Category Archives: Lowbrow Fun

Contraband (2012) 2.86/5 (1)

 

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Rating: The Ugly – 60
Genre: Action, Crime
Duration: 109 mins
Director: Baltasar Kormákur
Stars: Mark Wahlberg, Giovanni Ribisi, Ben Foster

The modern thriller is a tired animal indeed what with the scarcity of original plots and mind numbing dialogue that, instead of building character, is simply a vehicle for tying scenes together and abiding by an MTV archetype of cool. However, if you must turn one of these scripts into a movie then a watchable cast and able director are bare minimum prerequisites. Contraband just about pulls this off with Ben Foster and an always enjoyable Mark Wahlberg starring as a couple of drug smugglers and Giovani Ribisi as a slightly deranged wannabe tough guy attempting to pull their strings along the way. Yes, the plot swings between predictable and confused and, yes, it’s bloated with the contradictory ideas of a script writing committee but there’s some fine gunplay and car chasing to complement the cast’s chemistry. If you’re stuck for something to watch, this one will fill the void adequately.

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Guilty Pleasures

Sabotage (2014) 2.36/5 (2)

 

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Rating: The Ugly – 60
Genre: Crime, Action
Duration: 109 mins
Director: David Ayer
Stars: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sam Worthington, Terrence Howard

Arnold Schwarzenegger plays a renowned badass leader of a crack DEA unit who are being assassinated one a time after they ripped off a cartel. Olivia Williams (in top form) is the investigating detective who gets caught up in the politics of the unit and the DEA to whom the unit are now pariahs. But the closer she gets to the case the more curious the actions of Arnie and his team become. A cracking premise, a cast loaded with talent (or at least personality), and a director coming off the back of an action classic, what could go wrong? Well, make Arnie your star, put him in the kind of dramatic role he was never going to pull off, acquiesce to the inane demands of the producers, and let it unravel from there. Such is the way of Sabotage.

David Ayer was never brilliant at writing plot and this one, though rooted in a worthy premise, is all over the place. Sure he may not have been helped by the studio’s interference but in choosing to reveal the plot gradually while not emphasising the mystery, he lets the movie meander forward with no sense of urgency for what’s to come. In the absence of a single star name, the tantalisingly cast team of Terrence Howard, Sam Worthington, Joe Manganiello, Josh Holloway, and Max Martini might’ve been able to carry the film until the plot crystallised, but Arnie’s ubiquitous presence and the tendency for the movie to follow him exclusively, is like a wet rag on a fire and douses the potentially riveting cast dynamics. All we’re left with are some barely coherent testosterone fuelled exchanges and some interesting action sequences.

At a number of points the movie threatens to break free of its problems and turn into at least an entertaining actioner but the the lack of a clear plot stops even the most basic narrative from gaining traction. With less than clear directing, the supporting cast, led by the utterly manic Mireille Enos (what were they thinking?), implodes and the movie spirals. The makings of an excellent action movie lie within the carnage though and those moments (mostly those told in flashback) when the ICE team are doing their thing (expanding on a premise introduced in End of Watch) are worth the watch thanks mainly to the characters and dialogue of those moments (Ayer’s strong-point). In the end, however, it’s all a bit like Michael Mann’s (2007) Miami Vice. Great ideas, muddled execution.

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James-McAvoy-Wesley-Gibson-wanted-1663000-1680-1050

Wanted (2008) 3.19/5 (3)

 

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Rating: The Ugly – 60
Genre: Action, Fantasy
Duration: 110 mins
Director: Timur Bekmambetov
Stars: Angelina Jolie, James McAvoy, Morgan Freeman

It might seem redundant to state that a movie about a secret cult of weavers turned assassins is at best a guilty pleasure but so derivative is this one that it really does need saying. With its comic book premise that itself was cobbled together from dozens of better sources and with a sprinkle of madcap mayhem, James McAvoy stars as a painfully ordinary nobody who, after Angelina Jolie shows up to repeatedly beat the crap out of him, discovers his birthright is to be a super-assassin and avenge his similarly employed father. Absurdly obscure superpowers considered and colourless bad guy aside, this one kind of skirts along of the far boundaries of tolerance thanks to the rollercoaster of fun it serves up. So detached is it from making sense that you’ll gladly just give in and absorb the bullet-bending, car-flipping carnage and chuckle at the few decent jokes they manage to cram in between. McAvoy’s boyish charm helps a lot and when Jolie isn’t doing her smug “I-know-something-that-you-don’t” face, she cuts another fine action heroine. Together, they are fine but don’t expect the chemistry of Ford and Fisher. Noteworthy in his presence is Morgan Freeman who pops up in a (not atypically) curious cameo too but to little effect because Wanted is McAvoy and Jolie’s bag.

