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The A-Team

August 18, 2011 Leave a comment

I’m old enough to remember the show when it ran in the 80s, and I was a big fan then. Still, when I see reruns on the television I’ll stop changing the channel trying to remember what the episode was about or at least wait until I hear BA pity a fool, or Hannibal love it when a plan comes together. One of the reasons that I looked forward to the movie was to see who they would get to play whom.

The series was essentially character driven representing the cliches from almost every action movie prior to the eighties. You had the cool confident commander, the pretty boy ladies’ man, the tough guy, and the crazy person. The action, when viewing the show now, actually seems secondary to the characters since the characters are all former Special Forces the violence is part of their character. The actors need to portray a group of people that trust and love each other, but also can’t stand each other from time to time.

The movie did this extremely well especially with the casting of Liam Neeson as Col. John “Hannibal” Smith. Liam Neeson as an actor must have gotten tired of the heavy dramas a few years ago, I’m willing to bet that it started with The Phantom Menace that he realized I could actually have fun in an action movie. Even in deadly serious action movies like Taken, where his acting alone saved what was a pretty cliched movie, you can kind of see that he is being entertained as well. Bradley Cooper played Face very well and the dynamic between the two was well played, reminiscent of the relationship between George Peppard and Dirk Benedict. While it still worked well, the other two characters weren’t that memorable. The man who took over for Mr. T, Quinten Jackson, seemed to be laughing through his lines too much but he had the expressive anger that Mr. T brought to BA Baracus, the same can almost be said for Sharlto Copley as Howling Mad Murdock. The issue with Murdock is that you can take the character one of two ways: you can go the over the top comic relief crazy as the show did with Dwight Schultz or you can take a reserved subtle crazy. The movie ops for a middle ground instead treating the character as someone that is more of an adrenaline junky with a death wish and poor impulse control.

Reservations aside the characters work together and that is what is the most important thing about capturing the essence of the A-Team. The only thing really missing from the movie was a character named “Decker.” Jessica Biel is also in the movie playing “hot female” but largely is inconsequential to the plot. Normally this type of thing is annoying but if you remember the show correctly, the lead female was either a damsel in distress or fulfilled this role. Here, she’s an army intelligence officer seeking to arrest the A-Team for stealing a bunch of hundred dollar printing plates, which is the set up for the whole movie. This is the famous “crime they didn’t commit,” which is an actual improvement over the show because in the show they actually committed the crime they were arrested for.*

Basically the whole movie revolves around the team trying to retrieve the printing plates to clear their names. With a whole bunch of explosions fit in between. What do you expect? It’s an action movie based on an action television show, the plot is more of a vehicle for the gun fights. It’s a good thing too, because were this movie a serious investigation into the theft of missing printing plates I would have a problem with it. The plates themselves originated in Iran before the fall of the Shah in the 70s. For some reason the Iranians had the ability to print US $100 bills. I don’t feel like looking this up, but it’s certainly plausible. The plates were then captured at some point during the Iran-Iraq war and in the possession of the Iraqis when the US toppled Saddam. Again, plausible. What isn’t, is how these plates are in any way useful. In the mid 90s the design of the Franklin bill changed drastically. Aside from using the money to buy things in Somalia the money can’t be used.

“Hot Female” at one point describes the team as “specializing in the ridiculous,” and nothing better summarizes the movie than this one phrase. The movie is full of the cartoonish violence that accompanied the series but the movie never takes itself so seriously as to make itself absurd. It seems that everyone in the movie is having fun at the expense of what is going on. From Hot Female’s explanation that the team is trying to “fly a tank” to a mercenary’s plea to his CIA captor that he not get executed by a particularly inept agent, it’s a fun movie that perfectly interprets the series for the big screen.
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*In the eighties show the crime they were accused of was robbing the bank of Hanoi to defund the North Vietnamese and bring an end to the war. However the orders that sent them there were burned and the commanding officer killed by the VC, so it looked like they did it on their own accord. Still, they did actually rob that bank. It’s unclear to me how robbing the bank of an enemy during a war would cause you to get arrested by the army, but whatever.

