The Ice Road

Release: Sunday, June 25, 2021 (Netflix)

👀 Netflix

Written by: Jonathan Hensleigh

Directed by: Jonathan Hensleigh

Starring: Liam Neeson; Laurence Fishburne; Marcus Thomas; Amber Midthunder; Benjamin Walker

 

 

 

**/*****

Though Liam Neeson’s latest thriller The Ice Road may be out of season for those of us in the northern hemisphere, it lies smack in the middle of a prolific run the 69-year-old Irish actor has been enjoying the last decade-plus, marking one of three movies he will star in this year alone. Presumably it will also be the worst.

Written and directed by Jumanji (1995) and Armageddon (1998) scribe Jonathan Hensleigh, The Ice Road just may represent the nadir of Neeson’s post-Taken routine. Action titles such as Non-Stop (2014), Run All Night (2015), The Commuter (2018) and indeed the Taken sequels have all coasted on the goodwill of a built-in audience but few as shamelessly as The Ice Road, a bare-minimum effort with original ideas as commonplace as service stations out on the Canadian Prairies. Compounding the problem is some really questionable acting from supporting parts and a villain who becomes the Terminator in ways more comical than compelling.

Neeson blends into the environment just fine but his Mike McCann, a North Dakotan big rig driver, is nothing you’ll remember when all is said and done. Recently fired from his job having stood up for his PTSD-suffering brother Gurty (Marcus Thomas), he joins a highly dangerous mission to deliver crucial equipment from Winnipeg to a mine in Northern Manitoba that has collapsed after a methane explosion. The 20+ souls trapped inside are relying on this last-ditch effort before they run out of oxygen. Time is of the essence but the trek to get there is paved with hazards, many natural and others man-made.

Good old-fashioned subterfuge at the corporate level is the cliched dramatic destination to which the increasingly apathetic viewer is pulled. This is less an action thriller as it is a conspiracy snoozer involving blue-collar truckers and white-collar snakes (Benjamin Walker’s characterization as a risk assessor belies his apparent immortality). At the Katka mine, company suits (Matt McCoy and Bradley Sawatzky, both pretty bad at acting on evidence of this movie) attempt damage control through an omniscience that becomes increasingly cartoonish. 

The best stretch of The Ice Road is its first half, as we are pulled into an extreme environment that offers entertaining man-vs-nature conflict not seen in a Neeson flick since 2011’s The Grey. The physical and technical challenges are effectively communicated as the crew — Mike, Gurty, a Winnipeg trucker named Jim Goldenrod (Laurence Fishburne) and the hot-headed Tantoo (Amber Midthunder) — battle variable ice conditions and all sorts of nuances the layperson would never think about. Apparently dashboard bobbleheads are more than purely decorative. However, as environmental factors take a backseat to the human treachery lying underneath, The Ice Road sacrifices its blue collar identity for woefully generic melodrama. None of it written or performed particularly convincingly. 

While it is refreshing to see Neeson take on a character who is not endowed with a mythical set of skills, one is left wishing that the guy could have at least been endowed with better lines and quite frankly, a better film overall. 

“I do not believe in chance. When I see three wellheads, three drivers, three trucks, I do not see coincidence. I see providence. I see purpose.”

Moral of the Story: Pushes the line, for me personally, in terms of what a fan should be willing to accept at a base-line level of entertainment when it comes to these kinds of slight action-thrillers. Goodwill isn’t in infinite supply. The above review may be harsh, largely a reflection of frustration over how I entered the film with low expectations and not having even those met. There’s nothing sinfully bad about it, but all added up The Ice Road is just too lazy to recommend when there are so many other, (even if slightly) better Neeson options. 

Rated: PG-13

Running Time: 109 mins.

Check out the “slick” Official Trailer from Netflix here! 

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Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.slashfilm.com 

The Meg

Release: Friday, August 10, 2018

→Theater

Written by: Dean Georgaris; Jon and Erich Hoeber

Directed by: Jon Turteltaub

More like . . . The Meh. I really couldn’t give a shark shit about this movie, but here goes this anyway.

It says something about Jason Statham‘s box office pull that I found my tingling buttocks planted in a seat on Cheap Ticket Tuesday, ready to see some hapless ocean-goers getting torn apart by a man-hunting, 70-foot prehistoric shark, despite what had been opined about his new action film. Critics by and large were not impressed. If not hatred, the overwhelming sentiment I’ve picked up on has been disappointment. And yet I went anyway, lured by the promise of the Stath vs said Meg(alodon).

Now I see why. It isn’t actually the fact that The Meg ultimately becomes the pilot fish to Steven Spielberg’s Jaws (a bad analogy TBH, because there isn’t really any kind of symbiotic relationship between the two films — in fact it’s very nearly the opposite, with The Meg taking and taking and taking ideas and never shaping them into anything truly original, something you can point to and say definitively, “Oh yeah — that was The Meg!”). No, Jon Turteltaub’s latest mediocre-athon is just really uneventful. It is directionally uninspired and the pacing listless, every main character a non-entity with not enough flesh on them to entice even an eight-footer (with the rare exception of young Sophia Cai, who plays the precocious daughter of Li Bingbing in the film).