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Alien: Resurrection (1997) 1.43/5 (2)

 

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Rating: The Ugly – 65.1
Genre: Action, Science Fiction
Duration: 109 mins
Director: Jean-Pierre Jeunet
Stars: Sigourney Weaver, Winona Ryder, Ron Perlman

200 years after she threw herself and the alien growing within her into a molten pit, military scientists genetically re-engineer Ripley and her parasite back to life in order to harvest the alien embryo. Fortunately for the surviving crew of the inevitably doomed ship, the mingling of the two species’ DNA left her with a few special abilities. First things first. Alien: Resurrection backtracks on the finality of Alien 3. It introduces an overtly comic-bookish plot and a host of caricatured personalities into a series of movies that were always defined by tight plots and layered characters. The genre defining set-pieces of Alien and Aliens and the admirable attempts of Alien 3 are replaced by contrived, blockbuster, slow-motion explodathons. The most interesting aspect to the story, writer Joss Whedon’s notion of Ripley’s ‘rebirth’, is completely misinterpreted by director Jean-Pierre Jeunet. The incisive dialogue of the first three instalments replete with its organic wit and charm is replaced by a one-liner infested script which plays to the sound bite. The lavish production design jars completely with the more elegantly simple aesthetic of the first three. Similarly, the sleek and dark naturalism of H.R. Giger’s creature design is ultimately replaced with a quasi-surrealist Cronenberg-esque body horror. And lastly, and perhaps most unforgivably, the steely fear and breathless tension that so defined Scott’s, Cameron’s, and Fincher’s movies is relinquished in favour of gore, gore, and more gore resulting in yet more outlandish events that feel so ‘alien’ to the series.

With all this in mind, if one is going to enjoy Alien: Resurrection, one must take it entirely on its own merits and treat it as a standalone feature. For those who can do that, there’s a fairly enjoyable action/sci-fi/horror romp lurking beneath the ashes of the great series. Sigourney Weaver is back in her darkest Ripley incarnation and she eats up the opportunity to play with the well worn role. The movie comes alive when she’s on the screen and she is the most important factor in its partial redemption. There are also a host of fantastic character actors (e.g., Brad Dourif, Ron Perlman, Dan Hedaya, J.E. Freeman) playing the various secondary roles and caricatured as they are, the quality of the actors inhabiting them makes them fun to watch. The creatures look better than that which most sci-fi horror movies offer up and can even be enjoyed from the perspective of the franchise. As mentioned above, inappropriate as it may be to the Alien series, the production design and creature effects are still first rate and when combined with the motley gang of badasses led by the gnarly Ripley, the whole thing becomes quite entertaining.

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Evolution (2001) 2.93/5 (2)

 

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Rating: The Good – 67
Genre: Comedy
Duration: 101 mins
Director: Ivan Reitman
Stars: David Duchovny, Orlando Jones, Julianne Moore

Hugely entertaining sci-fi comedy about a meteor that hits the earth and brings all sorts of nasty single-cell organisms with it that quickly begin evolving into ever more complex creatures bent on human destruction. David Duchovny plays a former military scientist turned community college professor who together with his colleague (played by Orlando Jones) begins studying the creatures until the nasty military show up and take control. Lots of fun is had winking to Duchovny’s X-Files persona but most of it ends up adding to the plot. Ivan Reitman is a dab hand at these types of comedies and he always builds his films around great screen chemistry. Evolution is no different in that sense. Duchovny (who tends to work well with everyone) and Jones complement each other perfectly. Rarely is one funny without the other’s involvement and together they are responsible for many a side-splitting moment. Even with the addition of Seann William Scott and later Julianne Moore to the main story line they don’t skip a beat and if anything the chemistry is improved by the latter’s involvement. The special effects are typical of Reitman films in that they’re quite well done but replete with bright colours and fake goo. And it’s this last point that makes Evolution a guilty pleasure movie. Reitman has never known how to close out a movie and his instinct to go bigger always brings him firmly into the territory of farce. In Ghostbusters 2 he had a goo-powered Statue of Liberty, in this he has a giant blob crawling around a desert. Even the acting starts getting cheesy towards the end suggesting the cast didn’t believe in the ending either.

