movie is NOT a typical guy flic. It’s more drama than thriller, more mystery than action. It’s more of an art house flic, done with European minimalism to create a highly engrossing melodrama. August 2010.
American Gangster – 1970’s thriller, based on a true story, with Russell Crowe as the good-guy cop (most are corrupt) and Denzel Washington as Frank Lucas, the New York black “Godfather” of drugs and crime. Award-winning acting and Ridley Scott’s superb directing result in an entertaining movie that still falls a bit short of what it could have been given the high-powered acting, directing and dark cinematography. November 2007.
Angels & Demons – With Tom Hanks in another Dan Brown movie and also directed by Ron Howard, this one is better than it’s predecessor, “The Da Vinci Code” but I’m not sure that means much. Lots of well-paced action and lots of plot holes (who arranged for the car bomb and why only one helicopter for all the cardinals?) but, at least Tom Hanks hair wasn’t as goofy as the first flic as he chases down the dreaded Illuminati to prevent its destruction of the Vatican. June 2009.
Armored – an armored truck security guard’s foolproof plan to heist their own payload goes wrong and, when one of them develops a conscience, it turns even worse. Well cast, well-paced and well directed and, in spite of plot holes big enough to drive an armored truck through, it’s still a solid, fast moving B-movie about the gritty working class caught in the grip of hard times. December 2009.
Assault on Precinct 13 – Better than the original with lots of action and great story. Excellent cinematography for an action flic. Rogue cops assault a thinly-manned precinct trying to assassinate the mobster who can finger them. February 2005.
Avatar – James Cameron (of Titanic fame) released his latest epic in film-making which is a technical marvel that should be seen on a theatre screen preferably in 3-D to fully appreciate the seamless melding of live action photography and computer graphics. It involves a paraplegic ex-Marine torn between the indigenous people of a distant planet Pandora and the humans who would exploit them. The story may be old (“Dances with Wolves” paean to nature) and the dialogue wooden and a bit over-righteous but the dazzling visuals kept me in a sense of wonder through this 2 ½ hour flic replete with something for everyone: action, suspense, drama, romance and political satire of the Bush-era militancy. However, it’s for the visuals this flic will be remembered so see it on the silver screen or hi def wide screen if you can. January 2010.
The Aviator – Leonardo Di Caprio in an excellent role as Howard Hughes, the eccentric, reclusive and paranoid billionaire. Chronicles Hughes’ descent into madness without really explaining its cause (it’s sort of Mom’s fault – isn’t it always?) Cate Blanchette plays an excellent Katherine Hepburn. Interesting biography but not a satisfying movie. I overheard one movie-goer upon leaving say “Well, that was stupid.” The critics loved it of course. January 2005
Babel– is a tear-jerker drama, not a guy flick. Its subtitle should be “Bad things happen to stupid people who make dumb choices.” A man and wife travel to a god-forsaken, fly-infested Moroccan desert to patch up their marriage (Hello? How romantic!) then find themselves a million miles from a U.S. embassy when they get in trouble in a politically unfriendly country. Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett, both talented actors, are wasted in this film (so they’ll probably get Oscars.) Cate spends most of her time unconscious and Brad in a perpetual state of anguish. Four different stories are a loosely connected jigsaw puzzle although the meaning of the connection escapes my understanding. The best acting is by the unknowns in the other three stories. The photography and landscapes are more powerful than the tragic and traumatic inevitability of the stories, most of which end happily. Go figure. Pass on this one. November 2006.
Babylon A.D. – The critics hate this sci-fi, action-adventure-thriller but Vin Diesel fans will love it. He plays a mercenary hired to deliver hot-babe Melanie Thierry and her secret from a convent in post-apocalyptic Eastern Europe to futuristic New York with tons of action and violence, little acting, clichés galore and shades of Blade Runner, The Matrix, Mad Max, Children of Men and more. Another terrific, mindless guy flic and I confess I have no clue what the title means. September 2008.
Ballistic – great martial arts & action flick 2002
Batman: Beginning – This treatment of Batman’s origins is so confident of itself, the title doesn’t appear until the end. Dark and brooding – it’s always night in Gotham City. Critics lambaste the action sequences as unrealistic but whadya expect: this is based on a comic book … er, graphic novel. Much better than the previous campy, silly Batman flics. Expect sequels. Please! June 2005.
Battleship – If you like long, loud, overblown sci fi–alien invasion-action movies with CGI galore, every cliché in the book and military propaganda up the wazoo, cheesy dialogue, unencumbered with plot other than blowing things up and plot holes big enough to power up the ‘floating-museum’ Battleship Missouri which miraculously still has fuel and live ammo after 70 years; then you’ll definitely like this guy flic as long as you can tolerate the slow first half hour. May 2012.
Be Cool – is Be Dumb. Dumb script, dumb acting (Travolta can’t and Uma Thurman doesn’t.) Few laughs. Elmore Leonard’s excellent dialogue-driven novels do not translate well to film. Pulp Fiction this ain’t. March 2005
Beowulf – totally animated eye-candy based on Medieval (700 AD) story of the Scandinavian hero who battles the ugly, powerful monster Grendel and then has to deal with the monster’s mother, nude Angelina Jolie. Over-the-top story, visuals, dialogue and gory action makes this one of the best guy flicks of the summer. If you get a chance to see it in a theatre in 3-D, don’t pass up the opportunity. November 2007.
Blackhawk Down – U.S. army in Somalia 2002
Blade 2- action horror Wesley Snipes as half man, half vampire 2002
Blood Diamond – Leonardo DiCaprio in one of his best portrayals yet, plays a diamond smuggler in Africa in a film with intense violence, excellent story, 2 hours and 20 minutes of action, extremely fast editing and excellent photography. Scenes of misery and degradation are used to underscore that human life in Africa is cheap and short. It’s hard to believe it’s always everyone else’s fault, never their own. The edge-of-the-seat story is only occasionally marred my maudlin, hypocritical preaching. Jennifer Connelly as a journalist lectures the diamond smuggler for his exploitation while she does the same happily snapping photos of African’s misery. December 2006.
Blood Work – good thriller Clint Eastwood 2002
The Book of Eli – Denzel Washington is Eli walking across a bleak, post-apocalyptic wasteland that is so blasted, desolate and seared by harsh sunlight that all color is drained to sepia. He is as driven as a prophet of God by the belief that only he harbors mankind’s salvation. Gary Oldman, in an excellent portrayal of a ruthless gang-boss, is the only other person who understands Eli’s power and is determined to get it for himself. Little water, no Chapstick but lots of ammunition makes for great gunplay and gruesome bloodshed as well as some of the best post-apocalyptic photography in years. January 2010.
Bourne Identity – better than the book, excellent thriller 2002
The Bourne Legacy (2012) – Hard to believe they could do Bourne without Bourne but they did and it was an incredible endless and well-paced chase movie from start to finish (at more than 2 hours) with Jeremy Remmer as the operative who refuses to be exterminated and lovely Rachel Weicz as his hapless but scientifically erudite helpmate. August 2012.
The Bourne Supremacy – Sequel to Bourne Identity but not quite as good – basically one long chase movie. Opening jerky camera-work more annoying than arty. Fast-paced, lots of action. August 2004.
The Bourne Ultimatum – this third Robert Ludlum-inspired chase movie with Matt Damon is the best one yet. Still trying to uncover his real identity while avoiding the CIA’s black-ops that’s trying to kill him, Jason Bourne starts out running and doesn’t let up in a roller-coaster, action-filled, high energy guy flic that’s loaded with almost two hours of car chases, foot races, gun battles, incredible leaps and amazing surveillance-dodging techniques. Excellent directing and editing is both intelligent and breathless making this probably the best action movie of the summer. August 2007.
The Brave One – aside from the strange title, this is an ambiguous film and likely subject to much debate about revenge, justice and gun laws. Jodie Foster is beaten and her fiancé killed by low-life scum. She slowly becomes a gun-toting, one-woman vigilante. Her acting is riveting and intense even when she’s speaking softly. More drama than thriller, this 2 hour story is spellbinding and the ending is unexpected. September 2007.
The Breach – not exactly a guy flic, but the previews looked interesting so I gave it a try and I’m glad to say it was well worth it. Robert Hanssen is a high-level FBI agent spying for the Soviets and causes the biggest security breach in modern times. Chris Cooper plays a creepy, smarmy Hanssen in an Academy-quality role. Excellent acting, well-paced and a superb story that never lets up on the suspense even though we know the ending. February 2007.
Brothers Grimm – Terry Gilliam (of Monty Python fame who did Brazil, 12 Monkeys, Baron Munchhausen, etc.) produced this adult fairy tale that includes many elements of common childhood fairy tales. Busy visuals and great FX but the story seems disjointed and unsatisfying. Much shouting and manic jumping about doesn’t compensate for over-wrought acting. Too juvenile for an intelligent adult and too dark and frightening for the little ones. August 2005.
Captain America – the First Avenger – As a kid, I never much liked Captain America comics because he was an empty cardboard figure who had NO character, nothing to like or identify with. His super-powers were industrially manufactured. Unfortunately, the movie captures the comic too well and gives us a lot of action but no real character other than a vehicle for patriotic jingoism. Even his enemies, the Red Skull HYDRA organization had to be exaggerated to detract from Captain America’s nothingness. Pretty sad when the bad guy, well portrayed by Hugo Weaving, has more character than the hero! Unfortunately, there’ll probably be sequels. July 2011.
Captain America: the Winter Soldier – has finally evolved from the wooden jerk he was in previous movies to a character of depth in this action-filled, espionage and conspiracy thriller saving mankind from the bad guys (an evil Robert Redford) and is so well-paced that a long 2 hr. 16 min. movie literally flew by. Excellent CGI and supporting cast (Samuel Jackson and hot-babe Scarlett Johansson) combined with a well-written storyline that combines present political concerns, nostalgia for times past and an examination of the security-versus-freedom conundrum makes this a must-see summer block-buster. April 2014.
Captain Phillips – this is more drama than a guy flic but it’s one helluva pulse-pounding drama with Tom Hanks the captain of a container ship hijacked by Somali pirates who then take Hanks hostage. Screenplay and direction is so intense and well-paced and Hanks and the amateur Somalis’ acting so powerful it seems much shorter than its 2:14 running time and it still touches on the unintended consequences of globalization forcing desperate Somali fisherman into ruthlessness stopped only by the good ole Navy Seals and their “Join the Navy” recruitment propaganda. October 2013.
Casino Royale – Finally, a serious Bond film that isn’t a self-parody. Based on the first Bond story, it traces Bond’s beginnings as 007. Not the “gentleman playboy” of earlier Bond films, this Bond sweats, gets beat up, cut and bruised. Although serious, this film still has bits of dry humour and a touching and tragic love interest. Lots of action, great story, well paced, well photographed and edited. I’m looking forward to the next one. December 2006.
Changeling – This is NOT a guy flic but a very powerful drama (thanks, Paula for dragging me to it.) Directed by Clint Eastwood, it is set in Los Angeles in the late 1920’s and stars Angelina Jolie as a single mother desperate for the return of her kidnapped son as she courageously battles a corrupt police force and mayor. Based on a true story, this is an excellent period piece with a superb supporting cast, well-crafted screenplay, Oscar-quality directing by Eastwood and Oscar-quality acting by Jolie and John Malkovich. Warning: this is a heavy, disturbing and frustrating story but well worth viewing to see how far women have come from the straitjacketed stone age that wasn’t so long ago. It is NOT a movie for kids, and parents of young children may find it very unsettling. November 2008.
Children of Men – in the not-too-distant future, humanity has become infertile; no children have been born for 18 years (reasons unexplained.) Civilization worldwide has collapsed (reasons unexplained) but Britain is still barely holding itself together. Bureaucrat Clive Owen with his aging Hippie friend Michael Caine and activist Julianne Moore help a pregnant woman escape both government forces and rebel forces to find the Human Project (reasons unexplained.) The atmosphere is dark, depressing and gritty, the story is disturbing and perplexing and yet engrossing. Excellent hand-held camera work and fantastic action sequences. January 2007.
Chronicles of Narnia – Prince Caspian – this fantasy action sequel to The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, while it has a lot more action than the first movie was actually quite boring and I was tempted to walk out half way through – always a bad sign. Even the battle scene at the end seemed as tedious as the moronic morality tale (Jesus as a lion could be over-looked in the first flic but seemed silly this time.) May 2008. Note: I seem to have lost my review of the first movie.
Chronicles of Riddick – Wow! Science fiction combined with dark horror. Vin Diesel finally finds his element stopping outer space invaders from capturing the universe. Incredible H.R. Geiger movie sets, spectacular FX, amazing screenplay, super story and non-stop action. I stared so hard my eyes were watering. When you see this, remember to blink. There’s gotta be sequels! June 2004
Clash of the Titans – Sam Worthington plays Perseus – a man but born of a god who must defeat Haddes (Ralph Fiennes) to prevent him from seizing power from Zeus (Liam Neeson) and destroying mankind. This flick wasn’t as stupid as I thought it might be based on the trailers but it came close. In fact, if it weren’t for the over-blown CGI it would have been boring. The story was cheesy and the acting was lame considering the star-power but as an adventure flic it was ok. If you’re going to watch it, see it on a large screen to enjoy the CGI otherwise there’s not much to recommend it. April 2010.
Cloud Atlas – Star-studded with Tom Hanks, Halle Berry and Hugo Weaving – the concept is ‘we’re all connected’ in six stories covering three centuries. The connections are nebulous and the six stories are told in short snippets but the movie is bold, engaging and ambitious in concept and at three hours in length it held my attention with spectacular setting, great cinematography and well-paced action. If you can figure out what e connections are, please leave a comment. October 2012.
Cloverfield – this Sci Fi thriller has a monster stomping New York but, a la Hitchcock, the “bad thing” is rarely seen which adds to the horror but the movie is not about the monster; it’s about the self-absorbed Facebook generation coping with disaster and the death of friends. The males’ Neanderthal inarticulate lack of communication makes you want to slap them upside the head. The viewpoint is through a party-goers video cam and although the shaky camera is way overdone the movie is well-paced and entertaining. Warning: no-closure ending. January 2008.
Collateral – even if you hate pretty-boy, Tom Cruise, you have to see him as the bad guy – a sociopath hit-man commandeers a taxi driven by Jamie Foxx to carry him on his assassination mission. Sharp, well-written, great story, lots of action and violence. August 2004.
Collateral Damage – Arnie plays an anti-terrorist Fireman 2002
Conan the Barbarian – great swords & sandals guy flic with a barbarian whose philosophy is simply “I live, I love, I slay” and he proves it indeed. Excellent albeit over-the-top story that seems to go on forever, cheesy dialogue that doesn’t take itself too seriously, incredibly relentless blood and gore, non-stop action and fantastic CGI make this a must-see guy flic. Of course the critics hate it. August 2011.
The Constant Gardener – The flic is based on a Le Carre novel; but the book is more thrilling and the movie more of a tear-jearker as a young British diplomat (Ralph Fiennes) tries to carry on the crusade of his wife who is murdered trying to expose the machinations of Big Pharmaceuticals on unsuspecting Africans. The muddy soundtrack makes British accents difficult to understand and the jerky hand-held camera makes it annoying. More of an art flic than a guy flic. Read the book. Sept 2005.
Constantine – Helluva movie (no pun intended) featuring heaven & hell, God & Satan, angels & demons. Keanu Reeves as an exorcist risks his soul to save mankind. The critics said it was the same incomprehensible gibberish as Matrix but the critics don’t know shit and have obviously never been to Sunday school. Anyone with a basic understanding of Christianity will comprehend this flic. One of the “must see” movies of the year. March 2005
Contagion – this docu-drama has authorities struggling with a deadly and fast-spreading super virus amid panic and social disorder. The science is good but the story seems remote considering hundreds of millions die a gruesome death – a thriller with few thrills. Despite good acting from an all-star cast: Matt Damon, Kate Winslet, Lawrence Fishburn, Gwyneth Paltrow and Jude Law, we never really connect with the characters. Fortunately, Gwyneth Paltrow gets finished off early in the film. The critics like it. They would. September, 2011.
