Review: Red Dawn

Red Dawn

For a movie that was so formulaic and predictable I sure did have a lot of questions. There are many things that simply didn’t make sense, weird issues with consistency or things that really needed an explanation while others did not. That said by the last act I was having a good time with a few good humor moments and overall things were simply coming together well. Oh, and the damn shaky cam was lighter toward the end so that helped.

Red Dawn is the story of North Korea invading the US and is centered on a small town in Washington State where a group of youngsters band together to fight back against the invaders branding themselves the Wolverines, after the town’s High School football team.

I’d like to state up front that I’ve never seen the original Red Dawn that this film is a remake of. I think I’m better off as I didn’t sit in the theater judging it based on the previous film. However, I was aware of this film’s most controversial change in that it was originally the Chinese that were invading the US. Due to the current political climate of the real world all the Chinese flags were CGed over with North Korean flags. It doesn’t help that I can tell the difference between a Korean person and pretty much anyone else, but I digress. The CG job was very thorough so I’ll let it go.

Now this movie was super formulaic from the opening wartime expositional opening credits complete with news bites and newspaper clippings to the patriotic ending that will make you wonder just where that American flag came from. Good lord, the training montage with the “we’re training for war!” voice over had me rolling my eyes. The only real curve it threw at me was just when I was beginning to wonder how on earth they could resolve this hopeless situation they were the film decided to add a McGuffin for our heroes to obtain in order to save the day. In other words it avoided being predictable by being a slightly different kind of predictable. It almost felt like a condensed TV series. So much so that I think I would have preferred if this were a weekly show.

There were some annoying issues I had beyond the lack of creativity in the script. For example this movie couldn’t seem to decide if the electricity was on or not. They have crappy weapons that they use to get better weapons but how did they get the crappy ones in the first place? Why is it so easy for these kids to move freely through this occupied city which seems to let them drive in and out as much as they please? And for crying out loud the shaky cam has got to stop. I’ve never had an issue with shaky cam as a general rule but it really obscured too much in this movie. Important characters died and you’d miss it until it was stated on screen. Which leads to one last weird thing...the violence. It was toned down A LOT. For a movie full of people getting shot you rarely actually saw the shots hitting the bodies. Even head shots were obscured just right. It just felt...off.

All of this complaining aside the last act was simply a ton of fun to watch. The Wolverines had pulled themselves together as a team and it showed. It felt like they had truly come a long way and were functioning as a unit and it was honestly a blast to watch. It also started to drive home how much of a war this is with realistic losses and gains. It simply felt right toward the end, like the journey had gotten somewhere and this was it. I just wish this were a TV series so they could have taken their time on this journey. It would have been a bit more rewarding.

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Review: Lincoln

Lincoln Considered to be one of the greatest presidents that has ever graced the United States, Abraham Lincoln, has always been a prominent figure in American culture. There have been numerous books about the man, but none more recognizable than Team of Rivals by Doris Kearns Goodwin. Director Steven Spielberg aimed to capture one section of Team of Rivals in his biographical drama, Lincoln. Dealing only with Abraham Lincoln’s last few months, Lincoln, focuses primarily on the race to get the 13th Amendment passed in the House of Representatives, which would end slavery in the United States officially.

The political and historical relevance of this film cannot be overstated. Spielberg purposefully released the film after the 2012 presidential election for a reason. Abraham Lincoln (Daniel Day-Lewis) means a lot to everyone in the modern day political sphere. Each side vying for the claim to say who Lincoln would support if he were around today.

When the film starts out we get a beautifully shot flashback scene of Abraham Lincoln speaking to troops about what they have experienced so far in the war. Spielberg uses a nice device here to recite one of Lincoln’s famous speeches to the audience. It was a nice technique that felt slightly gimmicky but somehow amazingly patriotic. Once we are pulled into present time we no longer see Lincoln as a larger than life character but rather a real man. Historically, Lincoln is said to have had a shrill voice not a booming powerful one as he is often portrayed. Spielberg went with the historical interpretation. Daniel Day-Lewis’ voice work really humanizes Lincoln. Never does Abraham Lincoln feel like a man out of an American fairy tale. Struggling to keep his intensity during the legislative fight, Lincoln often turns to his wife, Mary Todd Lincoln (Sally Fields) for council and compassion. After watching this, I am not sure he could have made it without her. She is as hard nosed as a woman could be in those times, a true equal to him, but cared deeply about him and what he was trying to accomplish.

