Rising Sun (1993)

Rising Sun

(R) 2h 9min

Plot Summary: At the offices of a Japanese corporation, during a party, a woman, who’s evidently a professional mistress, is found dead, apparently after some rough sex. A police detective, Web Smith is called in to investigate but before getting there, he gets a call from someone who instructs him to pick up John Connor, a former police Captain and expert on Japanese affairs. When they arrive there Web thinks that everything is obvious but Connor tells him that there’s a lot more going on.Written by rcs0411@yahoo.com

Director: Philip Kaufman

Writers: Michael Crichton (novel & screenplay), Philip Kaufman (screenplay), Michael Backes (screenplay)

Stars: Sean Connery, Wesley Snipes, Harvey Keitel

Serious Jest: animated beer mug 25% (transparent bkgrd)animated beer mug 25% (transparent bkgrd) (Don’t Bother)  The actors are capable across the board, but the story is just very cheesy and often predictable, with some of the plot “twists” not developed enough to make sense.

 

Man of Steel (2013)

Man of Steel

(PG-13) 2h, 23min

Plot Summary: Kal-El, one of the last of an extinguished race disguised as an unremarkable human, is forced to reveal his identity when Earth is invaded by an army of survivors who threaten to bring the planet to the brink of destruction.

Director: Zack Snyder

Writers: David S. Goyer (screenplay & story), Christopher Nolan (story), Jerry Siegel (Superman created by), Joe Shuster (Superman created by)

Stars: Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Michael Shannon

Serious Jest: animated beer mug 25% (transparent bkgrd)animated beer mug 25% (transparent bkgrd)animated beer mug 25% (transparent bkgrd)animated beer mug 25% (transparent bkgrd) (Must See) This is new and improved Superman. Today’s audiences generally don’t care for flawless characters who are all-powerful, morally inpenetrable, and have all the answers to every problem in life. Snyder and company dirty Superman up a bit, focusing on his formative years. You can recognize Nolan’s influence on this film. Viewers get to observe as young Kal struggles with impossible situations to develop his moral compass, as well as to survive battles in which he is the underdog. Theology fans will appreciate the many subtle biblical analogies inherent throughout the movie.

As we discussed in Episode 23, Part 1, of the podcast, not since Christopher Reeve has any actor embodied this role so effectively that it becomes hard to picture anyone else playing Superman, and Cavill does so while changing the direction of the character. Not only is Cavill utterly convincing in his gritty portrayal of Superman’s loneliness, confusion, bottled-up anger, idealism, and loyalty, but he even looks more like Superman than anyone else that has ever worn the costume.  Beyond having the strong jaw, cleft chin, and piercing blue eyes, acccording to IMDB, Cavill trained for 11 months to take his already-V-shaped physique to the next level, ingesting five 1,000-calorie shakes a day to bulk up, then dropping to 1,500 calories a day to shred to 7% body fat, all while shunning steroids and working out with Gym Jones trainer Mark Twight until he couldn’t walk out of the gym. Snyder made it a point to include shirtless scenes in the film just to show that Cavill’s hard work on his body was real and not just the costume or CGI.

However, at least from an acting perspective, Cavill does not do all the heavy lifting by himself. The rest of the cast is top-notch.  As also discussed on the podcast, Shannon established his own intense and unyielding interpretation of General Zod. Adams portrays Lois Lane as a combat journalist, which gives the character a very different dynamic than the passive, helpless cheerleader that she has been in the past. Russell CroweAyelet Zurer, Diane Lane, and Kevin Costner not only make you care about Superman’s parents through their charismatic performances, but their characters are also legends to the map of Superman’s psyche, through which you can recognize aspects of his personality and moral code.

The visual effects in this film are stunning. They are everything that you could ask for in terms of big explosions, mind-blowing CGI, and breathtaking scenery. Krypton is its own character in this movie.

