The Beauty of Film: Punisher: War Zone

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Punisher: War Zone — Steve Gainer (cinematographer) & Lexi Alexander (director).


It took me so long to find this picture. You would think that Punisher: War Zone rocket launcher would get it, but no way. In the end I found this gem with “ray stevenson punisher war zone parkour”. Totally worth it and you are welcome. 2008.

Furious 7

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Pre-review rant: Fast & Furious 6 was Furious 6, and thus this movie should not be called Furious 7 since that would break their naming pattern. This ignores how syntactically difficult this series has already been.

    1. The Fast and the Furious — Fine, we have article adjective conjunction article adjective. Great.
    2. 2 Fast 2 Furious — Lamely awesome. This is Die Hard 2: Die Harder level awesome. It is a play on words AND numbers! Boom. Numeral adjective numeral adjective. Different, but a logical progression.
    3. The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift — Huge missed opportunity with not using 3 Fast 3 Furious. It’s a movie series about street racing tough guys, having a name that on some level doesn’t make is totally fine. Original formula colon adjective noun. — Not a good deviation because it broke the pattern.
    4. Fast & Furious — this is the same name as the first movie minus the articles. Were this a remake of 1, then this name is appropriate. As the fourth movie it should not be called this. It does tie together 1 & 2 by kind of being 2 minus the 2’s. Minimalist and has the same two words that all of the other movies have had.
    5. Fast 5 — Now we have thrown the only remaining rule out the damn window and jumped back to numbers after skipping two of them! Adjective numeral. There is only way to redeem this choice…
    6. Furious 6 Fast & Furious 6 — WHAT/!?!?!?! They literally changed the name of the movie after it was released! This is format of movie 4 + 6.
    7. Furious 7 — It is now too late to do what should have been done in 6. They better name the next one The 8 and the 8. Followed by 9 & 9. Other option is to go with The Fast 8 & Furious: <insert some location based driving term>. Rant over.



I came so close to giving this movie 3 stars. It has so much going for it. It truly made me feel human emotions because of the death of one of its stars—Paul Walker. They handled it so well. AND it added Jason Statham to the mix. He was great. He is just a phenomenally talented actor who should have to make one movie per year with Dwayne Johnson.


Statham (Deckard Shaw)! Dwayne Johnson (Hobbs)! Together at last in Furious 7!

Now, in every movie review I include a quotation. In fact, my proto-blog from http://www.grinnellplans.com followed this format:

<Movie Name> – *s – “Quotation”

And that was it. I would occasionally give a paragraph, but it really was just a log. I mention this because it is the process of rifling through the quotes on imdb for this movie that reminded me why I could not give this 3 stars. There are 45 quotes listed, but I will not make cite all 45, nor provide 45 criticisms. It does seem like a fun device though, right?

Ramsey (Nathalie Emmanuel): I didn’t trust them. I trust you. — They even call her on this being illogical and she says she knows enough. I mean, they put her in the position for the picture below, what’s not to trust?!


Ramsey being “rescued” in The Furious 7.

Letty (Michelle Rodriguez): Why didn’t you tell me we were married? — Soap opera much? Yes, this is amnesia based.

Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel): I don’t have friends, I got family. — While he does have a sister and niece, he also has friends. This is a categorically incorrect statement. And dumb.

Brian O’Conner (Walker): Cars can’t fly, Dom, cars can’t fly! — This is an actual quote from an editor while reading this script.

Hobbs: After you dig through 38 feet of concrete and steel, my fist and a body bag will be waiting for you on the other side. Until then, you better start digging. — Now that’s what I’m talking about! Macho posturing between Johnson and Statham made this movie worth watching.

Mia (Jordana Brewster): I’m sorry I didn’t tell you before, I was scared you would be disappointed with domestic life. — George Lucas level dialogue right there.

Sean Boswell (Lucas Black): If you get the guy who did this to Han, what are you gonna do? — Answer, fight him but I will have forgotten why. Seriously, halfway through the movie I forgot that it had anything to do with Han.

Dominic Toretto: The thing about street fights… the street always wins. — The thing about basketball games is that basketball courts always win. That botched cliché is…Gary Marshall Level Bad! Haven’t gotten to use that in a long time.


Are those dual wielded extra long wrenches? Yes. Four of them, in fact.

