The Potato wins with “The Losers”

Exactly 4 months ago, a crack commando unit was framed for a crime they didn’t commit.  These men survived assassination and promptly escaped to the Bolivian underground.  Today, thought dead by the government, they survive as soldiers of fortune. If you have an ass that needs kicked, if the government sets them up, and if you can find them, then maybe you can hire…The Losers? ::cue machine gun fire and explosions:: BOOM!

Sound familiar? You were expecting maybe a different ending? Ok, so maybe 2010’s “The Losers” isn’t exactly “The A-Team”, but it is damn close.  If you sort of know the opening narration from the classic TV show, I could recite that synopsis and easily fool you.  The lyrics are different, but they’re both singing the same tune.  This may sound like I’m unfairly criticizing “The Losers” for being basically DC Comics’ answer to “The A-Team”, but no.  “The Losers” is a cool, snarky, cigar-chewing action adventure that is both a throwback to the action comedies of the 80’s (specifically a certain aforementioned TV show) and a great showcase of hyper-stylized comic book thrills of today.  Part “The A-Team”, part “Smokin’ Aces”, and part “Beverly Hills Cop”, “The Losers” just plain rocks the socks off.

The casting of “The Losers” is spot-on perfect in the kind of way that made “The Hangover” so watchable.  With the wrong cast, both films would have been absolutely dreadful to watch.  As the leader known as Clay, Jeffrey Dean Morgan proves that his performance in “Watchmen” was not an action fluke.  Like a Bruce Willis, Morgan knows how to portray the tough guy without having to sacrifice vulnerability.  Likewise for Idris Elba’s character, known simply as Roque.  The scenes that these two men share rival even the manliest scenes of “Predator”, and that’s a manly movie.  This film will benefit Morgan just fine, but I hope that Idris Elba gets some more lead roles as well.  He manages to be completely entertaining and still remain underrated as an actor.  As the wheelman and techie of the group, respectively, Columbus Short and Chris “Captain America/Human Torch” Evans both hold their own in the fight, and also wield the comic relief like two kids who found their dad’s pellet guns.  They’re having fun, and that means we’re having fun too.

As the sole lady of action, Zoe Saldana continues to tear apart the screen and Jeffrey Dean Morgan (in a very well shot fight sequence in a flaming hotel room that obviously is meant to set up their sexual tension).  For being in so many blockbusters in her short career including the highest grossing movie of all time, Zoe Saldana STILL needs that big role.  She doesn’t get it in “The Losers”, but her presence makes the film just that much better.  But the big, big surprise performance in the film comes from its main villain, played to the absolute lunatic hilt by Jason f*cking Patric.  He’s always been a favorite of mine, and it’s great to see him chew the scenery in a film like this.  Every time he walks into the frame, insanity ensues.  Think of his character as a mixture of every Connery-era James Bond villain with Nicolas Cage’s character in “Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans”.  You have to see it to believe it.

Peter Berg and James Vanderbilt have crafted a very fun and funny script.  Its tone resembles Tarantino’s self-awareness and Lethal Weapon-style badassedness.  As far as the direction goes: Sylvain White, where did you come from, sir?  I had only seen his previous collaboration with Columbus Short known as “Stomp The Yard”, and as fun a dance movie as it was, it did nothing to predict that Mr. White could emerge as a “get this guy an action franchise right now” kind of director.  The man can clearly handle very large action set pieces, special effects, and edgy camera work.  I’ll be very interested to see what his next project is going to be.

Overall, if you like action films, if you like comic book films, if you like “The A-Team”, you will have a crazy good time during “The Losers”.  I give it a 3.5 out of 4 stars.

Twice Baked Potatoes: Sure Things For Summer

The Twice Baked Potatoes series is back with a vengeance, and this time it’s all about saving our summers.  If you’ve seen The Hangover 10 times already, Public Enemies has left you with summer blues, or if you’ve seen Transformers 2 and the IMAX ticket prices have plucked your pockets to their linty bottoms, stay home and fire up these five classic crowd-pleasers:

5) Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure

billandted

"Bill, check it out! We're in the middle of a war, dude!"

