Bruce Willis

Red 2

The sequel is a cinematic curiosity.  A good sequel is a logical and relevant continuation of the original movie.  It may flesh out previously established characters or begin a new chapter in the series or franchise.  I think The Godfather II is the best sequel ever made, because it provided a rich backstory while juxtaposing one storyline with another.   I don’t expect the average sequel to come anywhere close to that lofty standard, especially in this age of Hollywood machinery.  Most sequels nowadays are made simply because the studio wants to capitalize off the success of the original movie with a lucrative follow up.  I’m sure that’s what the makers of Red 2 were thinking, but with a cast this impressive – you almost can’t go wrong.

Bruce Willis (Looper) returns as Frank, a retired CIA operative trying to live a quiet life with his girlfriend Sarah (Mary Louise Parker, Weeds).  His peacefulness is short-lived when an old friend and former colleague Marvin (John Malkovich, Transformers: Dark of the Moon), approaches him urgently.  Marvin thinks people are after him and that he and Frank should get out of Dodge, with Sarah in tow.  Sarah is game for a little excitement, but Frank thinks Marvin is being paranoid and brushes him off.  When Marvin turns up dead shortly after, things take an interesting turn.  It turns out the two are suspected of being involved in an old covert mission called “Nightshade,” and some very dangerous people are upset about that supposed involvement.  Frank is taken into custody after Marvin’s funeral, where agents detain and interrogate him.  Inexplicably, another operative breaks into the facility to extract him, killing any agent that gets in his way.

It turns out that Marvin is alive after all, and he and Frank are now on the run.  Nightshade has a lot of people up in arms, and there is a hit out on the pair.  They must find out who’s trying to kill them and why, before it’s too late.  Helen Mirren (Hitchock) returns as Victoria, and she too has been approached to eliminate Frank and Marvin.  Fortunately, her loyalty is true and she forewarns her old friends that the heat is on.  Their escapades take them to Europe, where Frank is reunited with an old flame Katja (Catherine Zeta-Jones, Side Effects), much to Sarah’s chagrin.  Also joining the fray is Han (Byung-hun Lee, GI Joe: Retaliation) another contracted assassin with an impressive skillset – but what side is he really on?

I’ve tried not to reveal too much about the plot, but any further exposition is inconsequential to this review.  The movie basically consists of a lot of spy vs. spy shenanigans, and it’s a fun ride.  Although the plot was very different, Red 2 reminded me of Mr. & Mrs. Smith with its hijinks and effective blend of action and comedy.  John Malkovich, Anthony Hopkins and Helen Mirren are veteran Oscar winning thespians, and it’s good to see them assembled in a light-hearted movie such as this.  Bruce Willis is an ageless wonder, as I’ve stated before.  Most of the cast is eligible for an AARP card, and it’s pretty entertaining to see the old guard still kicking ass.  This made for an enjoyable day at the movies.  Grade: B+




G.I. Joe: Retaliation

Once again I have to start this review with my fanboy disclaimer: I am not a GI Joe “buff,” and you shouldn’t have to be to see this movie.  I watched the cartoons as a child, but I’m approaching this review as an average moviegoer and not an enthusiast.  At any rate, I enjoyed the first edition and was looking forward to the sequel.  It was entertaining, and it opened up at number 1 at the box office – but it wasn’t quite all it was cracked up to be.

We begin with Duke (Channing Tatum, Side Effects) and Roadblock (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Snitch) as the movie opens with a glimpse into their affable friendship.  Tatum and Johnson have an easy rapport, and it’s always interesting to see these iconic cartoon/comic book characters brought to life.  Lady Jaye is portrayed by Adrianne Palicki (Red Dawn), who you may recognize from Friday Night Lights, while DJ Cotrona of Detroit 187 appears as Flint.  Duke is the clear leader, but his position is threatened when the Joes are ambushed by COBRA while on assignment.  It turns out the President is actually a disguised Zartan, who ultimately wants to free Cobra Commander from his prison and destroy the Joes in the process.  The ambush results in severe casualties, and nuclear warheads are stolen. The President (Zartan) blames the Joes and paints them as traitors, disavowing them.  Disgraced and betrayed, the surviving Joes band together to figure out who’s responsible and recover the warheads.

I’ll be succinct and quite simply tell you what worked and what didn’t.  We’ll start with the positive.  I thought the casting was effective and the lineup made sense.  Additionally, there were quite a few cool scenes and plenty of entertaining action sequences, including a memorable scene involving Snake Eyes (Ray Park, X-Men) and Jinx (Elodie Yung, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo) battling ninjas on the side of a snow-capped mountain.  Bruce Willis (Red) makes a cameo as a seasoned Joe who lends a hand, and he’s a sentimental favorite of mine.   I think he’s gonna try to do the action thing until he’s collecting Social Security (if he’s not already), and you know what? He can still pull it off.

