Tag Archives: military

Universal Soldier Series – Review: Part 1

1 Nov

The 1990s were a very hit or miss time for certain genres. The 1980s saw an explosion of really memorable and popular films, especially in the action and horror genre. By the 1990s, these movies were starting to wear a little thin, but studios were desperate to keep them alive. One of these movies is Universal Soldier, which was released in 1992 to less than favorable reviews from critics and audiences. That being said, it still managed to create a franchise that spawned three theatrical titles and two TV movies. I’m going to be looking at the theatrically released entries and not the TV movies since they have completely different actors and don’t really tie into the other films. My bar is set real low and so I’m just going to dive right in.

Let’s start with the original 1992 release.

Luc Devereaux (Jean-Claude Van Damme) and Andrew Scott (Dolph Lundgren) were two soldiers in the Vietnam War who killed each other after Devereaux caught Scott committing terrible atrocities to the civilians of a small Vietnam village and members of his own unit. Years later, the two are reawakened as part of a secret military project where they operate as genetically enhanced troopers known as Universal Soldiers, or “UniSols.” After part of a mission triggers memories of his time in the war, Devereaux begins to remember more about his past, which is exactly what the heads of this program are trying to prevent. When Scott attempts to murder a reporter named Veronica (Ally Walker), who snuck into their facility, Devereaux defends her and they run off with Scott and the rest of the Soldiers in hot pursuit. Andrew’s memories also begin to return, along with his vengeful and violent disposition against Luc, which will ultimately end in a conflict between the two genetically enhanced fighters.

When Universal Soldier was first released, it was criticized as just being a Terminator rip-off, and in may ways it is. From the style to the genetically enhanced beings squaring off with one of them protecting an innocent person, to the attempts at humor (although Terminator 2 succeeds at said humor). There is nothing really special about this movie other than having Van Damme and Lundgren facing off against one another. At it’s best, the humor is chuckle worthy, but a lot of it just breaks up the mood of the movie and takes away from a lot of the actual drama and suspense that the movie builds up. It isn’t a particularly long movie, so extended light hearted scenes only slow the action down. The action itself is ok, but it’s nothing really to write home about. Later in his career, Roland Emmerich really gets familiar with creating action spectacles, but it’s clear that this is his first real attempt at it. All of these mesh together to create a much less than spectacular film.

There are parts of Universal Soldier, however, that does save it from being totally forgettable. For one thing, Dolph Lundgren really steals the show once his memories start coming back to him. That scene in the supermarket is probably my favorite part of the movie because I can really tell that Lundgren is giving it his all. There’s also a great chase scene by the Grand Canyon that does preview Emmerich’s skill with handling large action set pieces. Van Damme has some funny moments and it can’t be ignored that this film helped shape his career. This all still amounts to a little bit of fun, but not something for the action history books. I’d like to give the good parts more praise, but they really just are serviceable and not really deserving to be lauded.

Universal Soldier is alright, and that’s all that can be really said. It’s a 90’s action movie that somehow spawned an entire franchise, and after fully experiencing the first one, I don’t really know how it happened. It’s a disposable film that works great as background noise or just something to mindlessly watch and forget about the next day. There’s some good action, but a lot of it is unexciting. The humor didn’t work for most of the movie, but it was cool to see both Dolph Lundgren and Jean-Claude Van Damme share the screen. That’s all that can really be said.

Final Grade: C+

With the response Universal Soldier received, I find it a little surprising that it would get a sequel, but at the same time it does feel pretty run of the mill for action movies of this time. This brings us to the 1999 film Universal Soldier: The Return, which I can truly say is one of the worst movies I’ve seen in a very long time.

It’s been seven years since Luc Devereaux’s memories came back to him which caused the whole UniSol program to implode. Now, he’s working alongside the US government, a scientist named Dr. Cotner (Xander Berkley), and a supercomputer called S.E.T.H to train and maintain a new group of stronger UniSols for the military to use. After it’s announced to Devereaux and Cotner that the program and the supercomputer are to be shut down, S.E.T.H goes into defense mode and activates the UniSols to destroy all the threats in the facility. Now, Devereaux must team up with his partner Maggie (Kiana Tom) and reporter Erin Young (Heidi Schnaz) to take down the renegade soldiers and take down the two leaders of the revolt, Romeo (Bill Goldberg) and the body that S.E.T.H has created for himself (Michael Jai White).

