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Movie Review: Dredd (2012)

Genre: Science Fiction, Action
Online: IMDB, Wikipedia
Cast: Karl Urban (Judge Dredd), Olivier Thirlby (Cassandra Anderson), Lena Hedley (Ma-Ma)

Dredd is the newest film adaptation of one of several comics serialized in the British comic anthology 2000 A.D. The first time that I laid eyes on a volume of 2000 A.D. was back in high school during the early to mid-90’s. I was rummaging through the book section of the local Lifeline store for something new and interesting to read. There, sitting on one of the shelves was a stack of large comics, a new arrival that immediately intrigued me. 2000 A.D. was printed right at the top. Given my interest in comics, I began to flick through. Not far in I was introduced to Judge Dredd, an imposing figure that left a lasting impression on me. Overall, I loved the art style of 2000 A.D. and made a mental note to have enough money to get the volumes when I returned. Alas, the next time I visited the shop, the volumes were gone. Oh well.

Mega City One is one of several mega-cities created to protect humanity from the irradiated wastelands outside. Home to more than 800 million people, the government has brought into effect the Judge system for the worst crimes. These wandering judges are only able to deal with around 6% of applicable crimes, resulting in many crimes going under the radar.
Judge Dredd is one of a small number of judges assigned to his district. After coming back from a job involving dangerous driving, he is assigned by the Chief Judge (Rakie Ayola) the task of seeing if a new rookie’s insight and psychic ability are enough to make up for some poor grades. Enter Cassandra Anderson, one of the most powerful telepaths on record. Anderson is an orphan with a vested interest in looking out for parts of the city that would otherwise be overlooked. As such, she decides to pick a job at one of the worst buildings in their district for their first job. The job turns out to be a lot bigger than the two anticipate.
Three men have been skinned and thrown to their deaths at a mega-apartment structure. The two judges quickly learn that it is home to one of the biggest drug lords in Mega City One, a former prostitute named Madeline Madrigal, otherwise known as Ma-Ma. What they initially believed to be a simple job result in them being pushed to their limits as they attempt to fight off hundreds of murderous criminals. Many will be killed before the night is through.

The screenplay for this film is apparently adapted from a miniseries that was serialized in the 2000 A.D. comic. The film begins with a quick overview of what has become of the world which leads to seeing Judge Dredd dealing with a job. In this simple sequence, we see how bleak the world is inside of the protective wall of Mega City One, are shown what a Judge is allowed to do and are also given a glimpse of the world of a Slow-Mo user. We later learn that Slow-Mo is the drug that Ma-Ma’s gang manufactures and peddles from their base of operations.
The action and gore are initially confronting but it is appropriate to the dark and gritty world setting. Innocents often get hurt and judges aren’t able to protect everyone. The role of a judge is not pretty because the world is not pretty. They have to make hard decisions and mete out judgment on the spot in most cases. The plot does an excellent job of emphasizing this in several of the scenes without being on the nose.
The film does a great job of making efficient use of each scene. None of the scenes felt wasted or contrived but instead helped moved along the story of this day in the life of Dredd and Anderson. The dialogue was also well-done, showing distinct differences in personality for each person. Dredd tends to internalize his thoughts whilst Anderson tends to be more open. There is a bit of a brain versus brawn thing going on but both characters still come off as perceptive and intelligent. We also see a certain amount of growth for the two main characters over the span of the movie as well.
The action scenes and special effects are well done, showing us some of the tools available for both judges and criminals. Technology such as implants, high-tech first aid kits, gnarly weapons and DNA-locking for judge weapons are all cool but they didn’t distract from the story. Tools and equipment were viewed as simply that. We also see these tools having limitations that Dredd and Anderson have to negotiate as they fight more and more members of Ma-Ma’s gang.
How was gender/sex dealt with in this film? It was refreshing seeing a movie showing a strong female character rather than telling. The reasons for Anderson’s badassery was four-fold. First up, she had training. Second, she was a psychic. Third, she had a unique perspective, allowing her to think outside of the box. She contributed because she felt an ethical responsibility to society to be a judge. Fourth, she was also willing to work with Dredd and take on board his advice without being dependent on him at all times. It didn’t matter that she was female either because she was such a well-rounded character.