Keanu Reeves sans the matrixey philosophical mumbo jumbo, various historical periods getting a gnarly awesome 80’s treatment, and one of the hottest moms in movies, time has been very good to this 1988 comedy. I showed this movie to my little sister (born in 1991) a few years ago, and it became one of her favorite movies.  It’s goofy, it’s a romp, and its vibe is totally infectious. Napoleon eating/hogging a giant ice-cream sundae and getting a prize for it?  I’m there, dude.

4) Re-Animator

"I didn't kill him. I gave him life!!"

"I didn't kill him. I gave him life!!"

If you’re looking for some horror that’s heavy on both cheese and gore, look no further.  It’s the horror film that all the buffs talk about, but don’t let them scare you away, because this film is on the level.  My lady showed me this one a few months ago, and I couldn’t stop laughing/cringing.  The movie is self-aware yet feels completely authentic.  It plays like a 50’s matinee fixture with 80’s sprinkled on top.  When the corpses are reanimated and they go into their cyclone of mad zombie rage, it feels like Christmas.

3) Encino Man

"Poor stoneager, he spends a million years chilling in a block of ice, and now he's gonna go to high school?"

"Poor stoneager, he spends a million years chilling in a block of ice, and now he's gonna go to high school?"

It’s the 90’s time capsule that made stars out of Brendan Fraser and Pauly Shore.  A caveman that gets frozen for a few million years, geeks thaw him out and teach him to be cool so that he can make them cool.  If you’re not on board already, move on to number 2, because it only gets weirder.  Parents, if you’re kid is currently in junior high, please pass this one on to them.  Pauly Shore teaching Brendan Fraser about the four basic food groups at 7-Eleven = priceless.

2) Almost Famous

"Jim Morrison? He's a drunken buffoon, masquerading as a poet.  Man, give me 'The Guess Who', because they have the courage to be drunken buffoons, which make them poetic!"

"Jim Morrison? He's a drunken buffoon, masquerading as a poet. Man, give me 'The Guess Who', because they have the courage to be drunken buffoons, which make them poetic!"

Music makes everything feel better, and Cameron Crowe’s love letter to 70’s classic rock, rock journalism, and teenage self-discovery makes for a great way to fill two hours.  You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, and you might sing along (or hum, if you don’t know the words.  I’m horrible at learning lyrics, personally.  Movie quotes stick to me like velcro, go figure).  Billy Crudup keeps the movie grounded, Kate Hudson is the spitting image of her moviestar mom, and Jason Lee turns out his best performance.  Look out for Philip Seymour Hoffman as legendary rock scholar Lester Bangs.  He only gets a few minutes of screen time, but that’s all he needs.

1) Back To The Future

"I, Dr. Emmett Brown, am about to embark on an historic journey...wait, what am I thinking about?  I almost forgot to bring extra plutonium!"

"I, Dr. Emmett Brown, am about to embark on an historic journey...wait, what am I thinking about? I almost forgot to bring extra plutonium!"

The best time travel movie of all time.  I am forsaking many great films to make that statement, but I can’t deny this film’s super-classic status.  If you’re like me, you’ve seen this film more than a few times over the years.  It’s charm will keep you smiling from beginning to end all over again, and its Freudian elements give the film enough quirk to sustain the neurons as well.  The film’s cinematography, musical score, screenplay, and performances are all top notch.  But like the film does with its own science, you can just ignore all that technical nonsense and enjoy the ride.  One of the best soundtracks ever, by the way.

The Dame With The Necklace – “Song of The Thin Man”

songthinman

Just a quick post today, as an afternoon showing of Transformers 2 is calling my name.  My lady-fair has been educating me on all things classic film, and today’s stop on the Golden Age Hollywood tour was the final film in “The Thin Man” series called “Song of The Thin Man”.  If Dashiell Hammett and Chuck Jones mated and their offspring raised by Lucille Ball, this would be the movie that the kid would make.

The sets, the costumes and the locations were all perfectly choreographed into a ballet of 40’s conventions.  In that way, the flick’s a great shorthand if you’re trying to write snappy, 1940’s-sounding dialogue.  Lawrence Kasdan must have seen these flicks a lot.  As the two iconic lead characters Nick and Nora Charles, William Powell and Myrna Loy prove once again that the couple who solves crimes together stays together. Their dog Asta might just be the most awesome dog in the universe, next to our dog Bridget.

Bridget the Superdog. Taking a much deserved break from fighting crime.

Bridget the Superdog. Taking a much deserved break from fighting crime.

Put it in the win column, Mr. Cage.

