Synopsis: Jacq Vaucan, an insurance agent of ROC robotics corporation, routinely investigates the case of manipulating a robot. What he discovers will have profound consequences for the future of humanity.
Release Date: October 10, 2014
Thoughts: Gosh, so many other movies raced through my mind as I watched the trailer for this futuristic sci-fi flick starring Antonio Banderas (The Expendables 3). Visions of Minority Report and, most vividly, I, Robot were dancing around in my brain and perhaps that wasn’t quite a bad thing. Both are solid films with some interesting social messages to them and if Autómata has something to add to the conversation then I am all ears. Banderas hasn’t led a film in quite some time so I’m curious to see how this one turns out for him, especially considering his estranged wife Melanie Griffith (Working Girl) is part of the cast as well. I’ll never turn my nose up at a slick slice of life look at robots in the future so my battery is cautiously charged for this one.
I have a serious problem with movie trailers lately. It seems like nearly every preview that’s released is about 2:30 minutes long and gives away almost every aspect of the movie, acting more like a Cliff Notes version of the movie being advertised rather than something to entice an audience into coming back and seeing the full product.
In this day and age where all aspects of a movie are fairly well known before an inch of footage is seen the subtlety of a well crafted “teaser” trailer is totally gone…and I miss it…I miss it a lot. So I decided to go back to some of the teaser trailers I fondly remember and, in a way, reintroduce them. Whether the actual movie was good or bad is neither here nor there…but pay attention to how each of these teasers work in their own special way to grab the attention of movie-goers.
In the Line of Fire (1993)
With the 50th Anniversary of the assassination of President Kennedy just passing us by, this modest yet clever teaser was on my mind. As a child of the 80’s, my exposure to Clint Eastwood wasn’t very diverse in 1993 when I first saw this teaser trailer for In the Line of Fire. Come to think of it, at that time this action thriller surrounding Eastwood playing cat and mouse with an assassin (John Malcovich, netting an Oscar nomination for his work) could have been one of the very first Clint film I had seen. It’s been a while since I’ve seen the film but do recall it had a few nice twists and unconventional moments.
Synopsis: Disgraced former Presidential guard Mike Banning finds himself trapped inside the White House in the wake of a terrorist attack; using his inside knowledge, Banning works with national security to rescue the President from his kidnappers.
Stars: Gerard Butler, Aaron Eckhart, Morgan Freeman, Angela Bassett, Dylan McDermott, Ashley Judd, Melissa Leo, Rick Yune
Director: Antoine Fuqua
Running Length: 120 minutes
TMMM Score: (5/10)
Review: It’s been said that timing is everything and if that’s true then the producing team behind Olympus Has Fallen should have listened to that wise old saying when it came time to release their film concerning a hostile takeover of the White House. Released back in March at the height of tensions between North Korea and the US, the film did respectable business but was nowhere near the type of pre-summer hit that everyone involved must have hoped for.
Truth be told, I’m not sure that the final product would have ever really caught on regardless of when it was released because it’s a largely goofy affair that scores highly on the tension scale but exhausts itself and the audience with melodramatic acting and far too many extraneous plot happenings. Opening in the shadow of July’s similarly themed White House Down, Olympus never really rises from the ashes of a been-there, done-that vibe that would have seemed more at home in a season of 24. Oh wait…24 DID do nearly the exact same plot in its second to last season.
Poor Gerard Butler just can’t catch a break when it comes to films. Though critics may make you think otherwise, he’s never been a true box office draw and a parade of stinkers in the last two years hasn’t helped his clout in Hollywood. Olympus Has Fallen is probably his best film of the bunch, mostly because it allows Butler’s more macho/muscular streak to emerge rather than bear the weight of the romantic comedy nightmares he’s been stuck in recently.
Here Butler is a former guard to the President, a role he loses after an iffy opening sequence set on an icy bridge involving the First Family. It’s never adequately explained how/why he gets bumped down a few notches on the Secret Service totem pole but it helps set up his redemption later in the film. Now he’s a paper pusher with a nice view of his former office from his standard D.C. digs.
When a terrorist attack leaves the White House in shambles and the President and his staff held hostage in an underground bunker, it’s up to Butler to perform a one-man rescue mission by any means necessary. The bulk of the first half of the film is taken up by the seemingly endless infiltration on 1600 Penn Ave by Korean militants that want the US to pull out of the DMZ between North and South Korea. To do so would surely mean the fall of South Korea but with the fate of our nation’s leaders at hands what choice do we have.
