Tag Archives: action

Way late review: The Dark Knight Rises

Some films demand a grandiose treatment. After The Dark Knight, it is only fitting that Cristopher Nolan indulge in making The Dark Knight Rises a sprawling epic full of thought provoking themes supported by sometimes majestic and other times troubling sights and sounds.

Bruce Wayne is in bad shape. The billionaire and his alter ego, Batman, disappeared after taking the blame for the murder of Gotham’s beloved district attorney turned two face villain, Harvey Dent. As much as Rises is about super heroes and villains, it’s about the inner conflict of a man who has lost his sense of purpose. And, even when he believes he has that purpose back, we’re left to wonder if the purpose has turned into one last suicidal mission to save the city he loves.

The headlining villain this time around is Bane (Tom Hardy), a man who wears a mask that may have been stolen off the set of Silence of The Lambs, which makes him difficult to understand when he speaks. The voice sounds like a mix of Sean Connery and Darth Vader.  (Special thanks to my wife for that one.) There was some serious audio magic performed to make Bane more audible and clear, to the point where it was jarring to hear this booming voice coming from a muzzled mouth. Had the original voice been used (from earlier trailers) I think that and a combination of sub-titles may have been more effective, but I understand why the change was made. Having a villain with sub-titles probably wouldn’t fly with a majority of English speaking audiences. Regardless of the voice, Bane is a menacing character. The lore surrounding him is revealed over time and only adds to his puzzling motives. Whereas the Joker was the maniacal terrorist in a clown motif, Bane is the pro wrestler with a masterminded plot to destroy Gotham, but not before he has a chance to run some evil sociological experiment where he serves as the ringmaster and the people of Gotham revel in a world which punishes the rich and gives them freedom all the while crushing them.

Adding more characters to the mix is always tricky for super hero movies. Add one too many and the story bogs down with the weight of too many stories to tell and not enough time to tell them all in. Selina Kyle, aka Catwoman (Anne Hathaway), seemed like she would be the tipping point this time around. Instead of becoming a boat anchor, Catwoman’s story compliments that of Batman’s quite nicely. Catwoman’s arch is much like Han Solo’s in Star Wars IV. She’s a sketchy character whose desire for fortunes outweigh her desire for doing good. Both she and Batman want to be different people. She a thief who can’t get away from her life of crime even if she tries, and he a seemingly washed up crime fighter who wouldn’t mind dying if it meant a valiant effort to save the people of Gotham.

Nolan will never be accused of keeping his stories straight forward and simple. Dialogue here and in his other films is full of exposition, which is a big no-no for most. Somehow the Dark Knight director makes even plodding material interesting. Credit the constant use of an emotionally charged soundtrack for much of that. If all our lives were backed by cinema soundtracks they would instantly seem other worldly and overly dramatic. And maybe the nearly non-stop swelling music is overkill, along with a two hour and forty-five minute running time but I never once did a time check.

Commentary on modern day issues cannot be missed. The attacks on corrupt Wall Street bankers and the one percent are spread throughout much of the film. Providing some equal opportunity of a critical eye, the Occupy movement is also alluded to and, if the allusion is correct, the picture is not a pretty one. The use of laws to make organized crime a thing of the past even though they may overstep civil liberties is touched on lightly. None of it is heavy handed in a preachy manner. Nolan keeps the focus on the story while touching on various themes, some timeless and others capturing current day events.

Some will fondly recall the previous film in the trilogy as superior, with Heath Ledger’s amazing performance as the Joker being the main reason. Both films are excellent and both provide numerous areas to nitpick. The Dark Knight Rises goes out with an operatic crescendo, a thrilling yet satisfying ending to a trilogy all about a man dressed as a bat.

 ★★★★★ 

This post is part of my Way late reviews. Read more reviews here.

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Way late review: The Avengers


Comic book heroes are made for the movies and vice versa. Whether it’s the darker tones of Christopher Nolan’s Batman, the lighter comedic fare of Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man trilogy or something in between yet all together different like Tim Burton’s take on Batman, the caped crusaders, mutants, and wildly skilled men and women of comic books make for promising cinema fodder. So why is it when you take an ensemble of these characters, some of whom have had solo features, the results are so bland? That is the question I have after watching The Avengers. I saw it closer to its release date and again recently at home, and both times I was bored even though the premise was intriguing, the director (Joss Whedon) would seem the perfect pick, and the cast is solid.

Kicking off with exposition promises problems early on. The magical energy source, the Tesseract, first seen in Captain America is back and gets our full attention. S.H.I.E.L.D. possesses the Tesseract and is performing all sorts of experiments. Loki, Thor’s half brother, wants the Tesseract so he can summon an alien force to put the Earth under Loki’s control. So Loki portals through into the headquarters, grabs the glowing blue cube, puts some people under his control and escapes from the compound. Desperate times call for desperate measures and the Avengers are assembled as a last gasp effort to save the world.

