Pain & Gain Mark Wahlberg and Dwayne Johnson Kidnapping Are Not Us


Despite the fact that this “based on a true story” movie did not do well at the box office, “Pain & Gain” show that Mark Wahlberg and Dwayne Johnson make a good team and the dark comedic film could have been called “Kidnapping Are Not Us.” Directed by Michael Bay, who obviously enjoyed working with Marky Mark so much that he brought him in to replace the disgraced Shia LaBeouf in “Transformers: Age of Extinction” this action and black comedy allows all the main players to impress.

Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson shows that he can still do comedy, after this is the man who proved his comedic timing and ability in “The Rundown,” aka “Welcome to the Jungle.” His sensitive weight lifting body builder, who bonds with the kidnap victim too well, played by “Monk” star Tony Shalhoub, is funny without become a cartoon character, although it was close.

The story of three weight lifting wannabes who kidnap a wealthy client and torture him to sign over all his assets was not overly funny, especially to the real life victim played by Shalhoub. In the film, Marc Schiller (Shalhoub) is run over with a car twice after the inept athletes attempt to blow the businessman up in the same vehicle and fail.

“Pain & Gain” features the more charismatic Mark Wahlberg and Dwayne Johnson as two of the three criminals in this “Kidnapping Are Not Us” tale of dumb luck and dumb weight lifters who were destined to be caught from day one. One person who does not find the film or its version of events amusing is Marc Schiller. Presumably there were quite a number who did not find the film overly funny, but at least the estimated $26 million film made enough money world wide to classify as a success by Hollywood standards.

Ed Harris has a cameo as the cop turned private eye who helps Kershaw, Schiller in the film, track down his kidnappers who also attempted to kill him. Another cameo feature Peter Stormare as Dr, Bjornson and not one of the villains in a deviation from type for the actor.

This film has Michael Bay’s stamp all over it and it is this reason more than any other that the film is so entertaining. Combined with Dwayne Johnson’s humorous and simple villain and Mark Wahlberg’s egotistical and driven ring leader, “Pain & Gain” is not overly clever but it does tell the story, after a fashion, of the trio kidnapping a wealthy man and then trying to kill him after draining his money dry. These men are not “nice guys” as pointed out by Schiller who, unlike us the viewing audience, has first hand knowledge of what they are really like.

By Michael Smith



‘Penguins of Madagascar’ Dreamworks Comedic Gold (Review/Trailer)

‘Penguins of Madagascar’ Dreamworks Comedic Gold (Review/Trailer)

It is rare for any studio to get that perfect mix of adult and kiddie humor but Dreamworks has managed to come very close with Penguins of Madagascar which is comedic gold on the silver screen. Eric Darnell sits in the drivers seat in what is his fourth time directing a Madagascar feature and he is joined by Simon J. Smith (Bee Movie, Far Far Away Idol) in his first foray into this world. This first penguin sequel, which does not include any other characters from the franchise apart from peripherally, has the three actors who bring the four Arctic birds to life and some other very impressive names in supporting roles.

Horsemen (2009): Apocalyptic Film with no Apocalypse


The 2009 film Horsemen, written by David Callaham  and directed by Joss Ackerlund stars Dennis QuaidZiyi ZhangLou Taylor Pucci and has a tiny cameo by Peter Stormare. It is a dark, moody, and overall unsatisfying film that does not so much end as run out of steam.

The film’s plot takes far too long in deciding whether it wants to be a supernatural thriller based on the Biblical reference in Revelations of the four horsemen of the Apocalypse or follow the more mundane, but rather chilling device of “normal” people using the horsemen as a reference in their grizzly countdown to a more personal apocalypse.

Quaid’s character of the widowed detective, Aiden Breslin is too self absorbed to evoke much in the way of viewer empathy and his oldest son, played by Pucci, is too passively aggressive to be likeable or to care much about. The film is full of too many incidents that have no logical trail to the events.  For instance, the significance  of the derelict Metropolitan theatre is never disclosed. So that Aiden’s returning to the theatre and the film’s final climatic scenes taking place there make no sense.

The apocalyptic theme of the film Horsemen could have used more in the way of an apocalypse with its ending. The climax of the movie was anything but. Unfortunately the lack of a satisfactory ending of the film also carried over into the characters.