The Meg spins a tale of redemption for Statham’s deep sea diver Jonas Taylor, who doesn’t exactly have the best track record of saving everyone when shit turns sideways. In this film, the hero goes something like 2/5 in the life-saving department. At the time, a doctor (Robert Taylor, bland) declared Jonas insane, because that’s what being that far down does to you (kind of like what happens to climbers on Mt. Everest). Naturally the grizzled ex-diver, now boozing his life away in Thailand, gets coaxed back to the Marianas Trench after a disaster occurs at Mana One, an underwater research lab in the heart of the Pacific financed by billionaire Jack Morris (Rainn Wilson, decently hammy).

It’s all so mechanical, the plot developments and the execution thereof. The shark attacks the facility, trimming the crew down to its essential survivors. Then we abandon ship for . . . well, another ship. They’re gonna need a MUCH BIGGER boat though. The wealthy financier realizes his investment is no longer a tenable pursuit and attempts a cover-up by taking action on his own, but perishes (in an actually hilarious way), thus paving the way for a team-up between the fearless Stath and Bingbing’s brilliant scientist/reckless mother as they try to stop the megalodon from reaching land and wreaking havoc upon all.

But what about the shark itself? If you’re asking me, he’s the best actor in this whole water-logged rig. Give it a posthumous Fin d’Or.

Recommendation: Jason Statham takes pride in his work outs. Just check out those abs. Like, Jeezie Petes. The rest, though? Just a bucket of chum really. 

Rated: PG-13

Running Time: too damn long

Quoted: “He looks heroic, and he walks really fast. But he kinda has a negative attitude.”

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Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com

Rules Don’t Apply

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Release: Wednesday, November 23, 2016

[Theater]

Written by: Warren Beaty

Directed by: Warren Beaty

Toothaches. Internet trolls. Airport pat-downs. These are but a few things that grate on the nerves less than Warren Beaty’s new film.

In Rules Don’t Apply, an ambitious driver tries to make it with a devout Baptist and aspiring actress who in turn tries to make it with Howard Hughes. That’s THE Howard Hughes — aviator, film producer, and eccentric. Guess how that turns out? Really, really freaking annoying — that’s how. “O Lord in Heaven.” (Just to be clear, the religious overtones perpetuated throughout aren’t what make the film a chore to sit through, though they don’t really help.)

Beaty sort of applies the rules established by the Coen brothers in this off-beat, often bizarre and off-putting ‘romantic comedy.’ It has their comedic tastes written all over it, figuratively speaking. If it actually had been written by them, Rules Don’t Apply would surely have been better off. It’s farcical, at times to the point of slapstick and in many ways evokes the Coens’ most recent effort Hail, Caesar! IronicallyI considered that one of their lesser outputs despite its strengths, namely a nostalgia for the Golden Era of Hollywood. Beaty, serving as writer, director, co-producer and star, similarly pines for the days of the Big Studio System. In fact there is more romance in his lust for a paradise long since lost than in any of the character interactions.

In 1958 Marla Mabry (Lily Collins), a Bible-thumping beauty queen hailing from Virginia, is being escorted by Frank Forbes (Alden Ehrenreich), along with her uptight mother Lucy (Annette Bening), who has come along to help ensure her daughter doesn’t lose herself in the madness that is Hollywood. O Lord in Heaven. Frank, a chauffeur for Hughes’ many actresses, becomes Marla’s personal driver. He’s given explicit instructions to never get into a romantic affair with any contract actor working for Hughes, so of course that means he is about to get into a romantic affair with a contract actor working for Hughes. It is Matthew Broderick’s sole responsibility to keep reminding the youngster of company policy.

Broderick is but one of many tumbleweeds that wheel haphazardly, aimlessly, through the desolate wasteland of entertainment that this ultimately becomes: Ed Harris, Steve Coogan, Oliver Platt, Martin Sheen, Alec Baldwin, Paul Schneider and the aforementioned Annette Bening all feature but collectively must account for fewer screen minutes than the number of names I just rattled off. Hard to believe there were no other up-and-coming talents that could have fulfilled such bit parts. Hell of an egotistical move to feature so many accomplished thespians and give them a single line of dialogue at a dinner table, for example. Blink and you’ll miss Steve Coogan as Colonel Doesn’t Even Matter.

We are in a time when Hughes is not well. His increasingly erratic behavior is sending up all kinds of flags indicating he is neither fit to be running a company nor flying aircraft. Infamously the entrepreneur suffered from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and pain as related to a plane crash that nearly killed him. He became reclusive and extremely difficult to work with. If there’s anything Rules does well, it’s in laying out the numerous eccentricities that made him a true enigma in his latter years. Much of the narrative is devoted to keeping Hughes in the shadows, the short-term effect of which manifests in Marla’s mother bailing for greener pastures while her daughter stays to see if something will come of it. The long term effect? Leave that to Ehrenreich’s loyal terrier.

If indicators of a good performance include how often a character gives you conniption fits, consider Beaty’s an Oscar-worthy submission. As an interminable two-hour running time plods ever onward his baffling behavior intensifies, notably in the third act — incidentally where all sense of narrative cohesion goes out the window. In some weird way Beaty’s performance is the glue that holds the flimsy bits together. Ehrenreich doesn’t fare quite as well. Frank has the personality of a brick, and his devotion to such a lunatic boggles the mind. Perhaps you, too, will find yourself shouting at the screen in an empty theater. Maybe even an occupied one. No one really comes out of this smelling like roses, but unfortunately Collins is saddled with one of the most thoroughly unconvincing character arcs I’ve seen in some time. I could go into spoilers but I’m so not interested. Suffice it to say, I think Beaty has misinterpreted what the expression ‘devout Baptist’ means.

