Red Notice

Release: Friday, November 5, 2021 (limited) 

👀 Netflix

Written by: Rawson Marshall Thurber

Directed by: Rawson Marshall Thurber 

Starring: Dwayne Johnson; Ryan Reynolds; Gal Gadot; Ritu Arya; Chris Diamantopoulos 

Distributor: Netflix

 

 

**/*****

A red notice is associated with something of very high value, such as an art thief of international notoriety. It’s what INTERPOL uses to identify and/or extradite highly wanted suspects. If you haven’t heard, there’s one out for writer/director Rawson Marshall Thurber, who is guilty of making a very expensive heist comedy featuring Dwayne Johnson, Ryan Reynolds and Gal Gadot feel cheap and lazy.

Originality is not the issue, although (and with due respect) it never has been with Thurber, who has set his sights on pure escapism and is now a three-time Dwayne Johnson collaborator. As his filmography has shown he’s a guy who likes to rub shoulders with big-name talent. But I’m not sure he’s ever rested on the laurels of his cast quite in the way he does here. Red Notice is expensive but creatively bankrupt — a two-plus-hour conveyor belt of farcical episodes that are forgotten as soon as they happen, all capped off by one of the most asinine endings you’ve seen in a while.

As the Cliff’s Notes prologue establishes, thousands of years ago some dude named Marc Antony gifted three bejeweled eggs to the war-mongering Cleopatra as a wedding gift and a symbol of his “devotion.” Don’t worry too much about brushing up on your Ptolemaic history though; this thing is mostly just jokes and good-looking actors being captured in the perfect light. In the present day, an Egyptian billionaire thinks it would be neat if he replicated the symbolic gesture for his daughter on her wedding day. Whoever can recover all three eggs and deliver them on the big day will become a very rich man or woman indeed. 

The leading trio has certainly ensured their own personal wealth, commanding $20 million a head, but we as viewers (or armchair critics) aren’t exactly enriched by watching reheated performances from other, better movies. This is the kind of pablum that tends to cool even the hottest of Hollywood celebs. Reynolds and The Rock do alright with the odd-couple dynamic but their characters are paper thin. Gadot fares better and seems like the only one who’s trying to do something more fun with her enigmatic character The Bishop, less a femme fatale as a rogue in rouge.

Thurber, who may never set the world on fire, knows how to make a good time happen but Red Notice finds him struggling to make a $200 million production come to life. Though DP Markus Förderer injects some energy with the rinse-and-repeat FPV drone shots that link us to every important place — we start in a priceless museum in Rome, make a daring prison escape in Russia, crash a masquerade ball in Valencia and dig into the rich history of Argentina’s underground, Nazi-stuff-stashing tunnels — the temperature in every room, or outside of them for that matter, remains the same. There is no tension to any of the developments, no significant stakes. But if you are looking for an obnoxious Ed Sheeran cameo, boy do I have the movie for you. 

The Bishop and her pawn

Moral of the Story: I was actually looking forward to Red Notice when it was first announced. Those expectations weren’t anything wild, but I also was not anticipating something so machine-processed. So for me it’s hard to overlook even the minor flaws. I very much doubt I’ll be wasting my time on the two sequels that are soon coming. I’ve done pretty well avoiding most of the crap that floats around on Netflix but this time their cute little algorithm got me. Looks like I’m the chump. 

Rated: PG-13

Running Time: 118 mins.

Quoted: “Do you know who I am? I was in The Game of Thrones! I’m Ed Sheeran, bitch!” 

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

The Belko Experiment

Release: Friday, March 17, 2017

[Theater]

Written by: James Gunn

Directed by: Greg McLean

Office workers at a mysterious nonprofit organization on the outskirts of the Colombian capital of Bogotá participate, let’s call it reluctantly, in a twisted social experiment wherein they must murder a certain number of their colleagues within a certain timeframe or else everyone in the building goes kaboom. Instructions are disseminated throughout the facility by a disembodied voice via the company’s P.A. system.

Directed by Aussie Greg McLean, clearly an apologist for B-horror schlock, and written by Guardians of the Galaxy helmer James Gunn, The Belko Experiment isn’t so much experimental as it is perfunctory and predictable. Worse, it’s unenjoyable, a sick fantasy overflowing with blood and admittedly inventive kills. The story is a floundering attempt at social satire, an interrogation of human psychology as people become thrust into life-or-death situations.

