Barely a (Early) Review: THE KINGDOM

Peter Berg has had an interesting career. He's been acting for a long time appearing in films like COP LAND, SHOCKER, and COLLATERAL. Over the last 10 years he has also been putting together a strong filmography as a director. His first film, VERY BAD THINGS, was panned upon release but I've enjoyed it since the day I saw it on Thanksgiving 1998. Since his rookie effort, Berg has proven himself able to helm an action film with THE RUNDOWN and turn out a sports drama that stands apart from the usual COACH CARTER/GLORY ROAD-type stuff with FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS. Berg's newest film, THE KINGDOM, is his most ambitious and in my mind at this moment his best.

THE KINGDOM centers around 4 FBI Agents (Jamie Foxx, Jennifer Garner, Chris Cooper, and Jason Bateman) who enter "The Kingdom" of Saudi Arabia to investigate the bombing of an American housing compound. At first the agents find themselves hindered every step of the way by political (and cultural) red tape. Eventually they form an alliance with a Saudi police officer who is just as eager to find those responsible for the bombing.

I wouldn't label THE KINGDOM as an action movie. After the initial attack, the first 2 acts are centered heavily around the characters and their efforts to uncover all the clues they can in order to solve the crime. Luckily the strong cast keeps this aspect of the film engrossing. This pays off terrifically in the final 30 minutes when all hell breaks loose, leading to some of the most intense and well-staged action I've seen all year.

THE KINGDOM opens nationwide on September 28th. Please see this instead of that movie where The Rock is allergic to cinnamon.

Barely a Review: WAR

One of the problems with being a fan of action films is that you really can't listen to critics. If you see an action flick get some bad early buzz it can always be chalked up to the fact that most licensed film critics are blowhards who don't know bunk about the genre. So when the bad word started to spread about the new Jet Li/Jason Statham pairing WAR I didn't bat an eye. Turns out this time the bad buzz was deserved.

On the surface WAR is right up my alley. It's about a hard boiled cop squaring off against a ruthless assassin while various Yakuza and Triad gangsters get caught in their crossfire. What could go wrong? Pretty much everything. Jet Li looks bored out of his mind through the whole film. It's hard to believe this is the same guy who delivered genuinely good performances quite recently in both UNLEASHED and FEARLESS. Statham fares a tad better. He gets the best sequence in the movie as he goes buckwild on a bunch of foes in a teahouse. But that was just a slight reprieve before it was time for the movie to continue sucking.

I probably could have forgiven a lot of what this film had to offer if it could have at least delivered a slam-bang final fight between Li and Statham. I don't think that's too much to ask from a movie titled WAR that features a poster in which the stars look as though they're going to do battle in UFC 786. But nope, when it's time for them to throw down it feels as if the fight ends before it even started. I haven't felt this gyped since Tyson/Spinks back in '88.

This movie gives WAR a bad name.

American Gladiators is BACK

Around the time ESPN Classic started showing reruns of American Gladiators, I started to wonder why tv has waited so long to resurrect the show. Well, NBC has answered all our prayers. They are bringing the show back likely as a mid season replacement. Interestingly, they are going to follow the contestants more closely leading up to the actual bouts against the Gladiators and delve into interpersonal drama. I am not too excited about that part, but the fact the show is back makes me real happy.

Three things need to be maintained though.

1. The Theme music



2. The Gladiators with personality



3. And of course...NITRO

From his Wikipedia page, "Clark [Danny "Nitro" Clark] is also a mailman and often performs magic tricks." He truly is a jack of all trades!


Here's a link to the original Variety story.

Masters of Manualism


No, this is not a post about hand jobs.

The art of Manualism is the fancy term for hand farting. You know there was always that one kid in elementary school, who ALWAYS got laughs for making farting noises as girls sat down or as the teacher was writing something on the board. Well, a few of those kids, who weren't beaten mercilessly by school yard bullies, honed their skills and turned their talent into a legitimate form of music.

After doing a Wikipedia search, the "gunecologist (aka Gerry Phillips) of YouTube" apparently isn't the only manualist out there, but damn it if he isn't the best one I have seen/heard. The guy can play "The Trooper" by Iron Maiden on his freaking hands! You also have to love his smirk on his face throughout every song. It looks like he thinks he is better than all of us...you know what though, he is.

I will embed some of my favorite hand renditions (including his version of Classical Gas, pun intended I guess!). You can follow the videos to his profile on youtube where he has about 40 or so videos of other famous songs.





Who Enjoys Killing Time?

