I'd rather be nine people's favorite thing...

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Who's ready for an old review post?
I am! It's Wednesday, August 4th (when the hell did it get to be August?), and today's old reviews are:

The Fifth Commandment
2 stars

I hate to nitpick, but isn't "Thou Shalt Not Kill" actually the sixth commandment? I'm pretty sure "Honor Thy Father And Mother" is the fifth. So unless I'm reading a different Bible than everyone else, this film needed a different title to make its own lines and references accurate.

That said, this film was heavy on the action and light on pretty much everything else. I enjoyed seeing the blindingly hot Dania Ramirez (Heroes) again, but her part was pretty simplistic. In fact all the parts were pretty simplistic. So if you're on a martial arts kick, this movie might be entertaining, but otherwise there are plenty of better action flicks out there.

Tropic Thunder
4 stars

I was absolutely skeptical about this movie. I don't like war movies much, I'm not a fan of a good portion of Ben Stiller's portfolio, and the preview just looked way too far over the top to retain any redeeming value. And up to a point, Tropic Thunder gave me exactly what I was expecting. But once it hit that point and kept going, I realized there was a lot more going on than just the unadulterated pushing of the envelope.

Tropic Thunder is a consummate parody. Literally everything in it makes fun of some Hollywood cliche. Stiller's buff but dumb action star who wants to be a serious actor but can't hack it. Jack Black's white Eddie Murphy/Nutty Professor clone who farts and flabs his way to fame and parties like Lindsay and Paris on a two-week bender when he's not on camera. Nick Nolte's crusty war hero novelist who made everything up a la Gilderoy Lockhart in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. Brandon T. Jackson's badass womanizing rapper with a latent homosexual streak and more product and image management than talent. The hilariously overdone agent and studio owner roles by Matthew McConnaughey and Tom Cruise, respectively. And especially Robert Downey Jr.s amazing performance as both an obsessive Australian method actor and the black soldier he portrays. Even Jay Baruchel's role as the timid young actor with a crush on Jennifer Love Hewitt is a cliche (though I do admire his taste in actresses).

And because this movie literally pokes and prods at everything that has become mainstream in Hollywood, including the serious war movies that helped Hollywood's fame over the last fifty-plus years, even with several groaner moments there's really nothing in Tropic Thunder that I could point at as being overly excessive in any one specific area. In lampooning literally everything, Tropic Thunder transcended the lameness of many films (including a number of Stiller's earlier works) that focus on lampooning one specific thing. (It also helped, for me, that all the characters were able to end the film with some dignity. One of the main problems I have with some of Stiller's work is how rarely that seems to happen to his protagonists...what little dignity they regain at the end is never enough to make up for their intense embarrassment throughout the film. Tropic Thunder took a somewhat higher road in this regard.)

And while I'm on the topic of Ben Stiller as an actor, I have to commend him for this film as a director. Even though he was arguably the main character of Tropic Thunder, he did a stellar and unselfish job of getting out of the way and letting his cast milk their respective spotlight moments--and most of them had more of those moments than he did! This movie's star was really its whole cast, and Stiller made a very wise choice in letting that be highlighted.

In sum, Tropic Thunder was a very pleasant surprise, and I'd recommend it to other people who have become seriously jaded and fed up with much of today's Hollywood comedy.

Shaun of the Dead
2.5 stars

I have to admit up front, I'm one of those people who tends to find most British humor "interesting" or "kind of funny" rather than out-and-out hilarious. I also have to say that while I do like zombie movies, I haven't seen a huge number of them, and the idea of mixing zombie movies with said interesting British humor did not particularly appeal to me. So while Shaun of the Dead had many moments both quite funny and sufficiently gory, on the whole I felt it was good without quite managing to be great.

One thing the film did very well was blend parody with its subject. The idea that our dull, routine lives turn us all into metaphorical zombies, and the actual attack of literal zombies, were tied together almost seamlessly. Another reviewer of this movie commented that Shaun of the Dead did not lampoon zombie films out of a sense of disgust, contempt, or criticism, but made it clear that if a film or genre is parodied, it had to have possessed some merit in the first place--in other words, in its spoof of zombie gorefests, SotD gave a nod to how cool zombie gorefests actually are. And I agree with this reviewer absolutely. SotD was campy, cheesy, a bit stuffily British (says the American), and full of zombie-related gags and cliches, but it was not mean, cutting or malicious. In that respect, I might liken it to a British version of Tarantino's Planet Terror. And I won't deny that as a whole, SotD was pretty damn funny.

I think what lost me about this film was its scale. This may be another issue of me being an American and not being used to the way British films work, as I know many American films make things a lot bigger than is perhaps strictly necessary. But for whatever reason, SotD just felt small to me. Unfulfilled. Like, it could have been epic, and it only tried for humorous. It could have been awesome, and it settled for cool. I realize that as a spoof, its goals were perhaps not as broad or genre-representative as a Resident Evil or a 28 Days Later; yet still I came away from it with an intangible feeling of insufficiency. The film felt complete, but its completeness didn't completely satisfy me--and, if I continue my pairing of SotD with Planet Terror, I have to say that PT did not leave me unsatisfied the way SotD did.

