Spies

April 7, 2015

Slaughter Film Presents: Action Movie Time Machine – Simon Sez

IT’S ALL JUST TOO MUCH

Well I had a lot to chose from for this “March Madness” related trek. There are so many options, “Space Jam” with Micheal Jordan, “Steel” & “Kazaam” with Shaq, Kevin Durant in “Thunderstruck”, and Gheorghe Muresan in “My Giant” with Billy Crystal… But, fuck those movies. 
The lonely few that are cool enough to talk about are Wilt Chamberlain in “Conan the Destroyer”. But this is a pretty small part and I’m sure we’ll discuss the Conan films in detail before long. And of course there is Kareem Abdul-Jabbar from “Airplane”, but more importantly “Game of Death” with Bruce Lee.
With all these options I bet you’re wondering what we will be boarding the “Action Movie Time Machine” for this time. Well, another Rodman flick. Yep. Way back when, the studio wanted to make a sequel to “Double Team“, but that never happened. Someone else — who didn’t have the rights to the title, characters or JVCD — decided to go ahead with the film anyhow using whatever was left on the table. Which was Rodman, the “cyber monks” and Dane Cook for some reason. No good can come of this. No good can come of “Simon Sez”.
The year is 1999. MySpace & Napster are born onto the Internet while Barbie turns 40. The West Nile virus appears in the United States, Lance Armstrong “wins” his 1st Tour de France, and people lose their minds over Y2K.
THE SKINNY
The film begins with Simon, Denis Rodman, investigating an arms dealer/terrorist for Interpol with some help from his “Cyber Monk” friends Micro & Macro, John Pinette & Ricky Harris. Micro & Macro are using their robo-fly to eves drop on the arms deal, all while making “hilarious” jokes that would cause “Paul Blart” to pop a stitch. “Sorry Simon, we’re working out a few bugs.”. ‘Cause it’s a robot fly, get it? GET IT?! Micro & Macro are the comedic relief and I hate it already.
None of this stuff really matters. It’s just an introduction to the characters – the same way Bond movies always start with Bond finishing up an assignment before the REAL story starts.

Soon after, Simon is relaxing on a French beach when he encounters Nick Miranda, Dane Cook. At first Nick tries to bullshit Simon, pretending to know him from his days at the CIA, but Simon sees through his rouse and then learns that Nick works for a tech company and has been given the job of delivering a briefcase filled with two million dollars as a ransom payment to rescue his boss’s daughter. Nick did some research on Simon in hopes that he could be coerced into helping which inevitably happens.

After the deal goes bad, Simon and Nick escape to Simon’s headquarters where he opens the briefcase to find a CD where the money should be. The monks attempt to read the disc, but it is secured with Department of Defense encryption. Now Simon takes is upon himself to rescue the girl while protecting the DoD disc with help from Nick and the monks. By the way, the software on the disc can turn any telescope into a laser weapon…or something.
The monks do some digging and discover that a man named Bernard Gabrielli is the one who has kidnapped the girl. He is using her for leverage to gain the disc that he will then sell to Ashton, the arms dealer/terrorist from the beginning of the film. As it turns out, Gabrielli is trying to get the disc to save his son – the kidnapped daughters love interest – who Ashton threatened to kill. I guess it’s Ashton’s plan to have others do his dirty work so he seems unconnected to any of the crimes.

Around this time Nick learns that his boss is unsatisfied with his handy-word and tells him that he will soon be in France to hand over a copy of the disc to Ashton in person. Simon and Nick use this as an opportunity to save the day. They even recruit Gabrielli’s son, Michael, who happens to be a kung fu/parkour expert. I don’t know why his father was so worried about his wellbeing. He’s a bad-ass.

Nick, Michael and Simon’s GF, who I hadn’t mentioned until now because she isn’t very important to the story, fight through Ashton’s gang of motorcycle clowns to rescue the girl. Simon follows Ashton to The French Telescope. I assume that’s what it’s called. The two fight it out and Simon impales Ashton with a sword which pierces some telescope power supply that electrocutes both him and the telescope. Simon narrowly escapes before the building explodes.

The film ends with that one guy’s daughter and that other guy’s son marrying each other, Simon and his GF go on a date and the monks chat with Nick, who is now an Interpol agent himself. The End.