Cowboys and Aliens – this is a great summer movie with 1873 cowboys; snarly Harrison Ford and bad-ass Daniel Craig fighting aliens for the survival of mankind. If that sounds over-the-top, so is this delightful mix of two genres (if you like either Sci Fi or Westerns, you’ll love this flic) that avoids being campy, plays it straight and succeeds with Spielbergian CGI, great characterization, excellent supporting cast and well-paced, non-stop action. What more can I say about one of the year’s best guy flics except the critics hated it, of course. July 2011.
Crank – Jason Statham (of Transporter fame) is injected with a “Beijing cocktail” as punishment for trying to escape his life as a mob hitman. Only adrenaline will delay his inevitable death and so begins an outrageous, action-packed, edge-of-the-seat, toe-tapping, fast & furious, death and mayhem-filled race through L.A. as he seeks revenge on his would-be executioners with martial arts, gunplay, chase scenes, over-the-top sex and tongue-in-cheek humour. September 2006
Crank: High Voltage – Jason Statham stars in another high voltage, intense-action, guy flic. This sequel to the 2006 original where his indestructible heart enabled him to survive falling from a helicopter except now his heart has been surgically removed and replaced by a battery-powered artificial heart that needs constant jolts of electricity as he chases through L.A. trying to reclaim his real heart. Absurdly over-the-top action, insane brutality, gratuitous violence, politically incorrect tongue-in-cheek humor and bizarre dream sequences work well in a brainless movie that doesn’t take itself too seriously. April 2009.
Cursed – Wes Craven’s modern vampire flic. Wooden acting (Christina Ricci’s in it so whadya expect?) hoky story but lots of action, a few frights and some tongue-in-cheek humour. Grade B. February 2005
Daredevil – Superhero flic. Excellent. Right up there with Spiderman. April 2003.
The Darkest Hour - is an off-beat sci-fi alien invasion movie with invisible aliens that can only be detected by the aliens’ actuation of things electrical and our characterless band of intrepid survivors must develop weapons to stop the aliens decimation of earth’s population. The critics hated it. I know you’re surprised. December 2011.
The Dark Knight – Christian Bale as Batman, must stop the reign of chaos unleashed by the merciless Joker. It’s not just the Knight that’s dark but everything about this movie is oppressive and depressingly dark; the story, the tone, the plot, the drama, Batman’s brooding and the cloud over my head when I left the theatre. Heath Ledger as the Joker, carries this movie so well it should be called The Joker. Lots of action, um, lots of action and lots of action is about the best I can say for this overlong movie. The critics, of course, loved it. Bale was better in Batman: the Beginning. July 2008
The Dark Knight Rises – Christian Bale as Batman emerges from self-imposed exile to confront gorgeous Anne Hathaway plying a skillful cat burglar and he battles the exceedingly sinister and brutal Bane who is intent on destroying Gotham with a nuclear bomb. This is an engrossing finale to Christopher Nolan’s trilogy. Although it drags a bit, it reflects our era’s emerging class war between the 99% and the 1% and the explosive ending creates a satisfying conclusion. July 2012.
Dark Shadows – Johnny Depp fans will like this Tim Burton production where Johnny plays Barnabas the vampire, freed after two centuries of entombment, returns to the dysfunctional remnant of the family played by a great supporting cast. So you’d think it would be better than it is. It’s got a lot going for it but somehow never gets off the launch pad to greatness. On the other hand, Depp seems to have relished the role Burton created for him and Depp fans may see it a second time to catch all the stuff they missed on the first go. May 2012.
The Da Vinci Code – great chase film with Tom Hanks (and his weird haircut) on the run from the police and Opus Dei and an albino assassin (not because of his haircut) trying to prevent him …. oh, everyone’s already read or heard about it. Anyway, lots of action, suspense, betrayal, double-crossing and (very much like Mission Impossible) keeps you guessing until the very end. June 2006
Dawn of the Dead – Bloody zombie gore-fest. Lots of action. Gratuitous violence. Good story. Jan 2004.
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes – is another sequel that better than the original (rare indeed). Human survivors make a tentative peace with the intelligent apes, still led by Caesar but human stupidity (redundant, I know) and ape betrayal leads them both to the brink of war. Excellent, intelligent and well-paced story that is packed with action, fantastic CGI and for emotional impact, this one may be hard to top. July 2014.
The Day After Tomorrow – Global superstorm creates new ice age. Wooden acting, hoky story, questionable science but great FX. Dreadful screenplay done by Hollywood writers whose only experience with ice is in their drinks – killer frost chases hero down a hallway, tidal wave washes into New York and doesn’t flow back into the Atlantic. If you’ve seen the previews, you’ve seen the best parts of this one. May 2004
The Day the Earth Stood Still – not as good as the original 1951 film unfortunately, although the deadpan alien Klaatu is a perfect fit for Keanu Reeves’ wooden acting. Excellent special effects but the story sucked as it was not nearly the discomforting, cautionary tale as the original. Klaatu’s mission is to save life on Earth but not its people who have been judged to be failures in maintaining their home planet until Klaatu sees Jennifer Connelly’s love for her adopted son so he forgive us all although the lights go out so hopefully we don’t make so much of a mess in future. Get real! December 2008.
Death Race – I love New York Times description: “a supercharged junkyard apocalypse powered by an unabashed relish for brutal comeuppance and a flair for delirious vehicular mayhem.” They’re about the only critics who liked it. Jason Stratham as a former race car driver is framed and sentenced to a futuristic prison where the only way to escape is to win the Death Race. No surprise that the critics hate this high octane, gritty, adrenaline-jacked, guy flic full of cars, babes, guns and gruesome death that kept me on the edge of my seat from start to finish. This is a terrific, mindless, guy flic. August 2008.
Death Sentence – aptly named because somebody should execute this flic. Kevin Bacon, who’s acting ranges from A to B, tries to play a grieving father who seeks revenge on the gang who killed his loved ones. The emotion is maudlin, the plot contrived and the story is more melodrama than thriller although with lots of people shooting at each other. This movie tries hard but it just doesn’t work. Don’t even rent this one. August 2007.
Déjà vu – you have to be a Denzel Washington fan to appreciate this over-the-top sci-fi thriller. Denzel plays an ATF agent with super-human detective abilities who returns in time to prevent a major tragedy. Loads of gratuitous violence, tons of FX and as untouched by reality as one would expect from a typically vulgar Jerry Bruckheimer/Tony Scott collaboration (“Top Gun,” “Enemy of the State.”) Great guy flic as long as you suspend critical judgement. December 2006.
The Departed – Leonardo DiCaprio is an undercover cop in Jack Nicholson’s mob and Matt Damon is Nicholson’s “rat” on the police force. The cops know they have a rat in their midst but don’t know who. Nicholson knows he has an undercover cop in his mob but he doesn’t know who. Both cops are looking for each other. Explosive acting from everyone, edge of the seat suspense, brutal violence, betrayal and double-crossing, excellent story, great movie. October 2006
Die Another Day – It’s a Bond movie alright 2002
District 9 – This low budget sci-fi flic starring mostly unknown actors is a “must-see-movie” as it has great action as well as heart and soul. An alien mothership has been hovering over Johannesburg, South Africa for 20 years as more than a million tentacled and starving aliens have been relocated to a shantytown on the outskirts of the city where they become obsessed with cat food and Nigerian prostitutes. The story is smart, though-provoking, asks difficult questions about prejudice and still left me on the edge of my seat. Some movies entertain, some make you think; this does both. August 2009.
District 13 – an updated Escape from New York except it take place in Paris. French with English subtitles. An honourable low-life trying to rescue his sister teams up with a police martial artist trying to prevent a neutron bomb exploding in Paris. Yes, the story is really as preposterous as it sounds and the plot is as non-existent as the acting. Low production values but lots of action, gunplay, tons of gratuitous violence and martial arts. June 2010.
Django Unchained – Tarantino did a spaghetti western starring Di Caprio, Samuel L. Jackson and Jamie Fox as the slave who, helping a bounty hunter in exchange for his freedom searches for his wife in the slave trade. Typical Tarantino film with buckets of blood, gratuitous violence, snappy dialogue, tongue-in-cheek humor, all the while educating us about the horrors of slavery and entertaining enough to be one of the best guy flics of the year. December 2012.
Domino – Spoiled rich girl, Kiera Knightley, as Domino finds her calling as a bounty hunter on L.A.’s gritty streets with tough guy Mickey Rourke and his shit-eating grin as her boss and mentor. Her team of bounty hunters is caught between two warring mob gangs and the FBI. Outrageous action. Will appeal to anyone with attention deficit disorder and/or testosterone. Oct 2005.
Doom – Based on the video game, a future SWAT squad is sent to a Mars research station to deal with a mutant monster outbreak. Mega action, mega violence but otherwise mega Doom is mega dumb. Oct 2005.
Doomsday – British post-apocalyptic, sci-fi action flic with gorgeous Rhona Mitra as the jaded heroine tasked to return to the nightmarish remains of biologically devastated Scotland to find a cure. Although totally derivative (Mad Max, Escape from New York, 28 Days Later, etc. etc.) the story is good, the music is LOUD, the action is non-stop, edge-of-the-seat, the cinematography is fantastic, the explosions are over the top, the violence is gory and totally gratuitous, and the critics hated it which makes this the best, mindless, apocalypse guy flic so far this year. March 2008.
Dredd – Carl Urban has turned Sylvester Stallone’s earlier satire into a gritty, grizzly, blood-soaked vendetta with Judge Dredd as cop/jury/executioner chasing down a major drug lord (or in this case lady) in a dystopian future Amerikan wasteland in an excellent, well-paced, overly violent Grade-B action movie. September 2012.
Drive Angry – Dumb name for an excellent guy flic starring Nicholas Cage who deserves credit for willingness to make movies few other actors would touch. He returns from hell to exact vengeance on those who killed his daughter and to save his grand-daughter. This is pure grindhouse that outdoes Gorman & Tarantino, over-the-top action flic with souped-up muscle cars, great supporting cast including a despicable bad-guy cult leader, an Armani-dressed Satan’s PR man called the “Accountant” & with gorgeous Amber Heard as his side-kick, endless & gory violence, well done 3-D and screenplay so deranged that Cage screws a waitress while fully clothed with a cigar in his mouth, swigging Jack Daniels with one hand and gunning down assailants with his other hand. Campy pulp & grindhouse fans, you gotta see this in 3-D! March 2011.
The Eagle – In Roman Britain 140 AD, a centurion searches among the savage Northern tribes for the gold eagle emblem lost when his father’s 9th Army disappeared. This is an excellent story with good character development and pacing, great drama as the Roman and his Brit slave push the boundaries of loyalty and betrayal, excellent cinematography, incredible scenery, costuming and historical accuracy so gritty you can almost smell the stench and sweat and with battles that are brutal without being graphically gory. Great sword & sandal guy flic! February 2011.
Eagle Eye – Two strangers, coerced into increasingly dangerous stunts by a faceless cyber-terrorist, make an edge-of-the-seat, hi-tech hi-jinx, endless chase move that captured my attention for a full two hours. Produced by DreamWorks SKG (Spielberg, Katzenberg and Geffenberg – three nice Jewish boys who make excellent movies) it was NOT directed by Spielberg so the weepy drama is kept to a minimum and it has only one ending instead of Spielberg’s endless endings. Being Hollywood, you know the good guys win in the end but, given today’s real-politics I was left wondering if perhaps we’d be better served if Eagle Eye had prevailed. See it for yourself and decide. September 2008.
Eastern Promises – David Cronenberg’s films always have a very disturbing, twisted and menacing atmosphere and this film more than most. However, this flic which is more crime drama than thriller shows he’ll have trouble surpassing A History of Violence. Viggo Mortensen deserves an Academy award for portraying a Russian mobster in England. The acting, directing and filming is superb but the story is weak and unsettling: more art-house than entertaining. September 2007.
Edge of Darkness – Mel Gibson plays a Boston police detective whose daughter is assassinated and, in avenging her death he descends into a labyrinth of conspiracy and cover-up (it seems the father rescuing or avenging his daughter’s death is becoming a new movie genre.) Mel’s acting is up to snuff, the story is believable with excellent dialogue and a few interesting twists (notice the reference to Diogenes search for an honest man) and the editing is well-paced with tension building towards the shoot-em-up ending. Not worth seeing on the silver screen but definitely worth renting or watching on TV. February 2010.
Eight Below – would you believe a Disney guy flic that’s also a great family film? Eight sled dogs are left chained outside when researchers hurriedly abandon an Antarctic station to avoid a major storm and the encroaching winter prevents them from returning to rescue the dogs. The dogs struggle to survive and although some of the story is a bit of a stretch (most sled dogs can’t survive more than a few minutes indoors and the Antarctic winter is dark, not sun-filled) but it’s a riveting adventure with great photography and the real heroes are the dogs who are more uniquely individual than most people. March 2006.
Elysium– – this dystopian, sci-fi action film takes place 140 years in the future (they’re still using laptops?) where the world is divided into the super-rich exemplified by Jodie Foster who phones in her acting and the over-populated billions of desperately poor (much like today) exemplified by out-of-control, smart-ass Matt Damon.
The solution is simple: just break into the rich world and share the wealth and the medical technology to save millions of lives for ever more over-population, but we’re not supposed to think about that nor the fact that communism has already taught us that equal sharing results in equal sharing of misery and poverty. Producer/director Blomkamp fails to live up to his previous District 9.
If you ignore the Pollyanna political overtones and put your mind on hold, the brutal sci-fi action, directing, pacing, human interest and gritty misery are brilliant and entertaining. That this is another in a long line of recent anti-capitalist dystopian films reveals how Hollywood intends to dramatize and have us accept the growing gap between the haves and the have-nots during this never-ending recession.
In short: this is great entertainment but brainless politics. August 2013.
Ender’s Game – is an incredibly powerful and moving sci-fi space opera with the gruff Harrison Ford training teenagers to fight an alien enemy. It’s more than a coming-of-age story with the conflicted young genius raising serious issues of morality and in the end, setting off to do justice. Slow at first, the story picks up for a terrific CGI epic battle. For as much as I like the humanism of the writer Orson Scott Card, this flic is actually more entertaining than the book and appeals to youngsters of all ages except of course idiot critics pretending to be grownup. November 2013.
Escape Plan – together again, aging action stars Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger still got what it takes. Stallone is a security expert specialized in detecting flaws by breaking out of high security prisons until he’s set up and put away for good in the newest, hi-tech “Tomb” to make it appear this prison is so good even he can’t escape. Edge-the-seat suspense, brutal violence, endless action, outrageous story, mucho testosterone, great supporting cast and Schwarzenegger’s dry humor (“You hit like a vegetarian”) deliver excellent guy-flic junk food. October 2013.
The Expendables – Considering the heavy-weight cast of action stars: Stallone, Jet Li, Lundgren, Jason Statham, Terry Crews, Mickey Rourke, Steve Austin and even a cameo by Schwarzenegger – you’d think Stallone would at least write a half-witted story that makes use of this fire-power. Alas, it’s not to be. Despite the action, it’s boring and poorly assembled. Pass on this one.
The Expendables 2 – Hard-core, over-the-top gratuitously violent, action packed extravaganza starring aged and antediluvian action stars Sly Stallone, Arnie, Bruce Willis, Jason Statham, Jet Li, Dolph Lundgren, Chuck Norris and the evil Claude Van Damme in a retiring reunion of middle-aged, monogenerian mahem, venerable violence, geriatric jousting, ancient anarchy, formulaic fatalities and enough tottering testosterone to overcome corny one-liners, pathetic pathos and a limp plot. August 2012.
