Friday, January 31, 2014

My Favorite Era: Total Recall (1990)

Total Recall, though it isn't my favorite Arnold Schwarzenegger film (top ten easily though), it does feature what might be the only instance of Arnold giving a legit good performance.  Based on the Philip K. Dick story "We Can Remember It for You Wholesale", it tells the story of Doug Quaid (Quail in the short story), a bored blue collar worker living in the future who goes to a company to have a fake memory installed of a trip to Mars.  Something goes wrong (or does it?) and Doug ends up in a spy caper with people trying to kill him.

The film went through a long, long pre-production process with many stars, directors and writers until finally, Paul Verhoeven and Arnold Schwarzenegger ended up making it for a summer, 1990 release.  We get a great cast, loads of bloody violence and tons of fun, let's take a closer look.
  • Great start to the film with Jerry Goldsmith;s thunderous main title theme.  He really went all out for this one, putting together a fantastic musical score.  The screenplay by Dan O'Bannon, Ron Shusett and Gary Goldman is pretty awesome too.  It might not be the purest Philip K. Dick adaptation (in fact, it's fairly loose), but it's still a really great piece of screenwriting.
  • The great thing about the script is how it plays around with the  concept of what is real and what is not.  Doug goes to Rekall and gets the beginning of an implanted memory of a trip to Mars where he is a spy but suddenly, things go haywire and it appears that he actually is a spy.  The film does a very smart thing in not telling you exactly what is going on.  It could all be happening, or it could all be a vivid hallucination Doug is having after the implant goes wrong.
  • The cast is simply fantastic with everyone, even Arnold turning in first-class work.  Arnold does pretty damn well for himself, showing Doug's utter confusion as to what is going on, mixed with the usual awesome ass-kicker Arnold usually plays.  It's not going to give DeNiro or Pacino reason to sweat but considering the man's talent level, it's pretty damn impressive.
  • Sharon Stone and Rachel Ticotin are good as Doug's wife Lori/the femme fatale and Melina, a woman he either dreams about or knows from Mars respectively.  Stone is both sexy as hell (I know, shocking) and tough as hell when it turns out she's a bad guy.  Ticotin is also quite lovely and her rebel freedom fighter character is fun.
  • The main villains are good as well with Ronny Cox turning in a nicely slimy performance as Cohaagen, the nasty Mars administrator and personal favorite Michael Ironside as Richter, main henchman for the evening and of course, a total psycho.  Ironside can do this sort of role in his sleep and he's really, really good here.  Snarling, growling his lines out in as menacing a tone as possible, he doesn't ham it up either.  Just good, solid, low key villainy of the highest order.
  • Love the production design of the future Earth and Mars.  Earth has some high-tech stuff like holograms and cool x-ray scanners but for the most part, it's nothing too out there.  Mars is pretty cool too with pressurized domes to protect the people from the atmosphere, a neat subway system.  It looks pretty much like what you would expect a Martian colony to look like.  Cool but sort of grimy and dirty.
  • Naturally, being the James Bond fan that I am, I wholeheartedly support Doug's choice for the secret agent fantasy.
  • Great foreshadowing in the initial memory implant sequence.  Melina, the dream girl is the woman he described when asked to essentially pick his Bond Girl for the fantasy and a few later plot elements come up too like a blue sky on Mars.  Little things like this make the movie very, very rewarding on repeat viewings.
  • I love that in the future, cabs might be remote controlled with robotic drivers, but everything else is basically the same.
  • As this is a Paul Verhoeven film. the violence is naturally turned up to eleven... After which it is then ramped up even more.  For instance, while is it common enough for Arnold to snap necks in his films, the sound team must have really had it in for that poor box of celery they were using if the neck snap sound effects are anything to go by.  Either that or they poured some water on it before hand.  Regardless, the snaps are nice and juicy, as are the blood squibs.  They make Renny Harlin's preferred squibs look dainty.
