Category Archives: 2.5 Star

Railroad Tigers – ★ ★ ½ DVD Review

Railroad Tigers

Railroad Tigers was an interesting movie, unfortunately if you consider Jackie Chan movies to be either hit or miss, this one was probably a near miss.  Okay, first a little history (from Wikipedia) that I didn’t have before watching the movie, and that the movie didn’t provide.

The Second Sino-Japanese War was a military conflict fought primarily between the Republic of China and the Empire of Japan from July 7, 1937 to September 9, 1945. It began with the Marco Polo Bridge Incident in 1937 in which a dispute between Japanese and Chinese troops escalated into a battle. The conflict escalated afterwards. It ended with the unconditional surrender of Japan on September 2, 1945 to the United Nations allies of World War II. After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, the war merged with other conflicts of World War II as a major sector known as the China Burma India Theater. Some scholars consider the start of the Second Sino-Japanese War in 1937 to have been the beginning of World War II.

Railroad Tigers was about a railroad worker who leads a team of freedom fighters to oppose the Japanese in order to get food for the poor.  This resistance is loosely organized and led by Jackie Chan.  Most of the “tigers” have quirky personalities and characteristics about them; you’ve got the handsome one, the fat one, the planner, the elder, the lazy one, the strong one, the inept one, the crazy one, the young one and the female one, things like that.  They mostly rob from the Japanese to feed the poor Chinese, but when they hear of a foiled plan by the Chinese Army to blow up one of their own bridges to cripple the Japanese efforts, they take on the mission themselves.

The plot sounds fairly simple but for the first half hour or so, I really had no idea why these “tigers” were doing what they were doing.  I think the film would have benefited greatly from a little bit of exposition.  Once I understood who was who and what was what, the film unfolded predictably.  The characters didn’t really leave a memorable mark on me, and I didn’t really care about them as you think you would for a band of “freedom fighters”.  Visually the film was very good, and the costuming and the scenery all looked sharp and authentic.  The stunts and action were not as fast or frenetic as I would have liked, though the final fight on the train was pretty exciting and tense.

I think the film really had two things going against it.  First, Jackie Chan is no longer a young man, and cannot carry the action of a film by himself anymore.  A lot of the stunts and fights really seemed to be recycled spots from his previous films, but now they were largely being performed by Jackie’s son Jaycee Chan.  Jaycee really looks a lot like his father by the way, and this seems like a real passing of the torch.  The second thing going against Railroad Tigers I think, is that it wasn’t sure what type of movie it wanted to be.  It took several confusing jumps back and forth between action and comedy. Overall, the film wasn’t bad, it was actually entertaining, but it was not memorable.

Bottom Line:  I think the best thing to come from my viewing of Railroad Tigers was seeing the trailer for Jackie Chan’s Kung Fu Yoga, which clearly is playing itself up to be a comedy action film, mixing Chinese and Indian cinematic styles.  I will definitely catch that one because there’s a car chase with a lion in the car.  This film will not flip flop in terms of tone.


400 Days – ★ ★ ½ DVD Review

400 Days2.5 Stars

Well it may not have been 400 days, but 400 Days was 91 minutes I won’t get back.  The worst thing was that I kind of enjoyed the movie until the ending, or the lack of an ending…

Four astronauts are locked in an underground bunker and cutoff from humanity as they simulate what it would be like to undertake a 400 day space journey.  Theo (Brandon Routh) the mission commander (who was engaged to Emily (Caity Lotz), the mission psychologist) joins Dvorak (Dane Cook) and Bug (Ben Feldman) the mission’s engineer and scientist respectively.  In the early going the mission seems to be progressing normally, but soon the crew begin to think something is amiss.  Could they be hallucinating, could their imaginations be getting away from them, or could they really be seeing people hiding in the shadows of their “ship”?   Or could this all be a test by mission control?  Eventually the crew escape the ship and find the world above them has been destroyed, with only unexplainable pockets of humanity left in the surrounding towns.  Running up against seemingly cannibalistic locals and gangs of survivors, the crew escape to take refuge in their bunker/ship, as the timer for their 400 day mission reaches zero.  The doors to the craft open and….that’s it.  Fade to black.  Roll credits.

What actually happened here?  No resolution and no explanation.  Was the apocalyptic world real or part of the simulation?  If it was real, what caused it?  Who knows?  I almost suspect that the writer (Matt Osterman who is also not coincidentally the director) didn’t know how to wrap it up.  This wasn’t the way to do it.  It should have either ended two minutes earlier, or went on for two minutes longer.  I invested my time to watch the film, I wanted closure not ambiguity.