Just when you thought the Internet had run out of ways to distract you from accomplishing anything important in life, it gives us this. It's a new feature on the "Ebert and Roeper" website that allows you to watch all the reviews done on the program (including, of course, it's previous incarnation as "Siskel and Ebert") over the last 20 years. I've found it to be a seemingly endless treasure of joy.

For all the channels that now exist I've always loved this program because it's essentially bullshit-free movie talk. It doesn't delve into the stars' personal lives, it doesn't focus on the box office totals, it's just a couple of guys weighing in on the week's releases. I've had a real blast watching a lot of the "vintage" reviews. When I see Gene Siskel praise HARLEY DAVIDSON AND THE MARLBORO MAN I'm reminded of just why I miss him so. It's also quite a hoot to watch Ebert give thumbs down to the original DIE HARD and then watch as he not only gives thumbs up to DIE HARD 2 and WITH A VENGEANCE, but also ups his digit for both UNDER SIEGE films and SUDDEN DEATH.

Hopefully Ebert will make a miracle recovery from his current health problems and rejoin the program. I'm not a Roeper-hater as much as most movie geeks (So he didn't like FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING, get over it dorks) but it's just not the same without Ebert around. The fill-in hosts have ranged from decent to stunningly awful. I'm still trying to wrap my head around the appearance of John "Cougar" Mellencamp as a guest host. I doubt he's ever seen a film he disliked.

Oh, and before you try searching the website for the show's review of PHAT BEACH I'll save you some time and advise you not to bother. I guess it was never screened for critics.

Madden...Good?

So, I have spent the last 3-4 days delving into Madden '08 for the Xbox 360. Now, I know I said some scathing things about Tiburon and the Madden series a while ago and I still stand by those words. I do have to say though, they may be starting to right the ship finally.

Most reviews you read nowadays of sports games laud all the extraneous features in a game that really have little impact on the actual on field gameplay. Since we are in the "next-gen", people have faulted madden for not having all the extra shit that no one played with anyway, like Superstar mode, a deeper franchise mode, more useless knick knacks to collect, etc. Well, all that is back in the game now. But what is most notable to any actual football fan is the gameplay.

Madden feels like real football again. Offensive lineman pull out for counters and screens (i know! I didn't believe it either!). Running backs have to plant their feet to change directions and can't just repeatedly ram into the back of their o-line till they get through. The defense gang tackles. Hits are harder and more brutal. Corners make plays on balls. Long bombs are no longer guaranteed when the receiver is either owens/moss/johnson. 3rd/4th and 1 is no longer an automatic conversion by calling a hb/fb dive.

But what I think I enjoy the most is that teams/players play like their counterparts in real life. Playing with LT you feel like you can outrun, outquick, and outjuke anyone on the field...but more importantly you have faith that the left side of your o-line is going to be making massive holes for you. With the steelers, hines ward plays and feels like a possession receiver and not someone you throw bombs to. The inclusion of weapon designation for offensive and defensive players has really gone a long way in making the game a better representation of the NFL.

Of course, this is Madden so there are a lot of issues. Right now, most of what I have seen should be easily patchable. Fumbles and Interceptions happen WAY too easily. Granted, defense AI is just plain better so I need to make better decisions, but the fumbles happen for no reason and really screw up the flow of the game. Also, the online system is really buggy still, and EA once again did not give options for online leagues.

All things considered, this is probably the best madden I have played since the year before the passing cone was introduced. I think with some aftermarket tweaking it can be better. Compared to All-Pro Football 2k8 (which I have also played extensively), I still think Madden comes out on top gameplay wise. Granted, Tiburon has basically stolen everything that was great about the 2k engine and incorporated it. APF2k8's passing game is still beautiful to watch, though. Seeing the recievers go in and out of their cuts and the physics of the ball in the air just feel far better in APF right now (leading your recievers without completely changing their route in madden is still difficult), but otherwise it feels like a very rushed title. But HUGE kudos still in order for the online league support. 2k Sports has instituted a very deep online football experience for those who are interested.

This is the first year in a long time that I would recommend buying Madden and renting the 2k football title. Although it's not completely a level playing field, the video game football wars seems to be picking up again.

Superbad


I'll cut to the chase right now. SUPERBAD is better than KNOCKED UP. The thing that bothered me about KU, yet seemed to be one of the positives for everyone else was that it got "too real" and "too preachy" by the end. All this growing up and maturing bullshit felt too chick flick for me. Apatow films (40 year old virgin and KU) seem to hit this wall about 3/4ths in where they stop being funny and start to get real.

