Tuesday, May 31, 2011

"Starship Troopers" (1997)

Starring Casper van Dien, Dina Meyer and Denise Richards
Written by Ed Neumeier
Directed by Paul Verhoeven
Rated R- Violence, nudity, language
Running Time: 129 minutes

Starship Troopers (+ BD Live) [Blu-ray]Based (loosely) on the novel by Robert A. Heinlein, "Starship Troopers" is a pretty difficult movie to digest.  This is not because it features a fair amount of foul language, nudity and graphic violence, but because its themes are difficult to pin down. 

Johnny Rico (Casper Van Dien) is your typical high school quarterback.  He's not too bright, but he comes from an affluent family and he has his friends Carl (Neil Patrick Harris) and Dizzy (Dina Meyer), and his girlfriend Carmen (Denise Richards).  After high school, all four of them decide to join up with the military.  In this futuristic society, only those who serve the government can become full citizens, with the right to vote and so on.  While Carl and Carmen are intelligent enough to get posted to the navy or military intelligence, Johnny and Dizzy are sent to the Mobile Infantry. 

Humanity is currently involved in a war with a race of bugs from a planet known as Klendathu.  While people don't generally think the bugs are intelligent, higher ups in the military are beginning to think that there must be some kind of "brain bug" calling the shots.  While Johnny and Dizzy make their way through training, Carmen rises quickly through the ranks to become an ace pilot and finds herself attracted to her co-pilot, Zander (Patrick Muldoon).  When the bugs' latest attack leaves Johnny's home city of Buenos Aires devastated, the recruits are sent off to war, perhaps before they're truly ready.

Monday, May 30, 2011

"The Hangover Part II" (2011)

Starring Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms and Zach Galafianakis
Written by Todd Philips, Scot Armstrong and Craig Maizin
Directed by Todd Philips
Rated R - Nudity, language, violence, sexuality, drug use
Running Time: 102 minutes

Remember in "Die Hard 2" when John McClane is fighting all those terrorists, and the entire movie grinds to a halt so he can say, "How can the same shit happen to the same guy twice?"

Yeah, that's pretty much "The Hangover Part II."

The Wolfpack is back: Stu (Ed Helms) is marrying a woman named Lauren (Jamie Chung) and has invited his friends Phil (Bradley Cooper), Doug (Justin Bartha) and Alan (Zach Galafianakis) to Thailand for the wedding. Two days before the ceremony, Stu and the others, including Lauren's younger brother Teddy (Mason Lee) decide to have some drinks and a bonfire on the beach at the hotel.  Predictably, Stu, Phil and Alan wake up the next morning in a strange place with no memory of what happened to them the previous night.  Teddy is missing, and Doug is back at the hotel, having seemingly missed out on the night's shenanigans.

The trio attempt to piece together what happened, hoping it will help them find Teddy, who is apparently missing a finger (which should be a big deal since he's a musical prodigy and will study to be a surgeon).  Along the way they run afoul of old acquaintances like Chow (Ken Jeong, reprising his role from the original film) and new characters like a foul-mouthed tattoo artist (Nick Cassavetes), Chow's rival Kingsley (Paul Giamatti) and shemale prostitutes.  They also manage to pick up a drug dealing pet monkey.  With danger at every turn, the Wolfpack must retrieve Teddy and get back to Thailand in time for the wedding.

"Bridesmaids" (2011)

Starring Kristen Wiig, Rose Byrne and Chris O'Dowd
Written by Annie Mumulo and Kristen Wiig
Directed by Paul Feig
Rated R - Language, sexuality, crude humor
Running Time: 126 minutes

"Bridesmaids" is a pretty risky proposition for a film.  Essentially starring a cast of nobodies and obscure sitcom actors, with only its big-name producer (Judd Apatow) really carrying any weight and being a firmly R-rated film, it's not a movie anyone would have expected to be a hit.  But "Bridesmaids" is more than just a hit - it's a freaking great movie.

Annie (Kristen Wiig) is a woman close to hitting bottom.  Her bakery business failed, prompting her boyfriend to ditch her.  Not long after, she fell into a relationship with a well-off and attractive man named Ted who treats her purely as a sex object.  She drives a crap car to her crap job and has trouble getting along with her crap roommates at her crap apartment.  Meanwhile, Annie's best friend Lillian (Maya Rudolph) has just become engaged and asks Annie to be her Maid of Honor.  Soon, Annie is introduced to the rest of the bridal party: Becca (Ellie Kemper), a naive, nerdy newlywed; Megan (Melissa McCarthy), the outrageous sister of the groom; Rita (Wendy McLendon-Covey), who sees the wedding as an excuse for long-delayed debauchery; and Helen (Rose Byrne), Lillian's ostensibly perfect and extremely wealthy new friend.

It's not long before Annie and Helen begin to butt heads.  As Annie's life is spiraling downward worse and worse, she tries to come up with ideas she thinks Lillian will enjoy, but Helen continues to outdo her by exuding class and wealth, whether it's through throwing a posh engagement party or picking the most expensive bridesmaid dresses at an exclusive store.  As Annie and Helen's sabotaging of each others ideas and plans grows more outrageous, and her relationship with Lillian begins to fray, Annie finds that she has really only one bright spot in all of this: her growing attraction to a highway patrol officer, Nathan Rhodes (Chris O'Dowd), who pulled her over for broken tail lights but let her off when he discovered that she used to own his favorite bakery.  How will Annie piece together her broken life and relationship with her best friend before the big day?

