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OCEAN’S TWELVE – A REVIEW BY J.D. LAFRANCE

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After the commercial failures of Full Frontal and Solaris in 2002, there was pressure on Steven Soderbergh when he announced that his next film was to be the sequel to the wildly successful Ocean’s Eleven (2001), to not only come up with a box office hit but to also outperform the previous film. With big budget, star-studded casts like the one in Ocean’s Twelve (2004), there is always the danger of having them look too smug and self-indulgent instead of having fun along with the audience. Ocean’s Eleven managed to straddle this line quite well, resulting in an entertaining popcorn movie. Soderbergh kept his cast in check, never letting them go too far over-the-top and shooting it with a style that was always interesting to watch. The big question for the sequel was if he could pull off the same feat without repeating himself too much. Ocean’s Twelve ended making less than its predecessor (but still a lot of money) and cost more while also dividing critics but in some ways I find it a better film.

Danny Ocean (George Clooney) is supposed to be retired and enjoying domestic bliss with Tess (Julia Roberts). However, old habits die-hard and the lure of pulling heists is always calling. She catches him casing a jewelry story on their anniversary. To make matters worse, Terry Benedict (Andy Garcia) is still hot on their trail, tracking down all of the original eleven and letting them know, in his own casually menacing way, that he wants the $160 million, plus interest, that they stole from him in Ocean’s Eleven, and in two weeks time. The montage of him doing this mirrors the one in the first film where Danny and Rusty recruited their crew. If Benedict was an imposing figure in the first film, Andy Garcia makes him even more of a threatening presence in this montage by doing little except exude menace with his eyes and the all-business tone of his voice.

So, Danny gets everybody back together to figure out what to do. Obviously, they need to pull another job but they are too high profile in the United States, so they go to Europe and cross paths with a truly formidable opponent and rival master thief known as the Night Fox (Vincent Cassel), a bored French playboy. He’s jealous of Danny’s status as the world’s greatest thief and is out to prove that he’s the best by having the both of them go after the same thing: the Faberge Imperial Coronation egg. Vincent Cassel plays the Night Fox as an ultra-confident, cocky man in such a way that you want to see Danny and company knock him down a peg.

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ups the difficulty level for our heroes even more by having most of the crew neutralized leaving only Basher (Don Cheadle), Linus (Matt Damon) and Virgil (Scott Caan) left to pull off an impossible heist. So, they bring in Tess to pose as, well, Julia Roberts. Unfortunately, another major movie star is staying at the same hotel, which only adds to the meta aspect. Said movie star gamely plays a fictional version of himself. The scene where he meets Tess as Julia Roberts is very amusing as Damon and Roberts act all star-struck in front of him. It is also interesting in that the meta aspect that was present in Ocean’s Eleven is made even more explicit – something that turned off some critics and audiences but I think works extremely well because Soderbergh isn’t having a cutesy cameo of a movie star for the sake of it but actually incorporating them into the plot and making them an integral part of the scam.

If the first film was about Danny’s redemption by reconciling with Tess, then Ocean’s Twelve is about Rusty’s (Brad Pitt) redemption by reconciling with his past love, Isabel Lahiri (Catherine Zeta-Jones), a determined and quite beautiful Interpol agent. Like Danny’s feelings for Tess potentially compromising his involvement in the heist in Ocean’s Eleven, Rusty’s feelings for Isabel leaves him potentially vulnerable in Ocean’s Twelve. To her credit, Catherine Zeta-Jones fits right in with the European vibe, maintaining just the right mix of determination in nailing Danny and his crew and vulnerability when she’s with Rusty. Their relationship elevates the film ever so slightly above the standard heist story and the conclusion of her subplot is surprisingly emotional and poignant – the highpoint of the trilogy and something you don’t expect from a film like Ocean’s Twelve, which is essentially a feature-length lark.

