Wednesday, April 29, 2009


I felt the need to give this film a review of its own; I didn't want it to play second fiddle to Wolverine and a questionable Nic Cage movie. I am a Jean-Claude Van Damme fan and this movie deserves attention. I'm just pointing out my fandom because I know that it makes me biased for this film. But I have read some comments and reviews that are favorable even though the writer(s) do not particularly care for Van Damme's work. I do and this movie seemed to be made just for me.

JCVD - Directed by Mabrouk El Mechri, starring Jean-Claude Van Damme, Rated R

JCVD is a film that slightly dramatizes Van Damme's life and tries to tell a compelling fictional story at the same time. Obviously, the parts concerning the real Van Damme are the most interesting, but the story has it's moments, unorigional as they may be, as well. The movie starts off with a great action scene done in the form of a long take akin to Children of Men. Van Damme shoots and fights his way through a small war, only to have the take ruined by poor set construction. He converses with the director (through a translator) about how he's too old to do it all in one take and that it simply isn't working. He walks off in frustration. We then get to see that Van Damme is going through a tough custody battle that is draining his bank account. On top of that, he just lost a promising new role to Steven Seagal (who won the part because he agreed to cut off his ponytail). So Van Damme decides to go back to his homeland of Belgium to get his life back together. While at a post office/bank (they call it both during the film, I guess things are a bit different in Belgium), he gets caught up in a heist that the police think he is running.

All of this causes Van Damme to reflect on his life. He looks miserable (just look at the poster), and he apparently feels awful, as well. He wants to be the hero he is in the movies, but he also wants to be a normal guy. He's quick to try to help out a hostage, but he is reluctant to display his kicking ability for his captor (which is a funny scene, by the way). It's kind of complicated and that's what makes it great. JCVD is not about making fun of the man. Sure, there are some cheap shots about his current career that lead to some laughs, but there are also many scenes in which you start to feel for the guy. He made mistakes, sure, but he deserves to be more than a punchline these days. This all leads up to a fourth wall shattering soliloquy in which Van Damme bares his soul directly at the camera. It's an amazing speech (even if you have to read it, as most of the film is in French) and, along with the opening scene, it makes this film great. Sure, the heist stuff seems to blatantly rip off Dog Day Afternoon (some have said the villain is a John Cazale lookalike) and the score resembles the music from Inside Man, but Van Damme's performance elevates the film above the status of a rip off.

Do I sound biased? I'm sure it seems that way, but give this movie a chance. I bought this the other day and, while browsing other DVDs, a couple of guys were reading the plot on the back of the case, laughing. "Is this a joke?" one of them asked. I'm afraid the common Wal-Mart shopper will think that. But get past the synopsis from the DVD case (which does make the movie sound like more a typical Van Damme action movie), and accept this movie for what it is: a look into an aging, nearly forgotten action star who can do more than kick and shoot his way back to his kidnapped (wife, child, brother, et cetera). Van Damme is easy to poke fun at; his action movies don't really display any acting craft, he's played doubles in his movies five times (five!), and he hasn't been in a theatrical release for nearly a decade. But he deserves to be back in theaters. As an action star? Maybe. Better yet, let this man show some emotion, because he has proven that he is more than capable in this intelligent, funny, heartbreaking film.

Next: Wolverine and the Crappy Cage trilogy (8MM, Snake Eyes, and The Wicker Man)

Monday, April 27, 2009

"Role Models" / "The Wrestler" and "Frost/Nixon" on DVD / "Replicant"

* You might notice a new link to the top left of the page for the Large Association of Movie Blogs (LAMB). I am now a member of that group, so click the link to check out other blogs like mine.

Slow, awful week at the cinemas (Obsessed, Fighting, and The Soloist came out and I just have very little interest in watching any of those), so I'm sticking with DVD releases this week.

Role Models - Directed by David Wain, starring Paul Rudd, Seann William Scott, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, and Bobb'e J. Thompson - Rated R and Unrated (on DVD)

I really don't have much to say about this one. It was funny at times and I even started to care about the characters, but I didn't think this was on par with recent comedies like Zack and Miri, Tropic Thunder, or Pineapple Express. Not that this movie is supposed to be like any of those movies, I just didn't think it was as funny as them.