Fantastic 4 – Disclosure: when I was a kid, the Fantastic 4 were my favourite Super Heroes because they quarreled and bickered and had individuality and idiosyncrasies like real people. I expected the movie to be disappointing. It covered their origins so it took a while for the movie to get rolling. In spite of the usual wooden acting, I found myself thoroughly engrossed with the story and action. Great FX, great story and lots of action and the lovely Jessica Alba as the Invisible Girl. Hope for sequels. July 2005.
Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer – this is a fantastic summer guy flic and better than the 2004 original which is unusual for a sequel. Disclaimer: the F4 were my favorite comic book heroes because they quibble & bicker like real people so I’m somewhat prejudiced. If you like comics this is an excellent adaptation given the inherent limits of film-making and the characters as shallow and acting as wooden as you’d expect from a comic. The F4 battle the Silver Surfer who prepares worlds for Galacticus’ destruction. Lots of action and tons of excellent FX. My biggest disappointment was Jessica Alba, who naturally is a hot babe, but her tacky blond dye job and cheap blue contacts were distracting and took almost the entire movie’s 1 ½ hours to get used to. Ah well, aside from that, a great guy flic. June 2007.
The Fast and Furious – good chase scenes, future cult classic 2001
Fast & Furious 3 Tokyo Drift – Lucas Black moves in with his military father in Tokyo to stay out of jail in the U.S. and he hooks up with the Japanese mob and underground, hair-pin-turn “drift” racing. Minimal story and wooden acting but great action and racing, plenty of rice rockets and hot Japanese babes. June, 2006.
Fast and Furious (2009) – Adding to some of the original stars is Vin Diesel with opening action scenes of excellent stunt driving the best in the movie which goes downhill pretty fast from there with little plot, less acting, rotten dialogue and furious editing that left me bewildered which car was doing what. In spite of that, it was entertaining (hey that’s what movies are all about, critics be damned – if they want culture they should go to a live stage play) and it left the distinct possibility of another sequel (that would be the 5th.) April, 2009.
Fast Five – Number 5 of the “Fast and Furious” films and probably the best so far. Vin Diesel and Paul Walker re-unite with characters from the previous films to pull one last job in Rio while being chased by Top Cop “The Rock” as well as the Brazilian mob. Over-the-top stunt driving, endless action, silly testosterone-drenched dialogue, tongue-in-cheek humor and even a bit of romance makes for a great summer action flic. May 2011.
Faster – The Rock is released from prison after 10 years with a single-minded goal to avenge his brother’s murder but the hunter becomes the hunted with a hit-man on his tail and cop Billy Bob Thornton with his own agenda. Good supporting cast, brutal violence, tongue-in-cheek minimalist story with the main characters know only by their archetype – The Rock is the “Driver”, Thornton the “Cop” etc. make this an excellent Grade B guy flic. December 2010.
Fear Dot Com – gruesome horror, some violence is over the top 2002
Firewall – Harrison Ford, a bank security specialist’s family is kidnapped to force him to steel $100 million from his own bank to free his family from the psychopathic criminal’s gang. Lots of action and plot twists but Harrison is getting a bit old for action movies and seems tired and miscast. Worth seeing if you have nothing better to do. January 2006
Flags of Our Fathers – directed by Clint Eastwood, this is the story of the 5 Marines and a Navy corpsman who raised the flag on Iwo Jima in WWII. Brought back to the U.S. as heroes to drum up national support for War Bonds we learn that heroes are mythical and to create heroes out of real men has tragic consequences. The war scenes are more realistic than Spielberg’s “Saving Private Ryan” but the editing of random flashbacks is somewhat confusing and the photography seems, at times, to be as contrived as the War Bond project. Part II, as seen from the Japanese point of view, should be out in a couple months and I’m looking forward to it. October 2006
Flight Plan – Excellent suspense flic starring Jodie Foster as the mother of a child who is kidnapped aboard an aircraft. Foster does an excellent job portraying every parent’s worst nightmare. Well-paced story starts out slow and builds to an unexpected climax. Put aside critical thinking, though. How does a six year old disappear on a crowded jetliner with no one seeing her? Why only one coffin? Why allow a delusional mother to continuously run amok? Enjoyable flic as long as you don’t think about it. Sept 2005.
The Forbidden Kingdom – Jackie Chan and Jet Li fans rejoice! A Kung Fu movie with both martial artists together for the first time leaves me hoping there’ll be more. Of course, it’s cheeky and cheesy with lame humour that’ll make you roll your eyes and wish for more. Great FX and well-choreographed, fantastic chop-socky fighting made for kids of all ages and there’s even a story in there somewhere. May 2008.
The Fountain – surreal is the only word to describe this movie which is more art flic than guy flic. Three stories with lovers, Hugh Jackman and Rachel Weisz – 15th Century Conquistador and Queen of Spain searching for the fountain of youth which is actually the tree of eternal life, modern day medical research and a future journey to some mysterious “wherever” are woven together in a dreamy (and unexplained) visual tapestry of incredible cinematography that is best seen on the silver screen. Wait for this one to hit the art-house movie circuit as it would be wasted on a TV screen. December 2006.
From Paris with Love – Does this sound like a guy flic? It stars John Travolta. Does that sound like a guy flic? If you like non-stop action, car chases, stuff blowing up, improbable gun play, over-the-top stunt work, great story-line and John Travolta having the time of his life playing a totally deranged secret agent paired with Jonathon Rhys Meyers as a bookish Ambassador’s aid, then you gotta see this tongue-in-cheek action movie which clocks in at 1 hr 34 min. and seems like only 10 minutes long. Oh, did I mention, the critics hate it. Are you surprised? February 2010.
Ghost Rider – Nicholas Cage and his perpetual hang-dog expression plays a motorcycle stunt rider who sells his soul to the devil and becomes the devil’s bounty hunter known as the “Ghost Rider” with his love-interest, the lovely Eva Mendes, Peter Fonda as the devil and gravelly-voiced Sam Elliot as the perennial narrator. Spell-binding FX, tons of action, creepy bad guys and an epic story based on the cheesy Marvel comic makes this guy flic great, stupid fun (hey it’s Hollywood: whadya expect?) Not for the kids! February 2007.
Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance – Nicolas Cage in his reprisal as Johnny Blaze, demon motorcycle stunt rider trying to recover the soul he sold to the Devil. With lots of action, chases, explosions and cheesy special effects, you’d think it would be a bit more exciting especially being directed by the Crank directors. Short story stretched too long and too many meaningless lingering blazing skull shots. I’m surprised they didn’t break into song and dance to fill the voids. Cage is paying the rent with this one. February 2012
Ghost Ship – more thriller than horror, good story & FX 2002
G.I. Joe: Retaliation – is way better than the first one with mindless, non-stop, adrenaline-soaked, explosive action unencumbered with a plot that left me on the edge of my seat. Stars Dwayne Johnson, Bruce Willis and gorgeous Adrianne Palicki (who excelled in “Legion”) and an excellent supporting cast. Entertaining and tongue-in-cheek humor although characters named Destro, Flint, Ripcord, Storm Shadow and Snake Eyes had me rolling my eyes. The critics hated it so you’ll love it. April 2013.
The Golden Compass – in a visually stunning alternate world where talking animals are people’s souls, a little girl (Dakota Blue Richards) journeys north to find a kidnapped friend. Also starring Nicole Kidman at her evil best, gravelly-voiced Sam Elliot and cameo by Christopher Lee. Hectically paced and confusing at times this is still a delightful fantasy for both young and old. December 2007.
Gravity – for once I agree with the critics; this is the movie of the year and is best seen at the theatre in 3D. I will even quote one, “Pulse-pounding sound design, gut-wrenching performances, and visually masterful, ‘Gravity’ is one of the more surprisingly beautiful films of 2013.” Starring George Clooney and Sandra Bullock who carries the show with steely determination, this is a sublime mixture of emotionally breath-taking spectacular cinematography and sheer terror enhanced with theatre 3D that makes you feel you are out in space with them. This will remain in cult history alongside Kubrick’s 2001 Space Odyssey. Tip: keep reminding yourself to breathe. October 2013.
Green Lantern – this is a big budget block buster that actually delivers more than it promises. A cocky test pilot is the first human chosen as a reluctant member of a centuries-old Corps of peacekeepers. In spite of a lengthy exposition of the Green Lanterns’ ancient history that prevents much character development, there’s never a dull moment with eye-popping special FX, a colorful villain and a gorgeous leading lady that all make for great entertainment. Hope for sequels. The critics hated it, of course. June 2011.
Green Zone – Matt Damon is back in another thriller, this time in the Green Zone, the “safe” area of Baghdad immediately after the Iraq War, searching for non-existent WMDs (Weapons of Mass Destruction) as he find himself in the cross-fire between the CIA and Washington apparatchiks. The pace isn’t just fast, it’s as relentless as the three Bourne films and even the occasional pause is filled with tension; the editing is hyper; the story is both smart, albeit over-the-top as well as politically relevant; the action is believable; the cast is solid and the surprise ending is as futile as the war itself. Great guy flic! March 2009.
The Grey – Liam Neeson, in one of his most powerful roles yet, leads seven surviving oil rig roughnecks from a plane crash in an Alaskan winter hunted by a pack of Grey wolves (hence the title) as the wolves pick off one man after another in a race against time. More drama than thriller but this is an edge-of-the-seat, action-packed drama. It’s one thing to rage against the ‘dying of the light’ but it’s altogether different to accept it when all is lost. The action is gritty and visceral; the photography captures the cold, bleak isolation, lighting is exceptional, the story is intelligent, the directing is well-paced and Neeson is aided by an excellent supporting cast. This is the kind of film that stays with you. February 2012.
Grindhouse – this is a double feature (remember them?) with shlockmeisters Rodriguez’s Plant Terror and Quenton Tarantino’s Death Proof nostalgically re-creating the B-movie, R-rated trash I used to sneak into the movies to see – complete with gross C-movie previews, scratchy film, bad splices and missing reels (“Management Apologizes for the Inconvenience.”) Planet Terror is a bio-tech zombie movie swimming in mindless violence and buckets of slime and blood-splattered gore with Bruce Willis as one of the bad guys while Death Proof is a slightly more sedate (lots of chick chatter) car-chase, female revenge flick with serial killer, stunt driver Kurt Russell. Recommended to those over the age of 40 for the trashy nostalgia and to the younger crowd if only to appreciate how far we’ve come. April 2007.
The Guardian - Finally, a Kevin Kostner film that is NOT boring. Kostner plays an aging Coast Guard “swimmer,” the guy who jumps into the water from a rescue helicopter to save people. An accident kills his helicopter crew and, while recovering physically and emotionally, he takes a desk job as a trainer. Ashton Kutcher plays the hot-headed trainee. To say much more would give the story away. This flic is more than two hours long but is so engrossing it seems much shorter which is amazing because the only real action is at the beginning and end of the movie. Great story, very moving, seamless FX and good acting (except for Kostner who can only play “taciturn.”) A tribute to the unsung heroes in the Coast Guard who’s motto is “So that others may live.” October 2006
Hancock – Will Smith fans beware; this is not one of his best. He plays an invincible super-hero who is flawed, misunderstood and drunk. This ambitious movie starts out well with an unusual super-hero concept and lots of action and special FX but the narrative just doesn’t click and the whole thing becomes a confusing and pointless melodrama-romance. Both Will and Charlize Theron’s acting ability are wasted in this film. Not a guy flic. July 2008.
Hanna – a 16 year-old is raised by her x-CIA father in the wilds of Northern Finland; home-schooled with an encyclopedia and a book of fairy tales, and trained in self-defense. Great action, well scripted, strong supporting cast with the Chemical Brothers soundtrack and a fairy tale atmosphere and style that is probably best seen on the silver screen. Still, it refreshingly combines art house photography with well-paced action. April 2011.
Hannibal Rising – this is the prequel that explains how Hannibal Lecter became a monster. Unknown actor Gaspard Ulliel plays Hannibal so well it is unsettling. I was horrified by his deeds and I still cheered him on. Excellent revenge flick although to say more would give away the plot. Hannibal is vengeful to those who deserve it but not yet the evil sociopath portrayed in later movies. Excellent photography and writing. The breath-taking beauty of Li Gong as his uncle’s wife balances the cannibalistic horror of Hannibal. February 2007.
Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters – is a guy flic title if ever there was one and the movie is everything a guy could want for mindless entertainment with Hansel (Jeremy Renner) and bad-ass Gretel (Gemma Arterton) all grown up and devoted to hunting and killing black witches in an engaging and preposterously gory splatter-fest. The critics of course hated it but these are the same brain-dead jingoists that gave the propaganda film Zero Dark Thirty a 94% rating and Hansel and Gretel only 17%. Real guys know it should be the other way around. Hope for sequels. January 2013.
Hellboy – Didn’t even know it was a comic but he’s a lot more likable than the Hulk. Dry humour, great story, action and FX. Apr 2004.
Hellboy 2 – the Golden Army – every bit as good or better than the first, Hellboy is a demon with a tough exterior and a heart of gold (hey, he likes cats!) who battles a merciless underworld dictator to stop him from turning earth into hell. The visuals are stunning and the strange and extraordinary creatures are more imaginative than those in Star Wars cantina. It’s fun, funny, frighteningly entertaining and a smashing good story. July 2008.
Hero – Martial arts expert fights three assassins out to kill ancient Chinese Emperor. If you liked the choreographic but improbable tree-top fighting and water dancing of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon then you’ll love this one. Great story, film-work, action and violence. Sept 2004.
History of Violence – This is not your typical Cronenberg film but then there is no typical Cronenberg film. It ought to be called “You Can’t Escape Your Past” but that would raise uncomfortable issues like responsibility and accepting the consequences of your decisions. Instead, Canadian Cronenberg has learned how to push all the right American buttons: forgiveness, motherhood, family and the wonders of gratuitous violence. All you have to do is kill a lot of people and you too can have a wonderful family life. Slow but with interesting suspense and, did I mention gratuitous violence? Very American for a Canadian director. Oct 2005.
Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy – Better than the BBC TV mini-series. As funny as the books. Arthur Dent, the hapless hero careens through the universe with a cast of zany characters searching for the answer to “Life, the Universe and Everything” after earth is destroyed to make way for an inter-Galactic highway. I don’t usually go to the theatre for comedy but I knew this would have great FX. Not the typical American lowbrow humour but the year’s best British silliness. April 2005.
Hitman – The hitman is trained from childhood by a super-secret organization that no one knows yet has ties with every government. The rest of this movie makes as little sense. Gallons of gore and violence, an incomprehensible plot, stupid dialogue and no acting means that this video game-based movie is going directly to video. November 2007
The Hobbit – An Unexpected Journey – seems too much like the Lord of the Rings series to be fresh, too thin a story to be interesting, too much padding for substance, too long by half and worst of all, they re-introduced that smarmy, annoying, pathetic Gollum. Die-hard LOTR fans will flock to it but I’m not sure they’ll like it. It’s not bad but it is disappointing. Let’s hope the sequels are better. December 2012.
Hostage – If you liked Bruce Willis in Die Hard, then you’ll like this intense and tense hostage drama almost as much. I said ALMOST. March 2005
The Hulk – Great FX – unlikable character, weird story. No wonder I hated the comic. July 2003
The Hunger Games – probably the movie of the year, certainly the most popular and definitely a cult classic. In the future there is no middle class, just the wealthy 1% and the starving masses who are reduced to buying food by increasing their children’s chances of being picked for certain death in the Games; the ultimate reality show in a gory, gladiatorial fight-to-the-death by 24 teens and tweens for the amusement of the elite. Early on we are taken by spunky Jennifer Lawrence as ‘Katniss’ who willingly volunteers in place of her younger sister. The timing of the book upon which the movie is based is important: close to the fall of Lehman Bros. in 2008 that ushered in the global financial collapse that raised awareness (Occupy Wall Street) of the current disparity between the 1% who are getting richer and the 99% who are getting poorer. In the movie, most live in tarpaper shacks reminiscent of the desperation of the 1930s Depression. The flic’s production values are top notch; it’s well-paced and incredibly credible. The movie resonates so much with moviegoers that there has been surprisingly little flack about children killing children. Particularly touching is the threat of a Romeo & Juliet ending and the bad guy’s ironic just reward. April 2012.
