Category Archives: Thriller

Safe (2012)

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Safe

Full disclosure: I like my action movies with a lot of action. I like a high body count with minimal gratuitous blood. I like clever fight choreography that respects the laws of physics rather than relying on wires and/or CGI. I like Jason Statham as a good, but flawed, man who is willing to do what it takes to save the day – or the girl. Safe delivers on all those criteria. (note that a quality script doesn’t really factor – though it helps)

The story here finds Statham, a mediocre cage-fighter with big secrets in his past, suddenly thrust into a three way turf war that threatens to end the life of a young girl. Russians, Chinese, Police – all the ingredients for “a body count that rivals classic John Woo.

One of the bad reviews claims the movie is

…little more than an excuse for Statham to do what Statham does better than anyone else: look stern while punishing bad guys.

Don’t see how that is a bad thing. In fact, the reviewer claims ‘Safe’ is “everything that is wrong with action movies“, clearly missing the point of action movies.

A reviewer with a clearer understanding of the genre writes:

[Jason] Statham blasts his way through his biggest body count in this satisfying, one-note action film designed very specifically for Statham fans who know his acting limits as well as he does.

Indeed.

Because of the high body count, despite the relative lack of blood & gore, there are still several of my friends who would give this a pass – so only three on the WOM scale. However, if shoot ’em up action flicks float your boat, this one should satisfy.


Rotten Tomatoes: Critics 57%, Audience 62%

The Hunger Games (2012)

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The Hunger Games

The Hunger Games

Katniss Everdeen voluntarily takes her younger sister’s place in the Hunger Games, a televised fight to the death in which two teenagers from each of the twelve Districts of Panem are chosen at random to compete.

Confession: I never read the Hunger Games books. I knew only that Hunger Games readers seemed to enjoy making fun of Twilight readers, which is a positive in my book* ๐Ÿ˜‰

Which is to say, my main interest in this flick was as the anti-Twilight. Jennifer Lawrence in the lead was a bonus, as I pegged her for a star when I first saw her in The Burning Plain (2008) On both of those fronts, this movie is a roaring success.

It is also fantastical and visually stunning. And sometimes quite a bit ridiculously over-the-top. That is where it falters for me. That…and Woody Harrelson. How he keeps getting cast is one of life’s great mysteries for me. He hasn’t been convincing or inhabited a character since Cheers, and so always takes me out of any movie he is in.

The Hunger Games was entertaining, but it didn’t leave me anticipating Catching Fire (2013). On the Word of Mouth Scale, I’ll give it a 2.5. The teens & young adults in my circle will likely enjoy it – the rest, not so much.


Rotten Tomatoes: Critics 84%; Audience 81%

* To be fair, I haven’t read those books, either. I am a bit old for the genre. However, using the movies as a gauge of quality, Twilight does not impress…but that may be the abominable acting

Drag Me To Hell (2009)

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Drag Me To Hell

Drag Me To Hell

A loan officer who evicts an old woman from her home finds herself the recipient of a supernatural curse. Desperate, she turns to a seer to try and save her soul, while evil forces work to push her to a breaking point.

Not much to say on this one. What could have been a creepily-fun horror flick is ruined by ridiculous grossness aimed at making the audience nauseous. Gets one on the Word of Mouth Scale because some (mostly teenage boys) are into that sort of thing.

It does well with critics & audience reviewers, so…you may enjoy it.


Rotten Tomatoes: Critics 92%; Users 79%

The Dark Knight (2008)

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The Dark Knight

The Dark Knight

When Batman, Gordon and Harvey Dent launch an assault on the mob, they let the clown out of the box, the Joker, bent on turning Gotham on itself and bringing any heroes down to his level.

Heath Ledger won The Golden Globe which reminds me of something. I’m sure this will get me no end of flaming comments, but here goes….

I saw The Dark Knight, and it was fine. It was a Batman movie, it was enjoyable – but it was nothing near what the hype suggested it would be.


* I can’t stand Katie Holmes. I think her acting is just fine, but her personal life has rendered her nearly intolerable. However, replacing her with Maggie Gyllenhaal was ridiculous. Gyllenhaal was nowhere near appealing enough to have us believing the major characters were both in love with her. Holmes is much more attractive physically and as Rachel Dawes.

* Christian Bale is one of my favorite actors, ever since his appearance in Empire of the Sun. He is a performer who you can count on to deliver a quality performance, and in Batman Begins, I think he did. For some reason, this time out, he decided to adopt an odd verbal style. While in the suit, he was nearly unintelligible. His first foray as Batman was great, this time I wanted to smack him upside the head and yell, “spit it out!”