The story goes something like this: Rudd and Scott sell energy drinks to schools for a living. Rudd gets depressed and angry about his life and wrecks the company truck into a statue at an elementary school. Instead of jail time, though, Rudd and Scott must spend 150 hours as big brother types for Mintz-Plasse (known as McLovin' from Superbad, but showing a little range here) and Thompson (one of the funniest child performances I've ever seen). Of course things don't go smoothly at first, but hilarity ensues as they get to know each other.

The scenes with Bobb'e J. Thompson as Ronnie are by far the best. On paper, Ronnie may seem to be a one-note character since it seems like all he does is cuss. And while that should get old (a child cussing is only funny for so long) but it doesn't. I mark that up to the performance. Mintz-Plasse does fine as Augie, but that character doesn't deserve the majority of the story. Augie is into a fantasy role-playing society called Laire. While this is funny at first, it gets stale when the story goes back to Laire again and again. If you enjoy the role-playing aspect of the story, then you'll enjoy this much more than I did. It didn't ruin the movie for me or anything, but I did get pretty sick of it by the end.

Alot of your enjoyment will be based on how much you like Rudd and Scott, too. They are basically playing the same characters they've always played (Rudd is the wise-cracking narcissist and Scott is the sex-obsessed party animal with the hint of a heart). If you don't like Rudd's snide comments from other films, then you need to stay away from this, because every other line of his dialogue is a comment like that (probably because he co-wrote the script). I enjoy those comments, myself, which is why I consider this movie to be worthy of a rental, or maybe a purchase when it inevitably reaches the $5 rack.

The DVD has all the typical special features of a comedy. Extended/Deleted scenes that provide a couple laughs, a blooper reel that is amusing, and a bland making-of featurette. It's all just more of the same from the movie.

The Wrestler and Frost/Nixon - on DVD

Refer to my old reviews (on the left) if you want a full review. I just wanted to point out that these movies are now on DVD and you should definitely check them out. The Wrestler might appear to be lacking in special features, but the making-of documentary is fairly lengthy and covers almost anything you would want to know about the film (like the fact that Slash did some guitar work for the score and they filmed the wrestling scenes at actual wrestling shows). So the disc might not be overloaded with features, but it has quality features. It also includes a music video for the Oscar-snubbed Bruce Springsteen song. Keep in mind the most important fact for this DVD, it contains what I consider to be the best film of 2008. Sometimes the film itself is enough for a DVD.

Frost/Nixon has a few interesting special features, but the best thing you could do is just rent the actual interviews on DVD. Other than that, the special features are worth a watch, but they don't add much background for the story. I enjoyed the look at Nixon's presidential library, but I have an interest (some might call it a creepy obsession) with Nixon, so it may not appeal to most people. I also want to reiterate the boxing-match aspect from my original review. There is a scene in this movie where Nixon is told that there is something he should see as an aide turns on an interview with David Frost. Think about Rocky for a minute. There is an identical scene in which Apollo Creed is told to watch a clip of Rocky training. I think that the filmmakers were completely aware of the comparison and added it to hammer home the boxing aspect of the film.

Crappy Classic: Replicant - Directed by Ringo Lam, starring Jean-Claude Van Damme and Michael Rooker - Rated R

First off, I still need a better title than "Crappy Classic," so please give me some ideas. As you'll soon find out with next week's review of JCVD, I am a huge Van Damme fan. I realize his acting is sub-par at times and that he has really fallen off in the last decade (here's hoping that JCVD marks a comeback for him), but I still love almost all of his theatrical releases. Most of his straight to DVD stuff is garbage; complete and utter garbage. Replicant is the exception.

Replicant is about a serial killer with mommy issues who goes around killing "bad" mothers and setting their houses on fire, earning him the nickname, "The Torch." Michael Rooker plays the hard-nosed cop that has been on the case for years. When Rooker retires, after nearly capturing the Torch, he is contacted by the government and told that they have created a replicant of the serial killer in the hopes that his genetic memory will become like actualy memory and lead Rooker to the Torch. Stupid sci-fi? Absolutely, but that doesn't mean it can't be entertaining.

Van Damme basically gets to act like a kid in a man's body for most of the film. This is where it gets funny. Watch Van Damme eat dog food, have an awkward encounter with a prostitute, and cuss at inappropiate times. (And check out the deleted scenes for a hilarious gag at a fruitstand.) While this gimmick is used for comedy quite often, it is also effective in creating sympathy for the character; especially since Rooker beats the crap out of Van Damme in nearly every early scene. Van Damme can play a scared child quite well. He's also not bad as a serial killer, too. You might notice his serial killer get-up from those USA Network ads from about 8 years ago ("It's a Damme good month for USA.") It's not Oscar worthy, but it is effective.

