The Silver Bullet ~ Fury

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Synopsis: April, 1945. As the Allies make their final push in the European Theatre, a battle-hardened army sergeant commands a Sherman tank and her five-man crew on a deadly mission behind enemy lines.

Release Date: October 17, 2014

Thoughts: I still stand by my claim that director David Ayer’s End of Watch was one of the truly underrated films of 2012 and though he didn’t quite continue that wave of success with Sabotage earlier this year I’m willing to forgive him if Fury lives up to expectations. Though star Brad Pitt (World War Z) is without question one of the top A-List stars Hollywood has to offer, his track record isn’t exactly spotless. The actor has had more than his fair share of out of the box failures but continues to earn points for not resting on his laurels. Fury seems like a film the star can be at home in and Ayer has placed several promising members of young Hollywood (like The Perks of Being a Wallflower’s Logan Lerman) alongside him. Let’s leave troubled Shia LeBeouf (Lawless) out of that equation, though.

Movie Review ~ Dracula Untold

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The Facts:

Synopsis: Facing threats to his kingdom and his family, Vlad Tepes makes a deal with dangerous supernatural forces – whilst trying to avoid succumbing to the darkness himself.

Stars: Luke Evans, Sarah Gadon, Diarmaid Murtagh, Dominic Cooper, Charles Dance

Director: Gary Shore

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 92 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (6.5/10)

Review: When it comes to films about Dracula I’m a, well, sucker.  I’m not sure where this childhood fascination came with the fanged count began but one need only look at my sequential years of Halloween costume pictures where I sported a black cape and a set of too big for my mouth fangs that eventually fit perfectly to see that there was nary a vampire vein I wasn’t willing to open.

Vampires have had their fair share of cinematic excursions over the decades in pretty much every genre in existence.  From the Bela Lugosi original to Christopher Lee’s long tenure for Hammer Studios to Chris Sarandon’s menacing 80s hunk of Fright Night and Gary Oldman’s highly stylized take on the count for Francis Ford Coppola, vampires had come a long way…only to be reduced to romantic glittery naval gazers in the Twilight films. The makers of Dracula Untold are counting on the big guy having a little blood left to feed the masses and it’s nice to report that while there isn’t a feast to be had, what’s on the plate is more satisfying than one would imagine.

The good thing about Matt Sazama and Burk Sharpless’s script is that it doesn’t feel like an outright “Dracula Project”.  I get the impression they used the legend of Vlad the Impaler as a jumping off point for their leather and sword action pic and went back later to add more mythology, fangs, and bloodletting to the mix. However they approached it, the film as a whole works surprisingly well because it has a strong backbone to support it during some of the less successful moments involving iffy special effects and an overstuffed ending leading to an unnecessary epilogue.

Leading the cast as the man who would become a vampire legend is Luke Evans who possesses the Eastern European looks to suggest a denizen of Transylvania but the British accent that makes one wonder if Prince Vlad was educated at Oxford.  Yes, friends, this is another of those movies set in a district where the UK dialect doesn’t make any sort of sense yet is widely employed by all who cross the screen.  Evans (The Raven) brings a considerable assuredness to Vlad, painting him as a one-time impaling warrior now content to rule his kingdom in peace with his lovely wife (Sarah Gadon, Enemy, with bosom appropriately heaving and on display) and son.

When a Turkish sultan and former comrade (a not the least bit believable Dominic Cooper, Need for Speed, sporting enough eyeliner to write a short story) demands Vlad provide 1,000 boys (including his own progeny) as soldiers for his army, he refuses and incurs the impending wrath of destruction against his kingdom.  Turning to a mysterious figure (Charles Dance) that haunts a lonely mountain, Vlad is given the power of the vampire and has three days to reverse the effects while using his newfound power to destroy his enemy.

