Marvel’s Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. S1E2 “0-8-4”

agents of shield castAs it turned out, last week’s premiere of Marvel’s Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. on ABC was the kind of show where the bloom fell off the rose as the week went on. The more opinions we read and heard, the more we realized that the episode was a bit dull and probably wouldn’t have hooked nearly as large an audience as it did had it been presented as a completely original show. But, a generally likable cast and the intriguing tease of an O-8-4  were interesting enough to bring us back for me. As you can imagine, SPOILERS follow.

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Marvel’s Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. S1E1 “Pilot”

marvel's agents of shield castAs everyone knowns by now, Marvel’s Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. debuted on ABC last night at the 8:00 PM spot. We here at Explosions Are Rad don’t cover too much in the way of comic book news because plenty of other sites do it incredibly well, but there aren’t too many shows out there that fall into the action vein. We were stoked to see a new comic book-based show on the air and figured we’d give it a watch and then give you, gentle reader, a few paragraphs of our thoughts. SPOILERS FOLLOW.

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Rad Review: The Rundown (2003)

MCDRUND EC029 Back in 2003 when Peter Berg’s The Rundown came out, the biggest name as far as we were concerned was Seann William Scott. Sure, Dwayne Johnson — better known as simply The Rock back then — was a big deal in the world of professional wrestling, but he hadn’t become the breakout acting success he is today. Even Berg as a director wasn’t exactly a hot commodity, known mostly as the brash doctor on Chicago Hope (though Very Bad Things made us laugh in ways that still make us feel a little dirty). Anyway, Scott was the big deal in this production. He’d done the first two American Pie movies, Final Destination, Road Trip and his other foray into action-land, Bulletproof Monk.

the rundown poster 1Looking back, though, The Rundown wasn’t the kind of movie that really stuck out in our minds. Sure, we remembered the cool action scene glanced above (where the wrestler faces off against a group of jungle ninjas with the leader played by Ernie Reyes Jr., better known as Keno from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II) and a few other set pieces or gags here or there. So, when the movie popped up on the ol’ Netflix Instant options in the action category, we were quick to give it another look, especially because it holds an interesting place in the actor’s filmography.

the rundown poster 2The actual plot of the movie revolves around Johnson’s Beck, a finder and getter who works for a loan shark. He wants out of their agreement, so the shark sends him to the jungles of Brazil to get his son, Travis (Scott) back. As it turns out, Travis is hanging out in a town with a huge diamond mining operation run by evil bad guy Hatcher (Christopher Walken) AND there’s an ancient, super-valuable artifact that Travis knows about and can get his hands on.

While Beck just wants to grab Travis and get out of there, Travis wants to grab the artifact. Since he knows the piece is valuable, Hatcher also wants in on that action and a game of cat and mouse winds up making up most of the story. A woman named Mariana (Rosario Dawson) is also involved in some of the shenanigans and winds up being a more important player than you expect in the beginning.

As everyone tries to get what they want, craziness ensues. Travis doesn’t want to go back with Beck, so he drives their Jeep over a cliff which literally rolls into one of the more painful looking scenes in the movie as both of them — more accurately their stunt doubles — roll down this cliffside smashing into everything from brush to full on saplings. It’s that realism in the action scenes that grounds some of the less realistic or goofy elements of the film. For instance, Beck is pretty much awesome at everything. During an early fight scene, he seems pre-occupied with attackers, but he takes a moment to pop the clip out of a handgun, sending it sliding on the floor, right underneath Travis’ foot sending him tumbling down. That’s insane timing!

And yet, there’s the fight we already mentioned (see below). Beck doesn’t not have an easy time taking on Reyes the jungle ninjas  as you can see in this clip. I think that using moments like that — Johnson probably loses more fights in this movie than he does in all his other movies combined, which adds a nice level of humanity to the proceedings — actually make the super-well choreographed moments seem easier to digest (and there’s a lot of them at the end of this movie). That sense of balance is something that not a lot of directors go for (and often times it isn’t needed or wanted), but Berg did a good job achieving it in this film which doesn’t tend to feel too over the top.

Berg also deserves credit for putting together such a solid cast and utilizing them well. He basically put my idea of who The Rock was back then on screen with a heaping dose of humanity and let him do his thing. Meanwhile, he toned down Scott’s humor, at least from the Stifler character he made so much bank on. Sure, he’s a bit crude and isn’t the nicest guy around, but he’s nowhere near the punch-worthy douche as his American Pie character (well, most of the time). Then you’ve got Walken in one of his many acting sweet spots. He’s a bit older than in something like True Romance and comes off a bit silly, but there’s still that underlying menace that lets you know he’ll kill you just to get some gold. And then there’s Dawson who probably has the widest stretch of acting space to cover and does it with ease, as anyone who’s seen her in anything can easily understand.

Another thing going for The Rundown is the fact that it’s setting helps to keep the picture from becoming too dated. Aside from an opening club scene, most of the movie takes place in a jungle where people wear pretty utilitarian clothing which means that you’re not watching this film and thinking, “Did people really used to wear see through shirts all the time?” The answer, strangely, is yes.