The Belko Experiment opts for a cartoonish, histrionic treatment rather than a nuanced exploration of specific characters, a design flaw in the writing that ultimately proves fatal to the infrastructure as a whole. The film spends all of ten minutes introducing several role players, such as Michael Rooker and David Dastmalchian as a pair of orange-suited mechanics, a few office drones played by a smattering of bit-part actors like Rusty Schwimmer and Josh Brener and a new hire in Melonia Diaz’s Dany. It establishes these people fairly convincingly within the context of yet another ordinary day, but once the chaos begins everyone seems to shed their humanity faster than they can clothing.

The voice initially instructs that two people must be killed or indiscriminate killing will commence. Those who lapped up the exploding heads phenomenon at the end of Kingsman: The Secret Service will be as happy as a pig in shit here. The stakes become more serious as they’re soon told that if 30 people aren’t killed within two hours, 60 will die. With blood pressure and despair mounting, the workers become divided into two factions — the corporate honchos, led by the slimy COO Barry (Tony Goldwyn) and supported by the brutish and intensely creepy Wendell (John C. McGinley), and then everyone else, the underlings corralled by office nice-guy Mike (John Gallagher Jr.).

Gunn’s screenplay tries to shock the system, and occasionally succeeds, but the technique is more manipulative than natural. His story is primarily concerned with mass hysteria and its effects on the individual. Tension stems from whether the group should be taking the voice seriously or whether to dismiss it as some sick prankster. The higher-ups prefer obedience because they see no other way. Mike and others believe there’s a non-violent solution. Meanwhile, Mike’s girlfriend Leandra (Adria Arjona) is concerned that his defiance is going to get more people killed than necessary.

As the chaos builds it becomes increasingly apparent the film’s dalliance with philosophical concepts like self-preservation and Darwinian theories on survivalism is more of an accident than a serious pursuit. The story just isn’t smart enough to be convincing in that way and that’s made painfully clear in the thoroughly anticlimactic Big Reveal. For all of the nastiness that tries its damnedest to shock and repel, it’s the total lack of creativity and originality in the film’s final moments that is the most obnoxious of all. 

Recommendation: The Belko Experiment manifests as a deliberately unpleasant and vicious social experiment that’s underwritten, overproduced and not well enough acted for those other shortcomings to go unnoticed. In short, it’s difficult to reconcile James Gunn’s contributions to this picture with what he was able to do with a certain Marvel property. It’s a night-and-day difference to me, not just in terms of tonality but quality. 

Rated: R

Running Time: 88 mins.

Quoted: “Now is not the time for timidity.”

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

Why Him?

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Release: Friday, December 23, 2016

[Theater]

Written by: John Hamburg; Ian Helfer

Directed by: John Hamburg

My biggest gripe with Why Him? It’s actually not that it represents yet another painfully unfunny Christmas comedy. Well, it kind of is. I’m dismayed more because it is a painfully unfunny Christmas comedy starring James Franco and Bryan Cranston.

Bryan Cranston! Also translated as: Walter White, Shannon, Robert Mazur, and of course, Hal Wilkerson.

Now he’s Ned Fleming, a name you won’t be able to remember beyond the parking lot of your local cineplex. It’s always painful to see a great actor slumming it, but for Cranston to star in a vehicle that made me mad at even James Franco — someone whom I actively defend for being unusual and pretentious — it begs the question why do we even try to admonish professional actors for the choices they make in careers that never directly affect us? It’s clear our outrage, pretend or real, never accomplishes anything.

Ned Fleming is the father of Stephanie (Zoey Deutch), and he shares in my pain. When he is invited to California for Christmas, forced to buck family tradition of spending the holiday in Michigan, he becomes dismayed by the man his daughter is currently seeing: James Franco with a shit ton of tattoos! He plays a billionaire game developer named Laird Mayhew, an obnoxious caricature of the actor himself whose own modus vivendi runs counter to just about everyone on the planet because he himself is an art project constantly evolving and expanding.

