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Entries in Movie Review (37)

Friday
Mar082013

Movie Review: "Dead Man Down"

Film District(NEW YORK) -- Dead Man Down stars Colin Farrell as Victor, who at first glance is a faithful henchman for New York City gangster named Alphonse, played by Terrence Howard. How faithful is Victor? During a raid on a rival’s drug den and after shooting their boss in the head, an unarmed Alphonse is cornered by four men with their weapons aimed at his head.  Victor, though shot himself, wills himself into a position to be able to shoot all four men and save Alphonse’s life.

Quiet and brooding, Victor lives alone. In the building across the way from his apartment lives Beatrice, portrayed by Noomi Rapace (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo). Beatrice is beautiful but the left side of her face has been disfigured by a car accident. She watches Victor from across the way doing mundane things like vacuuming. He notices. They wave. She writes him a note. He takes her out to dinner.

Turns out neither Beatrice nor Victor is who they appear to be.  Victor in particular isn't quite as loyal to Alphonse as he acts.  When Beatrice learns why, she threatens to expose him unless Victor helps her exact her own revenge for something that happened in her past.

In Dead Man Down, Rapace is reunited with her Girl with the Dragon Tattoo director Niels Arden Oplev, making his English language film debut.  In one way, it doesn’t matter that English isn't Arden Oplev’s first language, because he's clearly fluent in the language of cinema. As ridiculous as this story gets -- and it gets pretty ridiculous -- he lets the pictures do the talking. Oplev captures earnest performances from Farrell and Rapace, most notably when the two are on the screen together sharing intimate moments (and I don’t mean love or sex).  This director has a knack for intimacy even when filming a long shot, looking down from 20 stories above.

Then again, it may indeed matter that English isn't Oplev's his first language, because he clearly didn’t seem to spot some major flaws in the script.   All of his good work is wasted on a final act that seems so far removed from a film that showed so much promise in the first 20 minutes, it’s a wonder how anybody involved with Dead Man Down actually thought this was a complete, fully-realized story that would appeal to and satisfy anyone over the age of 12.  And that might be insulting to some 12-year-olds.

Attempting to root your film in realism, only to blow it up with inconceivable, head-scratching action sequences, I suppose is Hollywood business as usual.  But it’s just so disappointing when talented filmmakers and actors collaborate for what wind up being second-rate clichés.

Two out of five stars.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio

Friday
Feb222013

Movie Review: "Snitch"

Summit Entertainment(NEW YORK) -- Snitch stars Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson as John Matthews, a construction business owner and the father of two children: a son from a previous marriage and a young daughter from his current marriage.  However, it's a few minutes before we meet Dad.

The fun begins when Jason (Rafi Gavron), John’s son, decides to accept a formidable shipment of Ecstasy from a friend who's a drug dealer.  Jason isn't a drug dealer, but that small detail doesn't matter to the DEA, who bust Jason the moment he signs for the package.  For Jason -- a regular, underachieving kid who’s barely smoked pot -- the arrest is devastating, in no small part because sentencing laws are about to lock him up for a minimum 10 years.  The government offers him a deal if he'll rat out other drug dealers, but Jason, good kid that he is, doesn't know any.

The first sign that Snitch isn't going to be your typical Dwayne Johnson action movie is when the former wrestling star flexes his acting muscles during the scene in which Jason’s defense attorney explains what Jason is up against. Johnson follows this up with emotional visits to the jail where his son is being bullied and beaten while behind bars.  Johnson isn’t just going through the motions. You can literally see the pain in his eyes.

John, using his business influence, arranges a meeting with politically ambitious federal prosecutor Joanne Keeghan (Susan Sarandon) and offers to help bust drug dealers in exchange for leniency for Jason. At first, Keeghan dismisses the idea but John -- a determined father who loves his son and may be feeling a bit guilty about the emotional repercussions Jason experienced after divorcing his mother -- will not be deterred.  

John recruits an ex-con to help him find a drug dealer he can reel in for the DEA. His target is a hard-working Latino man named Daniel James, played by Jon Bernthal. Daniel has two strikes against him and a wife and a young son he adores.  He's desperately trying to keep his nose clean but John offers him 20 grand to help him -- enough for Daniel to move his family out of his neighborhood of gang-bangers and bad influences on his son.