The longer I sit on this, the more I’m convinced Beaty’s latest owes a great deal to Hail, Caesar! Substantively the two films are quite different — whereas Caesar delineated a day-in-the-life of a Hollywood studio fixer, Rules tackles a love triangle involving two people who really don’t belong together and a Hollywood luminary who uses the actress as a loophole to avoid being committed to an asylum, and thus losing his company. But if we’re talking the tangibles, the sorts of tricks the Coens used to obfuscate a fairly poor screenplay that lacked depth and any real meaning — ensemble casts, picturesque cinematography/iconic imagery — the two seem kindred spirits.

Beaty’s intentions are good. They’re also clear. Rules is another love letter to an era long passed. The man has crafted a picture with love and care, evidenced in the pastel sunsets he captures and the warm color palette that makes Beverly Hills glow in an ethereal light. And there’s something compelling about the way he presents Hughes as a very tragic character. But he’s no fun to be around, and his increasing prominence in the story makes the film very hard to like.

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2-0Recommendation: Perhaps this is one of those cases where a film’s substance becomes so overwhelmingly unpleasant and ultimately forgettable that it obscures the product’s legitimate strengths. But the film also suffers from a dearth of issues from a filmmaking standpoint. Poor editing, terrible character development and a rather convoluted plot all work against it. Also, watch out for that 42% audience rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Just saying . . .

Rated: R

Running Time: 127 mins.

Quoted: “You’re an exception. The rules don’t apply to you.”

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Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com 

Keeping Up with the Joneses

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Release: Friday, October 21, 2016

[Theater]

Written by: Michael LeSieur

Directed by: Greg Mottola

For those who have been keeping track, Keeping Up with the Joneses is the second Zach Galifianakis film to be released in as many months, and it too is terrible. It too is a silly film, a very, very silly film. What’s worse is that the film’s chief sillyhead plays it painfully straight. That’s not silly; that’s just frustrating.

The level of entertainment found in this dumbed-down action-comedy is as disposable as a . . . oh, I don’t know, something that’s really disposable; the laughs number in the negatives; hot women kiss to the delight of male viewers and the annoyance of their female partners. I went to see this as part of an (in hindsight) ill-advised solo mission and I found that moment not so much provocative — I think that’s what director Greg Mottola (Superbad; Adventureland) was going for — as it was indicative of precisely the low-brow kind of fantasy it turns out to be.

The plot’s an old rusting bucket of cliches but it could have been fun: when two boring suburbanites, Jeff and Karen Gaffney (Galifianakis and Isla Fisher) suspect their new neighbors of not being who they say they are, they turn into paranoid peeping toms bent on figuring out what combination of ridiculous factors have not only afforded them a life of luxury and bliss but that has caused them to drift into the unsuspecting cul-de-sac in which the Gaffney’s proudly have plopped themselves down. Their neighbors, of course, are the Joneses. Say that with a smile on your face — we’re the Jonesesssss!

Tim Jones (played by Jon Hamm, whose name is far superior to that of his character) is a super-duper spy of some sort — could be CIA, could be NSA, could be Melissa McCarthy in another ridiculous, albeit more convincing get-up — and he lives a life of mystery with his wife Natalie (Gal Gadot), also a spy. The Joneses are everything the Gaffneys are not. The former seem exotic; the latter have been domesticated and have settled for the routine and the mundane. The Joneses know how to fire weapons in high-stress situations. The Gaffneys . . . do not. We imagine the Joneses having just, like, the best sex ever. When pressed, Karen admits to “getting it done fast before the kids come into the bedroom.”

The script is the main culprit behind the lack of engagement in Keeping Up with the Joneses. The fish-out-of-water adventure lacks not only intelligence but creativity. None of what Galifianakis does is really humorous; his take on the suburban dad isn’t offensive but it’s far from interesting while there’s nary a hint of Fisher’s brilliantly unhinged Stage 5 Clinger in Wedding Crashers. She looks great in a skin-tight dress though, and that’s clearly the bar she had to clear for the director. On the other side of the fence, Hamm and Gadot make for a reasonably compelling pair but they’re similarly constrained by the grade-school screenwriting. And though he’s often funny in other stuff, Patton Oswalt just looks bored as the Big Bad, some dude named ‘Scorpion.’

The entire time I was watching this I couldn’t shake the feeling that these talented actors were just playing nice. They were being charitable. Their performances often register a sense of fatigue and if not fatigue then indifference. And if people who get paid to pretend are pretending not to look unprofessional, I see no reason why I have to pretend like I’m actually having fun here. Although, it’s hard to resist smirking whenever you see Matt Walsh. So there’s that.

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Recommendation: Massively disposable action comedy consistently wastes the talents of this cast and the time of everyone in attendance. Or, I guess not, since everyone in the theater I was in was laughing like hyenas. Clearly I was just the grinch, and I can’t get anything out of lightweight comedies these days. But come on, really? This was made by the same guy who made Superbad and Adventureland? Hmm . . . .

Rated: PG-13

Running Time: 105 mins.

Quoted: “I was making a head start!” / “On your wife?!” 