The Ned-Laird feud could have been played for laughs, but a script co-written by director John Hamburg and Ian Helfer seems to have forgotten to incorporate the jokes. Unless the joke is, of course, ultra-meta: everyone who just bought a ticket hoping for the good times to roll via a decent if disposable new entry into the crowded genre of farcical family/Yuletide comedies has just gotten ripped off. And Bryan Cranston and James Franco are in it — why them?!

why-him

Recommendation: Goodness, no. But I will say this: the film at least afforded fans of KISS to watch Paul Stanley and Gene Simmons stoop to a new low by making a totally awkward cameo towards the end of the film. So there is that.

Rated: R

Running Time: 111 mins.

Quoted: “I mean, what in God’s name is a double-dicker?” 

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

I Am the Pretty Thing That Lives in the House

i-am-the-pretty-thing-that-lives-in-the-house-movie-poster

Release: Friday, October 28, 2016 (Netflix)

[Netflix]

Written by: Oz Perkins

Directed by: Oz Perkins

I Am the Pretty Thing That Lives in the House plays out as a chilly haunted house thriller with a literary twist. It’s something a writer might gravitate towards given the film’s concept-heavy plot, but an over-reliance on mood and atmosphere, not to mention some really pretentious dialogue, also make it something horror fans or fans of interesting movies in general are bound to reject.

Oz Perkins’ sophomore feature is the epitome of style over substance, but the style is actually pretty effective . . . for about 45 minutes. Throughout this slow-burning thriller viewers must contend with ghostly spirits, lots of things moving in slow-motion, artsy shots of a creepy home and its interior, and yes, the aforementioned Cormac McCarthy-syndrome — characters saying (or thinking) things that may sound nice and look snazzy on paper, but that ultimately come across as pretentious and unnatural. Pretty Thing (I think it’s unreasonable to expect me to keep writing out the full title) is actually just that — it’s a pretty thing; it looks good and occasionally, almost haphazardly, its brooding atmosphere leads us into a dark place that we want to immediately retreat from.

A meek and mild-mannered Ruth Wilson plays a live-in nurse hired to take care of a horror author named Iris Blum (Paula Prentiss) in her dying days. Blum has been cooped up in a creaky 18th Century home that may or may not have a lot of spooky history attached to it. Blum’s estate manager Mr. Waxcap (a name almost as good as that of the actor playing the part, the one and only Bob Balaban) encourages Lily to read some of her work, in particular a story that seems to be based on a murder that occurred in this very house. But Lily scares easily so she is unable to get into the book.

As weeks turn into months Lily begins experiencing strange occurrences. She’s seeing weird things and her patient keeps calling her Polly, a character out of that very book Mr. Waxcap recommended she read, The Lady in the Walls. A nasty mold has also started to form on one of the walls downstairs. In the film’s opening voiceover we are told that a house with a death in it can never be bought or sold, it can only be borrowed by the living from the ghosts who remain in it. It’s like some sort of paranormal etiquette: you can sleep in the bed and use the kitchen but we the dead remain the key holders.

Our protagonist isn’t exactly well-developed but we do know that she doesn’t seem to mind being in isolation. We also know she’s sensitive to things that go bump in the night and rarely does she seem to be in control of things. Which just begs the question: what on earth is someone like this doing in this place? Why would you take this job? Often it can be fun watching a character well out of their depth contend with threats, but in this case the contrast seems a bridge too far. Also, how does someone who works in palliative care, scare so easily? Isn’t being perpetually surrounded by death more terrifying? Also also: why am I looking for the logic in a horror film?

Despite its elegance — the likes of which struck me as a hybrid of Alejandro Amenábar’s classic creeper The Others and Jonathan Glazer’s challenging psychodrama Under the Skin — Pretty Thing allows the mind to wander far too often. It is good at building tension and suggesting horrors that may or may not be there (which is my nice way of saying the film’s mythology becomes confusing and in a hurry) but the spirits that plague this cinematic universe are really just thinly sketched archetypes all dressed up with no place to go.

iamtheprettything

2-5Recommendation: A film that tries to engage the intellect but falls short with an often infuriating lack of ‘action’ and a glacial pace. Ruth Wilson’s performance is solid which helps keep the viewer engaged but in the end there is so much left to be desired when everything wraps up. I am already well on my way to forgetting this one unfortunately. Though I can’t say definitively if I have been so put off by it that I never want to go near it again. It might be worth a revisit some day. 

