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A Couple of Flicks: The Thing, The Big Year, Abduction, What’s Your Number

Posted on 21 October 2011 by Reel Rhino

Here’s a mini-cavalcade of film for your reading pleasure.  Reviewed this post:

THE THING (3.5 of 5 Horns)
THE BIG YEAR (4 of 5 Horns)
ABDUCTION (3.5 of 5 Horns)
WHAT’S YOUR NUMBER (2 of 5 Horns)

THE THING: 3.5 of 5 Horns
I prepared for The Thing, by watching The Thing.  When I say “The Thing,” I am referring to the 1982 John Carpenter version of course.  I have not seen the more aged classic, The Thing from Another World, but I am okay with that.  While there are many who pine for 1960 and older horror, my love of the genre begins with the 1968 Romero classic, with many of my favorites spanning the 70’s into early 80’s.

You see the concept of The Thing is based on a 1938 short story, “Who Goes There,” by John W. Campbell Jr.  The 1982 film was adapted by Bill Lancaster, whose only other credits include all of the Bad News Bears films and series from the late 1970’s.  Bizarre.

I love The Thing.  I think it was one of Carpenter’s finest, and that is saying a lot from the creator of Halloween.  Seminal Carpenter for me includes Big Trouble in Little China.  Carpenter pulled some great performances from Kurt Russell, and Big Trouble is no different.  See also, Escape from New York.  Skip Escape from L.A.

John Carpenter lost his groove in the 90’s.  If you have ever seen Ghosts of Mars, I’m sorry.  I you ever consider it, don’t.

But lest I digress…I was excited to see this prequel in a part based on my love of the first, but also I am a big fan of both Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Joel Edgerton, most notably from their roles in Scott Pilgrim and Warrior, respectively.

So knowing that this current offering was a direct prequel to the Carpenter classic, I had to go in primed.  That score is so damn haunting and so perfect for the original, I am pleased to say that they channelled it nicely for this film as well.

This film serves as a suitable prequel, but it is certainly a lesser movie in general. The first 15 minutes had some of the grit of the original, this film also set in 1982, prequeling immediately the events that took place in the Carpenter classic.

Mary Elizabeth Winstead was a suitable lead and she gave an enjoyable performance. The problem is that this film was a carbon copy of the original film from 1982. There was very little difference, other than the gender of our hero, and for my money, I expected more.

Granted, one of the great aspects of the original were the practical effects that were exceptionally creative. This film offered a wide range of effects that actually stood up in comparison to the original, which lifted this from a mundane prequel to an enjoyable film.

As a fan of the original, I think I was drawn to this film and more apt to enjoy it. It is sitting at 33% on Rotten Tomatoes, but perhaps the higher IMDB ranking at 6.7 of 10 is more fair a score for this movie with a a variety of thrills, decent effects, and a similar storyline to a predecessor in the series.

I say check it out. If you haven’t seen the original, put it in your queue and give it a run. 3.5 Horns of 5 for The Thing (2011).

I would support a sequel set after the events of the Carpenter effort that takes elements of both films and creates a new story based in the mythology of The Thing. A few characters seemingly survive the original and both actors are still working…close this series with a bang and give us a new story within this familiar, enjoyable horror world.

The Big Year: 4 of 5 Horns
Don’t listen to the critics…well, if you consider me a critic, listen to me, but ignore the naysayers!

The Big Year succeeds as a sweet, funny film, that is much better than it’s Tomatometer score would let on (40%).

How about this cast…

A subdued Steve Martin, a sweet Jack Black, a standard Owen Wilson, Rashida Jones, Dianne Wiest, Brian Dennehy, Rosamund Pike, Anjelica Huston, Joel McHale, Kevin Pollack, JoBeth Williams, and Anthony Anderson.

Wow!  The cast alone should have your interest peaked…I went in not having seen the trailer, only having heard through the scuttle that the film was about birdwatching, or birding.

It is in fact based on an actual contest, called appropriately, The Big Year, in which birders try and see how many different species of bird they can see or hear within a calender year.

