August 14th, 2009

THEY WERE EXPENDABLE (1945) ** ½

John Wayne stars as Rusty, a Navy sailor who is more than willing to fight the good fight.  Shortly after the attack on Pearl Harbor, Rusty gets sidelined with a bout of blood poisoning and is unable to do his part.  After recovering (and finding time to romance Donna Reed), he returns to action on a PT boat where he finally gets some payback on the Japanese.

 

They Were Expendable is a competently made World War II picture.  It’s not altogether successful thanks largely to many lulls in the action and a substantially inflated running time, but it’s still fairly enjoyable.  Director John Ford spent lots of time as a war documentarian for the Navy so the flick has a distinct air of authenticity.  While the film may not be entirely involving from a dramatic standpoint, it’s got that going for it. 

 

The film isn’t particularly memorable but at least Ford stages the Navy battle scenes with panache.  Whenever Wayne is driving his boat around the Pacific shooting the shit out of Japanese ships, the movie is damn good times.  Trouble is; you’ve got to sit through a lot of rigmarole to get to the good stuff.

 

Wayne delivers a solid performance.  Not his best, but far from his worst.  I especially enjoyed his scenes with Reed.  They had real chemistry and it made me kinda wish they appeared in more films together.  Other familiar faces such as Ward (The Quiet Man) Bond, Marshall (Fiend Without a Face) Thompson, and a young Cameron (The Toolbox Murders) Mitchell round out the capable supporting cast.  (All of whom have funny nicknames like Snake, Boats, and Shorty.)

 

Wayne and Ford next teamed up for Fort Apache.

G.I. JOE: THE RISE OF COBRA (2009) ** ½

I have a medical condition that only allows me to see one movie based on a toy from the 80’s per summer.  (This condition is called “Common Sense”.)  Since the first Transformers movie was complete ass, I thought I’d skip Revenge of the Fallen and see this instead. 

Now when I was a kid, I played with the G.I Joe toys, read the comics, watched the cartoons, and wore the pajamas.  (I didn’t have the lunchbox though.  I wish I did though.  That thing’s probably worth a mint now.)  It took toy manufacturer-turned-Hollywood-moguls Hasbro two decades to make a live-action movie of the Joes and while it wasn’t quite worth the wait, it has more than it’s fair share of moments.  As a man of 31, my movie-watching tastes are a little bit more refined than when I was 7 but to me, G.I. Joe:  The Rise of Cobra wasn’t too bad.

 

The plot of the movie is more or less the same as it’s always been:  G.I. Joe fights Cobra (except they aren’t called Cobra until the very end because they haven’t rose yet).  Because two decades have passed, the concept has been tweaked somewhat.  G.I. Joes are no longer “Real American Heroes” because some of them are from France and Morocco and Cobra is now more of a terrorist cell that dabbles in arms dealing than the fanatical cult I remember from the show.  Another change is that there is a lot of rap music on the soundtrack.

 

I’m proud to admit that I’ve always been more of a Cobra guy than a Joe fan.  Cobra always had the cooler vehicles and characters (save of course for Snake Eyes).  That’s why I felt a little disappointed by the film I guess.  Sure we see the “Rise” of Cobra and everything but it would have been a lot more entertaining to see them as an already established ass-kicking elite villainous organization instead of this Cobra:  Year One shit.

 

Nothing in the movie really resembles the G.I. Joes I grew up with.  Storm Shadow still wears white, Snake Eyes still wears black (albeit a latex suit), and Scarlett still has red hair.  Other than that, it seemed more like an X-Men movie than a G.I. Joe movie.  Consider:  We got two warring factions.  One is good and top secret (X-Men and G.I. Joe).  The other is bad and wants to destroy a historical monument (The Brotherhood and Cobra).  Each team member has a funny/stupid nickname and has their respective special ability or expertise.  Also, the way Duke is recruited (the Joes more or less save his ass) is similar to how Cyclops found Wolverine and the rivalry between Snake Eyes and Storm Shadow is a lot like the back and forth between Wolverine and Sabretooth.  General Hawk even has a couple scenes where he rides around in a wheelchair, just like Professor X.

 

Director Stephen Sommers, who directed the wrongly neglected mini-masterpiece Deep Rising keeps hurtling more and more and more shit at the audience and a frenetic pace.  I don’t think there was five minutes that went by where something didn’t blow up.  This isn’t a criticism, just an observation.  G.I. Joe is the kind of movie where the bad guys aren’t content to just shoot people.  They have to shoot people at close range with the biggest fucking gun in the world that propels the guy’s body through the wall and down a bottomless cavern.  This is the kind of overkill I enjoy in an action movie.