My only disappointment was that some hokiness was present throughout the film, beyond what is inherent in a comic book. For instance, it is silly to have a school bus full of kids plummet off a bridge, hit the water, and cut to every kid in the bus still sitting in their seats, unharmed; the impact with the water would have resulted in numerous injuries and kids flying all over the bus.

The Amazing Spiderman (2012)

Amazing Spiderman

(PG-13) 2 h, 16 min

Plot Summary: After Peter Parker is bitten by a genetically altered spider, he gains newfound, spider-like powers and ventures out to solve the mystery of his parent’s mysterious death.

Director: Marc Webb

Writers: James Vanderbilt (screenplay & story), Alvin Sargent (screenplay), Steve Kloves (screenplay), Stan Lee (based on the Marvel comic book by), Steve Ditko (based on the Marvel comic book by)

Stars: Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Rhys Ifans

Serious Jest: animated beer mug 25% (transparent bkgrd)animated beer mug 25% (transparent bkgrd)animated beer mug 25% (transparent bkgrd) (Worth Watching)  As we discussed in Episode 23, Part 1, of the podcast, we love the Spiderman character, and Garfield not only does him justice, but he also presents a unique and charismatic version of Peter Parker that is even more interesting than when he dons the mask. Emma Stone brings The Girlfriend Experience, making Gwen Stacy endearing in her own right, not just because of how much the hero cares for her. Martin Sheen and Sally Field not only make you care about Uncle Ben and Aunt May, but they show you aspects of Spiderman that Garfield can’t by himself. Denis Leary really manages to walk that fine line between pompous jerk and loyal protector right into the viewer’s heart. In short, the acting is phenomenal.

Unfortunately, the storyline is nothing special, and the movie is too often unnecessarily hokey (Really? Is it that easy to break into a high-security lab with genetically unstable spiders?), which conflicts with the film’s more gritty tone. This film feels more like a background setup for sequel, which I have yet to see, but which I’m hoping will take the franchise to the next level, like Captain America: The Winter Soldier did for its franchise.

Dog Soldiers (2002)

(R) 105 mins

(R) 105 mins

Plot Summary: A routine military exercise turns into a nightmare in the Scotland wilderness.

Director & Writer: Neil Marshall

Stars: Sean Pertwee, Kevin McKidd, Emma Cleasby

Serious Jest: animated beer mug 25% (transparent bkgrd)animated beer mug 25% (transparent bkgrd) (Don’t Bother)  Think Predator, but with worse dialogue and much worse special effects (ironically, 15 years later). The “dog soldiers” were laughable.

It’s a shame because the plot and its twists had some real potential. Some of the actors, such as McKidd and Cleasby, were also pretty competent. Finally, it appears that the military technical advisors were pretty good, as well.

Underworld: Evolution (2006)

(R) 106 mins

(R) 106 mins

Plot Summary: Picking up directly from the previous film, vampire warrior Selene and the half-werewolf Michael hunt for clues to reveal the history of their races and the war between them.

Director: Len Wiseman

Writers: Danny McBride (screenplay, story, characters), Len Wiseman (story), Kevin Grevioux (characters), Len Wiseman (characters)

Stars: Kate Beckinsale, Scott Speedman, Bill Nighy

Serious Jest: animated beer mug 25% (transparent bkgrd)animated beer mug 25% (transparent bkgrd) (Don’t Bother)  Now that the special effects that were cutting-edge for this movie’s time have become not-so-impressive as the industry advances, the story itself is not creative or interesting enough to make it worth your time to direct your attention to the screen for almost two hours…unless you REALLY LOVE vampire or werewolf movies.  If that’s the case, let your freak flag fly!  It’s okay; I’m like that with football movies.  Besides, there are worse things to have on your TV in the background than leather-clad Beckinsale doing acrobatics, shooting weapons, and kicking ass.

We'd bite her back!

We’d bite her back!