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

"Takers" (2010)

Starring Matt Dillon, Idris Elba, and Chris Brown
Written by Peter Allen, Gabriel Casseus, John Luessenhop, and Avery Duff
Directed by John Luessenhop
Rated R - Language, violence
Running Time: 107 Minutes

Takers [Blu-ray]Everyone likes a good heist film, right?  What about a thoroughly mediocre one?  "Takers" falls squarely into the latter case.

"Takers" follows a group of bank robbers led by Gordon Cozier (Idris Elba) who are highly-organized and extremely talented.  After a brazen day-time bank robber, the group, including John (Paul Walker), A.J. (Hayden Christensen), and brothers Jake (Michael Ealy) and Jesse (Chris Brown), vow to go their separate ways until the next job.  An old associate of theirs, Ghost (T.I.) has just been released from prison.  He approaches the group and manages to convince them to pull another job closely after the first.  The guys are understandably apprehensive about this, since their policy is to wait a year between jobs.

Meanwhile, detectives Jack Welles (Matt Dillon) and Eddie Hatcher (Jay Hernandez) are on the case.  As Jack gets more involved in cracking this case, it begins to affect his personal life.  He soon begins to suspect that the same guys behind the bank robbery are planning something new.  But what is the job?  And what does it have to do with a group of Russian gangsters?

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

"The Switch" (2010)

Starring Jennifer Aniston, Jason Bateman and Patrick Wilson
Written by Allan Loeb
Directed by Josh Gordon and Will Peck
Rated PG-13 - Language, adult themes
Running Time: 101 Minutes

The Switch [Blu-ray]You might think watching the above trailer for "The Switch" that this might be some kind of light-hearted summer comedy tale.  That was probably an attempt by the studio who found this unassuming, low-key little dramedy difficult to market.  Sure, it's got the very recognizable faces of Jason Bateman and Jennifer Aniston propping it up, but the actual film itself is a bit harder to peg.

Kassie (Jennifer Aniston) is a woman who is feeling the weight of her biological clock, and decides to find a sperm donor so that she can have a child.  She informs her best friend Wally (Jason Bateman) of her plans, and it immediately begins to cause problems for the two.  She wants a baby more than anything, but he thinks artificial insemination is weird, and he might just feel a bit of jealousy that she didn't pick him to be the donor.  At her insemination party, he proceeds to get exceedingly drunk.  While relieving himself in the bathroom, he ends up accidentally spilling the sperm sample from the donor, Roland (Patrick Wilson), which just happens to be on a shelf over the sink.  What does he do?  Well, being fabulously drunk and kind of upset, he refills the cup with his own semen.

Not long after, Kassie informs Wally that she's moving home with her parents.  Seven years later, she returns to New York and reconnects with Wally.  Soon enough, Wally begins to suspect that something is up with young Sebastian (Thomas Robinson) who seems just as neurotic and strange as Wally himself.  They even end up having similar mannerisms.  But while Wally starts to realize that Sebastian is, in fact, his own son instead of Roland's, Kassie strikes up a relationship with Roland.  Wally struggles to deal with both his feelings for Kassie, the responsibility and the risk of telling her the truth about Sebastian.

Monday, May 23, 2011

"Speed" (1994)

Starring Keanu Reeves, Sandra Bullock and Dennis Hopper
Written by Graham Yost (with Joss Whedon!)
Directed by Jan de Bont
Rated R - Violence, language
Running Time: 116 Minutes

Speed [Blu-ray]Summer is usually a season overloaded with ridiculous action blockbusters.  Most of the time, these things come and go, the empty calorie junk food of cinema.  But every so often one of them comes along that is just two hours of pure awesome, and it becomes legendary.

Los Angeles police officer Jack Traven (Keanu Reeves) and his partner Harry Temple (Jeff Daniels) manage to foil the plans of a mysterious bomber (Dennis Hopper) demanding $3 million after planting charges on an express elevator in a downtown high-rise.  Thinking the bomber dead in a suicide blast, Jack and Harry are commended for their efforts by the city and go on with their lives.  Not long after, however, Jack discovers that the bomber is alive and well and has set a new trap for Jack - There is a bomb on a bus.  When the bus goes above 50 miles per hour, the bomb is armed.  If the bus slows to below 50 miles per hour, the bomb will explode, killing everyone on board. 

While Harry tries to track down the identity and location of the bomber, Jack brazenly boards the bus by jumping from a speeding car on the freeway.  Having a cop on board spooks one of the passengers, who opens fire and accidentally shoots the driver.  A young passenger, Annie Porter (Sandra Bullock) takes the wheel.  With a man on the bus dying, and rush hour traffic building, Jack finds himself embroiled in a game of wits with a madman bent on revenge.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

"No Strings Attached" (2011)

Starring Natalie Portman, Ashton Kutcher and Kevin Kline
Written by Elizabeth Meriweather
Directed by Ivan Reitman
Rated R - Language, sex
Running Time: 110 Minutes

No Strings Attached (Two-Disc Blu-ray/DVD Combo + Digital Copy)You'd never know it from watching those godawful "Star Wars" prequels, but Natalie Portman is a pretty great actress.  I remember seeing trailers for "No Strings Attached" and thinking that it didn't quite look like the sort of project that she would take on, but then I remembered that she'd previously done sci-fi epics, comic book anti-heroes, and even Luc Besson assassins.  So a raucous romantic comedy is pretty much in order, right?