All in all, the film has moved into my top ten favorite movies of all time. It is such an awesome film and I highly enjoyed it. I highly recommend this to anyone with a love of science fiction action stories. Given the strategic nature of some of the sequences, fans of Military Science Fiction will likely appreciate the film as well. You also DO NOT have to be a fan of the comics to enjoy this film. I also highly recommend that you check out the CinemaWins video on the film.

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Movie Review: American Ultra (2015)

Genre: Action Comedy + Mild Drama
Cast: Jesse Eisenberg, Kristen Stewart, Topher Grace, Connie Britton

My hubby and I happened upon a trailer of American Ultra a few days ago and decided to give it a run. It turned out to be a pleasant surprise.

WARNING: SPOILERS BELOW!

The story begins with stoner Mike Howell (Jesse Eisenberg) trying to do something nice for his long-time live-in girlfriend Phoebe Larson (Kristen Stewart) ahead of trying to propose to her. Unfortunately, our good-natured protagonist keeps having issues whenever he tries to leave their hometown. This last attempt of leaving for a simple holiday results in the leader of one chapter of the CIA putting a kill order out on the young man who is an unknowing subject of a government experiment that was closed down years before. Victoria Lasseter (Connie Britton), the woman that started and then closed down the program due to concerns for the subjects, is given a heads-up from an unknown informant and goes to the town to activate the young man as a means to save his life from a desk jockey that has well and truly lost the plot.

The film is highly entertaining, pushing the right amount of well-timed humour. The dialogue primarily effected this, with a lot of really funny conversations that also helped move the story forward. However, this doesn’t discount the fact that our heroes were in genuine danger, having to react to what is a shitty situation. If you know your share of emergency responders like I do, you will often find many of them using humour as a coping mechanism.
To the cast, I am a big fan of Jesse Eisenberg from the get-go and really like Topher Grace. I was pleasantly surprised with Kristen Stewart’s character though. Stewart is known for some unemotional roles, but she managed to pull out a solid performance as Phoebe. Her character proved to be really important to the overall progression of the storyline, and not just as a sideline character. As for the rest of the cast, I think that the folks involved in casting did a freaking excellent job of bringing together actors and actresses that worked well together.
The plot was pretty solid as well, with the hero making understandable mistakes on occasion. Howell is likable loser, one held back from achieving anything because he is the product of a secret government experiment that caused some odd mental issues. By the end of the story though, you get the feeling like he grew into the hero that he’s wanted to be for so long. He is also backed up by his kick-ass girlfriend Phoebe who is a genuine partner and lover.
To the action sequences, they were really well played out. Some of the odd technical issues that you often see in other movies were kicked in the ass, with bullets actually having an effect on objects such as furniture. There was only one moment were you had to suspend disbelief, but it in no way hurt the entertainment value of the film.

In conclusion, this movie is a highly entertaining watch. Note though that there is drug use in the film, hence some folks may want to give it a miss if they have an issue with simulated use of bongs. If you are good with that, I recommend giving it a watch.


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Movie Review: Buck

Buck Brannaman

Buck Brannaman (Photo credit: PunkToad)

Buck (2011) is a documentary that follows Dan “Buck” Brannaman, a chap that’s been running horse training clinics around the USA since the early 80’s. After his physical abuse at the hands of his father was discovered by a sports teacher, he was moved to a foster family. After coming into contact with Ray Hunt in his late teens, his childhood interest in horsemanship blossomed into his lifelong work with horses.

After offering clinics for around a decade, he came to the attention of writer Nick Evans, he became involved with the film The Horse Whisperer. Robert Redford‘s commentary on his dealings with Brannaman on the film and vice versa made me smile somewhat, proving Buck problem-solving skills. It wasn’t all smiles and rainbows, the film later showing a clinic of a rather difficult case of an abnormally violent horse that kept attacking people. Buck Brannaman is quite humble talking about his life and the people that have mentored him over the years.

