Category Archives: DVD

The A-Team

In a year filled with ensemble action movies, The A-Team was surely the one with the best known back story?  Maybe that didn’t do it any favours.  While many of us loved the series, at the time, countless repeats and plenty of piss taking later meant there were concerns about it transferring to the big screen.

Would the new actors be able to pull off the old characters?  Would it feel like a sad pastiche?  Would we accept the new faces in the old roles?  Would they be bogged down by the memories of countless episodes in which no one gets seriously injured, not even the bad guys?  Would a modern audience accept the ludicrous solutions the team are well known for?

I’d heard mixed reviews about the film before sitting down to watch it – and I have to say, I was pleasantly surprised.  Someone I know said ‘do they expect us to believe this shit?’  Well, my answer is no, they don’t.  They know it’s unbelievable, but they don’t care.  If you want to enjoy this movie you’ll take the step and willingly suspend your disbelief.  If you have no intention or ability to do that – then the director isn’t interested in trying to entertain you.

The A-Team tells the story of how the famous four get together, the crime they are supposed to have committed and the attempt at clearing their own names.  It’s a contemporary set-up for the series, a prequel, and as such a very clever decision.  Just another long episode would have been harder to pull off, but giving us the start of the story in an up-to-date setting worked very well.

The actors take on the roles without ever really trying to do second rate impressions of the previous team, for which I was quite grateful.  There’s a moment early in the movie where they crush BA’s van which is almost a statement from the director – yes, these are the same guys, but no, this is not the same cheesy 80’s series.

From that moment the action ramps up and we are led through a series of chases, captures, and betrayals that get us to the defining moment – when the team must break out of prison, prove their innocence and save the girl.

It’s funny, it’s totally entertaining and it’s entirely insane.  It’s everything that was good about the A-Team without the 80’s cheese, instead, it brings along the 80’s vibe and the 80’s good feeling.  There’s clearly room for a sequel, and I’d quite happily go and see it.

Centurion

Neil Marshall’s output has been a little bit hit and miss for us.  I’m not a big fan of the overt horror in Descent, although I loved the blackly comic Dog Soldiers, and I enjoyed Doomsday despite the flaws.

So I wasn’t sure what Centurion would deliver.  Set at the time Hadrian started building his wall, the movie kind of tells the story of the Roman 9th legion.  Kind of, because it’s actually about a Roman soldier who’s not in the 9th legion, but joins it temporarily.

The legion comes up against the native British Picts, and the movie really covers the results of that encounter.

Centurion contains Neil Marshall’s trademark gore.  The hand-to-hand fighting is brutal and blood soaked, there are exploding heads and departing limbs a-plenty.  There is significantly less comedy in Centurion than Dog Soldiers, but it’s not lacking entirely.  The commander of the 9th is particularly colourful and his introduction gives us a little glimpse of the magic scenes from Dog Soldiers.  The story in Centurion is pretty simple, a straight forward tale of betrayal with a hint of love.  The depth in the film comes from the incredible breathtaking scenery juxtaposed with the brutal combat and the rigid sense of honour in the lead from Michael Fassbender.

Fassbender is compelling, and his counterpart in the story (the mute hunter played by Olga Kurylenko) provides a worthy adversary.  There’s a reasonable amount of tension, and it’s never really clear who’s going to make it through to the end.  Treachery comes from all angles, while  Quintus Dias (Fassbender) struggles to keep his men alive.

I enjoyed watching Centurion, and while it had some excellent moments, it didn’t deliver the constant high quality of Dog Soldiers.  Worth a watch, especially if you’re a fan of Roman historical fantasy, probably higher quality than Doomsday but not Neil’s best.

Salt (Directors Cut)

I can’t think of many major spy action movies in the last 20 or 30 years which had women in the lead roles.  I can think of three if we count movies which include women as assassins who may or may not work for the government.  La Femme Nikita, Mr & Mrs Smith and Salt.

The last two both star Angelina Jolie.  I’m sure you folks can think of a few more (considering how narrow my movie experience is).  But it’s still pretty telling.  It’s trivial to reel off loads of spy action/thrillers starring men, and it’s no surprise that this is the case.

Salt was originally written for a male star (Edwin Salt was the character), but after negotiations didn’t work out, they turned to Angelina and re-wrote the lead as Evelyn Salt.  Personally, I love Angelina’s acting and that colours my perception of any movie she’s in.  This is an action movie first and foremost, lovingly employing many of the tropes we expect from the spy movie genre.  The role is no less physical than it would have been if the character had remained male, I suspect, and for me, Evelyn’s actions were more believable than perhaps a male characters would have been.  I expect, of course, that the bits which make a lot of sense for a female role were added after Jolie was cast, but still, it works well.

The plot is reasonably simple (I’ve seen some reviews saying how it was horribly complex, but not so for me).  Early in the movie, Evelyn Salt is accused of being a double-agent, and the movie centres around her subsequent actions and peeling back the onion-layers of her life so we can find out the truth.  Whether she is or not isn’t really that critical, it’s how she behaves and what she believes she has to do as a result that matters.

In this respect, it’s similar in story to the first Mission Impossible movie, but then, when you’re writing about spies you only have so many options.