Director Gary Shore keeps the first half of the movie flowing nicely as a well-executed origin story that’s more interesting than it has any right to be.  With some handsome scenery and nicely constructed set pieces (no RenFest rickety buildings here, thank you very much) there’s an agreeable momentum built by all as Vlad moves toward the dark side of his growing vampiric prowess.  It’s only when it devolves into blurry battle sequences that mythology gets thrown out of the door in favor of some carefully edited PG-13 violence.  For a film about the famed blood drinker, there’s precious little of the red stuff on display.

Feeling longer than its 92 minutes, Dracula Untold still manages to keep pace with our expectations for most of its running length.  Aside from the aforementioned unfortunate epilogue that represents  both one ending too many and some obvious studio sequel pressure, by and large this is one Dracula story that earns its telling.

Movie Review ~ Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

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The Facts:

Synopsis: Alexander’s day begins with gum stuck in his hair, followed by more calamities. Though he finds little sympathy from his family and begins to wonder if bad things only happen to him, his mom, dad, brother, and sister all find themselves living through their own terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.

Stars: Steve Carell, Jennifer Garner, Dylan Minnette, Kerris Dorsey, Ed Oxenbould, Megan Mullally, Jennifer Coolidge, Bella Thorne

Director: Miguel Arteta

Rated: PG

Running Length: 81 minutes

TMMM Score: (7/10)

Review: Can it really have taken this long for Judith Viorst’s 1972 children’s book to make it to the big screen?  After being adapted as an animated special for television and getting the musical stage treatment, the story of one ordinary boy’s extraordinary bad day has found its way to the cinematic masses courtesy of Walt Disney Pictures.

I wasn’t expecting much from the film, considering Disney’s live action efforts as of late have been iffy at best (I’m talking about you, Million Dollar Arm) so picture me grumbling as I went into a 10 am screening of Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No-Good, Very Bad Day with a theater full of screaming kids and parents as bleary eyed as I was.  I try to take my mood out of the equation but I’m only human and one grumpy mood could equal a less than positive review.

I may have gone into Alexander’s tale with my eyes at half mast and the attitude of a drenched cat but I emerged 81 minutes later a happy camper.  Forgiving a handful of sillier than necessary moments, this is one of the finest bits of family entertainment to come out in 2014, providing some nice laughs that aren’t at the expense of anyone and a good message about taking each day as it comes that speaks to viewers in every notch on the age spectrum.

Mop headed and possessing the most charming lisp since Winthrop Paroo in The Music Man, Ed Oxenbould is pitch perfect as our title character.  Though I’d argue that none of Alexander’s problems are worth complaining about (since he lives an upper class life in sunny California), there’s a real sense of earnest engagement on Oxenbould’s part, making it easy to sympathize with the young kid.

Screenwriter Rob Lieber has expanded upon Viorst’s 32 page book by adding a sibling, a day, and a twist of fate that sees Alexander benefiting from his family having a day equally as bad as his.  There’s the misprint on the book his mom (Jennifer Garner, Dallas Buyers Club) is promoting which leads to the film’s best laugh involving Dick Van Dyke, or his unemployed dad (Steve Carrell, The Incredible Burt Wonderstone) interviewing for a job he may be too square for, or his sister’s sudden sickness that threatens her performance as Peter Pan, or his brother (Dylan Minnette, Prisoners) juggling a busy day with his demanding girlfriend (Bella Thorne, Blended).

All are fodder for comedic moments with varying degrees of success. Even the bits that go for cheap laughs manage not to offend because the rest of the movie is so full of good intentions.  At 81 minutes, it does feel oddly long but doesn’t overstay its welcome either.

Good live action family films are hard to come by but you can rest assured that if you venture into a theater playing this whatever day you’re having will be a little bit better.

Movie Review ~ The Judge

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The Facts:

Synopsis: Big city lawyer Hank Palmer returns to his childhood home where his father, the town’s judge, is suspected of murder. Hank sets out to discover the truth and, along the way, reconnects with his estranged family.

