Killer Elite: Yvonne Strahovski Can’t BALE Out This One

And may the worst movie make no money at the box office.

I’m going to be upfront about this: Killer Elite sucks. I’d end this review right here, but then my employers wouldn’t be too happy about that, and I need to make that scrill somehow.

Oh, who am I kidding? I have no employers.

I was literally this close to ending this review right there, so can you just imagine what that would’ve been like and try to get the humor value out of it. Give it a sec. Pretty funny, right?

But since I’m naturally inclined toward prolificism, I just couldn’t stop myself. That’s not even a word, prolificism. I think it sounds better than prolificacy, prolificness, and prolificity, personally, and those are the real options. Clearly, we English speakers are having some amount of trouble settling on that particular noun, though, so I’m not entirely crazy.

Look at me, I try to write a Killer Elite review and this is what happens. God, it was bad.

First of all, this is the only movie that’s ever made me feel like an old person. I had no idea what was going on or why any character was ever doing anything. People were running around with guns, and some of them were shooting at other ones, and I feel like you’ve got to have some reasons if you’re gonna be shootin’ at somebody, but they weren’t sharing their reasons with me, that’s for sure.

The basic premise of the movie is an outdated and hackneyed story format: the three-part quest. There’s this one sort of Arab dude and he wants to kill these three other dudes who are British, so he captures this guy to make this other guy go kill the dudes before he releases the first guy, and he’s doing it all so his son can travel or something, but his son doesn’t even want to go anywhere, and this other British guy is pretty unhappy that a guy is gonna come to kill some of his friends, but we never see any reason why they’re friends, so he decides to stop the killy dude, but there’s some other British guys who don’t really care whether the killy dude is stopped, so they try to stop the guy from stopping the guy, but the killy dude already has problems enough without stoppy guy ’cause he’s busy getting betrayed by at least two dudes, one of whom is…a travel agent?

I guess maybe I was paying attention.

What happened to you, De Niro?

Jason Statham stars as Killy Dude. Robert De Niro co-stars as Other Killy Dude. And Clive Owen plays Stoppy Guy. Jason Statham’s love interest is Yvonne Strahovski, who mostly spends her time not being characterized and sort of worrying vaguely. She never really becomes relevant, except as a symbol of something for Statham to return to. Also, in one scene when Statham comes home, she’s just sort of tossing some bales of hay around. The task looks completely useless. I can just imagine the director going “Yeah, but you can’t just be standing there when he shows up. You have to be doing something.” And one of the set guys is like “Well there’s some random hay here,” and the director goes “Oh yeah. Perfect. Perfect. Just like, toss that hay around a bit,” and Yvonne’s like “What the fuck?” in her Aussie accent, of course. “You want me to just toss some hay around?” And the director goes “Woman, this is only like your second movie role, so if I say you’re gonna throw some god damn hay around, you’d better fucking throw some god damn hay around!!”

I don’t know why there’s so many expletives on that set. Those guys should work on maintaining a better business relationship. Plus, this was the director’s first movie, so he’s got even less experience than she does. Where does he get off? The end result is a scene transition that had the audience laughing.

I did only go to this movie because I have a huge crush on the lovely Yvonne, and I must say, it was a lot better than that soul-destroying The Canyon, but saying that something isn’t soul-destroying is not exactly the highest praise.


So I’m watching this movie, befuddled as a bumpkin, and I think to myself, this is the kind of movie where there has to be more at stake. Statham’s just being played, and soon the truth will have to come out, and maybe he and Owen will have to work together or something. That’d be a twist, but it never really happens. It’s so very very straightforward: They ask him to kill three dudes; he does it. There is one scene with some sort of reveal, but it really wasn’t much of a twist, and I couldn’t understand how it was relevant. And I didn’t even know who the guy was that was explaining the twist. Something about oil or something. I don’t know. Then that guy just dies, and I was trying to figure out whether his explanation changed anything, and I don’t think it did, but at least it was there, so, ya know, they were trying.

Just like they tried with the action, which was watching-grass-grow boring. Every time I endured one of the 10 car chases, I made vows to myself that if I ever write a movie, there will be at least one new thing in every action sequence, just one little thing to set it apart. I’ve never seen such genericism! It’s as if they took all the car chases from all the movies till now, edited out everything remotely interesting, then spliced together the filler. Hmmm, maybe the movie should be called Filler Elite. Heh. I just thought of that.

With De Niro essentially just making an appearance in the movie, we’re left to root for Statham, but he’s this horrible Killy Dude. Most of the time a film finds some way to redeem the main character, even when he’s a killer, but this one never pulls it off. Yeah, he’s trying to get out of the business, but he spends the entire movie killing a bunch of people. I just didn’t see it.

It’s not entirely a bad film though. There’s a single cool chair flip (that’s in the trailer), and a tiny bit of random nudity. And at least it all ties up really well at the end there’s NO RESOLUTION!



Or maybe it should be called Filler Plebeian… Har Har.

Written by Russ Nickel


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Contagion Is Catching – A.K.A. Matt Damon Does Nothing

This movie just wasn't that sick.