Just about everything in Snitch works. This is a refreshing action film grounded in realism, with an excellent, powerful message about maximum/minimum sentencing laws for first-time offenders.  It’s also a revelation for Johnson -- after all of these years of playing beefy, affable action stars, clearly The Rock has been evolving into an excellent actor who could carve out a more artistically satisfying niche for himself than the superficial, albeit occasionally entertaining, tripe he's normally associated with.

Four out of five stars.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio

Friday
Jan182013

Movie Review: "The Last Stand"

Merrick Morton/Lionsgate(NEW YORK) -- In his first leading role in 10 years, Arnold Schwarzenegger (unfortunately) is back in The Last Stand.  And thank the celluloid gods, because after an exceptional year in cinemas that saw box office records fall and smart films like Lincoln, Argo, Beasts of the Southern Wild, Zero Dark Thirty and Life of Pi universally recognized for their brilliance, Hollywood needs Arnie’s brand of acting accompanied by this kind of nonsensical, gun-happy, bullet-riddled, vacuous script to snap it right back to pre-2012 expectations.

Schwarzenegger is Sheriff Ray Owens, the warm and friendly top lawman in the sleepy Arizona border town of Sommerton Junction. When we first meet Ray, he’s sauntering through the streets of Sommerton at the end of what appears to be a pep rally for the local high school football team.  Ray enters the diner and greets everybody by name, but his spidey senses tingle when he spots two strangers dining in a booth. After a casual conversation with the men during which they don’t seem to be at all suspicious, Ray decides the two men are suspicious and abruptly leaves to write down the license plate number of their 18-wheeler.

Cut to Las Vegas, where Forest Whitaker’s unbelievably inept FBI agent, John Bannister, is overseeing the transfer of the most notorious, dangerous drug lord in the world, Gabriel Cortez (Eduardo Noriega).  Following Bannister’s lecture to a large group of agents about how dangerous Cortez is, the prisoner gets away in a “daring” escape from a transfer convoy, hops into a waiting modified Corvette ZR1 -- which is sure to give auto enthusiasts a cargasm -- and heads straight for Sommerton Junction.  Along for the ride is a “hostage,” an FBI agent named Ellen (Genesis Rodriguez).  Let’s just say Ellen’s character is the epitome of how unapologetically dumb this movie is.

Johnny Knoxville as the town gun enthusiast and deputy wanna-be provides several cheap laughs, as does the semi-reliable Luis Guzman, who plays a real deputy.  For anyone blessed with vision, Jaime Alexander, also a deputy, is easy on the eyes and, as she has shown in some of her other work (Loosies, Nurse Jackie) has the acting chops that will eventually propel her to stardom. 

Schwarzenegger has never been a good actor but at his best, he didn’t need to be.  However, he's no longer at his best, and you’re not going to become a better actor by not acting for 10 years.  Although to be fair, mixed in with the bullets, bloodletting and generally bad acting, The Last Stand isn't bereft of entertaining moments.  No doubt the film will please anyone who doesn’t give a lick about plausibility, quality writing, acting, action icons embarrassing themselves, and gratuitous gun violence in a post-Newtown world.  But that’s not going to fly here.

One-and-a-half out of five stars.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio

Friday
Nov302012

Movie Review: "The Collection"

Comstock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- From the creators of the Saw franchise comes The Collection, a film that, as far as I can tell, is about killing and torturing as many people as possible in the most brutal, graphic, gratuitously violent ways possible.

In this particular town, at least 50 people have gone missing and presumed dead for no rhyme or reason. All types of people; old, young, male, female, entire families, friends. And even a criminal named Arkin (Josh Stewart) who has served his time but is now happily married.

Naturally, the community is living in fear -- except for a few hundred crazy kids who won’t let a killer get in the way of their good time at an underground club.  Those kids include Elena (Emma Fitzpatrick), who we meet at the beginning of the movie as a young girl, the daughter of a wealthy man named Mr. Peters (Christopher McDonald). We see the two of them in a horrific car accident, which is supposed to explain their incredible father-daughter bond but is at best a clunky, forced exposition that does nothing to make the plot feel organic or elicit any audience empathy for either Elena or Mr. Peters.