I Am Legend – Scientist Will Smith is the only human left alive in NY City after a virus turns everyone into Zombie-Vampires (a common theme lately.) Will Smith carries the movie as he races against time to find an antidote and other survivors. Weak ending. December 2007.
Immortals – A sweeping epic, swords & sandals guy flic with Mickey Rourke as the murderous king bent on ruling both mankind and the Gods of Olympus and only a mortal stonemason to stop him. Better than last year’s “Clash of the Titans”, way better than this year’s “Thor”; this blockbuster SGI is reminiscent of “300” with a mix of bloody, ultra-brutal violence and breathtaking beauty, a simple story of revenge with intriguing lighting, well-choreographed battles and non-stop carnage. In 3-D at the theatre but 2-D on a widescreen won’t lose any of its magic. Of course the critics hated it but they’re a bunch of girly-men! November 2012.
Identity – Excellent thriller. Hitchcock would love it. April 2003.
Inception – has there ever been a lousy Leonardo DiCaprio movie? This is another excellent sci-fi actioner, mystery, suspense, fantasy flic with Leonardo as an “extractor” who steals ideas from other people’s subconscious except now, to regain his lost children he must do the opposite and plant an idea in someone trained to resist. The visuals are stunning, the action relentless, the concept mind-blowing, the story is intelligent and complex but not overly complicated with strong supporting actors and when it’s over you’ll never believe it was 2 ½ hours long. There is so much to this flic: I intend to see it more than once. July 2010.
An Inconvenient Truth - This is not a guy flic but curiosity forced me to check it out. I used to wonder how Americans could have elected George W. Bush. After seeing Al Gore’s film on global warming, I now realize they didn’t so much elect Bush as keep Gore out of office. This is a button-pushing documentary full of inference and junk-science. Gore shows that global warming and carbon dioxide are related. We are to infer that carbon dioxide causes global warming but he doesn’t even attempt to prove a causal relationship. That’s because there is none. In fact, REAL science shows it’s the other way around: global warming causes an increase in carbon dioxide. In fact, carbon dioxide has only a minor role in warming compared to other gases.
He graphically demonstrates the parallels between carbon dioxide and global warming and then dramatically elevates a scissor-lift to show the recent rise in carbon dioxide is “off the chart” but, strangely, there’s no accompanying spike in global warming. He says that out of 658 scientific papers, not one disputes global warming but that proves nothing about carbon dioxide. In fact, methane creates more than 60 times the atmospheric insulation than does global warming. Solution? Eliminate cows which are the biggest methane producers next to termites. Also not mentioned is a study by Danish scientists which show that cosmic rays from exploding stars ionize the atmosphere as a result of a decrease in the sun’s protective magnetic field and the increase in released electrons precipitates insulative cloud cover. Global warming could be caused by beer farts for all we know. Gore’s selective use of facts is as dishonest as Michael Moore’s propaganda. See it but don’t believe it. September 2006
Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull – another rousing, action-filled Indy flic with a much older Harrison Ford, this time set in the 1950’s with a lot of sci-fi thrown in (Area 51, space aliens.) Stupid story, apparently there were more than half a dozen different writers but the fast pace and non-stop action kept me on the edge of my seat. You can tell it’s directed by Spielberg from the numerous false endings. Great FX and solid acting but the story is getting old. This is the 4th Indy film and I hope it’s the last. May 2008.
Inglorious Basterds – If you’re a Quentin Tarantino fan, this flic is right up your ally. It’s a WWII Jewish over-the-top revenge fantasy, alternate history, spaghetti Western that only Tarantino could pull off. Less gory than Kill Bill it still has Tarantino’s signature graphic violence, long periods of snappy dialogue, yet the suspenseful story is so well-written, preposterous and well-paced that 2 ½ hours seems to fly by. Brad Pitt’s atrocious Southern accent is rescued by the superb supporting role by Christoph Waltz as the SS Colonel “Jew Hunter” that you’ll love to hate. August 2009.
Inside Man – Clive Owen, as a mastermind bank robber with an agenda hidden from hostage negotiator, the smooth-talking Denzel Washington and supported by the very cold and scheming Jodi Foster and Christopher Plummer who is trying to keep his skeletons in the closet, manages to keep one step ahead of the cops in this excellent thriller. The suspense never lets up, the acting is superb, the plot twists and turns as everybody has their own agenda and the ending is a satisfactory surprise. Director Spike Lee’s best flic. March 2006
The International – Interpol agent Clive Owen and DA Naomi Watts track down the high finance bankers of war and terror to bring them to justice. It’s a gripping thriller with excellent action and lots of gun-play, but the plot is a bit convoluted. Eerily similar to “The Interpreter” with Nicole Kidman. As one critic put it, “Bankers are the new bad guys for Hollywood because they’re part of a stimulus package taking us down the road to Socialism as folks drink the Obamarama Kool-Aid.” Definitely worth renting or watching the movie on TV but not worth seeing on the silver screen.February 2009.
The Interpreter I wouldn’t have thought a thriller starring Sean Penn and Nicole Kidman would amount to much but they’re both excellent actors so I took a chance and was pleasantly surprised. Kidman plays a UN interpreter who overhears an assassination plot; Penn plays the disbelieving detective. Well written, well acted and with believable action, the suspense builds to a shattering climax. May 2005.
In Time – In the future, time is money. Literally. You are paid in minutes and you pay in minutes. When your time runs out, you die. The rich live forever and the poor die young. Justin Timberlake is the hero (I didn’t know he could act!) and “His crime isn’t stealing time; it’s giving it away.” Giving time away upsets the system’s equilibrium. When people get more time, prices rise and no one is any further ahead. There’s a social statement here. Substitute money for time, and then look around. Amanda Seyfried is his gorgeous red-headed, spoiled, rich, girlfriend and Mathew Bomer is the cool-headed “Time-keeper” chasing our hero. Action, suspense, an unsettling story, washed –out cinematography and a great supporting cast produce a combination of Blade Runner, Bonnie & Clyde and the Adjustment Bureau. This’ll never be a cult classic but it’s an entertaining B-movie. November 2011.
I-Robot – A great movie for those who hate robots. Lots of action, great FX. NOT at all based on Isaac Asimov’s story, but it makes interesting points about rampant technology. Retro Will Smith’s usual dry humour. July 2004.
Ironman – Another Marvel comic hero brought to the silver screen that’s well worth seeing. Robert Downey Jr. plays a wealthy arms manufacturer captured by terrorists and forced to build a lethal missile instead builds himself a flying armoured suit to escape the bad guys and embarks on a life of crime-fighting. Good story, excellent acting by Downey, Jeff Bridges and Gwyneth Paltrow and fantastic FX make this a great summer movie. May 2008.
Ironman 2 – Robert Downey, Jr. surpasses himself in his second role as Ironman with Mickey Rourke doing a splendidly ugly bad guy – both of whom carry this film and introducing to the series gorgeous Scarlett Johansson playing the Black Widow of comic book fame (although I’d never heard of the black Widow until now.) Loads of talent with Samuel L. Jackson, Don Cheadle, Gwyneth Paltrow make up for the silly story, aided and abetted by incredible CGI (computer graphic images once called FX), great dialogue and tons of action. May 2010.
The Island – in the future, human clones are created for organ and body-part harvesting. The clones are hidden in a huge underground facility, educated to a fifteen year-old level and brainwashed into believing the earth has been contaminated and they’re lucky to be there. A slight mutation produces a dangerous side effect: curiosity. Likeable Ewan McGregor starts to question his existence and with gorgeous Scarlett Johansson, they break out and the chase is on.
Powerful story, well written, well acted, surreal photography with award-winning, split-second editing of violent action and endless chase scenes kept me on the edge of my seat. Must-see guy flic of the summer. July 2005.
The Italian Job – Excellent heist movie. Great car chase scenes. June 2003.
Jack Reacher – Tom Cruise does a magnificent performance as a reclusive, mysterious ex-military investigator supported by an excellent cast including Robert Duvall, Rosamund Pike and Werner Herzog playing the most evil villain you’d want to meet. The movie has its share of action towards the end but it’s mostly an engaging crime and thriller flic with excellent one-liners. With any luck, this will start a new franchise for cruise. December 2012.
Jarhead – This is a military, not a war flic about Marines in Desert Storm, the first Iraq War. Since the Air Force fought and won the war, there’s no ground combat action except from friendly fire. It shows the insanity of war and the military. Well-paced, non-“action” action flic was compelling enough to hold my interest. Nov 2005.
Jet Li’s Fearless - Sad, but this seems to be Jet Li’s last movie – his first North American English language film was Lethal Weapon 4. Such power, precision and grace in martial arts is hard to find. He has a Baryshnikov-like control of air. Partway through the film, at the top of a hill, Li does a wushu (Kung Fu) workout that alone is worth the price of admission. The story: at the turn of the 20th century, the Western powers controlling China try to humiliate the Chinese with a tournament to show Western superiority. Li, playing Jia, the founder of the Shanghai wushu academy in 1910 proves them wrong. Not as cinematographically rich as last year’s Hero, this flic is certainly more uplifting. September 2006.
John Carter – Fantastic sword & sandal epic from Disney where John Carter of Earth becomes John Carter of Mars – based on an Edgar Rice Burroughs novel where the reduced gravity of the red planet gives Carter super-human strength. The war-weary former Confederate captain realizes only he can save Mars. 3-D in theatres but it would still have plenty of punch in 2-D with well-paced action, great adventure, excellent special effects, tongue-in-cheek humor, bewitching landscapes, good supporting cast with gorgeous Lynn Collins as the love interest and a huge, charming six-legged Martian hound named Woola. March 2012.
Jumper – this Sci Fi action flic has a great premise but fails to deliver. Jumpers are people who can transport themselves and who are hunted and exterminated by Palladins such as Samuel L. Jackson (“only God should have this much power.”) Great FX but a dumb story and plot holes big enough to drive a truck through. Jumper Hayden Christensen’s wooden acting and Neanderthal inarticulate lack of communication makes you want to slap him upside the head – what the hey?!? – if stupidity is becoming a role model for future generations of males then Western Civilization is in deep doo-doo. Let’s hope the inevitable sequels are better. February 2008.
K-19 the Widowmaker – Harrison Ford as Russian sub captain. Slow. 2002
Kill Bill, Vol. 1 – Quenton Terrantino’s bloody samurai epic of revenge starring Uma Thurman and Lucy Liu – all action, dry humour. Must-see eye candy. Sept 2003.
Kill Bill: Vol.2 Less violence and a lot more Tarantino snappy dialogue. Apr 2004.
Killer Elite – superb guy flic with high-powered stars Jason Statham and Robert De Niro are ex-special op assassins VS Clive Owen as the head of a rogue British SAS unit. Great non-stop action, betrayal, suspense, twists and turns as the hunters become the hunted all over the globe. The critics hated it, of course. Sept. 2011.
King Arthur – Best King Arthur story ever! Powerful and moving, lots of violence & action. Great story in spite of critics who’s heads are firmly planted up their asses. July 2004.
King Kong – Big movie, big ape, big time (almost 3 hours.) No big deal. Dec 2005.
The Kingdom – the Kingdom refers to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia where a terrorist bombing has killed hundreds of American civilians. Jamie Foxx and Jennifer Garner, two of several FBI agents, investigate and bring the bad guys to justice in spite of numerous political obstacles. The story starts as a quick history of Saudi Arabia, moves to a crime thriller, covers the clash of cultures and ends as shoot ‘em up, blow ‘em up mayhem. The last two lines poignantly illustrate the futility of the “war on terror.” October 2007.
Kingdom of Heaven – Directed by Ridley Scott (Gladiator, Blackhawk Down) and starring Orlando Bloom (Lord of the Rings) as a brooding blacksmith-turned-knight defending Jerusalem during the 12th century Crusades. Profound dialogue combined with plenty of violence, action and gore make this an anti-war war movie. May 2005.
Knowing – This sci-fi, horror, mystery, drama, action thriller isn’t sure what kind of movie it wants to be but ends up a combination M. Night Shyamalan mysticism and Speilbergian wonderment with well-paced action, special effects that are somewhat shoddy and a plot too hard to believe so park your brain at the door and hang on for the ride. It stars Nicolas Cage who, unhampered by any acting ability except frantic bewilderment, plays a professor who discovers a code that foretells disasters including the last and ultimate disaster and he spends almost two hours running around trying to prevent them. Unlike most Hollywood movies, most everyone is NOT saved in the end but it’s nice to know there is someone “up there” who is looking out for us. March 2009.
Ladder 49 – Heart-wrenching tribute to firefighters starring John Travolta (in an interesting performance) and Joachim Phoenix (in a “Duh” performance.) The action is good but the heart-wrenching is typically American, overdone, Hollywood tear-jerker. Oct 2004.
Lara Croft – Tomb Raider – Good action adventure – female James Bond plus Indiana Jones – “Janes Bond plus Indiana Janes.” August 2003.
The Last Airbender – The only good movie M. Night Shyamalan did was “Sixth Sense”; it’s been a string of disasters ever since and “The Last Airbender” is no exception. This is unfortunate because the movie had such incredible potential as a story. Instead, the dialogue is stupid, the movie is boring, the action is languid, there’s no humour, the pacing is listless, the casting is questionable, the narration is endless and worst of all; there’s probably going to be a sequel. Stop me before I go to another M. Night Shyamalan movie! July 2010.
The Last Samurai – Tom Cruise as a drunken 19th Century cowboy hired by the Japanese to train their Imperial Army to fight renegade Samurai. He is captured by the Samurai and reluctantly learns their way of life. Improbable but rousing story. Great action. Feb 2004.
Law Abiding Citizen – Gerard Butler steals the show playing the brainiac and bereaved father/husband who seeks not vengeance but to teach the justice system the meaning of justice with a series of high-profile murders and Jamie Foxx plays the prosecutor/district attorney who tries to stop him. This is a mindlessly entertaining and gruesome thriller with a riveting pace that slowly reveals Butler’s ingenious methodology as the movie progresses to a clever plot twist ending. The critics hate it, guys will love it. Oct 2009.
League of Extraordinary Gentlemen – Great FX – rousing but implausible adventure story with Sean Connery. July 2003.
Legion – The premise is “The last time God lost faith in humanity, he sent a flood. This time he sent angels.” I always thought it was humanity that needed faith in God, not the other way around; since He’s omniscient He doesn’t need faith. However, I won’t let a bit of theological hair-splitting stand in the way of a good horror-action movie. So, disregard the silly dialogue (mercifully the soundtrack makes much of it indecipherable anyway) and enjoy the spectacle of Archangel Michael renouncing his divinity to join humanity by fighting the heavenly onslaught led by Archangel Gabriel who finds that blindly following orders didn’t excuse the Nazis either. Gory violence interspersed with wooden dialogue, this flic is supported by a solid cast and a surprise ending. The critics, of course, hate it but I doubt any of them have seen the inside of a Sunday School. January 2010.
Letters from Iwo Jima – Clint Eastwood directed this film as a “companion” to last year’s “Flags of Our Fathers.” It presents the WWII battle of Iwo Jima from the Japanese perspective. Filmed mostly in black and white although the flashbacks are in color. The dialogue is Japanese with English subtitles which, surprisingly, do not detract from the movie. Dark, brooding atmosphere, it’s a powerful and engrossing movie even though it has the flavor of a documentary. The Japanese are doomed to be overcome by an overwhelming American assault. Excellent characterizations as individual Japanese soldiers respond to their inevitable defeat. Destined to become a cult classic. January 2007.
