Sunday, June 24, 2012

"Con Air" (1997)

Starring Nicolas Cage, John Cusack and John Malkovich
Written by Scott Rosenberg
Directed by Simon West
Rated R - Violence, language
Running Time: 115 Minutes

I recently noted that "Air Force One" was the kind of turn-off-your-brain action picture that can be a ton of fun.  While both can be labeled part of the "Die Hard on a plane" subgenre, "Con Air" makes "Air Force One" look like an intelligent Oscar-worthy film.

U.S. Army Ranger Cameron Poe (Nicolas Cage) is sent off to do a dime after killing a man in a barfight.  Eight years later, he's finally being released to go home to his loving wife (Monica Potter) and meet his daughter for the first time.  He hitches a ride home on a US Marshal Service prisoner transport plane carrying some of the nation's worst fiends.

Once airborne, the cons stage a well-planned siege of the plane.  Led by Cyrus "The Virus" Grissom (John Malkovich), the convicts take control of the plane, killing several of the guards and taking the rest hostage.  Cyrus and his cronies, including Nathan "Diamond Dog" Jones (Ving Rhames), William "Billy Bedlam" Bedford (Nick Chinlund), Joe "Pinball" Parker (Dave Chappelle), are being paid to hijack the plane in order to spring South American drug lord Francisco Cindino (Jesse Borego).  Cindino has promised them all a large sum of money and save haven in a non-extradition country for their help in his escape.  The plane is also carrying a number of other cons who aren't in on the plan, but are more than eager to join in when they see what's going on, like serial rapist John "Johnny-23" Baca (Danny Trejo), but also a few more than content to simply sit by and see what happens next, like the quietly insane Garland Greene (Steve Buscemi).

Poe's best friend on the inside, Mike "Baby-O" O'Dell (Mykelti Williamson), is diabetic and starts to go into shock.  Unable to leave his friend behind, Poe convinces Cyrus and the others that he wants to go along with their plans, saying he's got 15 years left and nothing more to live for than the hope of freedom on a beach.  He vows to save Baby-O and to protect the lives of the captured guards.  Meanwhile, on the ground, US Marshal Vince Larkin (John Cusack) must figure out how to keep hot-headed DEA Agent Duncan Malloy (Colm Meaney) from simply blowing the plane out of the sky, killing Poe and the other hostages.

"Air Force One" (1997)

Starring Harrison Ford, Gary Oldman and Glenn Close
Written by Andrew W. Marlowe
Directed by Wolfgang Petersen
Rated R - Violence, language
Running Time: 125 Minutes

"Die Hard" pretty much created its own subgenre.  Throughout the 1990s, there were plenty of "Die Hard on a ____" films.  "Under Siege" was "Die Hard on a boat," "Sudden Death" was "Die Hard in a hockey stadium" and so on.  1997's "Air Force One" is pretty well "Die Hard on a plane."

President of the United States James Marshall (Harrison Ford) is in Moscow delivering a speech in the wake of a successful joint military operation to capture the rogue Russian hardline General Radek (Jurgen Prochnow).  In his speech, he paints a picture of a new American foreign policy - zero tolerance for terrorism.

Once Air Force One is airborne, a Russian news crew aboard is revealed to be a group of terrorists loyal to Radek.  They kill much of the crew and capture many of the President's closest advisers, as well as his wife Grace (Wendy Crewson) and daughter Alice (Liesel Matthews), and demand Radek's release from prison.  The leader of the terrorists, Ivan (Gary Oldman) warns that a hostage will be killed every half hour until he has received word that Radek is free.

Unbeknownst to Egor, Marshall has managed to hide in the bowels of the plane and escape capture.  While Egor negotiates with Vice President Kathryn Bennett (Glenn Close), Marshall begins to retake the plane all by himself, using his experience as a US Marine.  Meanwhile, in Washington, Bennett faces a political crisis as Secretary of Defense Walter Dean (Dean Stockwell) attempts to usurp command of the situation from her at a critical time.

With his wife, daughter and political career at stake, and lives hanging in the balance, Marshall must face down the terrorists alone, and race against time before they kill more of the hostages.

