Thursday, September 30, 2010

"Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker" (2000)

Starring Will Friedle, Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill
Written by Paul Dini
Directed by Curt Geda

"Batman Beyond" is an interesting aside in the Batman universe.  Created as a sequel to the excellent "Batman: The Animated Series" of the 90s, it takes place in a sort of neo-punk future where Gotham is now a massive megalopolis, ruled by high technology.  In this future, the Batman hasn't been seen in decades, gangs of "Jokerz" rove the streets and Bruce Wayne is a miserable old codger holed up alone in his mansion.  Along comes troubled teenager Terry McGinnis, who uncovers a criminal conspiracy within Wayne's company that kills his father, Warren McGinnis.  Terry also discovers Bruce's past as Batman, and becomes a new Batman for a new era.

"Return of the Joker" is that series only movie spin-off, but boy is it a doozy.  Second only to "Mask of the Phantasm," this is nearly the best animated Batman feature.

Just as Bruce Wayne (Kevin Conroy) has come out of retirement to resume control of his company, an old enemy reappears: the Joker (Mark Hamill).  Bruce forbids Terry (Will Friedle) from taking on the Joker, saying he's too dangerous.  The Joker has taken over a gang of Jokerz including Bonk (Henry Rollins), Chucko (Don Harvey), Ghoul (Michael Rosenbaum), and the DeeDees (Melissa Joan Hart)  and sends them on a series of heists to get high tech equipment.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

"The Negotiator" (1998)

Starring Samuel L. Jackson, Kevin Spacey and Paul Giamatti
Written by James DeMonaco and Kevin Fox
Directed by F. Gary Gray

Samuel L. Jackson stars as Hostage Barricade Team (HBT) Negotiator Danny Roman.  One night after a difficult negotiation, his partner Nate (Paul Guilfoyle) reveals that he's learned of an informant who knows who has been stealing money from the police disability fund.  But when Danny goes to meet Nate to discuss the informant, he finds Nate dead.  Soon enough, the signs start to point to Danny as Nate's killer, and Danny suspects he's being framed. 

Frustrated that no one will listen, and suspecting that some of the men in his unit can't be trusted, he goes to the Internal Affairs office and takes hostage the IAD detective he believes is involved in the frame-job, Niebaum (JT Walsh), along with Niebaum's assistant, Maggie (Siobhan Fallon), a rat named Rudy (Paul Giamatti) and Danny's captain, Frost (Ron Rifkin).  The police set up a massive blockade around the building, including multiple SWAT units led by Beck (David Morse) and Hellman (Nestor Serrano) who are a bit too gung-ho about going in with guns blazing.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

"Silent Movie" (1976)

Starring Mel Brooks, Marty Feldman and Dom DeLuise
Written by Mel Brooks, Ron Clark, Rudy DeLuca and Barry Levinson
Directed by Mel Brooks

After hitting big with "Blazing Saddles" and "Young Frankenstein," Mel Brooks produced and directed a spoof of the old silent films, "Silent Movie."  In the film, Brooks plays Mel Funn, a movie director who had previously sabotaged his career by drinking too much.  Now, Funn has an idea for a movie that will be his big comeback: a modern-day silent picture.  It's a ballsy move, and his friends Dom Bell (Dom DeLuise) and Marty Eggs (Marty Feldman) aren't sure Funn can sell it to the Studio Chief (Sid Caesar).

Funn promises the Chief that he'll get today's biggest movie stars to sign onto the picture, and the Chief agrees to make the film.  Unfortunately, the Studio is about to be bought by the Engulf and Devour Corporation.  If Funn's "Silent Movie" is a hit, the Studio will have made enough money to remain independent.  As Funn and his friends go about Hollywood attempting to sign big-name stars like Burt Reynolds, James Caan and Ann Bancroft, Engulf and Devour's executives (Harold Gould and Ron Carey) plot to disrupt the making of the film so that they can take over the Studio.

"King Kong" (1933)

Starring Fay Wray, Robert Armstrong and Bruce Cabot
Written by Ruth Rose and James Ashmore Creelman
Directed by Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack

Everyone's heard of King Kong.  The giant ape that climbs up a skyscraper in New York is pretty much a household name.  Since his first appearance in 1933, Kong has had a steady career in movies, cartoons and videogames, facing off against humans and other monsters alike.