Everything about this movie is so subpar, I’m amazed that it got a theatrical release. Even the title is boring. The Return? Yeah, I bet a lot of thought went into that. Let’s start with the major issues. There is very little continuity between the first film and this one. Devereaux had a wife who died but it’s never explained if it’s Veronica from the first movie or someone else. It’s also odd that there’s still a major government facility making these soldiers after it was established that it was below board in the first movie. Why is it so accepted now? Why would Devereaux want to work with them? Nothing makes any sense with what’s already been established. Even with a story as minimal and basic as this, maybe the action would at least be good. Well it’s about as boring as it gets. Director Mic Rodgers is actually a stuntman and this was his only movie, which is probably a good thing, but you’d think he’d have some creative skills when it comes to crafting an action sequence.

Everything else falls just as flat as the story and the action. This was Van Damme’s last film since his return in The Expendables 2 to have a wide release theatrically, and it’s really a stinker to go out on for such a long time. He has none of the energy he did in the first movie and his fight sequences seem very lackluster. It doesn’t really seem like he wanted to be in this movie, and the same can be said for Michael Jai White who just sounds bored the entire time. Bill Goldberg is the only person who really brings anything to the table, but his character got played out real fast. The humor that was distracting in the first movie is just cringeworthy in this one, and that’s all that really has to be said about that.

Universal Soldier: The Return shouldn’t have been made or it should have been made by people who knew what they were doing or wanted to be involved. What we get is a movie that clocks in at an hour and 18 minutes that is absolutely hollow. If this were a direct to video title I may be a bit more understanding, but this movie was given a wide theatrical release. With that being the case, this movie is absolutely unacceptable.

Final Grade: F

So far, this series isn’t off to a great start, but I’m going to power through the rest because there’s no way that I could give up now. Next, I’ll be looking at the limited release sequels Universal Soldier: Regeneration and Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning.

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Shin Godzilla – Review

17 Oct

It’s a very exciting day, and the reason is because I finally get to talk about a new Godzilla movie. Shin Godzilla is Toho’s first movie featuring the King of the Monsters in 12 years, which makes this all the more exciting. I’m a huge fan of this franchise, from the goofiness of Godzilla jumping around on the moon in Destroy all Monsters to the much darker entries like Godzilla vs. Destoroyah and even the 2014 America remake. Shin Godzilla does something very interesting and moves the tone into a much more realistic direction. This makes for a very interesting and surprisingly intelligent entry into the series that also happens to have some of the best scenes of destruction and mayhem in the entire franchise.

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After a boat is attacked in Tokyo Bay and the Tokyo Bay Aqua-Line is collapsed, both by some mysterious aquatic creature, the Japanese government assures everyone that this monster will not come on land. Of course, they couldn’t have been more wrong as a bipedal, gilled fish creature begins making its way through the city and destroying everything in its path. Things are made worse after the JSDF attacks the creature, which causes it to stop its war path and begin growing and evolving into a giant reptilian monster that is named Godzilla. With Godzilla moving further into Tokyo and causing rampant destruction with countless casualties, the government scrambles to rebuild itself from the initial attack and work together with foreign powers from around the world in helping them take down this behemoth before it’s too late.

Where do I even begin? There’s so much that I want to say. I guess let’s start with the monster of the hour. Godzilla looks outstanding in this movie. The first time you see him he looks like this weird salamander with legs, which is a great introduction believe it or not. You then get the pleasure of watching him evolve into the creature that we all know and love. It’s also a treat to see that this Godzilla is the biggest ever to be put on screen, even beating out the Godzilla in the 2014 American film. This is a ferocious Godzilla and certainly not the one you may remember from the earlier films where he often time played the hero. Shin Godzilla is, in many ways, a reboot of the original film from 1954, which works really well. While it’s similar to that movie, Godzilla has a lot more to do and, without spoiling anything, has received a lot of badass enhancements that you’ve never seen in a Godzilla movie before.