  • Related to that, I love what an absolute bloodbath most of the action scenes turn into.  Every single one of them has at least one horrifically gory bit of business: an innocent bystander being shot, used as a human shield, tossed at the bad guys and then being stepped on; every one shooting is about sad gory sad most horror film's entire body count, like Robocop it just ends up being darkly hilarious.
  • The best stuff comes towards the end when Doug breaks free as the bad guys are about to wipe his memory and replace it with that of the spy he apparently really is (also played by Arnold).  What he does to those lab techs is just horrible, gory and damn funny.  One guy gets a huge metal tool-thing shoved through his nose and out the top of his head.  It really has to be seen to be believed.
  • Not too often you get to see Arnold Schwarzenegger essentially picking his nose as a plot point.  Still, the fake head used for the scene is a damn sight more convincing than the one from The Terminator.  It's a wonder what six years of improvements in special effects can do, isn't it?
  • Speaking of the f/x, Rob Bottin does another great job here with some nice mutant designs on Mars, the aforementioned fake Arnold head and some other stuff that is just top notch.
  • Once the film gets to Mars, it chugs along at a nice pace with Doug and Melina reuniting in Venusvuille, the planet's red light district and we get a nice idea of how crummy the planet is with the mutants caused by poorly made radiation shields.  And yes, the three-breasted hooker is something you never forget.  Having Richter kill her is probably a little over the top.  Though oddly enough it ends up giving the audience more of a reason to want to kill him than Quaid has in the film.
  • An amusing bit of casting is little person actress/stuntwoman and former Ewok Debbie Lee Carrington as the aptly named Thumbelina.  She's pretty good in the role, though it's not like she has a ton to do.  She certainly is memorable, though. 
  • I can only imagine the call her agent made when the offer for the role came in.  "Well, there's good news, bad news and good news.  The good news is that you won't have to be in a sweaty, uncomfortable costume for the part.  Bad news is that the role is of a hooker so it's not exactly a feminist's dream role.  On the bright side, you do get to stab  a guy in the groin and shoot up a bar.  So, you in?"
  • The best example of the film playing with perception comes about an hour in when Doug is visited in his hotel room by Dr. Edgemar (Roy Brocksmith), a rep from Rekall who has brought Lori along to try and convince him he is simply imagining the entire thing, noting things that will happen later in the movie.  The brilliant thing is that though Doug sees a bead of sweat rolling down the man's cheek that apparently proves he's lying, the way the scene is shot it could just be him wanting to see that sweat in order to continue the fantasy.  It could go either way and it's surprisingly complex for a big summer action movie.
  • Lori trying to talk him down works well too as Sharon Stone wasn't quite a good enough actress to make it entirely convincing which works to the scene's advantage regardless of how you view the movie.  The entire scene is shot perfectly so that it can be seen either way.  This might be the best staged scene Paul Verhoeven has ever directed.
  • Making it even more brilliant is that everything Edgemar describes more or less happens: Quaid's old self (Hauser) was once friends with Cohaagen and apparently still is, Martian artifacts come into play, and it all can be seen either as reality or the delusional fantasy of a man who is about to be lobotomized.
  • The stuff with rebel leader Kuato is pretty cool.  First off, the f/x are nicely odd and freaky.  Second, I'm a sucker for actor Marshall Bell.  He's sort of like a less insane Randy Quaid.
  • The last twenty five minutes are a great, gory blast of action cinema at its finest.  Tons of random guards are killed, Richter gets a nice gory sendoff and the finale is nicely spectacular with Mars getting a breathable atmosphere and Cohaagen being exposed to the air beforehand in a nice bit of nastiness.
  • The final shot is nicely ambiguous too with Doug and Melina kissing as the screen whites out.  Could be the lobotomy, or it could simply be a classy way to end the movie.  Either one works.
Total Recall is a fun, wonderfully violent and surprisingly smart action/sci-fi thriller with a great script and cast.  It's a real winner and still holds up pretty well today.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