Categories: movie review, movies, reviews

Clash of the Titans

August 6, 2011 Leave a comment

As a kid, I used to watch the original campy Clash of the Titans all of the time. It was a fun movie and although when I tried to watch it a couple of weeks ago on BBC America, I realized how ridiculous it was. The story is good, but it’s the acting and the over reliance on stop motion that really killed it. Perhaps it was the first real special effects gimmick movie that I ever saw. When I saw that they were remaking it, I was torn at the time. On the one hand I wanted to see it, on the other I thought that it was more gimmicky 3d, which I was completely skeptical about. So I decided to wait until it hit the cable movie channels. In short, I’m glad I waited.

The first movie roughly followed the story of Perseus, son of the God Zeus and his trials in combating the often ridiculous hoops that the gods throw the mortals through just for kicks. Ultimately Perseus has to save Princess Andromeda from Hera’s machinations because Zeus screwed with her son, deforming him into a beast…just because.

The new one roughly follows that same story, minus Hera. In fact minus most of the gods save Zeus, Hades, and briefly Poseidon. The major difference is the motivation that drives the story. While the first was more of a translation of the Greek myth in the vein of Jason and the Argonauts, this one tries to update it into a more modern Rocky like story which is utterly absurd.

The worst infraction against the viewer is in how the movie portrays the religion of the Greeks. While it stays within the confines of the Greek Gods being real deities, it portrays the people of the world as being hostile to them in fact hating them. At one point early in the story we see a statue of Zeus being ripped down by soldiers from the kingdom of Argos. Immidiately after the statue falls into the sea Hades appears with his harpies to massacre the soldiers and in the process kills Perseus’ adoptive family on their fishing boat. It would appear that the King of Argos has declared war on the gods. This is where I get off.

The Roman philosopher Cicero once said that if the gods took an interest in the lives of mortals (or were real as one of his opponents in the dialogue argue) the good would benefit and the evil would suffer, but this is not the way of things. It’s called the Deist argument, the belief that a God/Gods made the world and then left it alone. However in this movie the gods are very real, in fact transgressing their will involves immediate consequence. And not some lightening bolt that could be interpreted as the will of Zeus, but an actual appearance by a god who immediately murders those that sinned. Yet somehow we are to believe that the populace upon seeing this cause and effect relationship don’t cower in fear of the gods? The relationship between the gods and men in the movie offers an analogy between being in a fascist state, but it’s a false analogy because in the movie men cannot win.

They can’t beat them but they try and fight them. Most notably they try and fight Hades. The problem for them is that they are double screwed. Hades will kill them, and then they go to the realm of Hades after they die for eternity. I’m sure it’s all good fun down there when the guy who killed you for pissing him off gets you for all time.

Perseus, after an hour, learns to beat the Argive general in sword fighting. Literally, the guy is raised by fisherman then magically learns to fight with a sword. I suppose the fact that he’s half god may lend to this but it’s awfully sudden. What’s even more surprising is that Perseus isn’t surprised by it himself, which would have made the unbelievable more believable. They go on a journey because Hades has demanded the sacrifice of Andromeda in order to spare the kingdom of Argos from the Kraken. The king balks, but Perseus is confident he can find a way to defeat the Kraken thus they undertake the journey.

There’s some mythological mash up going on here. The kraken isn’t exactly a Greek monster, Scylla and Charybdis form the pantheon of the Ocean based super monsters, it’s a Norse creation. Also are the Arab like warrior zombies called Djinns that assist the Greeks in their journey to the Underworld. That however is quibbling, and in fact those two additions kind of make the movie a bit more interesting as we see that the mythological world is real here.

The goal of the journey is given to them by the three blind sisters, that in order to destroy the Kraken they must find the head of Medusa that will turn anything to stone. These I suppose are the two titans alluded to in the title of the movie, despite the fact that neither of them are titans.

Like all Greek mythology, the mortals are only the chess pieces for the gods. It’s stated that the gods run on devotion like a car runs on gas and while Poseidon and Zeus have found prayers, it is Hades that has found a new source: fear. The whole plot of the story is driven by the fact that Hades is jealous of his brothers’ domain despite the fact that all mortals eventually end up in his domain while they only spend a brief period on the sea or under the sky. The best acting definitely goes to Ralph Fiennes and Liam Neeson who are obviously hamming it up playing Hades and Zeus respectively. They do a good job, but their talents are clearly better than this trite plot about revenge, what saves them though is that they know it. Their portrayal of two brothers in rivalry breaks up the rather pointless action sequences and needless complications of the mortal story.

