Sunday, December 16, 2012

Time for some DVD reviews!

The Samaritan

Samuel L. Jackson has a strong work ethic and has appeared in many films playing a very similar badass. Sometimes he's a good guy, sometimes he's a bad guy, but frequently he is the same type of character.

That is the curse of being a movie star. Once you've established a successful persona that's what producers — and audiences — want from you.

That's why I enjoyed "The Samaritan," a new crime thriller that gives Jackson a chance to ditch all of those "Snakes on a Plane" roles for something more substantial.

Jackson is Foley, a man who has been released from prison after serving a sentence of 25 years. He's a consummate grifter who was caught by a victim midway through a con. The victim forced Foley to kill his best friend and partner in crime and then turned him over to the police.

Foley now wants simply to be left alone. He wants to find a job and go straight. A quick check shows most of his old friends and cronies are dead and the few left alive don't want anything to do with him.

The only person eager for his company is the son of his dead partner. Evan (played with slimy intensity by Luke Kirby) wants to recruit Foley into a big con. Foley refuses, but Evan has rigged Foley's life to draw the ex-convict into his scheme.

What complicates matters is that Foley has met a young woman, Iris (Ruth Negga), and has entered into a cautious, and at times reluctant, relationship.

This film is full of twists and turns, which I can't reveal, but I will say some of the plot points will leave your mouth hanging open in shock.

While there are moments of violence, this is not an action thriller, but rather is a character-driven drama. Jackson excels as Foley, a man who is actively trying to change his future. Foley is a thinker and Jackson's performance is filled with moments of quiet that convey much about the character.

Director David Weaver does well with the look and pacing of the film and co-wrote the script.

If you're up for a different kind of crime movie, seek out "The Samaritan."


As I've mentioned before, the movies to review quickly add up and this film has been in that pile waiting patiently. I thought that considering the success of two huge summer blockbusters, "The Dark Knight Rises" and "The Avengers," it may be time to look at a more realistic approach to superheroes.

"Super" stars Rainn Wilson — best known for his role on "The Office" — as a short-order cook named Frank. Frank's life has been marked by two positive events. The first is when he helped a cop catch a criminal and the second is when he married his wife Sarah (Liv Tyler), a waitress at the restaurant who is battling addiction.

Life is good for Frank until his wife falls back into a bad crowd and leaves him to live with a local drug dealer played with twitchy charm by Kevin Bacon.

Filled with grief, Frank makes efforts to retrieve her, but Sarah doesn't want to be rescued. Frank doesn't know what to do until a group of tentacles saws open his skull to allow the finger of God to massage his brain. Well, at least that's what Frank believes has happened to him.

Frank may suffer from delusions, and he understands that about himself. His love, though, for Sarah is so strong that he is willing to accept what he thinks has happened.

The resulting inspiration triggers Frank's alter ego, The Crimson Bolt. In a homemade costume and with a huge wrench as his primary weapon, Frank decides to fight crime and get his wife back. What constitutes crime ranges from robbery to someone cutting into a line at the movies and both are met with concussions from Frank's wrench.

Frank's rallying cry is "Shut up crime!"

The violence is increased with the arrival of his young sidekick, a comic book store clerk played with a frightening intensity by Ellen Page.

This movie is part dark comedy, part social commentary and, at its conclusion, part legitimate hardcore action film. Director and writer James Gunn was responsible for one of the most outrageous and entertaining horror films of the past decade, "Slither" and he shows here that his quirky style certainly extends to another genre.

Gunn's basic premise is that to be a superhero one must be mentally ill or at the very least, emotionally distraught.

Wilson does well with the lead role, making Frank a sympathetic character, while Page is a hoot as the cute sociopath who complains to Frank he didn't tell her that she shouldn't kill people.

A very different kind of superhero film, "Super" was certainly more entertaining to me than "The Dark Knight Rises."

The Expendables 2

The first "Expendables" film was a master class in stunt casing. The idea of banding together action heroes — some of whom are fairly long in the tooth — for a film was an act of marketing genius.

Fortunately, the film as directed by Sylvester Stallone, the star of the movie, was enjoyable in a goofy way. It was difficult to take the film seriously and its largest charm was the sense the actors seemed to be having fun.

