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Action

Epicenter (2000) – Review

1/2 Star

The tagline for Epicenter reads, “The Quake is only half the battle” which is inaccurate considering that the big shake doesn’t occur until an hour into this ninety minute groan-fest. In reality the earthquake is apparently only one-third of the battle, this is an exceedingly boring release from the usually reliable pairing of B-Movie maestro Richard Pepin and English kickboxing champ turned action hero Gary Daniels.
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Daredevil (2003) – Review

3 Stars

Editor’s Note: This review is for Daredevil-The Director’s Cut, which runs for 133 minutes. Daredevil is like a distant-cousin to the beloved Spiderman and owes more than a bit to Batman. Cinematically the picture mixes in film noir, particularly in its very good opening act and then settles into the well-worn pattern of its heavily populated genre. This is the second icon from the Marvel universe currently roaming the streets of modern-day New York, though this interpretation envisions the city stained with a slimy green hue that The Matrix made so popular.
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Cutaway (2000) – Review

1 1/2 Stars

Cut-away is a skydiving term referring to disconnecting the main parachute in case of a malfunction so that the reserve parachute can be deployed. It is also a slang-term used to describe, freeing oneself from all life’s responsibilities and turning themselves over to being a skydiving fanatic. Following in the worn pathways of Point Break, Drop Zone, Terminal Velocity, and of course The Fast and Furious films, Cutaway is structured and assembled with a slavish devotion to those previous titles. The main redeeming factor of the picture is showcasing some beautiful aerial footage of real-life divers and the amazing feats they accomplish 15,000 feet in the air.
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Escape Plan (2013) – Review

3 1/2 Stars

Escape Plan is exactly the kind of kick-ass, throwback that The Expendables should have been. Faithful readers will recognize my biased opinions of Stallone and Schwarzenegger movies. I grew up in the age of the action-hero/one-man-army flicks and there were no screen idols larger than these two mesomorphs. I begrudgingly gave two Expendables films modest recommendations, but that was also given with a smudge of sentimentality. There is no need for sugar-coating or coaxing here, as Escape Plan is a success on its own terms with an ideal showcase for the strengths of both its leads.
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Sharky’s Machine (1981) – Review

3 Stars

Reynolds’ mega watt charisma is on full display all throughout Sharky’s Machine, an entertaining and hard-edged police thriller. The one-time box-office champion of the world turns in a relaxed, yet rugged performance in the lead and does an equally fine job behind the camera in addition. Set in Atlanta Georgia during a political convention, recently demoted Sargent Sharky is now working the vice squad. A top priority from the brass above is to clear the streets of hookers and ticket cab drivers not wearing their uniform hats. Its mindless work for the former beat cop, who is use to shoot-outs and car chases. However things change when he arrests a street-walker who turns on her pimp. Leading to the exposure of a criminal ring that implicates a mayoral candidate, the police force and important mob figures.
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Extreme Justice (1993) – Review

3 Stars

An official unit working under the protection of the LAPD consisting of ten men, all highly decorated officers with a habit for disciplinary trouble are recruited to take down the worst offenders in the city. The squad performs its violent duties without interference from internal affairs investigations and media reporting. The death squad known as the S.I.S. division aka Special Investigation Services is led by veteran detective Dan Vaughn (Scott Glenn) and a rogues gallery of fellow officer/killers.
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Solo (1996) – Review

1 1/2 Stars

Mario Van Peebles’ brief bid as an action attraction peaked with this Rambo meets Terminator hybrid. Saddled with an unproven director in Norberto Barba, and laced with an uproariously derivative screenplay that is improbably taken from a novel, Solo is on its own in terms of down-right awfulness. The most clever moment in the entire screenplay, is a scene in which the robot solider chooses a shaved head look to appear, “Like Mike”. When a Michael Jordan reference is the highpoint of creativity in a Sci-Fi/Action thriller, than you know you’re in trouble.
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The Bodyguard (1992) – Review