It was spreading, and there was nothing I could do to stop it. For some mad reason, all the critics were praising Contagion. More and more people went to the film, and it infected each of them in turn. People with perfectly rational views of cinema were gone in a matter of days, replaced by a new crowd of bandwagoning zombies.

And I was not immune. Drawn by the allure and mystery of a movie that looked like an even worse version of The Core (“They don’t have to weaponize the bird flu. The birds are already doing that!” one character claims in the trailer, the epitome of absurd fear mongering), I found myself suddenly at the movie theater with no recollection of how I’d gotten there. I looked down, and in my hand was a ticket. As a firm believer in the power of sunk costs, I headed in and proceeded to watch no characters do anything. Ever.

Contagion opens with a dialogue-free sequence of people all around the world getting sick. The screen flashes with the name of the city and its population, and you’re immediately afraid. “Oh shit! That’s a big number!” is generally what I thought to myself throughout this, and it’s actually really frightening—all these close-ups of people coughing and then touching surfaces, then eventually dying. Unfortunately, the movie was far from able to maintain that sort of momentum.

I call it the Contagion Effect—it had so much potential!

Do it yourself! Hey kids, here’s something you can try at home! Think of something that had a lot of great potential but then just fizzled out—your idea for a flying car, for example, or that cute girl before she hit puberty, or your parents’ relationship. Great! Now say “Yeah, that really succumbed to the Contagion Effect.” There. You’ve done it! To get even more out of this, go look up the word succumbed.

The movie manages to remain enthralling for about half an hour, but then you realize that it’s not so much a film as it is a newscast of what it would be like should such an outbreak occur—news reports and scientists going over data, but nothing remotely like a movie. None of the characters gets into any dire situations, and none of them ever takes any real action.

In this thrilling scene, we get a long explanation of science!

While the movie boasts a huge ensemble cast, the main character is the disease itself. None of the other players gets enough screen time for you to develop any emotional attachment. The closest we come to this is Matt Damon, and, boy, was I dying for him to become a badass! He starts out as this regular dad whose wife is the first known case of the virus, and we find out his wife’s cheating on him in the first scene, so we as viewers would be okay if he ended up with a new love interest. When it turns out he’s immune, he is the key to saving the world. Scratch that. Nobody gives a shit. But then, when the entire city goes into lockdown and riots start to take over, when food becomes scarce and people turn on each other, Matt Damon must do everything he can to protect his daughter, the last person on earth he cares about, and there’s no telling whether she’s immune. Scratch that. Although the movie gives him every opportunity, he never does a damn thing!

Nobody does. They just sort of live their lives, or, if they get sick, they die. That’s it. The only person who does anything at all is the scientist who finds the cure, and do you know what she did? Well, she found the cure. Man, that’s some serious excitement there—all those shots of her doing research in the lab, doing some testing, and then, that’s right folks, she finds the cure.

Here's some characters holding a thrilling press conference.

For all that, the movie was still relatively compelling, and I’ve figured out why: It’s not because it’s a good movie; it’s because we can relate to this issue. This is a scenario that’s so feasible that we’re all scared of it, whether or not we’ve given it any conscious thought. Even without any compelling characters or plot or drama or anything, the sheer numbers and scope are horrifying, and I never want to touch any surface again.

I recommend doing what the characters do: Stay inside and avoid this like the plague, or maybe more like swine flu—I mean, it’s not that bad.



I wouldn’t have been nearly as afraid if the music hadn’t punctuated every mention of the virus spreading, every scene of death, and every close-up of a surface, so good work Cliff Martinez.

For those of you who’ve seen the movie, what about those unresolved plotlines? The way that one girl who gets kidnapped just sort of walks away toward the end, never to be heard from again? Or the bitchy lady who keep thinking of money instead of saving lives, and after a while she just stops showing up, no comeuppance delivered? Just another reason it didn’t feel like a movie.

Written by Russ Nickel


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W3 – A Wrinkle in Time – You will love IT

Because IT compels you to. Giant, overpowering, brains are always compelling people to do this and that, aren’t they? I feel like just once I’d love for an oversized, all-powerful brain to turn away from evil and devote some of its mental resources to solving world hunger or eliminating crime or understanding women or something (if any of you omnipotent brains figure that last one out, let me know).

Anyway, I’m sure tons of you have read A Wrinkle in Time, that fantastic kids book filled with magical creatures, space travel, and learning that the most powerful thing in the world is love. I remember reading it when I was younger and loving author Madeline L’Engle’s explanation of space travel. If it’s so hard to fly such great distances, why not just fold the two points of space together in an extra dimension. Then you’ll already be there! It’s like picking up two corners of a flat sheet (thus changing it from a plane to a 3 dimensional object), and placing them together. Brilliant! As a ten-year-old, I couldn’t understand why scientists hadn’t simply done this yet. What were, they? Stupid? God.

A Wrinkle in Time is this Canadian made-for-TV movie that I don’t think anybody saw, but you should check it out. The cast is super likable (it stars Kitty Pryde from X2!), the CG as I remember it is perfectly acceptable, and the story is wonderfully fantastical, not to mention the nostalgia factor.

Written by Russ Nickel

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Top 5 Twist Movies

It’s that day of the week again, except oops, it’s not (twist!). Thanks to the insane atmosphere of college, this time, you’ll be treated to the first (and probably not last)

Top 5 Saturday!