Adam (Ashton Kutcher) is an assistant with aspirations of being a writer on a "Glee"-like TV show.  His father Alvin (Kevin Kline) is a former acting superstar, who happens to steal Adam's girlfriend Vanessa (Ophelia Lovibond).  Distraught, Adam gets drunk and wakes up at the apartment of his friend Emma (Natalie Portman) the next day.  The two hook up, but Emma is clear that she's not interested in any kind of romantic relationship with Adam, although she's willing to engage in a kind of "friends with benefits" situation.  But, she says, they have to call it off the instant one of them starts to feel "anything more."

Things go well for a while, until it becomes obvious that Adam has developed real feelings for Emma.  Unfortunately, Emma doesn't respond well to this at all, even though she's clearly developed similar feelings for Adam.  After a series of fits and fights, Adam manages to convince Emma to go out on a real date with him.  What first starts out quite well ends in disaster when Adam confesses his love for Emma, and she freaks out and leaves.  Time passes, and Emma finds herself miserable and depressed.  Adam feels much the same way, though his career seems to take a turn for the better when he sells a script for an episode of his TV show to the producers.  Will these two manage to figure out how to get past Emma's fear of love and relationships?

Friday, May 20, 2011

"Problem Child 2" (1991)

Starring John Ritter, Michael Oliver and Amy Yasbeck
Written by Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski
Directed by Brian Levant
Rated PG-13 - Language, violence, lots of vomit
Running Time: 90 Minutes

Problem Child Tantrum PackSequels don't often fare better than the original.  While not much better than the first, "Problem Child 2" does somehow manage to be an improvement, even with its own set of issues that it can't quite overcome.

After the events of the first film, Ben Healy (John Ritter), now divorced, and his adopted son Junior (Michael Oliver) have picked up and moved cross country to the town of Mortville, Oregon.  As they settle into their new home and begin their new lives as father and son, Ben catches the eye of pretty much every woman in town.  It seems that Mortville is the divorcee capital of the world, with a 50-to-1 ratio of single women to men, and Ben starts going on a lot of dates. 

This aggravates Junior, who feels that Ben is abandoning him, and lashes out with his usual painful mischief.  Meanwhile, Junior has problems fitting in at school where he finds that his old adoption agent Igor Peabody (Gilbert Gottfried) has taken a job as principal, and encounters bullies like sixth-grader Murph (Eric Edwards) and young girl Trixie (Ivyann Schwann) who is just as much a menace as Junior.  To make things worse, grampa Big Ben Healy (Jack Warden), now broke after his disastrous failed mayoral campaign in the first film, has showed up on their doorstep and moved in. 

While Ben finds himself attracted to school nurse Annie (Amy Yasbeck), he's also pursued by the rich, powerful, and awful LaWanda Dumore (Laraine Newman) who aims to make Ben her seventh husband.  When Ben begins to get closer to LaWanda instead of Annie, Junior realizes he has to do whatever he can to ruin this relationship, for the sake of the family.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

"Skyline" (2010)

Starring Eric Balfour, Donald Faison and Scottie Thompson
Written by Joshua Cordes and Liam O'Donnell
Directed by "The Brothers Strause"
Rated PG-13 - Language, sci-fi violence
Running Time: 94 minutes

Skyline [Blu-ray]....Jebus.  I guess we'll start with the... setup.  Hard to call it a "plot" or a "story" but... here goes... I guess....

Jared (Eric Balfour) and his girlfriend Elaine (Scottie Thompson) travel from Brooklyn, NY to Los Angeles to visit Jared's best friend Terry (Donald Faison) for his birthday.  After a raucous party, everyone falls asleep.  Sometime around 4:30 in the morning, strange blue lights fall from the sky and start.... doing... something... to people.  They become entranced and then disappear, or something.  The next day, crazy-looking alien spaceships fill up the sky and begin scooping up people by the thousands.  Jared, Terry, Elaine, Terry's girlfriend Candice (Brittany Daniel) and Terry's assistant Denise (Crystal Reed) are trapped and alone in Terry's apartment.

For the next 80 minutes (because, seriously, "Skyline" takes about 15 minutes to get to the point) these characters will bicker endlessly about what they should or should not do, alternately deciding that going to the roof and then going to the basement and then back up to the apartment and then back out to the roof and then back to their original plan is all a good idea.  About halfway through this nonsense, Terry gets killed, and his position as one of the lead characters is taken over by his apartment building's concierge, Oliver (David Zayas) who runs the show for the next half hour. 

At some point, the United States military finally gets around to fighting back, giving this dwindling group of morons some hope of escape.  We're supposed to care because Elaine is pregnant, and the others just didn't ask to be put into this kind of terrible situation. 

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

"Problem Child" (1990)

Starring John Ritter, Michael Oliver and Michael Richards
Written by Scott Alexander and Larry Karazewski
Directed by Dennis Dugan
Rated PG - Language, violence
Running Time: 78 Minutes

Problem Child Tantrum PackYeah.  I watched this.

Junior (Michael Oliver) is a young boy who gleefully terrorizes the nuns at the orphanage where he lives.  Desperate to get rid of him, the nuns demand that an adoption agent, Igor Peabody (Gilbert Gottfried), remove him as quickly as possible.  Peabody manages to con yuppie nice guy Ben Healy (John Ritter) and his greedy wife Flo (Amy Yasbeck) into adopting the kid.