Rated: NR

Running Time: 87 mins.

Quoted: “I am very seldom required to wear white by my employers. But, anyway, I always do. It has always been that wearing white reassures the sick that I can never be touched. Even as darkness folds in on them from every side, closing like a claw.”

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

Sing Street

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Release: Friday, April 15, 2016 (limited)

[Netflix]

Written by: John Carney

Directed by: John Carney

John Carney returns to the emerald-green shores of his native Ireland for his latest quasi-musical/romantic comedy Sing Street, his third such feature after 2007’s Once and 2014’s Begin Again. Though it possesses many of the traits that made his higher-profile, New York-set dramedy an inspired blend of genre-blurring cinema and original sound, Sing Street is a woefully misguided venture that suggests people who form bands are really just in it for the notoriety and not the craft.

The film may be set in 1980s Dublin but the whole enterprise reeks of that part in Van Wilder where Ryan Reynolds professes his loneliness to some passing stranger — a college sophomore with a cute face — through the majesty of Air Supply’s ‘All Out of Love.’ Far from being the only flick to feature a boy trying to win over the girl by strumming a few chords on a Gibson acoustic, even in the context of that particular lampoon the level of cheesiness was shameless. But at least it wasn’t meant to be taken seriously. In Sing Street it is. This is a matter of love-and-death, a 14-year-old boy’s whole-hearted attempt to half-ass a band just enough to impress The Cool Chick fulfilling not only plot but thematic components.

Irish musician and singer Ferdia Walsh-Peelo makes his acting debut as Conor, the youngest of three in the Lalor clan, spearheaded by patriarch Robert (a criminally underused Aidan Gillen) and wife Penny (Maria Doyle Kennedy) who all throughout are falling out of love. With his family also plagued by financial hardship Conor finds himself transferring into Synge Street CBS, an inner-city public school where he is met on a daily basis with ridicule and hostility, most notably from bullying archetype Barry (Ian Kenny) and school principal Dr. Baxter (Don Wycherley), a disciplinarian plucked straight out of Pink Floyd’s ‘Another Brick in the Wall.’

When Conor spots the mysterious Raphina (Lucy Boynton) standing on her stoop just across the street from his school, he’s instantly smitten — so much so that he tells her that since she’s aspiring to become a model in London she should appear in a music video he and “his band” are about to shoot. What he doesn’t tell her is that he is yet to form a band. So he sets about recruiting fellow classmates who might have some musical talent. It’s not so much recruitment as it is serendipity. A drummer, a keyboardist/pianist and a bassist all fall right into his lap. Oh, and there’s also Eamon (Mark McKenna, a 19-year-old who simply “has that look”), whose multi-instrumental abilities instantly liberate the band from sonic stodginess.

Carney strings together a few fun musical sequences where we see the band starting to find their groove. They dub themselves ‘Sing Street’ in an ironic gesture to the miserable school they attend. What begins in a back alley as a cringe-inducing exercise in amateur cover-band antics soon develops into a more unified, distinctive and fashionable quintet playing original songs. Such change is encouraged by Conor’s older brother, Brendan (Jack Reynor), a college drop-out who knows a thing or two about how this whole life thing works. Because music. Because records. Reynor is a wonderful presence, fully supportive of his brother’s decision to pursue music as a way to melt Raphina’s heart. Who knows, maybe Conor will end up finding success and breaking out of the depressing hole that is Dublin circa 1985.

Once more viewers will leave the theater with much of the soundtrack stuck in their head. And the way Carney infuses the work of real-life, established bands into the mix — Duran Duran, The Cure, The Clash, Genesis and others are called upon here — remains a strong draw. All the same, the very premise Sing Street runs with smacks of pretension. At its core Carney’s latest rings totally insincere. The music is good — often great — but the story is . . . well, it’s something else. Something kind of the opposite of good.

sing-street

Recommendation: Sing Street is bound to appeal to fans of John Carney’s previous outings as it stylistically shares a lot in common with Begin Again (this reviewer has yet to track down Once but I’d venture a guess that it’s more of the same) but the story is just god-awful. Unless you enjoy watching serendipitous little confections that make you roll your eyes so much they end up flipping backwards into your skull I gotta say give Sing Street the ole swerve. 