But it all started as a take on the 'jungle picture' genre, going a little meta by shaping a story around the idea of a film crew going to make a jungle picture.  Film director Carl Denham (Robert Armstrong) has hired a ship to take him to a mysterious island only described on a map he acquired in the orient where he believes he'll find the mysterious "Kong."  He doesn't know who or what Kong is, but he's determined to film it.  And because he believes more people will go see his film if it stars a beautiful woman, he manages to find Ann Darrow (Fay Wray).  Ann is poor, and Denham catches her stealing food to survive, but he recognizes her beauty and offers her the chance of a lifetime.

The two board the SS Venture where Ann meets and begins to fall for First Mate Jack Driscoll (Bruce Cabot).  Jack is stern, and not particularly fond of women, but even he begins to warm to Ann after a short time on the ship.  Soon, however, the Venture reaches Skull Island and encounters a society of natives that live there who worship Kong.  Unfortunately, the natives notice Ann and kidnap her under cover of night to sacrifice her to Kong.  Jack and Denham gather up the crew to go rescue her, and the adventure is on.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

"The Town" (2010)

Starring Ben Affleck, Jeremy Renner and Rebecca Hall
Written by Peter Craig, Ben Affleck and Aaron Stockard
Directed by Ben Affleck

The Town (Extended Cut) [Blu-ray]
After "Gone Baby Gone," I had to admit I was very excited for Ben Affleck's next directorial effort: the heist epic "The Town."  Again set in Boston, Affleck this time tackles the subject of bank and armored car robbers.  Though the film doesn't ask the same kind of moral questions as "Gone Baby Gone," but it does ask us to sympathize with the bad guys.

Affleck stars as Doug MacRay, a second-generation bank robber.  He works for "The Florist," (Pete Postlethwaite), who sets him and his team up with robbery jobs that are carefully planned and expertly executed.  At the outset of the film MacRay, along with his partners James Coughlin (Jeremy Renner), Albert Magloane (Slaine) and Desmond Elden (Owen Burke) knock off a bank in Harvard Square.  When the assistant manager, Claire Keesey (Rebecca Hall) manages to press the silent alarm, Couglin decides to take her hostage as leverage.  He takes her driver's license, and then they let her go.  But afterward, Coughlin decides she's a liability and must be dealt with, lest she talk to the FBI.

Friday, September 24, 2010

"The Peacemaker" (1997)

Starring George Clooney, Nicole Kidman and Marcel Iures
Written by Michael Schiffer
Directed by Mimi Leder

Let's face it: George Clooney might be a huge mega-star today, but when he decided to move on from being the star of TV's "ER" and get into the film biz, he had a bit of a rough start.  "Batman and Robin" is widely derided not only as the worst Batman movie, but as a terrible movie overall, "From Dusk til Dawn" will forever remain a cult film, and "One Fine Day" won't go down in history as anyone's favorite romance.

But then there's 1997's "The Peacemaker," probably the first film to really prove that Clooney had the charisma to carry a film when paired with a script and a director capable of putting together a good package.  Clooney stars as Lt. Col. Tom Devoe, in pursuit of a Russian general, Kodoroff (Aleksandr Baluev) who has gone rogue and stolen 10 nuclear warheads.

"The Peacemaker" opens with this hijacking as a team of special ops guys sneaks aboard a military train, murders the crew and steals the warheads.  They set one off as a smokescreen to cover their escape, and the blast captures the attention of the entire world.  Enter Dr. Julia Kelly (Nicole Kidman), who is tasked by the US government to head the investigation into the blast.  Devoe is assigned as her military liaison, and the two quickly set about cutting through all the bureaucracy and international mistrust to find the missing nine warheads.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

"The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift" (2006)

Starring Lucas Black, Bow Wow and Sung Kang
Written by Chris Morgan
Directed by Justin Lin

The third movie in the "Fast and the Furious" franchise functions like a bizarre step-child of the series, in retrospect.  At the time, it seems unlikely that the producers would see things this way, but four years later with one more sequel and another in development, "Tokyo Drift" stands out as almost totally unlike the others in the series.

