The A-Team

The A-Team is, hopefully, not the movie-makers’ A-game. That said, it’s full of some enjoyable stuff that shows an awareness of its source material and still provides some laughs and mindless fun.

Don’t let the hoity-toity critics turn you off; if you like action flicks, you’ll probably like The A-Team.

Here’s a trailer:

The deets:

Released June 11, 2010

Written by Joe Carnahan, Brian Bloom, and Skip Woods. Based on the series created by Frank Lupo and Stephen J. Cannell

Directed by Joe Carnahan

Starring: Jessica Biel, Liam Neeson, Bradley Cooper, Sharlto Copley, Quentin Jackson, Patrick Wilson, Gerald McRaney, and Henry Czerny

Rated: PG-13

*     *     *     *     *

Story

An alpha team of Special Forces operatives successfully concludes a harrowing operation coming out of Iraq, but at the last moment, everything goes south and the blame is pinned on them. After an unfair court-martial, they are sentenced to prison. But in prison, their leader, Hannibal (Neeson), is visited by a CIA agent named Lynch (Wilson), who says he can help Hannibal and his team escape and prove their innocence.

The team gets out and they proceed to chase down the leads they are fed by Lynch, with Face (Cooper), charming women left and right, Murdock (Copley) acting as their nutso pilot, and BA Baracus (Jackson) acting as the muscle. Chasing them is Charissa Sosa (Biel), a smart and determined lady who wants justice. She might also be a former flame of Face.

Unsurprising conflicts and explosions ensue, with betrayals coming right on cue. One-liners spring from Hannibal like freshly minted gold coins and the team’s dynamics match those of the team in the original series near-perfectly.

All comes to a satisfying and relatively creative conclusion which will not be disclosed here, because spoilers are the devil. Or at least the fru-its of the devil.

Critique

This is an entertaining film. Fans of the original series with its cheesiness, absurdity, charm, and over-the-top action– along with its heart and moral center– will enjoy it a lot.

The writing doesn’t try hard to introduce new twists or anything too intense or heavy– which is in keeping with the weight of the TV show. Sure, because of this restraint, there’s not a lot that’s surprising about the plot or dialogue. But that is mitigated by some overall charming performances. First off, these guys clearly studied their source characters. All of them recreate their character convincingly, with Jackson doing a particularly good job of adding a little more humor to his excellent BA.

What is it with these fighter/wrestler supermen who have great comedic timing? Dwayne Johnson, anyone?

It seems like Joe Carnahan, the driving force behind this (who also did the extraordinary The Grey), essentially decided to create a feature-length episode of the old TV show– and that will work for most audience members.

In any case, just know that the clever, snide reviews of The A-Team come from people who probably never saw, and if they did, never liked, the original TV show. If you liked the TV show, you will get a kick out of the movie.

Content warnings: Some sensuality, some salty language, plenty of light-hearted and explosive action violence

Writing: 4          Acting: 4          Overall: 4

No needles required; just play your A-game and share this review with everyone you know. Do it now.

Now, tell me the truth; did you like this movie? Why or why not? What’d you think of Neeson as Hannibal?

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Unstoppable

Unstoppable is, interestingly, a lot like the runaway train that the film centers on. It feels like it gets a slow start, but as it picks up speed, you can’t tear your eyes away from some great pacing and acting and by the end you are clutching your armrest.

It’s a mighty fine entertainment from Tony Scott.

Here’s a trailer:

Here are the deets:

Released November 12, 2010

Written by Mark Bomback (based on true events)

Directed by Tony Scott

Starring Rosario Dawson, Jessy Schram, Denzel Washington, Chris Pine, Kevin Corrigan, Ethan Suplee, Kevin Dunn, and Lew Temple. Oh, and a really big train.

Rated PG-13

*     *     *     *     *

Story

The story of Unstoppable is simple: a train hauling tons of toxic chemicals gets away from its rather careless conductor and picks up speed as it heads toward some seriously populated areas. It’s going to kill a lot of people unless two men can find their courage and stop the thing while bucking the orders of the train company’s head honcho and working for a no-nonsense supervisor.

The film opens with Will (Pine) starting his day. He apparently is on the outs with his lady, Darcy (Schram) and is in something of a funk. He appears to be related to a bigwig in the train company for which he works as a conductor. He is slated to work with rail veteran Frank (Washington), who has two grown daughters and is pretty philosophical about life. Will and Frank’s day goes just fine until they find out that they’re on a crash course with an out of control train.