These kinds of films where US governments are held hostage by a foreign entity always make me squirm because the movies always go the same. It’s clearly stated that we do not negotiate with terrorists but when you flash a loved one in danger everyone always buckles. The body count in this one is high which adds some extra suspense in who truly will survive by the time the credits roll.
Working in what must have been left over set pieces from The West Wing, director Antoine Fuqua moves the action around with ease even though most of it takes place in shadowy darkness. It becomes hard to tell who is who…but when it’s just one man against the bad guys…you just need to focus on Butler and his bone-crushing methods of extracting information about the head villain in charge.
The big bad wolf is Rick Yune (Die Another Day) as one of the least intimidating villains in recent memory. Though he doesn’t hesitate to put a bullet into more than a few people, Yune’s calm delivery seems more sleepy that sociopathic. On the opposite side of the hero coin, Aaron Eckhart’s (The Dark Knight, Erin Brockovich) President Asher is underused and not called on to do much but play on his All-American looks to cut a believable presence as the Commander in Chief.
Filling out the cast are several overly earnest performances that never seem to gel with each other. Morgan Freeman (Oblivion, Now You See Me) is the Speaker of the House that’s thrust in charge when both the President and Vice President become indisposed. Freeman’s played the President before (in 1998’s Deep Impact) and he’s largely recreating that role here. Dylan McDermott and Ashley Judd pop up in pivotal roles and poor Radha Mitchell is the victim of overstuffing the turkey as Butler’s wife. This whole storyline between Butler and Mitchell has nothing to do with the plot and bogs the film down.
Two respected actresses are also on hand and both are fairly disappointing. Angela Bassett (This Means War) has little to do but give off of looks of both horrified terror and ballsy determination as the Secret Service Director. With each passing role Bassett seems more determined to simply toe the line and not step out of her comfort zone. Even worse is Oscar winner Melissa Leo (Oblivion) in an atrocious wig offering line deliverers that seem to be coming via satellite based on the way she pauses before each one. Leo growls and howls through most of the film…culminating in her unintentionally hilarious recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance in pained agony. For my money, the actresses should have swapped roles…I’m slightly convinced they mistakenly were given the wrong roles and no one noticed until it was too late.
Even with its silly plot contrivances and less than stellar special effects the film does truck along with reckless abandon that entertains more often than not. You absolutely have to check your brain at the door and be prepared for some slightly tacky moments near the end when people start cracking jokes while standing in the middle of a sea of dead bodies. A rental at best, Olympus Has Fallen may eventually get the job done but you’ll have to decide for yourself if it’s really worth it at the end of the day.
Synopsis: Revolving around Truvy’s Beauty Parlor in a small parish in modern-day Louisiana is the story of a close-knit circle of friends whose lives come together there
Stars: Sally Field, Dolly Parton, Shirley MacLaine, Daryl Hannah, Olympia Dukakis, Julia Roberts, Tom Skerritt, Sam Shepard, Dylan McDermott
Director: Herbert Ross
Running Length: 117 minutes
TMMM Score: (8.5/10)
Review: Like the film adaption of A Few Good Men, the movie version of the play Steel Magnolias has ruined me for any future stage production. Playwright Robert Harling brought his auto-biographical play to the screen with a script that took the ladies out of the beauty salon and added male characters without sacrificing any of the charm, humor, and emotion that made the theatrical work so popular.
It can be a tough chore to adapt a play for film without making it seem too stagey or confined but Harling and director Ross (The Turning Point) avoided these pitfalls with ease thanks in no small part to a slam-dunk sextet of females in leading roles. It’s clear that the women enjoyed working together because their warmth and easy-going vibe really elevates the film from being a sappy Southern fried weepie to a memorably classic tearjerker.
I’ve seen Steel Magnolias on stage several times (even on Broadway with Delta Burke, Marsha Mason, Frances Sternhagen, and the Noxzema Girl) and the shadow of the movie always loomed large…I know it’s unfair to make comparisons but it can’t be helped with a cast of this caliber.
It’s lovely to see the journey Roberts (coming off good notices in Mystic Pizza) takes as a young Southern belle. Earning an supporting Oscar nomination for her work here, she’d follow this up with a Best Actress nomination for Pretty Woman a year later. She fits in well with other Oscar winners Dukakis (for Moonstruck), MacLaine (for Terms of Endearment) perfectly cast as funny biddies and Field (two time winner for Norma Rae and Places in the Heart) as her kind but overly protective mother. They’re joined by a surprisingly effective Hannah as gawky Annelle and the still underrated Parton (Joyful Noise) as salon owner Truvy.