There was some levity with the political operatives that Lincoln hired to get the votes and sway some Democrats. John Hawkes and James Spader made these scenes not only hilarious, but truly memorable. So much of the film is focused on how heavy is the head of Lincoln during these times, so its nice to be able to crack a smile in between impassioned speeches. Thaddeus Stevens (Tommy Lee Jones) also had such great moments that added to the levity. However, his light comments were almost always followed by some of the greatest moments in the film. Tommy Lee Jones stole every scene he was in without hesitation. The only exception was when he was on screen with Day-Lewis.

Daniel Day-Lewis, in my opinion, is our greatest living actor. In Lincoln, you truly find out why. From the first moment you see him as Lincoln you immediately begin to forget that you are watching Day-Lewis on screen. He became Abraham Lincoln for 150 minutes. This film felt more like a documentary than a drama. The weight of the world was on Lincoln’s shoulders and Day-Lewis conveyed every ounce. As I stated earlier, his voice work was incredible. The shrillness and slow tempo made for a more dramatic effect than the booming voice style that has been used in the past. His performance sets the stage for the dramatic finale, the vote. The role call for the final votes on the 13th Amendment is one of the most powerful scenes that I have watched in quite a while. Spielberg excels at invoking an intense level of emotion at that time. Its easy to get overwhelmed. There is a sigh of relief after you watch what not only Lincoln went though, but everyone else involved and affected went through. There is a part of me that thinks this film should be highly regarded due to its subject matter alone. However, in the end, regardless of its real world impact this is a top notch piece of filmmaking. Don’t walk, run to see Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln.

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Review: Skyfall

Skyfall Review I had mixed emotions going into Skyfall. On the one hand as a long time fan of James Bond, I had very high expectations for the film given the pedigree of those involved. On the other hand I tend to always set expectations high for Bond films and have been disappointed on a few occasions (most recently with the 2008 release of Quantum of Solace). Thankfully, director Sam Mendes has met my lofty expectations and has delivered the best Daniel Craig Bond film and perhaps the best Bond film overall. Skyfall begins with Bond and fellow field agent Eve (Naomie Harris) in pursuit of a mercenary who has stolen a hard drive containing the names of various undercover operatives embedded in terrorist organizations. The scene is some of the most entertaining and wonderfully shot action I’ve seen from a pre-credit sequence. The mission takes a bad turn and Bond is shot, goes M.I.A. and presumed dead. As the events of the movie unfold, Bond is lured out of hiding to come to the aid of his commanding officer M (Judi Dench) who is being targeted by the films antagonist Raoul Silva (Javier Bardem). Skyfall has a refreshingly simple plot that doesn’t juggle too many details and allows viewers to focus on the individual characters.

Daniel Craig comes into his own as James Bond. We are able to see the full range of his acting talents. He portrays a Bond with a wide variety of emotion. He shows insecurity at the fact that he may be too old to continue doing his job, exudes confidence and sophistication when trying to extract intel from a beautiful woman, and genuine sadness and vulnerability as he embraces a loved one. It’s a performance that solidifies himself as the quintessential Bond. Craig’s performance is matched by Javier Bardem’s wonderful portrayal of Raoul Silva. He doesn’t show up until about half way into the film but when he does, he commands your attention. Violent, charismatic, sympathetic, and completely unhinged, Raoul Silva is one of the best villains in the Bond franchise.

These two characters are linked by the Bond girl of the film. No, not Naomie Harris, whose playful flirtatious banter with 007 feels a tad bit forced. Nor is it Berenice Marlohe, who is a more traditional Bond girl in the same vein as Jill Masterson or Paris Carver. Skyfall’s true Bond girl is M. She isn’t just a simple plot device for the hero and villain to fight over. This is M’s story as much as it is Bond’s. More than ever before, we see this character as more than just an “evil queen of numbers.” The relationship between Dench’s M and Craig’s Bond isn’t just a simple work relationship and more of a dysfunctional mother-son relationship. These three characters are the main focus of the story but the supporting cast is also excellent. Ben Whishaw as the new Q in particular is great at portraying the seriousness of a man who never jokes about his work while being more than just the guy that hands out gadgets. The relationship between Craig and Whishaw is something I will look forward to in the subsequent Bond films.

