Anything and Everything About Movies!

Posts tagged ‘Review’



You know what a Fast and Furious movie is by this point.  They’re loud, obnoxious, somewhat-heartless, sometimes unintentionally hilarious, rarely intentionally hilarious, incredibly aggressive action movies.  You know that’s what you’re getting when you buy your ticket and the only thing that’s changed about the series is that it’s become less about racing and more about squeezing in familiar faces to pull off some high-octane crime.  Fast Five ditches the racing almost entirely and replaces it with a heist film that recalls Ocean’s Eleven but with brawn instead of brains.

World’s Worst Law Enforcement Agent Brian O’Connor (Paul Walker) and his girlfriend Mia (Jordana Brewster) have busted Dom Toretto (Vin Diesel) out of prison by staging a gigantic bus crash that killed no one and only freed Dom.  Some films spend their entire runtime figuring out how to free a prisoner from captivity.  I like to imagine that Brian and Mia wrote down their plan to free Dom and this is what it looked like

Step 1 – Force prison bus into gigantic crash using fancy driving.

Step 2 – Free Dom.

Step 3 – :)

The three make their way to Rio where they join up with former accomplice Vince (Matt Schulze) for a spectacular train heist.  Most of Justin Lin’s action scenes in Fast and Furious felt inert, but this time around he’s really upped his game and pulls off some impressive set pieces.  The train heist goes a little south as Zizi (Michael Irby), the guy who hired Vince, is along on the job and tries to kill Dom and the gang, but ends up murdering some hapless DEA agents instead.  Dom, Mia, and Brian get free with a GT40 that contains a microchip.  The chip contains the locations of the cash houses of nefarious businessman and Zizi’s boss, Reyes (Joaquim de Almeida).  The trio decide to rob Reyes and bring in a cast of supporting characters from the previous films to pull off the heist.  However, this not only puts the gang in the crosshairs of Reyes and his infinite supply of goons, but Dom, Vince, and Mia are pegged with the murder rap for the DEA agents.  The U.S. government sends in Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson), an agent hellbent on bringing the three fugitives to justice.  Hobbs is like Tommy Lee Jones’ character from The Fugitive if someone said “Yeah, but let’s bulk him up and strip away the charm and intelligence.”

But that’s really Fast Five in a nutshell: bulk it up and strip away the charm and intelligence.  The film desperately wants to recall Ocean’s Eleven, right down to having two members of the heist constantly bickering with each other like Casey Affleck and Scott Caan.  But while the film pretends like it’s going to set up a fast-paced, clever heist, it eventually comes to the stupid solution you knew it was going to reach because this is a Fast and Furious movie and clever plotting is for sissies.

And if bringing in a sinister bad guy and relentless manhunter sounds like a lot of plot threads for a Fast and Furious movie, it is.  The movie runs over two hours long but just because it’s bigger, that doesn’t mean it’s stronger.  There are plenty of places where the movie could trim the fat, but for the filmmakers, bigger equals better.  However, fans of the franchise will most likely be overjoyed with having more—more chases, more fistfights, more babes, and more stuff blowing up real good.  Fast Five is the franchise on steroids and while folks like me shudder at that thought, fans are probably giddy at that prospect.

For all my problems with the franchise, Fast Five is probably my favorite so far (note: I haven’t seen Tokyo Drift).  It drops almost all pretense, wisely gives Paul Walker’s boring Brian O’Connor as little screen time as possible, and has some of the best action sequences in the franchise to date.  But there are times when Fast Five feels like it has to mean something as if we’re going to care about characters who pretend to be human but can survive massive car wrecks and falling hundreds of feet without so much as a scratch.  I don’t care that Dom is mourning the loss of a loved one and has found a connection with a local Rio cop (Elsa Pataky).  I don’t believe Dom when he tries to talk about “family” with his fellow criminals.  You can’t have the camera spend an eternity glaring at the asses of hot young women and then make me believe that Fast Five is about anything more than jamming sex and violence into your lizard brain.  If you want to do that, fine.  Just don’t lie to me about it.

There are so many problems I have with the Fast and Furious franchise but at this point I’ve simply ceased to care.  Fast Five is at its best when it shares that indifference and instead focuses on making the best action scene with the slickest production value possible.  The characters are simple, the action is loud, and the bravado is so thick you’ll choke on it.  Were you expecting something else?