Thankfully, SUPERBAD doesn't fall into the same trap. It is the great return of the American sex comedy. Now, I know American Pie used to be that, but that franchise is so run into the ground now that it has lost any luster it may have had when it initially came out. A ton of pretenders later and the teen sex comedy really needed another lift (erection joke!), and SUPERBAD is the Viagra.

There are some amazing set pieces and the entire movie's age old plot about high school kids getting booze/sex is carried out in two very entertaining and eventually intertwining ways. Evan and Seth (played brilliantly by Michael Cera and Jonah Hill) have the more grounded adventure leading them through some wild situations...but Christopher Mintz-Plasse (you need a hollywood name now dude), who played the instant movie icon Fogell aka McLOVIN was the real discovery. His wild escapade with the two loser cops (Seth Rogen and Bill Hader) trying to relive their youths through McLOVIN was amazing to watch and led to some of the movie's most memorable scenes.

Overall, this movie maintains the level of quality all the Apatow family films have had. It is amazingly quotable, hilarious, has heart, but unlike the other Apatow films it doesn't smack you over the head with the emotional message. I can't recommend this movie enough. Go watch it this weekend with your best friend before you head off to Dartmouth for college.

Barely a Review: THE BOURNE ULTIMATUM

In all honesty I haven't been the biggest fan of the BOURNE franchise. They are often praised for being very realistic, gritty, and tense spy thrillers. I sort of like spy thrillers to have a bit more flash, but there's no denying that this series has been a huge success. I watched the first 2 recently and I still find THE BOURNE IDENTITY to be lacking in terms of suspense. THE BOURNE SUPREMACY was a step up and thankfully keeping Paul Greengrass on as director helps THE BOURNE ULTIMATUM maintains SUPREMACY'S tone while giving us even more knowledge as to how Jason Bourne became a deadly secret agent.

One of the gripes I have with the series is that it tends to get repetitive. There are so many scenes of various CIA bigwigs constantly telling their subordinates to "Find Bourne!" or "Have you found Bourne?" or "Why haven't you found Bourne?" There is a lot of that in ULTIMATUM but thankfully the film's last act shakes things up a bit and reveals quite a bit about Bourne's past. Those are the scenes that ultimately fulfilled me and cast the movie in a positive light.

There has been a lot of speculation as to whether this will be the last film in the BOURNE franchise. To that I say this: The movie made over $70 million in its first weekend. The speculation is over.

Shoot 'Em Up: My Dream Movie


I have always told people that in a perfect world I would be a director. Most people who say that are often thought of as wanna be Hitchcocks, Scorceses, or Kurosawas. But for me, it's names like Woo, Chan, Hung, or McTiernan that float my cinematic boat. The two films that had the biggest impact on me were Jackie Chan's magnum opus "Drunken Master 2" and John Woo's ballistic ballet "Hard Boiled".

I still remember stumbling across a VHS copy of Drunken Master 2 at Suncoast motion picture company and spending 30 dollars for it about 12 years ago. Right from the opening fight sequence I felt like this was the movie I had been looking for all my life. This was the action cinema I always craved but only got flashes of on American screens.

If Drunken Master 2 was an epiphany, then "Hard Boiled" was a bullet in the head. I had seen John Woo's wonderful "The Killer" some time earlier and was pretty impressed with the overall story and cinematography. I loved the pistols akimbo style of Chow Yun Fat and his ability to be a ruthless hitman but also a loving boyfriend to a blind lady. All that was forgotten the minute the opening Tea House scene in "Hard Boiled" started. My jaw was on the ground at the carnage, the amount of ammo expended, the environmental damage, the amount of faceless goons being blown away, and how damn cool Chow Yun Fat looked throughout it all. Woo goes on to top every action scene with the next one, culminating in a legendary hospital shoot out. "Hard Boiled" is the quintessential action film. It is the barometer by which I measure all other action films. It is pretty much the reason I have/had any interest in pursuing a career in film making now or ever.