Barry Bostick (Wilson) is the reigning birding hero, holding the world record and being the pimp daddy of the birding community.  He is as vain as they come and he is fearful of his record being broken.  Among those set to challenge him, is Stu Priessler (Martin), a recently retired high-powered CEO, who has dreamed for years of setting off on his own big year.  Brad Harris (Black) is a dreamer.  A computer debugger by day, he is mostly broke, and like Stu, is in it for the love.

These three actors have given great performances in the past, and while I think they are good but not great hear, they play off one and other perfectly, and it synergistically combines to something much better than most people are giving this film credit for.

Being a stranger to the birding world, I was happy to learn so many aspects of this sport, albeit it a dramatized version of this world.

In addition to being a comedy and a drama, there are elements of thrills thrown into the mix, as whether one is engaged in a Big Year, is typically kept secret, for fear that other birders will set to derail them in their quest.

This is a fun story and for what I recall, a family friendly one.  Minus a few S-bombs and a scantily towel wrapped Rosamund Pike in one scene, this is a pretty clean film.  It is rated PG, which is rare for any mainstream film these days.  The comedy is effective and it is clean.

Give The Big Year a chance.  It has heart and this cast superbly comes together to make something of a Christopher Guest effort, without the tongue-in-cheekedness than comes with his mockumentary filmmaking.  David Frankel is a competent director and his previous efforts include Marley and Me and The Devil Wears Prada.  In my opinion, he has created a very accessible film, written for the screen by Howard Franklin based on the book by Mark Obmascik.

4 of 5 Horns for this very sweet and enjoyable film.

Abduction: 3.5 Horns of 5
The timing was right, so I subjected myself to this film, starring Team Jacob aka Taylor Lautner.  4% on Rotten Tomatoes….4%.

This is a better film than 4% indicates and better than the IMDB 3.8/10 as well.

John Singleton is a talented director.  I had no idea until moments ago that he directed this film.  His experienced hand definitely elevated this picture from mundane to mildly exciting.

And for a mildly exciting film, in general I have no real complaints.  Taylor Lautner is a tweenagers dream, Lily Collins is an up and comer (she’ll be the other Snow White next summer), and the experienced cast like Alfred Molina and Sigourney Weaver actually show up and don’t just appear to be grabbing a pay check.

The gist is Nathan (Lautner) is assigned a school project on Internet websites.  In his web travels, he comes across a website that is dedicated to missing children.  He finds an age progression photo of a boy that looks exactly like him.

Nathan confronts his mother and she admits that while a complicated situation, she and Nathan’s Dad have only ever acted in his best interest.  As this is happening, some black suited baddies show up and kill both his parents, and he becomes the pursued.

From the moment of the initiating events, Nathan is pursued by two groups, a terrorist and his endless supply of heavies; and the CIA.  He doesn’t know who to trust and the story is coherent and the action decent, if not a little underused in terms of thrilling action set pieces.

A short but effective sequence takes place at the stadium of the Pittsburgh Pirates, with a game underway.  While coming off as a bit needy for some cheap action, Nathan’s parkour escape run is actually well choreographed.

There a few cheesy bits of dialogue, but they are not overly distracting.

3.5 of 5 Horns for this a mindless but enjoyable film that would likely look better on the big screen than at home, so if you can work it in, check it out.  Give preference to more competent films, but if you must, don’t hate yourself for seeing this film.  I am often accused of being overly generous when rating films, but I really think this is not a terrible film.  Perhaps I went in with a negative attitude given the poor reviews and awful box office performance, but none the less, I liked it.

What’s Your Number: 2 of 5 Horns
The real shame about this movie is that Anna Farris and Chris Evans are two talented actors, both with solid comedic chops, with a great sense of on-screen chemistry.

How is that a shame, you say? Because all that good couldn’t save this flick from being just another entry into the romcom trope.

This was an r-rated movie, and while they touched on some decent adult humor, they made the mistake that decent raunch comedies have avoided…they had too many schlocky romcom staples.

