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Once Upon a Time In Venice – ★ ★ ★ ★ DVD Review

Once Upon a Time In Venice40

Once Upon a Time In Venice was pulpish, noirish, and funny with an incredible array of characters.  I found it extremely entertaining.  It wasn’t the best movie, it certainly had flaws, but I enjoyed it and that is what I base my ratings off of, how much I enjoyed the film.

Bruce Willis plays Steve Ford, the only licensed private investigator in the Venice (Los Angeles not Italy) and he gets himself mixed up in a lot of odd cases.  His partner John (Thomas Middleditch) narrates us through the story as we see Steve track down a missing sister, only to sleep with her and incur the wrath of her overprotective brothers, who he escapes in a naked skateboarding scene…  He meets a friend whose car was stolen and he tracks it back to a drug dealer named Spyder (Jason Momoa), who he steals it back from by crashing out of his garage.  When he gets home he finds out that his sister’s house has been robbed, taking his niece’s X-Box, their television, and Steve’s dog Buddy who his niece takes care of after school.  They were robbed by punks who needed money for drugs, which leads Steve back to Spyder who controls the drug trade in town.  Now Steve has to apologize for wrecking Spyder’s garage, and what he feels was “his” car (even though it was stolen) in an attempt to get Buddy back.  Spyder agrees, (Steve’s gift basket of muffins helped smooth the tensions between them) and he’ll give Steve the dog back, if he’ll retrieve a case of cocaine that was stolen from him by a hooker.  Things don’t get any easier for Steve who is trying to buy back his parent’s house that he was forced to sell years ago to Lou the Jew (Adam Goldberg) and help his best friend Dave (John Goodman) who is selling his surf shot to get through a tough divorce.  Lou is in a bind too, because someone is painting pornographic graffiti on a building he owns that he’s trying to sell.  So if Steve can catch the graffiti artist, he’ll get the house back, if he can find the drugs he’ll get his dog back, easy right?

When I first heard of this film, I thought it was trying to be a John Wick rip-off, action star Bruce Willis trying to get his dog back sounds a bit like action star Keannu Reeves trying to get revenge on the guys who killed his dog.  Boy was I wrong, if this film was trying to cash in on any of the perceived similarities with John Wick, it did so totally with tongue in cheek.

I think what made Once Upon a Time In Venice work was the very clever script.  The dialogue was snappy and natural, and really plays off the comedic talents of the lead, Bruce Willis.  Bruce Willis is very funny, and has great comedic timing.  I wouldn’t have thought that “tough guy” Jason Momoa would be as funny as he was either, but perhaps it was the juxtaposition of these tough actors playing these tough roles with a lighter twist that made it work.  Having more seasoned comedic actors like Thomas Middleditch and John Goodman in the film also helps carry the story.  Quite good, and quite entertaining, if you’re looking for a few good laughs, give it a try.

Bottom Line: Every time you thought a situation was resolved it just got more and more absurd!  Every time things seemed sorted, a new character came in and twisted the plot into something more absurd than the last character did.  I loved it.


RED 2 – DVD Review 3½ stars

Product Details3.5 Stars

Sequels are rarely as good as their originals, but that doesn’t mean they can’t still be fun.  Tonight I watched RED 2, and must admit it was a lot of fun.  Highly enjoyable but similar to my thoughts on The World’s End, it suffers from coming too late.  Everything that clicked just right in the first film was almost carbon copied into the second film, but copies always lose a bit of detail.  I know they say “if it isn’t broken, don’t fix it” but RED 2 didn’t really do anything different from RED.  I really enjoyed the first one, in fact I think I may have ranked it as my favourite film of 2010, so maybe I expected too much from the sequel.