Friday, June 15, 2012

"Evolution" (2001)

Starring David Duchovny, Orlando Jones and Julianne Moore
Written by David Diamond, David Weissman and Don Jakoby
Directed by Ivan Reitman
Rated PG-13 - Language, crude humor, mild violence
Running Time: 101 Minutes

After a meteor crashes in the desert in Arizona, two local scientists, Dr. Ira Kane (David Duchovny) and community college geology professor Harry Block investigate.  What they find intrigues them: the meteor seems to be "bleeding" some kind of organic material, which itself appears to evolve and adapt at an astonishing rate.

Soon enough, the United States military has taken over the crash site and squeezed Harry and Ira out.  The project is run by General Russell Woodman (Ted Levine), who holds a grudge against Ira for an incident years prior when Ira was a government scientist, and Dr. Allison Reed (Julianne Moore) a clumsy but attractive scientist who finds herself attracted to Ira.  Meanwhile, wannabe firefighter Wayne Grey (Seann William Scott) discovers that the creatures are spreading after one of them kills his boss at a local golf course.  He takes the creature's body to Harry and Ira, who determine that the aliens can't exist in our atmosphere, but it's only a matter of time before they evolve to breathe our air.

With the military unwilling to listen to them, Harry, Ira, Wayne and Allison must figure out how to destroy the creatures before they spread beyond Arizona to the rest of the world.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

'The Shield' Season 1 (2002)

Starring Michael Chiklis, Benito Martinez and CCH Pounder
Created by Shawn Ryan

Vic Mackey (Michael Chiklis) is a different kind of cop.  He runs a unit in the Farmington division of Los Angeles called the Strike Team.  Consisting of Mackey, his partner Shane Vendrell (Walton Goggins), Ronnie Gardocki (David Rees Snell), and Curtis 'Lem' Lemansky (Kenneth Johnson), they are plain-clothes detectives who target gangs and drugs in Farmington.  The problem is that Mackey doesn't always play by the book, often using excessive force, planting evidence, and even cutting deals with crooks in order to get the job done.  His partner Shane is often ruled by his temper, making poor decisions without thinking.

Into Farmington comes Captain David Aceveda (Benito Martinez) with aims to get Mackey off the streets.  He's inserted his own mole into the Strike Team in order to gather intel on Mackey's illegal activities.  But when the mole ends up dead, Aceveda suspects Mackey was the shooter, but can't prove it.

Meanwhile, detectives Holland "Dutch" Wagenbach (Jay Karnes) and Claudette Wyms (CCH Pounder) work a variety of cases that bring them into contact with all kinds of different sickos.  Dutch is intelligent, but a nerd, and unpopular with the other cops who don't respect him, despite his being a great detective.  Claudette is older, more in tune with how people work, using her instincts more than her book smarts.  But the two work extremely well together, and form a close bond.

Uniformed patrolmen Danielle "Danny" Sofer (Catherine Dent) and Julien Lowe (Michael Jace) work the streets in their patrol car.  Julien is gay, but extremely religious, which puts him in a difficult position.

Over the course of the season, these cops are all that stand between the good citizens of the district and total lawlessness.  But with cops like Vic Mackey on the streets, where is that line?

Friday, June 8, 2012

"Prometheus" (2012)

Starring Noomi Rapace, Michael Fassbender and Charlize Theron
Written by Jon Spaihts and Damon Lindelof
Directed by Ridley Scott
Rated R - Sci-fi violence and brief language
Running Time: 124 Minutes

Archaeologists Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) and Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green) have made an amazing discovery: ancient civilizations on Earth sharing a common imagery that they couldn't possibly have in common.  They're excited to find that the images are actually coordinates for a star system light-years away from Earth.

Several years later, Shaw, Holloway and a team of explorers and scientists arrive on LV-223 via the starship Prometheus.  Along for the ride is ship's captain Janek (Idris Elba), icy Wayland Corp. representative Meredith Vickers (Charlize Theron), android David (Michael Fassbender) and a handful of scientists, doctors, and ship's crew.  Shaw and Holloway explain their theory that a race of beings they call the Engineers are actually responsible for the rise of human life on Earth, and that the cave paintings were an invitation to come and meet them.

On LV-223, Shaw and the others discover a massive hollow structure full of corridors and a breathable atmosphere.  Further mysteries compound: the human expedition soon finds that the Engineers within are all dead.  A series of containers seems to be leaking black, organic material of unknown composition.  The crew brings some samples back to the ship to examine as a storm closes in, but soon things begin to go very wrong. Two of the scientists are trapped in the alien structure, and they are not alone.  Some kind of creature lurks within the black liquid.  Back aboard the ship, David reveals that he has ulterior motives as he begins to experiment with the liquid himself.