The time spent rounding up each of our heroes feels slow and dragged out. The only highlight is when Thor shows up and gets in a tussle with Iron Man and Captain America. Otherwise, the inevitable occurs. Those with super powers come together under one roof. They then spend much of their time holding conversations which are supposed to show us the evolving team dynamics at play. None of it matters or makes much sense. Loki is captured and supposedly doesn’t mind because he’s going to trick them all by somehow harnessing the Hulk to come out and play. How Loki is involved with making this happen, how it will help his cause, and how it will play out in theory or in reality is never made clear. The part we’re supposed to latch onto is how amazing it is to see all these super heroes together for the first time in a feature length film.

Aside from the initial action sequence that follows Loki’s escape with the cube of incredible power, there are two more big action scenes. There are three acts and each one is highlighted with a battle. Unfortunately the action is mostly a big ball of blah. When anything is possible (thanks to computer animation) the danger is to do everything which in turn results in very little feeling consequential, let alone real. The setting for the second big action scene is on a flying aircraft carrier which looks interesting from afar but serves as a lame action set piece. The last showdown is in New York, and while there are some interesting shots and decent attempts at humor, the battle between the Avengers and a generic alien force falls flat. The time wasted leading up to the final act makes the almost two and a half hour runtime feel like an eternity.

None of our heroes is given room to develop. Iron Man/Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.) feels like a non-stop quip machine. Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) mopes around as we’re promised he might explode into the uncontrollable (yet magically controllable later on) Hulk at any moment. Captain America (Chris Evans) should be a fish out of water but he adapts to the future so quick the opportunity is missed. Thor is Thor. Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) walks around looking pretty while attempts are made to give her a bit of a back story. Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) is mostly absent and not missed.

A lot happens in The Avengers, yet not much of any consequence. Loki and his alien allies are placeholder villains at best. The threat they present is never all that real. Far too much time is spent between characters having conversations that neither develop character or the narrative. The end result is an ordinary film filled with characters who hold extraordinary powers. What a shame.

 ★★½☆☆ 

This post is part of my Way late reviews. Read more reviews here.

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Way late review: Rambo: First Blood


Rambo is a legend. He is as much a part of American pop culture as Coca Cola and McDonalds. An ’80s icon during a time when men with muscles took on the world by themselves and won. When Rocky isn’t a big enough movie franchise one must up the ante. Drop the boxing gloves and pickup endless amounts of ammo, a gun, a knife, a homemade bandanna and start a new, more violent mythology. I know this about Rambo, yet it wasn’t until recently when I saw my first Rambo flick, Rambo: First Blood. I hesitated all these years to watch any of the Rambo films because I thought they were likely mind numbing. I was wrong, at least in regards to the first in the series.

John Rambo (Sylvester Stallone) is a former Green Beret who served his time in Vietnam. He’s trying to find his what’s left of his brigade, walking through the remote parts of Washington. He discovers his last known living member is dead due to cancer he got while fighting the war. Rambo makes his way through a small town where he is immediately confronted by the sheriff, Teasle (Brian Dennehy) and escorted out of town. The sheriff doesn’t like the looks of this straggly vagabond.

Sheriff Teasle: If you want some friendly advice, get a haircut and take a bath. You wouldn’t get hassled so much.

Rambo isn’t pleased and after the sheriff drops him off outside the city limits he heads back into town. Teasle sees this and confronts his new nemesis. Things don’t go well and the Vietnam vet is booked in jail. The town must be run by some of the worst policemen in the world. They harass Rambo until he snaps. One flashback too many from Nam and the belligerent officers experience John Rambo up close and personal. Our protagonist flees the jail, takes a motorbike, and the chase is on.

The pursuit of Rambo by the hard headed, fun to root against local law enforcement is non-stop action filled with interesting set pieces thanks to the mountainous terrain. Watching a green beret use all his tricks against guys who fancy themselves equals makes for a good time. Just when it seems he is out numbered with nowhere left to go, Rambo pulls another rabbit from his hat. He could easily kill anyone in the group hunting him down but he lets them live. Egos are often hard to heal. Egos the size of those belonging to Sheriff Teasle and his hapless crew are off the charts, which means an all out war breaks loose. And to think, all this started because Rocky Rambo wandered through town looking for a place to eat.

Colonel Sam Trautman (Richard Crenna) enters the scene when Treasle unleashes hundreds of men on the forest in all out man hunt. Trautman created Rambo. He tells Treasle to give up. These men are no match for the war machine Trautman molded. Treasle doesn’t listen and brings some more hurt on himself and those around him. If there is any misstep in a film full of archetypes it is Trautman’s character. He is there to give Rambo a voice and grow the legend even while it plays out on the screen. His hyperbolic chatter becomes almost nauseating. We want to like Rambo but his commander almost gets in the way at certain points. The action overrules the chest thumping dialogue, even if the end provides a slightly over the top monologue. Still, after all the non-stop chasing, hunting, hand to hand combat, gun fire and explosions, a shift to the quiet moment expressing deep hurt is admirable even if it is a little heavy handed.