Frank Moses (Bruce Willis) is still retired, but now trying to live a quiet domestic life with Sarah (Mary-Louise Parker) when Marvin (John Malkovich) contacts him.  During the Cold War, Frank and Marvin worked on an operation called Nightshade that involved smuggling a nuclear weapon into Moscow piece by piece for reassembly.  This information was somehow publicized by Wiki-leaks and now various governments are after the pair in hopes of finding the hidden weapon.  Russian agents are after them led by Frank’s former flame the femme fatale Katja (Catherine Zeta-Jones); MI-6 is after them, and have hired their friend Victoria (Helen Mirren) to kill them; and after failing to stop them themselves, the Americans led by Rogue Agent Jack Horton (Neal McDonough) have hired Korean assassin Han Cho Bai (Byung-hun Lee) to kill Frank and Marvin too.  Frank just wants to keep Sarah safe, but she wants to be involved and help Frank.  She’s also a bit jealous after learning of Frank and Katja’s past.  The trio team up, betray, and are betrayed by everyone on the board as they dig deeper and eventually find the path leading to Dr. Bailey (Anthony Hopkins), who created Nightshade and is being held in an asylum by the British with his memory being suppressed by drugs so he can’t speak of the weapon.  Bailey gets broken out, they all head to Russia to find the bomb (which is hidden in the heart of the Kremlin, because it’s the one place the Russians would never look) dodging bullets all along the way.

The action was great, the humour was sharp and the acting was good.   Helen Mirren was of course excellent and really shines in these movies because you don’t expect her to be in them.  Mary-Louise Parker was good, but Sarah this time around had lost a bit of her vulnerability and some of her innocence, two things that really drew me to the character in the first film.  Malkovich’s Marvin was funny again, but not as paranoid or crazy as round one.  Actually Anthony Hopkins was a little crazier than Marvin which was kind of interesting.  Bruce Willis’ Frank still delivered a lot of the action, but even acknowledged in the film that he was getting older during his fights with Han.  In my opinion Byung-hun Lee (Han) really stood out well amongst a stellar cast of actors.  He may be best known as Storm Shadow in the G.I. Joe movies, but I’ve been impressed by him since I saw him in The Good, The Bad and the Weird, and Masquerade: King of Facade.  He did not disappoint here either; bringing a bit of class, a lot of action and dry humour to his assassin character.

RED 2 was a lot of fun, in a lot of ways I suppose it is a much lighter (and much better) version of The Expendables.  We’ve got recognizable faces, Oscar nominees, Oscar winners, Dames and Knights,  delivering all the action, car chases, and explosions, the screen can handle.  Yes, similar to The Expendables, only this time we have much better actors and a better story.

Review – G.I. Joe Retaliation

Product Details3.5 Stars
This week G.I. Joe Retaliation came to DVD, if you remember it came out in theatres this spring, but was supposed to come out last year.  Supposedly it was pulled to make the film 3D (though from what I watched, nothing would have benefited from the extra dimension except the films box office gross); some said though that Joe 2 was delayed for several re-writes and re-shoots to fix up a bad script.  I could definitely see the latter being the case.  This Joe movie was a lot better than the last, and I personally felt it was a little closer to the toys and cartoons that I remember growing up with.
— Nerd mode: ON —
  • Cobra Commander looked pretty cool in his helmet with the silver, reflective face mask,  and it meant that we couldn’t complain that Joseph Gordon-Levitt didn’t come back.
  • We saw Cobra developing HISS tanks, which looked like a fairly believable real world counterpart to the toys of yesterday.
  • Cobra had a massively simple yet over complicated world threatening weapon.  All that was missing was the weapon to be split into three pieces for teams to track down across the globe and make great after school watching all week long.
  • We got a few more fan favourite Joes, Roadblock played by Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Flint and Lady Jaye
  • This one had a lot more ninjas than the last one…..
  • Classic storylines from the comics were introduced, including the Blind Master (RZA), and even Storm Shadow and Snake Eyes teaming up.
  • And we got Bruce Willis
— Critical Nerd Mode with minor SPOILERS: ON —
  • Uhm, they killed off 98% of the G.I. Joes in the trailer!
  • and that was only like 30 guys it seemed….I seem to remember a lot more being in the last film
  • and they killed them all off in one spot…because apparently there were only like two other guys who weren’t in the same place
  • ….so that means they had no backup?  Seems poorly planned…. “hey let’s send the entire team out to the desert!  Good idea?”
  • they sure used a lot of bullets this time around.  Now my memory is fuzzy, so I don’t remember if people got shot with bullets in the last one, for some reason I think they used lasers (without frickin sharks).  I may be entirely wrong here, and if I am, please comment below and let me know, because I don’t really plan on watching the first one again anytime soon.
Okay, back to just reviewing.  I actually enjoyed the film, even though there were things that bothered me (see above).  It played out like a pretty good action movie and had a lot of fun doing so.  The fact that it was G.I. Joe did bring back a few fond childhood memories but there were a few things that could have been done differently.  I realize that they needed to somehow write Duke out of the movie because Channing Tatum is too expensive, too busy or too famous now; but they could have done so without killing off all the characters.  Really that is my biggest complaint about the movie.   Bringing in some other big name stars (Bruce Willis and the Rock) was a nice way to bring in a larger audience.  I wasn’t expecting a lot, so the fun that it did deliver was appreciated.


