Wanted (2008)

James McAvoy takes on his first major action role in Wanted, this summer's first over the top special effects extravaganza. We have already seen plenty of movies this summer that are action packed and often unbelievable, but only Wanted and it's total disregard for the irrefutable laws of physics made my jaw drop and my eyes widen. McAvoy stars as Wesley Gibson, a bored accountant with a wretched boss, a cheating girlfriend, and no discernible talents that separate him from the faceless crowd of people that work in the cubicles around him. But Wesley's life soon becomes a lot more exciting after a fateful trip to the supermarket. While picking up his annual refill of anxiety medication, he gets caught in the crossfire between two assassins, Fox (Angelina Jolie) and Cross (Thomas Kretschmann). After a well shot car chase, Fox rescues Wesley and brings him to The Fraternity, a group of elite assassins that has been in existence for centuries. Members of the Fraternity have been trained to perform the amazing (and physically impossible) feat of curving bullets to hit targets at any angle. Wesley is then introduced to Sloan (Morgan Freeman), the leader of the Fraternity. Sloan tells Wesley his father was killed by Cross, the assassin that was in the supermarket. Cross had gone rogue and began shooting down Fraternity members one by one. Now he wanted Wesley to hone in his unknown ability to become a great assassin like his father, and track down Cross before he destroys the Fraternity completely.

The last time I saw James McAvoy was in 2006's The Last King of Scotland. In that performance, he proved to me that he was an acting force that would rip through Hollywood like a storm. I was surprised he did not receive an Oscar nomination along with Forest Whitaker in that film. Wanted is a total change of direction for the Scottish actor, and he handles the task like a seasoned professional, really falling into the persona of an ass kicking machine. Although he couldn't quite deliver those one line catch phrases that every action hero always has, he did deliver everything else needed to create an interesting and likeable character that can make even the most gruesome murder look awesome. McAvoy is a tremendous talent and he will carry on a successful career as both an action star and serious actor for many years to come. Angelina Jolie, no stranger to the action hero role takes up the supporting spot in Wanted as Fox, the assassin who trains Wesley to become a killing machine. Her character was a bit one dimensional, but she played the part well and brought what was needed to the table. I'm one of the few men in the world who don't find Jolie attractive, so I couldn't really appreciate the whole "sexy empowered female" aspect of the character. Morgan Freeman is Fraternity leader Sloan and much like Jolie, doesn't bring a lot of dynamics to the film. He plays the part that he was hired to play and that was all. Wanted was basically James McAvoy's opportunity to show off his slick action hero side. That's good enough for me.

Wanted marks the American film debut of Russian-Kazakh director Timur Bekmambetov. I do not know what Bekmambetov's Night Watch series is like because I have not seen it, but from watching Wanted I can tell that he is skilled in the art of overblown action sequences. Him and Michael Bay should hang out. The use of slow motion during fight scenes surprisingly does not get boring and dry, which is good because that effect is used often. The way cars fly through the air in such awkward fashions and then miraculously land right side up is a bit too much like a video game, because it is simply not possible. But plausibility has no business being in this film. It's main purpose is to inspire awe and make ones' adrenaline start pumping, and that's what it did. Although the action sequences in Wanted were top notch, the pacing of the film was a bit erratic. I think Bekmambetov became too intent on keeping the film fast paced, and as a result created a movie that felt rushed. I never thought I would say this about a movie, but perhaps he should have made the film 15 minutes longer to make the transitions a bit easier to handle. The story's progression developed fully, but in a very hasty fashion that did irk me a little bit. Wanted was written by Michael Brandt and Derek Haas, the team that wrote the amazing 3:10 to Yuma remake and the not so amazing 2 Fast 2 Furious sequel. Adapting from the comic book series, Brandt and Haas did an excellent job of creating interesting dialogue and keeping a (somewhat) sensible storyline. The twist ending that they wrote was not predictable, and it made for a satisfying resolution.