Safar (Ali Fazal): You drove a car through 2 buildings. — Dumb. Cool, but just so dumb. It was like they watched the unrealistic scenes in MI: Ghost Protocol and tried to come up with something less realistic to do in Dubai.

Deckard Shaw: Hold this. — He says this after handing a security guard or someone a grenade. Fine, he’s a murderous jerk…but this is after he tells his comatose brother to get better and how he will get revenge. Shaw then turns to cowering medical staff and tells them to take great care of his brother. I question the logic in blowing up parts of the hospital where your brother is receiving care. It is kind of a mixed message.

Kara (Ronda Rousey): Thank God you showed up. These parties bore me to death.  Ronda Rousey is in this movie! Why? Because of course she is.

Roman (Tyrese Gibson): First a tank, then a plane, now we got a spaceship? — It is just a drone but remember how Machete Kills opens with a fake trailer for Machete 3 in space and then actually sets up having the third movie in outer space? Yeah, I am saying Fast 8 & The Furious: Escape Velocity. Prove me right, Universal.

Ramsey: Life is binary: zero and ones. Only two things keep a group like this together; fear or loyalty – and I don’t see a drop of fear amongst you guys. — Like deer crossing an interstate, they may be too dumb to fear until it is too late. Just kidding! None of them will ever get hurt or lose a fight again! It is actually contractual for the main cast that none of them lose a fight. Now that makes for compelling cinema!

Dominic Toretto: Don’t miss. — Presumably Dom says this to Hobbs who has a big gun, but Dom says this while flying in the air in his car as he throws a belt of grenades onto a helicopter for Hobbs to shoot.


That is the above referenced “big gun”. I believe that is called a “mini gun”. Ironic name.

Gisele (Gal Gadot): — 13th billed in this ensemble film and her one on screen appearance comes in the form a photograph. Why was she not in this movie BUT STILL CREDITED!?

So that sums up the movie. A series of arbitrary bits, some of which are totally awesome but mostly the daydreams of a 14 year old. I would put the film on par with Fast 5, but this is still not a good movie. It is awe inspiring and spectacular but the viewer might want to have a few drinks in order to not get caught up in the plot holes and lack of logic. Still, thank you world for giving me Statham & Johnson together at last.


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And I thought you came here to die.


Christoph Waltz? as ?? in Spectre.

There were times when I wondered if this were going to be an homage to On Her Majesty’s Secret Service and dammit I was right! I also thought it might be Skyfall 2 and I was right again! Or maybe put better, Spectre takes the first three Daniel Craig movies and applies that lens to On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.


The Alpine rehab center in Spectre.

Is it a spoiler if it’s a remake? I mean, the events I would reference happened 46 years ago!¹ Okay, I feel like it is safe to talk about that beautiful building on top of a mountain in the Alps that you can reach by tram. The Spectre board room is back! To find the villain Bond needs the help of an outlaw and his (hesitant) daughter! There are similar emotional connections as in this film…and I cannot do it! Read the other review if you want more information…


The Alpine treatment center in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.

Continuing onward to the Daniel Craig Bond movies, the theme song, as in Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace, does not use the title of the film. Quantum/Spectre has fragile highly flammable buildings. Somehow Mr. White–Jesper Christensen–is back for a third movie.  Bond goes off mission again. This is the longest Bond movie because Skyfall was the longest before this one, so of course Sam Mendes made an even longer one. Other members of MI-6 wind up fighting and not just Bond. There is a beautiful Bond girl² who gets used for flirtation, then information, and is then gone from the movie. Frustratingly this time that woman is portrayed by the fabulous Monica Bellucci—Sylvia in The Brotherhood of the Wolf—and her story has no resolution. Do the assassins get her? Is she glad that she talked to Bond?

But how do those facts, trends, opinions, and questions affect the overall quality? I think that they will bother some people. Other people might be amused or feel nostalgic about these connections. Most people will just see explosions and long action sequences between lots of spy talking and drinking. Probably people will have the identical reaction they had to Skyfall when they watch it. Unless they are the type of people who loved The Hangover and then hated The Hangover Part II for containing all of the same elements they loved without a sufficient changeAs a reviewer I deducted half a point from Part II because it lacked the groundbreaking originality of the first one, but Skyfall was one of the least original movies I can think of. Thus I did not fault Spectre for its lack of originality and accordingly did not deduct that half point.