Sean Boswell (Lucas Black) is a restless teen who can only get his kicks doing dangerous races.  After getting into a fight with a jock at school over a girl, Sean races him, but the challenge ends with both men's cars wrecked.  They get arrested, but the quarterback's family is rich and connected and he gets off with a slap on the wrist.  Sean, on the other hand, is sent to live with his father in Tokyo, Japan.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

"Bitch Slap" (2009)

Starring Julia Voth, Erin Cummings and America Olivo
Written by Eric Gruendemann and Rick Jacobson
Directed by Rick Jacobson

If I was still 12 years old, I might have come away thinking that "Bitch Slap" was one of the greatest things I have ever seen.  It's loaded from start to finish with half-naked women, outlandish violence and absurdly dirty and vulgar dialogue.  The whole thing plays like what a 12-year-old would write if someone handed him an assignment that had to include lost treasure, gangsters, spies, and no restrictions on pretty much anything else.

Then, of course, imagine that this 12-year-old was given a budget, a cast and a crew and told to make the damn movie.

Well, I'm pretty sure what would come out on the other end would look a lot like "Bitch Slap."

This, er, "movie" stars three very attractive women who drive out into the desert to claim a treasure - some $200 million in diamonds that was stolen by a gangster named Gage (Michael Hurst, remember him?).  Trixie (Julia Voth), a famous stripper, is nervous and clumsy.  Hel (Erin Cummings) is the brains of the operation.  Camero (America Olivo) is the borderline-psychotic muscle of the group.  Out in the desert, Camero tortures Gage into giving up the location of the loot before killing him, shocking Trixie and Hel.  This will form the beginning of the wedge that will eventually drive this trio apart as their quest to find the diamonds becomes complicated with jealousy, greed, and violence.

Monday, September 20, 2010

"The Warriors" (1979)

Starring Michael Beck, James Remar and Brian Tyler
Written by David Schaber
Directed by Walter Hill

"Can you dig it?"

"The Warriors" opens with a massive meeting of all the gangs of the five Burroughs, including a group called The Warriors, out of Coney Island.  A man named Cyrus (Roger Hill), charismatic leader of the Gramercy Riffs has a bold plan to unify all the gangs and take over New York City.  With all the tens of thousands of gang members under one flag, not even the police would be able to keep them from doing whatever they want, declaring New York their turf.  Each gang sends nine representatives to the meeting, unarmed, under the flag of a tenuous truce.

However, right in the middle of his speech, Cyrus is gunned down by Luther (David Patrick Kelley), leader of the Rogues.  One of the Warriors, Fox (Thomas Waites) witnesses this act.  The Rogues, however, take advantage of the confusion to pin the murder on the Warriors just as riot cops storm the area.  The Riffs capture Cleon (Dorsey Wright), but the other eight Warriors manage to make it out.  Their leader dead, the Riffs put a price on the Warriors' heads.  Even with the truce in place, the Warriors are now wanted men.

Friday, September 17, 2010

"Crank: High Voltage" (2009)

Starring Jason Statham, Amy Smart and Dwight Yoakam
Written and directed by Brian Taylor and Mark Neveldine

I don't think I've ever seen a movie quite so, well, ridonkulous.  Jason Statham returns as Chev Chelios, a badass on a mission.  At the end of the first film, in which he'd been injected with a deadly poison and had to keep giving himself adrenaline boosts to keep his heart pumping, Chev plummeted out of a helicopter to the street below.  "Crank: High Voltage" begins in the same manner, with Chev slamming hard down onto a car and bouncing to the street, seemingly dead.  His body is picked up, tossed in the back of a van, and driven to a backroom Yakuza hospital where Asian gangsters plan to remove his vital organs (starting with his heart) for transplants into their powerful leaders.

When Chev is told that the next part to be removed is his... manhood... he manages to break free and discovers his new predicament: his heart has been replaced with an artificial one, and the battery is running down.  In order to keep the artificial heart pumping, he must continually give it boosts of electricity, from whatever source he can find.  So Chev takes off on a new mission to recover his heart from the evil gangsters that have stolen it.  Along the way he'll meet some colorful allies and more than a few gangs all trying to take him and each other down.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

'The Batman' Season 1 (2004)

Starring Rino Romano, Alastair Duncan and Ming-Na
Produced by Jeff Matsuda

How disappointing.  Batman is, by far, my favorite comic book hero.  His tragic background, incredible intellect, fun gadgetry and just the all-around badassery of the character are totally enticing.  He also has an amazing rogues gallery of villains, featuring murderous nutbags like Joker, devious terrorists like Ra's al Ghul and tragic figures like Mr. Freeze.  I've spoken to no end about Bruce Timm's amazing "Batman: The Animated Series" and its stellar cast.  Though I consider this top form for the Dark Knight (followed closely by, well, "The Dark Knight") I'm always curious to explore other interpretations of the character and his universe.