Rating: C+



DIARY OF A WIMPY KID 2; RODRICK RULES is a surprisingly enjoyable sequel to last year’s surprise hit about a 11-year-old boy’s attempt to navigate the hell that is American middle school. The new film, based on the best-selling follow-up novel by Jeff Kinney, is more focused on the young protagonist’s family life, specifically his relationship with his vindictive older brother, who was the most entertaining character in the first film anyway. Now in seventh grade, diarist Greg Heffley (Zachary Gordon) is focused on impressing the new blonde student Holly (Peyton R. List) but his overtures lead to embarrassment mostly because of his bullying and obnoxious big brother Rodrick. Their mother, a local advice columnist (Rachael Harris) finds her two son’s inability to get along unacceptable so she orders them to bond and gives them a weekend alone to do it.

The sequel’s shift in focus from Greg’s friends to his family was a good move as it provides a showcase for the talents of Devon Bostick as Rodrick. With his greasy hair, goofy sadism and dim view,Bostick, who looks like a cross between Jimmy Fallon and Keanu Reeves, is a talented young comic actor and the filmmakers were wise to let him cut loose here. The sequel doesn’t disregard what made the first one a hit though, existing in an irreverent (often literal) cartoon atmosphere with a predictable reliance on poop jokes. There is something refreshing about the brother’s relationship as well as the film’s ultimate unwillingness to redeem Rodrick in any overtly sentimental fashion. Bright, fast-paced and often very funny, DIARY OF A WIMPY KID 2; RODRICK RULES conveys, in a good-humored, sharply observed way, the small, painful cruelties and unpredictable rules of early adolescence, and it celebrates awkwardness without feeling the need to convert it into cheap triumph. It’s far from great art, but an entertaining enough way to spend 95 minutes.

3 1/2 of 5 Stars




Imagination does not exist in a vacuum.  We’re inspired by experiences both internal and external.  We build our dreams on the dreams of others and if we possess a brilliant imagination, then we can transform these ideas into something fresh and new.  With his new film Sucker Punch, director Zack Snyder shows he not only misunderstands how imagination works, he also has no understanding of inspiration, empowerment, or joy.  The movie swims through the wet dreams of a teenage boy but pretends at higher aspirations of thoughtful escapism and transcendent determination.  For a movie where dragons battle fighter jets and teenage girls in skimpy outfits take down samurai golems, Sucker Punch is a surprisingly dull and self-serious affair that can’t be bothered to develop its heroine, but wants a round of applause every time she defeats a CGI monstrosity.  Despite all of the energy put into the stunning vistas and designs, nothing in Sucker Punch’s visuals comes close to the majesty of its delusions of grandeur.


A girl (Emily Browning) is sent to an insane asylum by her cruel stepfather after the girl attempts to kill him and accidentally murders her little sister instead.  The stepfather bribes an orderly (Oscar Isaac) to have the girl lobotomized in five days.  This is the “reality level” of Sucker Punch even though everything has the same slick production design and editing tricks as the rest of the movie.  “Reality” is just grimier and with a more limited color palette.

The second before the girl is given the lobotomy, the scene flips and now the girl is in a brothel where in five days she’ll be sold off to the High Roller.  Inside the brothel, the girl, now dubbed “Babydoll”, fashions a plan to escape by obtaining a map, fire, a knife, and a key.  She’ll obtain each of these items in the brothel because when she dances, she and her fellow prostitutes Sweet Pea (Abbie Cornish), Rocket (Jena Malone), Amber (Jamie Chung), and Blondie (Vanessa Hudgens), go into a second imagination level where they engage in giant sci-fi fantasy missions to obtain the items needed for escape.

If that sounds confusing, it’s because it doesn’t make much sense and because Snyder has undercut any stakes his movie may have.  The movie takes not one but two steps away from reality and any consequences within the fantasy worlds are automatically rendered void.  If Babydoll happens to be killed by a bunch of steampunk German soldiers, so what?  It was just a fantasy inside her fantasy of being sold into sexual slavery.