Everybody loves a great twist ending. If you don’t see it coming, it’ll blow you away and change your entire perception of the film you just watched.

Today I’m gonna list for you the top 5 Twist Movies.

Now, it’s not necessarily the top 5 movie twists, and it’s not the top 5 movies that involve twists. We’re talking about the top 5 movies that rely on a major twist. So they’re great films, the twist is great, and without the twist they wouldn’t be anywhere near as good. And watch out. Beyond this sentence, there be SPOILERS.

If you haven’t seen the movie, don’t read the write-up!



The Usual Suspects

The name Keyzer Söze haunts us all, but who is he? Who is Keyzer Söze? In this edge-of-your-seat thriller, Kevin Spacey plays a criminal with cerebral palsy, who, after having been caught, sits in the office of a police station, trading his testimony for immunity for his crimes. He weaves an intricate and gripping tale of theft, violence, and betrayal, all the while unraveling the mystery that surrounds the ominous and untraceable Keyzer.

In one of those, it’s-all-a-dream endings, right after Kevin Spacey walks out of the police station toward freedom, the officer glances around his office, suddenly realizing that every detail in Spacey’s testimony was improvised, inspired by the objects in the room. None of it was true. Kevin Spacey is Keyzer Söze! Whoa.

Mind-Blowing Level: 2.5/5

Yeah, that’s pretty crazy, but like, what were we watching that whole time? And it’s just basically one guy lying.



Planet of the Apes

Ranking in at #4, we have one o’ them old-timey movies, the kind my parents popped into the VCR (what’s that?) sometime during my childhood to help round out my classic movie knowledge. Unfortunately for me, those same parents also raised me on a steady diet of cat food, ramen, and most importantly, The Simpsons. We watched it every night, so I’d already had the ending spoiled in Troy McClure’s comeback musical version of the Planet of the Apes. The only youtube version is in Spanish (and for some reason, it’s reflected across the x-axis. Maybe that’s what keeps it from getting deleted?). Anyway, it’s still great.


Just like the movie itself. In fact, that last scene of PotA is so iconic, that the film inspired 6 follow-ups and 2 tv shows, including this summer’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes. If you missed my Super Simian review, you’re more than encouraged to check it out here. It was earth all along.

Twist! “Oh my God. I’m back. I’m home. All the time, it was… We finally really did it. You Maniacs! You blew it up! Ah, damn you! God damn you all to hell!”

Mind-Blowing Level: 2/5

Damn. That sucks. I always thought we were one-up on those apes, but I guess that all changed with ALZ-113. I think people could’ve seen this coming.



Fight Club

I know I’m not supposed to talk about this, but as a self-declared film critic, that’s sort of my job, so my apologies, Tylers. Fight Club is an intense drama about a man who frees himself from the constraints of his blasé and unimportant life by, you know, blacking out and committing a bunch of acts of terrorism. The loyalty of his club members is fun to watch, and it’s interesting to try to figure out what the crap is wrong with the main character. Plus, the whole premise speaks to inherent tendency toward violence inherent in the nature of man. It’s so heavily suppressed in modern society, who wouldn’t enjoy the chance to blow off a little of that bestial energy?

Everybody knows the first rule of fight club, and everybody knows the twist.

Mind-Blowing Level: 4/5

If you didn’t see this one coming, don’t beat yourself up. And what’s that ending all about. I was dying to see one shot of Edward Norton’s wound. How the hell did he survive that?




When a freak storm strikes in the middle of nowhere, ten strangers are stranded at a creepy motel. In this Agatha Christie style movie, each character is picked off one by one, and the survivors have to band together in a desperate attempt to stay alive, all the while knowing that one of them is probably the killer. The greatest thing about this movie is the mood. From the beginning it is creepy as hell, and you’ll be completely captivated the whole way through.

And it stars John Cusack, who’s basically the most likable actor since ever (eh, maybe Jimmy Stewart). I don’t even want to say the twist because the movie’s so good, and of all of them on this list, it’s probably the least well known. Just go watch it. It’s one of the greatest who-dunnit mood piece thrillers around.

Mind-Blowing Level: 4.5/5

This will blow your mind.



The Sixth Sense

I know. I know. This isn’t a shocking choice, but it’s the best twist movie ever made. The acting and mood are incredible, and most importantly, nobody saw it coming. M. Night Shyamalan used the conventions of film to trick us into a false belief. Movies are short affairs, so almost all the action has to be skipped. Someone walks toward a building and you cut to that character sitting in an office. The audience fills in the rest: the opening of the door, the waiting for the elevator, etc. We don’t want to waste time watching it happen. In The Sixth Sense, Shyamalan skips over Bruce Willis’s death, and, since that would’ve been a major detail, we assume we just missed all the boring time in the hospital on the way to recovery instead. Brilliant.

Shyamalan is truly the master of the twist, though according to my screenwriting teacher, when he started writing The Sixth Sense, he was just setting out to make a realistic horror movie. It wasn’t until the 6th or 7th draft that he even realized Bruce Willis was dead the whole time! But he quickly learned his lesson and moved on toward the biggest twist of them all!