Dewey (Suplee) is the nimrod that allowed the train to get out of control. Connie (Dawson) is the tough, no-nonsense, but desperate supervisor who has to figure out how to keep the train from killing people. She has to deal with railroad execs who are far more focused on the dollar (of course) than on practicalities and people. She also has to try to keep Will and Frank alive as they decide to do more than just avoid the train.

Solutions are come up with, tried out, discarded, and all leads to Frank and Will being faced with a decision that will test their grit and courage. The final twenty minutes are some of the tensest moments you will experience in a movie.

Critique

Tony Scott discards some of his usual tools, such as overly dramatic lighting and at times too-frenetic camera work. He still uses interesting angles and helps the viewer get into the movie from fascinating perspectives, but none of these are done for the purpose of art. They are done to enhance the tension of the film.

Unstoppable works so well because the two main characters are written with an eye to the tension that exists between a rookie and a veteran, where the rookie is somewhat entitled and too big for his britches. It also works well because it does not flag in its pace, it focuses on what people are doing about this train and the personal sacrifices involved, and it explores courage very effectively.

Despite some predictability and a few overly dramatized scenes, this is a good movie.

Be careful. Like The Fighter, this movie packs a totally unseen punch– unseen that is until you get hit. Unstoppable is a great date movie because it engages and delivers an emotional wallop that will leave any two people on a date with plenty to appreciate and talk about.

Content warnings: some language and some very tense situations and painful events.

Writing: 4.5          Acting: 5          Overall: 4.5

Be unstoppable in your efforts to share this review and website. Let’s turn Reviews by Jared into hurtling train that propels all the people on all the Internet to this site!

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How to Train Your Dragon

How to Train Your Dragon accomplishes the seemingly impossible: making dragons an adorable and engaging companion and friend. At the same time, it tells a suitably archetypal story of a young lad who finds his own way to defend his people from the scourge of dragons. And at the SAME time, it’s hilarious, heartfelt, and has heavy themes thrown in.

In short, How to Train Your Dragon is a great movie.

Here’s a trailer:

The deets:

Released March 26, 2010

Written by William Davies, Dean DeBlois, and Chris Sanders. Based on the book by Cressida Cowell

Directed by Dean DeBlois and Chris Sanders

Starring America Ferrera, Kristen Wiig, Jay Baruchel, Gerard Butler, Craig Ferguson, Jonah Hill, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, TJ Miller, and David Tennant

Rated PG

*     *     *     *     *

Story

Hiccup (Baruchel) is the son of Stoick (Butler), the most courageous of viking warriors and the leader of the clan. The problem is that Hiccup is more of a thinker and inventor than a warrior, which is probably good since Hiccup is the size of one of Stoick’s legs.

Instead of training for battle with dragons, Hiccup spends his time inventing awesome contraptions to help in the fight against the dreaded beasts. See, the dragons show up with some frequency, carrying off the vikings’ livestock– and the vikings obviously aren’t fans of this type of thing. Thus, the battles are a pitched and serious business.

During one evening battle, Hiccup fires a massive bolo at what he thinks is a night fury, the most vicious and feared dragon known to viking. He’s pretty sure he hit something. But the village is in tatters and Stoick decides to lead the warriors in a search for the dragons’ lair in order to, once and for all, stop the scourge. Gobber the Belch (Ferguson), a grizzled warrior with one hand missing, is left behind to train the next crop of viking warriors.

This group of warriors consists of Hiccup’s peers, Astrid (Ferrera), Snotlout (Hill), Fishlegs (Mintz-Plasse), Tuffnut (Miller), and Ruffnut (Wiig). Tuffnut and Ruffnut are twin siblings who are tough and full of vim. Fishlegs is a walking encyclopedia of dragon lore, but is not very physically gifted. Snotlout is essentially a bravado-filled goofball. And Astrid is a gangly, tough girl who loves battle.

Hiccup and his colleagues achieve varying degrees of failure in their training while Stoick and the others are off hunting dragons. Meanwhile, Hiccup is sure his weapon hit something, so he tracks down where he thinks it landed and finds an injured night fury.

Now Hiccup forms a new friendship while innovating a way to help the night fury. Hiccup’s new understanding of dragons could either save the vikings, or doom them to destruction. And when it all comes down to one decision, Hiccup has to decide if he will rally his friends and save both the vikings and the dragons.

Critique

On the strength of the plot, with its complexities in human relationships, unshirking look at feeling like an outcast, and a truly excellent hero’s journey, How to Train Your Dragon is extremely effective. Rare is the animated film, or really any film, that has such a fine plot that tells a seemingly simple story, but really tells the story of people doing their best to live the way they choose and having to deal with the consequences.