3 Stars

The Bodyguard may seem dated and rather ordinary today but back in the time of its release it was a colossal blockbuster. Costner coming off a string of critical and commercial successes is the bodyguard of the title Frank Framer, a role that was originated for Steve McQueen before his passing, and he is tasked with protecting a beautiful, ultra famous pop star. The singer, Rachel Marrron (Whitney Houston) is initially unaware that she is receiving death threats and that recently someone has broken into her mansion and self-satisfied themselves on her bed. Rachel resents the overly cautious Frank and his constant meddling in her established routines. Before long the two are thrust into a romantic relationship that will test the boundaries of their care for one another.
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The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012) – Review

3 Stars

Peter Jackson’s return to middle-earth is a wondrous film that is full of the magnificent visuals fans have come accustomed to and a much lighter tone that will enthrall younger viewers. Needlessly padded out over three hours, this overlong tale is a bit too much of a good thing, plucked down to a lean two hours this would have been the breakneck adventure of the year. In its current form The Hobbit still qualifies as great entertainment but the sprawling and sometime laborious running-time will turn off some potential viewers.
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Someone to Watch Over Me (1987) – Review

1 Star

Ridley Scott is credited as director on the erotic crime thriller Someone to Watch Over Me and yet, outside of a few shots that feature billows of fog and nice cars I can’t detect the guiding hand of Scott in a single frame of this lackluster movie. Featuring two of the most bland characters to ever appear in a noir thriller and brought to life by Tom Berenger and Mimi Rogers, two actors that have zero chemistry with one another. These disastrous mixing of awkward elements creates, not surprisingly the worst film to ever emerge from the talented Ridley Scott. The problem may be with the iconic british helmer himself, his ponderous and heavy-handed approach to the simple material overwhelms the story, until it results in a case of style outshining subject.
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Out of Bounds (1986) – Review

1 Star

Anthony Michael Hall’s bid to become an action hero circa 1986 is clearly the concept behind Out of Bounds, a inept thriller that contains not a single thrill or moment of originality. This is one of the dumbest pictures from a decade known for bad movies. There have to be at least a dozen instances where the hero could solve all his problems by making logical decisions, but instead he continues to defy reasoning and believability while quickly developing an increasing set of street smarts.
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The Lone Ranger (2013) – Review

3 Stars

The Lone Ranger is exactly what you’d expect from a summertime release by uber-producer Jerry Brucheimer, the man behind Top Gun, Beverly Hills and the Pirates quadriolgy, its loud, over-long, and immensely entertaining. Yes, the second act is rather lumbering and the narrative device, it’s self a parody of Little Big Man, can either be viewed as clever or clumsy. Pirates helmer Gore Verbinski is once again behind the camera and he’s assembled a great cast including William Fichtner, Tom Wilkinson, Barry Pepper in supporting roles and top-lined by Johnny Depp, who finds another variation on the aloof warrior he perfected with Jack Sparrow. Tonto (Depp) is a much deep character who carries around a burning vengeance and undying guilt over the slaughtering of his tribe 20 years earlier.
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Lone Survivor (2013) – Review

4 Stars

Rebounding in spectacular fashion from the dismal naval themed Hasbro tie-in bomb Battleship, director Peter Berg and his top-notch cast deliver one of 2013′s best films. Taken from the first hand account of the failed mission Operation Red Wings in June of 2005, the gripping and thunderously intense tale is constantly involving and mercifully short at just under two hours. Having read the book by Marcus Luttrell, played here by a superb Mark Wahlberg, I was not quite sure what to expect from the ‘Hollywood’-ization by Berg and his cast of pretty boys. I’ll eat my words, as Lone Survivor the movie is as intense as the source material that inspired it. I loved this film, not only is it the most outstanding movie to deal with the Afghan conflict to date, but it is also one of the greatest war films ever made, period.
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The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (2013) – Review

4 Stars

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug is the best of the years’ blockbusters. This is the ideal mixture of commercial and artistic storytelling. After 14 years I’ve finally succumbed to the Tolkien/Jackson phenomenon, and Smaug in no small part has been the catalyst for this (late to the game) convert. I realized at about the thirty minute mark that I like Martin Freeman a whole lot more than the intensely eyed Elijah Wood, who carried the look of someone caught between happy and sad through three monotonous films. While this is a darker toned chapter, as has been the case for part two of any trilogy since Empire set the precedent in 1980, Desolation of Smaug is still funnier, more action packed and overall far more warm and cheerful than any installment in the previous Lord of the Rings trilogy.

