My head hurts.


I don’t think I’ve ever seen Nolan handle action any better than he does in Tenet. When it’s not trying to be overtly complicated, Tenet works as an absolutely thrilling action film with some of the best set pieces in Nolan’s career. Once again, Nolan’s collaboration with cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema yields tremendous rewards as Hoytema is able to shoot the action in a way that is both cinematic and epic while also being easy for the audience to follow. Remember when Nolan spoke out on his admiration for the Fast and Furious franchise? You best believe he took some notes from those movies because the convoy heist and car chase sequences would fit right in with the best set pieces of the Fast franchise. Those two sequences must have been an absolute chore to shoot, but the final product is exciting, tense, and they always keep you on the edge of your seat. It’s not just the set pieces that have gotten an upgrade, but it’s also the close quarters combat that showed the biggest improvement.

It’s really no surprise that John David Washington was a former athlete because he sells the action. The hand-to-hand combat is great not only because of how well it’s shot, but also because of how able and willing Washington is in performing the action. You could argue about his charisma and screen presence, but when it’s time for him to performa stunt, he’s putting his all into the physical performance. The sequence when Washington’s Protagonist is fighting with his reverse self is about as mental as the hallway fight in Inception, but instead of rotating hallways, it’s a fight where both characters are fighting in different realities. Nolan’s come a long way since the shaky cam in Batman Begins and despite the lack of emotional depth, the action manages to stand on its own as an entertaining part of a largely mediocre whole.


This is probably the first Nolan movie where I was left feeling cold on the characters. I think John David Washington and Robert Pattinson are very charismatic performers, but their characters don’t have much in the way of backstory, which would have really helped make Tenet feel less emotionally detached. The closest we get to an actual character is Elizabeth Debicki, but she’s not nearly as much of a presence as the film tries to make her out to be. If you’ve been waiting for a Bond film directed by Nolan, then Tenet is the film for you as it has globetrotting espionage, guys in stylish suits, and a comical villain who’s evil just for the sake of being evil. Kenneth Branagh’s Sator is an absolute bastard in this movie and that’s fine, but at least give Branagh some more material to work with to make the character memorable and compelling.

The real stakes of the film don’t really come until the end of act two and by then, Sator is still a one dimensional villain whose motives for world destruction carry little to no weight. The best sequences are between Branagh and Debicki who plays his estranged wife who’s trying to get custody of their son. This could have made for good personal stakes, but their relationship never gets much time to flesh out so the end result is just Sator beating up his wife for the whole film until she decides she’s had enough. For some reason, Aaron Taylor-Johnson is in this movie too, but he’s not even a character and also shows up too late to make a real impact. We’re told not to “think about it, just feel it” but it’s hard not to think about Tenet’s concepts when the characters feel hollow.


It’s about as ambitious as Inception was, but unlike Inception, Tenet seems to be more interested in its concepts rather than its characters. There are plenty of surface level thrills with great stunts that are being performed by great actors, but it’s ultimately a hollow venture as Tenet prefers to keep the audience at a distance rather than to invite them in. I would have liked more sequences between Washington, Pattinson, and Debicki, but the scenes they do have together are good stuff. Nolan’s displayed tremendous improvement over the span of 11 films and while his filmmaking style continues to evolve, I fear his ambitions might be taking over his ability to tell an emotional, character-driven story.

Jack Reacher: Action Flick Friday

Christopher McQuarrie and Tom Cruise are the Martin Scorsese and Robert DeNiro of action films.


Caleb Deschanel’s cinematography is efficient in the best way possible. There’s nothing deep or innovative going on with the camera work, but it’s efficient enough to keep the story moving along without losing the audience’s attention. The cinematography truly excels when it’s following the action sequences and while there are only a handful of set pieces in Jack Reacher, all of them manage to stand out because of how well they’re shot. I also loved how the cinematography did the most to build up to Jack Reacher’s reveal during the first act. We get a sequence with David Oyelowo’s Detective Emerson talking about Jack Reacher’s credentials and army background, and as that’s going on, we cut back to the camera capturing Jack Reacher through overhead shots, behind the shoulder shots, and reaction shots from random people. It’s a very effective sequence in establishing the larger than life personality of the character. There are also a lot of sequences involving characters putting clues together and none are more effective than the sequence at the start of the film.

The opening sequence following the sniper assassination is the best use of “show, don’t tell” as we follow Detective Emerson looking for evidence and putting together all the pieces to track down the killer’s identity. It’s a brief sequence, but it effectively manages to help the audience put the pieces together with Emerson without having to rely on dialogue to explain what’s happening. The camera follows through the whole detective process in sequence as Emerson first discovers the bullet shell, followed by the fingerprint analysis and DNA scan, and finally, the arrest of the suspect. It’s a sequence with largely no dialogue and it only relies on score and editing to get its point across. Cinematography doesn’t always need to be elaborate and fancy and Caleb Deschanel’s workmanlike proficiency shows that you can make the most out of very little.