Ben, desperate to be a better, more wholesome dad than his own father, "Big Ben" Healy (Jack Warden), tries to bond with Junior.  But, the boy responds only by causing trouble at every turn.  During a camping trip with Ben's neighbor and his family, Junior sets a bear loose upon the campsite.  At a birthday party for a young girl down the street, Junior pulls every trick in the book, from putting a garden hose in her bedroom to filling the pinata with pickles.  As Junior's outbursts grow more dangerous and destructive, Ben's tolerance and sanity continue to break down.

But the worst is yet to come: Junior's school pen pal is none other than Martin Beck (Michael Richards), the "Bow Tie Killer."  After escaping from prison, Beck is headed for Junior, thinking the boy to be a grown master criminal in need of a partner.  When he discovers the truth, however, Beck kidnaps Junior and Flo, and demand $100,000 from Ben in order to get them back.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

"Fierce Creatures" (1997)

Starring John Cleese, Jamie Lee Curtis and Kevin Kline
Written by John Cleese
Directed by Fred Schepisi and Robert Young
Rated PG-13 - Language, violence
Running Time: 93 Minutes

Fierce Creatures"Fierce Creatures" is a follow-up, but totally not a sequel, to "A Fish Called Wanda."  Starring the same cast and written by John Cleese, it features a number of similarities to the earlier film, but definitely stands on its own. 

This time, John Cleese stars as Rollo Lee, a former Hong Kong policeman who has just taken a management position at a British zoo that has just been purchased by New Zealand business giant Rod McCain (Kevin Kline).  In order to meet McCain's profit margin standards, Rollo decides to implement a 'fierce creatures only' policy to attract more visitors, since he thinks violence will get bigger crowds.  Meanwhile, Rod's son Vince (also Kevin Kline) and attractive businesswoman Willa Weston (Jamie Lee Curtis) decide they're the ones that are going to run the zoo and get it up to spec.  Vince's idea is to use corporate sponsorship to increase revenue, a plan that Willa is, at first, supportive. 

Rollo, Willa and Vince's plans to make more money don't sit well with the zoo staff, who all think the zoo should be more about protecting the animals than profit margins.  As Rollo and Willa grow closer to the animals, they also grow closer to each other, which spurs Vince's jealousy.  When Rollo and Willa discover that Vince has been stealing money from the zoo, and that Rod is on the way to confront Vince about it, they must act quickly to figure out a way to save the zoo from being sold and turned into a golf course.

"Love and Other Drugs" (2010)

Starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Anne Hathaway and Hank Azaria
Written by Edward Zwick, Charles Randolph and Marshall Herskovitz
Directed by Edward Zwick
Rated R - Language, sex, nudity
Running Time: 112 Minutes

Love & Other Drugs [Blu-ray]Jaime Randall (Jake Gyllenhaal) is a fantastic salesman. He uses his wit and charm to lure anyone into buying pretty much anything.  When he takes on a job at Pfizer in the mid 1990s, he struggles trying to convince local doctors that Zoloft is a better choice than Prozac.  One day while posing as an intern to try and get Doctor Sam Knight (Hank Azaria) to switch, he meets Maggie Murdock (Anne Hathaway), a young artist/photographer who suffers from Parkinson's. 

Jamie manages to score a date with Maggie, but she's able to quickly read through all of his usual lines and moves and proposes that they simply get down to the part where they have sex.  Soon enough, the two are well and good fuck-buddies, with the understanding that they just have sex, and neither of them wants or needs anything more from the other.  But slowly, Jaime, who has never truly loved anyone in his whole life, finds himself falling completely head over heels for Maggie. 

Just as Jamie's career begins to explode after taking on the Viagra account, his relationship with Maggie begins to implode as she resists his attempts to fall into a more committed relationship.  Eventually, he begins to go overboard trying to get her the latest and greatest treatments for her Parkinson's, and even though she loves him, she can't allow herself to get into a relationship that would require so much sacrifice from someone else. 

Sunday, May 15, 2011

"Starship Troopers 3: Marauder" (2008)

Starring Casper Van Dien, Jolene Blalock and Boris Kodjoe
Written and directed by Ed Neumeier
Rated R - Language, violence, nudity
Running Time: 105 Minutes

Starship Troopers 3: Marauder (+ BD Live) [Blu-ray]Though not as much as the 80s classic, "Robocop," I was a big fan of Paul Verhoeven's "Starship Troopers."  Made with intentional camp delivered by an overly-pretty but thin cast of characters bolstered by fantastic effects and action sequences, "Starship Troopers" was a pretty solid satire of a fascist future in which humanity has given up freedom for security.  Sure, Earth is a peaceful, rich and almost idyllic world, but in order to get that way, people have to make great sacrifices.

While the 1997 original remains fresh and fun in my mind, I never sought out either of the direct-to-video sequels... until now.  "Starship Troopers 3: Marauder" showed up available to watch instantly via Netflix and, having had some beers and being extremely bored, I took the plunge.

Johnny Rico (Casper Van Dien), now a colonel in the Mobile Infantry, commanding a forward base on farming planet Roku San.  The base is visited by high-ranking official Sky Marshall Akone (Stephen Hogan), accompanied by his right-hand man General Dix Hauser (Boris Kodjoe) and Captain Lola Beck (Jolene Blalock), old friends of Rico's.  Not long after their arrival, however, an electrical failure on the base allows the bugs to infiltrate the base and slaughter the men and women stationed there.  Hauser, Beck and the Sky Marshall escape, while Rico is brought up on charges of incompetence.  Unfortunately, the Sky Marshall's ship is destroyed en route home, stranding Akone, Beck and several other survivors on a bug-infested world.