August: The Month of Dumping

The recent Delta Force 2 review I posted got me thinking about the summer doldrums (late July though August) and how once the school year begins to approach and folks stop going to the theater as often, movie studios tend to just throw out their summer leftovers during this time.  August tends to really deliver the goods (or not so goods in this case) when it comes to this as more often than not, you get at least two or three absolute stink burgers.  Sometimes with extra cheese.  I'll be taking a look at a few notable ones here and possibly some from other months in the future.  No Harrison Ford blockbusters, charmingly quirky comedies or sci-fi sleepers today, folks.    No slashers either because, well, that's just too damned easy.  Welcome to cinematic purgatory!

To start things off, this is the main reason Ben Affleck's recent success with The Town and Argo was considered such a huge comeback.  Bafflingly awful, chock full of obnoxious characters, wen even Christopher Walken and Al Pacino aren't enough to save your movie... Damn.

I have to admit I have a certain affection for this one.  Really not that much worse than any of the other big f/x films from the period, it is torpedoed by a bad plot, crappy duck f/x and a Tim Robbins performance so bad that I have to wonder if it's the reason he and Susan Sarandon broke up.

The world's longest, most expensive ad for Dr. Pepper.  Not  a hell of a lot more to say here but I will say that even when I saw this as a kid, I thought it stunk.  Do you realize how boring a giant monster movie has to be to get an eight year old to tune out?

I'm just shocked that after the sixth film, there was any interest in a seventh. 

An E.T. cash-in about six years too late that is really little more than an obnoxious ad for McDonald's.

You will believe that a jungle adventure with a scantily clad Tanya Roberts can be boring as hell!

Now this is what I have in mind when I think of bad August releases.  Dreary, impossibly cheesy action movies that really should have gone straight to cable.  The sort of movie you go see when you're a kid only because you've seen everything else and your mom has company over.

Dear lord, how I hate this movie.  Take two great franchises and smash them into one and somehow, some way, it sucked!

I just love that there was a time when Charles Band films were not only released in theaters, but in 3-D!

We'll finish up with two sword and sorcery films, both bad but for different reasons.

Cashing in on his Hercules: The Legendary Journeys fame, Kevin Sorbo starred in this agreeably cheesy riff on Conan, using another Robert E. Howard character.  Actually, the film is rather entertaining in a brain dead sort of way.

Less entertaining is this tired, crappy attempt to reboot the Conan franchise.  The cast is okay and the f/x are fine but there is just something missing from the whole affair that keeps it from being really good.  In that, it is a prime example of the sort of film that gets dumped into theaters in August.

August is generally a fun time to find really bad, cheesy movies.  We've gone over a few here but there are many, many more.  Also eleven more months to look at.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Delta Force 2 (1990)

Like the box says, Chuck Norris and the force are back... Well, Chuck is, seeing as Lee Marvin had died by the time this one came out and Steve James was doing American Ninja 3, but still!  Chuck returns as Scott McCoy and while the last time, he and a bunch of guys took on terrorists, this time out they're going for the other go-to bad guys in action movies from the 80's/90's.  No, not Communists, the other go-to options, drug dealers.  Chuck Norris is taking on the war on drugs, an amusing thought when you watch the film and end up wondering just how much coke the screenwriter was on when he was writing the first act and how much pot he was smoking when he lazed his way through the rest of the thing.

The main villain for the film is Ramon Cota, played by b-movie staple Billy Drago.  Cota is just about the slimiest, nastiest drug dealer you are likely to find.  This is partly due to Drago's skill (which is pretty decent in a low-rent sort of way), but also due in large part to the Cannon philosophy of "There is no such thing as over the top."  Not only does he kill a woman's husband right in front of her, he then orders her to be taken to his place so he can have his way with her... Then he orders her baby killed... After which he uses the body to smuggle drugs.

Like I said, the screenwriter had to have been on something to come up with that.  The woman in question goes on to appear later as a contact for Chuck and his guys and then is killed randomly later during the climax.

That aside, the plot revolves around McCoy and his pal Dead Meat- Uh, I mean Bobby as they chase Cota and finally apprehend him in a rather audacious skydiving stunt.  Well, technically Chuck throws Cota out of a plane and then skydives after him which results in Cota making bail and escaping again.  Naturally, Bobby and his family end up being killed about thirty eight minbutes in (because Chuck needs some motivation) and after some obligatory training stuff which essentially amounts to Chuck kicking some guys around, he sets off to deal with Cota and hopefully rescue some DEA agents that have been kidnapped.  Needless to say, Chuck wins.

The film is slightly better than the first by sheer virtue of being about twenty minutes shorter and a hell of a lot more consistent.  Now granted, said consistency is accomplished by eschewing the human drama in the first one for sleazy Cannon thrills but I'll take that over Shelley Winters any day.  The script is riddled with as many cliches as the bad guys are riddled with bullets; the film is about fifteen minutes longer than needed and nobody but the stunt team seems to give a crap (given that four crew members died in a helicopter crash during filming this is understandable) but still, a minor improvement is still an improvement.

The cast, apart from Drago is fairly nondescript (Chuck is on auto-pilot) with the exception of John P. Ryan as General Taylor.  Ryan is usually pretty hammy and here is no exception.  He shouts randomly, he yelps joyously when Chuck gets out of a situation alive, the man more or less provided all of the acting energy for the entire movie.