If you’re wondering why a teenage girl in 1960s Vermont would fantasize about being in a brothel and then set up fantasies within that fantasy that would appeal more to a 13-year-old boy than a girl dealing with the loss of her mother and sister, I don’t have an answer for you and neither does Sucker Punch.  Reading Steve’s set report, I learned that there were books about dragons and robots in Babydoll’s father’s study, but we never see that material.  We barely spend any time with Babydoll to learn who she is a character and why she would set her fantasies inside a brothel or why she thinks of herself as a katana-wielding badass who battles alongside mech-warriors.  Also, if she really envisioned herself as a soldier fighting alongside other soldiers, why are she and her compatriots dressed in burlesque gear rather than battle armor?

Which brings me to my next point: can we please stop pretending that giving a hot girl in skimpy clothing a weapon and letting her destroy shit constitutes “female empowerment”?  Can we just take that notion, murder it with a shovel and bury it in a shallow grave?  Here’s what constitutes female empowerment: well-written, memorable female characters.  With the exception of Cornish—who manages to convey at least some semblance of inner strength—the lead actresses seem adrift at what to do with their characters other than pout, whimper, seduce, or fight things that don’t exist.  The notion that the female characters are “empowered” is further undermined by having the voice of “sage” wisdom come not from the asylum’s chief psychiatrist Dr. Gorski (Carla Gugino) or even Babydoll’s dead mother, but from Scott Glenn playing a guy with no mirror in “reality” who spouts fortune-cookie platitudes like “If you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything,” even though the platitude is in no way helpful or even applicable to the situation at hand.

With no characters or coherent structure, it’s not surprising that the gigantic set pieces lack gravity.  Loads of camera tricks, expert fight choreography, and an avalanche of CGI fail to impress when they’re not in service of characters and the story.  When Babydoll first receives her mission from Scott Glenn, he then informs her that she has to fight giant stone warriors.  Why does she have to fight them?  Do they represent anything in the real world?  What happens if she loses?  What’s laughable is that after Babydoll defeats her enemies, the film takes a moment to pause for hypothetical cheering from the audience, but in my theater you could hear a pin drop after every set piece.  Snyder gives us a dazzling array of CGI animation, but can’t be bothered to give the audience a reason to care.

Sucker Punch has an abundance of visual effects, but it’s sorely lacking when it comes to character and story.  Snyder’s passion clearly lies with creating vast worlds where retro-fitted war-planes can take on fire-breathing dragons and hot girls in fishnet stockings can mow down a train car full of enemy robots.  But he never bothers to come up with a reason why.  The film is exploitative garbage that takes itself far too seriously to be aware of its own trashiness.  It’s just a collection of male adolescent daydreams that puts the emphasis on “This looks cool” rather than “This is worth caring about.”

Rating: F




If you wanted to make Twilight but without the personality, you would have a film akin to the cynical cash-grab that is I Am Number Four.  Sure, Twilight’s personality is creepy and misogynistic, but it’s genuinely offering something to a particular audience even though I find that “thing” (idolization of possessive stalkers) repulsive.  I Am Number Four, on the other hand, is a vapid shell of a presumptuous franchise.  The film never bothers to establish compelling characters or compelling situations.  Every time I Am Number Four could do something interesting or inventive, it scurries away to the most predictable, bland solution it can find.  There’s nothing redeeming about I Am Number Four, from the script, to the action, to the visuals, to the performances, to presumably the craft services.  It rarely even shows the courtesy to be laughably bad.  It simply carries on and on and on and assumes the audience is enraptured in the adventures of dull, attractive teenagers.


“John Smith” (Pettyfer) is a refugee alien whose planet was destroyed by a race of evil aliens known as the Mogadorians.  Accompanied by his stern, paternal guardian Henri (Timothy Olyphant), John is “Number Four” of nine aliens who escaped his homeworld but is now being tracked on Earth by the Mogadorians.  This information isn’t shown to us or relayed in an inventive fashion, but rather through John’s bored-sounding monologue as he rides in a car with Henri on their way to a new fake life.  This detached, unimaginative description sets the tone for the tiresome movie the audience will be enduring for the next 110 minutes.


I Am Number Four is devoid of almost any humor, but it does get in an unintentionally hilarious moment when John, feeling cooped up and wanting to go to school, is told by Henri to “keep a low profile.”  So what does John do when he gets on campus?  He throws up his hoodie.  It’s a smart move because now no one will notice the GQ model wandering the halls of the local small town high school.