So we come to "The Batman," 2004's animated adaptation that follows early adventures of Bruce Wayne as the Batman, a young man in his 20s still just figuring out how to be a crime fighter.  While the setup for this show is great, and loaded with potential (surely, other times Batman's formative years have been explored have done so to great effect - 2005's "Batman Begins," the "Batman: Year One" and "Long Halloween" graphic novels) the execution leaves a lot to be desired.

"The Batman vs Dracula" (2005)

Starring Rino Romano, Peter Stormare and Tara Strong
Written by Duane Capizzi
Directed by Brandon Vietti

I've only recently begun watching 'The Batman,' WB's newer take on the Dark Knight after Bruce Timm's excellent series came to a close.  Frankly, it can't even touch that earlier interpretation.  The voice cast is alright, but not nearly as impressive, and while the animation is solid, the writing is simplistic and often quite limp.  But that's a review for another time.  Let's talk about "The Batman vs Dracula," the series only attempt at a direct-to-video movie.

The Penguin (Tom Kenny) and the Joker (Kevin Michael Richardson) escape from Arkham Asylum, sending the cops and the Batman (Rino Romano) on the chase.  While Batman and Joker fight it out, Penguin manages to sneak into Gotham Cemetery, where he believes millions of dollars worth of loot is hidden in an old crypt.  Instead of money, he finds inside the rotted remains of the evil Count Dracula, and accidentally revives the vampire creature.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

"Batman: Sub-Zero" (1998)

Starring Kevin Conroy, Michael Ansara and Loren Lester
Written by Boyd Kirkland and Randy Rogel
Directed by Randy Rogel

Released a year after another Batman feature focusing on Mr. Freeze, "Sub-Zero" has the voice cast and animation style of the original 1990s "Batman: The Animated Series" before the style was adapted to fit the Superman series that followed it.

Mr. Freeze (Michael Ansara), real name Victor Fries, lives a quiet, solitary life in the arctic.  His wife, Nora, remains in stasis until a cure can be found for a fatal disease she carries.  One day, a submarine surfaces right under his home, shattering Nora's stasis chamber, and her condition begins to worsen.  Freeze returns to Gotham, kidnapping and old associate of his, Dr. Gregory Belson (George Dzundza), to help him.  Belson tells Freeze that the only thing that will save Nora is an organ transplant, but there's no way to get a legal donor in time.  Freeze decides he will abduct a live donor for his needs, and settles on a choice at random: Barbara Gordon (Mary Kay Bergman).

Unfortunately for Freeze, Barbara Gordon has some powerful friends and relatives: she is, in fact, the daughter of Gotham City's police commissioner, James Gordon (Bob Hastings).  She also happens to be the girlfriend of Dick Grayson (Loren Lester) and friends with Bruce Wayne (Kevin Conroy).  Grayson and Wayne, of course, also go by other names: Batman and Robin.  Worse, Barbara is no slouch - in her spare time, she dons the identity of Batgirl to fight crime.

"Battle for Terra" (2007)

Starring Evan Rachel Wood, Luke Wilson and Brian Cox
Written by Even Spiliotopoulos and Aristomenis Tsirbas
Directed by Aristomenis Tsirbas

Stop me if you've heard this one before: An idyllic alien world, populated by a peace-loving people in tune with nature, is invaded by greedy humans seeking resources.  One amongst the humans spends time with the aliens, learning about their ways and their culture, and realizes that he's on the wrong side.  In 2009, a movie with this exact same story was released and went on to gross more than $2 billion dollars at the box office: "Avatar".

But "Battle for Terra," a low-budget computer-animated film was released in 2007.  I'm not accusing anyone of plagiarism, of course; it's a story that's been told multiple times before.  "Avatar" is little more than "Pocahontas" in space.  Or "Dances with Wolves" if you feel like you're in the mood for Kevin Costner references.