Bottom Line: to re-excite my brain after watching this I binged a few discs of The Twilight ZoneWhere Is Everybody was much more rewarding because it knew how to tell a story properly.  It kept the tension throughout the episode and explained itself to the audience at the end so it all made sense.  The audience (or at least this member of it) was happy.

Close Range – ★ ★ ½ DVD Review

Close Range2.5 Stars

Scott Adkins plays Colton MacReady a former soldier turned soldier of fortune/outlaw who is called upon by his estranged sister (Caitlin Keats) to rescue his niece (Madison Lawlor) from a Mexican drug cartel.  The cartel kidnapped the girl because her father was caught skimming off the shipments he was arranging for them.  As MacReady brings the girl home the cartel follows, seeking revenge, and seeking a flash drive that MacReady stole from them containing information about their operation.  Now he has to deal with the corrupt local sheriff (Nick Chinlund) and his sister’s sleazy husband (Jake La Botz) until the cartel arrives bringing to the screen a non-stop flurry of fights, shoot-outs and chases.

Close Range was a decent action film, but I would have liked it if they had written it so we could have actually cared a bit about the characters.  Instead they just relied on us caring about the niece by default.  Even in a somewhat “mindless” action film you can develop the characters!  I really wasn’t that impressed by Colton MacReady, as the “hero” he really didn’t seem very skilled for all the talk about him in the film.  He seemed to be a rather poor shot (maybe that was to emphasize that he was under constant fire and pressure) and he sure seemed to waste a lot of bullets firing blindly at the bad guys.  Most of the good stuff was in the trailer, but it was entertaining enough.  Nothing unpredictable happens, so you can certainly miss this one, but it could fill your need for a quick (1 hour 20 minutes) action flick.

Bottom Line: It’s funny, when I see a sub-par movie I sometimes try to figure out what “better” film it reminds me of.  Close Range seemed to me to be a poor version of Taken. Guess what film I’m going to re-watch in the very very near future….

American Hero – ★ ★ ½ DVD Review

American Hero2.5 Stars

American Hero eh?  From the back of the box it sounded like something I’d enjoy.  Melvin (Stephen Dorff), a reluctant hero who is far from super, has been suppressing his telekinetic powers for years with booze, drugs, and women. In the process, he has failed at practically everything, most of all as a parent to his son. After a brush with death, Melvin decides to use his powers for good and clean up the streets of New Orleans with the help of his best friend/definitely-not-a-sidekick, Lucille (Eddie Griffin). For a man who can do the impossible, it might be a fight even he can’t win.

In my mind I was hoping this was going to be a “redeemed hero” story, instead it just kind of missed the mark.  We’re constantly shown how Melvin is a drunk and he’s wasting his gift, but the “redemption” doesn’t really happen, at least not as I had hoped or expected.  Also, the idea that he’s been suppressing his powers could have been explored a lot better.  In fact, it’s not that he’s suppressing them, he’s just not been using them, or at least using them well. It’s not like he stops drinking and his powers evolve or grow to new levels, he just starts to use them more.  It’s also not like he’d been drinking to control his powers or to hide them, he was just drinking because he could.  There were several changes that could have made this a story I would have enjoyed a lot more.  Someone with abilities so powerful that they were afraid of them and they drank to bury the powers to protect the people around them but that causes him to distance himself and almost lose the people around them; that could have been interesting.  That wasn’t the case with Melvin.  He’d been using his powers as a street hustler/magician, and to rob robbers and other various bad guys, taking the spoils for himself, not to return them to their proper owners.  He has brief moments where his conscience flares up and he wants to do good so he can see his son again, but he quickly regresses back to his lazy and drunk nature.

American Hero was filmed documentary style, and that probably didn’t help it in my own mind.  It seemed like they shot it that way because they couldn’t figure out how to tell the story in the format of a straightforward story.  There was a fair bit of shaky camera work, and characters narrating and talking to the camera, which could have worked, but we didn’t really get any explanation as to why we were seeing Melvin in a “documentary” in the first place.

I thought that Eddie Griffin was a really good casting choice for Lucille, Melvin’s best friend.  Dorff himself did an equally good job, though the Melvin character was a little repetitive at times.  It was clearly done on a small budget but still managed to have decent (though not earth-shattering) special effects.  While it wasn’t what I expected or was looking for, others may enjoy this one.  It wasn’t nearly as frustrating as some of the other bad films I had watched recently.  At least there was a story here, not the absence of a story that they tried to cover up with artsy camera work.