Limitless – has a good premise but a lousy story that is poorly executed. A loser takes a revolutionary new drug that lets him use 100% of his brain and he takes Wall Street by storm but he proves that a loser taking a super pill just makes him a super loser. The plot holes are insurmountable. If he’s so smart why doesn’t he realize he’ll soon run out of drugs or that stepping up the dose may have disastrous side effects? Why does a dumb crook who’s chasing after him figure out how to dissolve the drug and inject a small amount for the same effect and he hasn’t. Guy flics are supposed to be mindless, not stupid. Pass on this one. April 2011.
Live Free or Die Hard – this has to be the action flic of the summer and probably the best Die Hard flic yet. Low tech Bruce Willis as wise-cracking Detective John McLane has to stop high tech terrorists from bringing America’s entire infrastructure to its knees. The edge-of-the-seat action starts early and never lets up for more than two hours of implausible and over-the-top action sequences much of which seems to be done the old-fashioned, stunt way and minimal FX – ok, except for all the excellent FX. This is a well written story that doesn’t take itself too seriously with snappy dialogue and tongue-in-cheek humour. If you’re going to see an action movie this summer, this is it. July 2007.
The Lone Ranger (2013) – provides an interesting and imaginative origin and backstory of both the Lone Ranger and Tonto (played by the inimitable Johnny Depp) as the two disparate heroes reluctantly learn to work together to fight injustice, greed and corruption (shades of modern times!) However, it’s hard to believe that the team that made the “Pirates of the Caribbean” such a success could make The Lone Ranger such a stinker. Its 2 ½ hour length is overcrowded with characters, sub-plots, anachronisms and so bloated with over-the-top, preposterous and eye-rolling action that it turns into a bore-fest after the first hour. As several characters said, it’s “not so much”. Johnny Depp is wasted. It’s no wonder Disney Studios are in trouble. Whoever’s in charge should never have approved this production. July 2013.
Looper – is a rare sci-fi, drama, action flic with brains and a heart. A relative unknown, Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays an assassin who dispatches victims sent back from the future but things turn tricky when he meets his older self portrayed by Bruce Willis. This is one of the better time travel movies and will probably become a cult classic. September 2012.
Lord of the Rings: Two Towers – better than the first 2002
Lord of the Rings – Return of the King Vol. 3 – best one yet. Great action, story and FX. Dec 2003
Lord of War – An excellent film starring Nicholas Cage as an illegal arms merchant. The flic shows the tragedy and carnage of guns in third-world countries yet doesn’t become preachy or maudlin. At times irreverent, it shows the arms merchant as “evil, yet a necessary evil.” The character is fictional but the events are factual. Sept 2005.
The Losers – a U.S. Special Forces team is betrayed on a mission to the Bolivian jungle. Written off as dead, they seek revenge and must stop their betrayer from starting a new high-tech global war. Based on a comic book, this intense, action-packed, unpretentious guy flick has a great supporting cast and excellent writing that keeps the killer lines flying as fast as the bullets. April 2010.
Lucky Number Slevin – a cast of A list stars; Ben Kingsley, Morgan Freeman, Josh Hartnett, Lucy Liu and Bruce Willis make for excellent acting in this guy flic thriller that has lots of action, brutal violence, flashbacks, snappy dialogue and a convoluted plot in a story of mistaken identity and revenge. It’s not just Bruce Willis who has a shit-eatin’ grin in this flic; everyone has one except Josh who gets beaten up a lot. Satisfying but highly improbable plot (hey this is a guy flic – you want entertainment or logic?) is a combination of The Usual Suspects and Pulp Fiction. April 2006.
A Man Apart – Vin Diesel as an undercover DEA narc. Good thriller but he couldn’t act his way out of a wet paper bag. April 2003.
Man on Fire – Powerful kidnapping, revenge flick. Violence. Denzel Washington. Apr 2004.
The Man with the Iron Fists – Cheeky Russel Crow, cool Lucy Liu and a solid supporting cast pummel their way through this Kung Fu flic set in old China with tongue-in-cheek humor while mangling every cliché in the book (“I always bring a gun to a knife fight”). Well-paced action with buckets of blood, aggressive choreography reminiscent of Tarantino (“presented” by the man); this epic of silliness is unburdened with a complicated story-line that doesn’t take itself too seriously while delivering an hour and a half of mindless entertainment. November 2012.
The Manchurian Candidate – More drama (Meryl Streep’s in it) than thriller (so’s Denzel Washington.) The story is more improbable than the original 40 years ago. Corporate sponsored brainwashing co-opts U.S Vice President to take over the U.S. government after the President is assassinated. Interesting if you’re into conspiracy theories. August 2004.
Marvel’s The Avengers – this is a blockbuster comic book juggernaut with six super-heroes: Iron Man, Thor, Captain America, The Hulk, Hawkeye and Black Widow (gorgeous Scarlett Johansson) many of whom don’t have the weight to star in a movie alone – the Hulk by himself crashed twice before – but together they make an incredibly entertaining team with witty repartee, tongue-in-cheek humor, long and loud battle scenes and at 2 ½ hours long, it goes by quickly. Well directed by Joss Whedon (Buffy), he allows each super-hero their moments of glory. A very busy flic that’s worth watching more than once. May 2012.
Master & Commander – rollicking, seafaring yarn. Great story and action. FX so well done you don’t know they’re FX. Russell Crowe. Nov 2003.
Matrix Reloaded – Great FX, great car chase scenes. Incomprehensibly vague philosophy disguised as profundity. June 2003.
Matrix Revolution – the third and most over-the-top Matrix with yet more philosophical gibberish, fantastic FX and endless action. Now, would someone please tell me what the hell it’s all about? Oct 2003.
Max Payne – Mark Wahlberg plays a cop avenging the murder of his wife and child. I’ve never played the video game that the movie is based on so I couldn’t care less if the film was faithful to the game or not (unlike some whining critics.) Dark, sepia-toned cinematography reflects the hero’s anguish, the story is simple and well-paced with lots of over-the-top action and gun play as he sinks deeper into a shadowy underworld of corporate corruption and betrayal. Excellent guy flic! October 2008.
Men in Black 2 – excellent sequel 2002
Men in Black 3 – is better than number 2 but, of course, nothing can beat the first. It’s basically the same silly sci fi shtick trying to guess who’s really an alien and who isn’t but with the interesting gimmick of Will Smith travelling back to 1969 to partner with Tommy Lee Jones’ ‘K’ brilliantly portrayed by dead pan Josh Brolin. Entertaining! June 2012.
Men With Brooms – great curling comedy 2002
Miami Vice – fantastic cinematography despite the lack of pastels that the TV series was noted for, Colin Farrell as Crocket (good riddance to Don Johnson) and Jamie Foxx as Tubbs infiltrate drug smugglers in a story that starts out painfully slow and builds intensity to a climactic gun battle. Photography to die for, excellent story, great FX and action. July 2006
Minority Report – updated Bladerunner with Tom Cruise 2002
Mission: Impossible III – this is probably Tom Cruise’s best Mission: Impossible film yet with action, action and more action and lots of gun play and things blowing up. There’s a bit of a love story running through the plot (but who cares?) and what a twisted and convoluted plot it is with setbacks, betrayals and double-crossings so you never know who the bad guys are. Great stunts and excellent cinematography. Great guy flic: ten minutes after you’ve seen it, you’ve forgotten what it was about. May 2006.
Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol – Tom Cruise, love him or hate him, makes this series possible (no pun intended.) The team is off-line and on their own. Non-stop action, incredible stunts like climbing the Burj Khalifa Hotel (tallest building in the world) and even decent characterization make this a guy flic worth watching. December 2011.
Mongol – this is a sweeping epic that covers the early years of Temudgin, later known as Genghis Khan. Although the story is slow at times, the spectacular and haunting photography and gory battle scenes more than make up for it. Subtitled. 2007
The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor – if the first few The Mummy movies were anything like this, I’m sorry I missed them thinking they were brainless horror flics. Jet Li, as China’s ruthless Dragon Emperor, has awakened, is hell-bent on ruling the world and must be stopped, especially if his wooden acting gets any worse. This silly, action-packed movie is a cross between Indiana Jones and a Clive Cussler film which make it a perfect brainless, summer, popcorn flic. The critics, of course, hated it. August 2008.
National Treasure – Book of Secrets – Sequel to the first National Treasure which I saw but I can’t find my review – no matter, because if you’ve seen one you’ve seen them all. Nicolas Cage, treasure hunter, searches for a long lost treasure while trying to outwit and outrun the bad guys. Fast-paced and mindlessly entertaining but the story is overly implausible, the plot indecipherable and the acting is wooden except for over-acting by John Voight. Unfortunately, we can expect more sequels. January 2008 (released Dec 2007.)
Next – Nicholas Cage playing Nicholas Cage is both blessed and cursed with the ability to see two minutes into the future and, to escape government meddling, he makes a living as a Las Vegas stage magician and small-time gambler. Julianne Moore plays the FBI agent trying to convince Cage to help the government track down terrorists bent on detonating a nuclear bomb. Jessica Biel deserves an Oscar for convincing us that a hot babe like her would fall for a loser like Cage. Endless action and chase scenes do little to cover the lack of script, endless plot holes, wooden acting, disappointing ending and lack of resemblance to Philip K. Dick’s novel (ok, so that’s no surprise.) May 2007.
Ninja Assassin – the unlikely hero of this flic takes his revenge on the merciless clan that raised him from childhood in the martial arts of the ninja. As suggested by the title, this is an endless but well-paced gore-fest that is unencumbered by plot or character development. My only complaint is the acrobatic mayhem was poorly edited i.e. too much, too fast; it could have used more slow-mo a la “Kill Bill” but if you like buckets of blood, this is your flic. December 2009.
Noah – is a grand Biblical epic not seen in ages starring Russel Crowe as Noah with a determination bordering on blindness. Excellent supporting cast with Jennifer Connelly as his wife, Emma Watson his daughter and Anthony Hopkins as the grandfather. The writers take great liberties fleshing out the short Biblical tale with a wide variety of ideologies for every taste from environmentalists to Luddites to vegetarians while exploring both the light and dark side of human nature. The ‘rock monster’ fallen angels are very much over-the-top yet serve the necessary function of building the ark and protecting the family. Copious CGI almost compensates its 2 hr. 19 min. length so this dark and very serious spectacle is best seen on the silver screen or a very wide-screen TV. April 2014
No Country for Old Men – another unsettling, gritty and tense thriller directed and screen-written by the Coens (Fargo, Raising Arizona, etc.) about the results of a hunter who stumbles upon two million dollars, a load of heroin and the dead bodies of a major drug deal gone bad. Starring Tommy Lee Jones (sheriff), Josh Brolin (hunter) and Javier Bardem (hitman) as the unstoppable and creepiest psycho-killer you’d never want to meet. Another Cohen masterpiece of horror, humour and human folly that’s hard to watch but you can’t look away. Warning: sudden ending. December 2007.
Oblivion – whether you like Tom Cruise or not, this is a must-see guy flic way better than his formulaic Mission Impossible series with a stunning twist on the concept of alien invaders and human resistance with an excellent supporting cast including Morgan Freeman and great chemistry with gorgeous Olga Kurylenko on a journey of discovery and redemption. Set on a future Earth in 2077, this is more than just an action film; it combines mystery, thrills, fantasy, drama and the romance of lost love regained with twists and turns and stylish, eye-opening cinematography best seen on a wide screen. Of course the critics hate it (makes one wonder what kind of crap they actually like?) May 2012.
ONG-BAK: Thai Warrior – The actor Jaa may be the next Bruce Lee and this action flic made in Thailand (sub-titled) is as low budget as some of Lee’s early ones. Consequently, it has low production values, simple story but lots of action. No computer and no wires for the high-flying action sequences. March 2005
Open water – A couple of scuba divers are mistakenly left behind in the open ocean. Low production values (low budget, poor acting, cheap photography and sound.) Interesting story, shocking shark encounters, unsettling ending. The theatre audience remained glued to their seats during the ending credits waiting for the cavalry to arrive. August 2004.
The Order – Rebel order conspires to take over the Vatican – powerful, dark thriller. Sept 2003
Pacific Rim – Excellent summer block buster from Guillermo del Toro (Pan’s Labyrinth, Blade 2, Hellboy) a modern master of the fusion of fairy tale, dark fantasy, horror, sci fi and action in the creation of visual and poetic beauty. Huge monsters, whose horror makes the Transformers look like toys, emerge from another dimension through a rift in the Pacific to exterminate mankind who retaliate with huge robots operated by mind-linked humans. This is an action behemoth of visionary splendor; probably the best monster movie ever made with a nod to the 1950’s Japanese monster films like Godzilla and Mothra with much better production values and is best seen on the big screen with very loud speakers. Del Toro gives us all the corny clichés a twelve year old would love and, despite mankind’s fate hanging in the balance the film still doesn’t take itself too seriously. The directing and editing is so well-paced that it seemed even longer than its 2 hr. 11 min. length but in a good way because I just didn’t want it to end. July 2013
Pandorum – Dennis Quaid and Ben Foster, two crew members aboard a spaceship fleeing a dying earth, are awakened from a long hyper-sleep and, having lost much of their memory, try to discover the fate that befell their crew and passengers. This flic is billed as a sci-fi horror but will appeal mostly to sci-fi fans who like their psychological twists with edge-of-the-seat action as the remaining humans fight cannibalistic mutants to preserve the human race. Flashbacks and recovering memories fill in the awful story much of which is borrowed from other sci-fi classics. Sept 2009.
Paparazzi – Revenge flick about a rising movie star out to get even with Paparazzi who threaten his family. Good action and suspense. Chicks like it, too. Sept 2004.
Parker – is well played by indestructible Jason Statham whose screen presence grows with every film. He plans to rob the robbers of a multi-million dollar jewelry heist after they double-crossed him. The fast-paced, mindlessly violent action is slowed down by Jennifer Lopez playing a blowsy, desperate real estate agent who manages to unnecessarily insert herself in the story line with her cringe-worthy, so-called acting. In spite of this ditz with tits’ distracting subplot the film mostly kept me on the edge of my seat. January 2013.
Passchendaele – Although this isn’t a typical guy flic, this powerful and moving war drama about Canadian soldiers in the WW I battle known as Passchendaele during the 3rd battle of Ypres, is definitely worth seeing even though it’s more of a love story than a war movie. Starring Paul Gross as a Sergeant, wounded in battle, he returns to Calgary, falls in love with a nurse and goes back to war to protect the nurse’s brother (Gross also wrote and directed, so keep your eyes on this fellow.) The movie, an excellent period piece, is well balanced, showing the discrimination against Canadians of German birth and both the brutality and humanity of soldiers on both sides. Passchendaele illustrates the enormous and tactically meaningless casualties of massed trench warfare; despite hundreds of thousands of casualties on both sides, the Allies abandoned the ground they had captured a short time later. This is the only movie I’ve seen where no one left before the ending credits; the entire audience sat in awe and respectfully watched the black and white vignettes of actual war footage as the credits rolled. October 2008.
Pathfinder – the sole survivor, a Viking boy, is raised by the Indians that the Vikings had attacked. He fights off the next wave of Viking marauders. Dark and brooding, with sepia-toned and spectacular cinematography and Viking costuming reminiscent of Frank Frazetta, this hokey story with minimal dialogue has almost as much slice and dice as the movie 300 with improbably choreographed battle scenes of brutal butchery and gore and an edge-of the seat cliff-hanger ending. April 2007.
The Pianist – WWII holocaust – Warsaw ghetto. Holocaust movies are guaranteed Oscar winners. Emotionally ambivalent considering the subject. April 2003.
Pirates of the Caribbean – rollicking good pirate adventure, Johnny Depp steals the show. July 2003.
Pirates of the Caribbean: the Curse of the Black Pearl – Johnny Depp, Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley are together again for another rollicking pirate adventure reminiscent of Hollywood movies of yesteryear. So much FX it almost overwhelms Depp who carried the first film and with a gritty realism of rotten teeth and unwashed bodies you can almost smell plus horrors of the deep so real you don’t want the little ones to see this flic. August 2006
Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End – another rousing, swashbuckling pirate story with the usual cast of characters plus a few new ones including Keith Richards as Jack Sparrow’s father and who probably needed very little make-up. Johnny Depp again carries the film. The FX were much the same as the second film and at 3 hours the movie was overly long. Excellent visuals but the plot was so convoluted and unfathomable (no pun intended) the story was hard to follow and split second editing made the action scenes perplexing. Strangely, I found the movie both entertaining and boring. Unfortunately, the novelty has worn off but the story indicates there’ll be at least one more sequel. Lets hope no more than that. June 2007.
Pirates of the Caribbean: on Stranger Tides – is getting waterlogged although not as dreary as the 3rd one. Lots of action, great scenery and special FX however don’t make up for lack of plot and aimless dialogue. It manages to be both complicated and aimless at the same time. To paraphrase; you can’t complain about the story because there is none. Johnny Depp no longer has that twinkle in his eye and doesn’t seem to be having much fun making this movie. June 2011.
Poseidon – like the original film, a luxury liner is overturned by a rogue wave. This action filled flic is unhampered by either common sense or plot. How do upside-down diesel generators keep operating to power the lights? Why does everyone get killed except the half dozen people who are the focus of the story? Why does it take so long for the hysterical female to get killed? Why doesn’t someone put the rampant kid on a leash? On a positive note: Shelly Winters is absent having the good grace to depart from this earth several years ago and it’s not nearly as trashy without her, Ernest Borgnine and Gene Hackman. Mindless but entertaining. May 2006.
Predator – billed as an action, adventure, horror, science fiction and thriller, this flic is all of these and more; far surpassing most of its prequels. A group of human stone killer warriors is dumped on an alien planet as prey for a new breed of alien Predators. The story, although basic is well set up and well-paced, the action relentless, the one-liners are excellent and the characterization so well done we’re rooting for stone killers. The ending is abrupt so expect more sequels. July 2010.
The Prestige – two Victorian era magicians start out as friends and become bitter rivals. Excellent acting by Christian Bale and Hugh Jackman as the warring magicians, supported by Michael Caine, the perennially lovely Scarlett Johansson and David Bowie as Nicola Tesla, keep this two-hour flic humming along with suspense, great FX and photography, sleight of hand, illusions, gimmickry, costumes and well-executed flashbacks. The only minor drawback is a dialogue overpowered by the music score. November 2006
Priest – Now this is a guy flic! The priest disobeys the church to hunt down the vampires who killed his niece. Imagine a futuristic, vampire, Mad Max, Gothic, martial arts, pulpy action, horror, wild-west movie? No of course you can’t imagine it so that’s why you gotta see this flic that shamelessly steals from dozens of other movies with unstoppable action, original concept, eyeless vampires, excellent CGI and great production values while insulting just about everyone and his religion. It was awesome in 3D. The critics hate it. I’m sure you’re surprised at that. May 2011.
Prince of Persia – don’t expect much from a movie based on a video game and, although there are exceptions, this is not one of them. The story doesn’t matter much as it’s very forgettable but if you enjoy summer-time sword-and-sandal swashbuckling epics then this is one to see. It’s hard to believe this is produced by the same team that did the Pirates of the Caribbean trilogy but that just proves how much that trilogy depended on Johnny Depp. He would have done well with this flic. June 2010.
Prometheus – Ridley Scott, the director of Alien, Gladiator, Blade Runner, etc. creates an interesting film about explorers searching for the beginnings of the human race only to fight for the survival of mankind. Excellent story but with lots of unanswered questions. The CGI is of course terrific, the acting is solid, visually the aliens are right out of H.R. Giger and what it lacks in action it makes up for in suspense. However, having said all that it is best seen on the big screen and won’t translate well to a TV screen. Oh, and I never did care for any of the characters so that’s a bit of a flaw. I don’t know if it’s good enough for sequels. June 2012.
The Protector – Tony Jaa (of last year’s Ong Bak: Thai Warrior fame) is back in another low budget martial arts slugfest. Sub-titled and dubbed, the story, created for a Thai audience, is a simple yet heart-felt display of traditional honour as Tony leaves his home for the modern world of Australia as he tries to recover two of his family’s stolen elephants. Bone-crunching, non-stop action almost makes up for the absence of good acting. Notice, too, that the baddest of the bad guys are always white. Nothing personal, I’m sure. September 2006.
Public Enemies – Johnny Depp plays the legendary 1930’s bank-robbing gangster John Dillinger and Christian Bale plays the FBI agent charged with hunting him down in a era when Dillinger was a hero to Americans who had no sympathy for the banks that plunged them into the Depression (history does repeat itself!) Those were desperate times with desperate people in an upsetting era. It’s an excellent period piece with superb casting and a compelling story although the hand-held camera was detracting at times and the screenplay had a few holes. Although it was less a guy flick and almost a documentary, it’s still worth seeing. July 2009.
The Punisher – DEA agent’s family is killed by criminals. Great revenge flick with lots of action. Violence is over the top. Hope for sequels. Apr 2004.
Punisher: War Zone – the third Punisher is played by the stoic Ray Stevenson as the citizen vigilante battling mafia criminals in an orgy of gratuitous violence, relentless blood and gore reminiscent of a horror flic, with frantic pacing and over-the-top comic book action and photography. November 2008.
Push – This is a sci-fi, action flic, international psychic espionage with 13 year old, clairvoyant Dakota Fanning helping telekinetic (“Mover) Chris Evans stay ahead of the paranormal bad guys to save mankind (as usual.) It has far too many flash-backs and, in spite of never-ending action, still seems slow and smells like the beginning of sequels. Excellent concept that doesn’t quite make it. March 2009.
Quantum of Solace – dumb name for a movie but a good James Bond flic. Daniel Craig again plays an excellent bond who is running from the CIA, the usual bad guys and M herself. Perhaps not as good as Casino Royale, it has minimal plot, the usual Bond girl and plenty of thrills, action and witty repartee. November 2008.
Rambo (2008)– the aging Sylvester Stallone never ceases to amaze and this Rambo is the bloodiest of all. Living the life of a recluse in Thailand, Rambo rescues missionaries caught and tortured by imperialistic, slant-eyed gooks (see the movie to see jingoism at its best.) Rambo’s Neanderthal inarticulate lack of communication makes you want to slap him upside the head (where have we seen this before?) Directed by Stallone this flic starts out slow and builds to a blood spattered gore-fest of excessive violence that will do Rambo fans proud. February 20
Rango – Johnny Depp is the voice of Rango, the pet chameleon in this excellent animated spoof of Westerns. Although a lot of kids were in the theatre, the insanity, humor and double-entendres are definitely intended for a more mature audience drawing from a wide range of spaghetti westerns, Don Quixote, Chinatown and Hunter S. Thompson to name a few. The dialogue is excellent and the CGI so awesome it make 2D better than 3D. March 2011.
Real Steel – Hugh Jackman plays an asshole loser – and does an excellent job – who re-unites with his 11 year old son after abandoning him after he was born. Together they salvage and repair an abandoned fighting robot and take a shot at the championship (think “Rocky”). Although a manipulative tear-jerker and only as corny as Disney could make it, it’s nonetheless exciting, entertaining, big, dumb and more fun than watching the robots in “Transformers” beat the crap out of each other. October 2011.
RED – stands for Retired, Extremely Dangerous; an apt description for the characters in this edgy and highly entertaining, tongue-in-cheek action / comedy that’s actually funny unlike most comedies which are actually stupid. Bruce Willis, Morgan Freeman, John Malkovich and with Helen Mirren blasting away with machine guns are CIA retirees targeted for final retirement unless they can stay ahead of their pursuers. Young Mary-Louis Parker is a delightful contrast to the seasoned geriatrics that clearly were given rein to enjoy themselves in this action-packed flic with tons of gunplay, explosions and fisticuffs. October 2010.
RED 2 – RED = Retired Extremely Dangerous with retirees Bruce Willis, John Malkovich and Helen Mirren, former black-ops agents coming out of retirement once again plus Anthony Hopkins and Mary-Louise Parker stealing the show. Unencumbered by plot, it’s fast-paced action-packed thrills, globe-trotting adventure, tongue-in-cheek humor and lots of things blowing up create more entertainment than most sequels, may even be better than the original and leaves room for more sequels. July 2013.
Red Dawn – like the original 1984 film, a group of American young people escape to the woods and organize resistance to invading communist forces (this time it’s North Koreans). Unfortunately, it’s a poor remake with a bad script, stilted dialogue (“Marines don’t die. They go to hell and re-group.”) and bad casting with Josh Peck playing such a jerk I wished the commies would blow him away. The only good I can say is it IS entertaining with well-paced action but it takes a lot more than that to make a movie worthwhile. November 2012.
Red Dragon – young Hannibal Lecter 2002
Red Eye – Schlockmeister Wes Craven produces an excellent Grade B thriller (more Hitchcock than horror) about a plucky heroine coerced into setting up a politician for assassination. Considering most of the story takes place on a plane flight, this well acted story starts out interesting; the suspense stays well paced and builds to an edge-of-the-seat shattering climax. Sept 2005.
Reign of Fire – dragons rule the earth 2002
Repo Men – Set some time in the future when expensive, mechanical human organs can replace organs that are failing, Jude Law is one of the Repo Men who repossess the mechanical organs of those who are past due on their organ’s payments. After an on-the-job accident, he ends up with his own mechanical heart and a change-of-heart (pun) about the heartless job (pun) he has been doing and his heart is lo longer in the job (groan!) and thus the hunter becomes the hunted. Lot’s of action, good characterization with a disturbing premise dripping with gore, the last act drags somewhat and the surprise ending is a bit of a cheat. March 2009.
Resident Evil – Hi-tech zombie movie with lovely Mila Jovavich saving the day (er, night.) Great action flick, violence, FX and, best of all, Toronto (Racoon City) gets nuked. Sept 2004.
Resident Evil: Extinction – a post-apocalyptic, sci-fi, zombie horror flic starring svelte Mila Jovavitch and a multitude of flesh-eaters with extreme violence, gore and bloody battle scenes makes this an entertaining and mindless waste of time. September 2007.
Resident Evil – Afterlife – 3D – This is the fourth in the series (I missed Apocalypse) and Mila Jovovich just keeps getting better as she continues her battle with the un-dead. You have to be a Resident Evil fan to appreciate that this is one of the few solid B-movie franchises now. 3-D was ok but not necessary. September 2010.
Resident Evil – Retribution – Mila Jovavitch in her fifth reprisal as genetically engineered Alice, mankind’s only hope in a world infested with the undead. Over-the-top action and FX compensates for the usual wooden acting and thin story-line that makes this appealing only to die-hard ‘Resident’ fans although 3-D was better this time. September 2012.
The Ring – more garbage than horror 2002
Rise of the Planet of the Apes – about the only good thing about this film is it is a prequel that explains the origin of the planet of the apes. It’s more heart-wrenching drama than a guy flic and the only real action, the rumble between apes and humans happens right at the end. The long-suffering ape is more likeable than the main character who’s an arrogant, self-centered ass. The CGI is excellent but the story itself is overly simplistic even for a guy flic. Moral of the story: don’t mess with Mother Nature but you already knew that. August 2011.
Robin Hood – Russell Crowe plays Robin Hood and Cate Blanchett does an excellent Maid Marion in this “beginning” of the tale directed by Ridley Scott. It’s such a realistic costume adventure you can almost smell the body odor. At almost 2 ½ hours there are a few light-hearted moments but they are overcome by a gloomy story, Crowe’s dour demeanor and a narrative lost by his incessant mumbling that is only partly overcome by the well-done action sequences. Worth seeing. Expect sequels. May 2010.
The Rocket – you don’t need to be a hockey fan to enjoy this Quebec-produced biography of Maurice “Rocket” Richard. Much of the dialogue is French but the subtitles do not distract from an engrossing story. It shows his determination to break out of a bleak, blue-collar machinist’s job into the NHL and his courageous struggle to survive bone-crunching hockey (no helmets and minimal padding in those days.). It also shows the dispiriting discrimination against French-Canadians during the 1940’s and 50’s. Great drama, great hockey and an uplifting story. May 2006
The Rundown – the Rock’s next attempt to replace Schwarzenegger as a bounty hunter in South America – lots of action, corny humour. Sept 2003.
Running Scared – the word “running” doesn’t do justice to the hyper-velocity, ultra violent, over-the-top story about a two-bit mobster chasing all over town trying to recover a gun used to kill some very crooked cops. The dialogue is savage, characterization is incredibly extreme and the plot more twisted than a pretzel. At the beginning I didn’t much like the guy and felt like walking out but the plot picked up speed, quickly reached escape velocity and never let up. February 2006.
Safe – If you’re a Jason Statham or a Transporter fan you’ll like this one. Not worth seeing at the theater but great to watch at home. A washed-up cage fighter about ready to give up on life, he finds new meaning helping a twelve year old girl chased by ruthless gangsters. Gritty, over-the-top, non-stop action, chase scenes, piles of bodies, clever twists and turns, tongue-in-cheek one liners – it’s got it all. April 2012.
Safe House – Denzel Washington plays a rogue and dangerous CIA agent who returns to a “Safe House” run by Ryan Reynolds (the next Mark Wahlberg?) when they escape invading mercenaries. Through twists, double-crossing, shoot-outs, relentless car chase scenes and edge-of-the-seat-action, they need to uncover and stop whoever is trying to kill them. The critics hate it, of course, but this is an action-packed guy flic. February 2012.
Sahara– based on one of Clive Cussler’s implausibly improbable novels – a mix of Boy’s Own Life, fairy tale and science fiction & fantasy. Sounds like a perfect script for a Hollywood movie. It is! It’s a rollicking adventure about treasure hunters (shades of Indiana Jones) saving the earth from ecological disaster. A guy flick that’s also great family fun. April 2005.
Salt – Angelina Jolie with a strong supporting cast plays a triple-crossing agent in what I hope becomes the first of more sequels. As a CIA agent accused of being a Russian mole, she goes on the run to prove her innocence and prevent a world war. The action is relentless and the stunts are over-the-top and with a MINIMAL of computer graphics. Angelina owns this action-suspense-thriller. Great summertime entertainment! July 2010.
Scorpion King – great swords & sandals epic 2002
The Sentinel – Michael Douglas as a veteran Secret Service agent is framed as a Presidential assassin and is hunted by Kiefer Sutherland in a action-packed thriller that, notwithstanding the lack of acting, is a singularly boring story. I couldn’t care less if he was vindicated or not, nor could I care whether the president was assassinated or not. Kim Bassinger as the First Lady is wooden and the President an imbecile. Pass on this one. May 2006.
Serenity – Space opera at its finest with hand-to-hand combat, gun battles, space wars plus love, intrigue, heroes and heroines, good guys and bad guys, real acting and witty dialogue. This space “Western” make Star Wars look juvenile. Great FX, fast-paced and non-stop action. One of the best guy flics of the year. Hope for sequels. Oct 2005.
Shawn of the Dead - You’d think a British comedy spoof about zombies would be funny. Not so. More like Coronation Street meets the Zombies. Oct 2004.
Sherlock Holmes – this is a rollicking adventure-thriller to end the year (2009) with Robert Downey stealing the show with a new interpretation of Sherlock (purists will no doubt bemoan) and strong support from Jude Law as Dr. Watson. Well-directed by Brit Guy Ritchie, this flic retains Conan Doyle’s flavor with snappy dialogue in a fast-paced action movie that is obviously in need of sequels. December 2009.
Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows – finds Downey and Law in fine form chasing the evil Dr. Moriarty to prevent him from inciting World War. The usual banter, endless action (perhaps overmuch) and a bit too much cross-dressing for comfort so it seems the franchise may have run out of steam. December 2011.
Shoot ‘Em Up – this flic certainly lives up to its title with non-stop shooting that starts within minutes of its opening right to its closing credits. Excellent casting with taciturn Clive Owen trying to rescue a baby from assassination by hundreds of bad guys all of whom he quickly dispatches and some with imaginative use of deadly carrots. This is a grindhouse, tongue-in-cheek spoof of action movies with a campy story, dark humour and totally implausible, over-the-top gun play that only action junkies could love. September 2007
Shooter – the ever-serious Mark Wahlberg plays a sniper betrayed by the U.S. who is talked out of retirement to plan an assassination of the U.S. President so security forces can stop the real assassin. Betrayed again, he takes revenge on the officials who double-crossed him. Critics dislike this film because it’s not as good as the book (get real! What movie is?) The plot is over the top, clichés are thick as flies, the ballistics are interesting, the characterization is as shallow as the acting, the action is intense and lots of things get blown up – in other words this is a great guy flic. March 2007.
Shutter Island – Leonardo DiCaprio plays one of two U.S. Marshals investigating the disappearance of a patient from an asylum for the criminally insane. I can’t say much more of the story without giving away the plot but it would make the late writer Philip K. Dick (“what is reality?”) very proud that someone else had carried on his genre so well. Its weirdness made me so uncomfortable that I wanted to walk out several times. At the beginning, the musical score seemed over-wrought. Yet such is the power of the story that I was compelled to stay. It’s only upon leaving the theatre I realized how well everything fit together: the score, the weirdness, the flashbacks and illusions and how everything portended the plot twist at the end. Note: this is NOT a guy flic (nor a chick flick for that matter) although it’s billed as “drama, mystery, thriller.” It’s a mind-bending horror movie but in a psychological way rather than a scary way. You can see I’m trying not to give away the story. It’s directed by Martin Scorsese with an excellent supporting cast including Ben Kingsley, Mark Ruffalo and Max Von Sydow (yes, he’s still alive!) This dark and moody film doesn’t seem long at 2:18 because it hooks you and slowly reels you in until you can’t let it go. P.S. it’s not for little kids. March 2010.
Signs– Night Shmalaya’s tribute to Hitchcock & UFO’s. Slow. 2002
Sin City– Dark, grotesquely violent, gory, non-stop action. Lots of A-list actors playing bad guys and whores with hearts of gold who battle really evil bad guys. Stark black & white with a few splashes of colour. Not just based on, but re-creates Frank Miller’s gritty comic book (oops, graphic novel.) Film noir at it’s best with every cliché in the book. Guys will love it; chicks will hate it. NOT for the family. April 2005
Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow – Retro 1930’s futuristic, sepia-toned, expressionistic, rollicking adventure story. Lots of action and the most beautiful, unique and outstanding computer graphics I’ve ever seen. Must-see film of the year. Sept 2004.
Skyfall – Daniel Craig is back in another superb bond flic with coolly twisted Javier Bardem as a seemingly invincible renegade agent who hacks into and attacks MI6. The mood is dark with few laughs but the pacing and action is urgent and unrelenting yet appropriately punctuated with unanticipated tension release only to jack up the pace yet again. Two and a half hours of brilliant entertainment! November 2012.
Skyline – Now that the year is almost over, I proclaim this the worst film of the year. It’s a cheesy sci fi thriller (not!) cobbled together from other alien invasion flics with no-name actors and no acting. The CGI is excellent but the story sucks and I was actually glad most of the actors got snuffed. The film didn’t even end; it just stopped. Spare yourself and don’t see this one. November 2010.
Source Code – Jake Gyllenhaal is part of a government experiment that continually transports him into the body of a train bombing victim for the last 8 minutes of the victim’s life to learn who the bomber is and prevent a much larger second bombing. This fast-paced sci-fi thriller is a mind-bending version of ‘Groundhog Day’ with great action and cinematography, suspense and even a well-handled love story. April 2011.
Spiderman – true to the original comic, excellent FX 2002
Spiderman 2 – More depth, less violence than the first Spidey movie (i.e. more like a chick-flick.) Those of us well past our teen angst may feel like wringing Peter Parker’s neck for being such a neurotic, self-esteem-challenged loser. Great FX, lot’s of action, ok story. July 2004.
Spiderman 3 – masterful film-making and computer graphics galore aren’t enough to breathe much life into this third Spidey flic. Two hours and twenty minutes of action, suspense, romance and comedy (finally) and I was glad it was over. You know a series is coming to an end when they throw in a few song & dance numbers. I got the impression the director was making fun of both Spiderman and the audience. While it veers from the comic storyline, the movie remains true to its early 20th Century failed socialist roots: the class struggle between wealthy capitalists and the working poor who never get a break just like Spidey, who in spite of his super powers, can barely afford the rent to his dingy apartment because he is compelled to sell his photos cheap to the editor but never offers them to a competitor for more. Nor, does he have the time to hop to the nearest hardware store for a new door knob. Like the Sandman he fights, they are both victims of the “system” because the old-Left abhorred personal responsibility and thus, supposedly, Spiderman is a superhero we can all identify with. The film is ok but the premise is out-dated and the story is getting tired. There’s probably one more movie left in the series. It’ll be one too many. May 2007.
The Amazing Spiderman – a new re-telling of Spidey’s origins in a slightly darker, less campy film with Andrew Garfield replacing Maguire as Spiderman. Visually it’s a cinematic tour de force with a well-written story and well-paced between action, suspense and drama – heaps of drama but not enough to be a girly flic. The film’s shortcomings are the cops’ antagonism toward Spidey is as enigmatic as previous films and Garfield’s acting is a lot of spastic head shaking supposedly indicative of teen angst but these are minor annoyances in a very entertaining flic. The original franchise was getting old so it’ll be interesting to see if the inevitable sequels can continue to breathe fresh life into it. July 2012.
Spiderwick Chronicles – this is a fantastical adventure story for young and old – ok, maybe not the very young because severed heads, melting ogres and green goblin blood may be a bit much. A real family (foibles and bickering) sans Dad, move into an old house once owned by great, great Uncle Spiderwick and are surrounded by strange goings-on and fantastic creatures. Great story, fantastic FX, Nick Nolte as the evil Mulgarath, good acting and a relentless plot kept me glued to my seat. February 2008.
The Spirit – based on the comic book, this pulp flic uses the same graphic cinematography as Sin City and 300 to portray the former cop who is killed, resurrected and now fights crime in the city he loves. You can tell Samuel L. Jackson relishes his role as the bad guy, the Octopus, as he over-plays it with great glee, Eva Mendes is the hot babe (one of many) and Scarlett Johansson the clinically cold and shrewd Octopus’ assistant. It’s a dark atmosphere, film noir, incessantly violent and with every detective cliché in the book – the pacing is uneven but the eye-candy photography makes up for it. The critics hate it (of course.) December 2008.
Stardust – not exactly a guy flic but well worth seeing, Stardust is a sci-fi, fantasy, adventure, love-story that, in days of old, would be called a fairy tale. Starring Claire Danes as a million year old star fallen to earth, Robert DeNiro as a loopy air-ship pirate, Peter O’Toole as the dying king, Michelle Pfeiffer as a wicked witch (she steals the show) and Charlie Cox as a shop boy in merry old England who, trying to impress a young lady, promises to return with the shooting star they see falling to earth. Hot on the trail is Michelle Pfieffer who, to regain her looks and longevity, needs to cut out and eat the fallen star’s heart and an evil prince hunting for the magic amulet worn by the star. A very busy storyline plotted by Neil Gaiman makes this a light-hearted, whimsical and fast-paced tale that will delight the child in all of us although it might be a tad too dark for real children. Shakespeare buffs will find many references. August 2007.
Star Trek Nemesis – fast paced, good story 2002
Star Trek 2009 – Given how lame some previous Star Trek movies were, this one is an awesome prequel (we’re getting lots of these, lately.) The story is excellent with some tongue-in-cheek humor, the pacing is smart and continuously exciting, both the casting and acting is brilliant and the special FX is superb. You don’t need to be a trekkie to feel that this flic rocks. May 2009.
Star Trek into Darkness – as a prequel to the James T. Kirk series with (hardly old enough to shave) Chris Pine as James Kirk, this is probably one of the best Trekkie movies made. Rambunctious, action-packed with a complex plot, good pacing and visually spectacular, yet it has the good grace not to take itself as seriously as the young Captain Kirk and the bad guy is frighteningly psychopathic without being a monster. Perhaps next time they could spend a little less on CGI and a bit more on story writing to avoid plot holes big enough to drive a star ship through it. Despite that, it may be the summers’ biggest action flic. May 2012.
Star Wars Episode 2 – lame but still spectacular 2002
Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith – Another Star Wars movie: supposedly the last (don’t hold your breath.) This, Episode 3, explains why whats-his-face became Darth Vader; because he’s a mean, evil, jealous control freak. For this we waited almost 30 years? The usual clunky dialogue and wooden acting. Lots of action and FX. A two and a half hour movie that spins so fast it seems like only an hour. Enjoyable as long as you don’t think about it. May 2005.
Stealth – If you have trouble believing a team of three Top Gun fighter pilots formed to combat terrorism (you know, all those terrorists flying fighter jets) or Jamie Foxx using jive street-talk to try to convince a rogue computer-controlled jet to mend its rebellious ways, then you’ll have to put your critical faculties on hold for this high-flying thriller. If you’ve seen the previews, you’ve already seen this movie. Great FX and non-stop aerial action but really dumb script. August 2005.
Sum of All Fears – Tom Clancy’s terrorist attack on Baltimore 2002
(Superman) Man of Steel – is a summer blockbuster with an innovative exploration of Superman’s beginnings although the young man’s tormented brooding borders on bombastic at times. Both of his fathers are superbly portrayed by Russel Crowe and Kevin Costner as are his two mothers. Pudgy Lois Lane is totally miscast but Henry Cavill is well-cast as Superman although greatly exceeded by Michel Shannon’s superb portrayal as the psychopathic bad guy, General Zod. With explosive CGI and incredible action, this is a far better re-boot to an old story than the sequels that followed the 1978 film. With Superman’s character developed into maturity, the inevitable future sequels should be even more enjoyable especially if they are a bit less grim and with a touch of humor. June 2012.
Superman Returns – finally, a serious Superman movie that isn’t a parody of itself ! Superman, well cast by Brandon Routh, Kevin Spacey as Lex Luthor and Kate Bosworth as Lois Lane, returns to earth after a five year hiatus to find Lois has a 5 year old son and written an article questioning the need for Superman. Excellent FX and an engrossing 2 ½ hour story that’s over before you know it. July 2006.
Surrogates – Set in the future when most of humanity live their lives through robotic surrogates that they are “jacked” into, Bruce Willis as FBI agent risks his real life in a race to prevent the destruction of mankind (again) using every cliché in the book. You would think that with all the times Bruce Willis saved mankind, he’d be awarded the Nobel peace Prize instead of Obama but life just isn’t fair. The concept is something Philip K. Dick would dream up and the story has been done before but then Greek mythology and Shakespeare said it all long ago anyway. Willis still can’t act and his awakening uneasiness about surrogacy is ham-fisted but the concept is interesting, the FX terrific and the action is great. Too short at 85 min. Oct 2009.
Suspect Zero – Ben Kingsley as former FBI agent using remote (psychic) viewing to track and assassinate serial killers. Weird. Freaky photography. Weird. Great suspense. Did I mention weird? August 2004.
S.W.A.T.- Excellent, fast paced yet plausible action flic. August 2003.
Syriana – An odd film. Someone like Michael Moore distorts facts to push our buttons. This film distorts fiction, as incomprehensible as that may sound, to do the same thing. Another word for it might be propaganda. Syriana tells us what we already know: the oil business and international politics is dirty and corrupt. Stars George Clooney, Matt Damon, Christopher Plummer and a host of others take 2 ½ hours to tell us nothing new. Dec 2005.
Taken – The daughter of retired spy Liam Neeson is kidnapped in Paris where Neeson returns with an action packed vengeance that exceeds believability so park your brain at the door before the plot holes de-rail you. Unlike the tongue-in-cheek “Transporter” flics, this one takes itself too seriously. I wouldn’t even rent this one. January 2009.
Taken 2 – Liam Neeson is back with an improved “Taken” that’s not nearly as stupid or savage as the first one (doesn’t say much) and this time Neeson’s persona is appropriately grim rather than mindlessly frantic. He, his wife and daughter are kidnapped in what becomes both a revenge and an endless chase movie. Still a Grade D movie though so it’s hardly worth watching. October 2012.
The Taking of Pelham 123 – Way back when, I read the book (so seeing the movie is usually a mistake) and I saw the original movie so I wasn’t expecting much from a remake. Was I in for a pleasant surprise! Denzel Washington plays a flawed subway dispatcher negotiating with hard case John Travolta whose gang has hijacked a New York subway car for $10 million. Tony Scott directs a fast-paced thriller with excellent dialogue, brilliant screenplay that kept me on the edge of my seat, dark humour, political incorrectness, great casting and superb acting (yes, even Travolta is amazing!) The critics will no doubt hate it but they’re assholes. Excellent guy flic! June 2009.
Terminator 3 – Arnie at his incomprehensible best. Great chase scenes. July 2003.
Terminator – Salvation – This is a dark and gritty Terminator that even Christian Bale as John Connor cannot completely rescue. It’s loud with lots of action and computer graphics but somehow the human element is missing. I never thought I’d miss Arnold Schwarzenegger (although he has a brief cameo.) Not having James Cameron as director might also be a factor in its lack of excitement. It was not boring but left me empty. As a stand-alone movie, it was good but as a sequel, it sucked. June 2009.
Thor – is big and bold and empty with lots of cheesy armor. It has tons of CGI but no story, even less character and the dialogue borders on ridiculous. Compared to most super heroes, Thor is vacuous and unlikeable. Compared to most super-villains, the Ice Giants are, well, rather icy I suppose. I saw it in 3D and even that didn’t help. Best seen on a large theatre screen. Forget TV. The critics seem to like it – as if that means anything. May 2011.
Timeline – action filled but weak story based on Michael Crichton story of archaeologists going back to the middle ages. Nov 2003.
Training Day – Denzel Washington as the bad cop, excellent story 2001
Traitor – This is not only a guy flic but an intelligent spy-thriller that could have been written by John Le Carre or Frederick Forsyth. The FBI chase Don Cheadle playing a superb Muslim terrorist-bomber who eludes capture and pulls off ever larger and deadlier explosions. This is a tightly paced and well-crafted story with a surprise twist at the end. September 2008.
Transcendence – is not a guy flic but definitely worth seeing. Johnny Depp, as a foremost artificial intelligence expert, is dying and his wife uploads his mind to a powerful computer where he connects to the World Wide Web. They’re pitted against anti-tech Luddites who want to turn back the hands of time and a reactionary government fearful of change and losing control notwithstanding that philosophers tell us we can never step into the same river twice and the only constant is change. The questions that arise (what is reality?) would make Philip K. Dick proud, but are beyond the capability of a two hour movie to fully develop although this has the earmarks of a cult-film that will be discussed into the wee hours. The brainless critics don’t get it because they fall for the insipid Hollywood code that the bad guys cannot win in the end. Once you realize the husband and wife are together forever you’ll understand that Depp’s character engineered the whole outcome and the so-called bad guys did win. April 2014
Transformers – an incredible summer sci-fi action thriller that’s big and fast and loud with a pounding musical score and a fast-paced story that keeps you glued to your seat for more than 2 hours and still tugs at your heart-strings. Transformers are sentient robots from a failed space civilization that battle the bad Decepitcon robots for the fate of mankind. Lots of action, chase scenes and incredible robotic smack-downs done with superb CG (computer graphics) that only ILM (Industrial Light & Magic) – Spielberg’s Dreamworks can do. I stayed for the credits; it took about a gazillion people to make this one. The human’s dialogue gets pretty hoky at times but the tongue-in-cheek humor keeps the movie from taking itself too seriously and for a love-interest it’s hard to beat foxy Megan Fox. If you’re going to see a sci-fi action thriller this summer, this is the one. July 2007.
