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****½

Central to Unit 27. Jean-Claude Van Damme’s robbing a post office. I need back-up. 

It took me 3 years to finish watching this film.  While the beginning is spectacular–a no cut extended action scene from the filming of a fake movie–I did not trust the setup.  As the above quote states, it appears that JCVD has custody problems and financial issues.  The line between reality, cinema, and reality in cinema gets totally blurred.  Thankfully the director, Mabrouk El Mechri, ties everything up in the end.  Fortunately he ties it up in a non-JCVD, non-Hollywood way.

I have never been a Van-Damme fan.  Maybe it’s because I had friends who liked Bloodsport just a little too much, or maybe I held it against him for Street Fighter sucking so much.  What I know now is that he has been treated unfairly by the media and public opinion.  He really can act and, at least his character in this film, appreciates his own success without patting himself on the back like so many stars.  I did not recognize any of the other actors from this film, but I was extremely impressed with their performances.  Where do Belgian actors go to get experience?  They live in a small country and their most famous character was written by an English woman (Hercule Poirot).  To date, I don’t think a Belgian has ever even played him.  While I now recognize the skills that Van-Damme has, I hope that he does not become the first to play Poirot.

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Exit Wounds

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***

Did you really beat a suspect unconscious with a dead cat?

DMX AND STEVEN SEAGAL GET ALL CAPS.  ARF ARF.  Anthony Anderson, Tom Arnold, Michael Jai White, Isaiah Washington, Jill Hennessy, and Bill Duke do not get all caps, but what a great job of casting for a DMX/SEAGAL movie.  This movie is more fun than it has any right to be.  The story takes a couple of predictable “surprising” turns, but it’s all good.  Who needs subtlety when you have women smearing paint on each other in clubs?  Or a terrorist attack on the vice-president in Detroit?  This is a “James Soliah” movie–we saw Punisher Warzone, Predator, and Transfo’mas 2 together.  I would be offended to learn that James hasn’t seen this yet.  if not, then I guess Christmas is coming early.

Hobo With a Shotgun

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***

You vultures circle the city, tearing off the flesh of everything that is good in this city.

Whoa, Rutger Hauer can still act.  The style of this film definitely harkens back to the 1980’s schlocky anti-hero genre, but it resonates well today.  This is like a Harry Brown update of Death Wish, but instead of a modern British update, it’s a Canadian 80’s flick.  I’m pretty sure that one of the Trailer Park Boys dies in the first scene, but it’s a good scene and sets the sad/zany/dangerous tone for the film.  Most characters telegraphy their behavior from about 30 seconds away, but that’s distinctly a directorial choice and not a flaw–one of the bad guys, Slick (played by Gregory Smith), reminds me of a young Tom Cruise.  Considering how cheaply this film was mode for, the effects and the look are very impressive.

I hate to say it, but this movie is fucking badass! Even though the colors are weird (they’re technicolor, allegedly) the film has a nice professional look to it.  Which is enough, when the hero only knows how to solve problems with a shotgun. I can’t help it, but whenever Hauer makes his speeches, he reminds me of his amazing performance as Roy Batty in Blade Runner. It’s hard to believe that his last good performance was as that archbishop in Sin City.  Also badass and 80’s…the soundtrack.  Vangelis couldn’t do better.  Well, maybe they could, but this has some cool tunes.  Even the end theme song fits the genre.  Neither family friendly, nor really a future classic, but definitely fun (in a dark way).  I hope there’s a sequel.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1

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****

We wouldn’t last two days without her.  Don’t tell her I said that.

Let’s just get this out of the way…the dancing scene sucked.  David Yates’ attempt to add something original to the film failed.  It made me look at my friend and wonder, what the hell was going on.  I’ve heard an interesting argument that at least harry showed that he cared and didn’t act like a jerk.  While that’s true, a hug would have sufficed for me.  When the source material is so voluminous that the director/screenwriter is stuck making hard choices, then anything extraneous to the central story should serve an important purpose.  More than that, the means to achieve the purpose should waste the least amount of time possible.

Other than that, this movie benefits from getting twice the time to tell its story than the previous ones got.  While that’s said, I agree with Ann Hornaday in that this is a very good half of a movie, but is doomed to be unsatisfying.  All of the young stars can act and show their emotions, while the supporting cast is filled by England’s finest–Alan Rickman, Robbie Coltrane, Bill Nighy etc…  So I’m glad that I finally have a Yates directed Potter film that I haven’t instantly forgotten.