Matt Damon demonstrates excellent comic timing in this film and is the real stand-out of this strong cast. Early on, Linus asks Rusty if he could have more to do this time out and this moment comes across as quite self-reflexive. It’s as if Damon were almost asking if he could have more screen time in the film itself. In some respects, he is the group’s stammering conscience. There is an amusing scene where Linus, Danny and Rusty meet a contact by the name of Matsui (Robbie Coltrane) for a potential job. Danny, Rusty and Matsui all speak cryptically, which leaves poor Linus totally confused. Damon plays the scene so well as he looks desperately to his cohorts for help or some sort of clue as to what he should say. Put on the spot, Linus finally responds by quoting lyrics from “Kashmir” by Led Zeppelin to hilarious effect.

While doing a press conference in Rome during the promotional tour for Ocean’s Eleven, Steven Soderbergh fell in love with the city and over dinner with producer Jerry Weintraub began thinking about the story and structure for a sequel. He got the idea to set it in Europe and was so inspired that he started writing down ideas. After returning to Los Angeles, Weintraub discovered George Nolfi’s screenplay, entitled Honor Among Thieves, about the greatest thief in America going up against his equal in Europe. It was originally developed for John Woo to direct but Weintraub sent the script to George Clooney, Brad Pitt and Soderbergh. The director came up with the basic idea for the film and thought that it “would be more fun if Twelve was the movie in which everything goes wrong from the get-go.” He ended up merging Nolfi’s script with his own ideas. Soderbergh saw this film as more emotional, character-driven and complicated on a narrative level than the first one.

Prior to the start of principal photography, which lasted 77 days, Julia Roberts found out that she was pregnant and Soderbergh incorporated it into the script. He also met with Vincent Cassel at the 2003 Cannes Film Festival and asked the actor if he would be interested in being in Ocean’s Twelve. He agreed without reading the script because he trusted someone with a reputation like Soderbergh’s. Once filming began, the production spent ten weeks globetrotting all over the world with stops in Chicago, Amsterdam, Paris, Monte Carlo, Lake Cuomo, and Rome. Principal photography concluded with four weeks on three Warner Brothers soundstages in L.A.

Once again Soderbergh keeps the pace brisk and breezy, making the two-hour running time fly by. Like its predecessor, Ocean’s Twelve is beautifully shot with atmospheric lighting and saturated color as evident in the bright yellow that permeates Isabel’s Europol lecture or the green lighting that illuminates the underwater sequence during a heist that Danny and his crew pull off, or the red lighting that dominates the nightclub where Rusty and Isabel meet. Most of the film takes place in Europe and Soderbergh adopts the look of a European film from the 1960s, which also applies to the eclectically groovy soundtrack from David Holmes that evokes a ‘60s Euro-lounge vibe. The director even described the film’s aesthetic as “the most expensive episode of a ‘60s television show ever.” He and Holmes agreed that the score would be completely different from Ocean’s Eleven in order to complement the different look and feel.

Soderbergh is an excellent visual storyteller and this is evident in several scenes that he depicts without any dialogue, instead resorting to music married to visuals that conveys exactly what’s going on. He understands the kind of movie he’s making and doesn’t try to be too cute or wink knowingly at the audience, instead focusing at the task at hand: making a confident, entertaining movie. Granted, Ocean’s Twelve is no Traffic (2000), and it’s not meant to be, but you could do a lot worse with two hours of your time.

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B Movie Glory with Nate: Down, aka The Shaft

  
Ever briefly get stuck in an elevator thats messing with you, malfunctioning and seems to almost have a mischievous mind of its own? That’s the premise of Down, also known as The Shaft. It concerns an elevator in a huge residential/office building that has gone homicidally haywire. It traps, drops and tricks people no end, raising and lowering the interior temperature to dangerous effect and generally just being a great big meanie. No one seems so know what’s going on with it though, especially the mechanic who installed it (Twin Peak’s James Marshall). The incidents accumulate, attracting a perky tabloid reporter (Naomi Watts having a ball) who makes up all kinds of tall tales to explain the situation in sensationalistic terms. This infuriates the CEO of the elevator company (now there’s a job title) played by a snarky Ron Perlman who gets a rant towards Marshall that walked in from a way better script (which leads me to believe it was the spawn of Perlman’s legendary improv skills). There’s also a cop played by Dan Hedeya who can’t seem to figure it out wither. The truth is a lot more interesting than you might expect and has nothing to do with ghosts or spirits at all, but centers around a deranged research scientist (Michael Ironside, whacked out to kingdom come). It’s not the least bit scary, but it’s worth a watch simply for the fact that it’s a movie about a fucking elevator that kills people lol. Cujo and Christine ain’t got nothing on this bitch. The scene where a gaggle of pregnant ladies enter the thing is just priceless in its blatantly gross out manner. Fun, fun stuff and great research to embarrass Watts with sometime down the road if you ever find yourself interviewing her on the red carpet hehe.