Anyway, we here at Explosions Are Rad would recommend giving this movie a watch if you’re a fan of Dwayne Johnson, action comedies, somewhat complicated plots, Walken craziness and Scott’s more toned down brand of humor.

Rad Review: Alien Vs. Predator (2004)

alien vs predator landscapeCrossover movies can be tricky beasts. By definition you’re serving at least two masters from two different fan bases. When combining two properties like Aliens and Predators — ones that had already faced off in the worlds of comics, video games and pretty much everything aside from movies — there’s a lot to live up to. When we first saw AVP back in 2004, we were admittedly disappointed. Frankly, we would have been happy if the movie was simply our two favorite aliens smashing each other to bits at every chance without so many pesky humans getting in the way.

Well, we revisited alien vs predator POSTERthe movie recently and it’s a wonder what lowered expectations combined with a better working knowledge of a story can do for enjoyment of a film. Going blind into any franchise flick or remake, you’ve got a certain set of expectations and the new film either meets them or doesn’t. If they’re not met, then you leave disappointed at best, which can sour you. That’s how we were with AVP. But, never let it be said that the Explosions Are Rad crew doesn’t go back and re-evaluate.

alien vs predator dvdAVP finds a group of scientists, archaeologists, industrialists, diggers and mercenaries traveling to Antarctica to investigate a strange heat signature that’s more than it seems. Lead by Charles Bishop Weyland (Lance Henriksen) — who plays the inspiration for his character in the Alien flicks — the trip soon proves to be more than meets the eye as the crew discovers an ancient underground temple that just so happens to  house an Alien queen. As we learn, millennia ago, the Predators came to Earth, built these temples to test their skills against the murderous xenomorphs and returned to test their warriors. The crew stumbles upon this deathtrap and must do their best to survive as the Aliens and Predators try to kill them and each other.

The problem with this movie mainly comes in the first 20-30 minutes, which could and should be significantly trimmed down. Sure, it makes sense that they want you to care about these characters, but at the same time it also feels like they’re trying too hard to get you to care about the bait they throw in the water during Shark Week. Hit those plot points a little quicker and get to the action. The biggest and most pointless part of the film that could have been excised completely is this extended interaction where Antarctic guide Alexa Woods (Sanaa Lathan) goes back and forth about leading the team as they’re untrained and the mission timeframe is too tight. Of course, she winds up staying on because she doesn’t think her replacement is good enough so this conflict that feels tacked on winds up doing absolutely nothing but show the audience that Alexa is a good, moral person, something that comes across pretty naturally.

But, aside from a bit of a length problem, the rest of the movie’s actually a pretty fun ride. The crew gets split up inside the temple as the various hunters go about their business, thanks to some Cube-like shifts in the building’s structure. It’s a pretty well thought out movie, directed and co-written by Paul W.S. Anderson along with screen story credits going to Alien writers Dan O’Bannon and Ronald Shusett. They probably didn’t need to go to all of the trouble to set the flick on Earth, but what they did seemed to fit well with the existing worlds set up in the previous film.

Of course, the real test of a crossover movie’s success or failure lies in how cool the scenes look when the two different groups finally come together on screen. This film neither lacks those kinds of scenes in the latter half, nor do they disappoint. You not only get to see three different Predators doing their things, but also a pretty impressive cast of Aliens including a Queen running ripshot through this place leading up to the ultimate battle.

While expectations might have been incredibly high for Aliens Vs. Predator the first time around, we think it’s worth checking out further down the line with a better understanding of what’s actually happening in the film as opposed to what we want to.

(Not So) Rad Review: Good Guys Where Black (1978)

good_guys_wear_black_chuck_norris The following opinion might cause the internet to gain sentience and destroy us on the spot, but it’s not easy finding a truly great Chuck Norris movie. Yes, he did an amazing job facing off against Bruce Lee in The Way Of The Dragon and became the internet’s paragon of toughness, but what are his best movies? Have you seen the dull A Force Of One, The Octagon or later efforts like Hellbound and The Cutter? They’re not exactly inspiring, though his brief appearances in The Expendables 2 was pretty damn entertaining.

good_guys_wear_black_posterAdmittedly inexperienced in the realm of Norris’ films, we here at Explosions Are Rad figured it would be a good idea to go back and give his movies a watch starting with 1978’s Good Guys Wear Black. Norris plays John T. Booker, the leader of a CIA task force known as the Black Tigers during the Vietnam War. As part of the peace treaty signed between the States and Vietnam to end the war, Senator Conrad Morgan (James Franciscus) had to set up the Black Tigers, sending them into what should have been a deathtrap. Booker, being the best there is at what he does, though got out of there with some of his fellow Tigers. Five years later, someone’s not only killing off the Tigers and Booker finds himself in the company of an inquisitive woman named Margaret (Anne Archer) who seems to know an awful lot about what’s going on.

expendables 2 chuck norris posterThere are a variety of problems with the film, from a general lack of visual quality — the scenes of the Tigers in the village looks like it was filmed on stock that itself survived a war — to molasses-slow fight scenes, but one of the movie’s larger stumbling points is that it doesn’t seem to know what it wants to be. There’s a war movie in there, there’s a revenge story, there’s something of a romance, there’s the odd combination of Booker being both a professor and a race car driver (which sounds like something a kid would make up while playing with several different action figures, all from different lines). There’s even a James Bond travel/spy element. It’s just too much, not that these elements can’t be brought together, but it’s just not well synthesized in this case.