THE VERDICT
Ironically, the problem with “Simon Sez” isn’t Rodman – it’s almost everything else. That’s not entirely fair. The film has a simple action plot that I’ve seen a dozen times, but that’s okay – it works. Rodman isn’t a great actor but he also isn’t awful. He is easier to take serious in this than compared to “Double Team”. The film has some pretty fast paced fight scenes, some of which feature Xin Xin Xiong who is another remnant of “Double Team”. These are the highlight of the film in my opinion, but everything else…bad.
And it’s not that it’s bad exactly, it’s just hard to focus on the film when I’m rolling my eyes at the constant jokes that are as if they’re from a kids cartoon. The Cyber Monks, if done serious, could have been interesting…maybe. But there is too much of them and I hate it.

Not to mention, the monks are the comedic relief, and with them, why did the film need ANOTHER funny man? Dane does a great job bringing his goofy energy and physical comedy to the screen but it’s just too much. He and Rodman may have made for an interesting “odd couple” scenario, but they are interrupted too often by the monks.
Here is an example of “too much”; Nick secretly follows Simon to his headquarters, the basement of a church, where the monks see him enter with their security cameras. They use a mic and speakers to make Nick think that God is talking to him. Then “God” makes Nick dance the “running man” before they drop him down a into the basement with a trap door. Once he is in the basement, they pretend to be “Killer Monks” by shooting at Nick with blank filled Glocks… Why is all of this in a movie?
“Simon Sez” is strange because it’s better than “Double Team” in some ways and god awful in others, and unfortunately doesn’t have JVCD to carry it along.
After watching this movie again, I can’t help but compare it to ANY other action movie combined with “Richie Rich”.
I’m Cory Carr and this concludes another trip on the “Action Movie Time Machine”. Until next time, Semper Fi Punk!
For more from Cory, check out his website slaughterfilm.com, where he and his good friend Forest Taylor record weekly podcasts, reviewing the films that are legendary, even in Hell!

October 17, 2014

Slaughter Film Presents: Action Movie Time Machine – The Assignment

DOUBLE INTRIGUE

Alright, enough goofy action comedies about twin brothers separated at birth, weight lifting, JVCD splits and taking bubble baths together. This time we’re visiting a film featuring real life spy stuff and espionage, “The Assignment“. I first heard about this flick back around ‘99 when I was staying up late to watch “skin-emax”, and instead stumbled upon this. Oh how those were the days… All aboard! The Action Movie Time Machine is now departing.
The year is 1997. Mike Tyson bit off Evander Holyfield’s ear during a boxing match. The world mourns the loss of both Princess Diana, Mother Teresa & Notorious B.I.G.. The “Titanic” sails again, this time at the box office and “Batman & Robin” proved to be the worst Batman film of all time. All this and “Carlos the Jackal” was brought to justice in “The Assignment”,
THE SKINNY
“The Assignment” begins with Lt. Cmdr. Annibal Ramirez, Aidan Quinn, who is spending his shore leave traversing the narrow streets of Israel when he notices that he is being followed. He ditches his things and makes a break for it, but as it turns out, the person following him isn’t the only one. There is a group of people working together to track and capture him. Once he is captured, he is brought to a dank and dirty apartment where he is beaten and interrogated by an unnamed man, Ben Kingsley, who keeps calling him Carlos and “The Jackal”.
 