Swordfish: A Review by Nate Hill

  

Swordfish tries so hard to be cool, and save for a few moments of smirking silliness, it is pretty goddamned cool. The early 2000’s still carried lingering, reminiscent elements of the 90’s, the super cyber hacker archetype included. The cyber hacker is played by two types of people: basement dwelling, Mountain Dew drinking chatter boxes and virile, sexy supermodels. The latter is employed here, personified by Hugh Jackman as Stanley, a sly devil who can hack into almost anything effortlessly, but has been caught and never allowed to touch a computer again. Enter Gabriel (John Travolta), a silver tongued arch villain out to steal all the money and priceless artifacts he can hope to ever own. Although Travolta isn’t as truly off the rails as in some of his villain roles, the amiable charm he puts forth here is but a ruse to cloud the monster beneath. He’s a very bad man, putting Stanley’s loved ones in jeopardy and forcing him to work computer wizardry for ill gotten riches. Gabriel has a girlfriend named Ginger (Halle Berry, never sexier) who walks a moral tightrope between the two alpha males, torn between roguish indifference and and her conscience. Stanley is also hounded by an FBI Agent (Don Cheadle), with whom he has a tumultuous past. The film resists goin completely by the motions, lulling you just to the border of entropy and then throwing something surprising from a direction you didn’t look in. My favourite scene of the film shows Travolta giving a monologue on bank robbery etiquette, complete with a reference to Sydney Lumet’s Dog Day Afternoon, confirming the fact that this flick has a strong script to go with its pyrotechnics. He flexes his sonic directorial muscles in an especially extraordinary action sequence involving a bus and a helicopter that will seriously make your finger hover over the replay button. Vinnie Jones is an ambassador of cool, in a lively turn as Gabriel’s head thug. Sam Shepherd has fun as a corrupt Senator. There’s also fine work from Zachary Grenier, Tim Dekay, William Mapother, Rudolph Martin and Drea De Matteo. Director Dominic Sena comes from music video land, having also helmed the priceless Nic Cage Bruckheimer-fest Gone in 60 Seconds, as well as the fallout brilliant psycho road thriller Kalifornia. Here he doses the flash and sizzle of 60 seconds with the hard hitting violence of Kalifornia, presented in a story guaranteed to raise a pulse. It’s also got pretty much the coolest poster of 2001. I dare you to find a cooler one, go ahead. Oh, and Travolta’s manscaping here deserves its own spinoff film. 

OCEAN’S ELEVEN – A REVIEW BY J.D. LAFRANCE

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“Ocean’s Eleven was my opportunity to make a movie that has no desire except to give you pleasure, where you surrender without embarrassment or regret.” – Steven Soderbergh

Fresh from the one-two success of Erin Brockovich (2000) and Traffic (2000), Steven Soderbergh made a conscious decision to shift gears and make a purely entertaining film for a major studio. He managed to convince movie stars George Clooney (whom he had already worked with on Out of Sight) and Brad Pitt to take major cuts in their multi-million dollar salaries and headline a remake of the Rat Pack heist film Ocean’s Eleven (1960). With Clooney and Pitt on board, Soderbergh was then able to get an impressive cast including the likes of Matt Damon and Julia Roberts (both of whom also agreed to take pay cuts) and avoid having his film come across as nothing more than a vanity project for a bunch of smug movie stars. On the contrary, Ocean’s Eleven (2001) is a slick heist film in the tradition of The Sting (1973) in the sense that you know the outcome (the good guys win) but the fun is in how they get there as Soderbergh utilizes every stylish technique that he has available at his disposal.