Now, I really did truly enjoy Wanted. It is one of the best action films I have seen recently. But on top of that, I also got a 99 in physics. And I hate to be "this guy", but I can disprove the whole idea of bending bullets with an explanation right now. So I will. (If you are not interested in a science lesson, please proceed to the next paragraph). The laws of motion state that, for example, if a ball enters a semi-circular tube resting on top of a table, it will obviously follow the path of the tube because it has no other choice. But once that ball reaches the end of the tube, it will not continue following the circular path it was on inside the tube. Instead it will simply roll straight at the point where it was released. The same principle applies for a bullet. If you are flicking your wrist and pulling the trigger, the bullet is obviously moving with the gun because it is still inside the barrel. But once the bullet exits the barrel, it does not continue following the path of the gun. It will go straight at the point from which it exits. Unless my physics teacher lied to me, I'm 95% sure that I'm correct.

Laws of physics aside, Wanted is an exciting summer thriller that will astonish you with impressive stunts and sequences. The 110 minute runtime goes by pretty quickly because of the hasty direction I mentioned earlier, so that gives you one good thing from one bad thing. Don't expect anything more than a good time when you go to see Wanted, and if you ask me, a good time is all you should want from a summer film. My rating (8/10)

You Don't Mess With The Zohan (2008)

One year after bringing us one of the worst movies of 2007 in the form of I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry, Adam Sandler brings us...one of the worst movies of 2008. You Don't Mess With the Zohan is so unfunny and insulting that it should have been banned from public eyes. Sandler stars as Zohan, an Israeli counter-terrorist who decided he wants to give up his profession to follow his dream. After faking his own death from fighting Palestinian terrorist Phantom (John Turturro), Zohan travels to America in his quest to become a hairdresser for Paul Mitchell. But when he is turned down by almost every hair salon in New York City, he is forced to work for a Palestinian hairdresser named Dalia (Emmanuelle Chriqui). Isn't it so funny and ironic that this ex Israeli soldier must now work together with someone whose nationality is that of his enemy!? No, it's not. Zohan begins to bring in business for this small beauty salon as he earns a reputation for being a terrific hairdresser, and also because when he's done with your hair he takes you in the back and has sex with you. No, I'm serious, he actually does that. Despite the fact that this is basically prostitution, Dalia allows this to continue because it's bringing her money. There is also a random plot line thrown in more than halfway through the movie that involves a rich tycoon named Walbridge (Michael Buffer. Yes, the guy that says let's get ready to rumblllllllllllllllee!) trying to put Dalia out of business so he can build a mall. How very original. You Don't Mess With the Zohan is full of hummus and hip thrusting, but completely devoid of laughter.

Dennis Dugan, the man who directed many of Sandler's other films including last years terrible Chuck and Larry, once again joins Sandler with You Don't Mess With the Zohan. Dugan's work has never been top notch, but he is at his absolute worst in this film. The scenes are shot with what seems like haste, as if he just wanted to get the movie over with. I don't blame him for that much. Practically every scene is choppy and seems to be held together with scotch tape that's beginning to peel. Judd Apatow has been credited as being a co-writer for You Don't Mess With the Zohan, and I am deeply saddened by this fact. To think he had anything to do with this completely laughless debacle is so depressing. Sandler's writing has always been known to be childish, but the subject matter of this film is far too adult for children to understand. And for anybody older the age of 13, you will understand the subject matter but not laugh because the jokes are still far too childish. Mr. Sandler, you are 41 years of age. Perhaps it is time to give up this act and start working on a more serious career, because you have shown potential for one in the past. The fact that the Zohan takes five jokes from the first ten minutes of the film and then repeats them through the entirety of the 113 minutes tells me that you have officially run out of originality and are reliant on used gags. We get it, Zohan likes hummus, thrusting his hips, and having sex with any woman that he wants...do something else! Grow up. It felt like Sandler spent more time wondering how he could sprinkle his buddies into the film rather than writing a good film.