Unfortunately, the movie wasn’t without its flaws.  The 3D aspect was negligible, which is becoming all too common nowadays.  Secondly, the writing was not very impressive.  The movie faltered when it drifted away from action.  The dialogue was corny and the plot confusing at times, beginning with the appearance of RZA as a wise old martial arts master who has a history with Storm Shadow (Byung-hun-Lee, I Saw the Devil).  I thought I was watching The Man With the Iron Fists for a second.  I like RZA, but I couldn’t take him seriously. I think if you grew up watching the cartoons, you might want to see this off GP, and I can dig it.  But if you’re totally neutral about it, perhaps you should forego the experience.  It wasn’t bad.  It just wasn’t THAT good.  Grade: B-

Olympus Has Fallen

It’s been a while since we’ve had a “straight up” action movie.  I don’t mean a superhero joint with good special effects.  I’m talking about a movie where a disastrous situation occurs and there’s only “one man for the job.”  In his latest effort, director Antoine Fuqua (Training Day, Brooklyn’s Finest) harkens back to the 80s, a decade proliferated with Schwarzenegger/Stallone/Willis movies featuring a one man wrecking crew.

Fuqua pulls together several notable names in Olympus Has Fallen, an action-packed movie about a secret service agent who tries to save the White House (code name Olympus) after it is besieged by North Korean terrorists.  Gerard Butler (Playing For Keeps) stars as Mike Banning, an accomplished Secret Service agent who was recently reassigned from a prestigious position on the President’s detail to a much less exciting position at the Treasury Department.  The President is ably portrayed by Aaron Eckhart (The Rum Diary), even though there is no way he looks like a president.  In real life, a President has never appeared so young, fit, and handsome – no offense to JFK or President Obama.  Morgan Freeman (The Dark Knight Rises) and Angela Bassett (This Means War) round out the cast as the Speaker of the House and Secret Service Director, respectively.

The movie begins with a flashback to the incident that led to Banning’s reassignment.  I’ve always thought it was extremely important to begin and finish a movie on a strong note.  I think audiences are more tolerant of a lull in the middle of a movie if they feel invested up to that point.  Don’t let Butler’s recent romantic comedy leanings fool you.  Remember that he was King Leonidas in 300, and playing the tough guy hero is totally in his wheelhouse.  The actual White House takeover scene was breathtaking to watch, for a number of reasons.  Even if you’re not the patriotic type, there is something unnerving about seeing the White House obliterated.  I’m not xenophobic, but when I saw those North Koreans make Swiss cheese out of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, my blood began to boil.  Go America!

The concept of the White House being taken over is a little far-fetched, but if it could ever conceivably happen I think Fuqua did a good job of showing us how it would transpire.  That being said, I don’t think the CIA is too concerned with anyone getting ideas after seeing this movie.  I’m not sure if the weapons technology depicted really exits, but the special effects were amazing.  Excessive killing in movies can be gratuitous, but here it was essential to the plot.  Freeman and Bassett didn’t break any new ground with their roles, but they served their purpose. As long as Butler was convincing as Banning, the movie worked.  Just as John McLane’s sole objective was to reclaim the Nakatomi Building, Mike Banning will stop at nothing to reclaim The White House.  If you like action, this throwback movie won’t disappoint.  Grade: B+

Taken 2

If some is good, more is better, right?  When it comes to movies, maybe not so much.  A sequel can be a logical continuation of an original idea, or it can be a watered-down duplicate that serves nothing.  Guess which category Taken 2 falls in?  As much as I was looking forward to Liam Neeson’s (The Grey) reprisal of Bryan Mills, aka Super Dad – the results were rather disappointing.

When we last saw Bryan Mills, he was saving his teenaged daughter from sex traffickers who kidnapped her and her friend.  Bryan rescued his daughter in daring fashion, while leaving numerous bodies in his wake.  Fast forward a few years, and the families of the men that Bryan killed want revenge.  I don’t know how much time is supposed to have elapsed since the first movie, but it can’t have been a long time.  Bryan’s daughter Kim was a teenager before, and she still is.  She’s 16 now; a fact that is patently absurd when considering that actress Maggie Grace (Lockout) recently turned 29.  She looks every bit of it, but ridiculous casting is least of what’s wrong with Taken 2.

In the first movie, the plot was original, and the action seemed to unfold organically.  Bryan was resourceful, and all of his fighting scenes were realistic.  Neeson was perfect as the seasoned former government agent whose skillset uniquely equipped him for a rescue mission.  This time around, he seems a step slower and the entire plot feels forced.  After all that has recently happened, one would think that the Mills family would take added precautions when traveling internationally.  Nope.  They express no reluctance in traveling to Turkey to meet up with Bryan while he travels on a business trip.