"The Hunted" (2003)

Starring Tommie Lee Jones, Benicio del Toro and Connie Nielsen
Written by David Griffiths, Peter Griffiths and Art Monterastelli
Directed by William Friedkin

In the woods near Portland, two deer hunters are found slaughtered.  The FBI enlists the help of a tracker and former stealth combat trainer "LT" Bonham (Tommy Lee Jones) to help find the killers.  LT quickly realizes that there is only one killer, and he is highly-trained.  He heads off into the woods alone and discovers the killer's lair, and encounters the killer himself: a former student of his, Aaron Hallam (Benicio del Toro).

In the years since they were together, Hallam has become a soulless killing machine.  The horrors he's witnessed and the sheer number of people he's killed have left him hollow and paranoid.  He's a master of stealth, able to kill people who never even know he's there.  The government can't allow knowledge of Hallem to get out into the public, since they're the ones who turned him into what he is.  When Hallem manages to escape from custody, Bonham and the FBI give chase.  Each time, Hallem is able to slip away from their grasp and the body count begins to rise. 

"Lock Up" (1989)

Starring Sylvester Stallone, Donald Sutherland and Tom Sizemore
Written by Richard Smith, Jeb Stuart and Henry Rosenbaum
Directed by John Flynn

Frank Leone (Sylvester Stallone) is a model prisoner in a minimum-security facility serving five years for an escape attempt at a previous prison in order to see his dying father.  The warden of that prison, Drumgoole (Donald Sutherland) was disgraced after Leone went public with stories of Drumgoole's tyrannical rule over the inmates.  One night, six months before his sentence is over, Frank is dragged from his cell and transferred to a harsh, maximum-security prison under the iron fist of Drumgoole who has managed to use his influence to get Frank back under his thumb for a little revenge.

Frank's new prison is a hell on earth, populated by dangerous killer inmates and vicious, power-hungry and corrupt guards.  But Frank has only six months to go, and his optimism and friendly nature make him a popular inmate and he gathers a small group of friends to help him through the next six months.  First among these is Dallas (Tom Sizemore) a fast-talker who can weasel his way into getting just about anything, followed by Eclipse (Frank McRae) a trustee who runs the prison's mechanic garage, and First Base (Larry Romano) a young kid doing time on a bum rap.

Friday, September 10, 2010

"The Expendables" (2010)

Starring Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham and Jet Li
Written by David Callaham and Sylvester Stallone
Directed by Sylvester Stallone

Let's just... look at this cast for a moment:

Sylvester Stallone
Jason Statham
Jet Li
Dolph Lundgren
Mickey Rourke
Randy Couture
Steve Austin
Terry Crews
Bruce Willis
Arnold Schwarzenegger

If you can't find something to enjoy in a movie with all these people (even if most of them have minimal roles) then there's either A) something wrong with you or 2) the film is a massive failure in every way.

Luckily, "The Expendables" is not a massive failure.  It's certainly not a legendary action spectacular; in fact, it's actually pretty standard in many respects.  But with a cast like that, and with each of them at least getting a couple of really sweet action moments, "Expendables" gets to pack in a lot of fun in its runtime.  The last time I saw a cast this pumped, it was probably 1987's "Predator", which boasted names like Schwarzenegger, Jesse Ventura and Carl Weathers. 

"Gone Baby Gone" (2007)

Starring Casey Affleck, Michelle Monaghan and Ed Harris
Written by Ben Affleck and Aaron Stockard
Directed by Ben Affleck

I've never hated Ben Affleck.  I know people who do, but I've always found that he's a capable performer when under the guidance of a capable director - Kevin Smith, for example.  But with "Gone Baby Gone," it turns out that he's by far a better director than he is an actor.

Patrick Kenzie (Casey Affleck, Ben's younger brother) is a private detective.  One day, a couple knocks on his door and asks him to help the police find their missing niece, Amanda.  Amanda's mother Helene (Amy Ryan) is a drinker and a drug addict, and the girl may have been kidnapped by a vengeful drug dealer Helene ripped off for $130,000.  Kenzie and his girlfriend and partner, Angie (Michelle Monaghan), are paired up with two police detectives, Remy Bressant (Ed Harris) and Nick Poole (John Ashton) and they begin to unravel the twisted trail of drugs and money that might've gotten this young girl kidnapped... or murdered.

"The Goods: Live Hard, Sell Hard" (2009)

Starring Jeremy Piven, Ving Rhames and Kathryn Hahn
Written by Andy Stock and Rick Stempson
Directed by Neal Brennan

From the red-hot producing team of Will Ferrell and Adam McKay, ("Anchorman," "Step Brothers," "The Other Guys" etc) comes "The Goods: Live Hard, Sell Hard" about a group of mercenary car salesmen hired by a desperate lot owner to save the family business over the 4th of July weekend.