Every once in awhile, you get a Tom Cruise performance that diverges just a hair from his typical leading man persona and Jack Reacher is a nice change of pace for him! The character of Jack Reacher is more of an anti-hero than a straight up good guy and while Tom Cruise manages to give a slightly darker performance, he still manages to inject some charm and charisma to keep it on brand with his movie star persona. Released at a time when Cruise’s career was slowly going downhill, Jack Reacher was the comeback that Cruise needed as it not only served as his first collaboration with director Christopher McQuarrie, but it was also as the beginning of Cruise’s next phase in his career: the action hero. Much like his later films, Cruise has great chemistry with his female costars and the scenes between him and Rosamund Pike are sizzlin’ hot! Their chemistry borders on the line of flirtatious but neither one ever acts upon it and it’s refreshing to see a dude and dudette relationship that’s built on respect as opposed to full on sexual tension.

While Tom Cruise gets to thrive in this film, most of the other actors save for Rosamund Pike don’t have the same luxury. Not gonna lie, I was stoked to see Werner Herzog and his distinct voice tear up the screen as the bad guy but he’s barely even in the movie! He’s the mastermind behind the curtain but instead of doing something downright nasty with the character, it’s just a thankless role that needed a performer of gravitas to make it believable. Now it’s time we talk about everyone’s favorite actor, Jai Courtney who’s actually pretty decent here but not enough to make him a memorable villain. The issue with the characters also comes in relation to the plot because it’s unnecessarily confusing and when you introduce all these characters, you end up with too many characters with very little to do. I just finished watching this a few hours ago and I couldn’t even tell you why David Oyelowo suddenly turned heel. Despite all the high profile talent in Jack Reacher, it’s ultimately Tom Cruise who keeps it afloat and none of the actors can quite match his level of charisma.


Fandango Movieclips. (2018 Sep 12) Jack Reacher (2012) – 5 Against 1 Scene (3/10) | Movieclips

There are legitimately only a handful of action set pieces in Jack Reacher, but they’re some of the neatest action sequences you can watch! If you’re a fan of Christopher McQuarrie’s previous two Mission Impossible films, then you owe it to yourself to watch Jack Reacher for the action sequences alone. It’s a lot smaller scale and toned down compared to the action that McQuarrie would direct in the future, but you can see McQuarrie developing his style and slowly inching his way in becoming one of the most competent action directors working today. Much like the cinematography, McQuarrie’s direction is functional rather than innovative and while most would view that as a bad thing, there are very few directors who can shoot action as well as McQuarrie can. It also doesn’t hurt that you have Tom Cruise willing to perform the stunts himself which makes it feel that much more authentic.

I think almost everyone will say the car chase is the best sequence in the film, but as a fan of hand-to-hand combat, the brawl outside the bar was an absolute banger. Cruise is no slouch when it comes to action and he proves that he can throw down with the younger guys, in fact, his character pleads for the younger guys to walk away because they’re no challenge for him. Cruise moves with such speed and grace that you’ll have a hard time believing that a man in his early fifties could move like that. His athleticism is in full display and he does it without breaking a sweat. Much like the other action set pieces in the film, there’s little to no score played during the sequences which helps make the action feel more immersive and intimate. I personally would have preferred more wide shots with fewer edits, but even so, the action is discernible and it’s executed impeccably.


The action is strong and the performances are functional, but the story itself is rather convoluted and uninteresting and it feels like a chore to get through just to get to the action. I expected an action film, but what I got was more along the lines of a crime-thriller that was too confusing for its own good. It’s not bad to get it’s ass kicked, but I don’t think it’s strong enough to be a kick-ass action movie, so I suppose we’ll give it a stalemate. Cruise’s charisma and McQuarrie’s directing keep this from being an outright dud and both do the most in delivering exciting action set pieces both from behind and in front of the camera. Based on Cruise and McQuarrie’s future collaborations, this is the weakest of the bunch, but it was also the start of a budding relation ship between the two. Jack Reacher delivers nothing new to the genre, but it does the most to deliver as much fun as it possibly can.

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: On Second Thought Thursday

The shining example of what not to do in a team-up movie.


The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen was the film I remember watching regularly while growing up. I couldn’t fathom people hating on this movie when I was younger. I thought the characters were great and in my young and innocent eyes, the special effects weren’t too bad. The action was fun, the world was interesting, and despite being deathly scared of vampires, Mina Harker was an absolute smokeshow. Admittedly, I never could get into the character of Skinner because you couldn’t see him for most of the movie so I couldn’t process what kind of character he was or what bearing he had on the rest of the film.