Ziyi Zhang, often referred to as the most beautiful woman in the film business, was once again put into the part of villain. It seems that Hollywood loves to take popular Chinese actors and make them villains. Ziyi, who leapt to stardom with western audiences with her performances in Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon and House of Flying Daggers, makes a good villain. If you don’t believe me, just watch Rush Hour 2, but she is ultimately wasted in the role of Peter Stormare’s adopted daughter who embraces the Biblical references for her, and other young people’s, own end.

Like the film itself, her character is left dangling at the end with no real closure in the area of her involvement with Detective Breslin.

The biggest problem with the film was its almost crawling pace. Everything appeared to moving at the speed of treacle sliding down an incline. There is no real action to speak of, except hear the end of the film and it is fleeting. A blink and you will miss it both times that it occurs.

I had tried to watch this film once before. Being a Dennis Quaid fan, I felt I had to see all of the film. Sadly the ending did not justify the amount of time it took to sit through two, one of which was incomplete, viewings.

I have nothing against films that move at a more languid pace. I enjoyed Stoker quite a lot, but the pacing of that film had a purpose, whereas Horsemen felt like it was wandering aimlessly through its storyline and only grudgingly revealing itself now and again. An almost frustrating, if not boring experience.

Fans of Quaid, Zhang and the delightful Peter Stormare would do better to avoid this particular film unless there really is nothing else to watch. Not a bad film, but more of a boring one.  A rather disappointing effort from all concerned. Horsemen is an apocalyptic film with no apocalypse and little in the way of entertainment. Horsemen is currently playing on the UK Netflix.


Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters Grimms Gets CG

Hansel & Gretel get CG

I watched this film with deep misgivings. I then realised that not only was I being unfair, I was, if nothing else, being hypocritical. I have always maintained that one should watch a film with no preset expectations. I had doomed Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters with an almost pathological distaste at the “high tech” weaponry and the CG that dominated the film.

You’d think I would have known better.

The film is a great big fantasy filled romp through Grimm’s fairy tale land. It is just gory enough to be very apropos to the original, much darker, version of the fairy tale, with an interesting twist. Written and directed by Tommy Wirkola (the talent that brought us the gloriously funny Dead Snow in 2009) it was a labour of love for him.

Turns out that Tommy had the idea for H&G:WH in film school (or media school, whichever you prefer) and apart from the fact that his teacher asked him to never approach him on that particular subject again, he did recommend that Tommy do a sales pitch on the idea if he ever got to Hollywood.

Which is exactly what he did.

Starring: Jeremy RennerGemma ArtertonFamke Janssen, and  Peter Stormare  the film has a good enough pedigree in the acting arena to at least guarantee good performances and the actors do a brilliant job with the limited character arc that their roles entail.

The plot (according to IMDb) is as follows:

Hansel & Gretel are bounty hunters who track and kill witches all over the world. As the fabled Blood Moon approaches, the siblings encounter a new form of evil that might hold a secret to their past.

The witch hunting duo use all sorts of way too modern weaponry to dispatch the witches they encounter (all for a price, despite this being a labour of love, they also charge accordingly – as Hansel says early in the film, “Trolls are extra.”) the film has no designs of being “historically” accurate. We are here for the fun of it and if you cannot get past the obvious updating of the witch hunters, the exit is clearly marked, or in my case, the eject button.


Famke Janssen rocks it as the witch “ruler” who has a personal score to settle with the witch killing pair. Although she really has it in for Gretel, who turns out to be  a white witch whose heart needs to be ripped out in order to make all witches the world over, impervious to fire.

Peter Stormare, does what Peter Stormare does best. He’s another distasteful oaf who’s the town sheriff and town bully. He dislikes H&G on first sight and takes umbrage that they are in his town telling him what to do.

So much for the plot and the characters, except to say the both Renner and Arterton have a lot of fun with their roles. But the combination of CG and practical FX help to sell this film. I spent the entire film thinking that the troll, Edward, was a CG creation and it turns out, he was not.

He is gloriously real (in a prosthetic sort of real) and only a modicum of CG was required. Even the witches flying on their version of broomsticks was real. The make-up and the stunts and the FX helped to make the film a glorious romp with no semblance to reality in the film. Well, apart from using a village set that does attempt to stay faithful to history.