"The Green Hornet" (2011)

Starring Seth Rogen, Jay Chou and Christoph Waltz
Written by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg
Directed by Michael Gondry
Rated PG-13 - Language, violence
Running Time: 119 Minutes

The Green Hornet [Blu-ray]Seth Rogen is not exactly the type of actor someone would expect to be playing a superhero.  Nope, not so much.  But he doesn't do that bad of a job.  Sure, he wrote the role essentially to play to his own strengths, but 2011's "The Green Hornet" could have turned out much worse.

Britt Reid (Seth Rogen) is the lazy son of media magnate James Reid (Tom Wilkinson).  He spends his days hungover and his nights partying, with no direction or ambition in life.  One day when his father is found dead from an allergic reaction to a bee sting, Britt finds himself in charge of a massive news organization that he knows nothing about.  He also meets Kato (Jay Chou), his father's mechanic and employee, who it turns out has been making Britt's coffee all this time.

One night while defiling a statue of James Reid, Britt and Kato save a couple being mugged.  Unfortunately, the media ignores that part of the store and latches on to the fact that the statue of the local hero had been decapitated.  Energized by their adventure, Britt and Kato devise a plan to become heroes... by posing as villains.  Thanks to Kato's incredible technological skill, they have cars with machine guns and missiles built in, and all sorts of gadgets like gas guns. 

Saturday, May 14, 2011

"The Social Network" (2010)

Starring Jesse Eisenberg, Andrew Garfield and Justin Timberlake
Written by Aaron Sorkin
Directed by David Fincher
Rated R - Language
Running Time: 121 Minutes

The Social Network (Two-Disc Collector's Edition) [Blu-ray]I've said once or twice recently, "In a few years, Facebook will be the Internet."  Think about that.  You can't go to a website out there and not find a button to share whatever content you see on Facebook.  Celebrities have official Facebook pages.  My 10 year high school reunion was organized via a Facebook Event.  Film studios rent movies via Facebook.  Stores and companies sell merchandise directly from their fan pages.  You can blog on Facebook.  You can find long-lost friends and relatives.  You can bully people to death.  In a few years, Facebook will be the Internet.  But only a few years ago, it was nothing.

Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg) is a Harvard sophomore who has just been dumped by his girlfriend Erica (Rooney Mara).  Drunk and upset, he goes back to his room, blogs angrily about her, and, in a fit of inspiration, creates a website in just a couple of hours that is so popular it brings down Harvard's computer network.  Not long after, he's approached by twins Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss (Armie Hammer, playing a dual role via some really awesome visual effects) who have an idea to create a website that would allow Harvard students to share information about their lives with each other on the Internet.  They form a partnership with Zuckerberg to create this website, but what he does instead is go off from that idea and spin it into his own creation: The Facebook.  

Friday, May 13, 2011

"Fast Five" (2011)

Starring Vin Diesel, Paul Walker and Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson
Written by Chris Morgan
Directed by Justin Lin
Rated PG-13 - Language, violence
Running Time: 130 minutes
Trailer - via youTube

Fast Five (Score)I'm about to use a word in association with "The Fast and the Furious" that I'm sure no one would ever have guessed would come up in the process of this review: Smart.

When we last left our heroes, Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) has been convicted of his crimes and is en route to incarceration.  Former Federal agent Brian O'Conner (Paul Walker) and Dom's sister Mia (Jordana Brewster) cause a bus crash to bust Toretto free.  Some time later, Brian and Mia arrive in Rio de Janeiro where they meet up with Dom's old friend and Brian's rival Vince (Matt Shulze) who convinces them to join him on a heist of three high-end cars from a moving train.  Dom shows up just in time to help with the heist, but it goes sour when the rest of the crew Vince is working with murder three DEA agents on the train, and Dom, Mia and Brian go on the run from the evil Hernan Reyes (Joaquim de Almeida) who wants he car they've stolen from the train.

Meanwhile, the trio is blamed for the DEA agents' murders, and thus their status as fugitives is upgraded.  Soon, Federal Agent Hobbs (Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson) arrives in Rio to hunt down Brian and Dom.  Soon enough, Brian and Dom discover that hidden inside the GPS unit of the car Mia stole from the train is a data chip which has the locations of all of Reyes' money houses, basically the addresses for some $100 million in cash.  Deciding that they can't be on the run for the rest of their lives, Brian and Dom concoct a bold plan to steal all of Reyes' money.  To do so, they'll recruit all their old friends from previous adventures including Roman Pierce (Tyrese Gibson), Han Seoul-Oh (Sung Kang), Tej Parker (Ludacris), Gisele Yashar (Gal Gadot), Tego Leo (Tego Calderon) and Rico Santos (Dom Omar).

Thursday, May 12, 2011

"A Fish Called Wanda" (1988)

Starring John Cleese, Jamie Lee Curtis and Kevin Kline
Written by John Cleese and Charles Crichton
Directed by Charles Crichton
Rated R - Language, violence, sexuality
Running Time: 108 minutes
Trailer - Via youTube

A Fish Called Wanda (2-Disc Collector's Edition)I've always quite had a fondness for Monty Python, particularly John Cleese.  I'd seen "A Fish Called Wanda" years and years ago and, much like with "The Cable Guy", didn't think much of it.  Either I was too young to appreciate it or it was just the wrong time... who knows.  Watching it again now, it's much funnier than I had previously thought it was, though it takes some time to get rolling.

George Thomason (Tom Georgeson), gangster and thief, along with his helper Ken (Michael Palin), his girlfriend Wanda (Jamie Lee Curtis) and her "brother" Otto (Kevin Kline) have just committed a heinous jewel robbery.  Unfortunately for George, Wanda and Otto plan to double cross him and take the jewels for themselves.  Unfortunately for Wanda and Otto, George was planning on double crossing them, and moved the loot. 

With George stuck in jail, Wanda decides to get close to his lawyer, Archie Leach (John Cleese) in order to try and learn where the jewels are if George should try to cut a deal.  But to do so, she must deal with Otto's growing jealousy as she gets closer and closer to Archie.  Meanwhile, Ken attempts to get rid of the only eye-witness in George's case, an elderly woman who is quite fond of her dogs. 

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

"The Cable Guy" (1996)

Starring Jim Carrey, Matthew Broderick and Leslie Mann
Written by Lou Holtz Jr., Jim Carrey and Judd Apatow
Directed by Ben Stiller
Rated PG-13 - Language, crude humor, dark thematic elements
Running Time: 96 minutes

The Cable GuyYears ago, when I first saw "The Cable Guy," I, like many others, thought it was pretty awful.  A mostly unfunny comedy that went off in strange directions that I didn't care for.  At the time, I was a teenager and simply wanted more "Ace Ventura" instead of whatever twisted insanity Jim Carrey was pulling off in this particular film. 

Steven Kovacz (Matthew Broderick) has just asked his girlfriend Robin (Leslie Mann) to marry him.  In response, she asks him to move out.  Now at his new place, Steven calls to get cable TV installed.  Eventually, after waiting a fairly unreasonable amount of time, a man appears to install his cable, introducing himself as Chip Douglas (Jim Carrey).  After Steven bribes him for free cable, Chip starts to ingratiate himself into Steven's life, first by essentially guilting Steven into hanging out with him, and then by showing up at his basketball games and more.

For a little while, Steven is content to put up with Chip's odd behavior, just to be nice to him - plus Chip has been giving him good advice on rebuilding his relationship with Robin.  Things start to go too far when Chip installs a large and expensive home theatre system in Steven's apartment without his knowledge.  Steven is upset and demands that Chip remove it, but Chip convinces him to have a karaoke party instead.  At the party, Steven proceeds to get extremely drunk and hooks up with a woman Chip brought to the party... who turns out to be a prostitute.  Furious, Steven throws Chip out and declares that he never wants to see him again.

"Unthinkable" (2010)

Starring Samuel L. Jackson, Carrie-Anne Moss and Michael Sheen
Written by Oren Moverman and Peter Woodward
Directed by Gregor Jordan
Rated R - Torture, language
Running Time: 97 minutes

Unthinkable [Blu-ray]"Unthinkable" is a direct-to-video psychological thriller that attempts to explore the idea of the ends justifying the means, and how far idealistic people will go to protect those ideals while still trying to save innocent lives. 

FBI Agent Helen Brody (Carrie-Anne Moss) is brought to a top-secret location and told to assist in the questioning of one Steven Arthur Younger (Michael Sheen), who claims to have placed three nuclear bombs across the United States that are set to go off in three days. Along with Brody, a black-ops agent known only as "H" (Samuel L. Jackson) arrives.  H is a master interrogator, trained in various, vicious methods of torture and psychological manipulation. 

At first, Brody is disgusted by H's methods, constantly bickering with her superiors that H's actions are illegal and unconscionable.  But as time grows short, and H begins to actually make progress, she starts to go along with it, despite her own objections.  Unfortunately, it seems that even H's torture may not be enough - Younger is playing them, to what end they are not sure.  Brody must decide which side she's on when H makes his most desperate play yet: using Younger's own children against him.  At what point will she give up on her ideals in order to save millions of lives?

Saturday, May 7, 2011

"Thor" (2011)

Starring Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman and Anthony Hopkins
Written by Ashley Edward Miller, Zack Stentz and Don Payne
Directed by Kenneth Brannagh
Rated PG-13 - Fantasy violence, language
Running Time: 114 minutes

I have to admit to never having read a "Thor" comic before going into Marvel's big-budget adaptation starring Chris Hemsworth ("Star Trek") and Natalie Portman.  I've read other comics that happened to have Thor in them, such as "Ultimates" and "Ultimates 2," but for the most part, my exposure to the character has basically been through guest star appearances in other books (and one really awful "Incredible Hulk" TV movie).

Thor (Chris Hemsworth), the ancient Norse God of Thunder, son of Odin (Anthony Hopkins) and brother of Loki, God of Mischief (Tom Hiddleston) is the arrogant and brash heir to the realm of Asgard.  Long ago, Odin led Asgard in a war against the Frost Giants, and conquered them and their king Laufey (Colm Feore).  When several Frost Giants manage to infiltrate the Asgardian armory to attempt to steal back an object of great power that was taken from their kingdom by Odin centuries earlier, Thor leads a band of warriors to their home city to discover how they managed to defeat Asgard's defenses and get payback for the dead Asgard warriors.

