Monday, May 6, 2013


Movies are my mental junk food.  I don’t look for the gourmet art.
I go for the hour-and-a-half of entertainment.  Which means I watch
quite a few deliciously cheesy movies.

I respect comic books.  I can write comic books.  I know what that
requires.  I don’t have as much respect for movies.  Maybe that will
come later in life if I ever write one, though the odds are that if
I ever do write a movie, it’ll be something like Mega-Doberman Vs.
and, if I have any say in the matter, it will star Corin
Nemec and Claudia Christian.

In the past several weeks, after finishing a long day of writing,
I would watch a movie borrowed from my local library system.  Tied
in with roughly a hundred area libraries, my local library is able
to get all sorts of movies for me from the relatively recent to the
so obscure I may be the only person in the city who’s ever heard of
them, much less want to watch them.  I’m special that way.

Here’s some movies I’ve watched recently...


Taken 2 (2012) is a sequel to Taken (2008).  In the original movie,
retired CIA agent Liam Neeson shot and otherwise killed/tortured a
great many bad people and winged one unwitting wife of a bad man to
get hubby to spill his guts re: the kidnapping of Neeson’s daughter
Maggie Grace, taken by sex traffickers.  The original movie was fun
with a really impressive body count.  Famke Janssen played Neeson’s
ex-wife and Grace’s mom, but she didn’t do anything of note in the
movie.  The sequel fixes that.

In Taken 2, Neeson, Grace and the separated from her lousy rich new
husband Janssen vacation in Istanbul.  This time around, Neeson and
Janssen are taken by the surviving family members of the villains
Neeson dispatched in the first movie. Grace avoids getting taken.
She also helps her father escape, though he has to leave Janssen to
save Grace from her pursuers.  Once Grace is safe, Neeson goes back
to reducing the crowding at future family gatherings of these bad
men.  It’s totally different from the first movie in that it seems
to have had a smaller budget.

Taken was not made with a sequel in mind.  Then it did really well
in theaters, so Taken 2 was made.  The impressive success of Taken
begat Taken 3, which is said to complete the Taken trilogy.  I’m
thinking Neeson wipes out an entire country of kidnappers to make
sure they never mess with his family again.  I think he should team
up with Wolverine because that would be awesome.

Taken is sort of fun.  Taken 2 not so much.  Taken 3 needs super-
heroes.  Maybe some DC super-heroes as most of them will available
when the new Superman movie bombs and when the fans realize there
will never ever be a Justice League movie...unless Marvel makes it
for DC.


Part of Alex Cross (2012) was filmed in Cleveland.  While in town,
Matthew Fox was arrested for assault for punching the female driver
of a party bus.  He should have been arrested for his Razzie-worthy
performance as a psychotic hitman.  The rest of the cast should’ve
been arrested as co-conspirators.

Tyler Perry plays the title hero, a Detroit psychologist and police
lieutenant.  Edward Norton plays his partner.  Fox plays Picasso,
a sadistic killer hired to kill a billionaire CEO.  Fox murders a
bunch of people and tortures some of them after injecting them with
a drug that leaves his victims conscious but paralyzed and able to
feel everything he does to them.  The movie runs 101 minutes, but
it felt so much longer than I feared I had been injected with that
damned drug and then tortured by this awful movie.

Many of the movies I watch are low-budget projects.  Which at least
gives them some excuse for being lousy.  But Alex Cross was a major
release with a major budget and has no such excuse.  It’s just one
bad movie.  No wonder Morgan Freeman bolted after appearing in two
earlier Cross films.  Not even he could have saved this cinematic
cowpie.  It’s not even worth watching for free.


Attack the Block (2011) is great fun.  This British monster movie
pits a teenage street gang battling alien invaders in their public
housing neighborhood.  Before the night - Guy Fawkes Night - ends,
the muggers will end up fighting both the monsters and a local drug
kingpin and form an alliance with their most recent mugging victim.
The action rarely takes a breather, but, when it does, we get fine
character moments. John Boyega delivers an outstanding performance
as the gang leader, as does Jodie Whittaker as the mugging victim,
a nurse who becomes their combat medic of sorts. Nick Frost adds
comedy to the carnage as the neighborhood weed dealer.  This is my
favorite of the movies I’ve watched recently.