In all, the movie serves about the same purpose as the original. The only difference is that while the original Perseus looked like he was grinning the whole time, the new one looks like he is constipated. I can’t tell whether or not this is a boon or a bust for the film. The original painted us a better story, a little richer in the mythology of Ancient Greece but the effects are quite laughable–even for its day. It’s popcorn fodder but not worth reserving the time for.

Categories: movie review, movies

The Boondock Saints 2: All Saints Day

August 6, 2010 Leave a comment

I’m going to start this review by making a bold statement, one that may–in fact–get my kicked off the internet for the bold assertion of the truth in the statement, but here it goes anyway: Boondock Saints 2 is the worst sequel I have ever seen and I saw Batman and Robin the theater (i.e. I paid money for that piece of shit). Remember Batman and Robin is the movie that George Clooney apologized for, the one where Arnold says brilliant things like, “Freeze,” and “Everbody Chill” as Mr. Freeze, that movie was better than this one. I should note that I am a fan of the first movie. 

The reason: at least Joel Schumacher didn’t pretend to be profound while making a piece of shit where obviously more money went into the sound track than it did the writers. Then again, Joel Schumacher is at least honest about the movies he makes. Here’s the problem that I will argue with by analogy.

If you make a movie that has an underground following, one might get the idea that everything that comes out of your pen is liquid gold. One might also think that one might be infallible, one would greatly be mistaken in that assumption, just ask M. Night Symalan, but then again he as at least two movies that are really excellent. Troy Duffy doesn’t even have one.

The first Boondock Saints movie was a movie that was entertaining and fun because it appealed to an idea in every guy’s head about what a movie should be. It was an action movie with a nonsensical plot, over the top characters who couldn’t exist in real life, and lots and lots of gunfights (like the movie Shoot ‘Em Up, and at least that movie knew it was ridiculous). That makes the movie worth watching but it’s not going to be on anyone’s serious top ten list.

A follow up movie was almost inevitable. The problem with cult movies is that almost all of them are objectively bad. The following does nothing to add to its intrinsic value, which is why the sequels to these movies are always terrible. Sam Raimi had to remake Evil Dead so that we could get a proper sequel out of it, and even then those movies didn’t pretend to be high art. Troy Duffy’s problem was that he thought he was saying something profound, when in fact he was just rehashing revenge/vigilante fantasies that we all have when we hear about rampant or particularly vicious crimes.

Saints 2, takes place 8 years after the original, which drops us into the first problem with the plot. The end of the first movie led us to believe that the brothers were going to continue on their crusade to violently rid the world of violent crimes, instead they apparently left Boston to go raise sheep in Ireland. Ireland, an extradition country, that would be one of the most obvious places the trio would have run. After publicly murdering one person in a court room, and having been the leading suspects in over 50 crimes to say that the federal government would have been unable to find them in a place that was an obvious haven for them is ridiculous.

The story is set off with the murder of a priest that was done as mock up of their crimes in order to call them out. Which it does, but to what motive? Revenge by the Yakavetta mob family? That’s what the entire movie points at, but even this is not so, as a shadowy figure known only as “the old man” seems to be behind it all. If the movie had stuck with the revenge as the plot’s prime mover we might have had something. If the movie had just left the brothers continuing on their quest we still might have had something, but this is not the case. The plot becomes more convoluted and twisted as it goes on. Then there are the needless scenes that should have been left on the editor’s floor.

For example: we see glimpses of Il Duce’s (Brian Connoly) past and what led him to begin his crusade, which could have made an interesting movie itself but it mishmashes in with this story, and completely contradicts the set up for his character in the first film. In the original his character is portrayed as some super killer that was locked up to keep him from killing mobsters, but he worked for the mob as a person that cleans house, it’s clearly stated by the blind bathroom attendant. Yet this movie retcons all of that making him simply an older version of his two sons who sought out and killed criminals after watching his dad killed by gangsters.

The movie opens with Rocco walking down the street narrating!? This character was nothing more than the comic relief in the first and he died. This was obviously the result of some crush that Duffy had either on the character or the actor himself. It adds nothing except to slow down the plot. Even Peter Jackson knew that he had to cut Tom Bombadil from Lord of the Rings for that very reason. The extended dream sequence where Rocco monologues about not showing feelings and his emulation of John Wayne is hackneyed and cliche. Tony Soprano did it much better talking about Gary Cooper because he lamented and his character wasn’t dead either.