Girl is hopeless…
Girl developed a plan…
Girl meets boy, but not “the boy” she thinks he is…
Boy helps girl…
Boy falls in love with girl…
Enter nameless conflict…
Enter heroic resolution…
Cue their kiss…
Roll credits…

The Break Up, for its darker moments, was one of the first films to have boy not get girl.  It wasn’t exceptionally successful, but I applaud its courage.

Bridesmaids had a subtle romance intermixed with the hijinx, letting your affection for the on-screen couple develop just as such, with a deft sense of underwhelming.

These chick flicks that focus on the love story, with the love story hijinks first, and the comedy second, will always fall prey to this pitfall.

One For The Money, starring Katherine Heigl trailered before my viewing of Number. What a pile this looks like, and its just another notch in Heigl’s long list of clusters that are destined for disaster. This film can’t be good, but it will be profitable, and that’s the problem.  That it is based on Stephanie Plum novel by Janet Evanovich, may save it.  And for the more gritty tone, it will only succeed if they go dark.  Keep things too light and bouncy, and it will just be the same old same old, regardless of the source material.

There were decent moments in Number, both funny and sweet, but I attribute that to the pure affability of Farris and Evans.

2.5 of 5 for What’s Your Number. See it at home, at best, and only if you’ve already seen all of the decent comedies that have romance at the core. ComRom’s, I say.  Let’s start putting the funny first.

That’s all for now.  Here’s hoping that Paranormal Activity 3 will give us a decent horror entry for this Halloween season.  If not, there’s always Human Centipede 2: Full Sequence.  If you get a chance, Centipede is playing at the Screenland Crossroads.  I have a feeling it will be the only spot in KC courageous enough to show it.

Until later, take care.
Reel Rhino

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Warrior – One helluva film!

Posted on 12 September 2011 by Reel Rhino

While the tag team is more commonly associated with the WWE than MMA, the Catfish is working the corner with the Reel Rhino and the outcome is victory.  I love having the Cat swing by, he is the poet laureate of the Reel Rhino site and I appreciate it, no matter how much I bust his balls outside the posts, he sure can write.


As a former D-1 athlete, the word always carries some resonance with me.  I have known some true warriors.  I feel as though I may have made some warrior-like moves in my day, but my flashes of brilliance were fleeting and I was fortunate enough to play besides some of the greatest athletes of the 1990’s.

I am a Maryland Terrapin…oh, how the floodgates of hatred may open now that I have shown my colors, but I am proud of my roots.  I played football in the mid-90’s and had the good fortune to run along side the likes of Jermaine Lewis, Lamont Jordan, Eric Barton, Eric Hicks, John Feugill, and Kris Jenkins.

We must protect this house?  Yep, I had the honor of running with Under Armour founder and all around nice guy, Kevin Plank.

I married my college sweetheart, who when the timing is right, will remind that she is owner of three national championship rings, that help her win just about any argument…well she really doesn’t need the rings, but they do help add the exclamation point.

Joe Smith and Steve Francis ran the hardwood under the tutelage of the great Gary Williams in my years with the Terps.

I made many great friends and relish those days with a great warmth in that remembrance.  I know many great warriors.

My brother is a US Marine.  I once said that he was a Marine, and I was quickly corrected that once a Marine, always a Marine.  I can’t deny that the error was mine.  I’d be lying if I said that my past, my pride for my brother, the urge to leave the theater and sign up for some rec league hoops…all of this, made this week’s review strike an exceptionally deep nerve in me when watching.


I make a bold statement in this: Warrior has earned itself a place in my all-time top 10 films.

I loved this movie.  I loved it.

I was reduced to tears on several occasions and I had truly visceral reactions to this film.

I agreed with the guy sitting two rows behind me when he leaped to his feet in one of the culminating moments of this film.

I felt the pain of the woman who was sobbing on her companions arm, notably moved, as I walked out of the theater.

I felt the moments of this movie like sledgehammers banging gongs inches from my head.

The only thing I don’t understand, is how the take for this flick was only 5.2 million, coming in a paltry 3rd place this weekend.

My plea is this…see this movie.  It is an emotional roller coast that works on every level.

Yes, I have a history that leaves me exceptionally susceptible to the sports flick genre.  But I think the messages in this film transcend a love of competition.