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Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.latimes.com 

Masterminds

masterminds-movie-poster

Release: Friday, September 30, 2016 

[Theater]

Written by: Chris Bowman; Hubbel Palmer; Emily Spivey

Directed by: Jared Hess

Masterminds didn’t need to be masterfully made to be effective, but a little discipline could have gone a long way.

Directed by Jared Hess (Napoleon Dynamite; Nacho Libre), the film is a comedic dramatization of the October 1997 Loomis Fargo bank robbery that took place in Charlotte, North Carolina. The story made national headlines when an employee made off with $17.3 million from the bank’s vault, making it at the time the second-largest cash heist in American history, second only to a Jacksonville, Florida incident seven months prior in which the same bank lost $18.8 million to the driver of an armored vehicle transporting the cash. Not a great year for Loomis Fargo, admittedly.

The details of the heist seem ripe for the tabloids, or even a solid comedic outing. Hess adopts the truth-is-stranger-than-fiction angle by going balls-out on the zaniness and slapstick elements, employing star Zach Galifianakis‘ trademark gooberisms to often irritating effect. Masterminds is a film stuck on one setting and it never demonstrates aspirations to become something more . . . not even important, but watchable. A collaborative screenplay is only ever interested in puerile jokes, making fun of “simple Southern folk” and accommodating Galifianakis and his weirdness.

David Scott Ghantt (Galifianakis) is the focus of this southern-fried farce. He’s a loyal employee of his local bank although quite the simpleton. He has a crush on a girl he works with, a Kelly Campbell (Kristen Wiig) who suddenly quits her job because it sucks, basically. She falls in with a rough crowd and cozies up to the bad news Steve Chambers (Owen Wilson), who has this idea to take that branch for all it’s worth. Good thing Kelly happens to know someone on the inside that she can manipulate/seduce into pulling it all off.

Masterminds is aggressively unfunny. Having absolutely no faith that the sheer absurdity of the actual circumstances will do much of the work for them, the filmmakers overcompensate, aiming for the lowest common denominator as loud farts, sweaty redneck culture and Wiig’s cleavage become major talking points. Galifianakis tries his best to make us empathize with David but he can’t. And he doesn’t get much help from the rest of the ensemble, as Wiig looks bored, Owen Wilson is still just Owen Wilson, and Jason Sudeikis and Kate McKinnon lay two distinctly rotten eggs — the former playing the world’s worst hitman and the latter David’s psychotic country bumpkin fiancée. (If you somehow make it through the film’s opening 10 minutes or so, you might as well stay. McKinnon features prominently here and she’s the worst part of the film.)

You’d think with Wilson’s casting there’d be an element of Bottle Rocket to proceedings in this heist film, but sadly that film with made-up characters feels more authentic than this one based upon real individuals. What we have here are caricatures who shout dumb things, make weird noises and enthusiastically check off items from a master list presumably titled ‘Things Everyone Who Has Never Lived There Hates About the South.’ The movie doesn’t mean to offend but it does when the whole thing is just so inept.

Recommendation: Offensively low joke-to-laugh ratios can be found in Masterminds, an ill-advisedly goofy recreation of a bizarre real-world bank heist. If you have love for any of the actors in this movie, I have to say you should try and keep that love going by outright skipping this turkey. A deep-fried, southern turkey covered in about as many stereotypes as you can think of. Zach Galifianakis is only as good as the material he works with, so here I have to say he’s actually pretty awful.

Rated: PG-13

Running Time: 94 mins.

Quoted: “Katie Candy Cane . . . is she a stripper?”

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Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com 

London Has Fallen

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Release: Friday, March 4, 2016

[Netflix]

Written by: Creighton Rothenberger; Katrin Benedikt; Christian Gudegast; Chad St. John

Directed by: Babak Najafi

London Has Fallen was a theatrical release I happened to miss out on and I am glad for having saved that money. Buying a bag of crack cocaine (which is what I did) would have been a better use of that money (and it was).

Gerard Butler reprises his role as Mike Banning, and he’s still President Asher (Aaron Eckhart)’s body guard. The two have now become homies, and you know this because you see Banning jogging backwards alongside the Prez on one of their many morning runs in DC. That’s a skill that’ll come in handy! (Actually that’s not even really sarcasm; the two dudes end up running a LOT in this movie, although you’d have to believe they don’t engage in too much running in reverse — that wouldn’t be practical, unlike driving in reverse.) For director Babak Najafi, apparently this is character development.

Despite the privilege of sharing dude-bro-isms with his Commander-in-Chief, Banning is considering resigning so he can spend time with his wife, with whom he is expecting his first child. But the nursery will have to wait because the British Prime Minister has passed and President Asher and his security detail must attend the funeral in London. Many world leaders show up to pay their respects, but before they can many of them are riddled with bullets when Najafi decides to dispense with the bullshit.

Then the rest of the movie happens, which is, ironically, even more bullshit than the bullshit that came before. Need I address it? Are you really curious for more? Sigh. Alright, well here’s this:

Just when it looks like the good guys are about to get away from what appears to be a developing war zone in the heart of London — ground zero being Westminster Abbey — their chopper is shot down by some assholes on some rooftops because hey, they shouldn’t be able to get away THAT easily. And so ensues 90 minutes of Call of Duty, the map manifesting as a smoldering metropolis castrated of its most famous landmarks. Brainless action sequences follow as do some of the worst lines of dialogue exchanged between actors playing supposedly important characters, men and women of prestige. But that doesn’t stop members in the Situation Room chatting about being partial to the Kardashians (I’m not kidding) as they prepare for what they think is going to be another normal day.