Product Details3.5 Stars

I’m about a half a day behind it seems, last night I put up my review of Butter (which I watched Thursday), and today I’m putting up my Friday night movie, Looper.

In the future, time travel will be invented, and then quickly made illegal.  When criminals want to dispose of somebody, they send them back 30 years in time where a “looper” shoots them as soon as they appear.  The man in the past has killed and disposes of a body of someone who doesn’t even exist yet.  Neat and tidy, but nothing lasts forever, eventually the criminals in the future send the looper’s own future self back to be killed, and “close the loop” with a big payoff, signifying the end of their contract leaving the man in the past (or I suppose present) to live their life out until everything catches up and they are sent back to shoot themselves.  One such looper is Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) who has to close his loop the hard way when his future self (Bruce Willis) runs, with a mission to kill someone in the past who will adversely affect his future.

Written and directed by Rian Johnson, Looper was a pretty decent sci-fi flick that I’ve had some interest in for a while.  Those who know me, know I’m a sucker for time travel, and Looper had a pretty neat concept behind it, which can be quite confusing to write without leaving a lot of plot holes.  A lot of time travel movies fail because they don’t adhere to the rules they’ve written for themselves.  Now, Looper does a pretty good job in that, but they certainly did a lot of convenient writing.  Why do loopers have to kill their future selves themselves?  Why not have another looper “close the loop”?  Why not just kill people in the future and send the body back to be disposed of?

Interesting to note that there were two “time travel” movies last year, and in both, we had a younger and older version of the same character.  Men in Black 3 we visit the past and see Josh Brolin play the younger Agent K (Tommy Lee Jones).  In Looper the future comes back to the present and we have Joseph Gordon-Levitt playing a younger version of Bruce Willis, or do we have Bruce Willis playing an older version of Joseph Gordon-Levitt?  Both films take a different approach however; in Men in Black 3 we know the older version of the character, and learn about the past through his younger self.  In Looper, we only learn about Joe through future Joe, when he explains how he got to be the person he is, and ultimately how and why he’s come back.

The film benefits from good performances from Gordon-Levitt and Willis, but also has a strong showing from Emily Blunt as Sara, a woman living on a farm with her young son, Cid (Pierce Gagnon), around whom all the plots seem to be drawing to.  Once we meet Cid and Sara, certain plot points become pretty obvious, and oddly reminiscent of the old Twilight Zone episode It’s a Good Life, still Looper is a pretty good ride.

Oh, yeah, did I mention that on top of time travel the writer also decided that telekinesis was necessary?  Because they brought that in too.  And Cid?  Man, what a super creepy kid!

If you do watch Looper, maybe check this site out afterwards, because they bring up some good points…