Post Script — Bond movies are not like other movies for me. If I see 22 of the 24 movies on TV I am not only stopping on it, but I am probably DVRing it. When I checked On Demand today for Roger Moore movies and EPIX had at least five of them I was both excited and frustrated because I had to pick just one to put on. I want to watch Live and Let Die with Megan (my fiancée)…but she was not home, nor can she be relied upon to agree to watch that movie, so I put it on. I did not finish it though. Is Live and Let Die deeply flawed? Absolutely. But I would rather address its flaws and enjoy it than put on a better non-Bond movie. I gave Never Say Never Again 3 stars while tearing it apart because it was still awesome as a non canonical Bond movie!

¹ It’s moot because knowing these things does not detract from the enjoyment of the film, in the same way Star Trek Into Darkness works fine knowing that Benedict Cumberbatch is Khan. I mean, there is the awesome, “yeah!” moment when you get to the point in the film that it gets revealed because that name has such power to Star Trek fans. In the same way there is one name with that meaning for Bond. So now you either know it, and thus any spoiling has already happened, or do not know it, in which case saying the name will mean nothing.

² The Podcast James Bonding has coined the term “Bond-genue” in lieu of “Bond girl” and I think that is less sexist. Like Bond + ingenue. You have to say it outloud for it to make sense. Clever, right?

The Hunt for Red October

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Russians don’t take a dump, son, without a plan. Now that is a quote that is applicable in so many situations. My other favorite quotation is much less useful, since it offends whomever you address, You arrogant ass, you’ve killed us!

The late Fred Thompson in The Hunt for Red October.

The late Fred Thompson in The Hunt for Red October.

I was shocked to realize that I had not rated/reviewed this film. It is one of my favorites and one I have seen at least four times since I started logging my viewing. I could probably write 500-600 words on this easily, but I doubt I would convince many people to change their minds twenty five years after this film’s glorious release.

Thus my review is that the music (Basil Pouledaris) is amazing. The acting is amazing. The story is amazing. The cinematography is amazing. The number of women in the film is amazing, by which I mean it’s really only Gates McFadden–Dr. Beverly Crusher from “Star Trek: The Next Generation”–for one scene. I could excuse this because it’s about the CIA and US Government and US and Soviet Navies, but excusing present sexism because of past sexism is weak sauce. That criticism aside, I love this film and can only hope that it gets remade with an all-female cast, but then I will probably hate it for not being as good as the original, because remakes almost never live up to the originals.

Here is a complete list of all remakes that lived up to the originals (I excluded re-adaptations like The Quiet American, nor TV shows Miami Vice, and but did include a few unofficial remakes, because otherwise I had so few movies):

  • A Fistful of Dollars—Clint Eastwood’s first movie with Ennio Morricone, oops, I mean Sergio Leone, which is a remake of Akira Kurosawa’s Yojimbo with Toshiro Mifune.
  • Snatch—Not officially a remake of Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, but it certainly feels like one.
  • The Good, The Bad, The Weird—Again, probably not an official remake so much as an homage, but this is a hard freaking list to make, okay?
  • Fist of Legend—I just reviewed this Jet Li classic remake of Bruce Lee’s classic The Chinese Connection.
  • Bad News Bears—Billy Bob Thornton does a good job with the whole Walter Matthau role.
  • The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3—Denzel Washington does a very different job with the whole Walter Matthau role.
  • True Grit—Jeff Bridges or John Wayne, take your pick.
  • Insomnia—Al Pacino or Stellan Skarsgård, take your pick.
  • Maleficent—Live action Sleeping Beauty, from the fairy’s perspective.

The Beauty of Film: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

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The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (originally, Il buono, il brutto, il cattivo) — Tonino Delli Colli (cinematographer) & Sergio Leone (director).

Tuco (Eli Wallach) takes aim, in 1966's The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.

Tuco (Eli Wallach) takes aim, in 1966’s The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.

12 Years a Slave

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Because the law states that your liberties are undeniable? Because society deems it so? Laws change. Social systems crumble. Universal truths are constant. It is a fact, it is a plain fact that what is true and right is true and right for all. White and Black alike.

Brad Pitt as Bass, 12 Years a Slave, © 2013 Twentieth Century Fox.

Brad Pitt as Bass, 12 Years a Slave, © 2013 Twentieth Century Fox.