Sandler's acting in You Don't Mess With the Zohan is just as detestable as his writing. He takes his character Zohan and makes him an unappealing person that is not funny but just annoying. Oh, and if you are able to understand more than 50% of what he is saying through his terrible fake accent, congratulations. I found myself having to sound out words in my head in order to comprehend what he was talking about. When I finally did figure out what he said, I was left unsatisfied at the tacky joke that it turned out to be. Actually, everybody in this garbage heap had a terrible accent. I probably understood only 60% of the dialogue in the entire film. Even Chris Rock who appears in the movie for under a minute as a Jamaican cab driver had a terrible accent. The only thing I picked up from him speaking is that he likes Chinese food. That's not funny. Emmanuelle Chriqui is Dalia, the Palestinian salon owner that hires Zohan. She doesn't use a heavy accent, but it didn't matter. She was still awful. Zohan's arch-enemy Phantom was played by John Turturro and it's as if he didn't even try. There is no other way of saying it. Nick Swardson plays Michael, a New Yorker who takes in Zohan when he first arrives to the city. (Zohan thanks him by having sex with Michael's mother. Funny, right?). I am a fan of Swardson and I thought he was hilarious in Grandma's Boy, another Happy Madison production. But he is a very R rated comedian, and the Zohan's PG-13 rating held back Swardson's potential, thus wasting him as an asset. There are plenty of other cameos from Sandler's associates such as Kevin James, John McEnroe, Kevin Nealon, and Rob Schneider. None are funny. Actually, that is not true. The only funny part in the entire film goes to Dave Matthews (that's right, of the Dave Matthew's Band) as a redneck who threatens a cage of puppies. It's not hilarious, but it is the only part I laughed out loud at. As far as Michael Buffer's part of the plot goes, he shows up late in the film, has two lines, and then it's over. Blink and you'll miss him.

In an attempt to make You Don't Mess With the Zohan somewhat meaningful, Sandler explores interactions between Palestinians and Israelis in New York. This is possibly where Judd Apatow fit in to this whole project, as he shows a great aptitude for sincerity. By showing us the encounters of these two groups in New York as opposed to the Middle East, we were supposed to see that we are not all so different in a very lighthearted way. But it is very hard to feel this way when the interactions are spent talking about which politicians wives you would have sex with. Although, the message was pounded into my brain that war is bad and it is not OK to assume that someone is a terrorist just because they are not from here. But these are two things I learned from my parents and teachers long ago. I didn't need Adam Sandler to try and explain it to me. What I do need is Adam Sandler to make a funny movie, and he did not do that.

I deeply considered walking out on You Don't Mess With the Zohan, but I was with someone so I could not leave. As I mentioned before, the film is 113 minutes, and is absolutely excruciating. What makes it even worse is that the jokes in this movie do not stop coming. There is one joke right after another. This wouldn't be so bad if any of those jokes were actually funny! Do you have any idea how uncomfortable it is to watch a movie that deals out jokes left and right but not a single hit lands? You will if you watch this movie. When the end credits finally began to roll, I practically sprinted out of the theater. Avoid this film like the plague. No wait, I have a better idea. Go to your local theater, break into the projector room, steal this film, take it to the beach, put it in a garbage pail, and start a bonfire with it. At least that way it could provide you with some fun. My rating (1/10)

The Incredible Hulk (2008)

Riding hard on the coat-tails of Iron Man is Marvel's next superhero adventure, The Incredible Hulk. To clear up any discrepancies you may have about whether this film is a remake of or a sequel to Ang Lee's 2003 Hulk, it is neither. The Incredible Hulk is simply a "revisiting" to the character with a different approach. In other words, the first movie sucked, so they started over. The new film finds Bruce Banner (Edward Norton), a once leading scientist on the run in Brazil five years after he was exposed to the gamma rays that gave him his incredible abilities. He is being chased by General Ross (William Hurt), the man who inadvertently caused Banner's change while trying to create a new weapon for the army. When Ross finally tracks down Banner, he enlists the help of decorated soldier Emil Blonsky (Tim Roth) to bring him in. When Blonsky witnesses the Hulk's power first-hand, he volunteers himself to undergo a procedure much like Banner did, only with a controlled dose. Meanwhile, in the search for a cure, Banner finds his way back to the States where he is reunited with the love of his life Betty Ross (Liv Tyler). The two meet up with Banner's internet pen pal Dr. Samuel Sterns (Tim Blake Nelson), who has been working tirelessly to come up with a cure. But the army is hot on Banner's tail, and they finally capture him after years of pursuit. While this is happening, Blonsky becomes obsessed with becoming a super soldier, and forces Sterns to make him into a creature much like the Hulk. From this, the Abomination is born. Banner must now become the Hulk in order to save the city from destruction.