“Real men hide their feelings, you know why?” asks Rocco, “Because it’s none of your fuckin’ business!” Lines like this aren’t deep or profound. Being portrayed as such just makes them worse. To say nothing of the abruptness of an entire scene that if cut, would have changed the story in no discernible way.

The character of Eunice, the special agent who takes over for Willen Dafoe’s character, doesn’t bring the same type of eccentricity to the film that he did. I feel bad for the actress because she obviously tried but ask most of the actors from the Star Wars prequels, there’s only so much you can do when the script is shit. For some reason, she’s Southern, it makes no sense that she should be as she could have been from Milwaukee and the character would only change in accent…an accent that comes and goes. Her character seems to only exist for one scene where she is reconstructing a crime scene and is dressed in a sexy cowboy outfit. That’s the same motivation that puts Eliza Dushku in bondage gear every chance Whedon gets. It can be considered nothing but puerile.

I really could go on…

And I will for one more bite of this shit apple. The character of Romeo, the Mexican, was to the point of being offensive. It comes from a mindset that thinks, ‘I’ll make fun of this race, but I’m not racist so it’s ok.’ Which is the exact wrong mindset to have when making this type of character. Originally he’s portrayed as a martial artist type who beats up a frenchman while in handcuffs, as soon as he links up with the MacManus brothers, he’s nothing more than a silly sidekick who portrays every flashy latin-american stereotype. It’s worse than a Martin Lawrence cross dressing movie. Duffy racial humor was funny when it portrayed Irish characters making fun of Irish stereotypes but even then you could tell that there was a line that wasn’t going to be crossed. I thought I was going to get the same thing for the first five minutes of Romeo, but then it just became uncomfortable stupid.

The reason that this movie is worse than Batman and Robin, is because at least that movie didn’t erase any fondness that I had for the Burton movies (the only Burton movies that I like). All Saint’s Day completely erases any fond memories I had of the original Boondock Saints now that they have completely eviscerated several of the characters.

A closing question: How did the final villain get his assassin through customs in October of 2001? It’s a point raised by the cops and Eunice but then is completely dropped.

I could seriously go on for pages about how bad this movie was, but I’ll stop there and recommend that if you were a fan of the first don’t see this one lest you feel the desire to shred the dvd and deny ever knowing of that movie to begin with.

Categories: movie review, movies, reviews

Revisiting the Classics: Robocop (1987)

March 7, 2010 Leave a comment

Robocop is one of those movies that gets shown to young boys despite the graphic violence and gore of the movie itself. It was one of those unique figures of the 80s where a movie’s central character is marketed to a demographic that is unable to actually see the movie. Along with Robocop action figures there were also Rambo and Commando figures and all three movies were rated R for extreme violence. Which is funny, if you think about it because Regan’s America wouldn’t allow a scene of nudity to be shot without a serious consideration of the dreaded X rating.

Robocop is a layered story with many different things going on at the same time. The focus, for me at the time, is on Officer Murphy of the Detroit Police Department, fighting the losing battle that every cop who dons the uniform does every day. At the same time a mega corporation called OCP (Omni Consumer Products) has bought out the Detroit Police and is seeking a way to save money by replacing the officers with machines. Dick Jones, an executive at OCP, has created the ED-209 a biped robot with large high powered weapons and a faulty computer system that accidentally kills a member of the board during a product display. His rival, Bob Morton, is working on a cyborg concept but he needs a body to integrate it with.

Luckily, for him, Detroit is largely a free fire warzone in which the line between order and the Hobbesian State of Nature has been erased almost entirely. A criminal named Boddicker (who in the 70s was known as “Red”) targets police officers and runs his own enterprise which is amounts to a private army. Murphy and partner Allen track him down but Murphy is brutally tortured and killed. Which gives Morton the body he needs for his project. Robocop is born. With a body made of an impervious metal, an automatic pistol coupled with computer targeting, he makes a large impact on the city of Detroit.

Not because he’s a great cop and impervious to bullets but because of the brutality of his methods. You would think that OCP would be so afraid of lawsuits that it would program restraint. Remember that this is part man but also part machine. A computer program is like a prison in which escape is logically impossible. Your Roomba can’t mop the floor, not because it doesn’t have the right tools but because it is literally impossible for it to conceive of doing so. Robocop’s police procedural guidelines should lock him down in the same way. The first criminal he encounters is a guy robbing a convenient store.