The main objective of the terrorists is to get revenge on the guy who wiped out some notorious Middle Eastern crime lord’s family and they plan to record the assassination live so it can be on YouTube. (I’m also not kidding.) The main objective of the Americans is to kill every last man with dark hair, dark skin and thick beards. The script, penned by four different idiots, is so xenophobic it makes my skin crawl. Unlike in the previous outing, there is zero tension between Banning and the President so ultimately there is no reward in seeing Butler macho his way through another terrible movie. All we really get that’s new is watching Eckhart sling a gun around awkwardly for 30 minutes as circumstances become increasingly dire and as the baddies make communication with friends across the globe extremely difficult.

The story is atrocious but the film’s attitude is so much more cavalier. London Has Fallen doesn’t give a shit about England. It’s more about the greatness that is America than it is about the character and prestige of one of her longest standing allies. What’s more embarrassing is that the basic premise doesn’t even hold up logically: the terrorists claim they are retaliating after Asher ordered a drone strike on a Pakistani fortress two years prior, and yet they make an attempt to eliminate every single leader who happens to be present in London. I guess just for shits and giggles? Meanwhile, Morgan Freeman gets paid to breathe.

This is quite simply one of the most pathetic action movies I have ever seen and if you are looking for logic in a movie like London Has Fallen, I’m afraid you may have made some deeper errors. Indeed, standards have fallen and they have fallen pretty far mate.

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Recommendation: Terrible. And pointless. What’s next, Sydney Has Fallen?* Aside from a few fleeting moments of mindless, distracting action, and plus the fact I do like Gerard Butler and Aaron Eckhart (they’re easily the best part of this movie even though they both look like they were struggling to take this seriously), there’s absolutely nothing to recommend about London Has Fallen, a most unnecessary sequel made by a very xenophobic director that I’m not sure too many people asked for.

Rated: R

Running Time: 99 mins.

Quoted: “I was wondering when you were gonna come out of the closet.” 

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Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com 

The Disappointments Room

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Release: Friday, September 9, 2016

[Theater]

Written by: D.J. Caruso; Wentworth Miller

Directed by: D.J. Caruso

I would be more upset about the way this anti-thrilling psychological thriller turned out but I brought this upon myself. I knew what Rotten Tomatoes had said about it. I knew no one was talking about it. No one was in the theater with me when I saw it. Part of me (the masochistic part of me that really needs help) was curious to see why. Would it be worth the six smackaroonies I put down apologetically at the box office?

The Disappointments Room is a bad title for an even worse film. It references a kind of holding cell that was established by early 19th Century well-to-do families who needed a place to stow away their ‘undesirables’ — their hopelessly disfigured, ugly and otherwise lame offspring they couldn’t possibly bring themselves to publicly acknowledge. Left alone for years on end, these children would ultimately perish in isolation, their spirits left to haunt that room and the house. Ironically that title also represents truth in advertising, when director D.J. Caruso (I Am Number Four; Disturbia) really needed something more . . . misleading, like The So-Spooky-You-Just-Have-To-Watch-It Room.

Young couple Dana (Kate Beckinsale) and David (Mel Raido) have left Brooklyn with their son Lucas (Duncan Joiner) for a fresh start in the countryside after a traumatic event left them reeling. Dana’s an architect and wants everyone in town to know that women are perfectly capable of being architects, and that she is planning to bring her sharp eye for architectural detail to the mansion she and her family have just architecturally moved into. The place is a real fixer-upper, and of course it has an urban legend attached to it, because why wouldn’t it? Blacker Manor, as it is known around this podunk community, is the site of an infamous murder of a daughter by her own father, the prominent Judge Blacker (Gerald McRaney).

As they get settled and Dana the Architect inspects the property for things that need attention, she comes across a locked room in an attic. She’s alarmed this feature wasn’t included in the building schematic and wants to find out what it is, architecturally speaking, of course, especially after she briefly gets trapped inside it — one of several remarkably poorly executed sequences that leaves you scratching the architecture of your head. Dana has a certain history — as all women in horror films must have — that leads her down a path filled with weird hallucinations and disconcerting encounters. Beckinsale’s poor performance doesn’t help matters, but the character is an utter bore as she tries to convince David something is wrong with the house.

There’s no end to the clichés in The Disappointments Room. The execution is ruthlessly rote, a problem compounded by some really clumsy, confusing directing. One can never get a good sense of what is supposed to be “the ultimate terror” lurking in the darkness of that depressing, dusty room because the filmmakers seem to have no faith in their ability to create something fresh from old scraps. There’s a theoretical parallel drawn between Dana’s tragic past and the history of this mansion, but the lack of confidence behind the camera translates to a lack of confidence in front of it. Beckinsale simply could not make me care. Then there’s the subplot involving a local construction worker that fizzles out as though the writer forgot to finish the draft.