Mind-Blowing Level: 5/5

Shyamalan’s #1 twist was his prank on the world—making The Last Airbender Suck! We all thought it would be good. Nobody saw that utter travesty coming. Nobody.

Honorable Mention: Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back.

I originally had this on the list, but I realized that the second Star Wars film didn’t rely on a twist, so much as happen to include a great one. The film would be basically the same whether or not DV was LS’s dad. Can you imagine tossing a ball around with the force? Man, father-son relationships must be so weird in the Star Wars universe.

Written by Russ Nickel


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W3 – Mystery Men – Shovels, Spoons, and FURY

Second ever

What to Watch Wednesday

Comin’ at ya.

This Week we’ve got Mystery Men, a fantastic comedy about a ragtag group of superheroes with no real powers who do their best to stop villain Casanova Frankenstein (Geoffrey Rush) from releasing an absurd doomsday devic. The movie rips on superhero tropes with profound cleverness, sporting dialogue like

Mr. Furious: That’s because Lance Hunt IS Captain Amazing
The Shoveller: Don’t start that again. Lance Hunt wears glasses. Captain Amazing doesn’t wear glasses.
Mr. Furious: He takes them off when he transforms.
The Shoveller: That doesn’t make any sense; he wouldn’t be able to see.

Sound logic. Also, note the great superhero names. The cast of non-heroes is perfectly crafted. You’ve got…

Mr. Furious. Power: extreme anger. Played by none other than Ben Stiller (in one of his earliest leading roles!)

The Shoveler: “God gave me a gift. I shovel well. I shovel very well.” Pretty much sums it up. Played by William H. Macey (perpetual good guy).

The Blue Raja. Power: Throws silverware with precision, but refuses to use knives (that leaves forks and spoons, for those of you who are counting). Played by Hank Azaria, best voice actor on The Simpsons.

And we can’t forget Invisible Boy who only turns invisible when no one’s looking. Toss Eddie Izzard into the mix and you’ve got yourself one hell of a funny film.

Man, I want to see this again.

Score: 4/5

Alignment: Spectacular Fluff

In the words of their wise trainer, this movie is “number one. All others are number two, or lower.”

Written by Russ Nickel

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Midnight in Paris – Hemingway, Fitzgerald, and Dali! Oh My!

Historians recently unearthed this rare first draft of Van Gogh's work.

Entering a movie theater is a little bit like being swept away to your golden age, isn’t it? From the opening scene until those distressing closing credits, you’re able to set aside all your worries, fears, and desires and enter a fantasy world, imagining that you’re right there with the characters, experiencing life the way you wish it were.

Then there are those other times when you sit down and as soon as the trailers start rolling you wonder what the hell you’ve gotten yourself into. They’re all subtitled and artsy beyond belief and bereft of anything even remotely resembling an explosion. How thankful I was to find that Midnight in Paris was not some foreign anti-schlock but rather a delightful and insightful comedy about love, loss, and the illusion of the golden age, which is apparently quite a problem. I’d never really thought about it before, but now that filmographer Woody Allen has pointed it out, I can’t stop seeing it everywhere! My parents, for sure. The good old days when everything wasn’t just about money, when free love and drugs ran rampant through the hippy community. When people weren’t so distracted by cell phones and technology and would just sit around a table playing cards and making genuine connections, you know, just being out among it.

Pretty much every adult I know seems to think that times are terrible now, what with our addiction to drugs computers and our rock and roll rap music and skimpy skimpy outfits. The long and the short of it is that it’s highly amusing to see a film poke such fun at this concept and at the same time give those present-day naysayers a bit of hope.

But how does Midnight in Paris accomplish this, you ask? MiP stars Owen Wilson as successful screenwriter Gil Pender, who’s unsatisfied with the forgettable nature of his work and wants more than anything to write a novel—something of actual substance. Family friend Bruce, along for  the movie, points out that, “C’mon! We’re supposed to feel sympathetic because his numerous successful screenplays aren’t good enough for him?” Well, as a future successful screenwriter myself, let me say that I can totally relate to this issue.

So hot, but so very very bitchy.

Gil travels to Paris with his fiancée, Inez (Rachel McAdams), and her parents, and is immediately taken with the spellbinding nature of the city—a place where inspiration is a palpable entity that lives in the rain and the air and, of course, the cute little shops. Inez is basically a constant bitch, and when she runs into her pseudo-intellectual former professor, she ditches her fiancé in favor of her college crush’s company. Gil, not quite so taken by Mr.-takes-himself-so-seriously-Ph.D., ends up wandering the streets of Paris, and when the clock strikes midnight, an enchanted automobile pulls up and transports him to the world of his golden age.

There he meets Zelda and F. Scott Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Gertrude Stein, Picasso, Dali, and many more. Now, I’m a Stanford graduate and am thus obviously absurdly intelligent—movies literally never make me feel otherwise—but I’m sure I missed over half the jokes in this film, and I’m an English major, for god’s sake! So many literary references are flying every minute that it’s impossible to catch them all, but somehow Allen manages to avoid making the audience regret their relative lack of literary knowledge, and the movie is still enjoyable for all. Walking out of this, I couldn’t help but wish I’d taken every available literature class during college just so I’d be able to fully appreciate this masterpiece of a film. In my not so humble opinion, all English majors should be required to watch Midnight in Paris yearly to inspire them to learn as much as possible.