Rated: PG-13

Running Time: 106 mins.

Quoted: “When you don’t know someone, they’re more interesting. They can be anything you want them to be. But when you know them, there’s limits to them.”

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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.

keeping-up-with-the-joneses

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 

The Magnificent Seven

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Release: Friday, September 23, 2016

[Theater]

Written by: Richard Wenk; Nic Pizzolatto

Directed by: Antoine Fuqua

Try as they might, Antoine Fuqua continues falling well short of the benchmark set by his 2001 smash hit Training Day and Chris Pratt can’t quite make this the Guardians of the Galaxy of the ole wild west. Despite bear-dressing-like-people jokes he is merely one silly pawn in a story that doesn’t deserve them. Not even the all-star roster can lift this generic western crime thriller from the dust of its superiors. The title is The Magnificent Seven, but for me that really just refers to the number of scenes that are actually worth remembering in Fuqua’s new shoot-’em-up.

Here’s all I really remember:

Magnificent Scene #1: The ‘badass’ that is Bartholomew. Billed as a drama, the film opens promisingly with robber baron Bartholemew Bogue (Peter Sarsgaard) besieging the sleepy mining town of Rose Creek circa some month in the late 1800s. The film’s dramatic thread for the most part sags like a dilapidated tent between two strong points, and the dramatic opening is one of those strong points. Tension is palpable as Sarsgaard’s cold, lifeless eyes survey the room. Haley Bennett‘s Emma Cullen becomes widowed by his murderous spree (or, to be brutally honest but more accurate, her husband’s foolish actions that do nothing but further incense Bartholomew), an act that supposedly establishes the film’s emotional foundation.

Magnificent Scene #2: The Actual Badass that is Denzel. Introducing Denzel Washington is something that needs to be done sooner rather than later and his swaggering cowboy/”dually sworn peacekeeper”/bounty hunter Sam Chisolm walks in at just the right moment (i.e immediately). A fairly typical stand-off inside Rose Creek’s saloon ensues. Everyone in the scene puts on their best ‘Not To Be Fucked With’ face. Rah-rah. Guns. Liquor. Seconds later Chisolm walks out of an empty saloon leaving everyone but a semi-impressed, semi-drunk loner for dead. That loner is none other than Peter Quill Josh Faraday. Chisolm is soon approached and persuaded by a desperate Emma Cullen to gather together some men to take a stand against Bogue and his men to avenge the death of her beloved Matthew and reclaim the town.

Magnificent Scene #3: The Avengers this ain’t . . . but this is still fun. Movies in the vein of Fuqua’s adaptation, those that spend more of their bloated running time assembling rather than focusing on the ensemble itself, are really more about that journey of coming-togetherness than they are about the destination. It’s too bad The Magnificent Seven really only offers one or two strong first impressions. One is a shared introduction between Byung-hun Lee’s knife-wielding assassin Billy Rocks — a name that somewhat confusingly belies the actor’s South Korean heritage — and Ethan Hawke’s sharpshooter Goodnight Robicheaux, with whom Chisolm shares some history. Billy and Goodnight come as a packaged item, apparently; one never goes anywhere without the other and they are swiftly drafted into the ranks without complaint.

Magnificent Scene #4: There’s always at least one crazy. Vincent D’Onofrio also qualifies as one of those memorable introductions. He plays a vaguely mentally unstable (or perhaps he’s just a simpleton) tracker named Jack Horne, a physically imposing presence who clearly hasn’t had much human contact in a long time. His soft, nervous line delivery initially gave the impression the actor wasn’t comfortable in the role and/or that he was about to deliver a career-low performance but the character really ended up growing on me. Of course it would have been nice if he had more to do but when there are seven actors competing on screen I suppose sacrifices must be made, especially when one of them is Denzel Washington.