The robber shoots him, which doesn’t affect him in any way. Now police procedure states that once shot at a cop may shoot back, but Robocop instead cripples the man by clothes lining him into the cooler of the convenient store. He shoots an attempted rapist in the genital area, he racks up a decent body count arrests Boddicker, finds out that Boddicker has been taking orders from Jones and kills Jones after the boss of OCP fires him.

While the movie doesn’t approach the body count of some slasher movies (32 in all) a good deal of the deaths are extremely graphic. I remember not being able to watch Murphy’s death and the Boddicker’s final demise is extremely odd (he is melted under toxic waste) and this is a Paul Verhoven movie so it can’t just be a death it has to be gross. The movie is largely prescient in predicting the fall of Detroit into a criminal cess pool as well as the privatization of certain aspects of the justice department (private firms running prisons, Blackwater).

Does it Hold Up?: This is a tough one. The various social commentaries can be seen as still being relevant. What kind of power should private firms wield over the public trust is a question that has been tackled by political philosophers since the time of Plato (albeit in different language)? To what end is the state responsible to bring notorious criminals to justice? Who would win in a fight Boba Fett or a transformer?

The problem with this movie lasting is that it doesn’t make any sense. If the crime was really so bad in Detroit that a man like Boddicker can kill Police without retribution then the city can appeal to the FBI or if Boddicker gets the six star wanted level the military can intervene, pull an Abe Lincoln by declaring martial law and suspending the civil liberties in the entire city. The idea that the only solution is to create a robot cop is laughable.

The earlier questions stand well enough on their own, but the movie doesn’t exactly make it. It’s a fun ride especially since Detroit came the closest to the dystopian view that most Science fiction movies describe. Now, it’s hard to watch because the violence is unnecessarily cruel for someone like Boddicker who isn’t a serial killer but just a stooge for a CEO. Which makes the entire plot regarding the crime and the links to OCP ridiculous. There is no motivation for any of it. The ideas of the movie are interesting but the plot just doesn’t work, 1/5.

Categories: movie review, movies, reviews

Revisiting the Classics: Big Trouble in Little China

February 22, 2010 1 comment

My original philosophical interest in going to Graduate School was to study Eastern Philosophy/religion. I was quite fascinated with the subject being introduced through the Sun Tzu, and it’s timeless application through the history of war. Like my initial interest in Philosophy in general though, Sun Tzu was not the first contact I had with Chinese mythology, no sadly(?) that was through the John Carpenter classic Big Trouble in Little China.

For an odd reason it has been playing on various channels having hit the point where enough people want to see it for a channel to buy the rights, but not enough people for the price to go up. The movie is pure John Carpenter, funny enough to not take itself too seriously but serious enough where the action drives most of the plot. The movie was appealing to me as a kid because of the action. It’s part martial arts movie, part gunfight movie, and part special effects movie. Basically it’s everything that a seven year old needs in a movie especially since the love story is so muted that it’s hardly even there.

The plot itself sorrounds Jack Burton, the American everyman, who offers to help a friend of his pick up his girlfriend from the airport in San Fransisco. The girl is kidnapped and they give chase. For the 1980s, and especially for an 80s action movie that is all the plot we really need before we start piling up the bodies. However, there is more to this story. She was kidnapped by the Wing Kong because of her green eyes, which is extremely rare in the Chinese genome according to the movie. The Wing Kong, however are protected by the “Three Storms,” elemental demon martial artists that single handedly fight off the Yellow Turban gang who were opposed to the Wing Kong.

The Wing Kong are the protection for a series of criminal enterprises run by David Lo Pan, and Burton, Chi, a lawyer named Gracie Law (Kim Cattral) follow her to a bordello. The bordello is ripped apart by nature and one of the storms, Lightening steals the girlfriend away. Lo Pan needs her for a ritual in which he can appease the gods to return him to human form releasing him from the curse placed on him by the first sovereign emperor of China. Yeah, it’s a bit confusing but the mythology fits right.

The rest of the movie is about fighting Lo Pan and the three storms. Jack Burton is the American in the film and given the fact that it is 1986 he plays an odd roll. Typically the American at this period of time would be the one to guide the hopeless foreigners to victory thus showing everyone that Americans are pretty much the best people in the world. Burton though, is the fool in the film. He’s brash, he acts without thinking, he’s cocky to the point where it is ridiculous to watch him. One scene has Chi fighting an entire group of security guards while Burton tries desperately to unjam his gun.