The production is, in a word, a mess. I was able to get into the spirit of things early on despite the ache of familiarity setting in almost immediately. There’s an intimacy amongst these characters and I appreciated the understated manner in which this couple tries to adjust to their new surroundings — you know, the kind that often contributes mightily to any given character’s vulnerable psychological state. And Raido has great chemistry with his diminutive co-star, fully selling us on his fatherly bond and thankfully he also carries an optimism that contrasts against Beckinsale’s unconvincing aloofness.

I don’t think Caruso had any pressure riding on him to conjure the next genre classic, though surely horror directors these days have a heightened awareness of the increasing availability of effective, niched independent releases that have necessarily upped the ante for the genre as a whole. There’s nothing really to bash about a film being average and forgettable when it is enjoyable. The Disappointments Room didn’t need to do anything crazy, but it needed to do more than this. The only thing worse than identifying myself as the only patron to see this film that day was the stench of regret that followed me as I walked out of an empty cineplex.

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Recommendation: Considering all that is on offer with the advent of independent horror, I would have to say there is very little reason to go near The Disappointments Room unless you are a completionist. There’s simply not enough interesting material here to recommend. And if you want further proof, the review you’ll find at the bottom of this film’s IMDb page is excellent, and better sums up my thoughts on this rig than my own.

Rated: R

Running Time: 92 mins.

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited. 

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com 

Morgan

'Morgan' movie poster

Release: Friday, September 2, 2016

[Theater]

Written by: Seth W. Owen

Directed by: Luke Scott

No movie, especially one dabbling in the science fiction genre, has an obligation to make the viewer feel all warm and cuddly inside. You can be both the coldhearted bastard and The Year’s Best Movie, but if you plan on being as brutally dispassionate as this year’s attempt at Ex Machina-ing the AI subgenre back to life, you better have something interesting to say.

Morgan‘s got nothing. What it does have though are 90 of the most unpleasant, uninteresting minutes I’ve spent at the movies this year.

There were only four of us in my 3:45 screening and the film played out as though it were anticipating as much. You might attribute the film’s disinterest in engaging the viewer to Scott W. Owen’s thoroughly unoriginal screenplay, a story about the dark side of cutting-edge science so bland you sit there realizing that you’re thinking about how bland it is. Annoyingly that meta thought begets another. And then another, and soon enough, twenty minutes have gone by and still nothing’s happened. Oh, look. Time to refill the coke and popcorn. (Spoiler alert: do it in the first 45 minutes because you won’t miss a thing.)

Unfortunately though it’s a real team effort, as the son of the great Ridley Scott doesn’t steer the project in any meaningful direction with an uninspired vision that substitutes substantive scientific and/or philosophical questioning for grisly and pretty cruel action sequences. There are so many questions. What makes Morgan special? Why should we believe she’s the AI creation of the cinematic year? What is her true potential, what is her purpose? Can she really be controlled? Should she be? And the million dollar one: why should we care, about her or this world she inhabits?

If foreshadowing doesn’t destroy Morgan‘s shot at profundity, then it’s a lack of depth and substance. There’s no extrapolation as to what this says about where we are in society, only easy answers — solutions tailor-made for this specific narrative. All the bloody hand-to-hand combat reserved for the ending is an overt solution to the problems introduced in this dreary, monochromatic world. What makes Morgan special? This karate chop! That crazy look in her eyes. (It sure isn’t that fucking boring hoodie.) Why should we believe she’s the year’s coolest AI creation? Because she’s a murderer, with a lust for blood not seen since Ted Bundy. What is her true potential? To be more Ted Bundy than Ted Bundy. Why should we care? Um . . .

The story takes a more political/business approach to the world of scientific endeavors, one of its few distinctive features. Morgan focuses on the tension between a corporate entity seeking total control and the idealistic virtues of those working directly on the company-funded Morgan Project. It pits Kate Mara‘s supremely unfriendly risk manager Lee Weathers against the strangely more sociable project overseers, a group that includes doctors Simon Ziegler (Toby Jones), husband-and-wife duo Darren and Brenda Finch (Chris Sullivan and Vinette Robinson), Amy Menser (Rose Leslie), and Lui Cheng (Michelle Yeoh). After an incident in which Morgan attacked another scientist, played by Jennifer Jason Leigh in the second role this year that has required her to cover her face in physical-abuse make-up, Lee is called in to assess whether the project is one still worth pursuing or if it needs to be terminated.

Mara may not look the part, but she kind of does feel like The Terminator, and Leigh’s bedridden scientist even calls her “a goddamn assassin.” She’s here on business and won’t leave until that’s finished. From the moment she appears Mara delivers each of her lines in the same monotone, several inflections away from sounding like a real person. It’s actually a pretty terrible performance from a reliable thesp. (But not as terrible as the ending.) Corporate red tape wears out its welcome quickly with Ziegler and his colleagues. Perpetually on the defensive, the team continues trying to justify Morgan’s sudden outburst as anomalous. Morgan describes it as “an error.” Nonetheless, a psychiatrist is brought in for an evaluation. It’s Paul Giamatti, so at least you know what you’re going to get out of him. And he surely delivers, pushing Morgan to the limits as he questions why she thinks she is alive. Why she thinks the people around her are her friends.