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One thing that the newest American remake has over any of the other Toho versions is the special effects. Save for the shock of seeing a monster destroying a city in the original movie, the effects in this franchise haven’t really been too spectacular. This made me have no real expectations for how Shin Godzilla would look. I’m shocked at how great the effects were. There’s a few kinda strange looking scenes, but as a whole it looks great. Godzilla looks massive against the backdrop of the cities and his atomic breath has never been better. The effect work for the military is also really good. The tanks and helicopters hot on Godzilla’s trail move and sound great. I also have to give a lot of credit to directors Hideaki Anno and Shinji Higuchi for their creative abilities in shooting this movie. The camera always seems to be in motion and there are some really interesting shots that heighten the action more than I’ve ever seen in a Godzilla movie. You can tell these film makers had a vision and they executed that vision very well.

A big part of any Godzilla movie, or even any kaiju movie in general, are the people who are either trying to stop or help the monsters. Normally, those are the most boring parts of the movie, and it’s rare that there are ever any really interesting characters. Shin Godzilla follows a group of government officials and scientists who are constantly brainstorming ways to stop Godzilla from completely destroying everything. While there still really aren’t many characters in this movie that I cared for too much, I cared about their mission and it was interesting watching the process they went through. It’s a very modern take on this story that has a lot of allusions to the 2011 earthquake and tsunami that still has an affect on Japan to this day. This brought the politics and the economic fallout of a disaster as fantastical as Godzilla seem real and grounded. The most exciting parts of this movie of course revolved around Godzilla and the military strikes, but the scenes that take place in offices and labs still hold up well and brought a lot to the story when all of that information could have simply been lost in the action.

I had some doubts going into Shin Godzilla despite all of my excitement. Luckily, I’m in no way disappointed. This is a great entry into the franchise and possibly one of the best one since the 1954 original. There’s great special effects, outstanding action, and a story that feels very current and smart. This is a Godzilla movie that is made for the people who know and love the franchise, but is also a great place to start for people with no experience with these movies at all. This is how a monster movie is done and I couldn’t be happier with it.

Final Grade: A

Con Air – Review

17 Oct

When I think of the first R-rated movies I ever saw, my mind goes to the same two. The first that comes to mind is Gladiator and the second is Con Air. Two very different movies, yet they both have a special spot in the heart of this overly sentimental film geek. I actually haven’t seen Con Air in a really long time, so I had this fear that it would be nowhere near as great as I remember it being. So, I put it on and hoped for the best. What I got isn’t nearly as spectacular as I remembered it being, but it’s certainly an acceptable and memorable action fest that could’ve used a few more brain cells amongst other things.

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Cameron Poe (Nicolas Cage) has just finished serving his country as an Army Ranger and is celebrating his return with his wife, Tricia (Monica Potter). That night, Poe gets into a fight with a couple of bar patrons and accidentally kills one of them in self defense. Because of his extensive military training, he is deemed a human weapon and sentenced to 8 years in prison for manslaughter. After quietly serving his time in prison, he’s finally paroled and ready to be reunited with his wife and his daughter whom he has never met. Poe, along with some other inmates getting transferred board the transport plane, which doesn’t get too far until it is high jacked by the psychotic criminal Cyrus the Virus (John Malkovich) and his crew. With U.S. Marshal Vince Larkin (John Cusack) fighting on the ground to get the plane back, Poe is left to his own devices on the plane to stop Cyrus from using the plane to gain his own freedom, while also staying alive long enough to get home and see his family.

Like I said, I have very fond memories of watching this movie when I was younger, and while it still has some elements of being a guilty pleasure, I’ve noticed a lot of weird things that I really dislike about it. Before we get to them, I’d like to something I really like about the movie. The cast of Con Air is fantastic. Other than the names I’ve already mentioned there’s also Danny Trejo, Dave Chapelle, Colm Meaney, Ving Rhames, and Steve Buscemi. All of these actors do a fine job in their roles, with Buscemi bringing a really creepy performance as a Jeffrey Dahmer like serial killer that has disturbed me ever since I first saw this movie. The real scene stealer, though, is John Malkovich as Cyrus. Cyrus the Virus has remained one of my favorite screen villains, and this viewing of the movie still holds that opinion to be true. He just oozes with over the top villainy, and it’s so easy and fun to hate this character. I honestly feel like Malkovich is the only person that could’ve played this role, which is odd because it feels so out of place from what he usually does.

