A Movie A Day #237: Detention (2003, directed by Sidney J. Furie)


It’s Die Hard in a school!

A group of gun-wielding drug runners have broken into Hamilton High so that they can use it as the base of operations for a huge drug deal.  With the Vice President scheduled to be traveling through town that weekend, they figure that the school will be deserted and no one will be paying attention to what’s going on.  What they failed to consider is that not every student goes home after the final bell rings.  One paraplegic student is still in the library, doing research.  Two more are in the auditorium, getting high.  There’s even a few “bad” kids in detention, including one of whom is pregnant.  Even worse, for the drug dealers, is that Sam Decker (Dolph Lundgren!) is in charge of detention.  He may teach phys ed and history but before he decided to help broaden young minds, Sam was an army ranger.

Of all of the performers who starred in direct-to-video action movies in the 90s and early aughts, Dolph Lundgren was the best actor.  When considering that his competition largely came from Steven Seagal and Jean-Claude Van Damme, that may sound like damning with faint praise but the fact that Lundgren could actually memorize his lines and hit his marks actually did make a difference.  It is easy to imagine Detention with Lundgren and the results are not pretty.  Steven Seagal would have been too busy whispering his lines and waiting for his stunt double to show up.  Jean-Claude Van Damme would have gotten too caught up in doing the splits to waste his time worrying about the kids trapped in the auditorium.  Not Lundgren, though.  Dolph Lundgren’s too busy getting shit done to worry about any of that.

Though the action sequences are top notch, Detention would work better if the villains were Lundgren’s equal but they’re not.  One reason why Die Hard worked was because Alan Rickman and his men always seemed like they were capable of killing Bruce Willis.  In Detention, the main villains are three Hungarian punks and a flamboyant American, Chester Lamb (Alex Karzis), and none of them seem like they could even carry Dolph Lundgren’s shoes, much less defeat him in a combat situation.  Scenes where Chester pretends to be an innocent bystander seem like they were included to remind us of the first meeting between Alan Rickman and Bruce Willis in Die Hard but Chester Lamb is no Hans Gruber.  There is just no way that Dolph Lundgren is going to lose to someone named Chester Lamb.

Even with the underwhelming villains, Detention is a gloriously stupid action movie that is entertaining because Lundgren gives it his all.

Guilty Pleasure No. 31: Hail, Caesar! (dir by the Coen Brothers)


Sometimes, I wonder if I was the only filmgoer who actually enjoyed Hail, Caesar! when it was released in February.

Oh, don’t met wrong.  I know that I’m being a bit overdramatic when I say that.  It got some good reviews from the critics, though the praise was rather muted when compared to the reviews that traditionally greet the latest film from the Coen Brothers.  I know more than a few people who have agreed with me that Hail, Caesar! was an entertaining lark of a film.

But I know a lot more people who absolutely hated Hail, Caesar!  Of course, no film is going to please everyone and the Coen Brothers have always had a tendency to attempt to deliberately alienate their audience.  But what has always struck me is the fact that the people who disliked Hail, Caesar seem to really, really dislike it.  Talk to them and you get the feeling that they view Hail, Caesar as almost being some sort of a crime against both humanity and cinema.

Taking place in a stylized Hollywood in 1951, Hail, Caesar! tells the story of Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin).  Eddie is a shadowy figure.  As head of production at Capitol Pictures, Eddie’s job is to keep the “bad” behavior of the stars from getting out into the press.  (The press is represented by Tilda Swinton who, in a typical Coen Brothers twist, plays twin sisters who are rival gossip columnists.  If the thought of that makes you smile, you are potentially a part of the right audience for Hail Caesar.  If it makes you roll your eyes, you should probably avoid the film.)  Eddie is the most powerful man in Hollywood and he will do anything to protect the image of the American film industry.  He will lie.  He will cheat.  He will threaten.  He is so ruthless and so good at his job that even Lockheed Martin is trying to hire him away from Capitol.  And yet, at the same time, Eddie is also a family man and a Catholic who is so devout that he goes to confession on a nearly hourly basis.

