Month: May 2016


Sniper Special Ops
2016 – On a mission to rescue a kidnapped US Congressman from Taliban fighters, sniper Jake Chandler (STEVEN SEAGAL) is left behind and must hold out until his comrades can return.

This is a very different type of Steven Seagal movie, in that it contains very minimal amounts of Steven Seagal. The majority of the film focuses on the efforts of the rest of his unit to get back to him and the wounded comrade he stayed behind to protect. Every once in a while, we’ll cut back to Seagal sitting in a room, staring out the window. There aren’t any classic Seagal lines; there’s no hand-to-hand fighting; he doesn’t even get the girl at the end.

All that said, Sniper: Special Ops is a good movie. The acting is in the decent-to-okay range (except for Three-Headed Shark Attack‘s Rob Van Dam), there’s some tense action (especially the opening sequence), and the plot is free from the unnecessary complications that plagued Seagal’s earlier direct-to-video efforts.

The real main character is Vic, played by Tim Abell – an honest-to-God real life Army Ranger who plays his role with convincing toughness, humor, and charm. He’s the kind of guy who isn’t afraid to bend the orders of his superior, Colonel Jackson (Dale Dye, who you may recognize as Captain Garza from both Under Siege movies) if it means getting a shot at rescuing his friends and taking out a local warlord.

Abell really carries the film, and he’s a good enough actor to make even Rob Van Dam seem halfway competent. The other standout character is Janet (Charlene Amoia), an embed reporter who everyone avoids like the plague because she’s an Admiral’s niece and a “jinx.” I don’t want to give anything away, but she turns out to be cool, competent, and capable of kneeing a terrorist in the balls and telling him to burn in Hell. Now THAT’S how you establish credentials for a character, Star Wars Episode VII.

What will likely upset most viewers is the real lack of classic Seagalian stuff. Considering that he’s billed first, and he’s the only character on the DVD cover art, AND the trailer focuses entirely on him, I can see why people might feel… misled. But look on the bright side: this shows that Steven is still a bankable star that can put a movie over the top. At this stage in his career, he’s like a late-80s Andre the Giant – not what he once was, but still a respected enough force to give a push to up-and-coming talent.

There’s one moment, at the very end, that plays almost like an homage to Seagal’s entire career. He’s been wearing his sunglasses the entire movie, but as Janet approaches him he finally takes them off and gives her his trademark squint. They have the following exchange:

Janet: Are you really as good as they all say you are?

Seagal: …Every once in a while.

Yeah, Janet. He is. Haven’t you ever seen Marked for Death?

Sniper: Special Ops is, admittedly, a niche movie, but it’s a pleasant surprise as opposed to the typical big, bloated disappointment that most major studio films turn out to be.

Despite minimal screen time, Seagal still manages to kill 20 bad guys.



Note: Despite its size, this house is comprised of no more than 5 rooms

Note: Despite its size, this house is comprised of no more than 5 rooms

2015 – Heiress Edith Cushing (Mia Wasikowska) is swept away to an obviously sinister mansion by the equally obviously sinister Sir Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston) and his sister Lucille (Jessica Chastain). Everything you expect to happen, happens. 

“But basically what it is is a really, really, almost classical Gothic romance ghost story, but then it has two or three scenes that are really, really disturbing in a very, very modern way. Very, very disturbing, it’s a proper R rating. And it’s adult.” For those keeping score, that’s four “really”s, four “very”s, and two “disturbing”s dropped by director Guillermo Del Toro, who is trying really, really hard to make us think this movie is very, very good.

It’s not.

Allow me to get a little English major on you by telling you about an author named Anne Radcliffe. She blazed the trail for the Gothic novel, which were stories about innocent heroines trapped in big, scary houses filled with creepy people and, possibly, ghosts. Her books sold incredibly well… in 1794. Nowadays, they’re derided for their reliance on stale, predictable tropes (despite the fact that she invented most of them).

Crimson Peak plays like a straight Anne Radcliffe novel. It has absolutely no awareness that every one of its “twists” and “turns” is a cliche that has been telegraphed to the audience well in advance. If you’ve read any fiction or watched any movie in the past 75 years or so, there are no surprises waiting for you.

For instance: in the opening scenes, a young Edith is visited by her mother’s ghost, who warns her to “beware of Crimson Peak.” Later on, after she’s moved into the world’s most preposterously awful house, Sir Thomas casually mentions that all the red clay in the soil led to the place’s nickname: Crimson Peak. There’s an ominous rumble of music. Our heroine is shocked. The savvy viewer is left wondering whether the filmmakers actually thought this was a surprise.

The movie is littered with non-shockers like this. The “stray” dog that shows up. The tea that the Sharpes insist Edith drink. The way Lucille is so concerned with whether Thomas and Edith have slept together yet. All the luggage in the off-limits basement. Duuuuhhh gee, what could dese tings mean?

Del Toro seems to have lavished so much attention on the baroque atmosphere and extravagant costumes that he forgot what the hell was happening in his own movie. One character is killed by having his head repeatedly bashed into a sink; the other characters conclude that he “slipped.” It’s repeatedly mentioned that the house itself is slowly sinking into the red clay; this fact never comes into play.

Crimson Peak is a scary ghost story with no scary ghosts; it’s a psychological thriller with no psychology or thrills. Spend your two hours on a couple Twilight Zone episodes instead.