This documentary may not immediately appeal to non-horse people, but its strength is in its discussion of psychology and human nature. It is about the human condition and how we address our experiences. Time and time again, we are shown the similarities between human and animal psychology. Like horses, human behavior often has to be decoded, which is where understanding ourselves and those around us comes in handy. In conclusion, I loved this documentary and recommend it to anyone with an interest in people and psychology.

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Movie: The A-Team

Screenshot of intertitle from The A-Team
Image via Wikipedia

The A-Team (2010) is a re-imagining of The A-Team franchise. In spite of suggestions by other reviewers that the story was cheesy, I found the script to be solid as a rock and with enough complexity to appeal to a mature audience while at the same time staying true to the vibe of  the original series. One of my other concerns going into this movie was the use of CG, but it really did work well for the ridiculous action sequences in this film.

  • Col. Hannibal Smith: Liam Neeson is very convincing in the role of Hannibal, paying tribute to George Peppard. I would add that Peppard is one of my favorite actors from the late 60’s and early 70’s, with good looks and smarts to match.
  • Lt. Faceman “Face” Peck: Bradley Cooper seemed like an odd choice for the character, but after seeing him play the role I am at a loss as to why I ever doubted him. He is Face down to a “T”. In fact, I agree with my husband in his believe that Cooper’s role makes more sense than that of Dirk Benedict due to the script.
  • B. A. Baracus: Quinton “Rampage” Jackson plays a convincing Baracus, with a host of phobias that are a direct result of the team’s pilot and resident crazy-man, Murdock. He doesn’t try to emulate Mr. T either, but breaths life into a formerly two-dimensional character.
  • H.M. Murdock: I haven’t seen a lot of Sharlto Copley‘s roles before, but he does a smack-on job on the character of Murdock. IMHO, the script played to his strengths and was a lot less tedious than his role in District 9.

I won’t spoil the film by going into too much detail, but I will say that the fresh cast and modernization of the concept explains the origins of the group and opens up the possibility for a bunch of future films. It offers enough to keep the cult followers happy, while giving newcomers a worthwhile comedic action flick. All in all, I really loved this film and highly recommend it.

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Movie Review: The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus

The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus (2009) tells the story of an immortal named Doctor Parnassus (Christopher Plummer) who is leader to a group of traveling performers which includes his daughter Valentina (Lily Cole), lovestruck Anton (Andrew Garfield) and fellow immortal Percy (Verne Troyer). Thousands of years old, Parnassus has the power to affect the mind’s of other when they enter a mystical mirror, but with all of his power, he is forced to deal with the contract he made with the Mr. Nick (Actor/musician Tom Waits) decades ago which offers his daughter  at the age of 16. The Devil returns to make a bet with Parnassus for the first to 5 souls, each having a piece of the Imagination realm.

Enter Tony (Heath Ledger), a man with amnesia when they find him hanging under a bridge. However, as time progresses he quickly learns that he is a con artist banker on the run from Russian gangsters who put him under the bridge in the first place. With Tony’s help they manage to make it close before the gangsters show up making things interesting.

The film itself has outstanding performances from all actors, including alternate Tony’s played by Johnny Depp, Jude Law and Colin Farrell. Confused on the last sentence? Well, if you watch the film, it makes a lot more sense. As for Tom Waits, well I really didn’t recognize who it was until I looked up the film page on IMDB, but man, did he play a wonderfully sleazy but intelligent part as Mr. Nick. Of course, Christopher never fails to show a touch of class especially in this more likable role of the drunk Doctor Parnassus. As for Heath Ledger, this last role before his untimely death is most definitely underrated and deserves a lot more recognition than that of Dark Knight. (Let’s just face it, Heath’s role of the Joker was tainted by the weak roles of other

Terry Gilliam does a fantastic job of directing this film, taking the script that he co-wrote with Charles McKeown and giving it touches of his days with Monty Python. There is a wonderful wit and cheekiness to the scenes and dialogue that offers more sophisticated laughs than most modern comedies. No opportunities are wasted with this wonderfully entertaining film. A must watch!

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