As Shaw learns more about the creatures and the fate of her vaunted Engineers, she begins to realize just how wrong she was about them.  And if she can't stop what's happening on LV-223, the Earth may just suffer the same horrific fate as the Engineers.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

'Jericho' Season 2 (2008)

Starring Skeet Ulrich, Lennie James and Esai Morales
Created by Stephen Chbosky, Josh Schaer and Jonathan E. Steinberg

Months after the attacks that crippled the United States and shattered its government, the small farm town of Jericho, Kansas, finds itself at war with its more industrialized neighbor, New Bern.  With the death of Johnston Green, his sons Jake (Skeet Ulrich) and Eric (Kenneth Mitchell) find themselves leading an army to defend their home against their neighbors.  But before the war can go on too long, a startling event occurs: a new government, based in Cheyenne, Wyoming, arrives and puts a stop to the action.

A military unit is stationed in Jericho, led by Major Edward Beck (Esai Morales), and charged with helping to restore order in the area.  But while life begins to return to some semblance of normalcy, with electricity, food, even television, the residents of Jericho begin to notice something disturbing.  The new Cheyenne government is making wholesale changes to the America people used to know.  With a new flag, new history books, and even a new Constitution, the Cheyenne government has most of the United States in an iron grip.  But only a few know the truth: the Cheyenne government is corrupt to the core, with a corporation called Jennings & Rall responsible for pretty much everything.

States east of the Mississippi are aligned under remnants of the US government, while states west of the Blue Line fly the flag of Cheyenne.  Only Texas remains independent, the swing vote that could change the course of history for decades to come.

But Cheyenne has one weak spot: Robert Hawkins (Lennie James), former CIA operative who has the proof that could bring the corrupt government crumbling right down.  Jake and Hawkins must figure out how to get their proof to Texas, and point the next chapter of American history in the right direction.

'Jericho' Season 1 (2006)

Starring Skeet Ulrich, Lennie James and Gerald McRaney
Created by Stephen Chbosky, Josh Schaer, and Jonathan E. Steinberg
Executive Producers John Turteltaub and Carol Barbee

Jake Green (Skeet Ulrich) is a man with a checkered past.  He returns home to Jericho, Kansas, in order to ask his father for money.  Unfortunately, the day he arrives in town is the worst day in the history of America: Nuclear bombs are detonated in 23 American cities, killing millions and throwing the nation and the world into chaos.

The small farm town of Jericho, population roughly 5,000, is cut off from the world.  With little food, quickly dwindling supplies of fuel and ammunition and a harsh winter fast approaching, the citizens of Jericho will find themselves asking hard questions about their own survival.  Jake's father, Johnston Green (Gerald McRaney) has been mayor of Jericho for over two decades, but now faces competition from Gray Anderson (Michael Gaston), who advocates harsher rules to deal with the new, post-apocalyptic world they live in.  Jake's brother, Eric (Kenneth Mitchell), is in the midst of a deteriorating marriage.  Jake's mother Gail (Pamela Reed) is trying to keep their family together.

Jake's best friend Stanley Richmond (Brad Beyer) and Stanley's deaf sister Bonnie (Shoshanna Stern) are currently under audit by IRS agent Mimi Clark (Alicia Coppola) and may lose their farm.  Dale Turner (Erik Knudsen) is a young boy, an outcast at school, who works in the local convenience store and is put upon by the in-crowd, led by Skylar Stevens (Candace Bailey).

Arriving in town just before the attacks is Robert Hawkins (Lennie James) and his family.  Unbeknownst to everyone in town, Hawkins is no ordinary citizen.  A former CIA operative, Hawkins was undercover trying to derail the nuclear attacks, but was unable to do so.  Having failed in his mission, Hawkins moves his family to Jericho, but he holds not just a deadly secret.  He has the only proof that the attacks were committed by Americans, by someone within the American government.

And as things get worse and worse for the small town of Jericho, as the citizens begin to question whether safety is more important than freedom, Jake and Hawkins will begin to understand exactly how far the conspiracy goes, how much danger they're actually in not just from themselves, from their neighbors, but from their own government.  And a small, nowhere town in Kansas will end up being the most important place in the history of the United States of America.