Back to the underground club. As the great Admiral Ackbar once said a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away: “It’s a trap!”

Meet our antagonist -- a rather large, black-leather-mask-wearing psychopath who has a passion for torture and murder. He’s The Collector, a guy who literally collects his victims, throws them into a red trunk, brings them home, slices ‘em, dices ‘em, sews them back together, pumps them full of drugs, keeps them in cages, chases them through his booby-trapped killing resort (an old abandoned hotel located in the “wrong” section of town) and often keeps the results suspended in large fish tanks.

The Collector has turned the club into one giant killing machine, where he traps the patrons and kills just about all of them using a mechanism that is essentially a lawn mower for humans. It’s tough to watch but if you love slasher porn, this is the highlight of the movie.

Elena survives, but The Collector stuffs her into that red trunk and takes her back to his place. In the melee, Arkin, the former criminal The Collector also abducted, escapes.

Mr. Peters isn’t having it. He has his personal assistant Lucello (Lee Turgesen) assemble a team to extract Elena. Lucello recruits Arkin to be a part of it, whereupon an awful movie ensues.

The Collector himself is supposed to be terrifying but the fact he could be mistaken for a reject from the Blue Man Group on steroids does little to make one quake in one's boots.

Frankly, no matter how sick and twisted, slasher films can be fantastic when they're well-written and you care about the characters. The Collection aspires to be highly-stylized, creative slasher porn.  Instead, it’s just slasher porn that’s simply awful. I wish there was a way I could un-see The Collection.

Zero stars.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Friday
Nov022012

Movie Review: "The Man with the Iron Fists"

Comstock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Set in 19th century China, The Man with the Iron Fists stars rapper-turned-actor/director RZA as the Blacksmith. His specialty, as it turns out, is making weapons.  That's going to come in handy when Silver Lion and his cohorts set out to rule Jungle Village (where the Blacksmith resides) and use it to hide gold they plan to steal from the emperor.  What results is gravity-defying graphic violence, exploding heads and a merciless cruelty so bad, it’s good.

It’s not Blacksmith’s job to stop Silver Lion and company: after all, he’s just a blacksmith. He doesn’t really get involved until he saves Zen Yi, the sworn enemy of Silver Lion, and is consequently disfigured by Silver Lion and Brass Body. Got it?

The man the emperor sends to Jungle Village to get his gold back is Jack Knife, played by Russell Crowe. Jack is a lovable bastard (fans of Wu Tang clan, which is RZA's group, might call Jack an Ol' Dirty Bastard), one who takes more pleasure in killing than he does from the four prostitutes Madame Blossom has procured for him.

Who’s Madame Blossom?  Why, it’s Lucy Liu, who doesn’t just preside over a house of ill repute.  In hip-hop parlance, it’s more like a house of “ill assassins.”

Presented by Quentin Tarantino, The Man with the Iron Fists is a genre-bending, hilarious, exquisite blood fest!  I think I’m going to call this genre kung fu-ploitation.

Four out of five stars.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Friday
Oct262012

Movie Review: "Chasing Mavericks"

20th Century Fox(NEW YORK) -- When we first meet Jay Moriarity, he’s an 8-year-old California boy with a passion for timing ocean waves, but it turns out to be a bit of a dangerous hobby. On this particular day, a friend's dog chases a ball to the end of the rocks, where the waves meet the shore. As Jay attempts to rescue the dog, he's swept away by a wave. Good thing Frosty, a surfer played by Gerard Butler, just happens to be nearby. After he rescues Jay, he gives him a ride home to Santa Cruz. Frosty, with his rugged and slightly intimidating veneer, lays into Jay, lecturing him about what just happened, but little Jay disarms Frosty by explaining his passion for timing waves.