Unfortunately for John, the hoodie can’t stop the emergence of his powers, namely that he has flashlights for hands.  Henri explains that the nine who escaped the planet have superpowers and that John will learn to manage not only his flashlight hands, but also his newfound super-speed, strength, and agility.  John’s reaction to all of this should be, “Wait—I’m not only ridiculously handsome, but I also have superpowers?  It’s like I’m Justin Timberlake!”  Instead, he continues to mope and grimace while striking up a friendship with the school’s resident bullied kid (Callan McAuliffe) and gorgeous artsy chick (Dianna Agron).


As John deals with the burden of being hot, having superpowers, and receiving the attentions of a drop-dead beautiful bombshell, he’s also being hunted by the “Mogs” (which just made me think of the adorable creatures from the Final Fantasy series, but my nerdiness is no fault of the film’s) as well as a fellow refugee (Teresa Palmer).  Rather than develop the Mogs into an interesting species, they’re simply The Bad Guys.  They have pointy teeth, gills in their face, big black eyes, and enjoy killing.  Their hobbies include mocking humans and scaring fat children.  Their leader (Kevin Durand) doesn’t even get a name.  He’s simply credited as “Mogadorian Commander”.  As for Palmer’s character, she only exists to participate in the giant set piece at the end of the movie.  She is “Number Six” but “Generic Bad-Ass Chick #6784″ would fit just as well.

The movie is loaded with problems.  The effects look cheap, the pacing is a chore, and the direction is uninspired.  But the biggest problem is that I Am Number Four has no characters.  It’s difficult to fault the actors when they have absolutely nothing to work with.  Characters need to have flaws to make them more relatable.  There needs to be some kind of shading to let us know that while John may be from the planet of the Super-powered Handsomes, he’s not perfect.  Instead, the script chooses to waste time explaining how a girl as beautiful as Agron wouldn’t be insanely popular and getting hit on all the time (the answer: she used to be a cheerleader, but got into photography and her ex-boyfriend spread nasty rumors about her.  Also, she wears ugly hats.)


Rather than give us interesting characters in a worthwhile story, I Am Number Four is too busy imagining the glorious franchise its about to open up.  Like the abysmal Vampire’s Apprentice, it’s so busy setting up future stories, it forgets to tell a good one in the movie we’re currently watching.  It’s clear that someone looked at Twilight, assumed that Hot Teenagers + Supernatural = Profit, and that’s how you get I Am Number Four.  If we’re lucky and America doesn’t let me down, there won’t be an I Am Number Four Saga.

Rating: F




Taken, for all of its faults (and there were many), at least stumbled upon the fact that Liam Neeson can be a badass action star.  Unknown, clearly influenced by Taken and other Euro-trash thrillers, says “Fantastic!  Let’s put his ass-kicking persona all the way at the end of the movie and then just have him stumble around for the majority of the runtime!”  Rather than offer up a complex mystery built around an unreliable protagonist, Unknown clears up any major misunderstanding by the end of the first act, and then we’re bored stupid by Neeson wandering around as he’s hunted by non-descript bad guys as the clumsy narrative lurches towards an inevitable twist and his transformation to Taken Guy.  The film wastes its premise, its mystery, its lead actor, and only at the end does it have the courtesy to become laughably terrible.


Dr. Martin Harris (Neeson) is in Berlin with his wife Liz (January Jones) for a biotechnology conference.  When he arrives at his hotel, he realizes that he’s left his briefcase at the airport and grabs a cab to go retrieve it.  On his way, a freak accident sends his cab hurtling off a bridge and Martin bumps his noggin.  His life is saved by his driver Gina (Diane Kruger) and he wakes up in a hospital after a four-day coma.  He rushes back to the hotel to meet up with Liz only to discover that she doesn’t recognize him and that another Dr. Martin Harris (Aidan Quinn) has taken his place.


This is where Unknown has the opportunity to get interesting.  Granted, a stronger opening would set up the film with Martin waking up in the hospital and giving us no objective window into his pre-accident reality.  The film briefly plays with the question of whether or not Martin is mad or if there’s a larger conspiracy that’s out to get him.  After 30 minutes, the film gets tired of this question and simply says, “Yes, they’re out to get him.”