Stars: Robert Downey Jr., Robert Duvall, Vera Farmiga, Vincent D’Onofrio, Jeremy Strong, Dax Shephard, Billy Bob Thornton, Ken Howard, Emma Tremblay, Balthazar Getty, David Krumholtz, Sarah Lancaster, Grace Zabriskie, Denis O’Hare

Director: David Dobkin

Rated: R

Running Length: 141 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (2/10)

Review: I can imagine the script for The Judge came together by accident.  Perhaps a pair of screenwriters were both walking around a local coffee shop with two scripts, one was about a big city lawyer defending his estranged father on a murder charge and the other was about a hot-shot attorney who retreats home after discovering his wife was cheating on him.  Maybe the two writers stumbled into one another, sending their loose-leafed scripts up in the air in a flurry of white paper and when they picked themselves up they couldn’t discern what pages belonged to which script so they decided to just combine them and sell the unified work as The Judge.

I mean, that’s one theory right?  And it’s a lot more acceptable than knowing full well and good that The Judge was no accident, made with purpose. No amount of revisionist history can save this film from being one of the worst motion pictures in my recent memory, squandering the talents of its able-bodied cast for 141 of the most ghastly minutes you’ll spend in a theater this year.

Reminding me a lot of the equally awkward This Is Where I Leave You, The Judge miraculously ups the unpleasantness factor by offering not one moment that feels genuine; at least This Is Where I Leave You had a few redeeming qualities about it …and was forty minutes shorter.

Seeing early trailers, I thought The Judge held some promise considering the pairing of two Roberts in a courtroom drama.  Robert Downey Jr. (Iron Man, Iron Man 2, Iron Man 3) seemed like the perfect actor to be matched with Oscar winner Robert Duvall (Tender Mercies, The Paper) and sparks were expected to fly.  I’m not sure any combination of actors could have risen above the tone-deaf script that veers schizophrenically from comedy to drama, never succeeding in either arena.

Returning to his all-American hometown after his mother’s unexpected death, legal eagle Hank (Downey Jr., looking disturbingly skeletal…where’s the full faced lad from Less than Zero?) clashes with his father (Duvall), a respected town judge.  As he reconnects with his brothers (Vincent D’Onofrio and Jeremy Strong) and an old flame (Vera Farmiga, The Conjuring, totally wasted though she’s miscast in the first place), he’s drawn deeper into the unresolved past with his dad after the judge is arrested on suspicion of murder and put on trail by a vengeful prosecutor (Billy Bob Thornton, wearing a Colonel Sanders wig and flashing his receding gum line every chance he gets).

Now I’m not going to deny that there’s a good idea somewhere in the plot and perhaps if director David Dobkin wasn’t so interested in wringing the ever loving emotional life out of every single scene then The Judge may have fared better overall, serving as a minor distraction for Downey Jr. between his Marvel superhero commitments.

Nearing the end of this folly, I turned to my companion and exclaimed “There are so many emotions in this movie!” and it’s the God’s honest truth.  No emotional well is left undrained by Dobkin and co. as they move us through self-serving scene after self-serving scene.  I began to wonder if the entire movie wasn’t some elaborate prank where every acting clip shown on the Oscars wasn’t recreated in one film. There are courtroom confessions, tender moments bizarrely played out in front of masses of people, tough good-byes, difficult hellos, old wounds reopened, and healing apologies delivered as one single tear rolls down a cheek.  It’s all simply too much.

It’s an ugly film too. When the backdrops aren’t horribly digitally inserted the film takes place in houses, bars, and courtrooms that have “natural” light coming through the windows by way of 1000 watt search lights, suggesting cinematographer Janusz Kaminski (Lincoln) has shot the movie like a Christopher Nolan directed episode of Judge Judy.

Culminating in a borderline offensive finale that wears its manipulation as a badge of honor, I can’t recommend enough steering clear of this mish-mash of a missed opportunity.