(For all you non-Catholics out there, Pope Francis only goes to confession twice a month.)

Hail, Caesar! follows Eddie as he deals with a series of potential problems.  Temperamental director Laurence Laurentz (Ralph Fiennes) is upset because he’s been forced to cast Hobie Doyle (Alden Ehrenreich, giving the film’s best performance), a good-natured but inarticulate cowboy star, in his sophisticated comedy.  Synchronized swimmer DeeAnna Moran (Scarlett Johansoon) is not only pregnant but unmarried as well!  (It’s the 50s, remember.)

However, the biggest crisis is that Baird Whitlock (George Clooney) has vanished from the set of his latest film. A mysterious group known as The Future has taken credit for kidnapping him.  It’s not really much of a spoiler to reveal that The Future is a cell of communist scriptwriters and they are determined to convert the rather dumb Baird to the struggle.  As opposed to most films about Hollywood in the 50s, the communist screenwriters are portrayed as being a bunch of self-righteous and rather cowardly nags, the majority of whom spend more time debating minutiae than actually trying to the overthrow capitalism.  In many ways, Hail, Caesar is the anti-Trumbo.

As you might guess from the plot description, there’s a lot going on in Hail, Caesar but none of it really adds up too much.  Nor is it supposed to.  We’re encouraged to laugh at these frantic characters, as opposed to sympathize with them.  Eddie Mannix and Hobie Doyle both emerge as heroes because they’re the only characters who remain calm and confident, regardless of what strangeness is happening onscreen.  Eddie may be ruthless, the film tells us, but at least he gets results.  Hobie may not be the smartest or most talented guy in Hollywood, we are told, but at least he doesn’t pretend to be anything other than who he is.

Hail, Caesar! is a bit of a lark, a celebration of style over substance.  As far as Coen Brother films go, Hail, Caesar has more in common with Burn After Reading than No Country For Old Men.  The film is largely an inside joke aimed at people who know the history of Hollywood, which is perhaps why some viewers reacted so negatively.  Inside jokes are fun when you’re in on the joke.  When you’re not in on it, though, they’re just annoying.

As for me, I thoroughly enjoyed Hail, Caesar!  It may not be the Coens at their best but it’s a lot of fun and it appealed me as both a history nerd and a lover of old movies.  The best parts of Hail, Caesar! are the scenes that parody the largely forgotten, big-budget studio productions of the 1950s.  This is the rare film that acknowledges that not every film made before the 1960s was a masterpiece.  The Coens love movies but that doesn’t keep them from getting a little bit snarky.  For example, check out this production number featuring Channing Tatum:

Is Hail, Caesar self-indulgent?

Yes.

Is it largely an inside joke?

Yes.

Did I absolutely adore it?

You better believe I did.

Hail,_Caesar!_Teaser_poster

Previous Guilty Pleasures

  1. Half-Baked
  2. Save The Last Dance
  3. Every Rose Has Its Thorns
  4. The Jeremy Kyle Show
  5. Invasion USA
  6. The Golden Child
  7. Final Destination 2
  8. Paparazzi
  9. The Principal
  10. The Substitute
  11. Terror In The Family
  12. Pandorum
  13. Lambada
  14. Fear
  15. Cocktail
  16. Keep Off The Grass
  17. Girls, Girls, Girls
  18. Class
  19. Tart
  20. King Kong vs. Godzilla
  21. Hawk the Slayer
  22. Battle Beyond the Stars
  23. Meridian
  24. Walk of Shame
  25. From Justin To Kelly
  26. Project Greenlight
  27. Sex Decoy: Love Stings
  28. Swimfan
  29. On the Line
  30. Wolfen

“THE GUILTY WILL BE PUNISHED!”: The Punisher (1989, directed by Mark Goldblatt)


The-Punisher“What the fuck do you call 125 murders in 5 years?”

“Work in progress.”

With that line, Dolph Lundgren claimed the role of Frank Castle as his own.