But this still a bad movie in many ways. Rooker is laughable at times, there's a strange scene in which it looks like Rooker is about to molest Van Damme (with Rooker's mother watching), the characters aren't really fleshed out, there are all kinds of plot holes, and there is a stupid attempt to use CG early on. But it's enjoyable. Very enjoyable. This might be straight to DVD, but it's just as good (better, I think) as any stupid Jason Statham movie out there.

Next Week: Wolverine, JCVD, and another Crappy Classic...I'm thinking something with Nicolas Cage...

Sunday, April 19, 2009

"State of Play" / "The Spirit"

State of Play - Directed by Kevin Macdonald, starring Russell Crowe, Ben Affleck, Rachel McAdams, and Helen Mirren - Rated PG-13

State of Play, based on the BBC series of the same name, is a complicated movie. There are multiple storylines to talk about, so I'll try to stick to the main two: a lead researcher for a congressional sub-committee threatening a major private military contractor is killed, bringing forth the information that the Congressman who appointed her (Affleck), was having an affair with her. This leads to questions about who might have killed her, was it suicide?, how connected is this military contractor corproration?, and (the second plotline) where do newspapers fit into all of this in the internet age? That second plotline brings in Cal (Crowe, still in his "look how unkempt I am" phase), Della (McAdams), and their mouthy British editor (Mirren). Cal is an old college buddy of the Congressman, so he has a personal interest in the story, or police case, depending on your perspective. To complicate matters further, he has to work with the young Della, the newspaper's blogger.

When Crowe and McAdams are sharing the screen early on (they work great together, by the way), there is usually a tension in the air as the old dinosaur Cal, still using a 13 year old computer and sticking to the old reporting style of getting away from the computer and hitting the streets, clashes with Della, the neat and tidy young reporter who is able to submit new material every hour from her safe computer. There is only slight tension, though, as the movie wisely decides to make their arguments short and relatively tame. The whole issue of whether or not newspapers are still relevant is interesting and it works as a subplot. But the real meat of the story is Congressman Stephen Collins and his battle to take down Pointcorp (the privatized military contractor) and Cal's quest to find the killer and figure out who's really pulling all the strings, all while trying to be a reporter and a friend at the same time (hint: this leads to scenes of Crowe and Affleck yelling at each other).

Does any of that above make sense? I could go on and make it worse, but if any of the synopsis above sounds interesting to you, then this is definitely worth checking out. There's a bit of style in the camera movement that makes things a bit more hectic (in a good way) and Affleck (who gets a bad rap these days) holds up well against Crowe. This movie isn't a masterpiece or anything, but it's one of those good, complicated investigative reporting movies that has a timely question concerning how news is spread today. And most importantly, it's fun to watch. There's some comedic relief here and there (Jason Bateman shines in his brief role) and the story seems realistic, but still stretches reality enough to make it much more interesting than any true story. So that's it for State of Play, but I do have one more paragraph in me concerning the newspaper vs. internet debate.

For the record, even though I write my reviews on a blog, I think that newsprint is still extremely important. A newspaper offers legitimacy to a story and when I do write an occasional review for the Perry County News I feel a bit more professional than I do when I upload a new post here. The words are usually the same, and if anything, my reviews on the internet are of higher quality (I add pictures!), but the paper is something I can pick up and feel. I think along the same lines when I read the newspaper every day. The important news is printed and you know it's from a reliable source if it's in the paper. If you read an article on some random website, how can you be sure if any of it's true? You could always check the newspaper and see if it's in there.

*Note: I'm going to start doing one review a week over a movie that I think is unfairly trashed, or is simply unpopular. This week, that movie is The Spirit, which came out on DVD last week. I'm still trying to think of what to call these reviews, so if you have any ideas, leave a comment. For now, I'm going to call these my "Forgotten and Crappy Classic" reviews. Stupid title? I think so, but here goes anyway.