Bottom Line: Stephen Dorff was in the movie The Gate in 1987.  His co-star was Louis Tripp.  We were in grade 7 and I collected Louis’ school notes and homework for him while he was off shooting the film.  Dorff has had a much more successful film career than my friend….

Exposed – ★ ★ ½ DVD Review

Product Details2.5 Stars

Keanu Reeves is police detective Galban, investigating the murder of his partner who he discovers was a dirty cop, even his wife (Mira Sorvino) admitted that her late husband was “no choir boy”.  There are several suspects in the case, and each one seems to end up dead before Galban can question them and try to solve the case.  There seems to be a single link in the case, a girl named Isabel (Ana de Armas) who is the sister-in-law of one of the suspects.  Isabel is from a very religious family and she claims to be having visions, seeing angels when she walks the New York streets. What makes Isabel’s visions especially interesting is that while her husband is serving overseas in Iraq she becomes pregnant, an apparent “immaculate conception”.

This movie was more drama and less crime than I expected in a “crime-drama”.  That wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing, except that the drama was played out very very slowly.  Reeves was good in his role, but this was ultimately a bit of a snooze-fest and he seemed to be very under-utilized.  Very heavy on the metaphors and symbolism, I wish they had focused a bit more on engaging the audience. The lone bright light in this one was Ana de Armas, who was very good, but neither Reeves or de Armas were good enough to really elevate this poorly paced story.  At times I wasn’t sure how much time was supposed to have passed on screen, which wasn’t helped by the story jumping around a lot.  In the film, Isabel takes a young girl under her wing from the church/school she works at.  I guessed fairly early on that the girl that Isabel may not have been real, but instead a “vision” that only she could see but I wasn’t 100%  convinced.  Actually, I suspected that the “girl” was going to be a future projection of her unborn baby, since as I said earlier the film didn’t really pay proper attention to the passage of time.

Really not worth watching, unless you are a die hard Keanu Reeves fan, or if you want to get in on the ground floor of Ana de Armas’ career because I do think that she has a very good career ahead of her.  Interesting to note that de Armas and Reeves costarred together previously in Knock Knock.

Bottom Line:  This is a crime drama you can wait to see.

Dead Snow – ★ ★ ½ DVD Review

Dead Snow2.5 Stars

I finally got around to watching Dead Snow tonight so that I could Dead Snow 2: Red vs Dead.  I’m not a big horror fan, but I wanted to watch this one, as I’ve really enjoyed a lot of the “horror comedy” films that have come out in the last few years.  Unfortunately for me, Dead Snow wasn’t really a horror comedy.  There were some very suspenseful and scary moments full of “jump scares” that made me jump.  The film was quite gory, but I have to say that the digital blood effects aren’t really that appealing to me.  I’m sure it’s cheaper, but the look of the special effects; to me; makes films these days less special.  I prefer practical effects, and in the case of blood, that usually means squibs.

The story was decent; a Norwegian village was mercilessly oppressed by the Nazis during WWII, but towards the end of the war, the villagers fought back, driving the soldiers out into the frozen mountains where they froze to death.  But the greedy Nazis weren’t really dead, they were frozen and have become zombies some fifty years later.  A group of medical students goes to a cabin in the woods for Easter vacation and encounter the zombies and now must fight and run for their lives.  Sure there’s not an awful lot to the story, but it introduced the characters well, set the narrative backstory well, and told a pretty good horror story.  Again, my only complaint was that it wasn’t the funny horror film I was led to believe I’d be watching.  Ah well, that’ll teach me to stick to pure comedy when I do want to laugh.  Don’t worry though, this hasn’t put me off of watching the second film.

I couldn’t find a trailer in English, but I did find this clip which was pretty funny (though not in the film), making up in some small way for the shortage of laughs in the movie.  Enjoy.

Bottom Line: Not really for me, but now I can say I’ve seen it.  Sure it’s been six years since the film was the talk of Sundance, but I’m behind on lots of other films too.  And it probably did deserve more stars if it was to be judged solely as a horror film, but as I expected a horror comedy, it only earned 2 ½ from me.

The Skeleton Twins – ★ ★ ½ DVD Review

Skeleton Twins2.5 Stars

Well, that certainly wasn’t what I expected it to be, or what I wanted it to be.  I was sold on a quirky dark comedy, and there wasn’t much comedy.  The duo of Wiig and Hader tried to improve their way to laughs in a dull script that was trying to be too personal and complex a story for the audience to really connect to.  There were too many stories going on at once, and the film really seemed to lack a definite direction to me.