I couldn’t tell ya anything going on during the action sequences, but they were fun enough as visual and audio noise to keep me entertained. One of my favorite sequences was the fight between Mr. Hyde and the big purple bad guy because of how bizarre the effects look. It’s a flat-out ugly design especially compared to the costume design for Mr. Hyde, but it was cool to watch big monsters beat each other up. This was also my introduction to Sean Connery and as the leader of the group, he was actually a pretty neat character and he exuded all the traits of the old tough guy. Adventure movies were my cup of tea as a kid, and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen fit right in with the likes of Van Helsing, which was another personal favorite of mine.


Alright, alright, it’s pretty bad. I think the biggest problem for me was how rushed it felt. The cuts and edits lack any sort of flow especially during the action sequences where it constantly cuts back and forth between various characters and it ends up feeling chaotic and overwhelming. In a time when we had X-Men and X2, it’s astounding that a team-up film like The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen could be executed so poorly. A good chunk of the film takes place in Captain Nemo’s ship, The Nautilus, which would have been the perfect time to fully flesh out the characters and their dynamics, but because there’s no time or interest for any of that stuff, I never got any deeper insight into who these characters were. There was so much potential for the father/son dynamic to develop between Quartermain and Tom Sawyer, but it ends up being half baked in favor of moving the story along as quickly as possible.

That being said, this movie is still pretty fun. Some of the CGI is questionable, but there’s plenty of wicked practical sets and props, especially the German war tank in the beginning of the film. I’m not sure how they executed the transformation for Jekyll and Hyde, but that was a neat bit of body horror that translated really well onscreen. While we’re talking about Dr. Jekyll, both he and Dorian Gray are easily the most enjoyable characters in the film. I love the sequences with Jekyll talking to his alter ego Mr. Hyde through the mirrors and portholes of The Nautilus which is a perfect way to visualize Jekyll’s dual personalities and Jason Flemyng manages to balance both sides of the character’s psyche. As for Dorian Gray, his sassiness was much a much-needed remedy to counteract the serious tone of the movie. It’s a whole mess, but there’s some good stuff to take from it.


I’ve seen the Rotten Tomatoes and it’s safe to say no one’s going to label this as a “so bad, it’s good” movie, but it’s still my guilty pleasure movie. It fails on plot, character, and essentially everything that makes for a good movie, but it still managed to work its ugly charm on me even after all these years. The first half showed some promise and the sequence where we first meet Quartermain shooting down bad guys in Kenya Colony was a fun set piece similar to old school adventure films like Indiana Jones and The Mummy. When there’s not a distracting amount of CGI, League’s practical effects and stunts are the pillars that keep this film from falling apart. As a final feature film, this certainly was a lousy way for Sean Connery to retire, but in a way, his portrayal as Quartermain also serves as a meaningful swan song in the way Logan was for Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine. For most, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen is about as bad as watching your favorite sports team constantly lose, but just like the biggest superfan, I’ll always be there rooting for ’em.


I’ve never related to a character more than when he had the urgent need to poop in the midst of heightened stress.


Nolan replaces the high concepts and expository dialogue for a more stripped down and visceral experience. Dunkirk has a lot in common with a sirloin steak; they’re lean, mean, and satiating. With a runtime of 104 minutes, it gets in and out and it always moves with purpose. Right from the start, Nolan establishes the stakes by showering the screen with propaganda leaflets showing how outnumbered the Allied troops are. It’s now become a race through time as the Allies try to survive the onslaught while awaiting to be rescued. The enemy is never seen, but their presence is constantly felt as the threat of danger looms offscreen.

The opening sequence is an absolute banger of an intro because of how Nolan is able to show the desperation of the situation without having to rely on dialogue. The very first shot has soldiers walking through the quiet town of Dunkirk before a barrage of gunfire dispatches most of the Allied troops. We then meet Tommy who manages to escape the gunfire unscathed and he’s desperate to sneak his way onto the ships leaving Dunkirk. As he’s trying to make his way out of the beach, he meets a fellow soldier called Gibson and both carry a wounded soldier on a hospital carrier to one of the hospital ships in the hopes of catching a free ride. Because of the constant urgency in Dunkirk, we don’t learn about these characters through backstories and exposition, but we learn about the kind of people they are as we see them react to the events that unfold around them. We understand Tommy and Gibson’s desperation to escape and the resources they use in their attempts to get out, but even amidst their desperation for survival, they never lose their own humanity.


I’m going to use this moment to address the criticisms that Dunkirk doesn’t have any character to emotionally connect with because I think that’s some fake news! Dunkirk isn’t about a single character, but rather, it’s about the collective experience and the interconnecting stories related to the events at Dunkirk. The fact that this was an actual slight against the movie indicates that most critics missed the entire point of the film. Everything happens so fast in Dunkirk that there’s not enough time to slow down when time is of the essence so instead of establishing one clear protagonist with one unique motivation, Nolan gives us an ensemble of characters who all have one clear motivation: survival.