Just look at that horrible, horrible smile. That guy sucks.

But even having missed out on learning opportunities, I still found myself inspired. Owen Wilson plays a very compelling character with a pleasant story arc (though it was impossible not to hear Woody Allen delivering all the lines—I guess being 76 precludes you from some roles). Characters around him fail to experience any real change, so you feel especially proud when he finally realizes that there is no one golden age, that one must live in the present and do the best one can. It’s all a matter of outlook. Watching him perfect his novel and make some important life decisions was extremely satisfying.

Champion of writing world.

Unfortunately, not all the characters are so lucky. Other than our hero Gil, no one seems to become any more self-aware. I absolutely hated Inez, and making me hate Rachel Mcadams is no small feat. I mean, have you seen her? And the moment when Gil gets to “one up” the sleazebag professor on some painting knowledge is one of the best bits of comeuppance in film. And I would be remiss not to mention how much of a total badass Hemingway is, as portrayed by Corey Stoll, whose character absolutely steals the show with his intensity, carousing, penchant for alcohol, no-bullshit wisdom, womanizing, and lust for a good fight. He is an egotistical writer and a mentor who won’t cut you even a little slack, and every line he delivers is gold. I’ve always kept a bottle of scotch on my desk in his honor, sipping it from time to time at moments when I feel most writerly, but I never truly understood the full extent of his awesomeness until now. My hat’s off to you, Mr. Hemingway.

The only flaw I can find with this film (and it’s not really a flaw) is that it’s not groundbreaking. It just is what it is: a compelling time-travel romp with a good dose of heart.

Score: 4.5/5

Rating: Spectacular Gold (on the low end of each)

I wonder if my technology-loving generation will think of the future as the golden age. I want to be alive when there’s space travel and holodecks and teleportation!

Written by Russ Nickel

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T5F – Action Thrillers in a Confined Space

It’s time for The Nickel Screen’s first

Top 5 Friday! (T5F)


There’s so many movies out there that fall into so many genres; they’re just dying to be grouped in oddly specific ways for your comparison-based pleasure. Plus, list-making is one of my favorite activities, so I figured I might as well do it with every Hollywood related thing I can think of.

And then if you and your friends ever get into a weirdly particular argument about some made-up subgenre, now you’ll be able to look to The Nickel Screen for all your answers. Heck, look to us for all your answers anyway, no matter what the problem is. I’m sure I can help.

This week’s T5F is all about Action Thrillers in a Confined Space (thus the title of the post).

Ranking in at one cent, we have



Die Hard 2: Die Harder

Set in an airport on Christmas Eve, this movie makes us ask, “How can the same thing happen twice to the same guy?” In fact, it even makes John McClane (Bruce Willis), most badass character in the history of film, ask the same thing. But who cares really? It can happen twice because it’s the movies and it’s fun to watch. We get to see ejection seats, snowmobile battles, betrayal, and a fight in a baggage sorting area.

Since this kind of movie is a breeding ground for dialogue gold, I figure I should pick the best line from each.

Best Line: John McClane: Hey, Colonel. Blow me!



Con Air

Nicolas Cage is great at picking over-the-top projects, and Con Air is no exception. Toss in Johns Cusack and Malkovich and you’ve got yourself one hell of a fun cast. Cage plays the criminal with a heart of gold who decides to help the feds when his fellow convicts take over the plane. Giant explosions, a plane crash-landing on the Vegas strip, and post-kill one-liners like “Why couldn’t you put the bunny back in the box” (about a stuffed pink bunny, for real) make this an excellent (using the term loosely) film.

Best Line: I guess I sort of already said it.



The Negotiator

This is the part in the list when things start to really get good. Starring Samuel L. Jackson and my personal favorite actor Kevin Spacey, this movie takes place almost entirely in a single room. Well, there’s cutaways to what’s going on elsewhere I guess, but all the action is an office. When Samuel L. Jackson, a negotiator who talks people out of killing hostages, is accused of embezzlement, he’s forced to take hostages of his own. During the film he must try to buy himself the time he needs to prove his innocence, if he really is innocent…

Best Line: Samuel L. Jackson: I am talking! Now did you or did you not ever dress up like a schoolgirl and get ya ass spanked?!



Air Force One

Harrison Ford is the president. Automatically the best thing ever. When the Russians hijack Air Force One, badass Mr. Ford stays behind to single-handedly dish out some justice to the terrorist bastards, doing his best to keep his wife and daughter safe in the process. The movie is high intensity throughout, there are some great setpieces, and some moments will even choke you up. And did I already mention it’s about the president? Movies are always more awesome when POTUS is involved.

Best Line: Harrison Ford: Get off my plane!



Die Hard

Of course! I mean, this is a no-brainer. It started the entire convention. After Die Hard, everybody in Hollywood tried to come up with the next small space thriller. Die Hard on a plane, Die Hard on a Boat (Speed 2). You name it. According to urban legend, someone even tried to pitch Die Hard in an office building, which sounds like a great idea. You know, probably because Die Hard was set in an office building. Like I said, John McClane is the most badass, tough-as-nails character since ever, and Bruce Willis is the man to play him. Plus, he still had a nice, intimidating full head of hair back then. Alan Rickman is a masterful actor and nails the terrorist role, Willis walks barefoot on broken glass in one of the most memorable scenes of film, and in general awesomeness ensues.