Death Race (2008)

(R) 105 mins

(R) 105 mins

Plot Summary: Convict Jensen Ames is forced by the warden of a notorious prison to compete in our post-industrial world’s most popular sport: a car race in which inmates must brutalize and kill one another on the road to victory.

Director: Paul W.S. Anderson

Writers: Anderson (screenplay, screen story), Robert Thom (1975 screenplay Death Race 2000), Charles B. Griffith (as Charles Griffith; 1975 screenplay Death Race 2000), Ib Melchior (1975 story Death Race 2000)

Stars: Jason Statham, Joan Allen, Tyrese Gibson

Serious Jest: animated beer mug 25% (transparent bkgrd)animated beer mug 25% (transparent bkgrd)animated beer mug 25% (transparent bkgrd) (Worth Watching)  In the bonus feature Start Your Engines – Making a Death Race, Anderson declares that he meant for this movie to be a darker, more serious, believable version of Death Race 2000.  I’ve never seen the original, so he may have succeeded, but I found this film to be hokey in a few parts, including the ending.  All of that being said, it is one of my favorite hokey car films.  There is actually a compelling plot behind the race, plenty of great action, and a solid cast, including newcomer beauty Natalie Martinez, whom I’d like to see more of.  While I wouldn’t go so far as to say that you need to see this flick, I will say that you probably wouldn’t mind watching it more than once, either.

The Hitcher (2007)

(R) 84 mins

(R) 84 mins

Plot Summary: A serial killer pins his crimes on two college students who gave him a ride.

Director: Dave Meyers

Writers: Eric Red (screenplay & 1986 film), Jake Wade Wall (screenplay), Eric Bernt (screenplay)

Stars: Sean Bean, Sophia Bush, Zachary Knighton

Serious Jest: animated beer mug 25% (transparent bkgrd)animated beer mug 25% (transparent bkgrd) (Don’t Bother)  According to IMDB, Red was credited as a screenplay writer for this movie, but had no part in writing it (aside from writing the 1986 film).  I haven’t seen the 1986 version, but if it was any good, I don’t blame him for wanting to distance himself from this version.

This flick starts strong and features competent performances by good actors (except for Bush’s second-half performance, which gets out of her range, in my opinion; she just hasn’t mastered the thousand-yard stare).  However, it’s a lot of build-up for nothing.  The effects and action are often hokey, it feels as if some major events were skipped (and not in a good, it’s-better-to-leave-it-to-the-imagination way), and the payoff to the big question throughout the movie is never realized.  If I had to describe this film in one word, it would be “senseless.”

Also according to IMDB, “Rutger Hauer, who played the character of John Ryder in the original was offered a cameo, but declined for artistic reasons. Hauer has since said in the press that he has yet to watch the remake, and according to some of his friends he shouldn’t bother.”  Smart man.

3:10 to Yuma

(R) 122 mins

(R) 122 mins

Plot Summary: A small-time rancher agrees to hold a captured outlaw who’s awaiting a train to go to court in Yuma. A battle of wills ensues as the outlaw tries to psych out the rancher.

Director: James Mangold

Writers: Halsted Welles (screenplay), Michael Brandt (screenplay), Derek Haas (screenplay), and Elmore Leonard (short story)

Stars: Russell Crowe, Christian Bale, Ben Foster

Serious Jest: animated beer mug 25% (transparent bkgrd)animated beer mug 25% (transparent bkgrd)animated beer mug 25% (transparent bkgrd) (Worth Watching)  This is a very solid film, with a compelling plot and solid cast, featuring two of the most notoriously ill-tempered actors in the business.  Who will be the bigger jerk?  Watch it and find out!

Also, Foster brings the same leashed intensity that inspired Mark Wahlberg to give up some of his own pay in order to recruit Foster for Lone Survivor.  Foster is one of my favorite supporting actors.

You can enjoy this movie as a straightforward classic action Western, or you can delve deeper into the psychological underpinnings, which are spread throughout the movie and which culminate in an ending that can either anger you or inspire a subsequent deep discussion with others who have seen the film.