When left with the simple need for survival, men will either succumb to their baser instincts, or they will overcome their animal nature and Nolan’s interest with Dunkirk is to see how each character reacts under the pressure. In one sequence, Tommy and Gibson make it aboard a destroyer, but while Tommy chooses to go below decks, Gibson chooses to stay outside in case he needs to make an escape. Of course, the destroyer gets hit by a torpedo but in an act of selflessness, Gibson manages to open up the hatch to allow all the trapped soldiers to escape. If this isn’t an effective way to flesh out a character, then what is? Even with few dialogue spread out between a bevy of different characters, you end up rooting for everyone because Nolan chooses to focus on how the characters react.


Dunkirk is Christopher Nolan’s Mad Max: Fury Road. It’s a cinematic rollercoaster ride that manages to establish character and stakes without having to rely on dialogue. When I think of the “theater experience” I think of Dunkirk and its various Imax shots during the dogfight sequences. The scale is epic, the score is gripping, and the pacing is sprightly and it never slows down for one moment. This is vastly different from Nolan’s prior works but it also carries the same filmmaking style he’s had since Memento. For some, the lack of a definable character might be a detriment, but even without a clear protagonist, Nolan’s technical prowess is what makes Dunkirk a powerful and visceral experience.

Brawl in Cell Block 99: Action Flick Friday

The best late-night movie you’ve never seen.


Benji Bakshi’s cinematography is so grimy and I love it! From the medieval aesthetic of Redleaf Prison to the brutal fight sequences, there’s absolutely nothing sexy or stylish about Brawl in Cell Block 99; it’s blunt and it’s nasty all the way through. I admire the cinematography’s conviction in keeping the film grounded while also embracing the pulpiness of its character and setting. Bakshi leaves nothing to the imagination in regards to the action and he shows it all with a mix of mid and wide shots that serve to really make you feel the pain. The cinematography also does the most to highlight Vaughn’s size but instead of using it to establish Vaughn’s power over the prison guards, it’s actually the prison guards who are in the position of power.

One of the best sequences is Bradley’s first encounter with Don Johnson’s Warden Tuggs at Redleaf Prison. After attacking multiple guards, Bradley’s been transferred to Redleaf Prison which is where he has to find and kill a man named Christopher Bridge in order to protect his wife and unborn baby from being mutilated by an abortionist. Once Bradley arrives at Redleaf, Warden Tuggs does everything to assert his power over Bradley, including dumping all his personal belongings on the ground. The wide shots used in the sequence emphasize Bradley’s size over the warden and his prison guards, but from the shackles to Warden Tuggs’ verbal insults, it’s clear that the power dynamics are reversed and Warden Tuggs is the one in control.

Couldn’t find a clip, so a photo will have to do


Vince Vaughn’s reputation as the fast-talking funny man has now been challenged as Brawl has Vaughn giving an against-type performance that just might be one of the best performances of the last decade! Much like the rest of this movie, it’s not a showy or sexy performance, but through Vaughn’s subtle use of facial expressions and his brief bursts of physical rage, it provides more than enough context on who Bradley Thomas is and what his values are. Despite his massive frame, Bradley won’t resort to violence unless he absolutely has to, but should it get to that point, you better get out of his way unless you want your arms snapped in half. Vince Vaughn’s always been a big guy, but Brawl makes use of his height to great effect especially during the fight sequences. It’s not just a dramatic performance that Vaughn has to deliver, but it’s also a physically demanding performance and Vince Vaughn manages to keep up with the choreography.

When we first meet Bradley, he’s not only just been laid off, but he’s also discovered that his wife has been having an affair for about three months. On the surface, Bradley takes the loss of his job rather well, but as he’s driving home, you can see the fumes rising. It’s only once he discovers the hickey on his wife’s neck that he loses it, but instead of hitting her, he orders her in the house, demolishes her car, and walks into the house to discuss her infidelity. We’re already onboard with Vince Vaughn’s Bradley Thomas, but not enough has been said about Jennifer Carpenter’s performance as Lauren Thomas who’s able to make her character’s actions understandable without straight up endorsing them. The sequence also provides us with a deeper insight into both characters as we learn about Bradley and Lauren’s recent miscarriage and their past with drug use. The resolution at the end of the sequence is absolutely perfect because while they’ve effectively resolved their issues, Bradley’s still needs a moment to process Lauren’s infidelity before he can get physical again. This was easily my favorite sequence not only because of the strength of the performances, but also for how the script effectively sets up the characters’ backstories and their themes.

Again, no clip. Sorry!