Daniel Ocean (Clooney) has just been released from prison and is eager to return to his high-end criminal enterprises. He sets his sights on Las Vegas with plans to rob three prestigious casinos: the MGM Grand, the Mirage, and the Bellagio, all of which keep their considerable sums of money in an ultra-secure hi-tech vault controlled by Terry Benedict (Andy Garcia) who, incidentally, is currently dating Danny’s ex-wife Tess (Roberts). It’s not going to be easy and so, with the help of his good friend and ace fixer Rusty Ryan (Pitt), they recruit nine experts to help them pull off a near-impossible heist. In addition to the heist, which serves as the main plot, Ted Griffin’s screenplay expertly weaves in a subplot involving Danny attempt to reconnect with Tess.

This film oozes cool right from the opening credits that play over a fantastic shot of the Atlantic City skyline at night accompanied by funky trip-hop type music by Northern Irish disc jockey David Holmes. We meet Rusty wasting his time teaching young movie stars (Holly Marie Combs and Topher Grace among others making fun of themselves) to play cards. We meet him in Hollywood with a cool groove playing over his establishing shot. This sequence is a bit of meta fun as we see Pitt, one of the biggest movie stars on the planet, teaching other movie stars playing a parody of themselves being totally clueless at playing poker only to eventually be hustled by a bemused Danny. Soderbergh even slides in a few sly inside jokes, like Danny asking Topher Grace if it’s hard to make the transition from television to film, which, of course, is exactly what Clooney did. Or, how Grace gets mobbed by autograph hounds while Clooney and Pitt are completely ignored.

One of the best sequences in the film is when Danny and Rusty recruit their crew. The scene where they convince Reuben Tishkoff (Elliott Gould) to bankroll their operation is a wonderful example of how expositional dialogue being delivered in the right way by the right actor can be entertaining and informative as Elliott Gould does a fantastic job of warning Danny and Rusty of just how dangerous Benedict is. From there, each character that Danny and Rusty approach is given their own introduction that briefly and succinctly highlights their unique skill and distinctive personality traits. Linus Caldwell (Damon) is an up-and-coming pickpocket with uncanny dexterity. There’s the Malloy brothers, Virgil (Casey Affleck) and Turk (Scott Caan), two drivers by trade with one of them having an affinity for remote controlled devices and a perchance for bickering and irritating each other, which provides a good source of humor. Livingston Dell (Eddie Jemison) is an electronics expert in the area of surveillance. Basher Tarr (Don Cheadle) is a demolitions expert with Don Cheadle sporting an obviously exaggerated Cockney accent. Yen (Shaobo Qin) is a diminutive top-of-the-line acrobat that can get in and out of any tight space. Finally, there is Saul Bloom (Carl Reiner), a retired flimflam man coaxed back into action by Rusty. Each actor is given at least one scene, often more, to come front and center and do their thing and this is done in a way that doesn’t distract you from the story at hand, which is quite an accomplishment with such a large cast.

David Holmes expertly mixes jazz, funk, soul and hip hop in a way that evokes groovy trip hop or acid jazz but in a retro way that evokes Quincy Jones circa the 1970s. The often-fat bass lines give certain musical cues a confident swagger. There is also plenty of Hammond organ and vibraphone looped to give a lounge-y kind of vibe at times. Later on in the film, Holmes brings in strings and brass to accentuate the romantic subplot between Danny and Tess. Holmes also incorporates songs, like Elvis Presley’s “A Little Less Conversation” to fantastic effect. This came out of watching the original Ocean’s Eleven as Holmes explained in an interview, “Then I tried to think of ways to identify with what was going on – with it being a contemporary film, how to be original, but set within the heart of Las Vegas. Which is where the Elvis song ‘A Little Less Conversation’ came about, because obviously Elvis had a really strong affiliation with Las Vegas, and that track has a very contemporary feel.”

