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RED 2 (2013)

NOTE: Review originally written for and posted at MovieByte.com. To see this post and check out the guys over at MovieByte, click here!
RED 2

RED, a 2010 film starring Bruce Willis, Mary-Louise Parker, John Malkovich, Morgan Freeman, and Helen Mirren, was great because it brought something new to the table: older actors, most not known for starring in action films, coming together to create an action film that works as both a good action film and as a good comedy too. However, I was slightly concerned for the sequel; could the filmmakers capture what was special about the first film without rehashing it in the second? Luckily, I think that they (mostly) pulled it off.

RED 2 picks up where the first film left off, with Frank Moses (Bruce Willis) and now-girlfriend Sarah Ross (Mary-Louise Parker) trying to live a normal life together. However, Frank’s efforts to keep Sarah safe and out of harm’s way fail when the pair are sucked into a plot to find a nuclear device that was lost in Russia several years ago. Marvin Boggs (John Malkovich) and Victoria Winslow (Helen Mirren) are back to help, with a blast from Frank’s past returning as well – Katya, played by Catherine Zeta-Jones, who is described as “Frank Moses’ kryptonite.” It’s a race against the clock as the team tries to find the weapon while trying to avoid assassination attempts by “the world’s number one contract killer,” Han J0-Bae (Lee Byung-Hun).

It’s nice to see the original cast return, although I must admit that Morgan Freeman’s character is a missed presence. Bruce Willis as Frank brings back a lot of the interesting back and forth of being a stone-cold killer and someone in love, which brings some more humor to the table. Mary-Louise Parker as Sarah is mostly great, but I did think that the character was a bit too over-the-top eccentric at times. Most of that, however, can be blamed on the presence of Catherine Zeta-Jones character, Katya, who I didn’t like at all. I didn’t like the rivalry between her and Sarah, which felt forced at times, such as in the car chase scene. I understand that there needed to be a reason to create tension between Sarah and Frank, but I thought that it had already been established pretty well by showing Frank’s worry at Sarah’s involvement and apprehension at her carrying a gun, something that resolved appropriately later in the film. Oh well. Anyway, John Malkovich as Marvin and Helen Mirren as Victoria are probably my favorite two characters of the film; Marvin is kooky in all the right ways, and seeing Helen Mirren firing guns out both windows of a car (see image above) is worth ticket price. Anthony Hopkins makes an appearance as well as Dr. Edward Bailey, a wonderfully quirky character who has a surprise or two up his sleeves. I was a little iffy on my opinion of him at first, but he certainly grew on me and became one of my favorite parts of the film.

Very little of the humor in the film feels forced, making the conversations and interactions between characters feel natural. Many of the jokes are brought about by the different worldview that these characters have compared to normal people; for example, Marvin’s negative observation at the start of the film about how Frank “[hasn’t] killed anyone in months” or Frank’s gift of a personalized handgun to Sarah being seen as a romantic gesture. Some of the humor is even pretty tongue-in-cheek, such as when Victoria infiltrates an insane asylum by eccentrically declaring herself “the Queen of England,” a reference to Helen Mirren’s arguably most famous role as Queen Elizabeth II in the 2006 film The Queen. Composer Alan Silvestri’s score is entertaining as well, despite it being completely different than anything I’ve heard from him before. He does a great job with creating music that drives the film forward without intruding on what’s happening on-screen.

I have a couple of spoiler-y dislikes that I won’t discuss here, but, in the grand scheme of things, they aren’t all that important. What IS important, though, is that, despite not being as good overall as the first film, it is still just as fun, bringing lots of laughs along the way. There is a nice twist at the end of the film that I honestly didn’t see coming, which is always nice, the stylized scene changes are well-done and appropriately comic book-esque, and it takes what was fun about the first film and does something new with it. It all boils down to this: if you liked the first film, then RED 2 is definitely worth checking out.

-Chad

Rating: 3.5 (out of 5)

MPAA: PG-13 – for pervasive action and violence including frenetic gunplay, and for some language and drug material

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RED (2010)

Red_Movie_Image _Bruce_Willis_Morgan_Freeman

 

What do you call a movie starring for elder actors who are not (aside from Bruce Willis) typically known for starring in action films? Lots of fun, that’s what!

RED introduces us to Frank Moses (Bruce Willis), a retired CIA agent who is actually quite lonely. He fixes this by ripping up his pension checks so that he has an excuse to call the pension office and talk to Sarah Ross (Mary-Louise Parker), who works in customer service. The two have never met, but a relationship forms between them, leading to Frank deciding to visit her city to meet her in person. However, circumstances change when a hit squad arrives at his house to kill him; he kills them all, finds Sarah, essentially kidnaps her, and goes on the run, along the way asking for help from old friends: Joe Matheson (Morgan Freeman), Marvin Boggs (John Malkovich), and Victoria Winters (Helen Mirren). Current CIA agent William Cooper (Karl Urban) is assigned the task of tracking Frank down, but he soon discovers that Frank may be old, but he still packs a punch – he’s Retired, Extremely Dangerous (RED).