Eight years later, Jay, played by relative newcomer Jonny Weston, has become one of the best, if not the best, teen surfer in Santa Cruz. Young as he is, he's wise beyond his years, thanks in no small part to his relationship with his mother, played by Elizabeth Shue.  Mom is barely employed, has trouble getting up for work and borrows money from Jay for various reasons. To complicate matters, her son hasn’t seen or heard from his father in years. Jay craves something more from life, and he’s about to find out what.

Early one morning, Frosty leaves his house, clearly to go surfing.  Jay sees Frosty leave and, unbeknownst to his neighbor, he hitches a ride on the back of his van. When they arrive at their destination, Jay can't believe what he’s seeing. Giant waves -- by far, the biggest he’s ever seen. When Frosty and friends conquer those, Jay reveals his presence by cheering his approval from a cliff overlooking the ocean.

If you haven’t guessed, Jay wants to surf these monster waves, called mavericks, but Frosty says no.  Jay's not old enough or strong enough, he says, and Frosty isn’t willing to train him.  But this teenager is quite persistent, and so Jay becomes Daniel-san to Frosty’s Mr. Miyagi. Their relationship isn't anything we haven’t seen before but Butler’s Frosty is compelling and complex. This is one of Butler’s better roles, in fact -- he’s so good, you almost feel bad for Weston, because the relative newcomer struggles to hold his own opposite Butler.  Fortunately, Weston shines when he’s surfing or when he’s alone, and that helps keep you rooted to the story.

Yes, some of Chasing Mavericks is fairly predictable but if you don’t know Jay Moriarity’s story -- yes, he was real, already a near legend when barely out of his teens -- then the story's likely not very predictable at all. Even if you are familiar with Moriarity's story, it shouldn't negate the emotional impact of the film's ending.

Chasing Mavericks is occasionally lightweight and unnecessarily corny, but it's also profound and inspirational.

Three-and-a-half out of five stars.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Friday
Oct262012

Movie Review: "Cloud Atlas"

Warner Bros. Pictures(NEW YORK) -- Cloud Atlas could be one of the most polarizing movies of the year. Based on the best selling 2004 novel by David Mitchell, the Wachowski siblings (the Matrix trilogy) and Tom Tykwer (Run Lola Run) set out to adapt a book many considered un-adaptable for the big screen. It's a story that takes places over hundreds of years with many different characters but they're all connected -- reincarnated, if you will, until they get IT (life) right.

To try and explain every vignette would require a review the length of a screenplay, so we'll keep it simple.

Cloud Atlas begins several hundred years hence in a post-apocalyptic future, jumps back to the 17th century, cuts to the 1970s, rewinds to the early 1930s, fast-forwards to now, leaps forward to the 22nd century…that’s how this movie unfolds: back and forth, forth and back, sideways, backward, upward and downward, but never straightforward.

Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Hugo Weaving, Jim Sturgess and Hugh Grant play six different characters each.  Jim Broadbent plays five, while some of the other cast members, like Susan Sarandon and Keith David, play four characters. It was a daring and challenging decision by the filmmakers but also an admirable artistic choice.  The intention is to allow the audience to see each particular soul on its journey through time, which is easier to do when you recognize the soul being played by the same actor. In some cases it’s also a nice message, ignoring gender, age and nationality by having a man play a woman, American and British actors plays Asian, Asian actors play Caucasian and mostly young actors play elderly. 

The casting conceit doesn’t always work, though -- on occasion, it's simply distracting and Cloud Atlas is a film that doesn’t need distractions.  Its unique, time-bending, non-linear narrative is difficult enough to keep up with.  Coupled with actors playing multiple characters, the entire affair risks coming across as arrogant, snobbish even.  But the film is as much about just three people -- the Wachowskis and Tykwer -- who actually have something to say about the human condition.

The strength of Cloud Atlas is its sheer beauty, its spirit, and some of the performances. The film's weakness is the filmmakers' overzealousness to make the myriad pieces fit within the context of the story, which lasts about 20 minutes too long.

Still, give the Wachowskis and Tykwer credit. It's easy to see, without having read Cloud Atlas, that the source material must be complex.