Steven Soderbergh read Ted Griffin’s screenplay in an afternoon in January 2000. The next day he called producer Jerry Weintraub and told him he wanted to direct the film. What he liked about the script was that it didn’t evoke the original 1960 version but “had this one foot back in the heyday of the studio star-driven movie, like Howard Hawks or George Cukor.” Soderbergh had always been drawn to heist films because, “the conflicts are so clear and dramatic. This seemed to be everything that you want a big Hollywood film to be, on the script level.” He had just made two dramas – Erin Brockovich and Traffic – and wanted to make a fun movie. To prepare for shooting Ocean’s Eleven, he watched Ghostbusters (1984) because he was impressed at “that sort of physical scale [that] feels so tossed-off, with such understated performances and obvious generosity among all the performers.” He also studied films by David Fincher, Steven Spielberg and John McTiernan because they knew how to “orchestrate physical action the way I like to see it.” He looked at how these filmmakers used lens length and height, camera movement and editing, as well as, “how they used their extras, how they structured movements within shots that carried you to the next movement and the next.”

Soderbergh got George Clooney involved and half-jokingly told him, “let’s make it an Irwin Allen movie, where they used to have 10 stars.” Originally, the director considered casting Luke and Owen Wilson, Bruce Willis, and Ralph Fiennes as the villain. Once Clooney was on board, they got the rest of the cast to commit at radically reduced rates, starting with Brad Pitt. However, during filming, the cast stayed in their own 7,000-square-foot villas at the Bellagio. Before shooting, Soderbergh told his cast, “Show up ready to work. If you think you’re just going to walk through this, you’re mistaken. If anybody gets smug, we’re dead.” Soderbergh wanted to shoot in the Bellagio, the MGM Grand and the Mirage – an impossible feat for more mere mortals; however, Weintraub had the connections and the clout to make it happen. The production was allowed to shoot on the floor of the casinos during the day, which nobody is given access to and the casino bosses even shut down entire pits for Soderbergh to shoot in. This allowed the director to design shots that were complicated and large in scale.

Soderbergh wanted the lighting for Ocean’s Eleven to be based in reality and to look like it wasn’t lit at all – not a problem in Las Vegas, a place overloaded with every kind of light imaginable. At times, Soderbergh would add some color to enhance the mood for dramatic purposes in order to put the audience inside the world of the film. He also realized that the locations played a large part in the plot and was interested in showing as much of the environment as possible. One challenge Soderbergh faced was the logistics of filming big dialogue scenes with Danny and his crew in a visually interested way. He had a lot of people in confined spaces and didn’t want these scenes to be boring. So, he attempted to frame shots that clearly established where everyone was while also giving them enough depth and geometry to make the characters interesting to look at.

In a nice touch, Ocean’s Eleven never waxes nostalgic about the original film but instead is wistful about Las Vegas as it was in the 1960s when the casinos were still run by the Mob and had yet to be corporatized and Disney-fied. This is reinforced in one of the motivations Danny has of robbing Benedict. It’s not just that he’s dating his ex-wife but Benedict also recently demolished one of the last old school casinos left in Vegas. Unlike Benedict, Danny respects the past and recruits Reuben and Saul, veteran con artists whose heyday was the ‘60s. It’s great to see Soderbergh giving actors like Gould and Reiner screen-time in a major studio film. These guys don’t work nearly enough and their performances in Ocean’s Eleven are a potent reminder of how good they can be if given the right material and the opportunity. Entrusted with only his second major studio film with an A-list budget, Soderbergh effortlessly orchestrates a fun, engaging popcorn movie like an old pro that has been doing this for their entire career.