The running time is long at 2 hrs 20 mins, but the additional time building this world makes every moment in the back half all the more powerful.

Maybe this film needed bigger stars to succeed, but the truth is, for the lesser known folks in this movie, this will be a star making turn.  Nick Nolte was the biggest name, but Tom Hardy is a stone cold beast.  I enjoyed him in Inception, last year’s Reel Rhino #1 flick of the year, and I am looking forward to Hardy as the Bat-breaking Bane in next year’s Batman-trilogy finale.

This is an entirely 5 of 5 Horn movie for me, and I hope it will be for you, as well.

Gavin O’Connor has woven together a masterpiece, serving as both writer and director.  He gave us magic in 2004 with Miracle and in truth, he may have been born to deliver us inspiration sports stories.  For my money, he is two for two.

Enough drivel from a sentimental softee like me…what does the Catfish say?

(SPOILER ALERT: Granted, the trailer gave away some of the key issues that in the film, don’t arise until the end of the movie, the Cat got spoiler-rific in his review.  If you want to go in cold, save the back half of this post for after your viewing of the film).

I am admittedly a fan of combat sports.  I was exposed to boxing predominately on ESPN as a youngster.  Things began evolving and I found myself not only rooting for favorite boxers my dad and grandfather liked, but kickboxing began getting more attention.  Kansas City native Bob Thunder Thurman took kickboxing to another level, which caught my attention and fed my imagination.

I participated in Tae Kwon Do as a pre-teen.  I was pretty good at it as I recall.  I’m not sure why I stopped taking it, but I think it just got to be a bit too expensive for Mom and Dad.  In 1999, the empire crumbled all at once for me.  My friends and I split up the cost of the Evander Holyfield-Lennox Lewis heavyweight unification pay-per-view fight.  I was rooting for Evander, but even to a biased observer it was painfully obvious Evander was outmatched that night.  There was not a knockout or fight stoppage.  The decision went to the judges.  The fight was ridiculously determined to be a draw.  I had heard all the talk of corruption in boxing, but I had never personally experienced anything quite like this travesty.  That evening I vowed never to spend another dime on a boxing pay-per-view.  As a matter of fact, to this day I have not watched as much as a single round of a boxing match.

A wee bit behind the UFC curve due to the persistent sour taste in my mouth, I began taking in my first real experience with MMA (mixed martial arts).  I really liked what I was seeing, but I proceeded with caution.  As far as I knew every combat outfit was corrupt.  I recall watching the Rich Franklin and Ken Shamrock fight in 2005.  Ken Shamrock was destroyed in short order, but I was a bit hesitant to believe this fight wasn’t rigged.  Shamrock had slipped at one point, but he never even attempted to stand back up.  That was the beginning of the end for him as Franklin obliterated him on the ground.  It seemed I had been duped again.  I wanted to get to the bottom of this fiasco.

I talked to a guy who really wasn’t well versed in the UFC, but he planted the idea that some guys would rather fight on the ground.  I began doing my research.  I went backwards and began renting the old UFC videos.  Fighters using different styles of martial arts were competing in this sport, but at least in the early days, ground fighting was the Achilles heel of most competitors.  Royce Gracie, the undersized Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu artists, took down men twice his size by fighting on the ground and submitting them with joint locks and choke holds.  He revolutionized the fight game.  This was the great awakening I needed to get me back as a fan of combat sports.

When I first saw the advertisements for Warrior I had lukewarm interest at best.  There are just too many B rated fighting movies starring actual MMA fighters that are absolutely painful to watch.  It wasn’t until I watched the trailer for this movie that I had a bit more intrigue.  Sometimes it takes a slap in the face to realize the difference between a big budget production and the B rated turds I was accustomed to.  Since watching Inception I have been willing to give any actor in that movie the benefit of the doubt (unadulterated blind bias on my part).  Since Tom Hardy plays a starring role in Warrior I felt obligated to give the film a chance.

