Movie Review ~ Overlord


The Facts
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Synopsis: On the eve of D-Day, a group of American paratroopers are dropped behind enemy lines to carry out a mission crucial to the invasion’s success. But as they approach their target, they begin to realize there is more going on in this Nazi-occupied village than a simple military operation.

Stars: Jovan Adepo, Wyatt Russell, Jacob Anderson, Dominic Applewhite, Pilou Asbaek, Iain De Caestecker, John Magaro, Mathilde Ollivier, Bokeem Woodbine

Director: Julius Avery

Rated: R

Running Length: 119 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (8/10)

Review: I’m old.  Or, at least, I felt old at the 10pm screening I attended near a local college campus for Overlord.  The audience was largely college students in their pajamas (or whatever constitutes proper sleeping attire nowadays) and the conversations were about everything from the mid-term election the next day to what their actual mid-terms were going to be about.  Driving across town from another screening I was exhausted and not sure why I was subjecting myself to such a late night showing.  Mostly I was just praying I wouldn’t fall asleep and have the screening rep catch me with eyes closed.

I shouldn’t have been worried because Overlord comes out so guns a-blazing that it would be next to impossible to snooze through this highly effective hybrid of war movie and B-horror flick.  Deliberately disorienting when it intends to be and purposefully focused when it needs our attention, the movie is a neat surprise.  With all the mystery surrounding the production of the film I wasn’t sure quite what to expect going in, yet it kept me engaged and on the edge of my seat throughout.

It’s 1944 and a regiment of soldiers are being deployed into a hornet’s nest in Nazi-occupied France.  Among the gang are the mild-mannered Boyce (Jovan Adepo, mother!), the hot-headed Tibbet (John Magaro, The Big Short), photographer Chase (Iain De Caestecker, Lost River) and the newly transferred Ford (Wyatt Russell, Everybody Wants Some!).  No sooner do they parachute behind enemy lines on a mission to take out a radio tower on top of a church then they come across Chloe (Mathilde Ollivier) who brings them into her village crawling with Nazis.  This is no ordinary village, though, and the soldiers will soon find out why the population keeps dwindling.

To say more about what happens over the course of one nightmarish evening for Boyce and his fellow brothers in arms would be to spoil the fun screenwriters Billy Ray (Captain Phillips) and Mark L. Smith (The Revenant) have cooked up.  I will say it involves disturbing Nazi experiments and the creation of a serum with a powerful impact on anyone injected with it…living or dead.  Especially the dead.  As the night wanes on and the men try to complete their mission that will help the entire armed forces, they must also outwit a Nazi madman (Pilou Asbaek, Lucy) and not wind up the next specimen for the bizarre trials being conducted in the cavernous underground basement of the church.

Director Julius Avery starts things off with a bang, in a sequence that made me recall fondly Steven Speilberg’s opening to Saving Private Ryan.  Now I wouldn’t dare to compare the two as equals but there are a lot of parallels on how both films open in absolute chaos before settling in and settling down.  The sound level in my theater was cranked up and at times I thought the roof was going to blow off the joint.  Avery deftly movies between these action sequences and smaller character driven moments between Boyce and Chloe.  Taking the time to give us these insights helps us relate to them more…we get invested pretty quickly in each person we meet which winds up raising the stakes in our rooting for their survival.

Leading the cast is Adepo in a strong performance as a solider that has his eyes opened to the horrors of war.  Starting off as (literally) not being able to kill a mouse, he gets his sea legs quickly when faced with the nastiness that he finds in the village.  I also quite liked Russell as his commanding officer who has already seen enough atrocities to last a lifetime and isn’t as easily spooked as his direct report.  He’s gruff and tough but not without common sense.  Ollivier is more than a token female and gets her share of time to stand up for herself and younger brother.  It’s a strikingly well cast movie, from minor roles that are briefly onscreen all the way up to Asbaek’s increasingly unhinged main villain.