The Spirit - Directed by Frank Miller, starring Gabriel Macht, Samuel L. Jackson, Eva Mendes, and Scarlett Johanssen - Rated PG-13

My first crappy classic (it's not old enough to be forgotten yet) is an adaptation about the old comic strip series by Will Eisner from the '40's and '50's. It's about the crime fighter The Spirit (Macht) and his battle with the Octopus (Jackson, hamming it up and loving every minute of it). Along the way he tries to be a ladies man with almost every woman he comes across. This sounds cheesy, I know, and you know it's kind of stupid if you've seen the previews featuring such lines as, "I'm gonna kill you all kinds of dead." (Which I think is hilarious, by the way.) But this is supposed to be cheesy. Remember the source material, this is what that old comic was like. Sure, some of the violence is amped up and Jackson's character goes off the reservation (even though you only ever see Octopus' hands in the comic) but it's all in good, cheesy fun. This may look like Sin City (Frank Miller did direct this) but the story is a bit more light-hearted.

The Sin City reference is a little unfair because this movie does have it's own style, but it is very much like the style of Sin City. That doesn't mean it's a complete copy, though. The visuals are great all around and even a few of the critics who hated the movie admitted that it was interesting to look at at least. I'm just asking for people to give this movie a chance. Just realize that this movie is supposed to be funny. Miller wasn't going for grittiness in this, he was going for a visually impressive and, most importantly, fun movie. Accept that and you may end up liking this.

A warning, though. I can understand why people would hate this so I'll list a few of the dumber things in the movie. Jackson's henchmen are all clones and all appear to be nearly brain dead. They say stupid things throughout the film and are extremely goofy. I thought they were hilarious, but I can see where some people might find them just plain stupid and unfunny. Jackson himself might turn people away, too. He is overacting more than ever here and if he gets on your nerves in his more eccentric roles, then you might want to avoid this. He also talks about how much he hates eggs on his face, or likes eggs, or made no sense to me and I still can't figure out what that reference is about (I will check out the commentary on the DVD, that might clear it up). If the so-called negatives sound like something you might enjoy (as I do), then at least rent this movie. If anything above raises a flag, though, you should skip it.

Oh, and fans of The Wonder Years should at least check it out because the dad from that show (Dan Lauria) is hilarious as the commissioner. It also helps (for the male viewers, anyway) that every woman in this movie is ridiculously beautiful. The dad from The Wonder Years and beautiful women? What more did anyone want from this movie? Seriously, though, worth a watch for most people, I imagine and it is certainly nowhere close to being the worst movie ever, as some critics and message board trolls have been saying.

Next week - Definitely another crappy classic, and probably something on DVD, I'd say there is no way whatsoever that I'll be going to the theater until Wolverine comes out on May 1st.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

"Observe and Report" / "The Midnight Meat Train" / "I.O.U.S.A."

Observe and Report - Written and directed by Jody Hill, starring Seth Rogen, Anna Faris, Michael Pena, and Ray Liotta - Rated R

I have not seen Paul Blart: Mall Cop, (I will watch it on DVD) but I'm pretty sure this movie is quite different even though both movies are about a mall cop. Paul Blart is rated PG, which means it's most likely family friendly; Observe and Report is anything but family friendly. It may not even be audience friendly, depending on what reviews you read. I found it hilarious, weird, stupid, smart, and surprisingly deep at times. The main thing to point out is that this is not like one of the Judd Apatow comedies that Rogen is known for. This movie has the signature of it's director, Jody Hill. If you've seen The Foot Fist Way, then you'll have an idea of what's in store. It also helps if you've seen Eastbound and Down on HBO. That first film and the TV show are both funny, but they are also pretty weird. Hill doesn't have a normal sense of humor and that makes for an interesting comedy.

Observe and Report is about Ronnie (Rogen), a bi-polar mall security guard who dreams of saving humanity (with the help of "the biggest shotgun you have ever seen"), winning the girl of his dreams (Faris), becoming a cop, and stopping a serial flasher at the mall. Ronnie is not a nice guy. Some people may have trouble getting behind him in his quest for justice. I can understand if people hate the character; he is obnoxious, egotistic, delusional, and, arguably, a rapist (more on that later). Not sure what it says about me, but I wanted things to work out for Ronnie. I wasn't annoyed by his sociopathic behavior, I was amused by it, and that might make or break this movie for some people.

Issues about the character aside, it should be hard for anyone to deny that Rogen gives a great performance. I completely bought that he was mentally unstable and it seemed like he truly believed in his heroic destiny. This might just be because Rogen is finally playing a different character, though. Think about it: take his characters from Zack and Miri Make a Porno, Knocked Up, The 40-Year Old Virgin, and Pineapple Express and mix them up within the movies. You get the same wise-cracking stoner in each one. Don't get me wrong, I'm a fan of that character, but it doesn't show range and it's bound to grow stale (it already has with some people). This film showed me that Rogen can act like someone other than himself and still be funny and I think this will be the film people look at later in his career when they want to point out when he became an actor.