Add to the excellent writing and character development some wonderful animation. These is not realistic stuff– the people are capable of impressive physical feats and their size is generally a caricature. But the colors are bright when they need to be, the expressions on people and dragon alike are emotive, and there’s some truly well-thought out construction of the village of Berk and the dragons’ lair. Toothless, the night fury, is a particular accomplishment, with his great expressions and snake/cat-like movement.

To top off all of this great stuff, the voice acting is mighty good. Hiccup’s dialogue had to be written with Baruchel’s self-effacing, dry-wit manner in mind, because it matched perfectly. Butler is wonderful as the gruff dad who loves his boy. Ferguson clearly had a blast voicing Gobber’s action. The team of dragon-warrior trainees also do a mighty fine job.

In short, How to Train Your Dragon delivers fun, comedy, action-packed, and heartfelt entertainment that even little kids will adore. Instant classic from DreamWorks, and very likely their best film ever.

Content warnings: some intense scenes of dragon battle

Writing: 5          Acting (voice): 5           Overall: 5

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The Book of Eli

The Book of Eli is one of the best movies of 2010. It’s a solid post-apocalyptic story that is wonderfully acted, artfully shot, and remarkably well-written. It may also be one of Denzel Washington’s best performances to date.

Here’s a peek:

The deets:

Released January 15, 2010

Written by Gary Whitta

Directed by the Hughes brothers

Starring: Mila Kunis, Jennifer Beals, Denzel Washington, Gary Oldman, Michael Gambon, Ray Stevenson

Rated R

*     *     *     *     *

Story

The world is a destroyed, hot, bleak, savage, regressed place and Eli (Washington) is a nomad heading toward the west coast of what was once the USA. He holds a copy of the Bible, potentially the only copy left. He subsists on any creature, barring humans, he can kill and cans of food, reading the Bible every night and hoping to find batteries to help him listen to music.

Eli is an accomplished warrior, wreaking matter-of-fact and brutal havoc on anyone who tries to hurt or stop him. But he is also kind and lives by principle, and it is his merciful heart that exacerbates some trouble he gets in when he arrives in a town run by Carnegie (Oldman). It’s hard to imagine what Carnegie did before the apocalypse, because he’s obviously very suited to megalomania. Carnegie sees a spark of something interesting when Eli passes through his bar and kills a bunch of people who are trying to bully him.

So Carnegie takes Eli in and we meet Carnegie’s significant other, Claudia (Beals)n and Claudia’s  daughter Solara (Kunis). Solara is foisted upon Eli to see if he wants her; he declines and Solara sees the sacred book. Now Carnegie, convinced that the book has the power to give him total power, wants it. But Eli knows that Carnegie is corrupt and vile.

We have a showdown as Eli, with Solara along for the ride, tries to escape from Carnegie’s men, led by Redridge (Stevenson), who carries a torch for Solara. The showdown is not the end of the film, because The Book of Eli is about much more than a wanderer who brings justice upon some bad guys. That’s pretty much any Clint Eastwood western.

The Book of Eli is more about what drives people to do what they do, what people are capable of when they’re devoted to a cause–rotten or noble. Watch for the ultimate reveal, then watch The Book of Eli again to see if the reveal makes sense.

It does.

Critique

The Book of Eli is an action film with a brain and some very smart and effective actors. The motivations of each character are powerfully visible and they make each character really interesting to watch.

The story arc is, on its face, fairly simple. Special wanderer making his way to a destination is waylaid by some baddies and wanderer has to bring down the fires of justice upon the baddies. As mentioned above,  this story is fleshed out by Eli’s need to get to a certain place while keep in his sacred book safe, but also while helping some other people out of a bad situation. And the reveal, again the reveal, makes the story of the film all the richer.

The setting is delightfully bleak, with most everything visible in shades of sepia and gray. Washington, Oldman, and Beals deliver deep performances that give us a peak into a past of pain and adjustment to the horrible modern conditions.

Finally, the direction takes its time to let scenes develop. This adds a gravity to the movie and helps we viewers become fully wrapped up in this world.

The Book of Eli is not your normal post-apocalyptic film, despite plenty of homage paid to Mad Max. This movie is a might strong exploration of what it is to be human and what survival and thriving really mean.

Content warnings: brutal and sometimes graphic violence, some language.

Writing: 4.5          Acting: 5          Overall: 4.5

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