After an initial flashback sequence, the narrative picks up directly where the first story ended. Avoiding the clutches of an evil vengeance minded Orc king, Bilbo Baggins and his pack of thirteen dwarf warriors including Thorin Oakenshield, rightful heir to a kingdom of riches currently lorded over by a vicious fire-spewing dragon, continue their quest through enchanted landscapes. Making time for stops in a twisted magical forest and escaping imprisonment by the Elf king, the broad of dwarfs and their nibble footed hobbit companion steadily proceed on their mission to reclaim the throne of Erebor.

A complainant can be lobbied than Ian Mckellan’s majestic wizard Gandolf the great, an ever-present figure in the last picture, is sidelined in this outing in favor for some newly created characters, courtesy of Jackson and his screenwriting team. I have heard Rings pundits cry afoul that an elf/dwarf love angle is close to trampling on sacrament. In reality it adds an otherwise missing emotional heartbeat to what late film critic Roger Ebert use to describe as ‘a bruised forearm movie’. He rationed that by the end of such a movie, your forearm would be black and blue from your date clutching it through the nonstop intense moments. I can assure you that The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug fits that description accurately, and for the first time ever I can say, I’m looking forward to the next Hobbit movie.

Director: Peter Jackson
Stars: Martin Freeman, Luke Evans, Orlando Bloom

Darkman II: The Return of Durant (1995) – Review

2 Stars

Darkman II tries to be rise above its modest roots and obvious budgetary shortcomings, and nearly succeeds until the realization that not much has happened on-screen, sets in. The first thirty minutes are well handled and the story appears to be unfolding in a satisfactory manner, until the plot mechanics kick in and the film goes on auto-pilot. To be fair this is a stripped down sequel that was intended for the direct-to-video market and the craftsmanship is on the level, but this isn’t a story worth telling.

The original was directed by Sam Raimi, when his long gestating Shadow reboot was shelved he penned the script to the off-beat superhero/horror/action film. Darkman II has wisely incorporated some of the mischievous energy into sequences and this is when the film plays best. Larry Drake has inexplicably survived the events of the first film and what looked to be a fiery death, to return as Robert G. Durant, a crime-boss with a panache for cutting off fingers as trophies. Director of Photography Bradford May is behind the camera and simultaneously handles the directing chores, he acquits himself nicely and has chosen a winner in casting Arnold Vosloo as the title character.

Payton Westlake/Darkman (Vosloo) is on the verge of discovering the scientific key to making him whole again. Teaming with a brilliant doctor, the two have almost cracked the key to a formula that with enable a skin like texture to remain intact for 175 minutes, before breaking down. This clearly surpasses the 99 minute barrier, which has plagued Westlake for nearly 3000 attempts. The facility where the pair conduct their research is a an old electrical warehouse, Durant intends to buy the property to use the electricity as a battery station for a new dangerous weapon he is manufacturing. Unwilling to evacuate, the doctor is murdered and Westlake soon realizes his nemesis Durant is not dead. Leading to a showdown between the physically and psychologically scared Darkman and the kingpin, who is now determined to be the ultimate ruler of the underworld.

Darkman II: The Return of Durant is an expected step down in quality form the original. Yet, as far as direct -to-vid- follow ups go, it ranks on the upper rungs. Depending on your exposure to the genre, that might not be saying much. The re-use of Danny Elfman’s musical cues and themes are a great reminder of the man’s talents.

Director: Bradford May
Stars: Arnold Vosloo, Larry Drake, Kim Delany