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Prom Night (1980) 2.43/5 (1)

 

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Rating: The Good – 64.8
Genre: Horror
Duration: 92 mins
Director: Paul Lynch
Stars: Jamie Lee Curtis, Leslie Nielsen, Casey Stevens

Jamie Lee Curtis stars as the prom queen whose friends have been hiding a dark secret concerning the death of her younger sister years earlier. And now on her big night, it’s all going to boil over in nightmarish style. With its low production values and somewhat derivative story, prom night has been misjudged and unfairly criticised over the years. Yes, those two criticisms are fair but there is a strong screenplay driving this movie (kudos William Gray) which employs some clever structuring and original scenarios. Moreover, Paul Lynch’s taught direction gives it the room and time to breathe before unleashing the axe-wielding maniac. When the violence does begin, it must be said that Lynch captures much of it in memorable and innovative fashion.

There are of course some problems with Prom Night. Jamie Lee is competent in the lead but her character could’ve been given a little more to do (particularly during the final act) and the movie certainly does attempt to copy too many movies which were popular at the time (worst of which includes that cringe-worthy Saturday Night Fever inspired dance sequence). However, if watched with a forgiving eye there are plenty of strengths also to be appreciated.

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Crank (2006) 2.71/5 (2)

 

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Rating: The Ugly – 64.4
Genre: Action
Duration: 88 mins
Director: Mark Neveldine/Brian Taylor
Stars: Jason Statham, Amy Smart, Carlos Sanz

With all its flashy “CSI”-ish editing, any self-respecting movie fan should hate this film but its free-form action hilarity is liable to best even the most hardened of movie snobs. Jason Statham is a hit-man who wakes up to find himself poisoned with a drug that is slowly shutting his system down until he’s brown bread. Not the kind of guy to take things lying down, he immediately sets out on the trail of his poisoners while using any means possible to keep his system fired up with adrenaline. As wild as the premise is, it undeniably makes a great platform for a comedy-action movie and there are plenty of laugh-out-loud moments of madness along the way. Don’t think too much about this one, simply give in to the sublimely ridiculous.

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The Punisher (2004) 2.43/5 (1)

 

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Rating: The Ugly – 60
Genre: Action
Duration: 124 mins
Director: Johnathan Hensleigh
Stars: Thomas Jane, John Travolta, Samantha Mathis, Ben Foster

Standard enough action fare as Tom Jane does the best he can with a fairly unadventurous interpretation of comic book hero Frank Castle aka “The Punisher”. There are some good actors on show here with John Travolta and Will Patton playing the bad guys and the late great Roy Scheider in a cameo appearance as Castle’s father. Ben Foster in an early appearance gives a good turn as Castle’s nervous neighbour. The story is predictable enough and the tension slips around the beginning of the final act but it nonetheless remains an entertaining watch.

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Commando (1985) 3.14/5 (1)

 

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Rating: The Ugly – 62.2
Genre: Action
Duration: 90 mins
Director: Mark L. Lester
Stars: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Rae Dawn Chong, Dan Hedaya

It’s not easy to fully describe how utterly stupid this movie is. From the beyond lame opening montage of Arnie and his (on screen) daughter feeding deer and frolicking in slow motion to the willful buffoonery of what is passed for the plot, the ham-fisted dialogue to the cardboard characters, the shabbiness of Schwarzenegger’s still unpolished acting to Vernon Wells’ outrageous turn as the chief villain, this movie is a case of the ridiculous being piled on top of the ridiculous. Of course, as a pure action vehicle straight out of the mid eighties (when Hollywood had the genre down to a fine art), it works despite all of this! Cheese it may be, but nostalgic high octane cheese it remains. Everyone involved dives in head first and there’s a genuine sense of fun to the proceedings even as the cast are rattling out some of the worst lines in screenwriting history – seriously! The set pieces are great bang for their buck and although Wells’ Bennett counts as the most ludicrous movie villains, it’s an undeniably addictive performance. All this makes Commando one of the ultimate guilty pleasure movie experiences. So do like the cast and crew do and just dive in head first and start laughing.