Don "The Goods" Ready (Jeremy Piven) is a master salesman.  He makes a living by dragging his team everywhere across the country to car lots that need quick sales boosts.  The team: Jibby (Ving Rhames), gruff but sensitive; Brent (David Koechner), Don's right hand man; and Babs (Kathryn Hahn), who will use sex to sell anything.  They're hired by Ben Selleck (James Brolin) to come to his car lot and make some huge sales over the 4th of July weekend before he loses the lot to the bank, and to his #1 competitor: Stu Harding (Alan Thicke).

Thursday, September 9, 2010

"Armored" (2009)

Starring Columbus Short, Matt Dillon and Laurence Fishburne
Written by James Simpson
Directed by Nimrod Antal

I remember being intrigued by the concept of "Armored" - a thriller where a security guard traps himself inside an armored car in order to keep thieves from seizing the money within, and the trailer seemed cool enough.  But I never went and saw "Armored" in theatres, waiting until I noticed that it became available for streaming on Netflix (which, by the way, fuels this entire blog and is totally the best $20 I spend every month).

Unfortunately, "Armored" doesn't manage to live up to the promise of its premise, or its cast.  Columbus Short stars as Hackett, the newbie on a team of private security guards working for an armored car company.  The other members of the team, played by Matt Dillon, Jean Reno, Laurence Fishburne, Amaury Nalasco and Skeet Ulrich are planning a major heist - $42 million dollars.  Cochrane (Dillon) decides to recruit Hackett for the heist when he learns that Hackett is in danger of losing his house to the bank and custody of his younger brother to Child Welfare.

"Astro Boy" (2009)

Starring Freddie Highmore, Kristen Bell and Nicholas Cage
Written by Timothy Harris and David Bowers
Directed by David Bowers

"Astro Boy," based on the anime of the same name, is a CG-animated film from Imagi Studios, the same folks responsible for 2007's "TMNT" Ninja Turtles CG film.  Like that movie, "Astro Boy" features fine animated action sequences and voice work, but plotting issues and some flat humor keep it from being anything truly special.

Toby (Freddie Highmore) is a young genius, the son of Dr. Tenma (Nicholas Cage), head of the Science Ministry of Metro City.  Metro City rests high up in the sky on a floating mountain above the surface of the earth, a paradise city in the clouds.  The people of Metro City don't have much, if any, contact with those who dwell on the surface.  One day, Toby attends a demonstration of a new power source discovered by his father's friend, Dr. Elefun (Bill Nighy).  Elefun has managed to snag part of a dying star from space and separate it into two elements: a blue "positive" core and a red "negative" core.  

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

"This is the Zodiac Speaking" (2009)

Even though this is actually on the second disc of David Fincher's excellent "Zodiac" film, I decided to give it a unique review, since it's basically a second movie - a feature-length documentary about the Zodiac killings featuring interviews with the real-life participants and archival footage and photos.

This documentary, featuring the real photos and people, is somehow even more frightening than Fincher's film.  There is a wealth of interview footage from policemen, people who knew the victims, and old news footage to tell the story of the killings.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

"To Live and Die in LA" (1985)

Starring William Petersen, Willem Dafoe and John Pankow
Written by William Friedkin and Gerald Petievich
Directed by William Friedkin

It's interesting how a film from 1985 can feel more like a "Miami Vice" movie than the "Miami Vice" movie.  William Friedkin co-writes and directs this thriller starring William Petersen, later of "CSI" fame as hot shot Secret Service Agent Richard Chance on the trail of master counterfeiter Rick Masters (Willem Dafoe).  Chance's partner, Jimmy Hart, goes to follow up a lead on Masters and ends up dead two days before retirement.  Chance, of course, can't let this happen.  Paired with a new partner, John Vukovich (John Pankow), Chance decides to get Masters - whatever it takes.