Watching a movie so long after the main character has been established as an icon for an era is often a recipe for disaster. First Blood surprised me. In the place of camp was pure, entertaining action. Rambo may go on and disappoint me in future films. I know the drill. I’ve seen the Rocky series. But I thoroughly enjoyed the first one, which makes me wonder why I waited so long to watch it.

 ★★★★½ 

This post is part of my Way late reviews. Read more reviews here.

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Way late review: The Grey


Based on how some (many?) would describe The Grey, it was all about Liam Neeson punching some wolves in the face. When did Liam Neeson become 80′s circa Sylvester Stallone? I remember him most for his roles in Schindler’s List, Michael Collins, and Rob Roy. Certainly it’s the 2000′s where Neeson’s name becomes associated with big action with little brains. The Grey is a little more intelligent and nuanced than his action films of late. In other words, there is more to it than awesome action set pieces and our favorite Irish tough guy bashing in the brains of monster wolves.

Some rough and tumble guys make a living drilling for oil in Alaska. John Ottway (Liam Neeson) has the honor of protecting them from wolves. He uses a rifle to pick off the predators before the canines pick off the men. The team sets off for a new job on a flight. The ride goes from rough to tragic and crashes into the Alaskan wilderness. Seven men survive only to find themselves in a new battle for their lives. They’re being hunted by a pack of wolves whose territory they’ve intruded on. To call these animals “wolves” is like calling a T-Rex “Barney”. These wolves are on the Barry Bonds training program. In fact, Barry Bonds would likely advise these wolves to lay off the PEDs.

Ottway is the leader. While most of the others either suffer from trauma or varying degrees of immaturity, Ottway rounds up the troops and provides direction. One slight problem. Ottway was only moments away from ending his own life before making this trip. He is haunted by the loss of his wife. Now, thrust in the midst of a near death experience, the wolf hunter finds himself fighting for life – his and those around him.

Jump scares are plentiful. The sounds of wolf attacks are as brutal as anything actually shown. The dire situation makes for a non-stop survival thriller. And yet, in the quieter moments the thoughts about nearing death seeps in. The quip that there are no atheists in a fox hole doesn’t play out in The Grey. We don’t get to know the men alongside Ottway all that well, but we find that most cling to what they see and experience. There are moments where faith in a creator are displayed or called into question – or both at the same time; but the bulk of the men come back clinging to the observation made in the very book most of them mock: eat, drink and be merry. Of course, there is little to be merry about while ravenous wolves track your every footstep. There is no rest for these men. Death is inevitable for all, but for these men it feels inevitably close.

More than a wilderness survival thriller, The Grey takes the sub-genre and contemplates the biggest moment in all our lives – the end. There are no answers provided, no sermons preached. The men examine what matters most to them and often come up with little. Their fight against the odds is compelling. And, yes, you get to see Liam Neeson punch a wolf in the face.

 ★★★★☆ 

This post is part of my Way late reviews. Read more reviews here.

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Way late review: Haywire

Steven Soderbergh could have made the female Bourne movie. I’m afraid Joe Wright beat him to that with 2011′s Hanna. Granted, Hanna was an adolescent girl set in a bizarre modern day fairy tale. Haywire replaces the girl with a woman MMA fighter and trades the fairy tale for mostly mundane exposition.

Mallory Kane (Gina Carano) is on the run. It’s not clear what for exactly in the opening moments of the film but we learn quickly that someone is not happy with her being out and about. There is something different about Mallory. Within minutes she is bashing in the head of Channing Tatum as she makes a run for it out of the rural diner. She forces a young man to get in his car and give her the keys. And away they go.

During the car ride Mallory explains her predicament. She’s a special agent for a private company that does work for various government agencies. It’s not the cleanest line of work and the reward for a job well done is being setup by her boss Kenneth (Ewan McGregor). Mallory escapes the trap with casualties trailing behind her. From that point forward the hunt is on for Mallory Kane.

What should be an action packed movie is mostly a lot of slowly paced scenes with plenty of dialogue to fill the gaps. A star studded cast fills the movie but is put to little use. Everyone seems subdued. And while some may blame Gina Carano for bringing the level of acting down several notches, she is not the problem. The entire cast is incapable of breaking free of the malaise that plagues them. Carano may be a bit of a gimmick, but no one can blame her for the lulls in the pacing, the generally out of place soundtrack, the dialogue heavy screenplay, and the ugly look of the film. Soderbergh’s style normally agrees with me. His penchant for using odd coloring is normally OK, but Haywire is flat out ugly. The colors distort an already flat looking picture. Rather than artistic, the look feels sloppy at best.

When there is action, it’s quite good. The fighting is not cut up with quick edits and annoying close ups that obscure the action. Fights are given the room to breathe, which is a rarity these days where special effects and hyperactive editing make a mess of far too many action sequences. Those scenes are entertaining and leave one wondering why there are five minutes of action followed up by three times as much filler. If only Soderbergh took his sense of fun and style with Ocean’s Eleven and mixed it with the energy of the fight scenes. Oh well.

 ★★½☆☆ 

This post is part of my Way late reviews. Read more reviews here.

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