Magnificent Scene #5: Preparations not reparations. Heeding the warnings of Chisolm and his band of misfits, Emma and her fellow townsfolk prepare for the return of Bogue and what is likely to be many more nasty men on horseback in an obligatory, if not genuinely fun, fix-it-up montage. Rose Creek becomes retrofitted with all kinds of booby traps and hideouts that are sure to give the enemy fits and a mixture of excitement and dread for the bloodbath that is to come starts to build in earnest. Granted, the end results are all but a foregone conclusion: some will survive the ordeal and others will not. We know almost for a certainty that the Magnificent Seven will be reduced in number after this fight. And we also know that ultimately this last battle is just another good excuse for directors who like to blow stuff up, to go ahead and blow a quaint little set right the fuck up.

Magnificent Scene #6: Say hello to my little friend! For all of the film’s lackadaisical pacing and story development from essentially the 20th minute onward, The Magnificent Seven seems to wake back up again at the very end with a rousing gunfight that will demand every rebel’s sharpest wit and shot. It even comes close to earning our empathy as numerous dead bodies hit the ground à la Fuqua’s goofy assault on the White House. The editing becomes frenetic but remains effective and while Fuqua shies away from excessive blood-splattering the violence is still pretty confronting as a gatling gun makes its way into the mix. Ultimately this is the same kind of joy I get out of watching Macauley Culkin outwit the nitwits in Home Alone every Christmas.

Magnificent Scene #7: The end credits. A movie that runs about 30 minutes too long and that fails to make any real emotional connection is finally over. (Though not for a lack of trying: Fuqua awkwardly asks us to pity the lone woman in the group because she has lost her husband — she’s not there because of her individual strengths and in fact many of the rebels can’t or refuse to take her seriously; likewise Hawk’s last-minute cowardly act feels cheap and fails to make us care deeper about him.) I enjoyed the famous faces in by-now-familiar roles and their natural gravitas cleaned up some of the script’s blotches but there is only so much goodwill I can show towards something that feels so well-trodden, so ordinary, so un-magnificent.

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Recommendation: A superb cast barely manages to keep The Magnificent Seven from being a totally and utterly forgettable and disposable movie. The people who you expect to shine, shine — those on the roster you don’t recognize as much don’t turn up as much. Simple as that. Some delicious scenery to chew on, though, and the soundtrack is hilariously overcooked. So all in all, I don’t really know what to make of this movie. 

Rated: PG-13

Running Time: 133 mins.

Quoted: “What we lost in the fire we found in the ashes.”

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.esquire.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 

Central Intelligence

'Central Intelligence' movie poster

Release: Friday, June 17, 2016

[Theater]

Written by: Rawson Marshall Thurber; David Stassen; Ike Barinholtz

Directed by: Rawson Marshall Thurber

I guess it’s pretty difficult making an action-comedy work. Just because A Big Johnson and A Little Hart can save the world doesn’t mean they can save this movie from becoming a centrally unintelligent, uninspired, unfunny mess.

Prior to seeing what Rawson Marshall Thurber actually came up with, I would have put money down on Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and Kevin “I’m Determined to Blow Out My Vocal Chords by Screaming” Hart becoming the next big buddy-cop duo. And then the asinine but paradoxically laugh-free story happened to me and I’m not sure I want to make that bet anymore. I could put that money to good use somewhere else, like the laundromat I desperately need to visit.

Central Intelligence does have at least one thing working in its favor: the anti-bullying sentiment driving everything forward. We start the film at some high school pep rally in 1996 where we’re introduced to Calvin Joyner (Hart) and Robbie Weirdicht (Johnson). While Calvin faces a serenade of a thousand cooing high schoolers who view him as Mr. Most Likely to Succeed, Robbie, a fairly obese kid, faces humiliation as he gets punk’d in front of the entire student body thanks to a couple of goons who find him singing and dancing in the shower in the men’s locker room.

Flash-forward to the present and Calvin, whose life looked promising post-high school graduation, is jaded by the way things have turned out. He’s now a mid-level accountant at some firm, has a gorgeous wife named Maggie (Danielle Nicolet) who’s happy in her job and they’re both still child-less. So I was kind of confused by what exactly his complaint was, other than that he’s going to feel awkward at the 20-year high school reunion coming up when he has nothing interesting to say about himself. (Isn’t that everyone’s fear when it comes to these things?)