That doesn’t necessarily spell death for a movie.  Plenty of great thrillers (most notably by Alfred Hitchcock) center on a hapless individual out of his or her depth and being hunted by shadowy, ruthless forces.  Neeson has a strong everyman quality that could play to this situation to great effect.  But somehow Unknown just manages to blow it.  Director Jaume Collet-Serra has all the pieces in play, but doesn’t have a clue on how to derive tension from the situation.  We should be able to sympathize with Martin and understand his drive to be reunited with his wife, but that’s difficult when apparently his only memories of her are the time she gave him an expensive watch and the time they had sex in the shower.  While I find it totally believable that he would retain these memories more than others, I was hoping Martin might have other fond memories of his wife that were slightly more heart-warming than a Rolex and a shower-fuck.


Unknown wants to be a pulse-pounding thriller, but that would require the film to have a pulse to pound.  The film solves its mystery by the end of the first act, doesn’t offer thrills because we don’t care about the characters, and all of the action is rote and mechanical.  The ending does get laughably bad, like when Frank Langella asks Liam Neeson to step into his windowless van so he can explain the entire movie.  That’s a small blessing because Unknown clearly has no idea how to be intentionally entertaining.

Raing: D-




James Cameron keeps trying to make the case for 3D but perhaps he should work harder in making the case for quality stories.  As a producer on Alister Grierson’s new 3D film Sanctum, Cameron is essentially putting his name on the picture and giving it his stamp of approval.  That’s a big mistake since the 3D highlights the shortcomings of the film’s visual effects and does nothing to make us care more about the characters and their fight for survival.  At best, the 3D makes the underwater caves of Sanctum slightly more immersive, but I don’t go to movies so I can be somewhat impressed by underwater caves.


At the heart of Sanctum lies an important question that we will all have to face at one point or another: how many people have to die for a son to bond with his father?  The movie centers on Josh (Rhys Wakefield) who is working on his father Frank’s (Richard Roxburgh) expedition into an unexplored cave system.  Footing the bill for the expensive project is Carl (Ioan Gruffudd) although the film doesn’t bother with providing Carl’s financial-incentive.  At best, Carl just wants to pay millions of dollars for his own spelunking adventure (even though Frank is the real adventurer).  Carl visits the site with his irritating girlfriend Victoria (Alice Parkinson) and decides that since she and him have both climbed Everest, this big hole in the ground shouldn’t be a problem.

And then a storm hits and Josh, Frank, Carl, Victoria, and Frank’s assistant George (Dan Wyllie) become trapped.  There’s also a non-white character but he gets knocked off with disturbing speed.  Actually, half of his face gets knocked away, he breaks every bone in his body, and then Frank decides to end the guy’s suffering through a charming practice I have chosen to dub “mercy-drowning.”  While it’s established that the cavers have knives, Frank thinks drowning is the kinder way to end this poor man’s suffering.

So we have an entitled rich ass-hole (can’t have a James Cameron movie without one of those), his shrill girlfriend, and a guy who not only drowns people as a way to end their suffering, but Frank also blames Josh when another diver drowns earlier in the film because Josh forgot to bring back-up air-tanks.  The film wants us to want these people to survive.


While Cameron may be enamored of his 3D technology, he and Grierson should have realized that if you want us to root for people to survive, make them likable.  Instead, when the cave begins to flood and since Victoria doesn’t have a wetsuit, Frank suggests she takes the suit of a dead female diver.  Victoria shrieks, “I am not wearing the suit of a dead-woman!” as if Frank asked her to wear the dead diver’s skin.  So now we’re not wondering if Victoria is going to make it.  We’re hoping that she doesn’t.  It doesn’t help that Gruffudd forgot how to act and talk in an American accent or that Roxburgh decides to growl all of his lines.

But as long as the 3D works, then at least it’s a fun visual spectacle, right?  It could’ve been, butSanctum’s 3D only serves to show that this movie’s low visual effects budget. The opening scenes inside the cave look wretched as the 3D highlights the distance between the foreground and the green screen behind the actors.  There’s an ugly attempt to connect the two with light bouncing off the water, but that just makes the problem worse.  When Sanctum finally moves underwater and into cramped spaces, the 3D starts to click, but by then you no longer care because you’re not invested in the whiny characters and their struggle to survive.