Milo (Bill Hader) is living in LA and attempts suicide at the same time that his sister Maggie (Kristen Wiig) was about to kill herself in New York.  Being called by the hospital, she heads to LA to be with her twin brother who she hasn’t talked to in ten years.  Bringing him back to her house in New York she tries to give him the support he needs.  As the story goes on, we learn Milo is gay, and he had a relationship with a teacher while he was in high school.  Maggie and her husband Lance (Luke Wilson) are trying to have children, but she hasn’t told him she’s scared and on birth control, or that she’s slept with her cooking instructor, dance instructor and most recently her scuba instructor.  The twins absentee mother (Joanna Gleason) drops by for a scene or two, and we’re treated to an improv scene or two of the twins at Maggie’s work, where she’s a dental hygienist and the pair get goofy on nitrous.  A lip-synched musical number later and we have learned how these two lives have fallen apart over the years.

I didn’t enjoy the film, but that’s not to say it was a bad movie.  The story really fell flat for me, but there were positives.  Both Hader and Wiig delivered strong performances, and the chemistry they had from Saturday Night Live was still evident.  Luke Wilson was probably the best thing about the film though, and was the only character that I really cared about and who truly made me laugh, but sadly he wasn’t featured that much.  If you’re a fan of either lead actor, I’d say you should watch it, but beyond that, The Skeleton Twins is not “must see” viewing, and if you’re looking for a good dark comedy you should probably look elsewhere.

Bottom Line:  The story felt really “film school”-ish and indie and it just didn’t work.  Why was Maggie trying to kill herself at the beginning of the film?  We can figure out why she tried to at the end of the film, but the opening attempt wasn’t really even acknowledged again.

Only Lovers Left Alive DVD Review 2.5/5 stars

Product Details2.5 Stars

I don’t know how the trailer sold me on this one.  Well, actually I do, it was pitched as a vampire romance story starring Tom Hiddleston and Tilda Swinton and was made to look very interesting; full of coolness and vampire intrigue with a dash of horror.  This was perhaps the “Seinfeld” of vampire movies though, because it was about nothing.

Only Lovers Left Alive was written and directed by Jim Jarmusch  (Dead Man, Ghost Dog, two films I have heard good things about but have not seen.  If they’re anything like Only Lovers Left Alive I don’t think I’ll want to see them though), and tells the story of two ancient vampires dealing with the modern world.  Tom Hiddleston plays Adam, a depressed vampire living in Detroit who wants to focus on making music that is too good for any of the humans (or Zombies as the vampires refer to us) to hear.  Tilda Swinton plays his wife Eve, who while living in Tangier realizes that her lover has become depressed and tired with the direction human society has taken so she comes to him.  Yes, the main characters are named Adam and Eve.  That should have been my first clue that this was going to be a movie for “film lovers” and that these were going to be art-house vampires.  You would think things would start rolling once the couple are reunited or when Eve’s sister Ava (Mia Wasikowska) shows up to supposedly wreak havoc on their lives but it doesn’t.  Even when Ava feeds off a man and kills him (which is so 15th century apparently) and there is finally a conflict, Adam just throws her out of his house and he and Eve move back to Tangier, with Ava never to be heard from again.  Instead we see an old vampire (John Hurt) limping around on crutches as he is sick and dying….somehow.  The film didn’t seem to even try to create or maintain any sort of vampire mythology.  They can move super fast, they can’t be in the sunlight, and according to the deleted scenes they don’t show up in mirrors and heal their wounds super fast….so naturally one can be on crutches and get sick and old…

Now, there were things that I did like in Only Lovers Left Alive; it was beautifully shot and the music was very good, and it tried to be a bit philosophical as we study the quiet, usually boring, everyday life of an intelligent and ancient being who has seen it all.  Some may say that the film was full of cultural witticisms and observations; that it was a highly stylized and atmospheric film bemoaning the passing of the great eras.  It did take great advantage of its time span and name dropped throughout with cultural references dating back hundreds of years.  Others will find it to be too full of clichés and stereotypes, filling each scene with some of the most pointless, pretentous, psuedo intellectual hipster dialogue ever filmed instead of filling those scenes with a story or a plot.  What at times seems to be a melancholic nostalgia towards the past, turns into a longing for the 1960s.  Jarmush bases his story on the idea that our present is corrupted, longing but ignores the previous centuries of enlightenment, making the film seem more of a hippie swan song than about the timeless pain of the immortal.  The acting was actually quite good, as both stars did the best they could with what they were given, which sadly wasn’t much.