Five stars for the effort; three-and-a-half out of five for the results.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Friday
Oct192012

Movie Review: "Alex Cross"

Summit Entertainment(NEW YORK) -- In Alex Cross, Tyler Perry plays the title character -- the creation of prolific author James Patterson -- earlier in his career as a detective and psychologist for the Detroit Police Department.  Cross is a tough genius with a penchant for instantly diagnosing a murder scene, and the murderer’s motivation.
 
In this story, Cross and his team, consisting of his childhood best friend Tommy Kane (Edward Burns) and Monica Ashe (Rachel Nichols), come up against a sadistic sociopath who injects his victims with a drug that paralyzes them but leaves their senses intact while he slowly tortures them to death. Our killer also leaves behind detailed charcoal sketches, earning him the nickname Picasso. Matthew Fox inhabits his villainous role with the same intensity and commitment De Niro brought to Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver -- just without the great script, direction and depth.
 
Picasso’s motivations are never really made clear, though we’re treated to a number of taunting phone conversations between Picasso and Cross.  That timeworn device, along with a laundry list of poorly-executed clichés, often makes the movie feel like a parody of a cheesy police procedural drama.  The cheese doesn’t stop there, though.  There’s Cross’s home life, where his wife Maria, played by Carmen Ejogo, is expecting their third child.  While Perry and Ejogo play up the affection, you never feel the heat between them, which makes the dialogue sound hollow and -- well, like I said earlier -- cheesy.  Cross's grandmother, played by the incomparable Cicely Tyson, dishes out tough love to her grandson and his kids, but Perry just can’t hold his own opposite Tyson.
 
Director Rob Cohen (The Fast and the Furious) lends a deft hand to his action sequences.  That’s what he does best and it shows: they're the most riveting moments of Alex Cross, but it would’ve been nice if those sequences provided more of an emotional payoff.  Cohen's just not an actor's director, and it seems character believability was low on his list of priorities.
 
As for Tyler Perry, he's an incredible entertainer and businessman, but what we learn from Alex Cross is he’s not a very good actor.  When you remember the older version of Cross was twice played on film by Morgan Freeman, having Perry succeed him is like signing Tim Tebow to quarterback a franchise that was once led by John Elway.  You have to respect Perry for taking a risk here but, unfortunately, there's no reward.
 
Two out of five stars.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Friday
Oct122012

“Argo” Review: ‘Fists Will Be Clenched…Hearts Will Palpitate’

Jason LaVeris/FilmMagic(NEW YORK) -- Having just celebrated the 50th anniversary of the James Bond franchise, highlighted by the forthcoming release of the next Bond film, Skyfall, we’re reminded of just how much we love a good spy story.  But a good spy story is so much better when it’s based on actual events, and the movie depicting that story is incredible.

Argo, directed by and starring Ben Affleck, is based on the story of the remarkable and extremely unorthodox rescue of six Americans during the Iranian hostage crisis.  Most Americans of a certain age remember the events -- 52 Americans were taken hostage at the U.S. embassy in Iran in November of 1979 and held for 444 days.  What's not as well known is that when the Iranians stormed the embassy, six Americans managed to escape.  While their story was reported at the time, it became a footnote to the overall hostage crisis and the details regarding their rescue remained classified until 1997.

Ben Affleck plays CIA agent Tony Mendez, who was an exfiltration expert specializing in sneaking into foreign and hostile territories and extracting American citizens.  The six Americans who escaped the embassy were hiding at the home of then-Canadian Ambassador Ken Taylor (played by Victor Garber). Before Mendez’s involvement, the government’s best rescue plan involved sneaking into Iran and furnishing the American escapees with bicycles.  This was one of many ill-conceived ideas but in fairness, the unprecedented situation was uniquely complex and required a solution from outside of the box.

Enter Mendez.  When we meet him, he doesn’t seem like any sort of super spy. Instead, he's the epitome of human: wallowing in self-pity, using alcohol to dull the pain of a separation from his wife and 10-year-old son.  Downtrodden Mendez serves as a metaphor for the times.  In fact, Affleck and writer Chris Terrio do such a wonderful job adding layers to Mendez as a character, we don’t just have empathy for him -- we feel everything this man is feeling.