In this time of tentpole films and franchise starters, I also liked that Overlord felt like a self-contained movie.  It’s not out to create a series (though it easily could) and doesn’t need to cheapen a fine wrap up by ending with a “that’s not all folks” stinger.  There’s no post-credit scene so what you sign up for is what you get – anything more than that can all be worked out later.  I get the feeling this is a one and done endeavor and that’s totally fine with me.  It’s a strong film with a few good scares that hits all the right notes and would easily be something I’d watch again with friends.

31 Days to Scare ~ Overlord (Trailer)

Synopsis: On the eve of D-Day, a group of American paratroopers are dropped behind enemy lines to carry out a mission crucial to the invasion’s success. But as they approach their target, they begin to realize there is more going on in this Nazi-occupied village than a simple military operation.

Release Date: November 9, 2018

Thoughts: There’s a nice air of mystery surrounding Overlord and it’s 100% intentional.  Produced by J.J. Abrams (Star Trek), many people are thinking this is another surprise entry into the Cloverfield franchise but Abrams and Paramount Pictures are in full denial mode.  Still, they’ve played this game on us before when releasing 10 Cloverfield Lane and dropping The Cloverfield Paradox onto Neftlix without much fanfare.  Whatever it ends up being about, this looks like a bonkers period horror film involving Nazis and zombies and I’m all for it.  With a script from Oscar nominee Billy Ray (Captain Phillips) and Mark L. Smith (The Revenant) there’s some prestige already…will this be a slash above the usual zombie warfare?

Movie Review ~ Riddick

riddick_ver4

The Facts:

Synopsis: Left for dead on a sun-scorched planet, Riddick finds himself up against an alien race of predators. Activating an emergency beacon alerts two ships: one carrying a new breed of mercenary, the other captained by a man from Riddick’s past.

Stars: Vin Diesel, Karl Urban, Jordi Molla, Matt Nable, Katee Sackhoff, Bokeem Woodbine, Dave Bautista, Conrad Pla, Raoul Trujillo, Nolan Funk, Keri Hilson

Director: David Twohy

Rated: R

Running Length: 119 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (5/10)

Review:

You just can’t keep a good (bad) guy down…and this third outing for Vin Diesel’s muddled anti-hero proves that  point over and over (and over and over).

I was a fan of the 2000 low budget sci-fi thriller Pitch Black which introduced the Riddick character, finding it to be a schlocky B-Film with more than the usual dose of character development, setting itself apart from its contemporaries.  Seeing an opportunity to capitalize on Diesel’s rising star, Universal threw a lot of money into the 2004 follow-up The Chronicles of Riddick, only to see the film not make good on its prospects with its misguided attempt to give its central character a ton of back-story.  By doing this, they took a character that was interesting because we knew little about him and made him toothless, virtually indistinguishable from any countless other sci-fi heroes.

Now, with Diesel riding high after returning to the Fast and the Furious series (the summer 2013 installment, Fast & Furious 6 did crazy good business…and was pretty fun too) Universal is taking another chance on Diesel/Riddick with this modestly budgeted film that has the good elements from Pitch Black and some of the bad elements of The Chronicles of Riddick.

Abandoned on a barren planet, Riddick spends its first thirty minutes or so with nearly no dialogue as our light-averse ex-con struggles to survive the climate, his own inner torment, and a handful of icky creatures rendered with decent success to be a few notches above something you’d see in the SyFy channel.  Comparisons to 2000’s Cast Away are inevitable and not too far off the mark as Riddick learns how to survive and makes nice with a feral dog-like creature (which looks like the offspring of a zebra that mated with a Doberman), eventually winding up at a deserted outpost which could be his way to freedom.

Riddick uses the outpost to initiate a beacon that will alert bounty hunters to his whereabouts, figuring he’ll be able to overthrow any crew that comes-a-callin’ and steal their ship to do a little planet hopping.  That’s when the movie has to switch things up and introduce a crew of new characters that only serve as distractions rather than make their own contributions to advance the plot.