As a result of his unauthorized mission, Odin banishes Thor to the realm of Earth to teach him a lesson.  Unfortunately, the strain of doing so pushes Odin into a coma, allowing the Thor's traitorous brother Loki to assume the throne.  Trapped on Earth until he can prove his worth by reclaiming the power of Mjolnir, his mystical hammer and source of his power, Thor meets and falls for physicist Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) who is attempting to study a strange atmospheric phenomenon that happens to be how people travel between the different realms.  Thor befriends Foster's mentor Doctor Erik Selvig (Stellan Skarsgaard) and graduate student Darcy Lewis (Kat Dennings) but begins to fall for Foster, who helps him but doesn't quite believe that he's actually the ancient God of Thunder.

Eventually, Thor must figure out how to reclaim his power and return to Asgard in order to save the kingdom from Loki's evil machinations.  To do so, he'll have to deal with not understanding Earth's ways, and especially an encounter with SHIELD and Agent Coulson (Clark Gregg).

Friday, May 6, 2011

"The Sorcerer's Apprentice" (2010)

Starring Jay Baruchel, Nicolas Cage and Alfred Molina
Written by Matt Lopez, Lawrence Konner and Mark Rosenthal
Directed by Jon Turteltaub
Rated PG - Fantasy violence
Running Time: 102 minutes

The Sorcerer's Apprentice (Two-Disc Blu-ray / DVD Combo) [Blu-ray]This movie could easily have been an unmitigated disaster.  And yet... somehow... it's not.  I fully expected to hate every minute of this movie, considering what it had going all against it (including Nicolas Cage as a long-haired wizard ... oh and basing the premise of an entire movie on one scene from a decades-old Mickey Mouse cartoon).  But instead, "The Sorcerer's Apprentice" is a fun, light-hearted adventure.

David (Jay Baruchel) is a physics student in New York dealing with years of ridicule and embarrassment after a disastrous school field trip where he first met the wizard Balthazar (Nicolas Cage) and ran back to his teacher claiming to have seen fires and magical creatures.  He's dealt with transferring to a different school and going to therapy, and now, after ten years, Balthazar has returned and told David that he's some sort of prophesied chosen one, foretold to defeat the evil Morgana (Alice Krige), who was imprisoned centuries earlier by Merlin and is now close to being freed by her minions.

Balthazar begins to train David in the ways of being a sorcerer so that the two of them can fight Horvath (Alfred Molina) an evil wizard intent on finding the Grimhold, the magical nesting doll that serves as a prison for Morgana.  Meanwhile, David has reconnected with his childhood crush, Becky (Teresa Palmer), and actually manages to score a date.  Balthazar worries that his infatuation will get in the way of their training, and doom the world entirely. 

Thursday, May 5, 2011

"Ong Bak 3" (2010)

Starring Tony Jaa, Dan Chupong and Primrata Det-Udom
Written and directed by Tony Jaa and Panna Rittikrai
Rated R - Violence
Running Time: 95 minutes

Ong Bak 3 Collector's Edition + Digital Copy [Blu-ray]I was a huge, huge fan of the original "Ong Bak" starring Tony Jaa.  While the storyline was simplistic, the characters were likeable and the fight sequences and stunt work were absolutely incredible.  Unfortunately, I felt like the second film dropped the ball in almost every way.  It had nothing to do with the first, aside from the title, and just didn't wow me the same way the original did.

"Ong Bak 3," sadly, continues on from the second film - picking up where it left off as Tien (Tony Jaa) is held captive and beaten mercilessly by Lord Rajasena (Sarunyu Wongkrajang).  Elsewhere, some kind of man-creature named Bhuti (Dan Chupong) who is some kind of assassin kills a bunch of Rajasena's men.  Tien is put to death but later his body is returned to his people and he's somehow magically revived.  Unfortunately, his body is still broken from his injuries and he is crippled and in constant pain.  Under the tutelage of a Buddhist master, Tien learns to rehabilitate his body and bring peace to his soul so he can defeat Bhuti, who plans to take over the kingdom... or something.

"Kiss of the Dragon" (2001)

Starring Jet Li, Bridget Fonda and Tcheky Karyo
Written by Luc Besson and Robert Mark Kamen
Directed by Chris Nahon
Rated R - Violence, language, drug use
Running Time: 100 minutes

Kiss of the Dragon [Blu-ray]Liu Siu-jian (Jet Li) is a Chinese government agent sent to Paris, France, to help apprehend a heroin smuggler.  Instead, his contact in the Parisian police, Jean-Pierre Richard (Tchecky Karyo) turns out to be totally, totally corrupt and frames Liu (who he constantly refers to as "Johnny") for the murder of the smuggler and a prostitute.  Liu manages to escape, along with videotape evidence of his innocence.  Another prostitute, Jessica (Bridget Fonda) also escapes by hiding in the bathroom.

Now on the run from the French police, Liu attempts to prove his innocence to his government, but the liaison is killed when Richard's men interrupt the meeting, and Liu loses the videotape.  He eventually meets Jessica, who just so happens to whore herself out in front of the restaurant where Liu is hiding out.  He realizes that she can help him prove his innocence, but she refuses to testify since Richard has kidnapped her daughter as leverage.  Until her daughter is safe, Jessica won't risk helping Liu.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

"Ip Man 2" (2010)

Starring Donnie Yen, Sammo Hung and Huan Xiaoming
Written by Edmond Wong
Directed by Wilson Yip
Rated R - Violence
Running Time: 109 minutes

Ip Man 2 [Blu-ray]Picking up where 2008's "Ip Man" left off, this sequel follows Wing Chun Master Ip Man (Donnie Yen) and his family as they escape from Japanese-occupied Foshan and move to Hong Kong.  In 1950, Ip attempts to set up shop teaching Wing Chung in Hong Kong, but has trouble attracting students.  With his wife Cheung Wing-sing (Lynn Hung) pregnant and his son Ip Chun (Li Chak) in need of school fees, and the rent coming up due, Ip begins to feel the pressure.