* And, this will really get me in trouble, Heath Ledger . . . not that great. Much like his performance in Brokeback Mountain, where he did a poor imitation of Karl Childers, Ledger relies on affectation rather than acting. It is tragic that he died, but that doesn’t make his performance better – it makes it poignant and sad, but not better. I didn’t feel anything for this Joker but confusion – as to whether it would have gotten anywhere near the positive press if Ledger hadn’t died. I have nothing against the guy, but seriously, if you watch that performance objectively, does it truly deserve to effusive praise that has been heaped upon it?

All in all, The Dark Knight was full up to the brim with overacting. The early Batman films were big, cartoony movies – overacting fit. These latest films seemed to be aiming at more grown-up, more serious – the performances should be tailored to fit.

In the words of another comic book hero, “Flame on”


Rotten Tomatoes: Critics 94%, Users 93%

UPDATE: I seem to agree with this guy

No Country for Old Men (2007)

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No Country for Old Men

Violence and mayhem ensue after a hunter stumbles upon a drug deal gone wrong and more than two million dollars in cash near the Rio Grande.

One of the best movies I have seen in quite a while. From the story to the setting, everything here works.

I was unsure going in whether the choice of Josh Brolin in the lead role was wise, but he seemed custom fit as hapless protagonist Llewelyn Moss. There was no question Tommy Lee Jones would deliver, he always gives solid, understated performances. I had heard (who hadn’t) that Javier Bardem gave a stellar performance as contract killer Anton Chigurh – what an understatement. The guy took creepy to a whole new level.

There were several other wonderful performances, but a huge standout for me was Kelly Macdonald as Llewelyn’s wife. Her portrayal of the loyal, and seemingly meek, Carla Jean was every bit as impressive in it’s ‘smallness’ as was Bardem’s. Their inevitable meeting was one of the classic moments in film.

There were two casting errors to my mind; Beth Grant as Carla Jean’s mother was a bit over the top, and Woody Harrelson as Carson Wells, one of Chigurgh’s rivals, was glaringly out of his league.

However, the choice to forgo a musical score was genius. Rather than directing our emotions and reactions via orchestration, the Coens allow the silence to increase the tension. It was a Hitchcockian decision that makes for some edge-of-your seat moments.


Rotten Tomatoes: Critics 96%; Users 87%

Casino Royale (2006)

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Casino Royale

Casino Royale

In his first mission as 007, James Bond must win a poker game at The Casino Royale, in Montenegro, to stop a criminal who works as a banker to the terrorist organizations of the world, from financing crime and terrorism across the globe.

I must review this only as an action movie – not a Bond film. Though I enjoy Daniel Craig as an actor, he is no Bond. He is too “common” and rough, not a smooth bone in his well-toned body (at least not in this first outing) There are, of course, the usual Bondian staples; breath-taking chases, women falling into bed with Bond, then falling dead… But they don’t quite hold up in Craig’s hand.

The rest of the casting is strong enough, particularly Mads Mikkelsen (as the villainous Le Chiffre), Giancarlo Giannini (Rene Mathis), and Judi Dench (M).

I believe many in my circle will enjoy this one, despite the faults I find with it, so it tilts higher on the Word of Mouth Scale One can only hope that Craig can learn to be a bit more refinied in future installments.


Rotten Tomatoes: Critics 95%; Audience 87%

Transformers (2007)

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Transformers

Transformers

I went into this movie expecting the worst; after all, I figured it was just another comic book action flick. Which it was – but it was a well-done, comic book action flick.


And the action starts right off the bat, rarely letting up. The movie clocks in at 2 hours and 24 minutes, but you hardly notice. The transformations were quite impressive – and often. I have read critics claim that this aspect was over done, something I disagree with. After all, that is what the whole movie was about and skimping on the effects would have killed the spirit of the thing.

The casting is good, the story is good enough to carry (I have no idea if it is true to the original series) – the effects are fun & fantastic (did I mention that already?) My only complaint is that after the big finish, we get another finish with voice over narration that is a bit cheesy. Five minutes out of 144 – I can live with that.

I can give this 4.5 stars because, despite the explosive action, there is little to no blood. One or two slightly off color jokes. I think Mom could even watch this and get a chuckle. I am not a big Michael Bay fan, but this one works.


Rotten Tomatoes as of this writing critics 59%; users 84%
(I think the critics missed the point of a movie like this)

Case in point, the New York Times – I don’t think he saw the same movie I did. For instance:

The result is part car commercial, part military recruitment ad, a bumper-to-bumper pileup of big cars, big guns and, as befits its recently weaned target demographic, big breasts. [I don’t usually miss big breasts but, though the girls were hot, I don’t remember big breasts]

There, under the desert sun, muscly, sweaty military types clash with an ominous helicopter that converts into a mysteriously angry critter with an articulated tail like that of a scorpion. [As I remember it, two different robots in two different battles]

And on it goes – I wholeheartedly disagree and wonder what trailer he based his review on.

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