Who is Frank Castle?  A former cop, he was mistakenly believed to be dead after mobsters killed his wife and children.  He has spent five years waging a one man war on the Mafia.  When not killing the criminal element, he spends his time naked in the sewers and having conversations with God.

“Come on God,” he says, “answer me. For years I’m asking why, why are the innocent dead and the guilty alive? Where is justice? Where is punishment? Or have you already answered, have you already said to the world here is justice, here is punishment, here, in me.”

Everyone knows him as the Punisher.  Only his former partner, Detective Berkowtiz (Lou Gossett, Jr.) suspects that the Punisher is actually Frank Castle.

Frank has been so effective in his one-man war on crime that the Mafia is now permanently weakened.  Plotting to take over city’s underworld, the Yakuza arrives in New York City.  Their leader, Lady Tanaka (Kim Miyori), kidnaps the son of Gianni Franco (Jereon Krabbe) and threatens to kill him unless Franco turns his operation over to her.  The Punisher and Franco team up to rescue Franco’s son and to destroy the Yakuza.  Even as the two works together, the Punisher makes sure that Franco knows that he will be punished for being a criminal.

“There’s a limit to revenge, you know,” Franco says.

“I guess I haven’t reached mine yet,” The Punisher answers.

With the current popularity of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, it is easy to forget that, in the 80s and 90s, almost all Marvel movies were straight-to-video affairs like this one, made with budgets so low that they could not even afford a Stan Lee cameo.  The Punisher was one of the few halfway entertaining ones.  It may not be a great movie but when compared to the 1990 version of Captain America or the Roger Corman-produced Fantastic Four, The Punisher looks like a masterpiece.  When this movie was first released, The Punisher was one of the most popular of Marvel’s characters, starring in three separate titles.  While the movie embraces the Punisher’s violent methods and reactionary worldview, it also make some unnecessary chances to the character, not only tweaking his origin story by making Frank a former cop (instead of a grieving father whose family fell victim to random mob violence) but also doing away with The Punisher’s iconic skull shirt.

Marvel's Punisher

Marvel’s Punisher

Dolph Lundgren's Punisher

Dolph Lundgren’s Punisher

Can a punisher without a skull still be The Punisher?

Surprisingly, he can.  Dolph Lundgren is not only physically right for the role but he is also believable as a psychologically damaged vigilante.  This Punisher could teach Deadpool a thing or two.  After the Punisher kills one gangster in front of the man’s terrified son, he tells him, “Stay a good boy and grow up to be a good man.  Because if you don’t, I’ll be waiting.”  When the boy aims his father’s gun at him, the Punisher places his forehead against the barrel and says, “Do it.”  When you consider that The Punisher was originally introduced, in the pages of The Amazing Spider-Man, as someone who would shoot jaywalkers because they had broken the law, you can see that Lundgren’s performance really gets to the twisted soul of the character.

Even without the skull, Lundgren’s Punisher is still far superior to the versions played by Tomas Jane and Ray Stevenson.  When Jon Bernthal plays the role in the second season of Daredevil (and officially brings the character into the MCU), he will hopefully have learned some lessons from watching Dolph Lundgren.

Punisher

 

2014 in Review: The Best of Lifetime and SyFy


sharknado-2-poster

Hello there and welcome to January!

This is the time of year that the Shattered Lens usually takes one final look back at the best and worst of the previous year’s offerings in cinema, television, literature, and music!  Last year, I kicked things off by taking a look at the best that the SyFy network had to offer.

Unfortunately, SyFy didn’t produce as many original films in 2014 as they did in 2013.

However, my beloved Lifetime network remained a consistent showcase for some of the best and worst melodrama that one could hope for.

With that in mind, here are my nominees for the best films and performances that were featured on either the SyFy or the Lifetime network last year!  As always, winners are listed in bold.