Rogen isn't the only one who does some good work here. Faris is hilarious as the superficial Brandi. I laughed aloud during the dinner scene when her eyes light up as she sees a tray of tequila shots and exclaims giddily, "Shots!" This role may not be a stretch for her, but she's perfect for it. Michael Pena (World Trade Center) is also impressive as Ronnie's second in command. His lisping quasi-gangster voice is hilarious and when his drug induced portion of the movie comes up, the film goes from amusing to comedic brilliance. Part of that is because of Jody Hill's attempt to pace the movie based on what drug was being consumed during certain scenes, which is the kind of interesting direction you don't see in comedies today. The other part of it is the writing.

Hill has written a dark, funny script that will make some people uncomfortable. I'll go ahead and get into the slightly controversial "rape" scene. (Some of this could constitute as spoiler material, so fair warning.) In this film, there is basically a date rape scene involving prescription medication and alcohol. Normally, this wouldn't be played up as a comedic scene, but it is arguable whether or not it is rape. It's not a stretch to think that Brandi has been involved in similar situations before due to the hints of her partying behavior. Also, Ronnie is a delusional person and if Brandi wasn't putting up a fight, then that's the same to him as completely consensual sex. And Brandi does speak during the scene, so she's aware of what's happening. Anyway, I just wanted to comment on it because some reviews have used it as a negative aspect of the movie and I think that's a bit unfair.

It's unfortunate that some critics are focusing on the "rape" because there are many other serious aspects to this movie that require multiple viewings, I think. First off, Ronnie is medicated and delusional, so you might start to question what is real and what isn't. This is a comedy in which something completely crazy might happen and we're not supposed to suspend disbelief because it's a comedy; we're supposed to question it and then consider the possibility that this movie might have a bit more going on for it, psychologically. This is still a comedy, though. Just think of it as a comedic version of Taxi Driver. The fact alone that there is debate about whether or not parts of this film are fantasy or reality shows that this is not your standard comedy. It's not a masterpiece or anything, but it demands a bit more attention and intelligence than most comedies today, and that's a step up in my book.

One more thing: I'm pretty sure I've nailed home the fact that this is not a family movie, but I should mention that there is full frontal male nudity in this (which has strangely become a standard thing in R-rated comedies lately). Some people take issue with that, but if you just divert your eyes at times, you should be okay.

The Midnight Meat Train - Directed by Ryuhei Kitamura, starring Bradley Cooper, Leslie Bibb, and Vinnie Jones - Rated R

I don't want to dwell one the story with this one, just look at that title and take it literally. There is a late subway train, and Mahogany (Jones, the guy with the hammer in the poster) kills passengers and butchers them as if they were meat. And Leon (Cooper), an aspiring artistic photographer, notices Mahogany and follows him around to try and witness some truly brutal aspects of city life so he can put on an art showcase. But who's out there watching this movie hoping for a compelling story? The story works and is even interesting, but this movie is all about the blood, and there is a ridiculous amount of it.

Here's an example: people get hung upside down on meat hooks on this train, and at one point, a guy gets gutted, so to speak, and about five gallons of blood floods out of his body. That's the kind of gore you can't take seriously and you just have to laugh a bit. I truly think that most of the gore is intended for laughs, but this movie also strives for cringe-inducing scenes as well. There's plenty of both. You might see somebody's eyeball fly out of their head after being bludgeoned with a huge hammer one minutes, then you might see a meat hook pierce an ankle and then rip down into the leg. You see? That eyeball one is funny and slightly stupid (especially since the CG is kind of weak), but that meat hook/ankle one? That hurt...I gritted my teeth on that one. Normally I would have a problem with such an inconsistency, but I thought it added variety to this one.

It's a good thing that the violence changes because the acting is pretty basic here. Jones is good at that whole silent menacing thing that he does in every role and Bradley Cooper plays obsessed well enough, but it's not groundbreaking or anything. Everyone is simply serviceable, but then again, so are the characters themselves. On the DVD, the director mentions that they were trying to create a new horror icon in Mahogany. I can't say that they accomplished that here, but Jones tries his best and the hints at Mahogany's history sparks some interest, but before the story goes too deep into character it steers back towards the gore.