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So while the majority of the cast is really fantastic, there are parts of this movie that are so distractingly terrible, they pull me out of the movie and makes me think twice about what I’m watching. For one thing, I can’t get into Nicolas Cage’s character even though he’s the hero of the movie. There are scenes of his ridiculous long hair blowing in the wind and some really awful lines of dialogue that are so bad, it almost isn’t even funny. But I really can’t totally fault Nicolas Cage for this. Despite what many people think, Cage is a fine actor and has proven so in the past. Con Air isn’t quite a shining point in his filmography. I’d much rather blame the writers for most of the cringe inducing moments. Let’s just say that Con Air is one of those movies that you can only show to the closest of friends in order to save yourself massive amounts of embarrassment, solely because of all the awkwardness and corny dialogue.

Honestly, that one paragraph doesn’t really do justice to the amount of negativity that I would have towards this movie if it wasn’t for some really badass action sequences. The fact that a lot of this movie takes place on a plane is enough for plenty of set pieces, but there’s great sequences on the ground as well. Add in an element of time sensitivity, and you got yourself some suspense filled and memorable action scenes. There’s plenty of explosions and gunplay, but what really makes these parts so great are the maniacal villains and their psychopathic nature. There’s plenty of stand out scenes, and it’s funny to say that Con Air was nominated for an Academy Award for its sound design. It’s an example of really well constructed moments of mayhem, and these parts save the movie from being a complete flop.

The bottom line is that Con Air didn’t hold up quite as well as it did when I was a kid. I remember all of the characters and the action to their full potential, but I simply didn’t realize how awful some of the writing was. Now that I have more experience with film and how real people talk in real life, I know awful writing when I hear it, and this film is filled with it. As an action movie, it’s memorable for many different reasons, and it’s arguably a good escape from the real world. Objectively, however, it’s got so much going against it that the whole experience can feel kind of awkward.

Final Grade: C+

’71 – Review

21 Apr

Ireland has a very rough history with plenty of material to adapt for the silver screen. That being said, it’s very important to handle these events and people as respectfully as possible, which should really be the case with any biopic or historical film. Yann Demage’s 2014 film ’71 takes a look at the early days of the Troubles, a conflict that lasted in Ireland from 1968 to 1998. What’s interesting about this movie is that, on its surface, it tells a story of a soldier trapped behind enemy lines, but this film tells so much more than that. It’s a nearly unbiased look at a very violent time in history that also works great as an entertaining action thriller.

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In 1971, Gary Hook (Jack O’Connell), a new recruit for the British army, is sent to Belfast with his squad to aid the Royal Ulster Constabulary in its search for firearms in suspected IRA houses. The longer the raid lasts and the longer the British soldiers have to hold the neighborhood at bay, the more violent and chaotic everything becomes. Amidst the chaos, Hook is separated from his squad and is left in the streets of Belfast to fend for himself. When news of a stranded soldier reaches certain members of the PIRA and the OIRA, the hunt begins to find and kill this soldier. Meanwhile, other in the city are more sympathetic to Hook’s case, which means he has to choose his friends very carefully in his wait for his squad to return and finally extract him.

Like I said, the crux of the plot of ’71 is Gary Hook trying to stay alive in hostile territory. Looking beyond that, however, you will find a total nightmare of a situation that only gets worse as the movie goes on. Hook is pretty much in the movie and left behind enemy lines so that we can see through his eyes an unbiased look at the violence and brutality that happened in the early days of the Troubles. At first, when Hook is with his squad, the movie has a harsh view on the Catholic nationalists in the IRA and at first I thought that the movie was going to make them the opposition for Hook. As time goes on and the story evolves, however, the Protestant loyalists who are supposed to be with the British at this point can’t be trusted either. This film does a great job at showing the corruption and deadly nature of both sides where no one is anyone’s friend.