The biggest problem with Good Guys Where Black, though, is that it’s just plain ol’ boring. The plot’s interesting enough, though a bit overcomplicated, but when you add that onto the previously mentioned slow fight scenes, a few glaring logic problems (why doesn’t he look for the guy who shoots the Black Tiger right in front of him?!) and a performance from Norris that’s a bit flat (though he definitely picks it up in the last 15-20 minutes or so), you’re not dealing with a recipe for success. In fact, this is the coolest scene in the movie:

From this clip alone you might think to yourself, “THIS guy trained with Bruce Lee? No way.”

We don’t want to be completely negative, so here’s a few interesting side facts. Norris’ character in Expendables 2 is named Booker which you can either take as a reference to this film or the continuation of the character. Either way, it’s pretty cool. Also, this film’s director Ted Post might not have hit a homer with Good Guys Wear Black, but he did helm four episodes of The Twilight Zone as well as Beneath The Planet Of The Apes and the Dirty Harry film Magnum Force. Oh, and don’t worry, we’re working our way towards mid-80s period of movies like The Delta Force, Lone Wolf McQuade, Invasion U.S.A., Missing In Action and the like. Here’s hoping we have better luck there!

Rad Review: Drive Angry (2011)

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It seems impossible to tell if Nicolas Cage is a good actor. Instead of playing a character, he just controls how much of his inner lunatic he decides to let the camera see. Drive Angry from director Patrick Lussier (Dracula 2000, the My Bloody Valentine remake) lets Cage unleash the full flow of insanity as Milton, a guy who escaped hell to get revenge on cult leader Jonah King (Billy Burke), who killed his daughter and snatched his grandaughter. Along the way he teams up with Amber Heard’s Piper, a tough young woman without much going on in her life aside from a cheating boyfriend and a crappy waitress job. As they operate their automobile in a perturbed fashion, Milton and PIper also have to stay several steps ahead of The Accountant (William Fichtner), an agent of Hell looking to bring back the escaped Milton.

amber heard drive angryLussier — who co-wrote the script with Todd Farmer (Jason X, the My Blood Valentine remake) — does a great job of having fun with this story. It’s not overly gory, but plenty of blood is spilled and bullets fired. The gore effects that do exist look just as gross as they should considering the wounds inflicted and the over-the-top style of the film. While the movie doesn’t get into hand-to-hand combat too often there’s plenty of excellent driving scenes, lots of gunplay and a few run-ins that show just how silly it is for regular ol’ humans to go up against supernatural entities.

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Actually, Heard gets her fists dirty more than anyone else in the movie and does a pretty serviceable job going up against dudes much bigger than her. She smacks around the woman her boyfriend’s cheating on her with before trying to give him the business end of an ass kicking. Later on, she throws down with King on an RV. After saying he’s going to kill her she drops this fantastic bit of dialog: “Between now and then, I’m gonna f*ck you up.” You might not think it to look at Heard in her other roles, but she delivers it like she means it, then backs it up. Good for her.

When it comes to the chase scenes, of which there many, Lussier gets pretty inventive with the car-eography. After a lifetime of watching car chases on television and in movies, they can get a little boring, but this one uses a lot of fun elements like the Accountant driving a Hydrogen truck into a small army of cop cars, stepping out on a truck and Milton driving just so to avoid the explosion. Sure, it looks a little CGI-y on Blu-ray, but it’s over pretty quickly and the idea is cool enough to outshine some execution flaws.

Speaking of of the Blu-ray presentation, it’s possible this movie looks too good. This is completely subjective, but since the film takes a lot of its cues from the grindhouse flicks of the 70s,  you sometimes want it to look a little less clean and pristine. It’s kind of like listening to a completely remastered version of a live Ramones show. Everything’s still there, but the grit is gone. That’s not to say this is a clean movie, there’s lots of death, carnage and nudity to go around, it all just looks really crisp and clear.

A few other highlights from the film include Tom Atkinson’s role as a local police captain. That guy’s pure gold in everything. Speaking of being great in everything, watching Cage and Fichtner on screen together is delightful. The fact that this is an original story with some big stars and a fairly good effects budget is also cool and something we’re seeing less and less of at the movies. After being disappointed with how Parker didn’t add much to the revenge/heist genre, it’s good to watch something like Drive Angry that did as much as it possibly could with the materials available.

Finally, did anyone see this in 3D? It was shot that way, but the Blu-ray rental from Netflix didn’t have the option. Drop a comment and let us know.