It's very possible that SotD was just not my type of movie. And I can absolutely see why a lot of people REALLY liked it. I guess I'm one person who only kind of liked it. It happens.

4.5 stars

Liam Neeson is a consummate, brilliant actor with exceptional versatility and depth. He is, I believe, one of the strongest English-speaking male actors working today. And he has become so by playing few over-the-top roles in even fewer blockbuster movies. In fact, the one huge blockbuster he starred in to date, Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace, probably hurt his career more than any other role he's played, implying that despite his great prior performance in Rob Roy, Neeson could not play an action role. And while Neeson has had several amazing roles since TPM came out in 1999, including roles in K19, Gangs of New York and Batman Begins that involved some action, it has taken ten years to reestablish, in Taken, what should never have been in question to begin with: this man can not only play an action role, he can play an action lead, and he can play it as well as any of the straight drama he's done in Love Actually or Kinsey.

The argument can probably be made that Taken is more of a suspense movie than an action movie, but the skill set which Neeson's character demonstrates makes for several short but intense action sequences that would not be out of place in any Jason Bourne flick. And Neeson plays his spy-trained father with every bit of resourcefulness, ruthlessness, aplomb and skill that Matt Damon brings to his portayals of Bourne. The only complaint I have about Neeson's role has nothing to do with the man himself, but the writing of the part: while he is ultimately proven right to be paranoid and overprotective of his daughter, the first half hour of the film is so given over to that paranoia that the coolness of the character is almost lost. If you can get past that point in the film, though, he becomes quite a badass.

Fans of the first two seasons of LOST will enjoy seeing Maggie Grace in this film, though she only appears in a few parts. Famke Janssen also has a nice cameo. But the stars of Taken are Neeson and his quest. It is of particular note that the bad guys in Taken are individuals, not affiliated with any country, and that Neeson's character works neither with the US government or the UN, nor against any other country or organization. Terrorism is left completely out of the equation. The whole story is totally individual. And I think that fact helps the movie both to hit as hard as it does and to seem as realistic, believable and intimate as it does. Also, speaking of being believable, the film does a good job of showing how potentially futile Neeson's attempts to find his daughter actually could be. At no point does the movie seem like a Hollywood action flick where everything just falls into place. The odds Neeson must beat are real, and while the movie does end happily, it is clear that it came very close to going the other direction.

All in all, Taken is one of the better films of 2009. Unless you just don't like Neeson personally, it's well worth checking out.

3 stars

What happens when you catch a glimpse of a mob killer, a man that no one gets to see and live? Well, in Killshot, you go to leave your northern home for the witness protection program in Cape Girardeau, Missouri...but for reasons that are never exactly made clear, you don't stay there. Instead, you go back home, where the unseeable man is waiting for you, and in a pretty unrealistic set of circumstances, you defeat him and live happily ever after. Except for the happily part, as your falling-apart marriage never actually gets put back together.

There's actually a lot more to Killshot than that. And many parts are much less simplistic and/or farfetched. Mickey Rourke shows, as in The Wrestler, why he was able to come back as a serious and respected actor--his "unseeable man" role is pure competence, ruthless and deadly but principled and, oddly, occasionally compassionate. It's as if he knows exactly how much death is right for him to dole out, and anything more he views as wasteful. That the character is Native American lends credence to that idea, as well as depth to the character and props to Rourke's acting. Joseph Gordon-Levitt once again shows his immense versatility as a callous and overly energetic sociopath who looks up to Rourke's hitman but ultimately just wants to kill everyone he can. Diane Lane and Thomas Jane are solid in the ostensible lead roles, though not particularly special--their chemistry does exist, but their characters' unresolved divorce and new identities pulls that chemistry in several directions at once. Rosario Dawson is heart-wrenching as Gordon-Levitt's hopeful but doomed girlfriend.

But even all these good and great character portrayals are only enough to make Killshot a pretty good flick. A tighter plot, better reasons for characters' actions, sharper dialogue and more plausibility would have kicked it up towards being great.

That's all I got this time, ladies and gents. Thanks for reading!


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Y-You don't like war movies that much? I love them, but have to be in a certain mood to watch one.

You know, with all the hype surrounding Tropic Thunder when it came out, I was convinced it was yet another over hyped movie not worth anything, but I was pleasantly surprised by it. I was even concerned with the whole deal with Robert Downey, Jr as a white guy who's playing a black guy, or as he so famously said "I'm a dude playing a dude disguised as another dude." But once I saw the movie I had no problem with it. Heck, if anything, his character was the funniest and most memorable of them all.

I'm not big on Stiller, either. Never have been, probably never will be. His films just don't appeal to me so I pretty much avoid him at all costs but for him to be the brains behind the whole movie? Well, naturally I had to give respect where it was due.

I don't remember much about Taken, well except for maybe that one scene where Liam Neeson's daughter is swept from under the bed as she's on the phone with him (which in and of itself made me a bit interested in the movie when I saw the trailers for it), but I do remember enjoying the movie and I thought Neeson was pretty believable in his role. At the same time, though, I'm not too familiar with his work so...

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