Machete

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****

I am NOT putting Machete don’t text, although that was a pretty funny line.  You ever noticed how you let a Mexican into your house just because he’s got gardening tools? No questions asked, you just let him right in. Could have a chainsaw, you know, a machete… 

This is the best Mexploitation film I have ever seen. If only the director of Once Upon A Time in Mexico’s director could have seen this film, maybe he wouldn’t have crapped out such dreck.  But of course, Robert Rodriguez directed them both so he would need a time machine to watch himself making it, or something.  Speaking of time machines, who went back in time and got a badass Steven Seagal?

Seagal is not the only successful casting decision, but not everyone worked out flawlessly.  I believe the Rodriguez deserves the credit for making a great “grindhouse” style movie, but he also deserves the criticism for any performances that strike the viewer as off-putting.  George Lucas did not take enough of the blame for Hayden Christensen and Natalie Portman’s performances.  For every “Machete don’t text” line by Danny Trejo, there is the opportunity to make Jessica Alba say “I thought Machete don’t text.”  Robert De Niro was an interesting casting choice and almost made me think of his character of Senator McLaughlin and not just Robert De Niro. Michelle Rodriguez did a great job playing the tough as nails Luz, but the advertising campaign gave away her surviving a gunshot to the face since I already knew she would appear with an eye-patch wielding an assault rifle and a black bikini top.  I knew that Lindsey Lohan would appear dressed as a nun–because of the flack she got for it–but she was topless a whole lot.  Like, really topless.  More than topless, she also did a good job spoofing her bad girl image and the nun’s habit actually fit into the storyline.

The best non-star casting was of Jeff Fahey.  Fahey looked Colin Farrell’s version of Sonny Crockett, but with a tie on.  That’s part of the wonderful subtlety that Rodriguez brought to this film, since Don Johnson played an important role in this movie.  Even if Don Johnson is no Colin Farrell–Tom Hanks could have brought more to the role of the leader of a border patrol militia–I still wish that actors of his caliber had acted in movies like this in the 70’s.

The Reckoning

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***½

You want to know why… I did what I did? Because I wanted to… and because… I could. 

This movie has a traveling acting troop operating in the 14th Century.  Amongst this motley crew–by law I had to refer to them as such–a fallen priest, Nicholas (played by Paul Bettany) joins them as he is on the lam for extramarial sex and battery of the young lady’s husband who interrupts them.  It is worth noting that I chose the phrase “on the lam” before visiting the movie’s IMDb page.

I chose to watch this movie because I enjoyed Paul Bettany as a priest in The Da Vinci Code and I wanted to enjoy Legion or Priest, but those previews just looked so terrible.  Moreover, the cast boasts several other actors whose work I wanted to see more of: Brian Cox, Gina McKee, Tom Hardy, Willem Dafoe and Vincent Cassel.  I had no idea who the director was (Paul McGuigan) but has quite the resume–crap like Wicker Park and Lucky Number Slevin, but he also did two episodes of the fantastic new show Sherlock.  I could barely recognize Simon Pegg in a bit roll as the gaoler.

It’s interesting how the middle ages make even light fun seem a bit heavier, but the tension increases when the leaders of the acting troop realize that the condemned woman whose story they wish to tell just might be innocent.  The worse the situation gets–she’s condemned for murdering a boy–the sadder the situation is the more it is clear that these people are just actors and people with very little power.  In the end they find the power that storytellers have and use it in an interesting criticism of modern storytelling, which can be used to cement a lie.  Still, this sad story is one of hope, hope in the reminder that stories can push people into doing the right thing and that storytellers have an obligation to seek that truth.

Diabolique

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***

I’ll find him. 

This was a terribly disappointing and frustrating film.  The surrounding characters, and even Alfred Fichet, le commissaire were all excellent, but the main characters made me so angry.  I did not believe that Christina Delassalle had a heart condition, but merely that she was pathetic and weak.  Her abusive husband, Michel was an unbelievable tyrant with almost not subtlety at times.  Even the most enigmatic character, Nicole Horner got on my nerves at times.  But it shows something that it evoked such a strong reaction from me.  The basic tale was pretty interesting and I just wish it had not been difficult to watch.

 

Apparently this film is also known as Les Diaboliques.