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Eight Legged Freaks (2002) 2.57/5 (2)

 

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Rating: The Ugly – 61.3
Genre: Comedy
Duration: 99 mins
Director: Ellory Elkayem
Stars: David Arquette, Kari Wuhrer, Scott Terra

Exactly what it says on the can. A town full of giant mutant spiders, wise-cracking and/or fleeing humans, and paper thin plots. The result: a totally enjoyable and sometimes genuinely funny horror spoof. David Arquette leads the cast as a man who has recently returned to his hometown only to find it being overrun by a swarm of creepy giant arachnids. Kari Wurher is the town sheriff with whom he has some history and a young Scarlett Johansson fleets in and out as her daughter. The CGI is fine but this movie is all about the the well conceived and executed set-pieces in which the spiders find new and imaginative ways to kill the blundering townspeople. Not the worst way to spend a lazy night in front of the TV.

Grizzly (1976) 2.14/5 (4)

 

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Rating: The Ugly – 60.4
Genre: Horror
Duration: 91 mins
Director: William Girdler
Stars: Christopher George, Andrew Prine, Richard Jaeckel

Grizzly was never meant to be anything other than “Jaws in the Woods” as the producers were fully intent on exploiting the market which Spielberg’s classic identified with as cheap, fast, and loose an imitation as possible. More than likely, the last thing on their minds was the construction of a decent horror but that’s sort of what they did. The plot is obvious: it’s the height of camping season when a couple of campers get killed by what the local ranger and his naturalist friend are convinced is a grizzly even though they’re smack in the middle of brown bear country. Naturally, nobody believes them, especially the owner of the mountain resort whose business would be threatened by a rampaging grizzly. Familiar? You bet. The production values are as low as the mid 70’s could get and the acting is straight out of the bottom drawer. The script provides the bare minimum of dialogue they could fit in between bear attacks and when those attacks do occur, we see nothing more that flashes of fur and what we must assume are claws. That said, there’s plenty of gore thrown about and it’s not entirely unrealistic.

Despite these major shortcomings, Grizzly remains an enjoyable piece of exploitation cinema. Maybe, this is merely a testament to the strength of Benchley’s rehashed plot but there have been plenty of similar imitations over the years that can’t be enjoyed on the same level. The fact is that Grizzly emerges from the rubble of low production knock-off hell with its own distinct personality and plenty of charm. One can’t help but smile as they try to pull of the various set pieces nor buy into the dilemmas of the protagonists. The actors were far from scooping up any award nominations but they seemed at ease with their characters and gave it their all. That combined with Benchley’s million dollar plot makes for 90 mins of decent movie. On top of all that, there’s something very attractive about the woods in a film even if they are acting as the background for the bloody antics of a man-eating bear.

Red Dawn (1984) 3/5 (1)

 

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Rating: The Good – 66.8
Genre: Action
Duration: 114 mins
Director: John Milius
Stars: Patrick Swayze, C. Thomas Howell, Lea Thompson

John Milius’ uneven film has been criticised for being jingoistic and yes, there are some grounds for such criticism. There are also some spectaular leaps of logic and Harry Dean Stanton screams “Avenge me boys” without even a hint of humour. However, for the most part Red Dawn is actually a well orchestrated and even epic depiction of a fictitious invasion of the 1980’s United States by communist forces. Patrick Swayze and Charlie Sheen play two brothers who take to the mountains and form a rag-tag resistance behind enemy lines. It shouldn’t work but somehow this becomes an entertaining and sometimes touching examination of how life could’ve changed in such circumstances. Swayze and Sheen are charismatic in the lead roles and are supported by a number of young and, at the time, promising actors one of whom being Swayze’s future Dirty Dancing co-star Jennifer Grey. Milius’ and Kevin Reynolds’ screenplay can get clunky in parts but holds up for the majority of the film and there are some decent action scenes throughout.

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