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While this movie tells a story of a very dark time in Ireland’s history, it can’t be said that this isn’t an entertaining movie. There are movies like The Baader Meinhof Complex that tell a story about a dark historical time, but it does so in a way that made me feel like I was reading a very interesting textbook. It was a great movie, but not something I would call genuinely entertaining. ’71, on the other hand, is a fast paced and very entertaining movie that is filled with action and suspense. One scene in particular has Hook navigating an apartment complex while trying to stay hidden from the PIRA members that tracked him there. It’s a nail biting scene that forcibly moves you to the edge of your seat and leaves you there to fend for yourself. I love seeing great action and suspense held together by a very smart and intriguing story. It’s refreshing.

This movie marks two careers that hopefully have bright futures. Since being in ’71, Jack O’Connell has gone to star in Angelina Jolie’s film Unbroken, which was received well enough, but didn’t really make a huge mark. O’Connell is excellent in ’71 and really channels the fear and desperation that his character is going through. Another new talent we have from this movie who I demand to see more from is director Yann Demange. Demange has worked with shorter works before, but this is his first feature, and what an excellent debut it is. The way he captures realism while making an entertaining action film is how movies should be made. He understands the medium and I can’t wait to see what else he has to offer.

’71 is an extremely powerful film that is accurate in its portrayals of history while also serving up some great action and suspense sequences. The music, the acting, and the cinematography all work in tandem to create and atmosphere that is as wide and exposing as it is claustrophobic. There was never a boring moment in this movie and trying to figure out who was one who’s side only made it all the more interesting. This was mostly a festival movie that got a very limited release, but all of the great press it got was exactly what the movie deserved. Unfortunately, not enough people have seen this movie which means many people are missing out on a great film.

The A-Team – Review

24 Sep

In 1983, Frank Lupo and Stephen Cannell created a show called The A-Team, which was about a crack commando unit who are sent to and escape from prison for a crime they didn’t commit. They then survive as soldiers of fortune working out of L.A., mostly specializing in helping people who can’t defend themselves against a bigger enemy. While this show it definitely silly, it’s still a lot of fun because of the chemistry between the team, the writing of their characters, and the fact that there’s plenty of action in every episode. But that’s not what we’re talking about. We’re talking about Joe Carnahan’s 2010 adaptation, a film that almost lives up to its source material, but unfortunately falls flat.

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While on a covert mission in Mexico, John “Hannibal” Smith (Liam Neeson) and Templeton “Faceman” Peck (Bradley Cooper) meet two other Army Rangers, B.A. Baracus (Quinton Jackson) and “Howling Mad” Murdock (Sharlto Copley). Over the course of eight years, they become one of the most essential military units in Iraq, but are unfortunately are tricked into a mission by CIA Agent Lynch (Patrick Wilson) to reacquire U.S. Treasury plates taken by Iraqi insurgents. The mission is a success, but this unsanctioned mission and the mysterious murder of their commanding officer lands the team in prison. It doesn’t take long for them to break out, reunite, and begin their new mission to clear their names and take down Lynch and whoever else may be responsible while evading capture by Captain Charissa Sosa (Jessica Biel).

Now I understand that just because someone is making an adaptation of a novel, or a television show, or an older film doesn’t mean that it has to be an absolutely perfect recreation of its source material. The A-Team, for that matter, does stay pretty close but the compromises that are made were kind of weird and things just didn’t fit together properly. I’ll get to that later. There are parts of this movie that I definitely did like. The action, for one thing, is awesome and perfectly captures the over the top mayhem that you would see in the television show. Murdock flying a helicopter upside down, B.A. running from containers falling off an exploding ship, and the team trying to “fly” a tank are just a few memorable action scenes. This isn’t too surprising since Joe Carnahan was behind one of my favorite action movie, the chaotic Smokin’ Aces.

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It’s a pretty heavy responsibility when actors have to step into the shoes of such beloved characters. The whole point of the original t.v. show wasn’t necessarily the action, but how the four soldiers got along together and functioned perfectly as a team. The characters were each very rich and unique, and that being said, the actors in this movie sort of get it right. Bradley Cooper as Face and Sharlto Copley as Murdock are the best choices for those characters and they nail it. It was the closest you could get to the real thing. Quinton Jackson does fine as B.A., but never really reaches the same humorous intensity as Mr. T. Finally, Liam Neeson is poor as Hannibal. He’s far too stoic of an actor and pretty much takes all of the joy out of the character. Jessica Biel and Patrick Wilson seem completely out of place and also give in some stale performances. In fact, some of the lines written for them combined with their delivery is worthy of a good, hard cringe.