The best part about this film is seeing the older actors stepping into the types of roles usually reserved for younger actors. When we’re first introduced to Joe (Freeman), he’s sitting in a retirement home, but it’s not too long before he shoots someone in the face. Likewise with Victoria (Mirren), who, when we first meet her, is wearing a plain white dress, looking every bit the part of the elder grandmotherly figure, but we soon learn that she is quite adept with automatic weapons. Both of these actors do well stepping into these atypical roles, with the twist on their typical character choices bringing much humor to the film. Malkovich plays the probably-more-than-slightly insane Marvin with a palpable eccentricity that you can see in the craziness of his eyes. Willis, who is the one actor actually known for his action roles, brings a level of touching emotion to the table that he would later bring to Looper (my review), emotion that seems genuine and surprisingly not out of place among the countless flying bullets…he pulls it off well. Older actors aside, it was nice to see Karl Urban outside of Star Trek; he plays his role with an admirable resolve, adequately expressing his character’s desire to get the job done and alongside the deep love he feels for his family. I also liked Mary-Louise Parker, an actress who I’m not familiar with, as she brought plenty of laughs to the film despite the fact that her character was mostly the damsel in distress.

One thing that I noticed while watching is that the action is actually pretty minimal when you compare it to other films in the same genre, but all of the choreography here is very deliberate and purposed, making it easy to follow without dumbing it down too much. In fact, the minimal action fit in well with the idea that the characters were a bit too old for too much physical strain, making the reliance on strategy and gunfire the obvious alternative. However, the scene transitions when moving great distances were a bit weird, though the obvious intention was to emulate moving panels of a comic book, since this film is based on one. Thankfully, there was not too much done to make the look of the film feel too much like a comic book, even if the camera was occasionally a bit too dynamic for my tastes. Honestly, I liked most of the camera work in this film, with there being no apparent reliance on shaky-cam to “develop” action scenes or anything like that.

While watching the movie, I felt quite a bit like Mary-Louise Parker’s character: reluctant to be dragged in, but eventually awed by how much I liked it. This film plays off like a better version of Stallone’s The Expendables, another action film starring older actors, but the appeal of RED over Stallone’s film is that we are watching older actors step out of their box into something new and fresh, bringing a new spin on things and creating plenty of humorous situations. This wasn’t a film I expected to like, but I did, and, regarding the sequel, I can only echo Mary-Louise Parker’s character’s final line: “Can we go?!”

-Chad

Rating: 4 (out of 5)

MPAA: PG-13 – for intense sequences of action violence and brief strong language


Top Ten Films of 2012

2012 was a good year for movies. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to see everything – films like Moonrise Kingdom, The Master, Argo, Les Misérables, Django Unchained, etc. are all films released in 2012 that I haven’t seen yet – but I DID manage to see quite a few. Here is my personal list of the best films of 2012 (click on the titles to view my full review):

 

10. Wreck-It Ralph

This was another film that I had been looking forward to for months on end. I’m not as into video games as some other people, but watching this film was still like revisiting my childhood. The heart of this movie is in the right place, with the main message being “accept who you are because you’re a wonderful person just as you are.” A talented voice cast, a sweet story, candy puns out the wazoo, and a fun score by Henry Jackman make this film everything I wanted it to be…and the animated short shown before the film, Paperman, was just as fantastic.

 

9. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

I was late to the whole “Lord of the Rings/J. R. R. Tolkien” party, having only seen Peter Jackson’s film trilogy in the past two years, but I was keen to read The Hobbit and see the movie as soon as I possibly could. While I was disappointed on my first viewing, mainly due to the cartoony special effects that resulted from the higher frame rate (48fps HFR), this film was a faithful adaptation to Tolkien’s original novel, and the return of familiar faces such as Ian McKellen as Gandalf and Andy Serkis as Gollum is refreshing. The real highlight of the film, though, aside from Howard Shore’s beautiful score, is Martin Freeman, who plays the perfect Bilbo Baggins. While some may find the run time to feel a little stretched, I found it to be justified by the attention to detail to the original novel.

 

8. The Hunger Games

I read Suzanne Collins’ acclaimed Hunger Games trilogy just a few weeks before I saw the film, and I was hooked from the get-go. The film did a wonderful job of adapting the novel, perfectly capturing the dystopian society introduced in Collins’ literary world. Jennifer Lawrence did a particularly outstanding job as Katniss, and the scenes added by the filmmakers to show the control that the Capitol has over the people of Panem and over the Hunger Games do nothing but add to the story in a great way.

 

7. Flight

Robert Zemeckis, director of Back to the Future and Who Framed Roger Rabbit, released his first live action film in more than a decade this year. Flight was something I had anticipated for months, and it quite lived up to what I had in mind for it. Denzel Washington gives a powerful performance as a pilot struggling with drug and alcohol addictions, and the film explores topics such as love, recovery, lies, and responsibility. Zemeckis proves that he still has what it takes to direct a top-notch film that focuses on character and story just as much as it does on visual effects.