I must admit that in my personal opinion, the Hulk is the least interesting superhero from both the Marvel and DC universes. The idea of having a superhero who's main enemy is himself is far from, well, incredible. But even with this mentality, I was able to thoroughly enjoy The Incredible Hulk for what it was. A major reason this film works is Edward Norton. Much like Robert Downey Jr. represented billionaire playboy Tony Stark in a believable fashion, Norton convincingly plays scientist Bruce Banner. Whoever is in charge of casting for Marvel movie heroes should get a promotion. However, his performance was far from outstanding, as I was hoping to see a little bit more from him. I do not feel he properly acknowledged the potential that his character had. Even so, he was able to keep an air of suspense present throughout the film and his performance felt authentic. Although his performance was very good, it did seem magnificent compared to the complete and utter disaster that was Liv Tyler's Betty Ross. Emotionless, uninvolving, annoying, laughable at the wrong times: these are just a few ways to describe her performance. I would not be surprised if her name appears on the Razzie ballot for Worst Actress. Luckily enough for Tyler, she was surrounded by enough talent in Norton and William Hurt to save basically every scene she appeared in. Hurt plays her army general father Thaddeus Ross, and he did a very believable job of it. He played it with the gruff attitude and stern demeanor that a General would need, especially in periods of distress. Hurt is also accompanied by one of the greatest mustaches I've seen in recent movie history. I think it is accurate to say that William Hurt's mustache provided more entertainment by doing nothing than Liv Tyler did by "acting". The role of Emil Blonsky was very well cast, as Tim Roth did a terrific job with the part. Even though the Abomination isn't the coolest villain around, the character of Blonsky was very interesting to watch, and I sensed that Roth really became this role. At no point did I feel that Roth wasn't trying his hardest to achieve the best results from Blonsky. Tim Blake Nelson plays the eccentric Dr. Samuel Sterns and pretty much does his job. He acts eccentrically. In this film Nelson's role was pretty minor, but if there is a sequel he will be a crucial character.

The Incredible Hulk was directed by Louis Leterrier, who had previously helmed Transporter 2. With that under his belt, it makes sense that the action sequences in The Incredible Hulk were remarkable. There is something about watching two giant blobs of CGI (Hulk and Abomination) hurl cars at each other that is simply awe inspiring. By calling them "two giant blobs of CGI" I do not intend to insult the film, because it really did look fantastic. I only call them that because, well, they are two giant blobs of CGI. But Letterier's direction was very much a mixed bag. Some scenes were shot with such beauty and professionalism that I would be floored with astonishment. But then other scenes would be so cheesy and amateurish that I would shift uncomfortably in my seat thinking "Ouch, that was awkward". Letterier also did something which I cannot stand, and that is overuse dramatic rain sequences. At most, a film could have two dramatic rain sequences, but they MUST be at least 45 minutes apart. Letterier brought us two in a matter of 15 minutes. Yes he can film one hell of an incredible action scene, but the man cannot do serious very well.

A major reason I enjoyed The Incredible Hulk was it's pace. I should also credit director Louis Letterier with an ability to keep a film alive, not allowing it to sag any more than it should at any given time. At just under 2 hours, the time seems to fly by as the story unfolds so steadily you'll find yourself in disbelief that you are already watching the final battle (much like I was). It was said that over 70 minutes of footage was cut from The Incredible Hulk, and thank goodness it was. The 114 minutes in the final print were entertainment enough, we don't need a 3+ hour epic. In the version sent to theaters, every scene had a purpose and no of them were dull. Keep your 70 minutes, we don't want them.

