Killer Elite (2011)
★★★ / ★★★★
After a job in 1980 which involved assassinating a man while the target’s kid was in the car, Danny (Jason Statham) decided to quit the killing business. A year later, Danny, living in rural Australia, received a package that contained photos of his mentor, Hunter (Robert De Niro), and instructions on how to retrieve his friend. In Oman, we learned that Sheikh Amr (Rodney Afif) wanted to avenge the death of his three sons. If Danny successfully killed three British former special air servicemen (Lachy Hulme, Grant Bowler, Daniel Roberts) before Sheikh passed away from his affliction, Danny would be able to walk away with Hunter and six million dollars richer. But just how do you get a recorded video confession and make the assassination look like an accident if the targets are tough and gifted special forces agents trained to endure the greatest types of torture? Based on the novel by Ranulph Fiennes, “Killer Elite” was able to accomplish a juggling act so uncommonly found these days in action pictures. It managed to be entertaining without sacrificing story and intelligence. In its own way, it was fashionably old-school. The goals that needed to be accomplished were succinctly laid for us. The steps toward each goal made sense even though the path was almost always never a straight line due to complications. Furthermore, since the film was set in the early 80s, sophisticated gadgetry was rarely featured. We were able to learn about the professions of the men involved, mostly through Danny’s perspective, in the way they handled guns, big and small, engaged in fiercely drawn-out hand-to-hand combat, and maneuvered their way in and around political agendas of men known as The Committee, mostly in their seniors, so intent on keeping things hush-hush, it almost felt like their loyalty was, ironically, a crime. I found a smidgen of sadness with it all. The Committee had no regard for the SAS, a group they formerly depended on for counter-terrorism and the like, because their use had expired. Determined to protect the former ex-SAS was Spike (Clive Owen), a former special agent himself who sported only one fully functioning eye. I was fascinated with how he was introduced as the only man capable of stopping Danny. Despite his obstructed vision, his focus never meandered and he was comfortable with thinking outside the box. And that made him a very dangerous man to deal with. Yet, over time, I learned to identify with what he believed to be worth fighting for. I wished, however, that the pacing was more consistent. With a running time of almost two hours, it felt longer because there was one too many flashbacks of Danny thinking about his girlfriend (Yvonne Strahovski): how they reconnected after so many years, how much he missed her, and how she was one of the main reasons why he wanted to quit the business. It was clear that he loved the girl. No further explanation was needed. The flashbacks greatly interrupted the urgency of the picture; instead of pulling me in closer, I began to feel an aversion to the romance. Based on a screenplay by Matt Sherring and directed by Gary McKendry, “Killer Elite” proudly supports the idea that the most effective action movies are not just about good people versus bad people. There’s good and bad in all of us. Some of us walk away from good, some of us walk away from bad. But it doesn’t mean we can’t choose to go back.
★★★ / ★★★★
“Machete” was a fake trailer so good, it was green lit as full-feature film. Machete (Danny Trejo) was a Mexican Federale who disobeyed his boss which led to his wife’s beheading. Three years later and now in America, Machete was approached by a mysterious man named Booth (Jeff Fahey) for a job. For $150,000, Machete was assigned to kill Senator McLaughlin (Robert De Niro), whose platform was to ensure a stricter Mexican-American border, while making his speech for re-election. But the simple assassination plot was not what it seemed. The heated debate about illegal immigration was directly related to a drug cartel led by Von Jackson (Don Johnson) and the kingpin Torrez (Steven Seagal). “Machete,” directed by Ethan Maniquis and Robert Rodriguez, was an incredibly violent, bloody, laugh-out-loud funny, creative mess. The filmmakers knew that the movie was an exaggeration of good and bad action films that we loved and hated. Most of the action defied the law of physics but it didn’t matter because it was entertaining. It provided an excellent example of a character whose background information we did not need to know or fully understand. We just knew he had to survive because he was a symbol of the people, specifically immigrants, both legal and illegal, who were every day marginalized yet used as a scapegoat when a country was in an economic turmoil. Amidst the flying bullets, blades scraping through skin, and blood being painted on walls, I was surprised that it had moments of thoughtfulness, although wrapped in humor like a burrito. For instance, one of Booth’s henchmen stated that we allow Mexicans to enter our homes to clean, take care of our children or siblings, and park our cars, yet we wouldn’t allow them to enter our country. Controversies concerning illegal immigration aside, there was a painful truth to that statement. Furthermore, as enjoyable as the men were to watch, there were some interesting casting choice concerning the women who eventually came to fight on Machete’s side. Michelle Rodriguez was a perfect choice to play Luz because she was edgy, tough, and beautiful. On the other hand, Jessica Alba as an immigration and customs enforcer was not entirely convincing because she didn’t have enough angst and roughness. I actually squirmed in my seat during her speech, while standing on the hood of a car, about our rights to stand up to a law that failed to protect its people’s best interests. I felt like I was in a room with a high school teacher who got a little too carried away by the subject at hand. The most fascinating was Lindsay Lohan whose dream was to become a “model” but she really meant taking her clothes off over the internet. I gave her the benefit of the doubt. Maybe she wanted to satirize her wacky life. “Machete” embraced the offensive, the grimy, and the bold. I embraced it right back.