Though the film has several scenes throughout that may get you misty, it’s Field’s breakdown near the end of the movie that chokes me up each and every time I’ve seen it. There’s something raw and real about the internal struggle that manifests itself in a powerful cry for answers that hits a nerve within me. The beauty of the film, similar to Terms of Endearment, is how it injects humor in all the right places so just when the tears start to flow you find yourself laughing.
Yeah, one could describe Steel Magnolias as chick flick and it absolutely is – but more than that it’s notable for its strong performances, gorgeous score (by Georges Delerue), and sensitive direction by Ross (though it’s widely known that Ross was a real devil to work with – he hated Parton and was especially hard on Roberts). Tearjerkers don’t always come in this easily accessible a package.
Review: So much material has been written about the high school experience over the years. From novels to movies, college essays to anonymous e-mails, the educational landscape of these formidable years continues to provide material for public consumption. Director Chbosky has adapted his 1999 novel of the same name for the big screen, turning a dynamic book into a deeply felt movie that should strike a chord with anyone who has gone through the ups and downs during this pivotal time.
Joining the ranks of other classic coming-of-age films like Lucas, The Breakfast Club, and Pretty in Pink, The Perks of Being a Wallflower is on the surface much like the rest of ‘em as it chronicles the lives of a small group of teenagers. What sets it apart is a fine attention to detail and sincerity sadly absent in films made for the young adult set today. Here is a film about teenagers that doesn’t talk down to them, it’s frank in its depiction of what happens when the teachers aren’t paying attention without pointing the finger at the adults being the root of the problem. These teenagers are making choices of their own free will that will have an impact (good or bad) on them at some point.
With a valued maturity, I found myself deeply responding to the situation that our titular wallflower is facing. Charlie (Lerman) is starting off freshman life after a tumultuous year that is revealed in bits and pieces along the way. With no friends to speak of and a senior sister that has her own issues to deal with, he desperately wants to fit in but doesn’t know how to go about it. His eventual saviors are stepsiblings Patrick (Miller) and Sam (Watson), seniors who quickly bring him into their fold and introduce him to new people, places, sounds, and ideas.
Over the course of a year, the film charts some tender moments that can be equal parts familiar and foreign to older audiences viewing this looking back on their own personal high school life. For teens of today, I’d imagine it’s a fairly accurate depiction of youths that grow up faster than we did when we were their age. Chbosky has written some heartbreakingly on the nose interactions, words that sting and situations that inspire all come together deftly for the first time filmmaker.
Now that’s not to say it’s a perfect film…it’s not. While the film gets it mostly right there are times when it bites off more than it can chew. I think there are three too many Afterschool Special moments that burden the film rather than strengthen it. True, the performers handle these situations with authentic reactions but I think the film would be better without them.
Secondly, the casting is a bit uneven which also unfortunately works against the film. Lerman is nigh-perfect as Charlie…everything he does suggests someone just bursting at the seams to belong and being sidelined by forces beyond his control. Miller, too, does a 180 degree turn from his unsettling work in We Need to Talk About Kevin to make the gay Patrick no stereotype or sympathy case. Whitman channels Carrie Fisher (that’s a compliment) in her role as a headstrong member of the clan that takes a liking to Charlie.
The one bit of casting that never felt right was Watson in the lead female role and object of Charlie’s infatuation. Something seemed off in her performance that was never able to truly right itself completely. Several of her scenes with Lerman have an almost unbearable truth to them and these are the moments that should be remembered. Sadly, it’s countered with an American accent that wasn’t quite there and a general awkwardness that shouldn’t have been present considering the character she’s playing. Watson also looks too young to be a senior in high school…actually everyone looks the same age so the freshman Charlie doesn’t appear to be younger than his senior buddies.
In the best movies about youth, adults take a back (screen) seat to the youngsters and that’s the case here. Rudd is his typical likable personality that’s balanced with care and compassion. McDermott and Walsh, identified only as Father and Mother, ably work with their small parts to convey what home life is like for Charlie. Lynskey and another actress that cut her teeth in 80’s movies (I’ll keep her name to myself) show up for brief but memorable cameos.
It’s easy to see why this could sit on the same shelf as the John Hughes films of the 80’s. It skillfully navigates some of the more treacherous trappings of its contemporary counterparts and arrives as an upperclassman from the start. Though it doesn’t redefine its genre it successfully captures a lot of the pain, heartache, joy, and evolution that our high school cocoon can bring.