Judged through a tedious first section and an even slower second act, Morgan isn’t very eventful but it’s well-crafted. A reasonable amount of tension is generated from our ignorance to what Morgan is capable of doing or what she is actually going to do to her captors once she gets loose. (An event we await with bated breaths.) Mara is a constant bummer but the rest of the characters are fairly likable in their restricted capacities. Anya Taylor-Joy (the break-out star from this year’s The Witch) is for some time empathetic and her distinctive features make for a suitable alien-like presence. Boyd Holbrook plays a hunk with serious culinary skills. Because we needed that for levity, I guess, but I’ll take it if everyone else is just going to be a misery to be around.

But when we’re exposed to what the filmmakers have in store for us having waded through a lot of nothingness, the wheels fall right off the wagon, spectacularly. Who had M. Night Shyamalan on speed dial for that big reveal? It has his fingerprints all over it. In fact his sense of atmosphere and ability to maintain tension makes it feel like Morgan doesn’t have any Scott blood running in its veins at all. Slavishly adhering to structure and with no personality of its own, this Ex Machina wannabe has been conditioned to not think for itself.

Recommendation: Slow, unoriginal and featuring an uneasy mix of cerebral meditation and shocking violence, Morgan gives me too many reasons to call this just a total freaking mess. As I personally wasn’t hugely anticipating it, calling it a disappointment might be a stretch but it certainly is disappointING that good actors and a reliable premise, granted a thoroughly worn out one at this point, aren’t enough to bring it around. Film also finishes on one of the lamest notes I have seen since Now You See Me, so unless you’re willing to risk leaving a movie wondering why you even bothered, I’d have to say keep a respectable distance from this one.

Rated: R

Running Time: 92 mins.

Quoted: “There was joy in her heart, before we shoved her back into that box.”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.screenrant.com; http://www.foxmovies.com 

Pod

'Pod' movie poster

Release: Friday, August 28, 2015

[Netflix]

Written by: Mickey Keating

Directed by: Mickey Keating

The tradeoff for watching a movie as pointless as Pod is it won’t be very taxing on your daily schedule. A scant hour-and-fifteen-minutes long, this half-baked story struggles to justify the full-length feature treatment and despite a few genuinely skin-crawling moments it fails to justify itself, period.

I resent sitting through something that ultimately makes me feel like I’ve wasted my time. Pod is one such film. Maybe it only seems that way because of its complete and utter disinterest in providing any depth whatsoever to any major cinematic component — characters, story, cinematography, not even the score resonates. And if you thought The Sopranos had a terrible ending, wait until you get a load of Pod. Even with the emotional stakes being considerably lower here than that of a six-season series, it speaks volumes how the concluding moments still leave you feeling like you’ve been slapped in the face with a dead fish.

Story concerns family drama amongst a trio of squabbling siblings who become victims of an alien presence that comes out of nowhere. Here’s my attempt at characterization: Ed (Dean Cates) is this douchey little psychiatrist who doesn’t have the greatest relationship with his younger sister Lyla (Lauren Ashley Carter). She’s drunk all the time and hanging out with coke heads. She does this presumably as a coping mechanism to deal with the loss of both her parents. Whatever. That’s their backstory over and done with. They have another brother, Martin (stuntman-cum-actor Brian Morvant) who has a history of severe mental illness and now has shut himself in at a lakeside house, claiming he has been attacked by some extraterrestrial being and blabbering on about some kind of government conspiracy. Martin says he has the proof trapped in the basement.

After receiving a disturbing message Ed decides it is time to stage an intervention and in so doing strings Lyla along with him, hoping for some extra emotional support. When they arrive Martin is more hostile and paranoid than ever. Ed doesn’t buy his story about aliens, despite everything he sees around him. Aluminum foil covers all doors and windows to the outside. Inside, doors are boarded up and mysterious scratch marks adorn the walls. Morvant proceeds to shout his lines at us for the next 20 minutes, time enough to spell out precisely what Pod plans to do and yet still not sufficient enough to make us give a care. It’s one of the most over-acted performances this blog will ever feature.

What follows is an utterly predictable series of events in which director Mickey Keating, who also penned the script, tries to throw the audience off-guard by diverting attention to the poor performances rather than on what should have been a genuinely unsettling, otherworldly presence. Instead of creating the world we just talk about it — evidence of a very restrictive budget I suppose but the dialogue isn’t compelling or convincing. We run around for awhile, we watch people die. Too many of them. A weird guy in a hat lurks around in the vicinity. This is Big Brother. Lyla nurses her flask of liquor . . . whenever she’s not screaming. Someone farts. (That might have been me.)

There’s something to be said about Keating’s . . . erm, curious . . . directorial choices and to leave much of the mystery unexplained. There’s a palpable tension generated in a few of the movie’s better scenes but in the end, and given the way the narrative comes to a screeching halt, he takes the cheap and easy way out. Look to Pod for an example of low-budget horror done wrong.

Brian Morvant in 'Pod'

Recommendation: Plays out like a bad episode of The X-Files, although it would be an insult to The X-Files to consider Pod in the same class. There are so many things that should have happened here that never eventuate. I would advise skipping Pod unless you’re just morbidly curious about something that promises a little and then ends up delivering nothing.

Rated: R

Running Time: 76 mins.

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.hellhorror.com; http://www.imdb.com

The Purge: Election Year

'The Purge - Election Year' movie poster

Release: Friday, July 1, 2016

[Theater]

Written by: James DeMonaco

Directed by: James DeMonaco

I am convinced the French marketing for the third Purge film (see above) is the most responsible form of it we have. The Purge: Election Year manages to be as inane as it looks and here is a movie poster that pulls no punches when it comes to revealing the truth. Cheap-looking and tacky the movie may not be, but it is unconvincing. Often hilariously so.