The group of fighters is led by Egg Shen, a Chinese wizard who has fought Lo Pan before. Can they stop him before he retains human form? Or will Lo Pan release himself from the curse and seek to…it’s really unclear what Lo Pan seeks to do after he becomes human. Given that this is a John Carpenter movie, it could really go either way.

For a seven year old the real stars of the movie are the three storms, and among them it’s lightening. Remember the Emperor’s Black Lightening in the Return of the Jedi? Lightening is the living embodiment of that. The electricity flows off him, it looks like electricity as it just doesn’t come off his fingers but it travels around the character, it looks real unlike the electric bolts from the prequel star wars movies.

The movie isn’t an effects movie though, there is actually a plot here. A plot that deals with Daoist mysticism and Chinese mythological history.

Does it Hold Up?: This movie is harder to judge than The Delta Force. Even though they are both from the same period, both rely on action to drive the entertainment, Big Trouble takes great pains to not take itself so seriously. The movie laughs at it’s main character, Lo Pan is a good villain and looking at him now he’s even more entertaining. Jack Burton can be seen as a parody of American hubris during this time period, loud and cocky he repeatedly refers to himself in the third person giving us this exchange,

“You know what ol’ Jack Burton always says at a time like this? ‘
  ‘–Who?’
 ‘Jack Burton (points to himself) *Me*!”

Is the movie an advanced satire? Maybe, Burton does a great deal of saving the day, but most of the work is accomplished through his blind luck, Chi’s martial arts, and Egg Shen’s magic; so the guns and brute strength of Burton is sufficient only when being directed at the right target, which is anything that Burton can actually beat. He’s got great reflexes but those are useful only in response, he has trouble winning any fights against enemies that know he’s coming. I doubt it was intended as such but it works well enough now that we can always pretend. Shoehorning it into some made up post modernist bullshit interpretation the way people do with the smurfs, the seven dwarves, or the Go-Bots. What it actually is, is a movie that is still enjoyable because aside from the haircuts a remake would look essentially the same. The bad guys, and the heroes are timeless, they stand on their own not relegated to the time that the movie was made.

Categories: movie review, movies, reviews

Revisiting the Classics: The Delta Force

February 14, 2010 Leave a comment

With the wife and baby out of town for Friday night, plus the lack of a hockey game that interested me, I decided to settle down with a couple of beers, some left overs, and find a shitty movie to watch on television. The problem that I was having was that of all the movies that were on, none of them were quite shitty enough or were too bad to even tolerate a watch. Then I found it, on Encore at 00:30 the 80s classic, and personal childhood favorite of mine: The Delta Force was airing. Starring Chuck Norris it is one of those quintessential action movies that toes the propaganda line so closely one wonders who actually wrote it. Thus begins the second weekly series of this blog. On Sunday I am going to destroy my childhood memories in only a way that George Lucas can by rewatching the movies I thought were awesome when I was 7 and see how they hold up 24 years later.

Chuck Norris, is many things and I’m not going to rehash the internet meme regarding him, nor the chapter from the Maddox book; but one of those things was that in the 80s he was the man. I identify action movies in the 1980s with either him or Charles Bronson. The other thing was that Chuck Norris was the real deal as far as martial arts are concerned. A student of Japanese Karate, his first movie appearance was with Bruce Lee in Return of the Dragon. Norris was better suited than many of the later action stars because of this and was probably influential in starting the careers of Van Damme and Segal because of his star power.

The Delta Force is a special company of American Army soldiers. For awhile the US Government wouldn’t admit their existence due to their specialty which was counter terrorism. They took part in the Battle of Mogadishu (the book/movie: Black Hawk Down) and were rumored to have participated in the assassination of Pablo Escobar. There isn’t too much detail that I can give regarding the actual Delta Force but I know enough to judge the movie.

The movie takes it’s inspiration from two historical events. The hijacking of TWA flight 847 in 1985 and the hijacking of Air France flight 139 in 1976. In neither event was an American force present, but the hijacking themselves proved that Islamic fundamentalists were both willing and capable of hijacking planes and that something needed to assure the American populace that the US could do something. Both hijackings were abated, in the latter the terrorist’s demands were met while in the former Israeli army commandos freed the hostages.