Anyway, now the long winded intro is over. Michael Davis' upcoming "Shoot 'Em Up" just released a red band trailer (adults only) on it's website. Long story short. It's brilliant. This may be that movie that finally makes good on all the inspiration John Woo has given the new generation of filmmakers. Too many have come and gone that looked to take what Woo had done and build upon it (I am looking at you Rob Rodriguez...has anyone noticed how different his style has gotten since Desperado, which is still EASILY his best movie?). Now of all people, Z-movie writer Michael Davis may be the one to do it. I guess we will all find out September 7th.

http://shootemupmovie.com/

Shaq vs. Obesity: Mission Accomplished


Say what you will about "Shaq's Big Challenge", I think it turned out to be a fantastic, inspiring 6 episode series. It was able to walk the line between being too preachy and being too cutesy. Granted, they skipped like 5 months of training between the last two episodes, but boy did they get some results (which everyone expected...its TV!). Like I said in my original review of the show, I still applaud it for refraining from sugar coating the "failures" of the kids. They acknowledged that some kids didn't do as well as the others, but ultimately they all had a life changing experience.

There are a couple of things that become readily apparent though at the end of this show.

1. Shaq is probably going to be the most well loved athlete of all time when its all said and done. Sure Jordan and Ali are more recognizable, but Shaq is impossible not to love and has a sense of approachability about him that other superstars dont. And really, Jordan has historically shirked any social duty and has often been called out on it...while shaq is always on the forefront especially when it involves the kids.

2. Dale Brown is a fucking amazing speaker. Shaq called his old LSU head coach, Dale Brown, to join his team to help motivate kids and get his message of healthier living to the beuraucrats in Florida. At first glance, you feel like Brown would stick out like a sore thumb...but when he opens his mouth he makes you want to go to battle for him. Every time he spoke I felt connected to what he was saying. That man truly has a gift.

3. Walter needs his own show. This kid started as a video game addict and ended up losing 60 some pounds but had no problem staying a huge geek. He was obviously Shaq's favorite and consistently the most entertaining kid. He was very witty and totally genuine.

This was a great show, and I will miss it.

You'll Believe a Man Can Fly (While Wearing a Suit Made of Iron)

With Comic-Con '07 all wrapped up there wasn't really a ton of big news in terms of what we can expect from geek cinema in 2008. From what I've read there was very little info on THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS, but to be honest I've sort of tuned out any Batman-related news. Until there's actual footage I just don't care.

Easily the big winner of the "creating buzz" award goes to IRON MAN. The film based on the Marvel character was already gaining steam by landing a cast of good actors including Jeff Bridges, Terrence Howard, and Robert Downey Jr. in the title role. Now thanks to director Jon Favreau we have footage from the film, and thanks to some guy who sneaked a camera into the convention that footage can be seen by everyone. There's really no other way to put it. This movie looks like a blast. So far it appears the film won't be as moody as DAREDEVIL or HULK and it won't be too prone to cheesy humor ala FANTASTIC FOUR.

IRON MAN is due to kickoff next year's Summer movie season on May 8th, 2008. Check out the Comic-Con footage here.

Roman Castle?

According to a reliable source for Latino Review, Lionsgate has found their new Punisher. His name is Ray Stevenson and so far his biggest claim to fame is as playing Titus Pullo on the HBO series “Rome.” It was a few months back that former-Frank Castle Thomas Jane announced he was leaving a proposed sequel because of script problems. A lot of writers have been taking shots at the script and hopefully the casting of a new Punisher means those issues are done.

I’ve never seen “Rome.” I’ve heard it’s a good show but it’s just one of those programs I’ve never found the time to get into. Judging by a few photos I’ve seen of Stevenson he definitely seems to have the type of physical qualifications you’d want out of a Punisher. Though this news isn’t confirmed, it makes sense that this rumor would pop up now since the gigantic nerdfest Comic-Con (don’t take offense nerds, I’d probably go if I lived near San Diego) takes place this weekend. That’s a prime time for studios to unleash big news about comic-related films.

If you want a taste of what kind of damage Stevenson can do on screen check out this rather brutal clip from “Rome” here. Them Romans didn’t fuck around.

Justice for Bacon

I have no doubt that getting a movie greenlit in Hollywood is extremely difficult. There's a lot to think about in terms of how much money it will make, what will the critics think, and what type of message will the film send. With that said I do believe DEATH SENTENCE was a slam dunk from the first pitch meeting. What studio in its right mind would say no to a film about Kevin Bacon slaughtering skinheads. The answer as I see it: None.

In DEATH SENTENCE Bacon plays a typical loving husband and father whose life is suddenly thrown for a loop after a senseless act of violence. This puts him on a course to both protect what's left of his family and seek vengeance for what he has already lost. Along the way he'll run into an arms dealer played by John Goodman and by the looks of the trailer he'll send many Aryan punks straight to hell.