Though there are no Donald Trump masks involved (surprising, given writer-director James DeMonaco’s affinity for being overt) there is no doubt that the third Purge is intended as his own State of the Union address as it applies to a country being torn apart from the inside by mass shootings, gang and race-related violence and other forms of 21st-Century-friendly terms like ‘terrorism.’ Election Year is now, it is eminent and it is, supposedly, urgent. And so the French movie title starts feeling apropos.

Previous installments — one which took place entirely within the confines of an upper-middle class suburban abode and the other upon the streets of Los Angeles — worked tirelessly in addressing the growing divide between the have’s (the one-percenters of this fine country) and the have-not’s (everyone else in comparison) by creatively demonstrating the rage that festers within a 12-hour period one night out of the year. We’ve come to understand that purge night, rather than being a means for the American people to cleanse themselves of any sort of violence, is just the government’s way of shedding the nation of its burdens: the weak and the poor. A third installment hypothetically could add depth to this bleak, dystopian portrait of government-sponsored terror but what eventuates are just echoes of the themes it has hastily carted out on a dolly since the first round.

Once again we’re set in the near-future and purge night is upon us. Wait, let me back up a little bit. We first witness the events that inspire a young Charlie Roan (Elizabeth Mitchell) to become a Senator for good. Eighteen years after watching her entire family get murdered at the hands of a lunatic purger, she’s campaigning for the Presidency, vowing to eliminate this terrible night once and for all. Such a devastating loss drives the woman’s powerful but dangerous idealism. She has to win the election and wrestle control of the country away from the New Founding Fathers, but she also refuses to use murder as her path to victory as that wouldn’t make her any different from those who purge.

Frank Grillo returns as former police sergeant Leo Barnes. Once he’s in the picture, the film picks up in both the excitement and intensity departments. After surviving the horrendous events of Anarchy, Barnes has signed on as part of Senator Roan’s security detail and finds himself this time protecting a highly valuable asset as the New Founding Fathers have decided to take a firmer stance against opponents of the purge. They do so by revoking high-level official’s security Level 9 million-whatever clearance, a.k.a. their immunity to the lawlessness of the night. The Senator of course would prefer to wait the night out in her own home. Leo doesn’t think that’s a smart idea; it’s not. Soon we’re back out on the streets after a betrayal. Ya know, the usual.

Leo once again is surrounded by a group of citizens of indeterminate firearm-wielding skill and whose political leanings essentially boil down to “F**k whoever believes in the purge.” Meanwhile, a resistance group is forming somewhere in downtown Washington and there begins to breed a new kind of morality to the violence. But Leo’s gang ain’t like that; they’re comprised of proud deli owner Joe (Mykelti Williamson), his assistant and Mexican immigrant Marcos (Joseph Julian Soria), and a tough-as-nails EMT named Laney played by a fun Betty Gabriel — she’s arguably the film’s best offering beyond Grillo.

Election Year finds the city center of Ridiculous soon enough. We’re slowly pulled into the world of anti-purgers gathering in secrecy at some undisclosed (even in this review) location, preparing to wage war against the NFFA, namely Executive Douchebag Caleb Warren (Raymond J. Barry), the ring leader whose vileness must be measured by how many nasty words he can fit into one monologue. That’s the kind of lazy writing that has become a frustrating pattern in this franchise. DeMonaco’s creation has this fascinating psycho-social science dynamic that routinely gets left behind in favor of tired genre tropes and subpar acting (and directing).

The major offense here though is that three provides entirely too much déjà vu. DeMonaco attempts to expand the scope of the narrative by including a terribly ill-advised subplot in which ‘murder tourism’ has become a thing. Apparently it’s not enough that everyone in America is out in the streets killing each other to death; now we have an influx of South Africans (sorry Zoe; Natasha . . . ) coming stateside just to kill people. Don’t laugh (it’s okay, I almost did). The fact that the purge has caught on internationally and is now being marketed as a tourist package is just silliness defined.

Come to think of it, much of this franchise has been just that. Take a look at any number of those peculiar seance scenes in which small groups of well-dressed caucasians gather and either make a sacrifice or just repeat the phrase “purge and purify” ad nauseam (actually, it’s usually both). I look to those moments for an encapsulation of everything The Purge has been: pure nonsense and half-hearted attempts at profundity. Excuse me while I go purge all of my disappointment from memory.

Frank Grillo and Elizabeth Mitchell in The Purge - Election Year

Recommendation: Gee, I wonder what the director’s stance on gun control is. The amount of mileage you get out of The Purge: Election Year (or as I prefer, American Nightmare 3: Elections) will depend on how much you enjoy just being stuck in this particularly dark universe. There’s no doubt DeMonaco and his cinematographer have crafted a unique visual identity but in terms of story they simply never even try to attain the heights their unusual, intriguing premise(s) suggest. You can always count on Frank Grillo though and paired up with Elizabeth Mitchell’s Senator he is better than ever. The rest though leaves a lot to be desired and I don’t know if I want to sit through more.

Rated: R

Running Time: 105 mins.

Quoted: “Good night, blue cheese!” 

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited. 

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com