The big test was convincing my wife to agree to go with me.  Our 11th anniversary was Friday 09/09/11, but we spent the evening at the school Fun Fair.  With a bit of coaxing I convinced my mom to babysit Saturday so we could celebrate a day late and a few dollars short from the fair.  Dinner and a movie is the standard fare.  Agreeing on a movie, however, is something different altogether.  She mentioned Contagion, but I had zero desire to see that.  I am a fan of Robin Cook who happened to write a book called Contagion.  Reel Rhino informed me this movie was unrelated to his book.  For whatever reason that turned me off.

If you have ever read this blog then you know Reel Rhino likes just about every movie made (no exaggeration).  I convinced my wife to watch the Warrior trailer.  The storyline in those few minutes turned her in my direction.  She warmed up to it and begrudgingly agreed to see the film.  At dinner as I perused some Facebook posts.  Unknowingly, Reel Rhino with an uncharacteristically negative review of the movie Contagion made our movie-going decision final as my wife completely capitulated.  We were going to see Warrior.

Warrior had it’s share of fighting, but make no mistake, it was story driven.  It was a layering of the consequential separate lives of a dysfunctional family spawned by an alcoholic father.  The characters are sympathetic and their background stories were riveting, grabbing your attention and holding you through the end.  Yes, there is nothing new under the sun, but I was quite intrigued as their individual stories unfolded throughout the movie on paths that would all eventually intersect.  Brendan Conlon (Joel Edgerton) is a former fighter who is now a likable high school physics teacher trying to raise a family and keep his head above water.  Tommy Conlon (Tom Hardy) is a former high school wrestler and Iraq war veteran heading down the same unfortunate road his father, Paddy Conlon (Nick Nolte), paved for him.  He is a brooding man with so much pent up anger that is boils over anytime he’s put remotely close to conflict.  As patriarch of the family, Paddy Conlon finally has finally come to grips with his demons and actually has remorse for the damage he caused in his family’s life.

Brendan and Tommy’s resentment for their father shaped their lives.  Brendan always wanted to where Tommy was in Paddy’s eyes, but never thought he could live up to that standard.  When their mother and Paddy split up Tommy stuck to the plan and left town with his mother while Brendan stayed behind because he had found the love of his life, his eventual wife, Tess Conlon (Jennifer Morrison).  You know me, having a beautiful actress to watch throughout a movie gets high points in my book.  She gets mighty high points.   Tommy resents his brother for staying behind.  He and Brendan resent their father for being a drunk.  Tommy is awash in self loathing as he returned from the war as the only surviving member of a squadron that was killed by friendly fire.  Brendan wants a relationship with his brother again.  These side stories collide in an MMA gran prix event called Sparta.  It’s a single elimination tournament with a $5 million dollar purse for the winner.  This is the incentive Brendan needs to keep his home out of foreclosure.  This is the incentive Tommy needs to aid the family of a fallen soldier he promised to support.  This movie takes you on an emotional ride as you are pulled into rooting for both brothers as they fight for their respective causes.  As the brothers clash in an unlikely finals match-up the tension is at its height.

It is undeniably an unforgettable and exciting finish.  When the rubber hits the road this film is about human emotions, not really about fighting.  It illustrates the importance of a child’s environment.  Children are a blank slate who are formed and shaped by their experiences.  You take two sons who have similar experiences.  One lives with rage and resentment and the other tries to live his life exactly opposite of how he was raised.  All any child wants is their mother and father to love and respect each other and give them the attention and love all children deserve and need.  Oh, and when humans act like the flawed beings we are then forgiveness is the only way we get back on the path of healing. I thoroughly enjoyed this movie.  A casual moviegoer would be grabbed by the storyline.  I think even fight fans will buy into most of the fighting scenes.  I doubt a referee would allow someone to fight on with an obvious shoulder injury that prevents him from using his entire arm, but guys fight on with broken arms and hands as long as the referee is unaware.

Although the final lines of the climax were a bit cheesy, it was touching nonetheless.  Don’t forget to enjoy the bit of comic relief from Principal Zito (Kevin Dunn) who perfected this acting niche in the Transformers films.

4.5 out of 5 Catfish Whiskers

Until next time, take care…
Reel Rhino

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