Synopsis: Obsessed with vengeance, a man sets out to find out why he was kidnapped and locked up into solitary confinement for 20 years without reason.
Release Date: November 27, 2013
Thoughts: The first trailer for Spike Lee’s remake of a gritty (and highly praised) 2003 Korean film shows some promise. If his latest work follows in the steps of the original, expect a brutally twisted tale of revenge that takes no prisoners. It looks to be a well cast outing for Lee who has become known lately more for the feuds he gets into with fellow filmmakers than for the quality of his movies. I’ve always been on the fence with his films, finding that they range from the excellent to the excessive with not a lot of middle ground to be found. I’m intrigued at the presence of Josh Brolin (Men in Black III, Labor Day), Elizabeth Olsen (Silent House) and Samuel L. Jackson (Marvel’s The Avengers), all risk taking actors that might just be the perfect fit for what Lee has planned. We shall see.
Synopsis: A family looks to prevent evil spirits from trapping their comatose child in a realm called The Further.
Stars: Patrick Wilson, Rose Byrne, Lin Shaye, Ty Simpkins, Barbara Hershey, Joseph Bishara, Leigh Whannell, Angus Sampson
Director: James Wan
Running Length: 103 minutes
TMMM Score: (7/10)
Review: One of my all time favorite horror films is 1982’s Poltergeist. Following a family experiencing strange goings on in their house, the film came from the mind of Steven Spielberg and was directed by Tobe Hooper who shocked audiences with The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. It remains a shining example in the horror genre as a perfect balance of supernatural horror and family drama.
So it’s no big shocker that I have a fondness for 2010’s Insidious which, if you really think about it, is practically a modern day retelling of Poltergeist. It follows the Poltergeist formula quite faithfully, i.e. suburban family of five is terrorized by ghostly happenings, eventually calling on a medium to figure out what (or who) the heck is reaching out from the other side. Frights and freak-outs abound until the final showdown when the living and the dead collide.
I’m still aghast that 2014 will see the release of a Poltergeist remake so why am I letting Insidious off the hook so easily? Well, it’s because Insidious is still very much its own movie with its own twist on the well-worn ghost story. Director James Wan (The Conjuring) and screenwriter/supporting star Leigh Whannell (Saw) cleverly work in more than a few spine-tingling turns and several honest-to-goodness terrifying moments. There are certain sequences in the film that to this day I find hard to watch without feeling my heart start to race.
It helps that Wan has gathered a unique cast together that you may not normally associate with horror films. Patrick Wilson (Prometheus) has come a long way from the guy I saw in the The Full Monty on Broadway and he is an interesting enough actor to not let himself get pigeon-holed in one character. While Bridesmaids was still a year away for Rose Byrne (The Internship), she’d already made a minor splash on television with her twisty, layered role on Damages. The first time I saw the movie I remember not caring much for Byrne’s performance but revisiting it recently I found her to be the true solid center of the troupe.
Colorful supporting performances abound including Barbara Hershey’s minor role as Wilson’s mother who has some key information about the origin of the strange events besieging her son and his family. Though Hershey memorably starred in the otherwise unmemorable The Entity from 1982 (in which her nude body was famously molested by a ghost) she wasn’t known for her work in this genre. Lin Shaye, Whannell, and burly Angus Sampson are part of a trio of paranormal researchers that help the family get to the root of the evil that gives way to a spooky as all get out finale.
Wan’s freaky final act of Insidious has the same effect as going through a haunted house – working with cinematographers David M. Brewer and John R. Leonetti he puts the audience right there with the actors never letting the viewer see something that the others don’t. It’s a nerve-wracking sequence heighted by Joseph Bishara’s nightmare-inducing score, not to mention Bishara’s performance as “Lipstick-Face Demon”.
Though a low-budget film, the movie has a nice shine to it and holds up on repeat viewings…which is saying something for a horror film dependent on the element of surprise. It’s a tad too long and some viewers may find a few passages a little silly but it’s all part of the fun and (scary) games Wan and company have waiting for you.
Synopsis: The haunted Lambert family seeks to uncover the mysterious childhood secret that has left them dangerously connected to the spirit world.
