5 Days of War


5 Days of War

Another New York City marathon gets underway!

(2011) War (Anchor Bay) Rupert Friend, Emmanuelle Chriqui, Heather Graham, Jonathan Schaech, Andy Garcia, Val Kilmer, Richard Coyle, Rade Serbedzija, Dean Cain, Ken Cranham, Mikko Nousiainen, Mikheil Gomiashvili, Antje Traue. Directed by Renny Harlin

 

There is nothing good or noble about war. Men have waxed poetic about war and its virtues, but the truth of war is that it is savage and horrible, appealing only to the base instincts of men in reality – the need to take by force that which isn’t given freely. There is nothing noble about war.

War correspondent Thomas Anders (Friend) knows that better than most. The girl he loved (Graham) was caught in the crossfire during one of his assignments and left him alone and bitter. Then, a colleague, a cheerfully debauched Dutchman (Kilmer) points Anders in the direction of Georgia – not the state, the Russian republic – which was on the brink of war with Russia. The Georgian president, Mikheil Saakshvili (Garcia) frets and wonders why the West isn’t helping his tiny Republic take on the Russian juggernaut but the West is mostly focusing on the Beijing Olympics. Priorities.

Anders brings along his trusty cameraman Sebastian Ganz (Coyle) and manage to get in the thick of a wedding that winds up being scattered to the four winds when shelling interrupts the ceremony. They wind up hooking up with Tattia (Chriqui) whose sister’s wedding it was. She agrees to serve as their interpreter in exchange for them helping her locate and reunite with her family.

They witness the Russian army committing some atrocities and get it on film. The Russian commander Aleksandr Demidov (Serbedzija) gets wind of this and sends his brutal mercenary commando Danlil (Nousiainen) after them. Anders and Ganz get their footage onto a flash drive and try to escape to a place of safety where they can get their footage to the authorities. The trouble is, the authorities are corrupt and the major networks disinterested. Somehow Anders is going to have to find a way to make the world listen.

Harlin has directed some pretty nifty action films in his day including Speed but has hit a dry patch of late. This isn’t going to help him get back into the game to be honest. I understand that the film was at least partially financed by Georgia and the country allowed some of their military equipment to be used in the film and quite frankly part of the film’s highlights are the very realistically staged battle sequences.

However in a very real way that’s a deal with the devil; the film is certainly from the Georgian point of view with the Russians being loathsome monsters and the Georgians martyrs. The real war – and it was a real war – wasn’t like that. Like most conflicts, there wasn’t one villain and one hero although as with most conflicts both sides saw it that way.

Anyone who’s seen films like The Year of Living Dangerously will recognize most of the clichés about war correspondents in war situations. Whether or not they’re true (and for the most part they’re based in truth but like most Hollywood clichés made extreme) they still ring hollow here; it feels like a movie we’ve seen before only not as well made. Sure it’s not completely without value but it just feels more like propaganda.

When a film quotes “The first casualty in war is the truth” and then goes on to show only an aspect of it, two things happen – first, we are reminded that truth is often a matter of perspective. What one side considers unshakable fact the other usually considers to be an outright lie. Second, the filmmakers lose their credibility amid the further hypocrisy of trotting out Georgian survivors of war atrocities to tell their stories. At no point is any Russian allowed to refute any of this.

I’m not saying that the Russians didn’t do some of the things you see here – I have no doubt that they did. I’m certainly not excusing the behavior; it’s just that I don’t believe one side was made up of saints and the others sinners. The Georgians have their own culpability to bear here and we don’t get to see it, leaving the proceedings uncomfortably one-sided. A little more honesty would have made for a better movie.

WHY RENT THIS: Realistic war action.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: One-sided to the point of ridiculousness. Overwrought and cliché.

FAMILY VALUES: Lots of war violence and bad language but there are also some scenes of war atrocities that might be a bit too intense for younger and more sensitive viewers.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Early on President Saakshvili can be seen chewing on his tie; this was based on an actual incident in which the real President Saakshvili was accidentally caught on-camera when he didn’t think that it was filming munching on his tie. The footage can still be found on the Internet if you Google it.

NOTABLE HOME VIDEO EXTRAS: None listed.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $17,479 on a $12M production budget; even those without math skills know this was a box office dud.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Bang Bang Club

FINAL RATING: 5/10

NEXT: Meet the Parents

Deep Blue Sea


Deep Blue Sea
Thomas Jane is slightly overmatched.

(1999) Action Thriller (Warner Brothers) Thomas Jane, Saffron Burrows, Samuel L. Jackson, Jacqueline McKenzie, Michael Rapaport, Stellan Skarsgard, LL Cool J, Aida Turturro, Cristos, Daniel Bahimo Rey, Valente Rodriguez, Brent Roam, Eyal Podell, Erinn Bartlett. Directed by Renny Harlin

Several years ago, Hollywood churned out three movies in a row – Deep Star Six, Leviathan and The Abyss – that all featured a claustrophobic monster hunt in a cramped undersea station environment. Of those only the latter had any merit as James Cameron, pre-Titanic, got to work out his aquatic fixation.

You’d think Hollywood would have learned. This is a movie that crams in as many clichés as the producers thought they could fit into a single movie; mad scientists messing with Mother Nature, Mother Nature turning bitchy on the mad scientist, taciturn brooding hero with a checkered past, a group of researchers trapped on an underwater research facility by a big ol’ storm, a Terrible Secret, killer sharks ripping people into bite-sized hunks o’ gore and monsters WAY smarter than the trapped station personnel. Yes, all this and comic relief too.

Doctors McAlister (Burrows) and Whitlock (Skarsgard) are doing research into eradicating Alzheimer’s by testing their drugs on sharks, but all they wind up with is really smart sharks.  Diver Carter Blake (Jane) is thrown into the equation to save the day after a combination of a really bad storm and some pissed off super-smart sharks wreck the station and cut off the survivors only hope of escape.

Now, I’ll watch Samuel L. Jackson in a bad movie any day of the week, and his presence here earns the movie the stars it gets. Jackson is a wealthy man with compassion and a conscience; in short, the kind of guy who doesn’t really exist in real life. He has the best moments in the movie, including a pep talk that ends up unexpectedly and to great effect. Most of the other actors here really, um, tank.

LL Cool J, who plays a devout chef, utters the best line of the movie when things look bleak and it looks like the sharks are about to break into the humans’ temporary sanctuary: “I’m (doomed). Brothers always get eaten in situations like this.” The rapper-turned-actor is actually pretty likable despite a poorly-written character.

This isn’t one of the movies that director Renny Harlin will proudly display in his list of accomplishments. Some of the shark effects are nifty, but for the most part, LOOK fake. Too much CGI ruins the soup, folks. A little less cliché and a little more inventiveness might have saved this movie, but after Jaws let’s face it; no other shark movie is ever going to come close.

WHY RENT THIS: Samuel L. Jackson and LL Cool J are worth watching. Or you really like sharks.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Cliché soup. Poorly written characters give the actors very little to work with. CGI is unbearable in places.

FAMILY MATTERS: There’s quite a bit of shark gore here and a few choice bad words.

NOTABLE DVD FEATURES: There’s a featurette on the usage of real sharks and mechanical sharks in the movie, and the drawbacks of both.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $164.7M on a $60M production budget; the theatrical run was quite profitable.

FINAL RATING: 4/10

TOMORROW: The Six Days of Darkness continue!

12 Rounds


12 Rounds

John Cena has an idea of how to deal with Randy Orton.

(20th Century Fox) John Cena, Steve Harris, Ashley Scott, Aidan Gillen, Brian White, Gonzalo Melendez, Taylor Cole. Directed by Renny Harlin

Police officers are sworn to serve and protect the populace, but the fact is that they are all only human. When everything they love is on the line, how far would one police officer go?

In New Orleans, the feds are tracking Miles Jackson (Gillen), a notorious terrorist, but he turns out to be far too clever for them and escapes their clutches with the aid of his girlfriend Erica (Cole) and accomplice. He is not too clever, however, to avoid the eagle-eyed NOPD patrolman Danny Fisher (Cena) who spots the terrorist’s escape vehicle being driven by his girlfriend. Despite his partner Hank Carver’s (White) misgivings, Danny pulls them over not realizing Miles is hiding in the trunk.

A shoot-out ensues in which Carver is shot, although not seriously and the bad guys flee in their muscle car. Danny pursues them on foot, cutting through yards until he miraculously catches up and uses a conveniently nearby boat to stop the car in its tracks. When the girlfriend attempts to flee the scene on foot, she is cut down by a speeding truck (which apparently didn’t see the boat blocking the street) and killed.

Of course, Miles blames Danny for the death of his girlfriend and plots an elaborate revenge. A year later Miles escapes from prison and kidnaps Danny’s girlfriend Molly (Scott). He informs Danny that he will have to perform a number of elaborate and dangerous tasks. If he fails at any one of them, Molly will die. With the FBI getting involved, New Orleans will turn into a battleground between these two deadly men.

Director Renny Harlin has quite an action pedigree, with such action classics as Die Hard 2 and The Long Kiss Goodnight. While this isn’t to the level of those big-budget films, it’s actually quite satisfactory as an energetic modern action film. Cena, better known as a WWE wrestler, proves himself to be a promising action star, much in the same way The Rock did at a similar point in his career. Does he have the same kind of talent as Dwayne Johnson? I’m not sure, but if he wants to pursue the acting thing I think he could have a future ahead of him. He’s got the charisma and the looks to do it.

The problem here is that the script tends to ask you to take an awful lot on faith. Several of the situations really stretch the boundaries of believability to the breaking point which is a bit of a shame because if they had actually toned it down just a hair this would have been a better movie.

As it is its solid, mindless entertainment that fits the bill if you’re looking to 86 your troubles from your head for a couple of hours. While most of the cast (which is largely made up of unknowns) does a credible job, it is Cena that shoulders the load on his broad muscled frame and he does it with panache. Given the negative reviews this generated, I was pleasantly surprised at how good this movie was. Don’t expect another Die Hard movie but don’t expect a direct-to-video Dolph Lundgren disaster either.

WHY RENT THIS: Cena proves himself to be a decent action star. Harlin is an expert at staging action sequences and these are top-notch.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: The script is a bit on the brainless side. Some of the sequences really stretch believability a bit.

FAMILY VALUES: Lots of violence, lots of action but if you feel comfortable letting your child watch Cena on a weekly WWE program, this ought to be fine too.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Cena is the first wrestler to appear in more than one WWE Films release.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: There is a featurette on Cena’s stunts in which we learn that the wrestler is deathly afraid of heights. Who knew? On the Blu-Ray edition, there are a couple of viral videos about the film.

FINAL RATING: 5/10

TOMORROW: Awake