But all of it looks pretty good, style wise. This film has a look to it that adds a layer of darkness to the story. That dark look (literally and figuratively) may be the factor that keeps this film from becoming goofy. So if you're into horror/slasher flicks, give this a try. You'll laugh, you'll look away once or twice, and maybe you'll scan back to take a second look at some of the gore. Either way, I think most people will be entertained.

I.O.U.S.A. - Directed by Patrick Creadon - Rated PG

This documentary is a short, informative look at how bad things are and what needs to be done to avoid total economic meltdown in the United States. Sound depressing and even a little scary? It is. What can I really say about this? If you want to know a bit more about our debt and our place in the economic world, check this out and make sure you watch the five minute update included on the DVD. This film may not clear everything up (let's face it, the economy is a complicated issue that few people truly understand), but it will leave you with more answers than questions and it might make you get a bit more involved and look at your options politically when it comes to our sickly economy.

Next week: probably some random DVD releases, depending on what I get from Netflix, I don't plan on making my way back to the theater until Wolverine on May 1st. I might try to check out State of Play next week, but I doubt it.

Monday, April 6, 2009

"Fast & Furious" / "The Fall" / "Death Race" / "In the Electric Mist"

Fast & Furious - Directed by Justin Lin, starring Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, and Jordana Brewster - Rated PG-13

In a world where the word "the" no longer exists, struggling actors Vin Diesel and Paul Walker try to re-claim their past A-list glory... Just imagine the recently deceased Don LaFontaine saying these words for the preview of Fast & Furious. I just figured the best way to approach this movie was in a joking manner. Don't take it too serious, let it be what it is: a street racing movie with okay acting, gratuitous shots of scantily clad women making out, big action set pieces, and a few laughs here and there.

I'm not really joking about Diesel and Walker, though. These guys once appeared to be legitimate stars (whether they deserve it or not doesn't matter), but quickly fell off the map. This could be because of popularity since I don't like Walker at all and although Diesel doesn't annoy me much (more on that later), I know that many people flat out hate him as an actor. It turned out that these guys just needed the right movie as Fast & Furious made an estimated $72.5 million in its opening weekend. I didn't initially plan on adding my own money to that total, but a buddy of mine was watching and I did enjoy the original, so I said, "why not?" I think a lot of people said that this weekend. The actors aren't great, but you can stand to watch them under the right circumstances; those circumstances being fast, expensive cars and loud chase scenes.

Have I mentioned the plot? No? Well, does it really matter? If it does matter to you, then here you go: Dom (Diesel) is now in the Dominican Republic pulling off heist jobs with Furious veterans Han (Sung Kang) and Letty (Michelle Rodriguez...ugh). Brian (Walker), meanwhile, is back in LA, trying to bring down a druglord who uses street racers to move his product. Dom has to return (I won't spoil the reason why) and, of course, he crosses paths with Brian. What follows is a decent revenge story with plenty of racing, explosions, and guys talking tough and spouting off stupid one-liners.

The beginning set up with Dom's crew hijacking a gas truck is very entertaining, even if the CG is pretty weak here and there. The movie does handle races and action well, though some of the gimmicks are weak and annoying, like the GPS factor in the first race. While I'm on the subject of things done wrong, it should be mentioned somewhere that this movie takes place before Tokyo Drift. This is important because (spoiler alert for Tokyo Drift) Han dies in that previous film, but is in the beginning of this movie. Another time issue is that the movie jumps at least 6 months without letting the audience know in a clear way. So, that led to some confusion. And Vin Diesel does not have superhuman strength. That has always been my problem with him. If his character is supposed to be a bit superhuman (like Riddick) then I'm fine with it (I actually love his Riddick movies), but if he's just a guy who has big arms, then he needs to be humanized. I'm saying this because, in this movie, he holds an engine block by a chain with one hand (and he's not lifting it up, he catches it as it falls from a cherry picker at the last second) and (slight spoiler) he gets shot in the shoulder and he has the same reaction a normal person if they had been bit by a mosquito. It's just a bit ridiculous. But Diesel carries this movie despite the dumber aspects of his character. I found myself bored when Walker was onscreen, just waiting for Diesel to show up and punch somebody or just mouth off. Anything's better than Walker's bland FBI agent who can't decide if he's a good guy or a bad guy.