This is one of the most violent action movies I’ve ever seen and it’s not for those with weak stomachs. I may have cheated in labeling this as an action movie since most of the action doesn’t happen until halfway into the film, but they’re shot and performed so well that they deserve to be highlighted among the greats. The first half of Brawl is pure buildup to flesh out the character of Bradley Thomas, but once the violence starts, it doesn’t let up in showing just how violent our gentle giant can get. Bones are snapped in half, teeth are knocked out, and faces are ripped off, but despite Bradley’s propensity for violence, you understand that he doesn’t really want to do this, but he does what he needs to in order to protect his family. Bradley fights with the grace of a martial artist, the power of a boxer, and the blunt force strength of a barroom brawler.

The final set piece is the ultimate payoff for two-and-a-half hours of buildup and we get to see Bradley defend and attack with a mix of different fighting styles. After being beaten down by the Warden and the inmates responsible for his wife’s kidnapping, Bradley outsmarts the prison guards and pummels his way towards Eleazar and his crew and dispatches each of them in glorious fashion. The most violent kill has to be Jonathan Lee’s character who gets his face dragged across concrete. Once Bradley gets his hands on Eleazar, he physically coerces Eleazar to release his pregnant wife. In the end, Bradley knows what his final act of violence will lead to, but he can finally go out knowing that his wife and child are safe. Sometimes, a man’s gotta get his hands dirty.


No doubt about it, Brawl in Cell Block 99 kicks so much ass! The slow burn feel might turn off some viewers who were hoping for a straightforward action flick, but with an award-worthy performance from Vince Vaughn and a colorful batch of characters, Brawl never feels its runtime. Every minute of this film works to flesh out Bradley’s character and motivation so that once the action does happen, the stakes feel real. For some, the violence might be too gratuitous, but Brawl’s violence isn’t gratuitous for the sake of being gratuitous. It’s what has to be done for Bradley to keep his family safe and while the action is choreographed really well, the cinematography captures how unpleasant the violence actually is. First time viewers might need to process it over a period of time, but much like Bradley’s rough exterior, there’s a lot more bubbling beneath the surface.

The Place Beyond the Pines: On Second Thought Thursday

There’s a reason why Drive and The Place Beyond the Pines don’t have Gosling talk all that much. He’s got a funny yell.


CINEMA!!!!!! I loved The Place Beyond the Pines on my first viewing and I thought Ryan Gosling’s performance as Luke Glanton was dynamite. He’s good at a lot of things, but he’s especially good at playing cool. Glanton’s silent demeanor matched with his precarious lifestyle made him the coolest character in the entire film and it’s obvious where director Derek Cianfrance’s interests lay. The first portion of Pines was definitely the best part of the film because it had the motorcycles, it had the tension, but most importantly, it had a morally questionable protagonist who you ultimately sympathized with. Even with such a powerful first act, I thought the following two acts were pretty neat too.

Acts II and III might not have the same energy as the first act, but they do sport some excellent performances and the third act is an emotionally resonant payoff to everything set up prior. The first act is Gosling’s movie, the second act is Cooper’s, and the third act is Dane Dehaan and Emory Cohen’s story as the sons of Gosling and Cooper respectively. Of the two, Dehaan’s performance was the standout for me because he has that same quiet personality as his father, but there’s a bit of violence brewing underneath the surface. Cohen is good too, but I didn’t see the relation between him and Cooper. The big theme of Pines is if the sons are doomed to follow the same cycle as their fathers and the third act gave an impactful answer to that question.


My fellow readers, it wasn’t by chance that I chose to review The Place Beyond the Pines. From the farthest corners of online film discourse, I’ve seen and read many reviews criticizing Pines as a frustrating movie with a strong opening but a lackluster middle and ending. I came into this rewatch with those criticisms in mind and after years of putting off this rewatch, I acknowledge those criticisms, but I’ll be damned if I didn’t say I still enjoyed this movie. The first act is still the most enjoyable, but on this rewatch, I found myself enjoying Cooper’s performance as Avery Cross a lot more than I had previously. The character isn’t nearly as cool as Gosling’s Luke Glanton, but it was never supposed to be. Avery and Luke are two sides of the same coin. At the end of the day, they’re both fathers trying to do right by their families, one just happens to be a criminal while the other pursued being a cop.

The first act perfectly sets up who Luke Glanton is and what he wants, and even though his means of achieving his goals are morally unsound, you at least understand where the character’s coming from. You can’t really say the same for Avery Cross because his introduction starts during Act II and once he shows up, Pines goes through a “narrative whiplash” by unceremoniously dispatching Luke Glanton in order to make way for our new protagonist. It’s already a large demand to have the audience suddenly follow an entirely new character when they’ve spent a good portion following a different character’s story, but to also have to juggle an extra storyline that feels superfluous to the main themes of the film? Good luck with having anyone get onboard. On top of having Avery dealing with the relationship between his wife and son, Act II also has to deal with the fallout of Luke’s death as well as a random subplot involving police corruption. Adding all these extra plot points ultimately make the film feel narratively uneven and thematically muddled.