Delta Force 2 (alternately subtitled Operation Stranglehold and The Colombian Connection) came around when Cannon Pictures was entering its last days.  Listlessly directed by Aaron Norris (Chuck's brother whose other credits are mainly crummy films starring Chuck), it does wake up during the last hour when it just goes into action mode but really, this isn't a good movie at all.  Chuck turns into a one-man army and the team aspect goes by the wayside (though really, has Chuck Norris ever truly needed backup?), as I noted, the only people who seem to care are the stuntmen and while I like a movie that is comprised of tons of action, it really isn't a good sign when the film more or less begins its third act 50 minutes into a 110 minute running time.

The film was released in late August of 1990, generally the dumping ground for tired action vehicles.  Not often a movie gets the release date it deserves.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

My Favorite Era: The Shadow (1994)

The Shadow (1994)

As I've stated elsewhere, I have a fondness for the B-list superheroes as opposed to the A-list guys.  While I can easily enjoy a good Superman, Batman or Avengers story, I tend to have a little more fun with guys like The Phantom or our subject today, the pulp hero from the 30's... The Shadow.

Alec Baldwin plays Lamont Cranston, your standard rich jerk who not only has a shady past in the Far East but also, as a way of repenting for said past, walks the streets at night, terrorizing criminals as the vigilante The Shadow.  So, essentially he's Batman (a precursor, in fact) only with a different backstory and considerably more of a jerk.  In 1994, we got a pretty damn good movie out of the character with a nice cast,m some good f/x and a good score from Jerry Goldsmith.  I saw this in the theater and dug it, and I still do to this day.  Let's take a closer look.
  • Now is as good a time as any to mention this, but I always loved the 1990-1997 Universal logo.  It just gets me in the mood to watch a movie.
  • Dig the opening with Lamont posing as Ying-Ko, a sadistic drug dealing warlord.  Baldwin does evil quite well (maybe it helps that he's kind of a jackass in real life) and I get a personal kick out of seeing James Hong in a small role and Al Leong in an even smaller one.  Wish both had larger parts but what can you do?
  • The thing I really appreciate about the first sequence is how quickly it moves.  Far too often in superhero movies we get at least thirty minutes of backstory, and in those cases it's usually for a hero whose story is more or less widely known.  I can dig wanting to please the die-hard fans but there is a lot to be said for lean, efficient storytelling.  There is no reason you can't deliver the background of a character in less than ten minutes.
  • The first appearance of The Shadow is a good one, though the character's look is rather cheesy and unconvincing.  The face it a little too rubbery and silly.  Still, Baldwin's voice does most of the work for the character and it sells things well enough.  It's weird because the rest of the f/x work is pretty damn good with a nice blend of practical f/x and some early CGI.  I also get a kick out the hero having his own personal spy network within the city.
  •  Odd but fun bit of casting: Comedian Jonathan Winters as Lamont's uncle who is also the police commissioner.  Winters was always funny but he's relatively good here in a more serious part.
  • Penelope Ann Miller is also pretty good in her role as the daughter of a professor who factors into the plot.  She and Baldwin have pretty good chemistry together though there isn't much for her to do.
  • The best bit of casting though is John Lone as the villain, Shiwan Khan, a descendant of Genghis Khan.  He's just the right kind of hammy pulp comic villain.  His scenes with Baldwin are especially amusing and his villainous scheme while predictable is fun as well.
  • Ian McKellen and Tim Curry are not too bad in their roles as professor and traitorous assistant respectively.  Curry is entertainingly slimy (his breakdown at the end is rather repulsive though) as usual but McKellen is sorely underused.  His character is a bit of a dope and you can sort of tell the actor wasn't really inspired.
  • Great production design here and the direction by Russell Mulcahy is solid.  The film was shot entirely on the Universal back lot which gives the film an interesting, comic book feel.  Generally it would be a distraction but in the case of this film, it works just fine.
  • Also good is "Original Sin",  the amazingly over the top theme song sung by Taylor Dane.  
If the film has a flaw, it is that it is content with being "good enough" as opposed to really aiming for the bleachers.  There are cool moments throughout but the story comes off as rather flat and arbitrary, especially in the finale where the film sort of just goes through the paces.  Also, apart from John Lone and Alec Baldwin, none of the other actors make much of an impression.  The acting is serviceable but not great.  It's not that the film lacks ambition.  It's just that it reigns in its ambition when letting loose might have been a better idea.  It's a good movie to watch on a warm summer afternoon that could have been even better.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