We are truly blessed to live in a society in a time when the vast majority of us live without slavery and without the fear of impending death. I believe that we reached this point through the blood of patriots and innocents alike. At the same time, with each year removed from the passing of the 13th Amendment and the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s, we increasingly take things for granted and allow myth to replace history. The great thing about this film is that its acumen made me feel like I was watching the true life tragedy of Solomon Northrup. It used art to reinvigorate history.

Chiwetel Ejiofor as Solomon Northrup in 12 Years a Slave.

Chiwetel Ejiofor as Solomon Northrup in 12 Years a Slave.

I had the DVD from Netflix for this film for approximately 9 months before I finally watched it. As the winner of the Best Picture Academy Award, what kept me from putting in such an acclaimed film with a cast of actors whom I loved? You might expect me to say white guilt, but I do not think that was the deterrent. For me, watching depressing movies comes at the perceived cost of ruining my evening. In reality, great movies rarely prevent me from enjoying the rest of my night even as much as mundane technological failures do. But I never choose to have my iPhone start to break, or for Microsoft Word to crash, whereas I have to actually choose to wade into the chilly water to watch a tragedy. When I can jump into a pool—with people who want to watch it in a theater—that comes easier than cold water slowly splashing up my body. I am really enjoying this metaphor, so I will say that this film my body never adjusted to the temperature. In a way similar to The Hurt Locker, fear gripped me almost every scene . Even when conditions seemed non-life threatening, the anxiety was there. To call it paranoia would be inappropriate since the only one I knew would survive the film was Solomon Northrup—Chiwetel Ejiofor, the Operative from Serenity. But why should I feel his fear? I was safe on a couch in Albany, NY. Of course that is only 30 miles from Saratoga, where Northrup seemed safe too.

In addition to Ejiofor, every other actors was great. Well cast by Francine Maisler–The Usual Suspects–and directed by Steve McQueen, for which he was nominated by both the Academy and Hollywood Foreign Press. Fassbender–great. Giamatti–awful as a human being, thus great. Cumberbatch–delightfully flawed and un-Holmesian. Sarah Paulson–believably wretched. Lupita Nyong’o–justifiably won the Oscar for best supporting actress. Even Paul Dano has stuck with me for his evil and his memorable singing voice.

Now if you will permit me a moment to play both social critic and soothsayer, I believe that some day there will be a film made about the awful prison conditions in our country. How we have overcrowded detention facilities that racist laws have filled to overflowing. All stemming from capitalists try to get rich off the suffering of the convicted. If our cinema stays true to itself, some old story will be used and the timing will make it seem like a commentary on current conditions, like the prior year’s Oscar best picture winner, Argo.


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Mark Wahlberg is like 150 pounds! I’m 250 lean – I look like Mark Wahlberg *ate* Mark Wahlberg!

Amy Schumer and John Cena in Trainwreck. And yes, she is drinking Bandit, the travel friendly wine box.

Amy Schumer and John Cena in Trainwreck. And yes, she is drinking Bandit, the travel friendly wine box.

That quotation and that scene are worth 5 stars. Re-reading the lines on IMDb made LOL. Or COL (chortle out loud). While Amy Schumer may have written those lines and been involved in the scene as the movie’s star, I felt like the true star of the movie was the voice of the line above, John Cena. Now I will admit to being biased about Cena. But I used to hate this guy. Most adult wrestling fans still do. When Amy and John break up I was scared that he would be gone from the movie, and my fears were realized. Yes, there was also LeBron James and lots of sports references that my fiancée did not get, but James could not make up for the loss of Cena.

Three other thoughts: First, on Amy Schumer — while the movie is not deep, the things she puts herself through, and how semi-likable she makes herself, is very impressive. It would be unfair to pigeon hole her career now simply because we have not seen her stretch further yet. I did not expect Jim Carrey to ever show the range he did, going from comedies like Ace Ventura and The Mask to more challenging roles, like Dumb and Dumber. Second, I really liked the subdued performances from Brie Larson—female lead of 21 Jump Street, & Mike Birbiglia—Patrick in The Fault in Our Stars—as Amy’s sister, Nikki, and her husband.

Lastly, the rest of the movie was okay. It had too much cheese in it, but most of that compressed down into the ending. I literally shook my head watching it, wondering how they would wrap up the movie after such a lame scene, but nope. Still, most movies end poorly. If you do not believe me, then I will have to eventually write an essay about how even very good movies tend to end poorly. Think of the exceptions, the movies with great endings and I bet you will run out of movies quickly.

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