Best Line: John McClane: Yippee-ki-yay, motherfucker.

Dead on? Do I have no idea what I’m talking about? Feel free to let me know in the comments!


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W3: Mumford – Quirky, Clever, and Totally Unknown

Howdy, internet people. I watched Mumford a couple of weeks ago, having, like you, never heard of it. Much to my surprise, what at first glance seemed like a pleasant and forgettable movie quickly got stuck in my head and refused to leave. Like some sort of witch’s curse or maybe a brain slug, I figured the only way to appease it was to spread it, and thus

What to Watch Wednesday (W3)

was born.

Every week, in my beneficence, I shall better your lives by imparting upon you a movie that you ought to watch. It’ll probably be obscure or old or weird or maybe it’ll just pop into my head for no reason. Anyway, W3’s inaugural post belongs to Mumford. It’s this quirky, light-hearted comedy about a psychologist who moves to a small town and starts treating the eccentric residents. All the characters are absurdly likable, the relationships are fun, and the way the movie portrays the patients’ neurotic stories is hilarious.

Maybe it doesn’t sound like there’s enough going on. Maybe you’re thinking you’ll give this one a pass, but the movie contains a deep, dark secret. Oh, and did I mention it was penned by Lawrence Kasdan? Yeah, the guy who wrote The Empire Strikes Back, Raiders of the Lost Ark, and Return of the Jedi.

Fun Facts:

  1. For some reason, this $28 million budget film only made about four and a half at the box office and it quickly slid into obscurity.
  2. This is Zooey Deschanel’s first role. She’s only 19, so if you’re a fan like I am, it’s great to see her earliest work.
  3. The guy who plays Skip Skipperton is a pro skateboarder and is actually riding around in all those shots.

There you have it. The first What to Watch Wednesday. Go check it out, and I promise you won’t be disappointed.

Score: 4.5/5

Alginment: Spectacular Fluff

Oh, and don’t watch the trailer, since it RUINS EVERYTHING.

Written by Russ Nickel

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Rise of the Planet of the Apes – Caesar vs. Draco Malfoy

Just look at that lovable face!

For a movie whose trailer seemed fake at first glance (a serious drama about a superintelligent ape and his issues?), RotPotA (rot-POT-uh) does an incredible job getting you invested in the plight of a chimp. Low budget for a summer blockbuster, this ninety million dollar film focuses on the rise of Caesar, first of his species and leader of the apes. We watch as he grows up, casts off his human friendships, and eventually leads a revolt in the hopes of achieving freedom for his people, err, his fellow apes.

Whether or not you’re going to like this movie boils down to one thing: can you buy into it? Can you lay your hard-earned money on the line and accept Caesar as a fully human character with hopes and fears? Since the actual humans are sort of irrelevant and the apes are incapable of speech, there’s not a lot to go on. Basically, if you liked the first 40 minutes of Wall-E, then you’ll probably be fine. Caesar may not be a lovable trash robot (or is he?! Twist!), but Andy Serkis does an incredible job conveying his feelings through his motions. Serkis must’ve spent years living among the apes of the wild to achieve such realistic mimicry (he went to Rwanda and chilled in zoos!), and he strikes epic and expressive poses aplenty, each one conveying Caesar’s thoughts without feeling obvious and overblown. By the end of the movie, you’ll care more about Caesar than any actual human (in the film—hopefully not in real life). You’ll fear for his friends and root for his victory. Honestly, an ape that likable? I’ll let him rise above me any day.

Once you’re down with the movie’s premise, and once you’re finally ok with Franco’s whole “Let’s make a much more aggressive form of this untested virus! What could possibly go wrong?” line of thinking, you’re ready to experience a truly great film.

Hasn't Franco ever seen a zombie movie? Virus = bad

The movie builds and builds, each scene more intense than the last. Watching Caesar slowly learn to despise humanity is fantastic, and when he finally becomes a total badass, you’re with him all the way. There’s a moment when the music changes and Caesar first uses a basic tool to win his freedom, and I couldn’t have been more stoked. Then he goes on to recruit his friends, who are all fucking champions. I wasn’t really sure what their names were, so I made my own: Grayback, the original leader whom Caesar overthrows, Jowly, the friendly circus orangutan with giant, jiggling jowls, Kong, the huge motherfucking gorilla, and Scar, the one-eyed embodiment of evil. While they cannot be as well drawn as normal human characters due to the lack of dialogue, I still had a distinct understanding of each of their personalities.

Just like I distinctly understood Draco Malfoy’s new character. He once again nailed the sniveling asshole role. I hated that guy so much. He was just so mean to the apes! I guess what he didn’t count on was that they’d all become superintelligent. Nobody expects that (in that way, it’s like the Spanish Inquisition). His somewhat subpar predictive powers aside, he does get the best Planet of the Apes reference, shouting, [SPOILERS] “Take your stinking paws off me, you damn dirty ape!”