For the sequel, Stallone handed over the writing and directing chores to others and the result is a tighter, largely more credible film. The film stars Stallone, Jason Statham, Jet Li, Dolph Lundren, Randy Couture, Terry Crews and, in expanded cameos, Bruce Willis and Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Director Simon West kicks off the film with an outstanding sequence with the mercenary group storming what appeared to be some sort of outlaw Chinese stronghold to rescue a kidnap victim, played by Schwarzenegger. That leads to the main story in which the mercenaries are forced to take on what would appear to be a routine assignment of rounding up some stray plutonium. The job is complicated when a group of bad guys not only take the plutonium, but also kills one member of the group.

Jean-Claude Van Damme plays the chief heavy and he proves to have plenty of chops to protray a formidable villain.

For action fans, this film is a fun joy ride. Some of the territory will seem a little familiar, perhaps and the film's chemistry is weakened a bit by the departure of Li's character after the opening sequence.

West, who directed "Blackhawk Down," knows how to stage action and the film moves along at a faster pace than the first one.

The vintage of the some of the performers was more apparent in this outing. The addition of Chuck Norris, who at age 72, just seemed to capable of walking around a bit, didn't do very much for the film. Stallone's efforts to retain his youth have resulted in a slightly disconcerting look. Van Damme, on the other hand, seemed to have added a dimension with age.

Would I see a third installment of the series? If it has the energy and style of this one, absolutely.

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter

I mention this film in light of the new biographical film, "Lincoln," in the hope that people don't take it seriously. I know that history isn't the favorite subject for some people, so let me assure you there is no evidence that the real Lincoln wielded a vampire-killing axe.

Talk about a high concept: Abe Lincoln is recruited to kill vampires as a young man a practice that he brings to the White House and winds up playing a pivotal part in the Civil War.

Now, I thought such an outrageous concept would be handled with some element of dark humor, but director Timur Bekmambetov plays the subject matter very straight. In fact, the more earnest the film became, the sillier it seemed to me.

The movie was not helped by the wooden performance by Benjamin Walker, whose Lincoln was painfully awkward and often thick as a brick. Although there were better actors in the cast, such as Rufus Sewell and Dominic Cooper, Walker's portrayal was crucial for the success of the film.

The production also has an odd cheapness to it that is a killer for any period film.

This film isn't even worth the dollar rental from the Red Box.


Not just do I love animation, I'm a sucker for stop motion animation — the technique used to create such diverse properties as the original "King Kong" and the "Gumby" shorts.

In this era of computer-generated animation, the rule of thumb was initially that stop-motion was dead, at best a nostalgic throwback. Nothing could be less true. Animation is an art form and different disciplines are available for artists to use to tell their stories.

"ParaNorman" is about a boy named Norman growing up in a New England town renown for its history involving the condemnation and execution of a witch. Norman isn't the most popular boy at school — and even at home his family hassles him — because he can see and speak to ghosts. Shunned by all, Norman's only friend, Neil, is also a social pariah.

Norman has a vision during his school play about the town's witch and her legend that leads him to his crazy uncle. Voiced with gusto by John Goodman, Uncle Prenderghast reveals a role that only Norman can play in saving his community from the supernatural events that are about to happen.

There are some great horror film comedy moments in this film as well as a surprising adult and moving plot point. "ParaNorman" may be well too intense for young children, but kids ages 8 and older, as well as their parents, should enjoy it.

The animation is wonderful as is the design of the characters. I was really impressed with this film and its success shows that stop motion animation continues to have a future.


Not to repeat myself — but I will — the biggest problem confronting the film industry today is lack of distribution and the unwillingness of theater owners to take any sort of chance on independent films.

"Brake" is a great example of an indie film that could have found a theatrical audience. It's a superior thriller that would have captured the attention of people who enjoy action and suspense films. When a theater owner has 16 screens in a multiplex, one would think a single screen could be devoted to such product.

Stephen Dorff plays Secret Service Agent Jeremy Reins who wakes up to find himself locked in a plexiglass box in the trunk of a car. At first he has no idea why he is there but soon he learns his captors are terrorists who want him to reveal the location of a bunker the president would be using in a domestic attack.

Reins won't cave, though and the terrorists use a variety of ways to try to break his will. I can't give away any more of the plot as the film takes audiences places one couldn't anticipate.

This film is a bravura performance by Dorff, an actor who has a long resume but has never really had the breakout role he needs. This really should have been it as the film is a showcase for his talents.

Director Gabe Torres shows he has some major creative chops by keeping the suspense high, despite the limitations of having one character on screen in one set.

"Brake" is a film well worth the search.

©2012 by Gordon Michael Dobbs