Overall, this was a 4 out of 5 star film. I rated it so high because of Janssen and Storemare and Renner and Arterton. These actors went all out for their roles. Roles that could have been a straight two dimensional caricature had they chosen to play it that way. Sure they didn’t have room for a lot of depth, but it is a fairytale at the end of the day.

Great film, just don’t look for too much in the way of being faithful to the Brothers Grimm.

witch hunt

How I Spent My Summer Vacation/Get the Gringo (2012) VoD


Written by Mel Gibson, Stacy Perskie,  and Adrain Grunberg – who also directed the film – How I Spent My Summer Vacation or Get the Gringo was a “straight-to-Video-on-Demand” project that Gibson claimed was done because, “We’re just in a different era. Many people just like to see things in their homes….I think it’s the future.” [Los Angeles Times] It was screened in the UK and a few other countries but in the US (where his biggest critics reside) it was VoD. 

I am not sure if Mel is right or if he was just hedging his bets after a massive fall in popularity following his divorce, separation, racist behaviour and other negative publicity. Gibson’s last few years have been more scandal ridden than film ridden and it seems that he is attempting to claw his way back into favour with his (few remaining) fans.

Set in the world of the infamous (and now closed) El Pueblito Prison in Tijuana Mexico, Gibson plays a nameless professional thief who escapes from the Texas law by crashing through the border fence between Texas and Mexico with millions in stolen cash and his mortally wounded partner.

Once they land on the Mexican side of the border, the Federales are all ready to turn Gibson, and his now dead partner, over to the Texas border police when they spy the bags of stolen money. In that moment, the Federales change their minds and take Gibson and his partner into custody.

Gibson winds up in El Pueblito prison which is more like a criminal village behind bars. Where practically anything can be bought and prisoners walk around with guns and run the prison. Once in, Gibson’s character must survive and escape or he’ll be buried in the prison and never see freedom again.

Gibson is the only “real” name in the film, apart from Peter Stormare who has a cameo as the “big boss” he stole the money from. The rest of the cast all look familiar but aren’t anyone I’ve ever heard of. The boy who plays doomed liver donor (Kevin Hernandez) does a brilliant job as the cigarette mooching aide-de-camp of Gibson’s nameless con.

Kevin Hernandez as "the kid."
Kevin Hernandez as “the kid.”

When I saw the film, it was on Netflix and I vaguely remembered seeing a trailer or two for it on other DVD’s. Until watching it, I’d never heard of El Pueblito although I knew that prisons were run differently “south of the border.”

Author Joseph Waumbaugh, in his excellent non-fiction book Lines and Shadows, tells of how two policemen interrogate prisoners in Mexico. The prisoner is tied to a chair and has his head forced back. While one Federale holds the head, the other will open a bottle of Coke. After shaking said bottle the top is then held under the prisoners nose.  A fountain of soda spritzes up the nose and into the sinuses. An extremely painful experience that results in a 100% confession rate.

When a Mexican prison rioted in the 70’s television cameras showed crates of Coca-Cola being shipped into the prison. The riot was quelled without having a single shot fired or baton raised.

Having this in the back of my head while watching the film, made me believe that conditions like those shown could, in fact, be true and they were. Just enter el pueblito in the Google search engine; it was shut down in 2002 and was very close to how the prison was depicted in the movie.

Historical references aside, Gibson plays another character like “Parker” (based on the Donald Westlake books) who is a professional crook and also ex-military sniper. In other words, a character that he could play in his sleep. It never felt like a huge stretch for Mel and it featured bits of humour that were reminiscent of his Lethal Weapon films.

The film features a narration by Gibson and it does help move the film along and is not too obtrusive. I, as a rule, don’t care for too many “narration” films; it can get a bit annoying to be treated to a constant voice over, especially if the actor doing said narrative isn’t very good.

All in all the film was very entertaining and fun to watch. I’d have to give it a 4 out of 5 stars just because I felt that Gibson was reverting to playing a role that, as I said above, he could have sleep walked through.

Will this film move him up in his fan’s estimations or is he wasting his time on a career that’s been ruined by too much adverse publicity? Only time will tell and if he can manage to keep his less savoury antics under control he just might be able to repair the damage. What do you think?

Mel in his clown robbers outfit.
Mel in his clown robbers outfit.
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