Hopefully Bacon will do enough ass kicking in this one to make up for the fact that he appeared opposite Queen Latifah in BEAUTY SHOP.

DEATH SENTENCE has seemingly come out of nowhere and is set for release on August 31st. Check out the trailer here.

Barely a Review: TRANSFORMERS

The summer movie season hit its apex last week with the release of TRANSFORMERS. Much like the last film I barely reviewed, LIVE FREE OR DIE HARD, TRANSFORMERS is fine for what it is but is completely disposable once the end credits start rolling.

Technically TRANSFORMERS has a plot. It involves some busted eyeglasses and the fate of mankind but all anyone cares about is seeing robots destroy shit. On that level the movie works. Michael Bay is definitely in his element here and does a fine job blending computer effects with real environments. For a film that is CGI-heavy it doesn't have that distracting video game feel to it.

There are humans in the film. Most of these humans are recognizable actors who you have seen in other films and TV shows. But there's nobody to really give a snot about. They say their lines, they look in amazement at the robots, and most of them pull that off adequately enough. Though in the end the cast of INDEPENDENCE DAY looks like the The Royal Shakespeare Company in contrast.

So if you like pretty colors and loud noises, which we all do by the way, then check out TRANSFORMERS. I can't imagine wanting to view it more than once, but as a one-shot exercise of empty thrills it goes down fairly smooth.

Fixing the NBA...

Yes, I watch sports.

Ok, now that that's outta the way. Lets get right into it. The NBA sucks balls right now. I think the fact that Kobe and the draft were the two biggest stories DURING the playoffs (after the warriors got eliminated) attests to that. The spurs are a great team. But they are boring as shit to watch, and Cleveland's plan of "hoping Lebron can score through double and triple teams" didn't help things either. I am no sports blogger (you can find much better ones at AOL Fanhouse, Deadspin, etc...just google them, I am too lazy to hyperlink), but I think there is a real simple solution to the lackluster NBA and all we have to do is look to a couple decades ago.

The NBA needs to merge with the AND 1 mixtape tour. Like the ABA before it, the NBA looks down on the looser, some say rule-less play of the AND 1 tour, but you know what it is fucking fun to watch. Like the ABA before it, there are several colorful personalities in AND 1 that already outshine the boring basketball machines in the NBA. I think the sooner David Stern comes to this realization the better basketball will be for it.

For those that are unfamiliar with the AND 1 mixtape tour, its basically a showcase of the best "street ballerz" in the land going at an established team of veterans across the country and recently the world. It wasn't until the AND 1 tour went global did I realize a merger could work. In the foreign lands, the AND 1 players went up against a lot of the pro players from those countries. Granted, Australia's pro league doesn't hold a candle to the NBA skill level, but the simple fact was that the AND 1 team can play legit ball with the best of them if they want to.

This isn't just about dunking either, although the AND 1 tour would reignite the Dunk Contest. After Dwight Howard's robbing last year, it is clear that the NBA just wants to kill the contest again. But you throw in people like "The Air Up There" aka Mr. 720, Spyda, 50, and the likes and you have an entertaining contest. The AND 1 guys also have some of the best handles ever. Yes, a lot of what they do is traveling and/or carrying, but when is the last time you saw carrying called consistently in the NBA? All of the stuff that Hot Sauce does is mostly legal by NBA rules.

Frankly, based on how the draft turned out, you could just replace the eastern conference of the NBA with And 1 players and you would automatically make everything more competitive. Imagine Hot Sauce going after Bruce Bowen. Imagine the Professor trying to take Steve Nash to school. Imagine The Air Up There dunking on Duncan. Imagine Escalade...um sitting on the bench.

Imagine the greatest announcing duo EVER doing play by play and color...Marv Albert and Duke Tango. They could have "Oh BABY!" offs. BTW, Duke tango is the greatest color guy to ever do basketball.

No matter what they say, pro basketball is a very closed community. If you dont go to a competitive prep school you wont get recruited by the big name college programs. If you dont play in a Division I A school you probably will go undrafted. So unless you are put on the path early on, a lot of quality players will fall by the wayside, which is why I think you are seeing such a huge amount of talent in the current AND 1 mixtape tour. This is an idea that could save basketball plain and simple. And just for reference, there have been several And 1 players that have made the jump to the NBA and done well. Most notably And 1 legend "skip to my lou" aka Rafer Alston and Carlos Arroyo aka "Carlos Arroyo", so it could happen.

Make it happen stern!

P.S. I have embedded some of the better AND 1 highlights for the uninitiated.