When it comes down to it, the Hulk is the lamest of the superheroes, but this film certainly makes him seem more interesting than he is. Some very good performances and some great directing (50% of the time) really make The Incredible Hulk worth a watch. The dialogue at times is choppy and contrived, but I found myself overlooking that fact. Not without its fair share of flaws, The Incredible Hulk is still a fun summer film with intense action sequences that aren't too dizzying or incomprehensive (::cough:: Spiderman 3 ::cough::). Marvel, you are 2 for 2. My rating (7/10)

Oh, and if you were as excited as I was about the after the credits scene of Iron Man, you're going to love the final two lines of this film. (There is no after credits scene, I figure I'll save you 10 minutes)

Tape (2001)

I've decided to take a quick time out from reviewing larger films to bring attention to an independent film that most of you have probably never heard of. Tape is the story of Vince (Ethan Hawke) and Jon (Robert Sean Leonard), two friends from high school that have been reunited in a small motel room in Michigan. Jon has done a lot of growing up since high school, pursuing a career in film making, and even has his movie playing at a small film festival. Vince, on the other hand, deals drugs and in his spare time is a volunteer fire fighter (the fire chief is one of his top clients). When Jon is asked by Vince to come to his hotel room, he figured the night would be spent reminiscing and maybe getting a bite to eat. He was partially correct. Soon after arriving, Vince begins to press Jon about a girl, Amy, they both dated back in high school. Jon tries to defend himself from Vince's accusations, but after some time he angrily admits to doing something wrong. At this point tensions rise even further as Jon discovers Vince has not only recorded their conversation but he has invited Amy (Uma Thurman) to join them in the hotel room. Once she arrives, the three struggle to determine fact from fiction from three differing views.

Originally a one act play by Stephen Belber, Tape takes place in a single room with only then three characters I previously mentioned. The camera is out of focus, and given the small surrounding there wasn't much to be done with the cinematography. But what is delivered in Tape is a taught, well written performance piece that will ensnare you in its conflict. Vince is played effectively by Ethan Hawke, who seemed very fit to play the part. He was very believable as the jerk who never grew out of high school and always wanted things his way. His seemingly oblivious exterior makes it all the more startling when we discover his mind is indeed not vacant, but filled with cunning and trickery. Robert Sean Leonard plays Jon Salter, who gets blindsided by Vince's spontaneous outburst of deceit. Leonard gives a great performance of varied emotions throughout the film. He is able to flow from easygoing, to confused, to angry, back to confused, back to angry, and then finally repentant. Rounding out the cast is Uma Thurman, who plays Amy Randall. Since high school, Amy has moved on and is now an Assistant District Attorney. But upon entering that hotel room, memories are brought back to life, causing her grief once more. Thurman arrives more than halfway through the film, and her intial performance isn't much to write about. As her story progresses, we begin to see more emotion from her as she jumps on the bandwagon of good performances.

Although it is a very good film, Tape does have several flaws that were problematic. The main issue is length. Now, the actual running time of the film is only about 86 minutes, which in any other case is too short. But for a film that takes place in a single room where the same characters continually talk and talk and talk, a good 16 minutes could have been chopped off. Most of the dialogue was alluring, but not ALL of the dialogue was alluring. And watching a couple of people sit in a hotel room and talk about something your not interested in can really make time slow down. Another problem is Vince. In the beginning and middle of Tape, Vince is a portrayed as a jerk, but you still enjoy watching his character. But after a while, he really begins to get on your nerves. His toying with Jon is supposed to be clever, but simply comes off as childish. Hawke's performance was very good as I stated, but his character is a different story.

A solid indie flick, Tape is not going to entertain you with action or thrills, but rather performances and writing. If you somehow stumble on this movie, do not toss it aside. My rating (7/10)

Movies given a 10/10

  • Milk
  • In Bruges
  • Slumdog Millionaire
  • The Dark Knight
  • Iron Man
  • No Country For Old Men
  • The Shining
  • A Clockwork Orange