 

Speaking of overkill, G.I. Joe features the most collateral damage I’ve ever seen in a movie.  There is this one scene where the Joes have to stop Storm Shadow and the Baroness from blowing up the Eiffel Tower, so they don these Super Soldier Suits that make them run real fast.  They hop and sprint around Paris smashing cars and slamming through storefronts causing untold millions in property damage, not to mention the lives of a couple hundred civilians.  If Cobra was really smart, they would’ve just drove around France and let the Joes chase them for a couple hours.  They would’ve caused more death and destruction that way and wouldn’t have had to mess around with those state-of-the-art missiles and stuff.

 

While we’re on the subject of carnage, I’d also like to state that G.I. Joe is probably the most violent PG-13 movie ever made.  Despite the aforementioned scenes of people getting senselessly blown away, there are also plenty of guys who die from sharp object trauma.  Ninja stars, arrows, and knives all wind up in some poor dope’s eyes and one unfortunate dude ends up with a forklift in his abdomen.  There are also a number of scenes where somebody’s face gets melted, stuck with two-inch needles, and burnt to a crisp.  Any day now I expect Hasbro to introduce G.I. Joe Face Salve. 

 

Sommers also packed this movie to the gills with flashbacks.  Seriously, G.I. Joe:  The Rise of Cobra has the most flashbacks in the history of cinema.  Folks, Rashomon didn’t have this many flashbacks.  Literally every major character has a deeply moving (to them anyway) flashback which clues the audience in on why they’re betraying so-and-so or sad about this-and-that.  Sommers also throws a random WTF Brendan Fraser cameo in there for good measure too.  Oddly enough, there is no flashback to explain why the Hell Fraser is in the movie though.  (The obvious answer:  Fraser starred in Sommers’ Mummy movies and wanted a cut of that Hasbro money.)

 

Naturally there is a set-up for a sequel at the end.  It’s probably the best part of the movie too.  That’s when we get to see Destro really become Destro and Cobra Commander really become Cobra Commander.  This scene is thoroughly awesome because it shows the audience that Cobra is through pussying around and ready to be the cool ass Cobra we all knew they could be.  The scene is twice as great as the end of Revenge of the Sith because there is not one but TWO dudes with horribly burned, infinitely fucked-up faces than don cool ass metal masks.  In fact, I think every movie should end that way.  Imagine how much better The English Patient would’ve been had Ralph Fiennes strapped on a freshly smelted metallic mask complete with breathing apparatus.  That shit would’ve been off the fucking chain.

 

Let’s talk about something that no one else has the balls to talk about in a G.I. Joe movie:  The performances.  Is it too early to say that Joseph Gordon-Levitt is gonna get the Oscar for his mesmerizing turn as Cobra Commander?  (Of course you have to wait until the very end until he says, “Call me… Commander!” but you get the idea.)  Hidden almost completely under a chintzy mask and spouting ridiculous dialogue, JG-L goes for broke and delivers a balls-out uncompromising performance of delirious campiness.  Hey, if Heath Ledger could get nominated for The Dark Knight, Levitt should get it for this.

 

The other performances well… I kinda didn’t really notice anybody else because most of the time I was ogling Sienna Miller.  I’ve never been much of a Miller fan but after seeing her mincing around with jet black hair, librarian glasses, and wearing a skintight leather outfit, well… it was enough to make my cobra rise if you catch my drift.  Almost as hot is Rachel Nichols as Scarlett.  She’s got the Ginger look going on and has some ample cleavage to boot.  In short, I’d like her to put that Kung Fu Grip of hers to work.

 

G.I. Joe also brings the Ninja genre back to the big screen quite nicely.  Although Snake Eyes’ and Storm Shadow’s ninja-ing is only limited to a few scenes, they do have some mighty fine ninja fights.  (The flashbacks of the two’s checkered past is also good for a hoot and a holler.)  They also get some of the best ninja dialogue since Sho Kosugi in Revenge of the Ninja.  Storm Shadow gets the best line of the movie when he tells Snake Eyes, “After the death of our master, you took a vow of silence.  Now you will die without uttering a word!”

 

Make no mistake, G.I. Joe:  The Rise of Cobra is borderline brain dead, idiotic, incoherent, sloppy, and just plain stupid.  Stuff blows up real good though every five minutes or so, so that’s a plus.  I can’t say I was exactly “entertained” but I certainly wasn’t bored.  I apologize if this review was all over the place.  Then again, the movie was all over the place too.  I just tried to tell you everything you need to know about the movie. 

 

Now you know, and knowing is half the battle.

 

(Note:  If you are a seven year old male and/or have ADD and/or drink Vault, add an extra star to this review.)