My Favorite Era: Missing in Action 2: The Beginning (1985)

Missing in Action 2: The Beginning (1985)

This is probably the worst movie I will cover in this series but there are a few good reasons I wanted to highlight it.  First of all, the film is just hilariously bad with a grimy look, bad acting and pacing that makes you think you're in a "Groundhog Day" type scenario.  Second, since I already covered one of the "good" Cannon sequels when I did American Ninja 2, I thought it only fair that I take on one of their stinkers... Plus I wanted to toss in another Chuck Norris movie and this one fit the bill.  It's going to be a quick, dirty ride.  Let's take a closer look.
  • First off, a little background.  Even though this was marketed as the second Missing in Action film, it was intended to be the first.  Both films were shot back to back and after taking a good look at them, it was decided to release the second one first as it was better.  Given that what ended up being the first one isn't exactly earth-shattering (though it's not that bad and as an overall film is much better than this one), that isn't exactly reassuring.
  •  To get the plot out of the way, it tells the story of Colonel James Braddock (Big bad Chuck) and his escape from a POW camp in Vietnam.  It was alluded to in the first film and here we get to see it in all its glory.  Your mileage may vary on how much glory there is.
  • Right off the bat we get an idea of what we're in for just with the overall picture quality.  The first film was shot rather nicely by genre vet Joseph Zito who has generally always tried to make his films look good.  In the case of the first one, even though the budget probably wasn't too large, it still looked slick and reasonably expensive.
  • This film, however, has a sort of grimy grindhouse quality to it.  The colors are somewhat faded, the overall aesthetic makes the film look cheap and tawdry (which it is) and I can only imagine what seeing this on the big screen must have been like.  I'm guessing a pressing need to take a shower afterwards was a possibility.
  • That being said, the overall look does add to the film to a degree as you can really see the sweat coming off of everybody.  It gives the film a real gritty feel that is about the only thing apart from the final scene that truly works.
  • The main problem the film has is that for the first fifty minutes or so, it laps itself at least three or four times.  We will get lots of shots of Braddock and his men suffering while their captor, camp leader Colonel Yin (Soon-Tek Oh) delivers slimy, menacing dialogue which will be followed by some horrific atrocity like putting a rat in a bag and placing it over a guy's head.  This happens almost continuously for the first half and change, to the point where recapping it is just an exercise in repetition.
  • Needless to say, Chuck Norris is given very little to outside of making defiant speeches to the bad guy, fighting and killing.  In that regard, he does fairly well for himself.  Steven Williams is also pretty good as Nestor, a fellow soldier who has chosen to cooperate in order to have some measure of comfort.   Naturally, he goes back to the good guys towards the end and gets shot up real good.  Not so good is the always fun to see Toru Tanaka as a guard.  He.. Well, he doesn't do jack shit, sadly.  Still, it was a payday for him so there is that.
  • While the acting is pretty atrocious all the way around, there is one shining light and that is Soon-Tek Oh as the evil Colonel.  Actually, I'm understating things a bit.  He's not evil, he's EEEVIIILLL!  I swear, the man hams it up to a remarkable degree.  He has one or two moments where he nearly reaches "Raul Julia in Street Fighter" levels.  His first speech has him actually doing the "milking the giant cow" hand motion.  The man knows exactly how crappy the movie he is acting in is and he is hell bent on giving any poor bastard watching it at least something to enjoy while the film laps itself for nearly an hour.
  • Things pick up around the 53 minute mark as Braddock finally begins his escape.  The action is pretty damn good, nicely brutal to match the rest of the film.  Granted, not a hell of a lot in the way of focus but it's still Chuck Norris doing what he does best, lots of stuff blows up and plenty of soldiers get killed so there is that.
  • Not for nothing, but the film at least gives the viewer a rousing ending.  After fifty minutes of depressing torment and unpleasantness (though you have to see Chuck vs. a rat in a bag to believe it, it goes pretty much how you would expect) and thirty minutes of setup/random action, we are treated to a really good, extended fight between Braddock and Colonel Yin.  It's a little more even a match than one would guess but it does quickly degenerate into Braddock basically beating the guy to the point where he can barely move.  It's a fine ending for a really good villain.  Blowing up his hut as the credits roll is just the icing on the cake.
Missing in Action 2 is actually pretty damn watchable for the most part, though you do need a strong stomach and a lot of patience to get through the first fifty three minutes.  It is sort of a slog to get through but it's all so cheesy and over the top that you have to laugh at how earnest it is in its technique.  Once the action kicks in, it's quite enjoyable and the final fight is quite good.  Overall, it's not one of Cannon's best, or Chuck Norris' for that matter.  Still worth it for the laughs.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Top 10 Lists: 2005/2008

We finish the first round of lists off with 2005 and 2008, two of my favorites.  Let's begin with 2008.

10. Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

I admit this isn't anywhere as good as the first three but it's still not as horrid as some make it out to be.  Fun action, decent cast, really all I ask for from this franchise is to be entertained and it does that just fine.

9. Tropic Thunder

I generally don't care much for Ben Stiller but this satire of movie making is quite funny with a great cast and some hysterical lines.

8. Rambo

In general, you can;t go wrong with an overly serious Stallone.  Here, he says farewell to his other iconic role as Rambo goes to work one more time.  Brutal action, way too serious for its own good, classic Stallone.

7. Punisher: War Zone

Equally over the top but way more fun is this take on the Marvel Comics vigilante.  I love this one, so bad and yet so great.

6. Quantum of Solace

Daniel Craig's second outing as James Bond isn't quite as good as his first or third but it;s still a fine action movie that works quite well.

5. Burn After Reading

The Coen Brothers strike gold again with this wonderfully dark comedy.  Great cast, some nice shocks and a very dry sense of humor make this one a real winner.

4. Frost/Nixon

The best thing Ron Howard has done in years.  I really dug this one, especially Frank Langella's take on Nixon.

3. The Ruins

Not too many saw this horror film and it's a damn shame because it's one of the better monster movies to come out in a long time.  Tense, slickly made and nicely brutal in places, it's got a great menace and an overall fun tone.

2. The Dark Knight

Heath Ledger is the best reason to see this one.  Hell, his take on The Joker alone makes it one of the best of the year.  The fact that he can make you forget the rather stupid Batman voice and the slipshod way the Two-Face  plot is handled is an achievement in itself.

1. Iron Man

The best superhero film of the year is this one, though.  Fast, funny and entertaining as all hell with great work from Robert Downey Jr. and Jeff Bridges.  I had a real blast with this one.

And to finish, 2005.

10. Double Dare

Really fun, interesting documentary about the stunt industry as told through the eyes of two stuntwomen: Jeannie Epper and Zoe Bell.  I love a god documentary and this is just plain great.

9. The Devil's Rejects

Didn't care for Rob Zombie's first film, House of 1,000 Corpses but the sequel is quite good with a nice pair of performances from Sig Haig and Bill Moseley.

8. King Kong

Peter Jackson's follow-up is a loving tribute to the original (maybe too much) with a decent cast and great f/x.  It's not his best, but it would seem that he is one of those guys who can deliver no matter what.

7. Batman Begins

Batman gets a reboot in this decent flick that suffers only from being a little too long and serious for its own good.  That being said, when it gets going it really soars.  Great cast too.

6. A History of Violence

David Cronenberg's best film not to have exploding heads or Jeff Goldblum slowly turning into a giant fly.  The man has always been a good director but here he really shines.

5. The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

I really enjoy this adaptation of the Douglas Adams novel.  Shame it didn't do better.  It's actually quite good.

4. Land of the Dead

George Romero's fourth entry in his zombie series is essentially a low budget 80's action movie with zombies.  Nice low-key Dennis Hopper performance, good f/x from KNB and the heavy handed stuff is kept to a minimum.

3. Constantine

This one is surprisingly good as Keanu Reeves delivers a different take on the Hellblazer comic.  He's actually quite good in the role (it generally helps when he doesn't have to emote in a part too much) and the film itself is a fun ride.

2. Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang

 A really nice surprise came with this one as not only did we get a fun, entertaining detective film but it also signaled the happy return of Robert Downey Jr. to the land of gainful, sober employment.  He's great in this and the rest of the film is equally good.

1. The Aristocrats

The list ends as it began, with a documentary.  I'm a huge fan of stand-up comedy and this brilliant look at the ultimate dirty joke is absorbing, fascinating and hysterically funny.  Not for the easily offended, it's about as vulgar a comedy as you could ever hope to find.  It is also damned brilliant.