It’s an ambitious project, but Derek Cianfrance asks for too much from his audience without putting in the work to get them to that point. With a runtime of nearly two-and-a-half hours, Pines uses none of that time to properly set up its characters and their relationships to each other; things just happen because the plot needs it to happen. The cinematography has quite a few great moments, particularly a tracking shot of Glanton walking through the carnival at the film’s opening. There are also two separate shots of Luke and Jason riding down the road in a gorgeous overhead shot which further drives home the themes of legacy and fatherhood. It stumbles along the way, but it eventually reaches the finish line with a satisfying conclusion.

The Princess Bride

This feels like an early blueprint for Pirates of the Caribbean.


Fantasy is such a great genre to play around with because you’re able to run wild with setting and character and The Princess Bride is filled to the brim with colorful characters. The biggest standouts were Andre the Giant and Mandy Petinkin who play Fezzik and Inigo Montoya respectively. At the start of the film, they’re working for Vizzini, played by Wallace Shawn, who kidnaps Robin Wright’s Princess Buttercup in order to start a war. The impression here is that they’re the villains, but as the film goes on, they’re just work-for-hire henchmen with their own motivations, particularly Montoya who’s on a quest for revenge against the six-fingered man who killed his father. “I will go up to the six-fingered man and say, ‘Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die,’ ” says Montoya before he engages with Cary Elwes’ “Man in Black” in a fencing match that’s easily the best set piece in the movie.

The duel doesn’t officially start until five minutes in, which is the amount of time that’s used to establish Montoya’s backstory, but once it gets going, not even a dime squatting 225 pounds could get you to turn away from the screen. As a fan of swordfights, this is equally as exciting as the sequence between Jack Sparrow and Will Turner in the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie. The choreography is in top form and the camera shoots it in wide shots that fully showcases the athleticism of both combatants. Montoya and the Man in Black are equally skilled swordsman and both characters are having fun testing each other’s skill. They’re less interested in killing each other as opposed to engaging in a friendly competition and that’s where the real joy of this sequence comes from. The stakes to save the princess are there, but they’re at least having fun while doing it.


Robin Wright and Cary Elwes are charming as all hell, but in keeping with my Pirates of the Caribbean reference, they’re about as interesting as Will and Elizabeth were in the original trilogy. The plot of The Princess Bride is about Cary Elwes’ Westley setting out to rescue the Robin Wright’s Princess Buttercup from the evil Prince Humperdinck, played by Chris Sarandon. It’s your typical damsel-in-distress situation but it works because of the chemistry and charisma between Wright and Elwes. It’s rather surprising how quickly The Princess Bride establishes their relationship, but it’s functional enough to where you buy what they’re selling because if it were under the hands of lesser actors, this movie would fall apart. For a film titled The Princess Bride, Robin Wright doesn’t do that much here.

Her role is to be the damsel-in-distress, but her character’s the least cool character out of the whole ensemble. Other than agreeing to marry Humperdinck in exchange for Westley’s freedom, Buttercup is rather inconsequential to the story; she’s more of a prop than an actual character. Besides her beauty, what about her made Humperdinck want to marry her? There’s not much character there to make you understand or believe why he’d choose her. My love for blondes knows no bounds, but there’s not much to draw out of this performance other than that true love exists.


The Princess Bride is one of the most wholesome and feelgood movies ever made. It’s packed with a strong ensemble of actors playing a variety of memorable characters who are instantly quotable. The main story is about Buttercup and Westley’s love for each other, but it’s Montoya’s story that makes the biggest impact. He’s charming, honorable, and he has all the best quotes which in turn makes him the true MVP of The Princess Bride. Rob Reiner manages to capture the spirit and essence of a fairytale that pays homage to the genre while also being able to poke fun at it. The set design, characters, and story are all spot on, but The Princess Bride manages to shine because of the sincerity and joy that’s showcased in every facet of its being. In an age of cynicism, The Princess Bride still shows evidence that there is still honor amongst men and that true love still exists.

Interstellar: An Odyssey Through Space and Time

Haven’t felt this close to a Nolan film in quite some time.


The cinematography takes Nolan in an entirely new direction! Nolan and Pfister may have broken up, but that’s ok because Interstellar is the beginning of a new relationship between Christopher Nolan and Hoyte van Hoytema. It still looks like a Nolan film, but Hoytema injects something fresh while also being able to match with Nolan’s sensibilities. It’s big, it’s epic, and it’s made for the theater experience, but Hoytema’s cinematography is impressive because of how intimately it captures its characters.

