True Lies

     True Lies – “I’m beginning to like this guy.  Oh, we still have to kill him.  That’s a given.”  I love this film.  True Lies is a roller coaster of comedy and action that is always coming at you.  While some of the plot is a bit much, the actors act and react they way you would expect keeping you involved.  However, it does go a tad too long and gets out of character at the ending.  Regardless, it’s a fun ride from start to finish.  Rated 72% at Rotten Tomatoes and 4.5 stars at Amazon, this is a “mindless” good time.

Plot – Harry Tasker (Arnold Schwarzenegger) leads a double life as a computer salesman to his wife Helen (Jamie Lee Curtis) and a counter-terrorist spy for the US Govt.  Helen is totally fooled.  Harry is joined by Gib (Tom Arnold) and Faisil (Grant Heslov) for the govt team.  His mission to Switzerland reveals an Islamist terrorist plot against the US and he meets Juno Skinner (Tia Carrera), an antiques dealer who he thinks has ties to the terrorists.  But his work is interfering with his married life.  Harry goes to Helen’s office to surprise her and take her to lunch, but he overhears a conversation about “Simon” and Helen.  He uses govt resources to track down Simon and finds he’s a used car salesman using the spy routine to seduce his wife.  The govt team breaks in on them and takes Helen back to their office to find she was bored and lonely.  To give her adventure, he sends Helen on a sham mission to plant a bug on an arms dealer.  During the sham mission, the real terrorists kidnap Harry & Helen.  At the terrorist camp, he reveals everything to Helen and they escape with lots of explosions and bullets flying.  But, Helen is recaptured.  They discover the terrorists are trying to set off a nuclear weapon and they call in the jets to blow up the bridge, but Harry has to still save his wife.  Once Helen is saved and some of the terrorists are dealt with, he finds his daughter is kidnapped and he must save the day.  At the end, a year has passed and the Taskers are a spy family….and there’s a funny “reunion” with Simon that shouldn’t be missed. 

Commentary – This movie is a great mixture of action and comedy.  Ok, the whole middle-eastern terrorist plot has been done to death and the film was criticized for it.  But, it was made during the time that this was a concern in America and before 9/11 happened.  Don’t let that keep you away from this film.  The secondary characters really sell the movie.  This was probably the best acting Tom Arnold ever did and Jamie Lee Curtis plays the naive wife perfectly.   There is some adult language and the some mild sexual moments, but the film is pretty tame.  While the movie does have its flaws, you’ll find that you can not turn away from this movie and want to watch it over and over.

Trivia – Jamie Lee Curtis and Arnold Schwarzenegger did many stunts in the film.  That woman hanging from the chopper is really Jamie Lee Curtis.  A sequel was being prepared, but after 9/11 in 2001, the director felt the “terrorist” angle could no longer be funny.  In the striptease scene, Helen falling down was not part of the script as she actually just fell down, but the reactions were so great that they kept going giving the scene a great moment in the movie.

*** Just click the images to check out “True Lies” at Amazon.com ***


Shanghai Noon

     Shanghai Noon – “C’mon Roy, you can do it.  Ah, no you can’t.  He’s gonna kill ya.”  This was ALMOST a great film, but it’s still a great movie to watch.  East meets West…Karate meets gunfights….Indians, Chinese, and cowboys….What’s not to like?  Jackie Chan and Owen Wilson team up in this action comedy and you get the best of both worlds.  The movie starts off great, but somewhere along the line loses focus on the plot.  However, the chemistry of Chan and Wilson is undeniable and you will enjoy watching the film regardless.  The comedy is hilarious and the action scenes get your adrenaline pumping.  The old west shootouts with Wilson’s melodrama is perfect and the spoof of Lee Van Cleef is just fun for fans of the spaghetti western genre.  Rated 79% at rotton tomatoes and 4.5 stars at Amazon.com, you won’t be disappointed.

Plot – The plot is almost secondary to the film, but here goes.  The Chinese Princess Pei Pei (Lucy Liu) escapes China to avoid an arranged marriage.  In reality, she’s unknowingly kidnapped and they demand gold for her return.  Chon Wang (Jackie Chan) and other Imperial Guards are sent to America to retrieve her.  On the train to Carson City, it is attacked by western train robbers.  The gang includes Roy O’Bannon (Owen Wilson), but his group also includes a crazy Texan who kills Wang’s uncle.  They struggle, but Wang escapes the gang.  Wang is lost, but comes across Roy buried up to his neck.  In exchange for directions, he “helps” Roy out.  Following Roy’s directions, he climbs over the mountains and notices war indians chasing an indian boy from a different tribe.  Wang saves him in typical Chan style and is brought back to the good indian tribe where he accidentally marries an indian girl.  Wang finds Roy in a bar and they fight and get arrested.  Wang’s indian wife saves them, but now they’re a team and out to save the princess.  They finally meet the bad guys in an abandoned church to deliver the ransom.  A shootout takes place where they save the princess and she wants to stay in America.

Commentary – The movie has an excellent story going on, but essentially has too much going on to close it out.  However, the jokes are funny and not necessarily politically correct.  The spoof of old American westerns is excellent.  “Chon Wang” translated by Roy to “John Wayne?…That’s a terrible western name.”  And Marshall Nathan Van Cleef pays homage to Lee Van Cleef character from many spaghetti westerns like “The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly” is funny.  “How do you survive out here?” he asks Roy.  Some language is strong, but it’s not too bad of a movie for middle aged kids.  The action is typical Jackie Chan.  Bottomline is that it’s a great film to watch…even if not a truly great film.  I recommend getting the combo dvd with Shanghai Knights.  While “Knights” isn’t as good as “Noon”, it’s still a good film to enjoy as well.  Besides, from a cost standpoint, it just makes sense.

Trivia – The catchy quote in the film “I don’t know karate, I know crazy” is actually a line from a James Brown song.  Actress Brandon Merrill, who plays Wang’s indian wife Falling Leaves, is a real life rodeo champion.  The Chinese characters in the background of the opening credits are excerpts from a translation of “The Frog Prince”

*** Just click the images to check out “Shanghai Noon/Shanghai Nights” at Amazon.com ***


Men In Black

     Men In Black – “We’re not hosting an intergalactic kegger down here.”  In May 2012, Men In Black III will be unleashed on the American public, a full 10 years since MIB II was released.  Before that happens, we should take time to revisit the movies that started it all.  In 1997, Men In Black was a clever take on aliens featuring a secret govt society that helps aliens immigrate and fit into society as well as protect us from the bad ones.  Will Smith & Tommy Lee Jones were spectalucar as a team and their interaction throughout the film gave it a strong comedic tone.  Rated a 91% at Rotten Tomatoes and 4.5 stars at Amazon.com, this movie is a fun ride.

Plot – Agent K (Tommy Lee Jones) is a member of a secret alien control group of the govt.  He identifies a NYPD detective James Darrell Edwards III (Will Smith) as a replacement of his retiring partner after observing him follow a diguised alien.  He invites him to headquarters where he is given a test along with several military guys.  James uses common sense to pass the test.  He’s offered the job, but given the catch that he now doesn’t “exist”.  He accepts and is dubbed Agent J.  J has a hard time learning about the technology and how the MIB operate because common sense is now out the window.  They investigate an alien landing and discover that a bug has landed, killed a man, and using his skin as a disquise.  The bug is after the “galaxy”.  K & J go to the morgue where 2 Arquillians disguised as humans had been killed and taken there with their pet cat.  At the morgue, Dr. Weaver (Linda Fiorentino) reveals his disguise, sees the alien and hears his message about the “galaxy”.  The Arquillians are now threatening the planet demanding the “galaxy” or they will destroy the Earth.  They leave in search of the “galaxy” and are puzzled.  When K & J realize the “galaxy” is on the cat, they rush back to find the bug is there.  He escapes kidnapping Dr. Weaver to get on a spaceship to go back.  K & J catch him there and must do battle to defeat the bug and save the planet.

Commentary – Men In Black was a funny and clever sci-fi film and the banter of the 2 stars will keep you laughing.  It’s like watching a father and son bicker.  Some language is strong, but it is a pretty safe family movie.  The plot is not that critical and the enjoyment of the movie is in the back and forth between J & K and a different way of viewing life.  It’s also a humorous look at man’s arrogance and how other species might view us.  To the right is a picture from MIB II, which should also be watched again soon.  It’s not as good as the original and basically just cashes in on the concept, but it is still entertaining once Tommy Lee Jones is involved.  Do not expect much from this one as Laura Flynn Boyle is not believable as the villain.  However, the entertainment value is still pretty good.  Before seeing MIB III, you want to be back up to speed since it has been 10 years since MIB II was released.

Trivia – Clint Eastwood was offered the role as K and Chris O’Donnell (Batman & Robin) was offered the role as J.  I believe this film would have been a disaster with those 2 as the stars.  After reading the script, Will Smith did not want to accept the role, but his wife convinced him.  See guys, listen to your wives.  The sunglasses used in the film are rayban “Predator 2” glasses and once the film released, sales tripled for the glasses.

*** Just click the images to check out “Men in Black & Men in Black II” at Amazon.com ***


War of the Roses

     War of the Roses – “Oliver, my father used to say that a man can never outdo a woman when it comes to love and revenge.”  What a deliciously, evil black comedy by Danny DeVito based on the novel by Warren Adler.  A lesser known hit from the late 80’s brings Michael Douglas, whose acting usually leaves me unimpressed, and Kathleen Turner into war with each other as they go through a divorce.  Some great acting and some twisted scenes keep you wondering…what’s next?  And, some great philosophical one liners that every man should pay attention too is delivered by Danny DeVito.  Rated 81% at Rotten Tomatoes and 4.5 stars at Amazon.com, this movie’s a steal.

Plot – Gavin (Danny DeVito) is a divorce attorney with an unnamed client in his office (yes, that’s Dan Castellaneta..aka Homer Simpson).  Before proceeding to filing for divorce, he tells him the story of the Rose’s.  As Gavin begins, we see Oliver Rose (Michael Douglas) at an art auction where he meets Barbara (Kathleen Turner).  After a romantic afternoon, they end up spending the night together.  They get married, have kids, and their lives take off.  They get richer and finally get a house that Kathleen has been after for years.  As Oliver works and tries to impress his bosses as a top lawyer, Barbare builds their home.  But, once completed, Barbara loses happiness in her life and grows contempt.  When Oliver is rushed to the hospital for a suspected heart attack (which is really a hiatal hernia), he writes a personal note to her.  However, she doesn’t show to pick him up and he’s upset.  Finally, she tells him he she doesn’t love him anymore and wants a divorce.  Oliver is floored.  In their divorce negotiation, Barbara wants the house because of her efforts.  But, she showed Oliver’s “dying note” and it is used against him, he vows she will never get it.  The war is on and they go to amazing efforts to spite each other.  Gavin, who had been helping Oliver, now suggests he let her have it and get it over with.  Oliver fires him and takes matters into his own hands.  The war hilariously escalates to a pinnacle of bitterness, but once real harm is possible, things back down a bit….But, that doesn’t mean the war is over…..

Commentary –  This film is one of my personal favorites.  I can’t say this is the best film ever, but the creativity of evilness is just something I enjoy.  DeVito is excellent as the friend lawyer that is much wiser as he tells the Rose’s story.  Michael Douglas does a great job as the victim as well as throwing some bitter attacks as well.  Kathleen Turner brilliantly plays on your sympathies and then unleashes her supremely evil attacks on her husband.  Maybe watching Michael Douglas suffer is what I enjoy most.  Frankly, this movie will make you wonder what your husband or wife is planning to do to you.  But, you’ll also be laughing at how they bring them about.  There are a couple of questionable scenes that might be too much for young children, but they are brief.  It’s a “black comedy”.  The more evil they are to each other, the more humorous the film gets.

Trivia – The first assembled cut of the film was 3 hours and 4 minutes before cutting it down to 1 hour and 56 minutes.  Cher was also considered for the role of Barbara Rose.  Frankly, Turner and Douglas had an uncanny chemistry on film from working together on other films.  In the final scene (which I won’t spoil), our favorite actors were in a rather compromising position…So, DeVito pretended to break for lunch leaving them in their precarious situation.  You can only imagine how they felt.

*** Just click the images to check out “War of the Roses” at Amazon.com ***


The Lion King

     The Lion King – “SHE’S GONNA EAT ME!!!”  In 1994, Disney unleashed one of its best animated classics of all time.  This movie is, without a doubt, a top 5 animated movie on anyone’s list.  The animation is visually stunning.  The story is compelling.  The music is moving and impactful.  And, the mixture of child & adult themes make this an enjoyable film for all ages.  You get a solid mixture of childishness that will keep the kids happy and there is plenty of romance, dramatic tension, and suspense sequences to keep adults engaged.  Rated 89% at Rotten Tomatoes (rating reduced due to opinions of dvd complaints) and 4.5 stars at Amazon.com, this is a real winner.  Considering that Disney releases their classics for only a limited time, don’t miss the opportunity to add this to your collection now while still available.

Plot – The film opens with Mufasa and Sarabi welcoming their new son Simba.  Mufasa’s younger bother, Scar, doesn’t show and Mufasa visits him questioning his judgment.  Scar, who is desperate to be king, expresses his treachery with veiled threats, but Mufasa maintains order.  Mufasa begins raising Simba and explaining how to be king.  Simba is naive and mischevous with his lioness best friend Nala.  Scar gets into Simba’s ear and leads him into trouble.  Scar conspires with the hyenas to get rid of Mufasa & Simba, which is the only way he can be king.  The trap is set.   However, Simba survives.  Scar advises him to run, but then sends the hyenas to kill him.  Simba escapes and joins a meerkat named Timon and a warthog named Pumbaa who teach him a different way of carefree living and avoiding responsibility.  Simba keeps his status a secret.  Years pass and, while Pumbaa is tracking food, a lioness is after him….Simba races to the rescue and it’s Nala.  She informs what Scar has done to their home with the hyenas.  Another friend of Mufasa, the wise Rafiki (a mandril monkey) tracks him down and shows him the way.  Simba rushes home.  Rafiki informs Nala, Timon, & Pumbaa that he is returning and the rush to help him.  Arriving back, they see how horrible it is.  Simba challenges Scar, who is backed by the hyenas.  Scar tries to charge Simba with Mufasa’s death and eerily gets Simba into a similar position when Scar reveals his treachery.  Simba recovers and forces him to confess and the epic battle begins between Simba and Scar while the lionesses charge the hyenas.  Order is now restored and Simba takes his place as the lion king with Nala by his side.

Commentary – As stated, this is one of the best animated movies of all time.  Although, kid friendly, there are many adult themes to keep adults involved…particularly if you are a fan of animation.  There are veiled references to dark time periods in world history regarding of Scars attempt to become king and the depths of treachery he is willing to go to.  Children will not get the reference, but any adults who understand history will.  Disney will not let this film be on the market for much longer, so if you haven’t obtained a copy…get it now.  This is a film for your library and one you will enjoy watching time & again.

Trivia – Controversy surrounded the film as aspects were virtually identical to the Japanese anime show “Kimba, The White Lion”.  Disney officially claimed the similarities as coincidental.  Yoshihiru Shimizu rejected urges to sue Disney due to their company being small & weak and Disney having top lawyers and it wouldn’t be worth the expense.  There are rumors that Tezuka Productions were paid to not challenge Disney, but this is not confirmed.  Additionally, hyena biologists were upset with the portrayal of hyenas in the film and one actually sued Disney for “defamation of character” for the animals.

*** Just click the images to check out “The Lion King” at Amazon.com ***


Groundhog Day

     Groundhog Day – “If you gotta shoot, aim high.  I don’t wanna hit the groundhog.”  As Feb 2nd is just around the corner, it reminds me of one of the best romantic comedies made.  It’s brilliant, clever, touching, romantic, and most of all…also funny.  The best part is that it is not too cheesy with the sappy, romance stuff.  It’s more realistic in that he makes monumental mistakes over and over and over again.  The comedy is perfectly intigrated into the story and keeps you entertained as Phil (Bill Murray) learns about himself and others around him.  This is a movie you’ll watch over and over again….pun intended.  Rated 96% at Rotten Tomatoes and 4.5 stars at Amazon.com, this is a guaranteed winner.  In 2006, the movie was accepted into the US Nation Film Registry for being culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.

Plot – A self-centered & sour weatherman, Phil (Bill Murray), the producer Rita (Andie MacDowell), and goofy cameraman Larry (Chris Elliott) head to Punxsutawney, PA to cover the annual Groundhog Day celebration.  Phil is tired of this ritual and just wants to get out, but a blizzard shuts down the roads and they’re forced to stay.  But, Phil wakes up the next day and…well, it’s Groundhog Day again.  He’s confused and originally freaked, but as the day keeps repeating, he starts taking advantage of the situation.  First he starts by hedonistically abusing town members and tries to get closer to Rita, but this continually fails.  Growing more despondent and bitter, he tries to end it by killing the dreaded groundhog and including himself in various ways.  But, he wakes up the next day as good as new.  He talks to Rita who challenges him to improve himself.  He begins improving himself by learning the people, helping them, and then by improving himself as a person.  He finally is able to romance Rita for 1 kiss and convinces her to stay the evening to see what happens…..

Commentary – How the story is portrayed is the brilliance of the film.  It’s realistic in how one might react in that circumstance and that Phil doesn’t magically become some “good person” just because he is tormented.  He doesn’t get to win easily or suddenly become brilliant.  As Phil describes in the movie, you can plan the perfect day, but “it just takes an awful lot of work.”  And, the best part of the film is that the viewer is never let in on what caused it, what stops it, or how long this situation continues for Phil.  To do so would have destroyed the film by having people focus on what caused the situation rather than the story of Phil’s development into a “good person”.  NOT telling you is the brilliance in the film.  But, that doesn’t mean some hints are not in the film.

Trivia – An early draft of the script provided a reason for Phil’s situation.  An ex-lover places a voodoo spell on him to teach him a lesson.  Bill Murray was actually bitten by the groundhog twice during filming….probably felt some tension for what Phil’s character was trying to do to him.  Harold Ramis (director) originally considered Tom Hanks for the lead role, but felt that Hanks was too “nice” for the character.

** Just click the images to check out “Groundhog Day” at Amazon.com. **


Taken

     Taken – “I believe you.  But, that won’t save you.”  This action thriller from 2008 is straight, aggressive, and to the point.  You get so involved in each scene that you don’t even notice that an hour and a half has gone by.  I thought this movie was about 30 minutes long until I checked the clock.  Liam Neeson does an excellent job switching from father to CIA operative and the steps he uses to find his daughter are logical and flowing.  Granted some “convenient” occurances aid in his success, but at least the “unbelievable” is kept to a minimum.  The truly enjoyable part of this film is watching a father saving his daughter and exacting revenge on the bad guys as most people wished happened in real life.  It’s swift, painful, and brutal which is what any father would want if it were his daughter.  Critics didn’t care for the film rating it 58% at Rotten Tomatoes, but the fans liked it at 83% and gave it 4 stars at Amazon.com.

Plot – Bryan (Liam Neeson) is a retired CIA operative trying to rebuild a relationship with his daughter, Kim (Maggie Grace).  His ex-wife and wealthy new husband seem to upstage his attempts, even at her birthday.  The next day, Bryan is to meet Kim for lunch and his ex-wife shows up.  They surprise him with his daughter’s plan to go to France/Europe with her 19 year old friend Amanda, which he is against.  After being badgered, he relents giving his daughter an international cell phone to contact him.  Upon arriving, they get to the apartment meeting a handsome stranger.  While getting situated, Bryan calls Kim because she hasn’t called him.  While talking, she notices men entering and kidnapping Amanda.  Bryan gives her instructions to help aid him as she’s being taken.  Bryan arrives in France and surveys the scene for clues.  Then, he meets an old friend from the French Intelligence, who is now a desk bureaucrat, and gets a tip where to start, but warns him to keep it quiet.  He gets to a brothel at a construction site and discovers a prostitute with a major clue that leads him to the kidnappers.  Posing as French agent, he invades the “conversion house” for kidnapped girls and takes one of the kidnappers into a room for brutal torture to get information.  He gains the information needed to discover who is trafficking the girls.  Getting into the mansion, he finds where the slave auction going on and finds his daughter, but is captured.  Able to escape, he finds out who bought her and traces him down……

Commentary – Being that the movie is so straight-forward, I tried not to reveal too much of the critical scenes.  The movie taps into a deep fear of any parent that someone would take their child and the naivety of cruelty in the world.  Reality is that we can not do what Bryan does and, therefore, the emotional grab is the unnerving.  The movie has excellent action and suspense, but lacks the “twist” at the end.  But, as mentioned before, you’ll be so sucked into the story that you’ll never even notice.  This is a thrill ride movie and the excitement is not in the ending, but in the journey.  So, don’t worry about trying to figure it out and stay focused on what you’re watching.  You won’t even have time for a bathroom break because you don’t want to miss anything.

Trivia – The martial arts style used by Neeson in the film is called Nagasu Do…a hybrid styling borrowing Judo, Aikido, and Ju Jitsu.  Liam Neeson was trained by former Special Air Service soldier, Mick Gould, for handling weapons and combative scenes.  The curved knife used in the final fight scene is a karambit.  It’s an Indonesian/Malasian weapon with a fingerhole in the handle making it very difficult to disarm.

** Just click the images to check out “Taken” at Amazon.com **