The movie combines the ordeal of the passengers from the 1985 with the rescue from 1976. Only this time the Norris and company lead the way. This film is also Lee Marvin’s last movie, which is fitting since this is his type of film.

I am restating from earlier that this movie has a whole bunch of propaganda elements to it. It’s tough guy Americans raiding and storming foreigners who would dare to hurt American citizens. Although no one in the movie acts unilaterally, Delta Force gets permission from Israel to use their land and vehicles for the raid, they work with Mossad, and assist in rescuing foreigners all in the name of the good ole USA. The only thing missing from this movie were bad guy Russians, but the threat here isn’t Communism it’s Islamic Terrorists.

Could this movie be made now? Probably, although the movie makers would have to deal with the politically correct fall out from calling a spade a spade. The airliner is hijacked by Robert Forrester in “Arab Face” playing Abdul (how freekin’ original), he wants to make a name for himself as a terrorist and thinks that if he can deliver the airliner to Beirut (which at the time was a mess due to religious fighting), he can win the favor of the Ayatollah in Iran. The Ayatollah was the second biggest bogeyman for the US in the 80s, so it makes sense that Abdul would want this. What doesn’t make sense is why Abdul didn’t just fly to Iran in the first place? His militia controls an area of Beirut, but it’s only one area and an area that the US and Israel know of, so he gets a strike in the “Dumb-shit Villain plan” column.

The terrorists force an airline stewardess to identify the Jewish hostages which are then separated from the others. Three US Marine passengers attempt to thwart it resulting in one of them being shot and killed. Then Lee Marvin and Chuck Norris are called in, and you know the shit is going to get real.

The rest of the movie is standard action movie plot devices, training montages, intelligence planning, although there is some focus on the terrorists themselves. This I found unique because it didn’t show them as America Hating monsters, you get the impression that they really believed they were doing the right thing. The movie is eerily observant of this, which I doubt most people understand about actual terrorists. Sure some of them are about money and power, but what gain is there for the suicide bomber?

Anyway the Americans formulate their plan and begin to execute it. The rescue operation is based on the 1976 hijacking and the “Operation Entebbe” which freed the hostages. This was made into an excellent movie called “Operation Thunderbolt” which may have starred Charles Bronson. “Entebbe” stormed the airport of Uganda, under Idi Amin, which rescued 130 hostages, destroyed the infantile Ugandan Airforce, and basically put Amin in his place. Only one Israeli Commando died in the raid, it was by all accounts a success.

The Delta Force operation goes much the same way, they storm three different places simultaneously looking for the hostages and gunning down the terrorists. One scene has Abdul talking on the radio as the attack is commencing addressing the American who just killed his captain. Norris says, “message received,” and then shoots the radio. Pure delight there. The raid itself is odd because for a super secret commando group they make a lot of noise, always stopping to chat. They also have some gear anomalies, all of the members of Delta wear a white rope across their chests, which may be practical but stands out like white on black (which it is). Their scuba gear is bright yellow instead of black which again should give them away, I’m guessing the SCUBA company that supplied it wanted the logo to be shown but it just doesn’t make any sense.

They also lack sound suppressors on their Uzis in an inconsistent manner. The night time raid begins with a sneak attack in which none of the weapons are silenced, but the daytime attack on the airport all of the Commandos have them. I don’t get that at all. I also like the missiles on the dirt bikes, which seems to be trying to pander to the Bond fans, but is just plain silly.

Given that this is the 80s and an action movie we need the showdown between hero and villain. Forester against Norris, it’s hard to watch because the fight is one sided and just makes Norris’s character seem cruel. Abdul isn’t a fighter, he doesn’t stand a chance, and repeatedly Norris just beats on him until he dies. It’s as bad as Ivan Drago in Rocky IV against Apollo (who I think plays a roll in this movie), you just want Norris to leave on his dirt bike, but he inexplicably shrugs the rendezvous to beat on this man. He could have just shot him and been done with it but that’s just not good enough.