At first Annibal pretends to be a tourist, as are his military instructions if he were to ever be detained in a hostile environment, but after a while he understands that he has been captured by some form of Israeli military and starts to explain who he is and how they can contact a naval liaison to corroborate his story. He is detained for several more days before he is set free.
Weeks later Annibal returns home from a long stint at sea when he is visited by Jack Shaw, Donald Sutherland, from the CIA. Jack has come to recruit Annibal for some highly sensitive spy work. Why Annibal? After all there must be scores of highly trained special ops types ready and willing to take on this assignment, right? Well none of them share the face of a notorious terrorist for hire, Carlos “The Jackal”. Somehow Annibal and Carlos are doppelgangers.
After some convincing, Annibal travels to a remote facility in Montreal, Canada. Here he takes on the alias Miguel, begins learning all that he can about Carlos and receives a crash course in spying from Amos, the very same man who interrogated Annibal in Israel. Amos and Jack have been tracking Carlos for years, but have never been able to apprehend him. Now with “Miguel” on their side, perhaps they can get the drop on him.
Miguel’s training consists of memorizing the names on tombstones, counting condiments in a refrigerator, breathing in cheap cigar smoke and eating gallons of oatmeal a day until it gives him the shits. I don’t know about you, but it all sounds like high tech spy stuff to me.
As a child Carlos’s father, who he hates, smoked the cigars and now as an adult when he smells the same cigars it drives him nuts. The same goes for the oatmeal. As a child he and his mother were poor and there was little else to eat. This is all an attempt to get Miguel inside the head of Carlos. He had to endure as a child, and now as an adult he can be selfish and impose his will on others. This sort of personality trait is the sort of thing that will make him a believable Carlos to the people who know him best. As for the condiments and tombstones, these are tactics used to get Miguel to be more observant of his surroundings. To be able to piece together the whos, whats & wheres from his environment.
There is a scene in which Miguel’s “mock wife”, Jack, told him that she is spending the week out of town with family and now Miguel has two minutes to casually look around a mock kitchen and living room, and report his findings after time expires. He drinks from the milk carton, looks in the trash and has a seat on the couch. Miguel’s learns from this that the milk is fresh so it must have been purchased recently. Too recently for her to have been out of town. There was a book of matches in the trash from a bar down the street. The couch has a cushion turned over and smells of cheap aftershave. Miguel explains that she never left town. She also met a man at a bar and brought him home, then had sex on the couch. After which Miguel smiles and asks Jack, “…are you fucking my wife?”.

The training continues with Miguel learning how to fuck from a spurned lover of Carlos. Let it be known — this lady is a freak. Miguel has reservations about cheating on his wife, but ol’ Jack always knows just what to say; “Don‘t think of it as cheating on your wife. Think of it as fucking for your flag”. Lol I love this movie.
As the film approaches the final act, the plan is finally explained to Miguel. Since assassinating Carlos outright will result in retaliatory attacks from his fellow terrorists, Miguel will pretend to be Carlos to discredit him with his Soviet connections and in turn let them take him out. He, as Carlos, will sleep with one of the real Carlos’ mistresses and convince her to do some banking for him. The banking involves accepting a wire transfer from the CIA into her account and then out of her’s and into Carlos/Miguel’s. This is something that will get the attention of Soviet Intelligence. This combined with a public meeting between Carlos/Miguel and Jack solidifies the counter intelligence story that Carlos is being paid off by the CIA to share with them what he might know about the Soviets.
You pretty much know how this is going to end, but because I think you should give this flick a watch, if you get a chance, I’ll try to save some juicy details about the finale. Just know that there is a face to face fight between Carlos & Miguel, some secret spy code words, as well as double lives are lived.
THE VERDICT
“The Assignment” is tame by the standards of ‘80s action movies. However its real life esthetic has always been something that I’ve enjoyed. The way Annibal is trained in Canada has always fascinated me. How he was pushed to his limits — forced to remember seemingly unimportant information and taught how to interpret it. And of course how Jack and Amos teach Annibal to react to the smell of cheap cigars and oatmeal the same way Carlos would, but forcing him to smell and eat it constantly.
This is the sort of thing I imagine real life spies might have to do in order to blend in and survive.
Released right around the same time as “Goldeneye”, “Mission Impossible” and “The Saint”, I was introduced to a new brand of action movie. Sure, Bond had been around for thirty or so years but most of those films leaned more toward traditional action fare than what I was now getting familiar with. Besides, Bond always had fun but unrealistic gadgets and one-liners that I’ve grown to expect and love in Bond films, but I can’t take them all together seriously.
This films story is as entertaining as it is interesting. I was surprised to lean in recent years that “Carlos the Jackal” is a real person who was arrested and convicted in ‘97 for killing several French police. The Carlos from “The Assignment” is a little more colorful, and I don’t think there was ever a plot to discredit him by using a double. But oh well. If you’re interested, you can learn more about the real Carlos here.
The acting is great, and with Ben Kingsley and Donald Sutherland, how could it not be? The special effects are mostly good but from time to time they show their age. There are a several explosions that are super-imposed. While they do look obvious, they also don’t look awful. It was the ‘90s after all. Even space aliens hell-bent on blowing up the white house super-imposed their laser blasts [“Independence Day“].
 