At the start of Interstellar, earth is a dying planet living on borrowed time. Humanity has no desire for exploration and progress but has instead chosen to accept their fate living their final days in the dirt. Before we even set off into space, the first act focuses solely on Cooper and his kids on earth. There’s personal drama taking place between these characters and it’s what helps to make the rest of the film so effective. Hoytema impeccably blends the grounded reality of earth with the unknown beauty of outer space.


There’s some clunky exposition going on especially during the first act. When we first meet Cooper, he’s a former NASA pilot who’s become a farmer. In the chunkiest bit of exposition, Cooper states all of this during a PTA meeting for his daughter Murph. Nolan’s biggest issue during this phase in his career is the constant exposition and handholding to get his point across to the audience. A little exposition never hurt anybody, but when it’s the only way to get these characters to interact with each other, that’s when the film starts to feel less personal and more mechanical.

Interstellar travel is not an easy subject to discuss, especially for a meathead such as myself, but Interstellar does too much in explaining every detail that it starts to lose you after awhile. The best moments aren’t when the dialogue deals with the science mumbo jumbo but when it’s used to develop the characters and their dynamics. The less explaining, the better because, quite frankly, the more they try to explain Interstellar travel, the more confusing it gets when you try to make sense of it all.


I honestly forgot how intimate Interstellar was and during my rewatch, I was brought back to my first time watching it in the theater. It’s an epic space adventure filled with gorgeous visuals and exciting sequences, but the best moments are between Coop and Murphy and their relationship that transcends all of space and time. Interstellar is a celebration of man’s ambition, but it’s also a calling card for all of us to reach for the stars.

Never Back Down 2: The Beatdown

Yes, Never Back Down got a sequel but does it deserve a sequel? Is it better than the original? Let’s examine the pieces!


The Beatdown is one ugly-looking movie. It’s so dull and lifeless that it actually looks like it was made for tv rather than for film. Despite how ugly it looks, the cinematography manages to showcase the action quite well. The first Never Back Down was doing too much with the cuts and edits that it was starting to get annoying. At least, with the sequel, there was some thought in how to capture the action and that’s due to the skills of the director. There are two things to know about The Beatdown: 1) it’s directed by Michael Jai White and 2) this is his directorial debut. Given how bad the acting and story are, it’s no surprise that this comes from an inexperienced director but it’s also obvious that White’s martial arts background gives him a good eye for shooting action set pieces.

The cinematography is at its best when there’s action going on. If you’re looking for cinematography that gives provides insight into the character’s thoughts and feelings, you won’t find it here, but if you want to see Michael Jai White kicking ass in some sweet wide shots, then The Beatdown is the film for you. The four leads are fine, but it’s obvious that they can’t meet White on his level so the camera plays around with various angles to hide the stunt doubles. The Beatdown is purely a showcase for White to show off his mad skills and even though he’s a supporting character, he steals this whole movie from everyone else.


Most of the performances are so bad that it makes Sean Faris’ performance in the first film look like a tour de force. The Beatdown starts by introducing us to our four leads and their backstories: Mike Stokes, Zack Gomes, Tim Newhouse, and Justin Epstein. Mike’s ashamed that his father left his mom for another man, Zack’s retina is partially detached from a previous boxing match, Tim and his stripper mother are in debt, and Justin is a social outcast who’s constantly bullied. Half of these backstories are completely bonkers, but then there’s the other half that would make for good narrative drama, but they never follow through with any of their arcs in a satisfying way. Justin’s arc had the most potential considering the fact that he’s the underdog and while the film takes the character in an unexpected direction, it’s executed so poorly that there’s no emotional resonance. Michael Jai White knows these characters suck, so he graces us with his presence as their badass sensei Case Walker.

The first time Case Walker shows up onscreen, you sit up straighter because he’s the energy this movie desperately needed. The four characters come to Walker looking for a mentor and instead of taking them in as his pupils, he insults them and tells them to leave. Of course, they eventually convince him to train them but it’s obvious he’s not going to be the mentor you expect him to be. Walker kind of just wants to be left alone and while he agrees to train these guys, he has no intention of being in the spotlight. It’s obvious that The Beatdown is more interested in Michael Jai White and if it weren’t for these four meddling kids that we have to follow around, the movie would have been all the better had it focused on Case Walker.


Now, the moment you’ve all been waiting for: the action! The Beatdown has no false pretenses of what it wants to be; it wants to show off some cool action and it manages to do that even if it’s at the expense of good characters. A bulk of the actual MMA fights happen during the third act, but there are a few neat little gems sprinkled throughout. There are plenty of training montages if you’re into that sort of thing and even if the music feels like the early 2000’s, the actual montages themselves are a great display of athleticism and martial arts technique. Michael Jai White doesn’t get to do all the action but he does give himself one awesome sequence involving a couple of crooked cops.