Nicolas Cage is charged with the fate of the world yet again, this time it revolves around a time capsule that has been dug up at his son’s elementary school. In it is a note filled with seemingly random numbers.  These numbers predict disasters — some that have already occurred and others that are about to — that lead him to believe his family plays a role in the much larger events that are about to unfold.

You think you know...

You think you know...

As I was leaving the theater Saturday afternoon, a feeling came over me after watching Nic Cage and company in the new film Knowing.  It didn’t feel like frustration, although I was certainly racking my brain.  It wasn’t disappointment, yet I wasn’t smiling all that much afterward.  In fact, the part of my brain that loves movies, the part that runs on 24 frames per second and craves digital sound, was spinning almost completely off of its axis trying to process what I had just watched for two hours.  After all, the logical part of my brain knows that this film doesn’t cover any new ground, and some of the dialogue has cheese on it so thick that it should be covered in wax and sold in supermarkets.  Right about now, I’m sure you’re feeling safe to assume that this review is going to be another addition to the laundry list of negativity that follows the latter half of Nicolas Cage’s career.  I went in to Knowing with the assumption that, at best, I would have a fun time watching Mr. Cage ham up another pseudo-blockbuster at a cheap matinee theater.  If I left this film with anything, it was that assumptions count for nothing.  This film was very good.  Surprisingly good.  Dare I say, really good?  Possibly.

The movie opens with a flashback sequence that brings the audience up to speed on how the prophetic numbers come to be.  Right away, director Alex Proyas sets an ominous tone, using iconic 1950’s imagery and bathing everything in permanent twilight.  If the audience only saw the first 10 minutes of the film, they might mistake it for some lost sequence from Peter Jackson’s Heavenly Creatures.  At this point, I am surprised by just how engaging the movie is.  But when the movie jumps to present day, Mr. Cage graces the screen, and I brace myself for the worst.  It never came.  I kept waiting for Cage to veer off into “phoning-it-in-from-another-galaxy” territory as per usual, but he remained in control and somehow turned in one of his best performances in recent years.  In this film, Cage is every bit the movie star that his paycheck claims he is.  On the page, his character is not much more than a father on a mission to keep his son safe, but Cage brings a grounded realism to his character’s haunted intensity.  He isn’t a hero in the square-jawed sense, but Cage makes you root for him just the same.  Newcomer Chandler Canterbury, last seen in December’s The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, does an exceptional job as Cage’s young son.  He has some of the cheesiest lines, but Canterbury infuses the right amount of emotional depth, so the character never becomes distracting or cliche.  He and Cage have a very authentic father-son connection that is the heart and soul of this film.  Aussie actress Rose Byrne (TV’s Damages, 28 Weeks Later) turns in another strong supporting performance as a woman who may be connected to the mystery behind the numbers.

Hold on, hold on, I can still get this baby down...aww crap.

Hold on, hold on, I can still get this baby down...aww crap.

It may be Cage’s name about the title, but the success of Knowing rests in the capable hands of its director.  Having helmed such sci-fi classics as The Crow and Dark City, Alex Proyas brings a steady, imaginative hand to the familiar material, and still manages to pack as much tension and suspense as possible into every frame.  In fact, The Whisperer characters could have easily been alternate versions of The Strangers from Dark City.  The film has the familiar “event movie” beats: sweeping helicopter shots of major cities about to perish horribly, big flashy disaster set pieces, “end of the world” trailer lines, and one hero caught in the middle of it all.  But the execution is nearly flawless.  Just the plane crash scene alone elevates the movie to “enjoyable” status, and reminded me of the larger action scenes in Cuaron’s Children of Men.  But the moments in between the action are where the film really shines.  This is also due in part to the moody, foreboding score composed by Marco Beltrami.  As the plot thickens, the tension builds, and seeing Cage’s character slowly unravel is even more effective because the audience knows that Cage knows the truth, and we feel alienated along with him when no one believes him.  I can’t give away the end, but I will say that the film ends on a spiritual note that has to be seen to be believed.

This film could easily become a sleeper hit, because though it has its faults, Knowing is the film that M. Night Shyamalan has been wanting to make for the better part of a decade.  I highly recommend this film for fans of classic end-of-the-world blockbusters, and it also renews my faith in Nicolas Cage, until he makes another Bangkok Dangerous.