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.

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“Fire Everything!!” – The Return of Star Trek

Space.  We thought it was the final frontier.  We had been on the voyages with the various Starfleet commands.  We wanted to boldly go where no one had gone before.  Then, forty years later, we realized that there was no more frontier.  It had been paved over, and repaved over several times after that.  The USS Enterprise had become an antique, and its exploits became quaint reruns on basic cable.  It didn’t seem like there would ever be hope for Star Trek. In the end, it took a non-Trekker in the form of a certain J.J. Abrams to do what others couldn’t: He shook off the cobwebs, installed a new warp drive, and blasted off from scratch.  Star Trek is back and better than ever!

To boldly go...

To boldly go...

In Star Trek, the new James Tiberias Kirk is a man willing to face certain demise because he faces it every time he looks into a mirror.  Kirk may be haunted by the death of his father, but he also recognizes that the apple did not fall too far from the tree. Chris Pine (Smokin Aces) brings a natural energy to the role.  His Kirk is rakish and impulsive, defying authority at every chance but never backing down from a challenge. His inner strength fuels his naked will to do what is right, no matter what.  Pine captures the unorthodoxy and charm of Shatner’s Kirk but leaves out Shatner’s eccentricities.

Spock has always been complicated, but never this much.  This spin on the series highlights the duality of the Spock character, and makes it part of his overall character arc.  As a 21st century remix of Leonard Nimoy, Zachary Quinto (Heroes) displays all of the measured Vulcan logic expected of Spock, but shadows it with a slow burning intensity. In this Trek, Spock is a being caught between two worlds, and must decide for himself which path he will choose.  He is not content with simply being accepted as a Vulcan, but cannot bring himself to indulge his human side either.  Even in moments when Spock is justifying the logical decisions he makes, we can see him struggling with his own anger and frustration, and the moment when Kirk goads Spock into finally releasing his demons is definitely one of the best moments in the whole film.

The rest of the crew is an entertaining bunch.  As space heroine Uhura, Zoe Saldana (Pirates of The Caribbean) is given double duty, matching Kirk’s fearless nature while providing a beating heart for Spock.  It’s a shame her part was so limited.  Same goes for Karl Urban (Lord of The Rings) as Dr. Leonard “Bones” McCoy.  His McCoy is less gruff and more neurotic than the classic TV doc, but it fits the film’s more naturalistic approach.  Every line he speaks is gold or near-gold and steals about every scene he’s in, that is until Simon Pegg pops up as kooky engineer Montgomery Scott.  Pegg (Shaun of The Dead, Hot Fuzz) has the least amount of screen time, but when he does show up, he leaves us smiling if not in full laugh mode.  John Cho (Harold and Kumar 1 & 2) turns in an unexpectedly straight performance as Sulu, getting his day in the heroic sun during the furious “space jump” sequence. Anton Yelchin (Charlie Bartlett) is classic Chekhov, replicating Walter Keonig’s trademark Russian while dialing down its stereotypical elements.  Bruce Greenwood has played captains and leaders before in films like The Core and Thirteen Days, but he looks like he’s having too much fun as Christopher Pike (Captain Kirk’s prototype).  Look out for Mr. Leonard Nimoy as “Spock Prime”.  I’d need another article to explain why there are two Spocks.  It makes sense, believe me.  It’s just something that needs to be seen.  Last, but not least, Eric Bana (Troy, The Hulk) brings us the freshest Star Trek villain in years as a genocidal Romulan aptly named Nero.  His vengeance toward the Federation runs deep, forcing his would-be pursuers to share his pain, which is more connected to a certain Enterprise crew member than we know.

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From the heart shaking opening assault on the USS Kelvin to the climactic battle on Nero’s Romulan Death Ship, Star Trek fits an epic space saga into a snug two hours. Using good old-fashioned storytelling and eye popping visuals, J.J. Abrams (Co-creator of TV’s Alias and Lost, Mission Impossible III) brings back the earnestness and sense of adventure of classic summer blockbusters.  Star Trek uses eye-popping special effects and innovative set design to reinvent the Trek universe, but their reinvention also pays subtle tribute to the Treks of old.  There are so many references to the old shows and films that, again, I would need another article to get them all down.  Let’s just say that when characters would say their certain lines that we all remember, they incorporate them so well into the story that they felt like they had never been spoken before.  Also, for being a reboot, the film doesn’t short change the fun of the original series just to work in some heavy handed dramatics, unlike Superman Returns.  Skeptics could argue that the science in the film is very “huh?” worthy, but considering that it’s Star Trek, you just have to go with it.  It’s a great adventure reminiscent of vintage Spielberg and Lucas, and I’ll definitely be there for the next one.  To quote a future classic line: “I love this ship!  It’s so exciting!”  Beam me up, Mr. Scott!