That does it for the first round of top ten lists.  More to come after I wrap up the My Favorite Era series.

Top 10 Lists: 2010/2011

Another double feature of years, this time 2010 and 2011!

2010 was a very solid year with good stuff all around, plus one or two surprises.

10. Red

Bruce Willis heads up this surprisingly fun adaptation of a DC Comics graphic novel about a retired spy who a bunch of bad guys decided to screw with.  Needless to say, this is a very bad idea and the end result is a fast, funny, silly action comedy with a great cast.  Ever wanted to see classically trained Helen Mirren as an absolutely bad ass assassin?  You will after seeing this.

9. Troll Hunter

This is maybe the only found footage film I've seen that I genuinely love.  A Norwegian film about a few students who end up falling in with a lone hunter who goes after trolls.  Great f/x, a fine sense of humor and best of all, none of that "Oh, we just missed something cool because the guy holding the camera turned just too late" crap you tend to get from time to time in this subgenre.

8. The Town

Decent thriller from Ben Affleck with a solid cast script and pacing.

7. The A-Team

Surprisingly fun adaptation of one of m,y favorite shows of the 80's.  About as good as it could have been once they decided it should be an origin story but it's still a fun, stupid action film.

6. Predators

More throwback fun with this Robert Rodriguez produced action fest that does a fine job of making the viewer forget those two awful Alien vs. Predator films.  It's not perfect but it gets the job done just fine.

5. Inception

Another fantastic Christopher Nolan thriller, this time Leonardo DiCaprio heads a team of folks who infiltrate dreams.  Naturally, mayhem ensues in this fascinating movie.

4. The King's Speech

Damn fine drama that ended up winning Best Picture with a great cast and script.

3. Shutter Island

Love this Martin Scorsese thriller as he delivers a fun, entertaining psychological thriller with the usual great cast.  Good adaptation of the book.

2. The Expendables

Great throwback to cheesy 80's action with a little bit of overly earnest seriousness courtesy of Stallone who also directed and wrote the script.  While the second film is probably a more pure expression of 80's action, the somewhat overstated seriousness makes this one more of a pure Stallone 80's action movie.  Great stuff.

1. Survival of the Dead

I was genuinely shocked by how much I loved this one.  I wasn't overly fond of Romero's previous entry in the series, Diary of the Dead but this is just plain fun.  Fast paced, funny and while Romero lays the message on thick as usual, his approach is much more palatable than in the previous entry.  Just a good, solid movie.

Like I said, solid and surprising.  Now for 2011, not quite as good but still solid.

10. Hobo with a Shotgun

Rutger Hauer is good in this deliriously over the top vigilante film that goes as far as it can, and then a little further.  It doesn't really sustain itself as well as it could towards the end but it's still worth seeing if you have a strong stomach.

9. Paul

Simon Pegg and Nick Frost team up again for this entertaining sci-fi comedy about a couple of nerds and an alien.  Good, solid humor.

8. Rise of the Planet of the Apes

I never would have guessed this would be good after the hilariously bad Tim Burton 2001 remake but damn it if this one didn't end up being good.  Great work from Andy Serkis and a fine sc4ript make this one of the nicer surprises of the year.

7. Corman's World

A solid, loving tribute to one of the b-movie greats.

6. Insidious

James Wan directs this very good, very scary horror film that only falters in the last few minutes when the main character gets a case of the stupids.  Regardless, this one is quite good.

5. Captain America: The First Avenger

Marvel continues to build to The Avengers with this entry and the next one on the list.  Captain America was never my favo4rite but this version is quite entertaining with decent action and fun performances.

4. Thor

Even better is Thor which gives us an even better cast, really good action and amazingly enough takes one of the sillier Marvel heroes and grounds him a little.

3. Drive Angry

More Nicolas Cage insanity with this gonzo action/horror movie.  It's not exactly good, but it does have a flair.  Definitely falls in the so bad its good category, but for this year it's good enough for the list.

2. X-Men: First Class

Another nice surprise as the X-Men franchise gets a boost with this fun, solid origin story that keeps the fun action and dumps the heavy handed crap for the most part.

1. Mission: Impossible: Ghost Protocol

My current favorite cheeseball action franchise (though The Expendables is more fun) tops the list with this really, really good entry that features some great action.  A stronger villain would have been nice but this is still a damn fine movie.

And that's 2010 and 2011.

About Me

I've been a huge fan of action, horror and comedy for as long as I can remember.