Brian’s daughter Kim and his ex-wife Lenore (Famke Janssen, X-Men: The Last Stand) join him in Istanbul; while unbeknownst to them they are being tracked by bloodthirsty Albanians.  They want to avenge the murders of their sons and brothers who were killed by Bryan in the last movie.  Eventually Lenore and Bryan are kidnapped in Istanbul, but he is able to get word to Kim back at the hotel, forewarning her before she too is abducted.  He was able to warn Kim because his captors allowed him to make the phone call right in front of them while they held him at gunpoint.  What followed was scene after scene of stupefying occurrences, each more absurd than the one preceding it.  Nearly everything about Taken 2 was unbelievable, from a decidedly middle-aged Neeson easily dispatching much younger men, to Kim somehow morphing into an Angelina Jolie action character.  When she expertly darted across rooftops while throwing hand grenades with Aaron Rodgers-like accuracy, I checked out of the movie.

My friends with whom I saw Taken 2 shared my disappointment.  I thought it began well enough, but as soon as the meat of the action got underway, it was all downhill.  There was only one good fighting scene because it was the only one that was remotely believable.  Neeson is a fine actor, and I’m not saying that he’s too old for an action movie, but this is a movie that didn’t need to happen.  The camera shots even seemed sped up in order to create the illusion that he could actually pull off the fighting scenes and they didn’t look authentic.  Taken 2 looks like it will open at the top spot in the box office, but I’ll bet it plummets by next week.  If you’re looking for a good movie to see, I’d suggest Looper.  It has a much better plot and a better performance by an aging action star (Bruce Willis).  Grade: C

The preceding article first appeared at Poptimal and was reprinted with permission


Every self-proclaimed movie buff has a favorite genre and type of movie.  My favorites are suspense thrillers or crime dramas.  I also like movies that feature intersecting storylines.  I think the best movies are “high concept,” meaning that the storyline is uniquely original and it features a refreshing central idea.  Some examples would be Inception, In Time, and Minority Report.  All three of those movies were unlike anything that preceded them.  Looper was such a movie, a high concept tale characterized by an inventive storyline.

J. Gordon Levitt (Inception) has matured into a fine young actor.  He has been impressive in everything I’ve ever seen in him, most notably 500 Days of Summer.  In Looper he stars as Joe, a young criminal in the desolate future of 2044.  30 years from that in 2074, time travel will be possible.  It is ultimately outlawed, used only by criminal organizations in secret as a way of eliminating unwanted offenders.  Joe is a looper, a person who executes people who have been sent back from the future.  Criminals in 2074 send their victim (always another criminal) back in time to 2044, where they are immediately shotgun blasted out of existence by a looper.  There is now virtually no trace of the person ever having existed.  It’s a sad and efficient way of dispensing with an enemy.  Occasionally a crime boss will want to get rid of an employee, even a looper.  When this happens, the looper will make the requisite kill, only to remove the pillowcase from his victim to discover that it’s him or herself (in the future).  This is called “closing your loop,” which means that your future self no longer exists.  The worst thing that a looper could do is fail to close his loop by letting his future self escape.  An open loop means that a future and present version of the looper co-exist in the present.  It also means that they haven’t been removed from the future yet.  It would be like 33-year-old Tanya and 63-year-old Tanya chilling right now in 2012.  Bugged out, right?  Exactly, that’s why it can’t happen.  As crazy as it must seem to put a bullet in your future self, that’s what a looper must do, if necessary.  Joe doesn’t lack the resolve to do it, but he bungles a hit on his future self (Bruce Willis, Red) when the time comes.

Of course, being a looper, Future Joe (Willis) knows exactly what is going to happen when his bosses try to send him back in time.  He prepares for it and outsmarts Present Joe easily, overpowering him and escaping.  I’m just going to refer to Future Joe as Bruce Willis, for simplicity’s sake.  Once his bosses find out that Joe didn’t close his loop, they send a bounty hunter (Jeff Daniels, The Newsroom) back in time to eliminate both Joes – the young one for botching the job and the old one because he was the target in the first place.  Joe himself is also very committed to killing himself, stopping at nothing to track Bruce Willis down.  There is a curious dynamic between Young Joe and Bruce Willis, as their agendas are wildly divergent.  Bruce Willis wants to make sure that his life plays out, as it should, the way he knows it.  He already knows what his version of the future holds, because he’s lived it.  He has a wife that he’ll never meet if Young Joe somehow alters the course of their lives.  Young Joe wants to make his own way in the world and cares nothing for a hypothetical future that he knows nothing about.

Looper was an intriguing movie.  Its high concept premise lured me in, but there were several enjoyable elements.  The casting was great.  Bruce Willis was fitting as the grisly older man who is one step ahead of his younger self.  He really looks like an older version of J. Gordon Levitt, which was especially noticeable in one scene where both actors were shown in profile.  Emily Blunt was also featured, and I think she’s very versatile.  Here she showed a vulnerability and sense of love and compassion that I liked very much.  Her performance was both emotional and convincing.  Levitt always simply does whatever is required of him, and he does it very well.   Looper was nearly flawless, and I hope that Levitt continues to challenge himself with great scripts like this one.  Grade:  A