Synopsis: An introvert freshman is taken under the wings of two seniors who welcome him to the real world.
Release Date: September 14, 2012
Thoughts: The more movies I see about high school and teen angst the more I see that we are sadly in need of a voice like John Hughes was for teens in the 80’s. No one really captured the freshman-senior spirit quite like Hughes and when he passed you got the feeling that a whole genre died with him. The Perks of Being A Wallflower, however, may be a nice substitute with its strong source material and likable lead performers. Emma Watson continues to separate herself from the Harry Potter world and instead of taking the Daniel Radcliffe route and doing the polar opposite of his beloved character, she’s taking nice steps to further her career in her own way. It always concerns me when a novelist adapts their own material for the screen and sits in the director chair…but Stephen Chbosky might have a nice little hit on his hands if he plays his novel/script right.
Synopsis: In order to gain influence over their North Carolina district, two CEOs seize an opportunity to oust long-term congressman Cam Brady by putting up a rival candidate. Their man: naive Marty Huggins, director of the local Tourism Center.
Stars: Will Ferrell, Zach Galifianakis, Jason Sudeikis, Katherine LaNasa, Dylan McDermott, John Lithgow, Dan Aykroyd, Brian Cox, P.J. Byrne
Director: Jay Roach
TMMM Score (5/10):
Review: Election Day may be several months away but the makers of The Campaign would have you believe that you’re in the thick of the political mud right here and now. A smartly timed release, however, can’t totally save a film that doesn’t have as many ballots in its joke box as it thinks it does. The teaming of two strong comedians in a raunchy R-rated comedy most likely had Warner Brothers head honchos salivating in their suede shoes, but the results are decidedly hit and (mostly) miss. You’ll laugh…but you may wish you hadn’t after the fact.
Most of the ads have mentioned that director Roach is responsible for the Austin Powers and Meet the Parents films while neglecting to point out that he’s spearheaded two excellent political satires for television, Game Change and Recount, that skewered some very true life stories. So Roach is in a slightly familiar stomping ground which is why the film has a fresh, nearly bubbly quality to it. It shines like a new penny with crisp colors in a strong production design.
I’m not sure how much direction Roach gave Ferrell and Galifianakis because it seems like they were given free rein to do their shticky thing throughout. Ferrell plays a dialed back version of a handful of characters he perfected on SNL to create a dunderhead politician that is all libido and no policy. He’s ran unchallenged for many a term and when he’s caught in a scandal his powerful CEO backers (Aykroyd and Lithgow pretty much playing the Don Ameche/Ralph Bellamy characters from Trading Places) decide to put their money on a different horse.
The horse in question is Galifianakis who has settled on playing his character with a wispy voice complete with lisp and a general light-in-the-loafers attitude. I’d say it’s offensive but it’s such an obvious and uninspired character choice that it would only offend if it was the least bit creative. As it stands, Galifianakis does elicit some laughs from his manner of dress and sweetly small-town attitude but Mr. Deeds Goes to Town he is not.
Galifianakis and Ferrell become opponents in a race that gives mudslinging a bad name. Idiotic debates, devastating attack ads, and Ferrell’s penchant for not once but twice punching an unwitting constituent in the face all add to the lunacy on the campaign trail. An icky subplot involving infidelity takes the cruel factor one step too far and the movie has to work hard to get the audience back from such a nasty swipe.
In between all that I think there was some message about honor, dignity, and family values but the satire gets squashed in favor of crude jokes and mean-spirited plots of revenge. Perhaps with two different stars the film could have achieved what it was trying to say but it’s hard to get any word in edge-wise when Ferrell and Galifianakis are galloping along this horse race.
Did I laugh? Of course I did. There are several exchanges that will produce the necessary belly laughs and strangely enough none of them involve the leads. Aside from Ferrell and Galifianakis Roach has peppered his film with veteran actors and up-and-comers that make the most of their screen time. I could easily have seen bigger female stars playing the wives of the candidates but instead Roach cast comic actresses that were simply right for their roles.
At less than 90 minutes The Campaign does start to sag just as the election results are coming in. Who wins and who loses isn’t really the issue here because you’ll probably figure out what’s going to happen long before the votes are tallied and the credits roll. What matters most is what enjoyment you can derive from some overly raunchy humor delivered by comedians that I think could have done better.