Transformers: Age of Extinction – is likely the least bad of the previous three (faint praise indeed). Mark Wahlberg does well as the new hero and Kelsey Grammer portrays a deceitful and heartless head of an agency bent on world domination. Michael Bay’s formulaic direction gives us the usual massive mayhem with giant robots beating each other up. Great summer blockbuster as usual. June 2014.
Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen – If you liked the first Transformers flic, you’ll like this one too with the good-guy Autobots fighting the return of the bad-guy Decepticons. If you didn’t like the first one then this one has even less story and character development, more plot holes, is overly long at 2:27 with incessant action, lots of noise and stuff blowing up and an over-ripe Megan Fox miscast as Shia LeBeouf’s college-age girlfriend. Fortunately, Spielberg’s Dreamworks studio creates excellent CG with tons more robotic smack-downs, the dialogue has good humour and the film doesn’t take itself too seriously. June 2009.
Transformers – the Dark of the Moon – the Autobots again fight the evil Decepticons trying to enslave the earth in this loud, bloated and lengthy (2 ½ hours) never-ending action flic that kept me nailed to my seat with its fast-paced editing and incredible CGI. This is a summer block-buster, guy flic with slow-mo explosions, the delicious destruction of downtown Chicago and it doesn’t take itself too seriously in spite of groaner cliches. Gone is over-ripe Megan Fox, replaced with an incredibly sensuous new girlfriend whose only purpose is to get into trouble and need to be rescued. This is the best Transformers yet. Of course, the critics hated it. You gotta see it in 3-D! June 2011.
Transporter 2 – The plot is similar to Denzel Washington and Dakota Fanning in “Man on Fire.” A driver (Transporter) and guardian chases after the kidnappers of his young charge while also fleeing the inept police. Great martial arts and fantastically improbable chase scenes. European production values and photography with non-stop action. Sept 2005.
Transporter 3 – Jason Statham returns for another fast-paced, physics-defying chase flic with loads of martial arts action and a story that doesn’t take itself too seriously as he transports the kidnapped daughter of an official coerced into allowing toxic material shipments. One critic called the Transporter a “poor man’s James Bond” and for once I can agree with a critic. Forget the plot and characterization (there is none,) just enjoy the full-throttle action, Jason’s dry humour and hope for another sequel. November 2008.
Tron Legacy – The son of the world’s leading video game developers played by Jeff Bridges investigates his father’s disappearance and is captured by the digital world his father created and also held captive. It was stunning in 3-D at the theatre but I doubt it’ll translate well into 2-D where the glitz and glitter may transform to mundane and boring because the story itself is as lacking in depth as is the films characterization. Visually captivating but unsatisfying. I missed the prequel in 1982 so I can’t compare. December 2010
Troy– Best swords & sandals epic in a long time. Honest portrayal of both the glory and futility of war, historical inaccuracies notwithstanding. Almost 3 hours long but seems shorter. Brad Pitt as Achilles. May 2004.
True Grit – Jeff Bridges stars as the gritty Western lawman and Matt Damon as the Texas Ranger helping a stubborn girl track down her father’s killer. The real star is newcomer Heilee Steinfeld who carries the movie screen-written and directed by the Coen brothers (Fargo, The Big Lebowski, O Brother, Where Art Thou? No Country for Old Men among others.) The story is compelling and suspenseful, the dialogue is authentic, the supporting cast is exceptional, as a period piece it’s as exceptional as the cinemaphotography, the repartee is razor sharp and the Coen’s humor is as black as ever. Small wonder it was nominated for 10 Academy Awards. January 2011 (Released December 2010)
Ultraviolet – Mila Jovavitch as Violet, the ultra slim, ultra assassin “Hemophage” similar to the Replicants in Blade Runner, is endowed with extraordinary strength and agility fighting the totalitarian dictator who would destroy her and her kind. Unburdened with acting, the film has great futuristic fashions, fast and furious martial arts combat, impossible gun battles and improbable chase scenes. February 2006
Underworld – Vampires VS Werewolves – powerful, dark, non-stop action, great FX and story. Sept 2003.
Underworld: Evolution – sequel to Underworld with Vampires battling Werewolves, Kate Beckensale’s beauty is hidden as a sweat-soaked wretch amidst furiously flying fur and fangs. Violence, horror and gore set to a moody blue background with great FX and action makes this better than the original. January 2006
Underworld – Rise of the Lycans – this is the 3rd and best yet of the Underworld series as it explains the origins of the vampiric Death Dealers and their slaves, the werewolf Lycans. Photographed in a moonlit blue, dark and gritty background, this action-packed “swords & sandals” epic borrows from Romeo & Juliet’s forbidden romance between rebel Lycan, Lucien and the gorgeous vampire Rhona Mitra (you saw her in Doomsday) plus several other stories. The critics hated it, of course. February 2009.
Underworld Awakening – Kate Beckensale reprises her role as the vampire warrior who finds herself in a world where humans, having discovered both the Vampires and their eternal nemesis the Lycans, set out to exterminate both. With her usual steely cool determination (and black leather outfit) she must rescue the daughter she never knew she had and prevent the Lycans from developing immunity from silver; the only substance that can destroy them. Endless brutality and carnage with less mythology and lots more action make this one of the best of the series. Underworld has developed a cult following; I’ve never seen such a difference between viewers and critics. On Rotten Tomatoes, the critics gave it 30% and viewers 75%. January 2012.
United 93 – the documentary about the only hijacked airliner during 9-11 that did not hit it’s intended target (likely the Washington Capitol building) because the passengers, realizing they were going to die, fought the high-jacking terrorists. Controversy surrounds the film as many Americans polled claim they would not see the film as it is “too soon after the tragedy.” This might explain why it lasted so short a time in theatres. I missed the opening week and had to see it in a second-run theatre.
Nevertheless, it is not sensationalized Hollywood trivia. It is a well-researched documentary that kept me on the edge of my seat even knowing the ending. A report I read by an airline pilot attests to its accuracy. This is a “must-see” flic if you want to understand the confusion and chaos experienced by the air traffic controllers, the FAA and the military – the president is AWOL, the Pentagon unresponsive, rules of engagement are unknown, the only two F-16’s close to the action are unarmed and the only source of news is CNN. The actors seem like real people because they are either unknown actors or real air traffic controllers and pilots. The head of the FAA who ordered 4200 aircraft to land plays himself. It’s never too soon to see a true account of ordinary people becoming real-life heroes. May 2006.
Unknown – This is an excellent thriller with Liam Neeson awakening from a coma to the twisted discovery that he knows who he is but no one else does including his wife and he‘s in a race against time to uncover the mystery while evading deadly assassins. Excellent supporting cast, brilliant concept, three great chase scenes, high tension and tongue firmly in cheek clichés make for a suspenseful pulp action thriller. February 2011.
Unleashed – A human (Jet Li) is raised like a dog to attack and kill when his leash is removed by his “owner” the thug, Bob Hoskins. The story examines both the brutality and the divinity of man when Li is given a chance of redemption by Morgan Freeman. Gritty, bone-crushing martial arts action by Jet Li. A powerful, dark movie that treads a fine line between brutality and love. May 2005.
Unstoppable – Denzel Washington is one of two railroad men who have to stop a runaway train loaded with toxic chemicals. Directed by Ridley Scott (Alien, Blade Runner, Thelma & Louise, Gladiator, Black Hawk Down, etc.) this fast-paced, adrenaline-filled, action-packed film is without a doubt the best thriller of the year. ‘Nuff said. November 2010.
V for Vendetta – billed as a “political thriller” this flic is more political than thriller although it did keep me on the edge of my seat. “V” is a masked, avenger determined to free his people from an oppressive dictatorship and punish those who disfigured him. Natalie Portman, who, despite her wooden acting in Star Wars, can actually act and she plays Evey (get it? E.V.) as V’s reluctant counterpart. Written by the Wachowski Brothers (Matrix) the film’s dialogue is as pretentious but, thankfully, not as preposterous as the Matrix flics. Lots of sword, knife and gun play. This movie is both unsettling as well as uplifting. March 2006
Valkyrie – based on a true story about a failed attempt by renegade German officers to assassinate Hitler during WW II, Tom Cruise does a commendable job portraying Colonel Stauffenberg smuggling a bomb into a meeting with the German dictator. It’s not easy maintaining suspense when we know the ending and Cruise seems out of place without a German accent but a well-written story, a very strong supporting cast and a great period piece keeps building suspense until the tragic end. It’s always a good sign when the audience remains glued to their seats after the action stops. December 2008.
Van Helsing – Great vampire hunter flic with not only vampires but also werewolves and a likeable Frankenstein’s monster. Great story line with non-stop, edge-of your-seat action and FX. Hugh Jackson (X-men) as Van Helsing and the beautiful Kate Beckensale as the love interest. Critics hated it but they’re Girly Men! May 2004.
Wanted – now THIS is this summer’s guy flic even if it didn’t have Angelina Jolie in it. James McAvoy plays an apathetic, cube-dwelling, slacker (loser) recruited and trained by The Fraternity of assassins to avenge his father’s death. This well-crafted story of revenge and betrayal is based on a comic book, I mean graphic novel, so the adrenaline-filled action totally defies the laws of physics and ballistics; the violence is gratuitous, amoral and never-ending (the endless beatings border on sadistic), Angelina kicks ass, the directing is superb, the photography is stunning and the two hour movie is so engrossing (no pun intended) it’s over before you know it. Well-acted by all including Morgan Freeman and Terence Stamp. June 2008.
War – another action flic but much lower on the pecking order which is unfortunate because a movie with both Jet Li and Jason Statham should have been better. Both are enemies enmeshed in a battle between the Japanese Triads and Yakuza with gun battles, kung-fu fighting, way-over-the-top gratuitous violence, double and triple-crosses and a cliché-ridden boring plot with an ingenuous twisted ending. Pass on this one. August 2007.
War of the Worlds – The story itself is told entirely by the narrator at the beginning and at the end of the movie. In between is much yelling, much screaming, much shouting, much panic but not much acting and not much of a movie. Tom Cruise plays an asshole and loser; he’s paid so little attention to his family he doesn’t even know his daughter has a peanut allergy. His teenage son is a jerk and his daughter is a screaming neurotic. So much yelling I began to hope the aliens invading earth would fry them to shut them up. They don’t. Not one of Spielberg’s finest: a stinker. July 2005.
The Watchmen – Superheroes Watchmen are in an alternate 1985 universe (Richard Nixon has been elected 3 times) trying to discover who’s tracking them down and killing them before they can stop the world’s annihilation (as usual.) Although, it probably helps to have read the comic book series (I didn’t) the overly-long movie (2:43) explains a lot through well-done flashbacks. Overwhelming, gritty and fantastic cinematography, with lots of action, gore and philosophy make up for some of the maudlin dialogue (hey, it’s based on a comic book, oops, graphic novel.) Best seen on a big screen. March, 2009.
We Were Soldiers – Mel Gibson & Vietnam War 2002
Where the Truth Lies – Ok, so I should know better than to try an Atom Egoyan film but sometimes he does good stuff. This is a 1950’s “who-dunnit” that is well acted by Kevin Bacon, Colin Firth and Alison Lohman and is lovingly directed and photographed so it’s more an art flic than a guy flic although it has some skin. It’s unnecessarily complicated with disjointed flashbacks – and I usually like flashback flics. I still can’t figure out who killed her nor do I care. The movie is unusual and original and will probably win awards but I still can’t recommend it. Nov 2005.
World Trade Center – Nicholas Cage gives us a quietly powerful portrayal as one of two NYPD officers trapped under the rubble of the World Trade Center. Directed with fierce emotion by Oliver Stone, the scenes alternate between the two trapped men and their families equally trapped in helplessness. Another director might have re-created the events but Stone immerses us in this gripping catastrophe and he does so without politics and polemics. Only 20 people were pulled from the rubble alive. These two were numbers 18 and 19. August 2006.
Wolfman – this modern update of the Werewolf saga has everything going for it – fantastic, dark and brooding photography, top actors Anthony Hopkins and Benicio Del Toro, superb supporting cast, great score and fantastic FX and yet it just doesn’t quite pull it all together. The story drags on, both Hopkins and Del Toro sleepwalk through their lines, the pacing is uneven, the ending was hoky and in the final analysis I just didn’t care for any of the characters. This one’s a stinker. February 2010.
The Wolverine – tries hard but misses the mark with a 2 hr. 16 min. movie that’s an hour too long and a few fights too many; except for the train fight scene we’ve seen ‘em all before. Poor editing makes flashbacks and dream sequences indistinguishable from the present arc and too many confusing betrayals and lack of suspense left me yawning and yearning for the end. Even in 3-D it seemed flatter than 2-D. July 2013.
World War Z – where the Z stands for a new breed of jerky but fast moving zombies with Brad Pitt (starring and producing) as a UN staffer racing against the clock and around the world desperately seeking to discover a vaccine before humanity is exterminated. There isn’t much blood and gore and even the frights are telegraphed so you don’t have to be a fan of zombie movies to enjoy the well-paced action and suspense, great acting and supporting cast, excellent script and directing, and the examination of how this fast moving plague affects the world. July 2013.
Wrath of the Titans – Sam Worthington reprises his role as the demi-god Perseus, son of Zeus (Liam Neeson) as he struggles to save mankind from impending doom wrought by Kronos as a gigantic mountain of flames and lava released by Ralph Fiennes in an incredible performance as Hades. This guy flic is more entertaininh than the first: “Clash of the Titans” with a comprehensible story, some welcome tongue-in-cheek, mind-boggling CGI, a menagerie of monsters, an immense ever-shifting labyrinth and epic battles. It could have used more of lovely Rosamund Pike, but maybe next time.
X-Men 2 – Superhero flic. Better than the first one. May 2003.
X-Men: the Last Stand – third (and last? Don’t believe it although the story is getting tired.) A newly discovered cure for mutations is a good excuse for the mutants to battle one another and the army. Hugh Jackman as Wolverine, Halle Berry as Storm, Patrick Stewart as the leader and you gotta check out blue fur-face Kelsey Grammer. Bigger and badder and more babes than the first two, with lots of action and tons of FX. June 2006.
X-Men Origins: Wolverine - Muscled Hugh Jackman again stars as Wolverine in this story of his origin, his romantic loss and mission of revenge. There’s the action, special FX and mindless pulp entertainment you’d expect from a summer blockbuster but, despite a 150 year back-story, his origin really is not explained and his one-note emotion of raging becomes tiresome and depressing in a movie that is more generic than original. May 2009
XXX– Non-stop Vin Diesel secret agent action flick. Expect sequels. 2002
XXX: State of the Union – Pudgy Ice Cube is no replacement for Vin Diesel from the first XXX although he does have the attitude. The action is even more implausible and over-the-top. The U.S. President is such a wimp you hope the plot to overthrow him actually succeeds. He makes Bush look good. Still, this is a fast-paced, non-stop, high energy, edge of the seat, mindless flic. May 2005.
Zombieland – It’s not easy mixing two different genres like horror and comedy (think Shawn of the Dead) but Woody Harrelson and three other misfits as the only non-zombies left in American run for their lives in a gore-filled spoof of 40 years of zombie movies with a cameo appearance by Bill Murray. Harrelson’s energetic and demented character carries the show. Oct 2009.
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