This film was far too long for nothing to be happening.  Yes, actors are cool and beautiful, the images, the music too, but that does is little more than create a feeling, an atmosphere.  It’s pretty easy to be drawn to the film because it’s cool and arty and you can claim to be more intelligent than your friends because  you “got” it and they didn’t,  but let’s resist the hype and the hunger for coolness for a  moment and see the film for what it really is: too much style and no substance.  Judge for yourselves, but I’d say pass on this one unless you are a giant Hiddleston or Swinton fan.

Bottom Line: Just because something is not bad, does not make it great, or even good sometimes.

Raid 2 – DVD review 2.5/5 stars

Product Details2.5 Stars

According to the cover, this was supposed to be the “greatest action film ever”….  Not in my books it wasn’t.  The first movie,  The Raid: Redemption was pretty good but this one kind of bored me.  The trick of being one long extended fight worked in the first film as the police are making their way room by room, floor by floor up a hostile building to reach the criminals.  Here it just failed for me.  The fights got to be pretty repetitive, and even less believable than in the first film.  Sure our hero Rama has to rest and heal up every now and then, but really, when he gets the back of his knee (or ankle or whatever it was) slashed he shouldn’t be able to stand and keep kicking and fighting.  Maybe it’s because the FIFA World Cup was so recent that I can’t believe someone can keep going after getting kicked in the shin?

The paper thin story was alright in the first film, but the sequel was just an excuse to stage more fights.  Don’t get me wrong, most of the fights were very well done (like the car chase scene near the end) but at times they seemed too drawn out.  Though the characters were barely developed, the acting was fairly good and there was some more innovation in the fight scenes, which built off of the first film, but after watching Raid 2, I just have this sudden urge to re-watch The Transporter and Dredd.  I suppose Raid 2 is just like the first one, it will entertain you if you’re looking to tune out and are in the mood for it’s sort of borderline ultra-violence but there are still better films out there that accomplish the same thing while having a stronger storyline.

Bottom Line: You can’t fool me anymore, I need a good story!

Monuments Men – DVD review 2.5/5 stars

MonumentsMen2.5 Stars

Based on the true story of the “greatest treasure hunt in history”, The Monuments Men is a fairly light action drama focusing on an unlikely World War II platoon, made up of museum directors, curators and art historians, who were tasked by the president to go into occupied Europe and rescue artistic masterpieces from the Nazis and return them to their rightful owners.  It would be an impossible mission; the art was trapped behind enemy lines, the German army was given orders to destroy everything as the Reich fell, and even troops on their own side didn’t know how to react when the Monuments Men told them not to blow up a church full of snipers and munitions because of it’s historical architecture.  Soon, the Monuments Men find themselves in a race against time to avoid the destruction of 1000 years of culture, as they risk their lives to protect and defend mankind’s greatest achievements.

One of my favourite idioms often comes to mind when I’m watching movies with large “all star” casts, that is that “too many cooks spoil the broth”.  Usually I find that the story suffers because all of the big stars are competing for face time.  And I get that, if you’ve got a host of A-listers drawing in “their” fans as part of  your audience you better give those fans their money’s worth, but usually it stretches the story pretty thin as it seems each star has to do “something” whenever they’re on screen.  The comedic actor has to have over the top funny material, the action star has to have an incredible fight sequence, the sex symbol has to have the most amazing romance in screen history.   Almost the opposite happened in The Monuments Men.  There were a lot of big stars, (George Clooney, Matt Damon, Bill Murray, Cate Blanchett, John Goodman) as well as a series of famed actors that aren’t exactly A-list stars but are still pretty big names (Jean Dujardin, Hugh Bonneville, Bob Balaban), but I felt as though no one really “did” anything.  The story was good, and interesting enough, but just didn’t seem to get into second gear.  There seemed to be little “thrill” and even less character development.  Very rarely did any of our big stars seem to be in any jeopardy, and when they were it seemed to resolve fairly quickly and easily.  At one point they’re spread out across Europe struggling to track down works of art and other treasures, not sure where to turn next, and in the next scene they’ve all met up to plot their next move.  How did they get across occupied Europe with such seeming ease?  And so quickly?  Sorry, it was mildly enjoyable and interesting enough, but in the end this one just fell flat.  The performances for the most part were good, and I found Bill Murray and Bob Balaban’s bits together to be the most enjoyable, but everything else just sort of seemed to stumble.

Bottom Line: The story finally got told, but The Monuments Men didn’t seem to know what sort of movie it wanted to be.  Drama?  Comedy?  Action?  It never really came up to stuff in any genre for me.  Perhaps I expected more because of the cast.

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