 

6. Life of Pi

This is a film that I sort of went to see just on a whim, and I’m glad I did. With gorgeous visuals that looked fantastic in 3D (something I don’t say often), Life of Pi excels the most in its storytelling. While the ambiguity of the ending may not appeal to some people, I found the film to be a thoughtful exploration of faith and of religion in general, leading me to look at my own relationship with God. It sort of melds the biblical Book of Job with Robert Zemeckis’ 2000 film Cast Away, and it definitely sparked my interest in reading the book it was based on.

 

5. Skyfall

In anticipation of this film, I first watched Daniel Craig’s Casino Royale, which was entertaining in its more muted kind of way, and Quantum of Solace, which was pretty disappointing. I still had high hopes for Skyfall, though, and it exceeded every expectation I had set for it. The action was fun, Javier Bardem as the villain sent chills up my spine (and also brought a couple of laughs), and Daniel Craig and Judi Dench both gave outstanding performances in their respective roles. The length wasn’t an issue to me because I was too caught up in the entertainment of the film to care.

 

4. Lincoln

Does Spielberg make bad films? I’d answer that with a “no” (I have an argument in favor of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull). With 2011’s War Horse and his newest film, Lincoln, he has taken a step back from the typical sci-fi/action/fantasy films he is known for and has focused more on period dramas – both of which were fantastic. If Daniel Day-Lewis as Abraham Lincoln doesn’t win the Academy Award for Best Actor, I won’t know what to think. Sally Field and Tommy Lee Jones also deliver standout performances in a film that is just as engrossing and fascinating in its exploration of politics as a good action film is in its exploration of shooting and blowing things up. Spielberg is a true master.

 

3. The Dark Knight Rises

Christopher Nolan set the bar high with 2008’s The Dark Knight, and this conclusion to the acclaimed trilogy did not disappoint. Tom Hardy as Bane was sinister and terrifying, Anne Hathaway and Joseph Gordon-Levitt were both welcome new presences, and the return of the familiar faces – i.e. Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman, and Gary Oldman – was satisfying and well-done. The Dark Knight Rises perfectly concluded Nolan’s trilogy.

 

2. The Avengers

There are so many ways that this film could have gone wrong. I mean, think about it – they took four characters from four separate films and brought them together into one super-film. In the hands of a less-capable director, it could have easily been one of the worst movies of the year, but with Joss Whedon at the helm, it ended up being one of the best. Smart dialogue with exciting action and a great story, The Avengers proved that an ensemble cast like this could work just as well in a film as it does on television.

 

1. Looper

Well-choreographed action sequences meet a smart script in this film starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Bruce Willis. As a time travel movie, it explores the consequences of our actions and the true cause of evil, and it spends just as much time in contemplation as it does making you sit on the edge of your seat.

 

Well, there you have it. My top ten films of 2012. What were your favorites of 2012?


Looper (2012)

It’s no secret among people who know me that Back to the Future is my favorite film. The concept of time travel has always fascinated me across all mediums. That being said, time travel movies are abound with flaws, and, much as I love it, Back to the Future is no exception. Wouldn’t people in the future have remembered Marty interfering in the past? How would this affect their future selves? Wouldn’t your past self being killed kill your future self immediately? These issues are addressed in Looper, a smart and exciting time travel film that gets things (mostly) right.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt stars in one of his best roles to date as a looper named Joe (what’s a looper? Watch the movie!). His future self, played by Bruce Willis, is sent back for Joe to kill, but things go awry and Willis escapes, endangering Young Joe’s life and threatening the future of the world. Next unfolds a tale that explores not only time travel and the affects it has on an individual but also the themes of parenthood, good vs. evil, and love.

Perhaps the greatest part of Looper is that it makes mistakes. I know how strange that sounds, but, considering the fact that time travel is a difficult subject to cover properly, this film succeeds in making a film that, for the most part, follows the rules of time travel without over-complicating things. Unlike in Back to the Future, time travel in the world of Looper, while illegal, is not accessible to only one person; it asks the question, “what would time travel be used for if everyone knew about it?” and envisions an answer that is both thrilling and slightly disturbing. But that’s the fun in it!

I don’t want to go too in-depth (mainly because it’s been a while since I’ve seen it and don’t want to get things wrong), but Looper is an all-around great film that features fine performances from Gordon-Levitt and Willis. There’s action aplenty, but it also contains plenty of quiet, contemplative moments that make you question the true nature/cause of evil and the consequences of the decisions we make.

-Chad

Rating: 5 (out of 5)

MPAA: R – for strong violence, language, some sexuality/nudity and drug content

*MAJOR SPOILER; don’t read unless you’ve seen the film*

P.S. – Because I love time travel, I love pointing out mistakes in time travel films. Looper‘s biggest flaw is its ending: if Young Joe kills himself, then the Bruce Willis Joe never would have existed, which cancels out the entire film because Old Joe wouldn’t have been around to travel back in time. Just a fun error!