Skyfall is a fitting tribute to half a century worth of espionage action. It recognizes its roots in ways that will make long time Bond fans smile but is aware that the franchise needs to stay current if it is to last another 50 years. Sam Mendes has created a love letter to Bond fans old and new and reminds us that when it comes to spy films, nobody does it better.

(Sorry about the pun. I couldn’t help myself.)

4.75/5

Review: Taken 2

Taken 2

In 2008 Liam Nesson refashioned himself as an action star. After years of playing serious dramatic roles, Nesson kicked some serious ass on the big screen. While not highly acclaimed, Taken was a fan favorite and gathered quite a following. With its cult like success there was no surprise that Taken 2 would quickly be in the works. However, the story of Taken wrapped up so nicely that it seemed unnecessary to have a sequel. Well sadly, that’s not how the movie industry works. So in 2012, Liam Nesson once again portrays the role of retired intelligence agent, Bryan Mills. When Taken ended we found Bryan Mills fresh off kicking every ass in France that had it coming while simultaneously saving his daughter Kim (Maggie Grace) from a life of sexual slavery. Pretty admirable if you ask me, Bryan is the ultimate good guy with a mean streak; a real crowd pleaser. When we meet up with Bryan and the crew he is trying desperately to still connect with his daughter. He wants to teach her to drive but she keeps blowing him off, and his ex-wife Lenore (Famke Janssen) isn’t make his life any easier. This is a dynamic I found extremely frustrating this time around. So let me get this straight, after the events of Taken we are meant to believe that Kim and Lenore still don’t have the utmost respect for Bryan? Can we get someone to send them a DVD copy of the first movie? Anyway, Bryan invites Kim and Lenore to meet him in Istanbul after he completes a security job. After what happened in France you want to take you daughter to Istanbul? Bryan, at this point you just look like a bad parent, we are all disappointed. Meanwhile the boss, Murad Hoxha, (Rade Šerbedžija) of the Albanian mafia from the first movie is pissed that Bryan killed his men, especially his son. He promises to get revenge no matter what. So the Albanians track Bryan to Istanbul and the plot gets going. Like clockwork, Bryan and Lenore are taken and Hoxha spills the news as to why he came after them.

I had such a fun time watching Taken, but in all honesty I found Taken 2 to be absolutely craven. This was nothing more than a cash grab hoping to cash in on the cult following behind the first movie. I found the movie to lack the bizarre creepiness and visceral action of the first outing. The first movie dealt with a serious topic in an unserious way, but still had an element of mystery. This go around we got none of that. We get a lumbering Nesson who can’t take on the thugs with quite the veracity that he did back in 2008. The action sequences were shot very tightly and felt extremely frenetic. This is a lazy way of shooting action and its sped up to make the appearance of fast paced action. Director Olivier Megaton took over for Pierre Morel and frankly you can tell. Where the first movie had a budget of $26.5 million and felt like a low budget gritty action movie, Taken 2’s budget was $45 million and felt like over-produced schlock. Pointless winks and nods to the first movie, and no care for developing a good story. Why bother giving people a reason to watch when you can just have the hero swing an asp baton around really fast. All the acting was about as good as it was in the first one, but that isn’t saying much. Liam Nesson seemed to absolutely phone this one in. He never seemed too dedicated to making this movie, but rather just stumbling from one scene to the next. I never thought I could dislike Kim and Lenore more than I did in the first movie, but I was wrong...so wrong! The two characters were vapid and lack any humanity. Never once do I feel that they are happy to be saved by Bryan. They always have the attitude that he could have done it better or faster; stupid Bryan. Olivier Megaton really beats it in that Bryan has a fairly awful life and we should feel sorry for him, I don’t...stop going on these dangerous trips Bryan!

So the final verdict for Taken 2 is a rental or Netflix at best. I was one of those people who had Taken nicely placed on the cult following fun action movie section in my mind. However, Taken 2 is in the you have got to be kidding me section. If any of these people get "Taken" again I don’t want any part of finding out why or how.

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