Man, I hate that guy

It’s people like that who’ll make the apes kill us all, which reminds me: the climax of this movie is crazy epic. [The next couple paragraphs are a little SPOILERY] It takes place on the Golden Gate bridge, and it’s unbelievably fun to watch the ramshackle ape army use their new intelligence to take on the unprepared humans. One moment of note is when Caesar, who’s spent the film preventing his fellow apes from killing any people, allows one of the villains to die. Everyone in the audience wanted it to happen, and when it did, we were pumped, but later I found myself wondering why Caesar wasn’t bound to the law of heroes. In most movies, our protagonist can’t kill the villain. When the bad guy is about to plummet to his death, the hero must reach out a hand to save him lest he become just as bad as the person he’s fighting. Perhaps because he’s a different species, Caesar is exempt from this rule. Those apes can get away with anything.

Another incredible moment was when Caesar erases the chalk drawing of a window he etched on the wall of his cage. Those four small lines represented so much. They were his memories of home, his ability to look outward into the world, the world he is forever kept from, and they represent hope, a brighter future for a creature who doesn’t fit in. Before, he was a simple ape, locked in his own mind, but the ALZ-112 was a window into enlightenment, a window into newfound intelligence. Watching him erase all that was heart-wrenching. In one simple motion, we see him cast aside humanity and decide to throw his lot in with his own kind. It is a painful and powerful choice that brought me to tears. [END SPOILERS]


Not everything was perfectly executed, but all the problems feel like pointless nitpicks. Some characters agree to things a little too quickly, one or two lines are just a little off, Franco gives up on freeing Caesar super easily, the girlfriend should’ve had either a much larger or much smaller role, and they don’t show some scenes of the other apes getting exposed to the intelligence drug (I just assume they cut that scene but that it happened). Also, the entire audience laughed at the epic/heartwarming scene between James Franco and Caesar in the forest at the end, and while it did feel a little ridiculous, it’s that same issue I brought up before. You have to buy into this film. You have to let go of that cynical part of you and allow yourself to enjoy what you’re seeing. The movie takes its premise 100% seriously, and there’s no room for laughter.

In the end, this film is so good that I found myself lost in it. I was unaware of the music, the pacing, the acting, everything, because I was just too busy being completely invested and enjoying the heck out of myself. I cannot wait for the sequel. In a rare piece of cinema, this movie managed to feel complete on its own and yet leave you craving more. If you had to see one film this summer (and you didn’t care about the cultural impact of Harry Potter), this would be it.

Score: 4.5/5 ¢

Alignment: Spectacular Gold

One of the best end credits ever. Rarely do I actually care about what’s happening in the background behind the names, but here I was devastated.

Written by Russ Nickel


Filed under Review

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 Dragons, Dark Lords, and Some Hot Ron on Hermione Action.

Slogan's a little dramatic. I'm pretty sure there are a few things that are still going.

My childhood just came to an end, but at least it went out with a bang (which is, I suppose, the standard method for transitioning to adulthood). The midnight showing of the last Harry Potter movie was nothing short of madness—hundreds upon hundreds of people (or witches or elves depending on the costume) willingly packed themselves together into absurdly mismanaged lines and, rather than try to improve their situation by listening to the lone employee with a megaphone, promptly began complaining with a fanatical zeal. These were my people, and since my Mad-Eye Moody costume was undeniably brilliant, I felt the need to wander amongst my flock, deigning to be in their photographs. Self-righteous good deeds accomplished, I finally surged into the theater, where, in my haste to get primo seats, I apparently breached some sort of official barrier. Suddenly this 350 lb security guard is shouting at the top of his lungs and everyone’s staring at me in horror. Hoping against hope that I wasn’t the target of such rage, I turned away, only to hear “Yeah you! The guy in the cape!”

My two “friends” quickly abandoned me (they are so not getting sorted into Gryffindor), and rushed to get seats, making me into nothing more than a convenient sacrifice and I soon found myself being threatened with a fate worse than death: removal from the theater. Luckily, I’m pretty sure the giant was intimidated by my crazy eye and fearsome good looks, so he left me alone. Or maybe it was all that degrading, sniveling, brown-nosing I did. Either way, I think things worked out alright. I mean, my friends got some killer seats, and I’d been referred to as “the guy in the cape.”

But no amount of antics could rival the experience I had watching what is, in my opinion, the best film of 2011. After having been underwhelmed year after year by subpar adaptations of the formative novels of my youth, finally have I received the cinematic experience I’ve long craved. At long last, we are given epic battles of half-giant proportions, momentous stakes that belie the series’ light-hearted origins, and characters whose superb performances tug at our dragon-heart strings. At long last, we have a film that is truly magical.

It's magical!

In this superb conclusion to the tale we’ve been following for over a decade, the intrepid Harry Potter finds that only by satisfying his hankering for Horcruxes can he hope to defeat the dark lord. Most of the film is spent following his search for these last few objects, and what could have been a tedious series of fetch quests is kept from falling into the realms of boredom by a sense of pacing so perfect the future film student in me started taking notes. Admittedly, my last movie experience was Transformers: Dark of the Moon, a “film” with such atrociously jarring momentum that I nearly disgorged my five dollar hot dog (but five dollars is five dollars, so I willed it down). Even though anything will seem well-paced by comparison, I haven’t been so blown away by such artful interweaving of action and calm, fear and love, and an ensemble cast, since, well, ever.