Speaking of, whatever happened to that Robbie Weirdicht? The day before the reunion Calvin receives a friend request from someone named Bob Stone through Facebook and, as people do these days, decides to invite the stranger into his life a little by accepting the request. (Speaking of life, I love the way it works today because not only are social practices like sending virtual friend requests and ‘Poking’ being integrated into our movies but they’re serving as crucial plot points.)

Soon enough the two are meeting for beers in real life — thus moving up a notch in the social hierarchy — and, oh, what do you know, ‘Bob Stone’ is actually the one-time-tormented Weirdicht, sans the flab and afro; now Rock-ing the physique of someone who has just turned a career in pro-wrestling. After getting to know ‘Bob’ by watching him handle four punks on his own in the very bar they’ve been hanging at, Calvin can’t believe how much different Weirdicht is. Believe it, Calvin. Robbie Weirdicht is now Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson.

Central Intelligence is a melting pot of action-comedy clichés. It smothers Hart and Johnson’s on-and-off-again chemistry under an avalanche of ludicrous plot developments that implicate ‘Bob’ as a wanted fugitive responsible for the death of his former partner (Aaron Paul). As amiable as Johnson is, he just can’t make us believe any of this post-high school stuff is real. Amy Ryan, playing a CIA agent named Pamela Harris isn’t very effective in convincing us that ‘Bob’ is a real threat. Of course, that’s a really huge Johnson so who knows what’s actually going on.

I’d get over the poor story if I was being compensated in laughter, mind you. Surprisingly and despite all the imaginative bullshit that goes on as far as “saving the world” is concerned, the film lacks creativity in providing the humor. Any concern over that one time Robbie got bullied gets lost in the dust of silly action sequences that detract from what could have been a potent message about maturity. Instead, Central Intelligence kind of just fails the mission on all fronts.

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Recommendation: Uninspired, lazy, ultra-disposable. Pretty much the three qualities you don’t want in your action-comedy offerings. Central Intelligence promises much with its inspired casting but does aggravatingly little with it. A good one to check out as a rental if you’re one of those who simply have to see Kevin Hart in everything (like, I guess, me).

Rated: R

Running Time: 114 mins.

Trivia (because it’s more interesting): Central Intelligence marks the first joint-venture between Warner Bros. and Universal Studios in 20 years, the first since Twister

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

X-Men: Apocalypse

'X Men - Apocalypse' movie poster

Release: Friday, May 27, 2016

[Theater]

Written by: Bryan Singer; Simon Kinberg; Michael Dougherty; Dan Harris

Directed by: Bryan Singer

In the midst of Magneto’s metal-throwing rampage, a burning hot ember of emotion buried deep underneath the rapidly cooling coals of X-Men: Apocalypse, I glance over to find my friend fast asleep, head buried into his shoulder and a small puddle of drool starting to form. All I could do was smile, really. It was the perfect summation of everything I was feeling on the inside throughout much of Bryan Singer’s fourth go-around as the helmer of this most consistently inconsistent of superhero film franchises.

For about an hour I couldn’t come to terms with the disparity in quality between Singer’s previous installment and his latest; how is it possible to be so enthralled by one entry and bored to tears with the next? Seeing as though I wasn’t someone put off by the tweaks made to X-Men history in Days of Future Past, I then had the troubling thought that I was still better off than the purists, those who had a lot more invested in these adaptations.

Apocalypse is, if nothing else, a perfectly good waste of Oscar Isaac’s talents. As the titular super-villain En Sabah Nur, Isaac couldn’t look more disinterested. Was part of the plan caking the man in make-up to the point where his disgust over the poor (and I mean really poor) script would be concealed? If it was, that plan failed. In the early going Nur rises from the dead in modern (well, 1983) Egypt after being entombed under tons of rubble resulting from a last-second violent uprising that occurred during an attempt to transfer his consciousness into another mortal body. He quickly learns of how modern society has come to be and is profoundly disturbed by it. Like Tony Stark’s ultimate fuck-up, the Ultron program, Nur/Apocalypse is big on the cleansing of mankind but very slight when it comes to personality. (It’s a little painful to be comparing an Oscar-caliber actor’s charisma here to that of a robot, but here we are.)