James Cameron can champion 3D all he wants and in theory, Sanctum isn’t a bad film to get the 3D treatment.  One of the major criticisms of 3D is how it makes everything look dim, but that works inSanctum because the story dictates the limited amount of light available to the characters.  It also makes sense to use 3D’s infinite depth of field for a movie about characters moving through various underwater depths.  Unfortunately, the eagle-eye of 3D also picks up on the movie’s shoddy visual effects and even when it moves past the poor green screen work, we don’t really care if these losers make it back to the surface.  Sanctum may have an added visual dimension, but the story and characters are painfully flat.

Rating: D





The Rite is a prime case of a film without endurance. While the first half is often strong, intriguing, and full of humor, the movie stumbles and lurches through the finish. The exorcism genre has seen resurgence of late, but not many films in that line can boast about Anthony Hopkins playing a wily, unconventional exorcist. Unfortunately, the perfect casting of Hopkins is spoiled with the uneven tone. When director Mikael Håfström finally tries to tie up the loose ends in the film, it gives in to an unenthusiastic finale that feels rushed and diluted. The idea of possession versus dementia has been done before–with satisfying results–but here it feels mishandled. If coughing up a handful of iron spikes doesn’t convince someone, you know there isn’t much hope.

Michael Kovak (Colin O’Donoghue) is a skeptic looking to escape from the mortician family career but has limited funds. Choosing to attend seminary school with the intention of dropping out before going through with priesthood seems like a rash decision, but he goes for it anyways. Right before his dine and dash education is complete, he is given the opportunity to attend a new program the Vatican has recently opened to train exorcists–the ultimate unbeliever-buster Christianity has. But hey, it’s Rome. How bad can it be? When Michael is tasked to study under the unconventional and troubled exorcist, Father Lucas Trevant (Hopkins), his skepticism is pushed to the edge. As the exorcisms become increasingly extreme, he finds himself an unwilling pawn in a battle between good and evil.

Working off of a script by Michael Petroni that is based on a book by Matt Baglio, Håfström gives the fine gloss one would expect of a Hollywood film. The use of the Vatican City setting provides intrigue, but The Rite confines it to a springboard for the adventure. As the film continues, we become privy to the predictable foreshadowing as the signs of demonic possession are given in a class led by Father Xavier (Ciarán Hinds), including a tremor in a limb. But just as the adventure seems to be stalling, Father Lucas is introduced and we are reeled back in.

Father Lucas is troubled by his years of exorcisms. Instead of a quick battle with a demon, exorcisms are described as continual wars that ratchet up in intensity over months. But don’t expect spinning heads or pea soup, Father Lucas quips. Yet, as the events become convincing for the audience, including a subject revealing secrets about Michael’s past, he remains steadfast in his disbelief. That theme is stretched beyond its limit as he continually disregards events that he simply cannot explain, and throws faulty logic at the few he challenges as psychotic behavior. When he finally starts to come around, it feels unnaturally sudden.

the-rite-image-alice-braga-Colin-O-Donoghue-02While the finale is fumbled and the themes are underutilized, the supporting cast provides one redeeming quality. Familiar faces like Hinds and Rutger Hauer populate the background and give their all to their shamefully small roles. Meanwhile, Hopkins continually shines even when the film is falling down around him. His witty banter as Father Lucas is smooth and effortless, while the dry humor is a continual home run with the audience. He is casual about the exorcism procedures, and his lackadaisical approach provides unexpected laughs. He even gets to stretch his creepy demeanor, though that, like the supporting cast, is criminally underused. Although Hopkins manages to turn in an intriguing and creative performance, the film focuses on O’Donoghue’s character and suffers for it. A bland and often uninteresting main character can crack the foundations of the best films–which no one would mistake The Rite. The transformation of Michael has to have authenticity, but comes off as harried. Even with a more capable actor in the role of Michael, it’s hard to say if the film would have been saved.

As it stands, The Rite throws everything it has to keep the audience interested in the beginning but leaves little to satisfy as it races towards the finish. Exorcisms have built in mystery and the film attempts to throw in new wrinkles with mixed results. This sub-genre rarely finds a supporting cast of this caliber, which is all the more frustrating when the pieces don’t combine to form something more worthwhile. January is often a wasteland for films that just can’t seem to pull it together despite solid ingredients; The Rite is no exception. The film opens everywhere today.

Score: C-



Tag Cloud

%d bloggers like this: