Category Archives: Action

Movie Review: The A-Team

I hate the existence question. This is when a critic ponders why the movie being reviewed even exists. Every movie has a purpose, whether it is to entertain, provoke thought, or simply steal your money. However, when it comes to remakes of old TV shows, I feel it is totally appropriate to ask, “why must this exist?”

For proof of this, I turn to “The A-Team.” No reason, really. Studio must’ve needed a script quickly and didn’t feel like coming up with a new idea. This movie is a result of Hollywood’s continued lack of ingenuity.
“The A-Team” reminded me a lot of those times when you walk up to a group of kids and one of them says some weird word. Once everyone starts laughing you say, “what’s so funny?” Then, some kid responds by saying “inside joke.” You feel uncomfortable not understanding what is going on and even more annoyed that some joke is so important that it can’t be shared with the rest of the world.
This leads us to the film’s opening. Even though it introduces every single character, there still seems to be something lacking from the backstory. The only way to truly understand what is going on is to have seen the 80s TV series. But who has time for that?
Anyway, our film begins somewhere around the American-Mexican border. While under some intense kidnapping conditions, we meet the team. There’s the cigar smoking Hannibal Smith (Liam Neeson), the wily Lt. Peck (Bradley Cooper), mentally disturbed Murdock (Sharlto Copley), and conflicted killer B.A. Baracus (Quinton ‘Rampage’ Jackson).
That whole opening scene becomes pretty much pointless, as the film suddenly transitions eight years later from Mexico to Iraq (I guess director Joe Carnahan thought it went better, since both places have sand). Despite so many successful missions, nobody in the military trusts the A-Team because, hey, this is a Hollywood action film. The team is sent on a covert mission to stop some bad business involving counterfeiting Iraqi money. They are setup for murdering a general and wrongfully imprisoned. The rest of the film is them proving their innocence and finding the real bad guys.
What follows is a fairly ridiculous assault on the brain. If the explosions don’t get you, then the extremely twisted (and not in a good way) story lines will. “The A-Team” wants to be a film that relies on twists for good storytelling. The only problem is that it relies on many rather than a few. Sometimes, they occur so closely together that they get tangled. Other times, they just seem to have no reason to be there, except to be really annoying.
Not only does it try to handle so many twists, but it also tries to tackle so many stories. It wants to be both a continuation of the show and an origin story. I can’t speak for how it made fans feel, but all I can say for people new to this story is that it left us in the dark. Should this film even be taken as a serious drama, or a comedy?
At this point, I shouldn’t really expect much story. However, I do expect some production value. While the film certainly looked like it had a budget, it doesn’t look like much of it was used wisely. The film opts for the typical, shaky-cam shot action sequences. Why do action directors love shaky-cam? It creates more nausea than thrills. Have we become so A.D.D. that even a shot that lasts more than two seconds feels long?
Most of the action feels like video game violence. Everything else is so poorly edited that it often feels more like an extended trailer than a feature length film. It just puts “A-Team” into part of this horrible trend of mainstream movies that seem to be marketing products and sequels over actual stories.
What continues to annoy me about the film is some of its underlying smugness. That’s probably because of Carnahan, who also directed “Smokin’ Aces.” “Smokin’ Aces” did Tarantino much worse than it actually thought. Likewise, “A-Team” does corny 80s action much worse than it thinks.
Despite this litany of problems, the film manages to find a few bright spots in the ensemble. Neeson and Cooper just seem to be playing Neeson and Cooper. While it’s hard to ever complain about Neeson’s acting, it’s time for Cooper to find a new character. But it was the other half of the team that was most engaging. This is only Copley’s second performance, but he already knows what kind of an actor he wants to be. He brought to Murdock the same dimwitted charm that made Wikus both so likable and hatable in “District 9.” Jackson does a great job playing Mr. T about as well as Mr. T ever could. His character is also the closest the film comes to creating a sort of satire of a certain archetype.
What “The A-Team” ultimately represents is a death of creativity in Hollywood. It also shows that the moviegoing audience has suddenly lost interest in good ideas. Why couldn’t the inspired take on 80s action in “MacGruber” take hold but the uninspired mess based on an 80s TV show could? For those looking for just a good throwaway experience, this is your movie. For those wanting action with a little more watchability, “Inception” is just a few weeks away.

Movie Review: Robin Hood

Ridley Scott, where are you? The credits for “Robin Hood” say your name, but not a single one of your directorial trademarks are at all present. “Robin Hood” is not a movie, it’s a mess. It makes “The Room” look coherent.

The story of Robin Hood is folklore that’s been passed down for generations. It’s the famous “steal from the rich, give to the needy story.” Even Scott can’t seem to get that straight.
What can be deciphered from the muddled plot is that “Robin Hood” is the story of Robin Longstride, a.k.a. Robin Hood (Russell Crowe). Robin Hood is a skilled archer in the army of King Richard the Lionheart (Danny Huston) during the political instability of 13th century England. After King Richard dies, Robin Hood travels to a small English village where he encounters corruption, a crippled taxation system, and a lonely yet strong widow (Cate Blanchett).
Besides encountering love, Robin Hood makes time to return a sword to his rightful owner, and battle the pesky French, all while managing to be one of the least engaging Medieval warriors I’ve ever seen.
Robin Hood is a mythical person, but he is one that has been emphasized over the years with so much detail that some might think he was real. You wouldn’t know it from this version, though. The free-spirited, anarchic outlaw that this film wants to portray is not visible once. In fact, the title character at times seems to disappear in the background. At times, he’s rendered totally insignificant. If a film wants to portray its hero as such an important figure of its made up world, than it should actually try to do just that.
I look back at “Robin Hood” and I realize, there wasn’t one redeeming feature to somehow lift this movie up. I always try to find that one redeeming feature of every poorly done film to prove that no matter what, nothing is perfect. Yet, I still can’t find it here. Maybe the one redeeming feature is the potential. “Robin Hood” holds a talented cast, and a talented director, yet nothing holds up.
The weakest point of “Robin Hood” is definitely its screenplay. No plot points seem to connect, no characters are related to each other in important ways, and not a single line of dialogue is the least bit memorable. The film ultimately amounts to two hours and twenty minutes of British people arguing about tax code in the dullest way imaginable.
“Robin Hood” is a summer blockbuster. I know that, and the film knows that. It looks like a summer blockbuster, but it just isn’t one. There is barely a battle sequence to be found here. Then, whatever action that is to be found here is impossible to even follow. Not to mention, every kill seems meaningless because Scott seems to prefer going into battle without much context. Why are the British battling the French? Why are the British now battling each other? Taxes, I guess.
There is a difference between a good summer blockbuster, and a great one. A good one contains the kind of action that is entertaining and satisfying. A great one contains action that is enthralling and sometimes mesmerizing. “Robin Hood” falls into neither category. This is bizarre, as this comes from the mind of a truly great action director.
There is not a single moment in which “Robin Hood” feels like a Ridley Scott film. It lacks the graceful action that won “Gladiator” Best Picture. It also lacks the amazingly realized universe of “Blade Runner” and the truly brave and three dimensional hero of “Alien.”
Instead, “Robin Hood” tries way too hard to capitalize off of the success of “Lord of the Rings.” Rather than coming off like “Lord of the Rings,” or even “Braveheart,” it feels more like “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” meets an intense LARPing match. Yet, the characters in a LARPing match are more well defined.
The one thing that continues to bother me about “Robin Hood” is the wasted potential. Besides the great director, it contains a sprawling cast (which contains the legendary Max von Sydow, who’s been around long enough to work with both Martin Scorsese and Ingmar Bergman). Even Crowe and Blanchett are reduced to merely mumbling. There is even a scene where Blanchett gives an unimaginably unrealistic response to the death of a family member. Crowe is forced to do the cliche “NOOO!” scream. Is that how two Academy Award winners are supposed to be treated?
I will try my best now, to give the film some sort of praise. It might be a little backhanded, but its something. The barrage of arrows at the end was pretty well done, even if it was a blatant ripoff of a stupid scene from “300.” Meanwhile, Kevin Durand (Keamy from “Lost”) does a fine job in his role as the oddly named Little John. He is the only one who seems to be enjoying his role, and the only one who seems to be in the right movie.
Besides that, the rest of the movie is basically the Knights Who Say Ni. I’d have given the film some sort of pass for effort but for a director who’s known to be an intense perfectionist, its shocking that so little effort has been put into this version of “Robin Hood.” Whether this is the fault of an intrusive studio, or a lazy director and writer is up to interpretation, but one thing about the legend of Robin Hood can be said: the version with the fox is better.

Shaking Things Up: Sam Mendes Will Be Next Bond Director

Over the past few years, the James Bond series, which is now approaching its 23rd installment, has begun to make some changes to the classic character. Some changes have worked amazingly, and others haven’t really changed much at all.

Now comes the most surprising change of all: Sam Mendes (“American Beauty,” “Away We Go,” “Revolutionary Road”) is slated to direct the next Bond film. This is a piece of news I am quite happy to report. Mendes is a very talented dramatic director, and even though trashing “American Beauty” is a hobby of most film critics, I still stand firmly stand by its side.
Anyway, Mendes might be the first Oscar winning director to helm a Bond film, and probably the most talented. There was once word that Quentin Tarantino was going to direct “Casino Royale,” but those unfortunately turned out to be just rumors (I guess Bond fans would’ve been a little turned off by hearing 007 talk about what they call a Big Mac in England).
What I wonder though is this: can Mendes handle the action? “Casino Royale,” which revamped the series, was directed by Martin Campbell. Campbell isn’t known for making amazing stories, but he did have experience on how to make a good action film. That might be why “Casino Royale” not only had one of the most interesting Bond stories, but it also gave us one of the most beautifully choreographed chase sequences ever put on film.
“Quantum of Solace” was put in the hands of director Marc Forster (“Finding Neverland,” “Monster’s Ball”). While the film’s plot was engaging, the action sequences lacked the sheer grace found in “Casino Royale.” The action here was too quick, sloppy, and unfocused to be thrilling. Even when Bond was in gravest danger, it was hard to feel too worried. There’s no way to enjoy a good thrill when you can’t even tell whether or not it’s going on.
This is the sole reason I worry about Mendes’ direction: will his inexperience in the action genre be problematic? He’ll definitely be able to conceive a well put together storyline and believable characters, but he might not be able to trigger that wow factor a well-made thrill ride can produce.
Hopefully, this won’t be true. Many directors have gone from art house to blockbuster with amazing results. Take for example, Christopher Nolan (“Memento,” “Batman Begins”) and Alfonso Cuaron (“Y Tu Mama Tambien,” “Children of Men”). Both managed to add their unique storytelling skills to films defined by action. Both these men would be fine future candidates.
For now, lets just hope Mendes can make another “Goldfinger,” and not another “Die Another Day.”
I originally intended to end this post with a joke about Mendes turning the next Bond film into a story about 007 going through suburban angst. Too bad every other film blogger beat me to the punch.