Eventually, however, a young man named Wong Leung (Huan Xiaoming) approaches, interested in learning about Wing Chun.  He challenges Ip to a duel, offering to pay school fees even if he loses.  He does, but runs away instead of paying.  The next day he returns with several friends, who also challenge Ip.  After he defeats them all (quickly) they (quickly) kneel before him and beg to be taught.  Soon, Ip Man's school has grown to include a number of students, which garners the attention of another martial arts master, Hung Chun-nam (Sammo Hung) who teaches Hung Ga. 

Hung informs Ip that in order to teach martial arts in Hong Kong he must first pass a test by fighting the other local masters.  He does so, and succeeds, but is unwilling to pay into a protection racket run by Hung and a local British police officer named Wallace (Charles Mayer).  Not long after, Ip begins to run into trouble when Hung's students harass his, goading them into fights in the street, and Ip loses the lease on his studio.  But after confronting Hung, Ip does the honorable thing and saves face for him with Hung's wife, and the two begin to form a friendship instead of a rivalry.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

"Chocolate" (2008)

Starring Yanin Vismistanada, Ammara Siripong and Taphon Phopwandee
Written by Chookiat Sakveerakul
Directed by Prachya Pinkaew
Rated R - Violence
Running Time: 92 minutes

ChocolateHere's an intriguing premise for a film: A young autistic girl named Zen (Yanin Vismistanada) learns Muay Thai by watching and mimicking the moves she sees performed by students at the school next to her house... and movies she sees on TV. 

When her mother, Zin (Ammara Siripong) falls ill with cancer, her friend Moom (Taphon Phopwandee) convinces her to help him collect on Zin's old debts to pay for medication.  Unfortunately, what Zen and Moom don't know is that Zin's past is a dangerous one to be digging up.  Zin used to be a girlfriend and enforcer of a local mobster No. 8 (Pongpat Wachirbunjong) until she fell in love with a rival Yakuza boss Musashi (Hiroshi Abe).  After a bloody fight, Musashi was banished back to Japan, but Zin was forced to stay and raise her child alone under the ever-watchful eye of No. 8's enforcers.

"Rumble in the Bronx" (1995)

Starring Jackie Chan, Anita Mui and Francoise Yip
Written by Edward Tang and Fibe Ma
Directed by Stanley Tong
Rated R - Violence, language
Running Time: 106 minutes

Rumble in the BronxKeung (Jackie Chan) travels to New York City to attend the wedding of his uncle Bill (Bill Tung).  Bill is in the process of selling his supermarket to Elaine (Anita Mui).  That night, when some punks are wrecking cars in the neighborhood, Keung defends an antique automobile lent to his uncle for the wedding, drawing the ire of a local gang.  This leads to an escalating series of fights between Keung and the gang, which are interrupted by the arrival of some new players and a bag of stolen diamonds.  Now Keung faces the gang on one side and a criminal organization run by a man called White Tiger (Kris Lord) on the other.  He'll have to use all his wits and skills in a strange land to recover the diamonds, save the girl and defeat the bad guys.

There's really not much to "Rumble in the Bronx" that's worth explaining.  The story is mostly nonsense, spending half the movie on gang troubles only to randomly introduce the stolen diamonds that seem to have nothing to do with anything whatsoever.  Characters fight in one scene and then are friendly in the next.  There's no real rhyme or reason to anything that happens in this film.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

"Ip Man" (2008)

Starring Donnie Yen, Simon Yam and Hiroyuki Ikeuchi
Written by Edmond Wong
Directed by Wilson Yip

Ip Man (Collector's Edition) [Blu-ray]"Ip Man" is a pretty fascinating film.  It takes the life of Ip Man, (also spelled Yip Man) a now-legendary martial arts instructor, and turns it into a crackling and impressive (if historically inaccurate) action film.  Before seeing the film, I was aware of it, having seen trailers for it online and heard some positive reviews around.  So I was aware of some of the broad strokes of the film, most impressively that Ip Man would later in life train one of the biggest names in martial arts films: Bruce Lee.  Already knowing that fact when going into "Ip Man" somehow seemed to make it more impressive, and even to reinforce some of the characterization in the film.

Ip Man is a master of Wing Chun.  He lives in the city of Foshan with his wife, Cheung Wing-sing (Lynn Hung) and young son Ip Chun (Li Chak).  Ip Man is independently wealthy, and does not run his own martial arts school, even though he is the city's greatest fighter.  He is humble, concerned only with keeping to himself and practicing his art.  His wife often resents the amount of time he spends with his sparring with his friends rather than with his family, but she loves him and lets him do as he pleases.

One day, some punks come to town led by Jin Shanzhao (Fan Siu-wong), an arrogant master of northern style martial arts.  After Jin defeats the other masters in town, he barges into Ip's home and challenges him to a duel.  After much prodding, Ip finally accepts and thoroughly trounces Jin, sending him off in disgrace.  The town rejoices and hails Ip as a hero, which brings Ip obvious discomfort, though he accepts there gifts so as not to seem rude.