The Red Riding Trilogy: A Review by Nate Hill

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The Red Riding Trilogy is one of the most dense, absolutely impenetrable pieces of work I’ve ever seen, let alone attempted to dissect with my clunky writing skills. It’s also fairly horrifying, as it chronicles the tale of the Yorkshire Ripper, an elusive and mysterious serial child killer who terrorized this area of Britain through the late 70’s and early 80’s. Viler still are the strong implications that very powerful people, including the brass of the West Yorkshire police, made every disgusting attempt to cover up the crimes and protect the killer, who’s murders included that of children. It’s a brave move by UK’s Channel 4 to openly make such notions obvious within their story, and commendable the level of patience, skill and strong ambition in the undertaking is quite the payoff, whilst simultaneously taking a toll on you for sitting through it. The sheer scope of it must be noted; it’s separated into three feature length films, each vastly different in setting, character and tone, and each blessed with a different director. The filmmakers even went as far as to film the first, which is set in 1974, in 16mm, the second in 35mm being set in 1980 and the third makes a leap to high definition video and takes place in 1983. Such a progression of time is a dismal reflection of the sticky corruption which clings to societies, decaying them stealthily over years, and the few keen individuals who will not let the truth die as long as there is a glimmer of uncertainty. Now, if you asked me exactly what happens over the course of this trilogy, who is who, what has happened to which characters and who is guilty, I simply wouldn’t be able to tell you. It’s a deliberatly fractured narrative told through the prism of dishonest, corrupt psyches and has no use for chronology either. Characters who you saw die in the first film show up in the subsequent ones, actors replace each other in certain roles, and there’s just such a thick atmosphere of confusion and despair that in the 302 minute running time I was not able to make complete sense. I think this is a great tactic to help you realize that the film means to show the futile, cyclical nature of reality, as opposed to a traditionally structured story with a clear cut conclusion. Events spiral into each other with little rhyme or reason, until we feel somewhat lost, knowing full well that terrible events are unfolding in front of our eyes, events that are clouded and just out of our comprehensive grasp in a way that unsettles you and makes you feel as helpless as the few decent people trying to solve the case. One such person is an investigative reporter searching for the truth in the first film, played by Andrew Garfield. He stumbles dangerously close to answers which are promptly yanked away by the sinister forces of the Yorkshire police, brutalized and intimidated into submission. He comes close though, finding a lead in suspiciously sleazy real estate tycoon Sean Bean, who’s clearly got ties to whatever is really going on. The level of willful corruption demonstrated by the police is sickening. “To the North, where we do what we want” bellows a chief, toasting dark secrets to a roomful of cop comrades who are no doubt just as involved as him. The kind of blunt, uncaring dedication to evil is the only way to explain such behaviour, because in the end it’s their choice and they know what they’re doing. Were these officers as vile as the film depicts in the real life incidents? Someone seems to think so. Who’s to know? Probably no one ever at this point, a dreadful feeling which perpetuates the themes of hopelessness. The second film follows a nasty Police Chief (David Morrissey) who is bothered by old facts re emerging and seems to have a crisis of conscience. Or does he? The clichéd cinematic logline “no one is what they seem” has never been more pertinent than in these three films. It’s gets to a point where you actually are anticipating every single person onscreen to have some buried evil that will get upturned. A priest (Peter Mullan is superb) shows up in the second film only to be involved in dark turns of the third. Sean Bean’s character and his legacy hover over everything like a black cloud. A mentally challenged young man is held for years under suspicion of being the Ripper. A disturbed abuse survivor (wild eyed Robert Sheehan) seeks retribution. A Scotland Yard Detective (Paddy Considine) nobly reaches for truth. Many other characters have conundrums of roles to play in a titanic cast that includes Cara Seymour, Mark Addy, Sean Harris, James Fox, Eddie Marsan, Shaun Dooley, Joseph Mawle and more. The process in which the story unfolds is almost Fincher – esque in its meticulous assembly, each character and plot turn a cog in a vast machine whose purpouse and ultimate function are indeed hard to grasp. I need to sit down and watch it at least two more times through before the cogs turn in a way that begins to make sense to me, and a measurable story unfolds. It’s dark, dark stuff though, presenting humanity at its absolute worst, and in huge quantities too, nightmarish acts that go to huge levels of effort just to produce evil for.. well, it seems just for evil’s sake, really. The cast and filmmakers craft wonderful work though, and despite the blackness there is a macabre, almost poetic allure to it, beauty in terror so to speak. It’s rough, it’s long, it’s dense and it thoroughly bucks many a cinematic trend that let’s you reside in your perceptive comfort zone, beckoning you forth with extreme narrative challenge, an unflinching gaze into the abyss no promise of catharsis at the end of the tunnel. There’s nothing quite like it, I promise you.