Does it hold up? The short answer is no. It was fun to watch but not in the way it was intended to be fun. The equipment and the gun fights are so over the top that it’s hard to take it seriously. For example they run a car into a truck carrying water bottles and that explodes! Which is as bad as the wagon in Van Helsing. The planning and plight of the hostages was far more interesting than the star of the movie. Especially when it gives commentary. One hostage, a Jew named Goldman comments that Beirut used to be the Las Vegas of the Middle East. Implying that terrorism and radical fundamentalism have destroyed the city. Other than that the movie is laughable, belonging in the ultra-patriotic bin with movies like Navy SEALS, and Top Gun.

It’s so bad it’s ridiculous, which is a stark contrast to what I thought of this movie as a child.

Categories: movie review, movies, reviews

Wanted

July 15, 2009 Leave a comment

In some respect we have all been there, in Wesley’s place doing something we hate because it pays the bills, this is how “Wanted” begins. Wanted, stars James McAvoy, as a depressed office drone working for an overweight oppressive boss, think Jack in Fight Club. He hates his job, his girlfriend is sleeping with his best friend, and he suffers from crippling anxiety attacks. Office work can make one prone to daydreaming of an escape from the dull tedium of a life spent doing what one is thought they are supposed to do. The wish to escape to either a life of repose where still nothing is accomplished but at least it’s enjoyable or a life of work where one feels that they are useful–is a desire that all of us unfortunates have had.

Wesley, has that dream but he realizes that he is incapable of it. In some rather honest self-referential dialogue he calls himself a “pussy” because he lacks the will power to move forward or to accomplish the steps necessary to make his life better. Whether it is telling off his boss or approaching the gorgeous coworker he is paralyzed. Then he is recruited by the fraternity.

The fraternity is a millenia old guild of weavers that assembled in order to kill people that would cause chaos and death in the world. For what reason an order of weavers thought this was their responsible or even the pragmatic questions of how loomsmiths would be able to do this must go into our suspension of disbelief. It only works because the Fraternity formed in such a distant time period that it seems likely that some guy working a loom would be able to knife someone. That kind of work seems a bit easier than some of the feats the assassins pull off in this movie.

Fox, the token female assassin, and Wesley are assigned to kill a renegade Fraternity member named Cross. Cross killed Wesley’s father, who walked out on him when he was just 7 days old so obviously Wesley has the whole personal revenge motive working for him. Alot of the movie you have to take with a teaspoon of salt: the idea that Wesley can go from a desk jockey to super assassin within a couple of weeks, that Wesley’s father can jump from one building to another several blocks away, or the sudden psychological change in Wesley where he changes from one reticent to kill to a willing murderer after a simple story of revenge from Fox are things we allow because it’s an action movie. It is not supposed to have a compelling and completely hole free plot.

The film’s catch, it’s distinguishing characteristic from other formulaic revenge movies like “The Marine” are the bent bullets. The Fraternity has masterred a technique wherein they can shoot one bullet that will arc around an obstacle and hit a target. This adds an ability to the assassins that is, for the most part, impossible. (side note: Myth Busters recently tried to replicate this and were unable. However they did it with stationary weapons, even the Fraternity members moved their pistols.)

You just can’t believe anything you see in this type of film. The most preposterous of all is “The Loom of Fate.” This is the method by which the assassins receive their targets. The loom, operated mechanically sometimes makes slight mistakes. These mistakes, form a binary code which is then translated into names. The movie could have turned into something unique here, shedding the action and instead delving into the mysterious. Who operates the loom? How do we know that the names aren’t merely coincidences? Even Wesley brings this up toward then end when he asks Sloan (Morgan Freeman) why they are just supposed to take the names on faith.

Sadly, the movie didn’t go there. Instead of operating on the questions of Aquinas or Augustine, it centers on the moral Philosophy of Mill. “Kill one, save maybe a thousand,” relates Fox (Angelina Jolie), “That’s our motto.” That’s awfully nice, in the case of a Hitler or a Stalin, but even Mill would balk at the killing of a businessman who hasn’t done anything yet. The Fraternity’s dogmatic, and even fundamentalist approach to the theory of Utility has to come in to question when they derail a European train causing it to fall off a bridge and down a mountain side. How many people were saved by that? All in order to kill one man. I hope he was responsible for the death of a million because based on their math that is the only way it would work.

I didn’t hate this movie. It was exactly what i was looking for, lots of gunfights, some interesting and creative special effects, and a bit of intrigue. Although the comic that it is based on sounded much better, a group of supervillains who execute heroes one by one.

Categories: movie review, movies, reviews