Jolie is excellent in the lead role, supporting actors are good enough although there aren’t many other roles.  While I liked both Liev Schreiber (her CIA boss) and Chiwetel Ejiofor (CIA counter-intelligence), if I have one complaint about the movie it’s that they weren’t strong enough and could have done with more screen time.

The pace is excellent and non-stop once the initial bomb is dropped, and although I was able to work out pretty early on what was really going on, it didn’t spoil the actual film, and I did start doubting myself before the big reveal.

I cared about Jolie’s character and I cared what happened to her.  I wanted her to succeed whatever side she turned out to be working for, and she sold the emotional elements of the role very well.  The fights were choppy and I felt she was underused in some sections when she demonstrated in Wanted and Mr & Mrs Smith she’s more than capable of pulling off the physical stuff.  But that’s a minor gripe in what otherwise was an enjoyable and entertaining spy action movie.

It’s not going to turn into a classic, but it was classy, well groomed, well paced and well received in this house.

Gamer

I had mixed hopes for Gamer.  On the one hand, movies about computer games tend on the whole not to be very good, on the other hand it had a pretty good pedigree and some of the clips from the trailer looked promising.  The premise is simple, through the use of nano technology the human brain can be modified so that a person can be controlled remotely.  Some people will pay for the ability to control people, and those who are controlled can get paid.  The Sims made real.  Alongside that, criminals on death row are offered the chance to be controlled in live first-person-shooter style games, with the promise of surviving 30 games giving them their freedom.  The technology was developed and is sold by Ken Castle (played by Michael C. Hall) who is now a multi-billionaire.

Our grisly combat-savy hero (Gerard Butler) has survived 27 or so battles controlled by a young male gamer.  As he nears his 30th match, things take a turn south.

One could be forgiven for thinking this was a remake / reworking of The Running Man.  Certainly there are many similarities, prisoners given a chance at freedom for the entertainment of the masses, those in charge of the game being corrupt or manipulating the outcome and media interest in the whole thing.  In fact, there are plenty of comparisons to be made to the recent Death Race movie as well.  Given the plot in general isn’t that original, the movie really needed to bring something else to the table.

The pop culture references are entertaining, with the look of the Society game clearly modelled on many current real-world MMO’s, and there are a few pokes and prods at the mindsets of a certain type of game player.  The dialogue is okay, it’s no where near as cheesy as I feared, and the pace clips along pretty well.  The characters are interesting, but not very deep, and there’s a definite sense of having seen much of this film before elsewhere (the anti-establishment hackers in Johnny Mnemonic for example).  The action scenes are brutal (you’ll recognise the writers/directors from Crank and Crank 2) but give you a good sense of being inside a first-person-shooter.

The first two thirds of the movie are the strongest, sadly once our hero inevitably comes up against the bad guy, all sense of danger is lost and the story becomes almost a parody of itself.

Gamer was mostly enjoyable, and I’m glad I saw it, but I think it was a huge missed opportunity.  It could have been a classic, a solid action sci-fi movie with something serious to say about where culture is heading with on-line gaming.  But I don’t think the writers/directors quite had the balls to pull it off.  Maybe the screenplay was better and it lost something on the way to the screen, but the movie misses the mark too often.  Which is a shame, because it deserved to be and had the root of something much bigger than it turned into.

The International

A thriller about the banking industry?  You’d be forgiven for assuming it would be dull and full of tedious exposition, but with minor reservations you’d be wrong.  Clive Owen plays an Interpol agent trying to track down the truth about a giant bank’s involvement in weapon sales, money laundering and other illegal activity.   He is assisted or thwarted by various individuals and organisations along the way including an American DEA, Italian police and the bank itself.

The International is long but engaging and although I wouldn’t describe it as always gripping, it does demand your attention and keep you hooked through to the end.  Not least as a result of excellent performances from Owen and the cast around him.  I was particularly engaged by Armin Mueller-Stahl’s presence on screen, understated and calm yet totally real.

The story has a few holes and you have to wonder why it takes the police so long to arrive to a gun fight in a major public place in New York, but there’s nothing there that ruined the experience for me.  I do wish more movies took more time to avoid the little niggles like this, but I wonder if any film actually manages to achieve that.  The cinematography was subtle but really supported the cast and dialog.  There aren’t many action set pieces so it wouldn’t be true to call this an action-thriller but the one major set piece is certainly thrilling.  The writers opted to avoid any twists and instead build tension through Owen’s growing frustration at the cases progression and the threat on the lives of those around him.  I give them credit for that.

The end is downbeat, but rather expected and the newspaper headline snapshots during the closing credits do justice in wrapping up a couple of questions the main ending left you with.  Overall this was a surprisingly enjoyable film which probably deserved more credit than it got from the critics.

Resident Evil

Considering the source material and what was asked of the actors, I found Resident Evil to be watchable and enjoyable despite the many flaws, in a world of horrific game-to-movie conversions Resident Evil keeps it’s head just above the sludge.

The Golden Child

While not being rated as highly as some of Murphy’s work, personally I enjoyed The Golden Child and found it entertaining and different to the movies around at the time, having said that it might not hold up well after 23 years.