Rapid Fire: A Review by Nate Hill

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Along with the classic The Crow, Brandon Lee made few other films before his heartbreaking accidental death. His natural charisma and likeability he brought to action hero roles, accenting the tough guy qualities with an angelic vulnerability, was tragically cut short by the incident. However, Rapid Fire is a gift to fans of both Lee and the action genre alike. It’s a little further away from the notoriety of The Crow, but packs a fuming punch of martial arts, gunplay and tough talking character actors strutting their stuff to a tune that any fan of the genre can hum along to. Lee plays Jake, a young college student with turmoil in his past, haunted by an incident involving a loved one in the Tienemen Square disaster. During a visit to Chicago, he inadvertently witnesses a brutal gangland murder perpetrated by drug kingpin Tony Serrano (Nick Mancuso). This immediately puts him in the hot seat and pretty much on his own after the federal agent assigned to him (Raymond J. Barry) betrays him. His only hope lies with grouchy, paternal Chicago Detective Mace Ryan (Powers Boothe) who is on his own rampaging crusade to bring down the drug trade. Jake merely wants to survive and get out of the mess he’s found himself in. Together they punch, kick, shoot and strategize their way out of getting offed by the mafia, and kick some serious scumbag ass along the way. Lee is ultimate protagonist material: his strong points arise out of the soft touch, never being brash or hogging the screen, always serving up a helping of humble that make the ass kicking resonate tenfold. Boothe is pricelessly grumpy as the haggard detective, showing brief but unmistakable glimpses of the bruised warrior’s heart beneath, rekindled by his bond with Jake. Mancuso is like a rabid pit bull let off the chain as Serrano, a truly untethered piece of geniune psychopathic anarchy. But that’s him, always the under sung wild card who lights up his scenes with wild eyed tenacity. Chinese acting legend Tzi Ma also clocks in as a heroin dealer with a short temper, looking very young which is even made into a meta joke itself. It’s pure uncut action, somehow feeling like more thanks to Lee’s incredible presence, as well as Boothe and Mancuso adding their own lively brand of spice to an already simmering stew. Essential viewing for any action disciple.

B Movie Glory with Nate: Death Race 2

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Death Race 2 is one of those sequels that is a little more colorful and off the wall than the first one, and less gloomy. Death Race tried a bit too hard to play it straight and serious, and while still a gnarly flick, I personally have to give the edge to this one simply for coming a little closer to the trashy mark that the genre begs for. Any franchise with a title like Death Race has just got to have a touch of camp, some balls out B-movie action and a good dose of pulp. This one is actually a prequel, now that I think about it, taking place in the same penitentiary that the first film did, a year or so before Jason Statham’s arrival. It follows the origin of Carl Lucas (Luke Goss), who would go on to be the masked driver known as Frankenstein in the original film. Lucas starts out as a getaway driver and thief for ruthless mobster Marcus Kane (Sean Bean). When a heist gone wrong lands him in Terminal Island prison, he’s introduced to ‘Death Match’, bloody gladiatorial fare instigated by a random prison fight caught on camera and broadcasted online. The prison warden Weyland (Ving Rhames) has his moral doubts, but in swoops opportunistic corporation head September Jones (Lauren Cohan) with a sociopathic agenda to turn simple combat events into all out vehicular warfare, with state of the art machines and artillery, all privately funded. Since this genre exists in a world without anyone, government or other, to protest, Death Race is born. The rules go that if you win a certain amount of races, you go free. Kane has his own plans on the outside though, making a pretty penny off of Lucas and his driving, cruelly trying to keep him inside. Bean is a cut and dry psycho as Kane, relishing in the kind of nasty arch villain skin that action films have to offer. Goss has always had a heart and level of gravitas along with his physical intensity (his villain in Blade 2 is still legendary), which he brings out in Lucas. Danny Trejo comes along for the ride as Goldberg, Lucas’s mechanic. The first Death Race was solid, but a bit monochrome in the personality department. This one lets its freak flag fly, getting down and dirty with the bone crunching violence, and thundering motor mayhem. It sinks a level below the first one, which is sometimes a great thing for a particular franchise. It knows how over the top it needs to be, and is all the better for it.