So, there's not much to this decent, fun movie and it's not as good as the first one (but it's close), but who out there is really expecting much out of this? I thought the tone of the film could've been a bit less serious, but overall it was entertaining.

The Fall - Directed by Tarsem Singh, starring Lee Pace and Catinca Untaru - Rated R

The Fall is about injured stuntman, Roy (Pace), in a 1930's LA hospital and his attempt to get a little girl, Alexandria (Untaru), to steal morphine for him so he can commit suicide. To get her to steal the morphine, Roy begins telling a fairy tale type story involving an evil man who has wronged a group of would-be heroes. This is not a movie that focuses on the story, though, which is good, since the story really isn't very original (there are a number of these framed fairy tales with the storyteller becoming a character and things changing as it goes along). This movie is all about the visuals.

The Fall is directed by Tarsem Singh (credited only as Tarsem for the movie, I use his full name because just going by Tarsem sounds stupid) who directed The Cell. Say what you will about that Jennifer Lopez-starring film, it looks incredible. Singh improves upon the visuals with this film, which he claims was filmed entirely on location with no CG. If that's true, then this is one of the most ambitious films ever made just for the location scouting alone. I've read that he filmed in over 20 countries and I think I believe it. There are so many different locations, all of which look otherworldy and amazing. If I have to point out an issue with the film, it would be that the scenes go by too quickly and I wasn't able to stare at each location long enough.

I would go on, but this movie only stands out because of its visuals. I didn't really care for the characters all that much, though Untaru creates a likable and sad character. But there's nothing truly memorable among the characters. It's all about the look for this film. So, if you want to see some strange and impressive locations, along with a simple fairy tale type story (albeit a violent, bloody, R-rated fairy tale), then check this out.

Death Race - Directed by Paul W. S. Anderson, starring Jason Statham, Ian McShane, Tyrese Gibson, and Joan Allen - Rated R (and unrated on DVD)

I guess you could call this post my "unoriginal, pointless story" edition. Death Race is a remake of the Roger Corman film from the 70's. Where that film was goofy and cartoonish and simply fun to watch, this new version loses the laughs and strives for brutality, which is a major mistake. How can you take a movie about criminals racing to the death for their freedom, and make it deadly serious? Anderson even admits to this on a featurette on the DVD, claiming he didn't want to make a "campy" movie? Well, why the hell not? If this film had retained the campiness of the original, it would have been very entertaining. Instead, we get ridiculous violence that's supposed to be realistic? It ends up being boring and pointless; a film that a few decent action scenes cannot save.

If you like Statham, then I guess this will be up your alley. He continues to play the action hero/everyman who can do anything. (Still not sure how he ended being an action star.) So basic stuff from Statham, Tyrese is just there (a disgrace from the fun way Slyvester Stallone played the character over 30 years ago), and Ian McShane and Joan Allen seem to stand around wondering, along with the audience, how they ended up in the film. Just plain mediocre on all levels. If you want a fun Death Race movie, check out the original. If you want to see the futuristic prisoner battle as a sick TV show, watch The Running Man.

In the Electric Mist - Directed by Bertrand Tavernier, starring Tommy Lee Jones, Peter Sarsgaard, John Goodman, and Mary Steenburgen - Rated R

Bad plot edition keeps on rolling with this straight to DVD embarrassment. This movie's plot is so convoluted it's nearly impossible to even want to understand what's going on. Somebody's killing hookers, a movie with corrupt investors is being filmed, characters see long dead Confederate soldiers, cops plant evidence on a daily basis, and somehow Tommy Lee Jones is going to tie all of this together with the murder of a black man 40 years ago. Make sense? I don't think the screenwriter knew what was going on with the story. It almost seems like he said, "oh wait, we haven't seen John Goodman's miscast mobster for awhile, let's bring him back in for a pointless scene, now let's see what the drunken actor (Sarsgaard) is up to, now let's just say that this random guy is the one behind the murders and have Jones do some narration just like No Country For Old Men to wrap it up and make it seem like it all meant something." There might have been a decent story (it is based on a book that I am sure is endlessly better) but it got lost along the way. Maybe Tavernier was funded by corrupt people himself and he was hurried into releasing this garbage in a desperate attempt to turn a profit. I like to think that that is what happened, because that scenario sounds more entertaining than the actual film. Avoid at all costs.

Next: Midnight Meat Train, and hopefully Observe & Report.