Tony’s plan comes to him while he and his son are simultaneously talking on the phone and watching a Planet of the Apes film.  As it happens, Mendez had a relationship with makeup artist John Chambers (John Goodman), who won an honorary Oscar in 1969 for his work on Planet of the Apes.  Mendez decides the best way to get the Americans out of Iran is to form a fake production company and ask the Iranian government permission to scout locations for a movie, but not as American citizens -- as Canadians.

Chambers is more than happy to help both Mendez and his country.  However, in order to really make their film company believable, they need a respectable producer, and a script.  The producer is the legendary Lester Siegel, played by Alan Arkin. Siegel is actually a composite of several producers but Arkin inhabits this role so well, he practically wills Siegel into existence.

As for the script, the one on which they settle is titled Argo. It’s a cheesy sci-fi film but it calls for some exotic, Middle-East-looking locales, of the sort one might find in Iran.  Perfect.

Siegel arranges a high-profile script reading at the Beverly Hilton, which is covered by the Hollywood trades.  They put an ad for the movie in Variety.  Legitimacy thus established, now they have to get the green light -- not from a studio, but from the State Department.

Also featured in Argo is Bryan Cranston, who plays CIA assistant deputy director Jack O’Donnell.  After seeing Cranston in a handful of recent movie roles where he's either underutilized (Rock of Ages) or his character is poorly written (Total Recall), it's great to see the Breaking Bad star make an impact here as Mendez’s boss and biggest fan. While Arkin and Goodman get the majority of the showy laughs, Cranston’s humor is understated and effective.

Affleck and company leave no stone unturned in Argo. While they take creative license with real events in order to ratchet up the drama and tension, the attention paid to authenticity is a treat.  From the facial hair, TV sets and furniture to the robotic 2-XL 8-track player in Tony’s son’s room, watching Argo is like peering through a window at 1980.

Ultimately, Argo is a bona fide, suspense-filled thriller with a terrific cast, and wow! It doesn't matter that we know the outcome.  Fists will be clenched, jaws will be locked, breath will be held and hearts will palpitate, all while you sit on the edge of your seat.  If Ben Affleck has committed any cinematic sins in the past, Argo absolves him of them all.

Five out of five stars.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Wednesday
Aug222012

Movie Review: "Hit and Run"

Eric Charbonneau/WireImage(NEW YORK) -- The underrated Dax Shepard (Parenthood and Punk’d) wrote, co-directed and stars in Hit and Run, a low-budget indie comedy filled with dirty jokes, exciting car chases and co-starring his real-life fiancée, Kristen Bell (Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Showtime's House of Lies).

Shepard plays Charles Bronson. That’s right -- his character’s name is Charles Bronson, the name he chose for himself when he entered the witness protection program. Charlie’s been happily dating Annie, played by Bell, for about a year. She’s aware of his situation but thinks he needs protecting because he witnessed a crime.

Enter Michael Rosenbaum’s Gil, Annie’s extremely jealous ex-boyfriend, hell-bent on proving Charlie is no good.  Gil discovers Charlie actually was the getaway driver for a team of bank robbers, and decides to rat him out to the head of the crew, Alex -- a crunchy-granola-loving sociopath who, as played by Bradley Cooper, has a knack for scoring big laughs.

Annie scores a new job in Los Angeles and Charlie decides to drive her there, despite the fact his witness protection deal stipulates he can't, given that it was the scene of his previous crime.  Before it's all over, Charlie and Annie are being chased both by Alex and his crew, and by Randy, the federal marshal in charge of Charlie's case.  Tom Arnold plays Randy as a bit of a moron -- a role, it seems, Arnold excels at playing.

The beauty of Hit and Run is that it was made for very little money (relatively speaking) outside the studio system, which gave this incredibly funny and gifted team the flexibility to do, well, whatever they wanted. More impressive still is the level of commitment from Shepard, Bell, Cooper, Arnold and company to even the cheapest of jokes. They know how to sell it.

Huge bonus as well if you love cars.  Shepard, a car aficionado in real life, has made Hit and Run a bit of a tribute to muscle cars and great car chases.  He's also made an R-rated comedy gem filled with plenty of laughs and hilarious performances.  

Rating: Four out of five stars.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio







ABC News Radio