As Chance and Vukovich get closer to Masters, their grip on him slips further and further away.  Growing desperate, they begin to take bigger and bigger risks to get him, including hatching a plan to rip off $50,000 from other criminals in order to catch Masters in a sting.  But things get more dangerous, and far more complicated, bringing them squarely on the wrong side of the law.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

"Precious" (2009)

Starring Gabourey Sidibe, Mo'Nique and Paula Patton
Written by Geoffrey Fletcher
Directed by Lee Daniels

I keep hearing this movie referred to as "Precious: Based on the Novel 'Push' by Sapphire".  Frankly,  as good a film as it is, I cannot in good conscience refer to it as such.  I'm sorry that there was a superhero movie called "Push" that came out earlier the same year, but man, pretentious much?  Shit.

Ok, that's probably pretty douchey.  But whatever.  I don't recall the zillions of other movies based on novels that are so insistent on shoving ungainly titles all over the place.  "Jurassic Park: Based on the Novel 'Jurassic Park' by the Late Michael Crichton.

Now that I got that bit of ridiculousness out of my system, "Precious" is still a great movie.  But maybe instead of "Precious" (or "Push,") they could've called it "Vicious."

Friday, September 3, 2010

"The Running Man" (1987)

Starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, Maria Conchita Alonso and Richard Dawson
Written by Steven E. DeSouza
Directed by Paul Michael Glaser

Based on the novel by Stephen King, "The Running Man" stars Arnold Schwarzenegger as Ben Richards, a man framed for murder who must compete in a vicious game show to win his freedom and clear his name.  The year is 2019, and the United States is now a police state run by an organization known as "The Cadre."  With corporate ties and deep pockets, the Cadre keeps the populace in line by serving up viciously violent television programming.  The most popular show on television is "The Running Man," hosted by the charismatic Killian (Richard Dawson).  Criminals are set loose in a ghetto and hunted by "stalkers," gimmicky killers with names like Sub-Zero and Dynamo.

Richards, a pilot, is arrested after refusing to open fire on innocent civilians during a food riot.  He manages to escape from prison, and attempts to find his brother in Los Angeles.  Instead, he finds Amber (Maria Conchita Alonso) who tells him that his brother has been sent for "re-education."  Richards tries to flee the country, but Amber gives him up the first chance she gets, and he's recaptured.  When Killian learns of this, he immediately gets Richards transferred to the network, and he becomes a contestant on "The Running Man."  Amber, suspecting that Richards may not be the butcher the media made him out to be, tries to find the truth and is arrested and herself sentenced to be a contestant on the show.

'Batman: Mystery of the Batwoman' (2003)

Starring Kevin Conroy, Kelly Ripa and Kyra Sedgwick
Written by Alan Burnett
Directed by Curt Geda

Any franchise has its ups and downs, really.  "Batman: Mystery of the Batwoman" is one of the downs for the DC Animated Universe.  This direct-to-video adventure doesn't really have much to offer longtime fans of the series, wasting its impressive cast on poor animation and a lackluster plot.

The story opens on a gun running operation in Gotham that's broken up, explosively, by the mysterious new 'Batwoman' (Kyra Sedgwick).  Her methods are effective, but reckless and dangerous.  The city, and Batman (Kevin Conroy), disapprove.  It turns out that the gun smuggling is just a small part of a large operation headed by the Penguin (David Ogden Stiers), Rupert Thorne (John Vernon) and Carlton Duquesne (Kevin Michael Richardson). 

'Superman: The Animated Series' Vol. 3

Starring Tim Daly, Dana Delaney and Clancy Brown
Developed by Bruce Timm

This third volume of "Superman" cartoons from Bruce Timm, Paul Dini and the gang really ups the ante in a big way.  Darkseid (Michael Ironside) casts a huge shadow over the proceedings, with his episodes dominating the first and last discs as Superman's (Tim Daly) rivalry with the dark god of Apokolips coming to a head.  The universe expands further, including the arrival of Supergirl, more appearances by Brainiac, Ra's al Ghul, Batman, Green Lantern and the Legion of Superheroes of the 30th century.  But the stories that bookend this volume, Superman's epic battles with Darkseid, are really the big points here.

The set opens with "Apokolips...Now!" a two-part episode that turns Metropolis into a war zone between the forces of the Special Crimes Unit and Darkseid's legions of Parademons.  Intent on dominating the Earth, Darkseid parades the beaten, bloodied Superman before the frightened citizens, and is shocked to discover that the humans of Earth are not easily cowed.  This two-parter ends in the series' most mature moment: the out-right murder of Dan Turpin on screen, which is a huge thing for what is ostensibly a children's cartoon show.