The classic Seven Samurai (1954) begat the classic The Magnificent
(1960) begat the not remotely classic Battle Beyond the Stars
(1980).  Produced by Roger Corman and directed by Jimmy Murakami,
Battle is an endearingly goofy film.  It’s not “so bad it’s good,”
but it is good enough to be an entertaining 105 minutes.

The movie is not without some coolness.  Robert Vaughn plays Gelt,
an intergalactic gun-for-hire not far removed from the character he
played in The Magnificent Seven.  George Peppard is “Space Cowboy,”
a perpetually high gunrunner; he was considered for Steve McQueen’s
role in The Magnificient Seven.  Fans of old TV shows may get some
laughs seeing Richard Thomas, Marta Kristen, Sam Jaffe and Julia
Duffy.  The cast also includes John Saxon and Sybil Danning.  None
of the performances are what I would call good, but Vaughn does his
best with some pretty punk writing.

What I liked best about Battle Beyond the Stars was its intriguing
aliens.  There’s a reptilian slaver who is the last of his kind, a
group of clones who are but five of their universe-spanning shared
intelligence and beings who communicate by radiating heat.  To its
credit, the film manages to spend some time with all of the above.

Despite my negative comments, Battle Beyond the Stars is ripe for
a bigger budget remake.  The basic story, taken as it is from some
classic movies, is good.  With better writing, acting and special
effects, it still wouldn’t be a Star Trek or Star Wars movie event,
but it could be a reason to go to the theater at those times when
there are no genre blockbusters in general release.


Columbiana (2011) stars Zoe Saldana as Cataleya, an assassin whose
side job is seeking vengeance on the vicious drug lord who had her
parents murdered when she was a child.  She witnessed their deaths
and, unlike a certain Gotham City billionaire, she started fighting
back immediately...pinning a killer’s hand to a table with a knife
and then making her escape to the United States.  Taken in by her
uncle, also a ruthless criminal, she insists on being trained to be
an assassin.  She murders without conscience while leaving behind
clues to draw out the drug lord, currently a protected guest of the
U.S.  She is one twisted protagonist.

Written by Luc Besson, who also wrote the Taken movies, Columbiana
is unrelentingly grim.  Outside of Cataleya’s lover, who hasn’t a
clue as to her real identity/occupation and various law-enforcement
agents, there aren’t many good and decent folks in the film.  Even
her elderly grandmother appears to know full well her surviving son
is a criminal.

What makes Columbiana less than vile is Saldana’s fine performance,
some inventive action scenes, a saw-it-coming demise for the hated
drug lord and the film’s conclusion.  Cataleya gets her vengeance,
but she loses everything else of value in her life.  She loses her
family, her lover, her anonymity and, presumably, since her uncle
booked her assassinations, her career.  Even if you assumes she has
bundles of money salted away, you also get the sense that there is
nothing left in her life that will ever bring her even modest joy.
While it may be scant justice for her crimes, it is, at least, some
kind of justice.

Columbiana isn’t a movie I would watch again, but it entertained me
for its 111-minute length.  Which is all I asked of it.

I’ll be back tomorrow with even more movie madness, including my
thoughts on a Indian science fiction film, a movie some think may
have inspired the creation of Sgt. Fury and the Howling Commandoes,
Hong Kong super-heroines, giant killer rabbits and a bad ass hobo
with a shotgun.

© 2013 Tony Isabella

1 comment:

  1. In an odd case of parallel evolution, the first extended story in Marvel's STAR WARS run was also based on THE SEVEN SAMURAI. "Eight for Abuda-3" written by Roy Thomas and drawn by Howard Chaykin for SW #8 introduced Jaxxon, the seven-foot tall, green Lepi (rabbit), and Don-Wan Kihotey who may have been a former Jedi Knight or might have been a deluded old man.


    Andrew Laubacher