★★ / ★★★★
A government research facility (led by Max von Sydow) had begun to use psychics to go into people’s dreams and actively stop whatever it was that gave people nightmares. However, some of the psychics weren’t strong enough to withstand certain psyches so the enigmatic facility hired Alex Gardner (Dennis Quaid) who earned money by using his abilities in the racetracks. On the side, a political leader (Christopher Plummer) wanted to use the research to obtain more power in the government via a president’s (Eddie Albert) assassination. “Dreamscape,” directed by Joseph Ruben, had a lot of great ideas but it was poor in execution so the film turned out average and often lackluster. I didn’t mind the dated special and visual effects because, at least for me, how ideas are put together is what matters most in a science fiction picture. There were far too many glaring distractions such as the unethical romance between the characters of Quaid (the subject) and the Kate Capshaw (the scientist). There could have been more tension between the two if they didn’t end up in bed together but instead they suffered from flirtations that led to dead-ends. It could also have added another dimension to the material because the research oftentimes led to actual dead-ends. The film was at its best when it explored how scary it was to plunge into a stranger’s dreams. It should have taken advantage of the fact that the seemingly innocuous individuals on the outside may have the darkest subconsciousness. Since the subject of the picture had such a high concept, it should have explored the unpredictability of fringe science. Another interesting aspect of the story was the other psychic (David Patrick Kelly) named Tommy who mastered how to navigate through other people’s psyches. As Alex’ rival, Tommy should have been exponentially more menacing. Instead, I found him to be a bit too cartoonish and it was difficult for me to see him as a villainous parasite. And he didn’t need to be so obvious. I think the best villains are the ones who are insidious, the ones who pretend to be the hero’s friend. “Dreamscape” was not a bad movie but it needed a lot of editing (such as getting rid of the annoying music that signaled audiences that a character was a good guy or a bad guy, depending which character was introduced) and sharpening of ideas. I enjoyed that the plot wasn’t too complicated but it needed a bit of edge and more friction between the subjects, the experimenters, and the outside parties. Potential got this film halfway to greatness but it needed something extra–something beyond the conspiracy and the nightmares.
★★★ / ★★★★
I think a lot of people are unfairly harsh on this movie because of the fact that it stars Tom Cruise as Colonel Claus von Satuffenberg, one of the men that tries to assassinate Adolf Hitler. For some reason, people find it difficult to find a divide between an actor’s personal life and repertoire (like with Lindsay Lohan). We all know how it’s going to end so being predictable is not a valid reason on why one should not see this movie. (Assuming that the person knows the basics about World War II.) I’m here to say that this is a solid thriller because Bryan Singer, the director of other good films like “The Usual Suspects,” “Apt Pupil” and “X2: X-Men United,” was able to successfully build suspense up until the last twenty minutes. I enjoyed watching what Kenneth Branagh, Bill Nighy, Tom Wilkinson, and Tom Cruise have to put on the table. Although the film is fast-paced, it gets really exciting whether these top-tier actors speak to each other as we find out where their loyalties lie. They made me believe that what they were trying to do was important and I eventually found myself hoping that things would turn out differently than it did in reality. I was impressed with the soundtrack because it supported the suspense instead of becoming the driving force. In most less successful thrillers, the latter is the case so it was a nice surprise to not find that here. I was also blown away by the visuals. Everything looks so grand: the architectures, the weaponries, the automobiles, down to the characters’ wardrobes. It was easy to tell that a lot of effort was put into this film. I wish the last twenty minutes could’ve been stronger. I felt like the suspense was sucked out of the film so I found myself not caring. I think those last few scenes were crucial because the filmmakers were supposed to convince the audience that those who tried to kill Hitler were honorable men and women. Instead, the message was lost and we saw one scene of pandemonium on top of one another. It’s a pretty strong movie as a whole; it just needed to deliver all the way through and, unfortunately, the film failed to do that.