Two crews find their way down, battling not only the one man wrecking crew of Riddick but each other as well. These characters are drawn so broadly that I wondered if they themselves were CGI animated …because only that could excuse the inexcusably awful performance of head bad guy Jordi Molla.  Every line he says, every breath he takes, every desperate mug he makes renders Molla almost unwatchable…made worse by the film being projected on IMAX screens.  Matt Nable is the captain of a rival crew of mercenaries and it seems like the role was meant for a bigger name…while Nable is just fine in the part it just seems like he was the 25th choice for the role.

As for any female presence in the film, I counted about four women in the movie and three of them take their clothes off at one point, including Katee Sackhoff’s hilariously out of place topless scene.  Though Sackhoff’s character is supposedly a tough lesbian, that doesn’t stop the film from making her as weak a presence as the other females…seen either as a sex object or at the mercy of their male counterparts.

Diesel, for his part, seems to be achieving what he wanted by providing his character some good moments of growth…but it’s really time to hang up the night vision goggles.  As it stretches to nearly two hours, the film isn’t ever boring but you begin to feel the time creeping by before the conclusion arrives.

Best left for a watch in the comfort of your own home, Riddick should be the end of the series given its middling box office returns and a general consensus that the character has gone as far as he needs to go.  Vin, take my advice, focus on your other franchise series that miraculously still has legs after six outings.

The Silver Bullet ~ Riddick

riddick

Synopsis: Left for dead on a sun-scorched planet, Riddick finds himself up against an alien race of predators. Activating an emergency beacon alerts two ships: one carrying a new breed of mercenary, the other captained by a man from Riddick’s past.

Release Date:  September 6, 2013

Thoughts: The character of Riddick must be one that haunts actor Vin Diesel (Fast and Furious 6) because he’s tried to set up a quasi franchise with the night-seeing anti-hero for well over a decade.  First introduced as a secondary character in 2000’s modest hit Pitch Black, Diesel returned to the character in 2004 (bringing Judi Dench with him!) for The Chronicles of Riddick.  I found that second film to be a bit of a mess so let’s hope that in the nearly ten years since the sequel was released this third film learned from the mistakes of its predecessor.

Movie Review ~ Total Recall (2012)

The Facts:

Synopsis: A factory worker, Douglas Quaid, begins to suspect that he is a spy after visiting Rekall – a company that provides its clients with implanted fake memories of a life they would like to have led – goes wrong and he finds himself on the run.

Stars: Colin Farrell, Kate Beckinsale, Jessica Biel, Bokeem Woodbine, Bryan Cranston

Director: Len Wiseman

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 118 minutes

TMMM Score: (4/10)

Review:  There are some movies that need to be remade.  Maybe something went awry the first time a film was produced that caused it to fail or not hit the right chord.  Maybe it was the casting…the perfect star wasn’t born yet.  Maybe the technology wasn’t available to put a shine on a film that needed buffing.  Countless reasons exist to look back into film history and take another stab at a mediocre film.  Trouble is, Hollywood isn’t that creative so instead they are looking at what was popular ten or twenty years ago and putting these films through the remake wringer.  It’s a cannibalistic industry and its appetite is growing.

Sometimes the effect is acceptable.  I found 2011’s update of Footloose to be a great example of how to please the audiences of now while not upsetting fans of the original.  With clever nods to the 80’s film that inspired it, the movie landed quite well and stood on its own two feet.  Last summer a 3D remake of Fright Night was released and it too felt right to me because it used the original more as inspiration than doing a scene-for-scene remake.  It was funny, scary, and served its purpose without causing too much of a stir. 

The star of that remake, Farrell, is back in another summer remake but this time with less than stellar results.  I consider 1990’s Total Recall to be a sci-fi classic that was a high point for star Arnold Schwarzenegger and director Paul Verhoeven.  With its strong production design, thrilling score, extreme action, and pulsing pace the 90’s Recall was a huge box office hit and is still highly regarded today.