Moonrise Kingdom

Product Details4 Stars

So tonight, I had my first taste of the film making talents of Wes Anderson.  That’s right, I had never seen a Wes Anderson film before.  I’m not sure why, perhaps it was because of the way everybody seemed to be hyping up him and his movies as being so great.  Perhaps it was the way the “Criterion Collection” kept instantly making his movies part of their series.  The Criterion Collection is a “a continuing series of important classic and contemporary films … dedicated to gathering the greatest films from around the world and publishing them in editions that offer the highest technical quality and award-winning, original supplement”.  At first this Collection sounds like a great idea.  If they can deliver technically superior copies of classic and important movies, preserving them and showcasing them for more people to see, that is a very good thing.  Their choices at first seemed pretty good and thought out, but then they started to seem a little “snooty” to me.  The way they advertised that their films were “important classic and contemporary films for film aficionados”, made it seem like if you hadn’t watched their selected movies you weren’t a film aficionado.  If you didn’t own their more expensive editions of some films, you didn’t have the right one.  There were stories of rigorous tests to have a film included in their prestigious Collection, but then it seemed they just picked anything by Kurosawa, anything by Bergman, and then anything by Wes Anderson.  I will admit that they do pick some interesting films, films that a lot of people would not watch if they were not showcased in some fashion, but somehow they’ve brainwashed people into thinking that if they didn’t pick it, it’s not a classic film.  Their films, their “club”, their fans just seem kind of pretentious to me some days.  They did not pick Gone With the Wind or Wizard of Oz to join their Collection, by the way.  So getting back on track, the sort of people who blindly follow the Criterion Collection, who don’t have any opinion of their own, but just follow their lead and think a “good movie” is only something Criterion recommends, also seemed to be the sort of people who were blindly touting Wes Anderson, because I’m fairly certain a lot of them would never have seen a Wes Anderson film if they hadn’t been told to by the Criterion Collection.   Why did I watch Moonrise Kingdom tonight?  Well, first I had no plans for National Nachos Day, and as is often the case, the previews made it look like a good movie.  I didn’t need some Ivory Tower Collection telling me what to watch, the intriguing story and fine cast had me.  Then I made the decision, on my own, to watch it.  Alright, maybe not 100% true, because I did have a few friends whose opinions I trust tell me that it was a good movie too.

First, the story was cute, a bit of a Romeo & Juliet story, set on a small New England island in 1965.  A Khaki Scout named Sam Shakusky (Jared Gilman) falls in love with a Suzy Bishop (Kara Hayward), a local girl living on the far side of the New New Penzance Island, and the two conspire to run away from their Scout Troop and home to be together, launching this stylized coming of age film. Now the inhabitants of New Penzance are searching for the pair of twelve-year-olds with humorous and heartwarming results.  Scout Leader Randy Ward played by Edward Norton leads Troop 55 in their search for their missing man, and is soon joined by Captain Pierce of the Island Police, played by Bruce Willis.  Suzy’s parents (Bill Murray and Frances McDormand) join the search when they discover that she has run away with Sam.  Eventually “Social Services” (played by Tilda Swinton) is called in to take charge of the situation and remove Sam back to a “juvenile refuge” facility.  Add into the mix another pair of Scout Leaders played by Harvey Keitel and Jason Schwartzman and you have a terrific film.  I am a big fan of Edward Norton, and loved every scene he was in; his Randy Ward was a competent, and caring Scout Master that I wanted to see more of.  Bruce Willis was very good in a subdued performance, as was Bill Murray.  Both the young leads were in their first film roles and handled themselves quite well.  Jared Gilman was good, but a few of his scenes seemed a little too awkward.  I know he was supposed to be an awkward boy, and it wasn’t so much his acting but his line delivery once in a while that just seemed a touch “off” to me, but he certainly did a very good job for such a big part at such a young age.  Kara Hayward however was 100% delightful 100% of the time she was on screen.  Her Suzy was smart, confident, funny, and just perfect for the part.  I think she will have a very bright future, based on this performance alone.  A quick browse of her IMDb page shows that she’s been a member of Mensa since she was nine, so, yeah, I think she’ll do alright.

Moonrise Kingdom was a visual masterpiece with a stark contrast of colours in every set and scene.  The look and feel of the mid 1960s was achieved very well.  The music was a great mix of orchestral and 60s music, hilighted by the recurring Françoise Hardy  song “Le Temps de l’Amour“.  Writer/Director Wes Anderson played with perspective a fair bit in the introductory scenes of the film, and did some neat camera tricks introducing the Bishop’s house, where he spun the camera around in a circle from the centre of the structure to introduce the various rooms of the house and the family members in them.

Now, since all I have done is speak great things about this movie, how come I didn’t rate it any higher than 4 stars? Well, first off, it looked like a lot of it was shot and processed with one of those stupid “Instagram” filters.  Now, I liked the look of the movie, and being set in the 60s it worked in this particular case, but I fear that it will start the trend where all the hipster film fans out there will flock to anything, or demand that everything be shown this way simply because it looks “cool” or “indie”.  I feel like Moonrise Kingdom was a smart movie made the way it was made, simply because the intelligent people behind it knew that it would be popular to those who blindly follow the trends like sheep.  I probably could not have pleasant conversations with a lot of the fans of this film.  Now, that may be me just being bitter, but at least I could temper my bitterness with a high rating because it really was a good movie.

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