As the film progresses, we see Case Walker getting harassed group of rowdy cops just looking to give him a hard time. The first encounter ends with the cops forcing Walker to vacate his current residency due to his probation. During the second encounter, Walker has now been framed by one of his students and as the cops are cuffing him, Walker finally lets loose in an action sequence that’s exciting and rewarding! Michael Jai White was waiting for this moment to show off his moves and it’s the best sequence in the entire movie. The film has little moments of Walker performing martial arts, but the police sequence is the payoff that everyone had been waiting for.

AlexMovieClips. (2020, Oct 23). The cops are trying to frame Walker. A fight with the police. Never Back Down 2: The Beatdown https://youtu.be/c5MKuWSD38I

Kick-Ass or Ass-Kicked?

The positives are far too few to outweigh the negatives so this movie is an “Ass-Kicked” movie. Michael Jai White needed to be the lead for this to even be mildly entertaining but instead, the movie focuses on four characters who are as bland as a plate of chicken, broccoli, and rice. Get rid of the teenagers, keep the Case Walker character, and show off more action and this would have been the holy trinity to making this an above average action flick. For a sequel to Never Back Down, there only a few callbacks to the first film.

There’s obviously the mention of “The Beatdown,” but the sequel also brings back Evan Peters who was probably the best part of the first one! Peters is equally as good in The Beatdown as he was in Never Back Down, but he brings some extra ham to a series that’s already hammy enough. Maybe they should have Evan Peters as the Nick Fury for this franchise so they can turn this franchise into a mix of The Avengers and Mortal Kombat. If you’re willing to brave through cheap acting from cheap actors to get to the action, you’ll find some reward, but ultimately, stay away and watch the clips on YouTube.

Never Back Down: On Second Thought Thursday

Never Back Down is Warrior’s coked out brother who’s addicted to Monster Energy and Tapout shirts.


I remember watching this during the summer before my freshman year of high school and I thought it was the coolest thing I’d ever seen. The music slapped, the characters were cool, and the action was tough! I had no interest in sports, but any film that dealt with boxing or martial arts always caught my attention and Never Back Down was no exception. It was also my introduction to Amber Heard who was an absolute babe in this movie; I’d always had a thing for blondes so of course she’d be what stood out to me. Say what you will about Sean Faris’ performance as Jake Tyler, but the supporting cast are actually compelling in a way that Faris isn’t.

Never Back Down is a movie made for impressionable teenage boys. The editing is hyperactive, the characters save for Jake Tyler are boisterous, and the soundtrack is so in your face that it could only ever appeal to rowdy kids who love X-Box and energy drinks. I caught this on cable with a friend of mine when I first saw it which probably contributed to the experience. Watching this on cable meant you could leave it on in the background while doing other things. It was the most romanticized look into high school where everyone was hot and you could resolve your issues with a good ol’ bout of fisticuffs. Over the years, I’d always come back to this movie for mindless entertainment, but for this recent rewatch, I wanted to really see if this was actually entertaining or if I just had bad taste.


This is bad, really bad! Every character in this movie is an asshole to varying degrees with Cam Gigandet’s Ryan being the biggest one. The second asshole in the “Asshole Ranking” is Sean Faris’ Jake Tyler who’s angry all the time and never goes through a believable transformation. There’s a way to make a character like this work, but it has to start with giving him some sort of personality and likability, but there’s no work done to fully flesh him out as a character. Once we get to the final beatdown, there’s no tension because everything prior lacked any sort of emotional resonance. It also doesn’t help that the action looks really ugly with constant cuts that never allow us to see the stunts being performed. All that being said, I have no guilt in saying I still enjoy this movie!

I’ve mentioned Cam Gigandet being an asshole in the previous paragraph, but I think that’s one of the film’s best aspects. Gigandet relishes in this role and he makes for a believable bad guy; he’s more charismatic than the lead, that’s for sure. I don’t know if it’s just me, but Gigandet gives me Brad Pitt vibes and he’s essentially playing Tyler Durden if Tyler Durden were the rich kid in high school who wanted everyone to know he was in Fight Club. Cam Gigandet isn’t the only good performance here, but we’ve also got Evan Peters before he broke out with American Horror Story and X-Men! Evan Peters plays Max Cooperman who seems to be the only one who knows how stupid this movie is. He’s the one with the most charisma and anytime he’s not onscreen, you really wish he were. Even with material as subpar as this, Peters makes the most of it and it’s obvious why he became such a major star.


Never Back Down is most certainly not for everyone and it is objectively a bad movie, but I just can’t keep myself from outright hating it. The fights are terribly shot, most performances are subpar, and every character is in some form or another an asshole, but there’s nothing quite like films from the early aughts where every film had an orange tint and the soundtracks were full of nu metal. The summer of 2009 was the year that made the biggest impression on me as far as action movies go. I saw Commando, I saw The Predator, and I saw Never Back Down and while I’ve seen better, my love for action films wouldn’t be where it is today without Never Back Down to show me the path.