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Best Film

Battle of the Damned

Flowers in the Attic

Grumpy Cat’s Worst Christmas Ever

*Lizzie Borden Took An Axe*

Sharknado 2

Starving in Suburbia

Best Actress

Kate Beckinsale in The Trials of Cate McCall

Maria Bello in Big Driver

Annie Heise in The Good Mistress

Tara Reid in Sharknado 2

*Christina Ricci in Lizzie Borden Took An Axe*

Kierna Shipka in Flowers in the Attic

Best Supporting Actress

Kendra Anderson in The Good Mistress

*Ellen Burstyn in Flowers in the Attic*

Clea DuVall in Lizzie Borden Took An Axe

Heather Graham in Petals on the Wind

Tina Ivlev in Death Clique

Izabella Miko in Starving in Suburbia

Best Actor

Trevor Donavon in Bermuda Tentacles

Mason Dye in Flowers in the Attic

Michael Keaton in Blindsided

Dolph Lundgren in Battle of the Damned

Patrick Muldoon in Finders Keepers

*Ian Ziering in Sharknado 2*

Best Supporting Actor

James Cromwell in The Trials of Cate McCall

David Field in Battle of the Damned

*Griff Furst in Status Unknown*

Judd Hirsch in Sharknado 2

Mark McGrath in Sharknado 2

John Savage in Bermuda Tentacles

Best Director

Doug Campbell for Death Clique

Deborah Chow for Flowers in the Attic

Anthony C. Ferrante for Sharknado 2

*Nick Gomez for Lizzie Borden Got An Axe*

Christopher Hutton for Battle of the Damned

Tara Miele for Starving in Suburbia

Best Screenplay

Kayla Alpert for Flowers in the Attic

Tim Hill and Jeff Morris for Grumpy Cat’s Worst Christmas Ever

Stephen Kay for Lizzie Borden Took An Axe

Thunder Levin for Sharknado 2

*Tara Miele for Starving in Suburbia*

Griff Furst and Marcy Holland for Status Unknown

Flowers in the Attic

Tomorrow, I’ll continue my look back at 2014 by revealing my picks for the 16 worst films of 2014!

Previous Entries in Our Look Back At 2014:

Things That I Dug In 2014 Off The Top Of My Head

 

 

Trailer: The Expendables 2 (Official)


In 2010 Stallone released his love letter to all things 80’s action with his ensemble actioner The Expendables. The film was a modest success, but not the huge one some thought it would be considering it’s cast was made up of action stars of the past 20-30 years. Yet, it’s box-office numbers made the studio heads at Lionsgate happy enough that they greenlit a sequel.

This sequel, The Expendables 2, finally gets it’s official trailer and it looks to be more of the same as the previous film, but to a new level. The previous comes back with expanded roles for Bruce Willis and Arnold Schwarzenneger who had brief cameos in the first film. This sequel also adds Chuck Norris to the cast and Jean-Claude Van Damme in the role of the film’s villain. There’s really no need to explain the plot of the film. What audiences should expect is lots of gunfire, explosions, testosterone-laced interaction between the actors and more explosions.

Stallone backs off the director’s chair this time around and hand’s over to veteran action director Simon West.

The Expendables 2 is set for an August 17, 2012 release date.

A Quickie Review: The Expendables (dir. by Sylvester Stallone)


Lisa Marie has already done a wonderful job of reviewing Sylvester Stallone’s latest action vehicle, The Expendables. I’ll keep my review to a quickie format since her review went into detail and my thoughts ran at a similar path.

To start things I will say that despite the obvious gigantic leaps in logic one may have to take to buy into Stallone’s latest once that leap has been taken then The Expendables becomes a piece of mind-numbingly loud, fun and entertaining piece of popcorn cinema. Yes, this film is not going to break any new grounds in cinematic history (though in terms of piecing together a cast so manly and testosterone-fueled it may). Stallone will not have found his inner-Bergman or even his closeted-McTiernan. What The Expendables has shown would be how Stallone knows exactly what his core audience wants to see.