For Western aficionados, this flick is an instant classic and Must See.  For the rest of us, you could live with missing this one, but once you start watching it, you’ll be hooked.

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966)

(Approved) 179 mins

(Approved) 179 mins

Plot Summary: A bounty hunting scam joins two men in an uneasy alliance against a third in a race to find a fortune in gold buried in a remote cemetery.

Director: Sergio Leone

Writers: Luciano Vincenzoni (story & screenplay), Sergio Leone (story & screenplay), Agenore Incrocci (screenplay, as Age), Furio Scarpelli (screenplay, as Scarpelli), Mickey Knox (English version by)

Stars: Clint Eastwood, Eli Wallach, Lee Van Cleef

Serious Jest: animated beer mug 25% (transparent bkgrd)animated beer mug 25% (transparent bkgrd)animated beer mug 25% (transparent bkgrd)animated beer mug 25% (transparent bkgrd)animated beer mug 25% (transparent bkgrd) (Must Own)  Unless you hate spaghetti Westerns, this film needs to be in your collection.  It’s a classic tale of greed, backstabbing, strategy, and dumb luck.  If you ever want to really understand a director like Quentin Tarantino, you need to watch at least one Leone film.  Leone was a visionary!  This is my favorite of the “Dollars Trilogy” thematic series.  Eastwood and Van Cleef are completely badass in this one, but Wallach steals the show as Tuco!  The cinematography is awesome, Ennio Morricone‘s score enhances the action and tension, and this film starts and ends epicly.

Lone Survivor (2013)

(R) 121 mins

(R) 121 mins

Plot Summary: Based on the failed June 28, 2005, mission “Operation Red Wings.”  Four members of SEAL Team 10 were tasked with the mission to capture or kill notorious Taliban leader Ahmad Shahd.

Director: Peter Berg

Writers: Peter Berg, Marcus Luttrell (book), Patrick Robinson (book)

Stars: Mark Wahlberg, Taylor Kitsch, Emile Hirsch

Serious Jest: animated beer mug 25% (transparent bkgrd)animated beer mug 25% (transparent bkgrd)animated beer mug 25% (transparent bkgrd)animated beer mug 25% (transparent bkgrd)animated beer mug 25% (transparent bkgrd) (Must Own)  When I was still on active duty in the Marine Corps, a situation involving a recon team, an isolated mountaintop, a targeted Afghani warlord, and a couple of innocent goatherders was posed to us as the perfect ethical dilemma.  A room full of officers wrestled with the theoretical frying pan and fire…self-preservation (or, more importantly, the safety of their Marines) vs. morality.  I knew then that I had to read Lone Survivor: The Eyewitness Account of Operation Redwing and the Lost Heroes of SEAL Team 10.  I was not disappointed.  I couldn’t put that book down, and I recommended it to anyone who would listen.

I’ve said this before many times, and I’ll say it again: I love sports and movies, but my heroes aren’t athletes or actors.  I was fortunate enough to serve this great Country alongside my heroes.  When I heard that this movie was being made, I couldn’t wait to see what a team of talented filmmakers dedicated to bringing proper glory to the brave men of Operation Red Wings could do with this amazing story.

Again, I was not disappointed.  As a pure action flick, this film is top-notch.  But it’s more than that.  It’s a glimpse at what some patriotic, determined men and women do for other Americans (and, more importantly, for each other), in far off lands, under uncomfortable conditions, for a mediocre paycheck and little recognition.

It took some effort for me not to get choked up during this film.  Afterwards, my girlfriend marveled, “It’s amazing how much the human body can take.”  I agreed, and added, “Even moreso, the human mind.”  Make this the next film you watch, especially if you need to get motivated to do anything remotely tough.

What would you do in the situation involving the goat herders?  I always say that if the first time you consider an ethical scenario is the moment that you’re facing it, you’re much more likely to compromise your moral code.