While most people (myself included) watch action movies for the action and can forgive a bland plot, it still helps if the plot makes sense. The story of The A-Team made sense, but you really had to think about it and try to put it all together. Everyone’s getting backstabbed, and then backstabbed again and all these ulterior motives make the plot hard to follow. This is The A-Team we’re talking about here. Why does this have to be such a confusing mess of a story? The formulaic good guys vs bad guys routine of the source material made it easy to focus on the characters, but now I spent most of the movie just trying to figure out what the hell was going on. Not only that, but the villains were just poorly written cartoon characters that are hated simply because they’re written so badly.

The A-Team isn’t an awful excuse for an action movie, nor is it a total letdown to fans of the television show, like myself. As I was watching the movie, though, I wish they’d just remove the A-Team, call it something else, and call it a day. The action is fantastic, and makes the movie worth a watch at least once. What sucks is that there really isn’t any good chemistry between the actors, which makes their tight knit relationships fall short. The story is also way too confusing for its own good and the side characters are stupid. While it’s cool that they tried to go for a modern approach to the characters, it doesn’t quite make, which, ultimately, makes The A-Team a failure.

The Crazies – Review

11 May

To me, modern American horror is not the strongest of genres. It seems that most of these movies that call themselves “horror” resort to using jump scares that are accentuated with loud musical cords. That isn’t horror; merely a startling scene. The Crazies is definitely guilty of this and other horror movie clichés, but with the help of adequate performances and some genuinely scary scenes this movie pushes itself up above the typical American horror film without ever achieving greatness.

In the small town of Ogden Marsh, Sheriff David (Timothy Olyphant) and his deputy, Russell Clank (Joe Anderson), are enjoying the new spring weather at the first town baseball game of the season when one of the townspeople walks onto the field with a shotgun. David handles the situation appropriately, but soon discovers along with his wife, Judy (Radha Mitchell), that many of the residents aren’t just acting strangely, but also savagely violent. The military soon intervenes to contain this mysterious “infection” in their own twisted way leaving David, Judy, Russell, and local teenager, Becca (Danielle Panabaker) to escape the town.

The faults of this film are glaring when they are exposed. There were multiple times during The Crazies where a scene got strangely quiet, and I knew exactly what was going to happen and when. This could be just from years of watching horror films, or it could be that they have gotten so generic recently that it’s just easy to catch on to what the film makers are going to do next. This is unfortunate for this film, because in other respects it strived to break through the realm of mediocrity.

The Crazies is at its scariest and most memorable when it deviates from this pattern. There are brutally satisfying scenes that gore freaks will go crazy for, but there are also very subtle moments of terror when we catch a glimpse of something in the background that the character does not see. These scenes sent chills down my spine and some even made me uncomfortable, which is good for a horror movie.

The story itself is pretty generic. This is a remake of a 1973 film of the same name by horror master George Romero, and for the time when the original was released, the story wasn’t so over told. Pretty much, there’s a virus in a small, nice town that demands evil military intervention. We’ve seen this before. It was even satirized in Slither, which I would actually choose over this movie.

By this point in my review, it probably appears that I didn’t like this movie. That’s not true. For what it was, it was enjoyable, and definitely  better than a lot of horror films. The characters all had depth and I cared for each one in their own unique ways, especially Deputy Russell, who had a great character arc. The acting was all good without ever going into anything above what was needed, and a lot of the scenes (especially one concerning a Crazy and a pitchfork) were actually scary.

The main issue that I have with this movie is that it falls into generic territory way too much.  If I saw another scene of a character arriving just in time to save the day, I would….well I don’t know what I would do, but I saw a lot of that. The film makers really tried with this one, and for the most part, The Crazies is a successful horror film. It’s not something I would strongly recommend, but for the people whole love films like 28 Days Later, than I would say this might be a worthwhile escape for just a couple of hours.