It’s a puzzlement, then, that Sony Pictures felt the need to release a so-so remake that is not superior in any way to the original.  I’m not exaggerating when I say that absolutely nothing in 2012’s Recall will make you forget the vision that Schwarzenegger/ Verhoeven gave us – so it’s impossible to really enjoy the film.  It’s not a bad film, per se, but it’s overall so unnecessary that you’ll probably find yourself wondering why you just didn’t stay home and pop in your old DVD copy of it instead.

Here’s a film where a lot of effort yields sparse results.  The film is big and bombastic with nice special effects and some sincere performances…but at the end of the day it doesn’t add up to a movie with lasting value.  There are a few tips ‘o the hat to the original (the three-boobed lady being the most memorable) but it does feel like screenwriters Kurt Wimmer and Mark Bomback purposely went against the grain to be different.  Messing with something that already worked ultimately doesn’t do anyone any favors.

Looking objectively, Farrell makes for a good leading man of the future that is put into danger when his erased memories are triggered during a journey to Total Rekall.  Total Rekall promises to give you “the memory of a lifetime” but this memory can’t be similar to any memories that currently exist in your brain.  Trouble is, because Farrell’s memory has been erased he doesn’t remember he used to be a spy which causes trouble when the procedure is begun.  Once he starts to remember, all hell breaks loose and he’s hunted down by various synthetic robots, corrupt police, and one very volatile operative (Beckinsale) with secrets of her own.

Giving credit where it’s due, there is more detail about the procedures and effects of Total Rekall in this film but trying to make sense of it all may throw you for a loop.  The beauty of the original was that you were never quite sure what was reality and what was “Rekall” but here you always know which world you’re operating in. 

Maybe it’s because the film does follow the same trajectory as the first that this viewer always knew what was coming next.  Surprise revelations and scenarios are anticipated rather than revealed so nothing came as a surprise.  Perhaps someone not familiar with the Verhoeven film would get more out of the movie but as it stands, I kept checking off various events as we neared the end.

I’m not familiar with the Phillip K. Dick source material this was based on so I’m not sure if this one is more true to the original plot but even so there seems to be a pretty thin objective for the main villain (Cranston in yet another bad wig and overzealous performance.  After a dismal turn in Rock of Ages earlier this summer, Cranston probably should stick to winning awards for television shows) and in the end it doesn’t seem to really matter.  The story is more interested in Farrell and his daring escapes while being pursued.

The film really could have been called Colin Farrell Jumps Off Stuff because that would be a more accurate way to describe most of the action sequences.  Farrell never misses an opportunity to jump off a roof or through a window and nearly every scene is punctuated with a man who leaps from ramshackle buildings in a single bound.  In the Blade Runner inspired production design, that gives him a lot of buildings for jumping off points as he evades Beckinsale in her pursuit.

Beckinsale is married to director Wiseman (they also collaborated on the Underworld films) and her role has been beefed up probably so he could keep her on set longer.  She seems to be an amalgam of the Sharon Stone and Michael Ironside characters from the original and that plays well into Beckinsale’s butt-kicking persona and wicked streak.  She’s fun for most of the film until she becomes just part of a series of plot devices rather than an actual character. 

She comes off better than fish-faced Biel who does adequately until the final few minutes when her thin acting talent shines through.  Also, Biel and Beckinsale look pretty similar so it becomes confusing as to who we are following during chase sequences.  Overall, Biel seems to be a weak choice for this role and I would have preferred a less refined looking actress in the role.

As I mentioned before, the action sequences are not too bad with a few inventive sequences.  Alas, they don’t make up for everything that comes between them that feels warmed over with a been-there-done-that vibe.  I often found myself wondering why the film had to take the route it does to get to a ho-hum conclusion.  It’s not a high-stakes film, you never have any doubt who is going to make it and who won’t so you just munch on your popcorn and shift in your seat until the expected outcome arrives.

My advice is to take the 2012 Total Recall for what it is…a mediocre remake of a film that didn’t need to be remade in the first place.  It’s diverting enough to not make you pull your hair out but you may regret spending the money on movie that you already got your money’s worth out of 22 years ago.