His film is quite lean to the level of anorexic when one has to describe it’s plot and characters. The film’s main plot involves Stallone and his band of expert mercenaries (using the film’s title as their name) being hired by a Mr. Church (Bruce Willis in an uncredited cameo) who wants them to overthrow a certain dictator-general who rules a small South American island nation called Vilena. Stallone and his writers try to add some complexities to this set-up of past CIA dealings with the general and rogue agents (sounds like rogue CIA agents are the villains of the season for 2010 with The Losers and The A-Team also having their own rogue agent) and daddy issues. But all that was just gristle that could’ve been taken out of the porterhouse that this film ended up being.

The Expendables works best when bought into it as being a throwback, meat and potatoes type of action flick. It definitely owes much to the many action flicks that got churned out for film and direct-to-video in the hundreds during the 80’s. Even the casting brings to mind the typical casting list of 80’s action. Take the most recognizable (then move down the tiers) action stars of the day, put them together, add guns and explosions and you got yourself an actioner. And boy does this flick have tons of explosions and a veritable buffet table of weapons on-hand. My favorite has to be the AA-12 assault shotgun carried by Terry Crews’ character Caesar. A character who seemed written just someone will come into an action scene firing this most awesome of weapons. When Crews’ Caesar does put the AA-12 into use the theater I was in erupted in cheers (yeah, cheering nameless soldiers getting shotgunned off their feet seems tackless, but oh so fun!).

I really don’t need to go too much into the plot in detail. What I had mentioned earlier and what Lisa Marie has already written pretty much explains everything. The film’s cast of past and current action stars have chemistry together. Though I will say that the chemistry may be just due to the fact that they all are in on the joke while making the film. They seem to know not to take the screenplay seriously and just go with the flow of the action. We’re not watching a film about Stallone’s character interacting with Statham’s or Rourke’s or Li’s. We’re watching Stallone shooting the shit with the others and there just happened to be cameras around them rolling. The only thing missing from the non-action scenes between the cast members were stripper poles, dancers and a few Hell’s Angels bikers doing boucner duties (maybe the director’s cut edition of the dvd/blu-ray will put those back in).

Now, what would a Stallone flick be without talking about the action. While the action scenes are not revolutionary and not even stylisticly different the way the action in The Losers and The A-Team were shot again Stallone stuck to 80’s meat-and-potatoes. The action scenes were reminiscent of scenes from Commando, Rambo: First Blood Part II and Die Hard. It was a by-the-numbers, point a to point b style of filming an action scene that audiences will accept with a nostalgic smile or dismiss as being boring and been-there-done-that. The one thing Stallone added to these scenes which made them feel somewhat fresh and new was the brutal and gory way people reactedwhen their clumsiness made them get in the way of the thousands of bullets, shotgun shells and explosions. Stallone first showed this in its over-the-top glory in his previous film, Rambo, and he uses the same style in a slightly more subdued way in this film.

I will like to point out one particular action sequence which was brief but done with a certain panache that convinced me that Stallone should just crank out action flicks for the rest of his career. I’m talking about a point in the middle section of the flick when Stallone and Statham use their team seaplane to strafe then firebomb the waterfront docks in Vilena. Part of me knew what was going to happen when they began their run but by the time it ended I was smiling like a goofy 8-year old kid watching his first rated-R action movie. Yeah, The Expendables definitely plucked the nostalgia strings in this film-fan’s heart.

One other way to look at this flick is to compare it to Stallone’s Rambo which also had a mercenary team who unwittingly becomes sidekick to Rambo by the film’s end. I, and more than a few other reviewers, where actually interested in seeing a film with Rambo and said mercenary team in a film together. While such a film would’ve been one of the most violent if not the stadard bearer if ever made we’ll just have to settle for a more tame version with The Expendables. Maybe this flick will make that particular spin-off happen down the line.

I would like to say that The Expendables had more to offer than the guns, explosions and overwhelming aura of testosterone, but I’d lying if I did. That’s all one needed to know going into the theater to watch this flick. To expect anymore, even a decent dialogue, would be asking for sauteed mushrooms and artichokes when all that’s needed is that porterhouse cooked just above rare and a six-pack of brews. Just think of The Expendables as that kind of meal and one will enjoy the bloody fun being had by all on the big-screen.