The most powerful example of this is when Harry ends up alone in the Forbidden Forest in the middle of the giant showdown between good and evil. After seeing young students cut down by death eaters as they tried to hold their own in a war that was far beyond them, after witnessing stone statues come to life and make battle with club-wielding giants, after bridges burn, forcefields collapse, and spirits break, after dementors are driven off by those who refuse to relinquish their hope, we find ourselves in a clearing of silence.

It's a Trap! Oh wait, nvm. The shield's totally down.

Turning the resurrection stone in hand, Harry is suddenly accompanied by the ghosts of those he cares most deeply for: Sirius, Lupin, and his parents. Their undying love for him brought tears to my eyes, for it is a love that continued into the afterlife not thanks to some magic, but because all those who have left us live on in our hearts. The writing was beautiful, the acting sublime. The calm in the center of the storm, this one scene is a masterpiece of pacing.

The rest of the storm was nothing to shake a stick at either, not that shaking a stick at a storm is really that common of an activity. In fact, I’m not sure that it would accomplish much of anything, unless the stick is a wand and you have control over the weather. Then it would definitely help. Anyway, the point of all this is to say that, while the emotional punch packed by Deathly Hallows Part 2 is nothing to shake a wand at, the visuals are equally impressive.

Poor little guy. So helpless.

For instance, cast your imagination gaze on Gringotts. Its labyrinthine rollercoaster-tangle transportation system is a wild ride that puts every Six Flags everywhere to shame, especially since it ends with a dragon. Now, a lot of movies have done dragons (Harry Potter included), but this was potentially my favorite CGI beastie ever (don’t worry, Toothless. No one can replace you). The dragon was not a glorious mount of yore, but rather an emaciated, abject figure, trapped underground for his natural life, chains cutting into his majesty and leaving nothing but raw, bloody hopelessness. The creature instantly evokes overwhelming pity, something I’ve rarely witnessed from CGI.

Dragons are basically my favorite, but if there’s one thing I love more, it’s love itself. We all knew the Ron Hermione romance was going to come to a head. The only question was, after so many years of buildup, could the climax do it justice? I, for one, say that nothing has ever been more just. You know that moment in truth or dare when someone asks you your most seductive fantasy and you finally let spill the secret you’ve never told anyone? You launch into graphic detail, explaining that it’s all about thrusting your basilisk fang into a goblet-shaped Horcrux in the Chamber of Secrets while under attack from a giant watery snake that eventually comes crashes over you? We’ve all been there. Everybody gives you these weird looks, as if that’s somehow not the hottest thing ever. Ron and Hermione certainly thought it was, because they immediately launch into a passionate kiss that had the theater cheering up a storm.

Just look at that chemistry!

Perhaps the most beautiful scene is the one bathed all in white. Halfway between life and death, Harry finds himself in King’s Cross Station, his own personal limbo. There, the sage and mysterious Dumbledore delivers some of the most compelling wisdom in years of cinema. The English major in me rejoiced when such a beloved figure told us that words are the most powerful magic, able to do great harm but also to heal. I’m using words right now, and man do I feel mighty. And when Harry asked “Is this all just in my head or is it real?” and Dumbledore responded with “Of course it’s in your head, but that doesn’t mean it’s not real.” Gah! So sagacious!

But enough nonsensical gushing. As perfect as this movie was (and it was), there were still a few things that I would’ve done differently. The whole series is about the battle between Harry and Voldemort; this is a showdown ten years in the making, and I wanted it to be perfect. The buildup was there, but when the final blow was dealt, it felt understated. Voldemort simply drifts away into nothingness. If it were me, I’d have Harry explain the entire Deathly Hallows wand switching thing while the two of them struggled against each other, beams of energy locked in a pulsing impasse. Then, as soon as it became clear that Harry was going to win, he’d shout “Avada Kedavra!” and Voldemort would fucking EXPLODE. That’s how a dark lord goes out.

In fact, I could go for a lot more spell shouting in general. Aberforth Dumbledore should’ve bellowed “Expecto Patronum!” before taking care of all those dementors, and Molly Weasley definitely needed to scream some serious shit at Bellatrix before the end. And I know it would’ve gone against the books and fans everywhere would have gone on a David Yates manhunt, but I could’ve done without that 19 years later scene. I just don’t think it works in the film version. It should’ve ended on that last shot of the three main characters looking off into the distance. Perfection.

Perfection. Who knew Hermione would get so hot?

Even still, this film made a huge impact on me. I was plastered to that edge portion of my seat, I cared about the characters, the shots were gorgeous, and the pacing was sublime. I’m going to go see it again, and again, and if you don’t get to this while it’s in theaters, you’ll have made a grave mistake.

Score: 5/5 ¢

Alignment: Spectacular Gold

Also, let it be noted that Neville is a fucking champion.


Post Review Disclaimer: I cut over a quarter of this and it’s still my longest review. There’s just way too much to talk about. So if I missed some awesome part, feel free to complain in the comments.

Written by Russ Nickel


Filed under Review