Nur’s extinction-level plans simply boil down to nostalgia for them good ole days. With a perpetual scowl set upon his seasick-looking face, he sets about bestowing untold amounts of power upon already powerful, albeit vulnerable, mutants the world over, enticing them to join him in his effort to restore world order. His recruits include the likes of Ororo Munroe/Storm (Alexandra Shipp); Warren Worthington III/Angel (Ben Hardy); Elizabeth Braddock/Psylocke (Olivia Munn); and Eric Lehnsherr/Magneto (Michael Fassbender). While each character’s alter egos manage to jump off the page from a visual standpoint, no one other than Magneto is given anything to do. Even their action scenes register as perfunctory.

Elsewhere, mutants both new and old are . . . doing something. Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) is professing at the school where he professes things, teaching students to learn how to accept being gifted with powers; Magneto, prior to being wooed by the job offer from the False God, is eking out a quieter existence in Poland following the disastrous events in Washington D.C.; Raven/Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) is continent-hopping as a mercenary-for-hire, rescuing fellow mutants from their current miseries all while denying her heroism. The false modesty is soooo Katniss Everdeen Gwyneth Paltrow. And we are reacquainted with sidekickers like Hank McCoy/Beast (Nicholas Hoult); Jean Gray/Phoenix (Sophie Turner); Scott Summers/Cyclops (Tye Sheridan); and Kurt Wagner/Nightcrawler (Kodie Smit-McPhee).

Aside from the dismal performance from Isaac, one that reminded me more than once of the kind of collapse Eddie Redmayne had in Jupiter Ascending last year, Apocalypse suffers from a total lack of enthusiasm in reintroducing its sprawling cast. The characters themselves, of course, are universally welcomed back, yet their presences aren’t so much felt as they are foisted upon audiences expecting an epic action spectacular. (More on that in a little bit.) It was during these protracted intros where my mind started to really wander, where my head started sitting heavy in the palm of my hand. ‘Why is this girl in front of me constantly reaching out towards the screen? Like, does she know someone in this thing or something?’ ‘Is she having spasms?’ ‘Do I need to call a doctor?’ Thoughts no one should be having during a film that features so many likable and unique characters, a film steeped in mythology now 15 years in the cinematic making, I was totally having, and constantly. It was as if Charles Xavier had somehow gained access to my cerebral cortex. Leave my cerebral cortex alone, Charles.

There is actually a defense against critics blasting Apocalypse for lacking originality in its ambitions to out-epic the competition. Sometimes a ‘back-to-basics’ approach can be rewarding. You can simplify the thrust of the narrative to the ultimate in superhero standoffs, wherein all roads to the end of days run through mutants brave enough to face up to Nur and his four horsemen. Unfortunately in this case there is such a lackadaisical attitude in bringing back the characters to face their toughest test. This is in some ways one of the most personal outings for the X-Men yet, but this latest installment feels cold and detached. Much of that can be traced to Isaac’s prominence, though the build-up to the climactic fight is just as off-putting.

Look no further than said capstone battle. Hasn’t Singer learned anything from the Bay’s and the Emmerich’s? Threat of annihilation by virtue of large-scale, pixelated destruction isn’t really a threat at all. In fairness, Singer tries to make up for some of the transgressions by ripping himself off and including another über-slow-mo sequence that shows off the greatness that is Quicksilver. That’s gotta count for something in the way of originality, right?

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Recommendation: If we’re talking hierarchy of awesomeness, X-Men: Apocalypse is a tier or two down from Singer’s previous output, Days of Future Past because it doesn’t express the same level of enthusiasm nor does the story work as cohesively as the ones that have come before it. The clichés are much harder to escape here as are the cheesy one-liners and there’s a sense of franchise fatigue. A poor performance from Oscar Isaac doesn’t help matters either. Still, there’s enough here to say I’m willing to see where the franchise goes from here. I’m also liking how the past is catching up to “the present.” It’s an interesting way to build a full and complete picture of the X-Men universe. 

Rated: PG-13

Running Time: 144 mins.

Quoted: “Does it ever wake you in the middle of the night? The feeling that one day, they’ll come for you? And your children?”

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.cinemablend.com