If you are at all interested in spy/espionage thrillers then “The Assignment” is for you. I highly recommend It.
I’m Cory Carr and this concludes our ride on the “Action Movie Time Machine”. Until next time, “Awfully warm for this time of year.”
For more from Cory, check out his website slaughterfilm.com, where he and his good friend Forest Taylor

November 28, 2012

Double-ovember: Casino Royale (Matt’s Take)

Casino Royale – Classy

If it wasn’t for my co-reviewer, DJ Valentine, I might not have posted another Bond review for the rest of the month.  As I briefly touched on in my “Skyfall” review, I’m not the biggest James Bond fan.  Not saying he hasn’t gotten into some great adventures in exotic locales, with sexy Bond Girls, but the spy-espionage-adventure genre isn’t one of my favorites.  But when you get the perfect storm of directing, writing, and acting, that’s something that I can appreciate and enjoy, and calling “Casino Royale” classy would be an understatement.

First, all the people calling for Daniel Craig to call it quits when it comes to Bond; quiet, please.  Unless you just woke up yesterday Craig had shown his acting chops before playing the newly-promoted 00 Agent. Please check out “Layer Cake” and you will see what I mean.  He had charm, charisma, and was still a dick to women, all common traits of our favorite secret agent.

Second, Martin Campbell knows how to shoot action scenes.  “Goldeneye” is my favorite Bond film from the modern era.* It had great action in which you can easily suspend disbelief, a very likable Bond, and interesting villains.  Plus, the movie moves swiftly and exposition didn’t weigh it down too heavily.

Last, and most importantly, the writing.  Cheesy writing will put anyone in a tift, but if it’s done correctly with the right actors doing the talking, it can be easily forgivable.  Paul Haggis, from “Crash” fame, does wonderfully as the third wheel of the screenplay which includes Neal Purvis and Robert Wade (the screenwriting duo from “Goldeneye” to “Skyfall”).  You can tell who wrote the best dialogue in this film.

All this praise and I’ve forgotten to say anything about “Casino Royale.”  Don’t get this Bond re-boot confused with the 1960s “Casino Royale” there is nothing really in common outside of the name and the fact that there are about five different James Bonds, oh, and Orson Welles, but I digress.  The film follows a younger, sprier, more naive Bond, who is out to stop a network of terrorists and their mysterious accountant, Le Chiffre, played by Mads Mikkelsen (in my opinion he should have used his real name in the film, it sounds a lot more bad ass then Le Chiffre).  Unlike “Skyfall,” “Casino Royale” gives me what I want in an action movie.  Sure, there are some scenes in the movie that are over the top, but I never really thought anything was too out of bounds, even the incredible free-running opening action set piece that takes place in Madagascar didn’t make me suspend too much disbelief.  There are your typical double-crosses, moments of danger for Bond and his fellow Bond Girl Vesper Lynd, played by Eva Green, and globe-trotting from Miami, Montenegro, and everywhere in-between.  The supporting cast is strong with Judi Dench and Giancarlo Giannini leading the way, but I would liked to have seen a little more Jeffrey Wright, even though he does take a larger role in “Quantum of Solace,” the continuation to “Royale.”

The stripped down style of this new Bond is welcome respite from the over-the-top Pierce Brosnan films (namely “The World is Not Enough” and “Die Another Day”) and there are rarely any moments that I would take away from “Casino Royale.” It brings the class back to the 007 Universe where its short on the one-liners and long on the witty dialogue.  You could argue that this Bond hasn’t developed his signature one-liners yet, and I can’t say I really missed them (I am partial to “No more foreplay” however).

Bottom line, I think the reason I like “Royale” so much is the fact that it doesn’t feel like a Bond film, just a great action movie with stunning set pieces in a world where Batman might reside.  It’s dark, gritty, brooding, and did I mention classy as hell.  There was no need to make it artsy and harken back to the Bond days of yore.  Sure you get the Aston Martin, but no fetishizing a car and playing a sprawling soundtrack as it leaves a garage…..cough….cough….Skyfall.  Stick to the basics; hot women, action that doesn’t make me roll my eyes (too much) and a good story with some dialogue I can sink my teeth into.  You get all this and more with “Casino Royale.”

Fun Fact:  Mikkelsen, who will be playing a young Dr. Hannibal Lecter for NBC in 2013, had Giannini in his pocket in “Royale.”  Oddly enough, Giannini was one of Lecter’s victims in 2001’s “Hannibal.”

*I count the Modern Bond era from 1995-Current.    

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