Release Date: September 13, 2013
Thoughts: All eyes are going to be on this September horror flick for a variety of reasons. First and foremost: it’s a follow-up to 2010’s surprise hit that was heavy on atmosphere over gore and quite effectively made haunted house flicks scary again. Speaking of haunted houses, this will be James Wan’s second film in 2013 that centers on a family terrorized by more than just the things that go bump in the night. Wan was also responsible for July’s The Conjuring, one of the scariest films I’ve seen in years (you’ve seen it, right…I mean, right?) so we all know he has the goods to tap into what freaks us out the most. Had this movie been released in 2011 as a quick cash-grab I may be more hesitant about it but knowing that Wan and company took their time with it gives me good vibes…and some ominous chills.
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.
Review: Have you ever been sitting in a movie theater and find yourself rooting for a bad movie to be good? Maybe it’s the inherent “Minnesota Nice” in me or the understanding of all the work that goes into crafting a picture for mass consumption but I try to always hope for the best in even the worst situations. Dead Man Down isn’t a total failure of epic proportions but its lack of any momentum or true surprise stings more than it should.
First off, you have a solid cast assembled. Rapace made a name for herself in the US as the original Lisbeth Salander in The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo long before it was remade as a slick thriller by David Fincher. In that film she worked with Dead Man Down director Oplev and produced a mini-miracle a performance. It still bums me out she wasn’t nominated for an Oscar for her work.
In Dead Man Down Rapace and Oplev are both a bit at sea, never finding the right tone or rhythm that this type of crime drama sorely needs. One moment it’s a gritty examination of revenge and the next it’s a dark romantic comedy. With neither theme getting the prime focus; it winds up just feeling disjointed and messy.
That’s too bad because Farrell (Total Recall) knows exactly what kind of film he’s in and works hard to give his character some added nuance and depth. Working for a villainous NYC crime boss (played too gently by Howard), his character is a brooding dude with a few secrets he’s working to keep hidden. So it’s natural that he’s intrigued by Rapace’s scarred (emotionally and physically) neighbor who lives with her mother (woefully underused but quite kooky Huppert, Amour)– their exchanges have some nice pop to them but no real chemistry is ever created.
Unfortunately, the blame falls on Rapace for that – her character often comes off as too child-like and twee. Even though I liked Rapace in Promethus more than most, US films haven’t quite found the right place for her – something that’s probably as frustrating for her as it is for her fans.
I kept waiting for the film to divert from its standard plot set-up and surprise me but alas, it wasn’t meant to be. You could tell there was a little nugget of a fine film waiting to be hatched but it didn’t have enough time to develop. This may be worth a rental down the line but as a film you need to see in theaters…I’d pass on it.
Synopsis: In 2072, when the mob wants to get rid of someone, the target is sent 30 years into the past, where a hired gun awaits. Someone like Joe, who one day learns the mob wants to ‘close the loop’ by transporting back Joe’s future self.
Stars: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Bruce Willis, Emily Blunt, Pierce Gagnon, Jeff Daniels
Review: Lately, whenever a movie arrives with huge buzz I’ve found myself more resistant to believe only because the hype machine can be ramped up for pretty much anything. With the internet growing and word-of-mouth advertising becoming a thing of the past, it’s easy for studios to plant some seeds of hype around the web to gain traction for their film. That way when opening weekend arrives, audiences are more likely to go with what they hear rather than what they read.
In the case of Looper, the buzz has been growing steadily since the film was first screened. I approached the film with some hesitation only because there are several elements that I wasn’t sold on. The first was director Johnson who directed the overhyped Brick (which, admittedly, I never made it all the way through after several attempts) and the second was wariness for revisionist sci-fi. So when early reviews were good, I didn’t fully believe it. When major critics began giving it thumbs up, I didn’t fully believe it. Well, now that I’ve seen it…I fully believe.
One of the better films (entertainment-wise) to be released in 2012, Looper is the kind of movie that should make you want to go to more movies. It’s clever, funny, unconventional, and an absolute blast to let wash over you. Unlike similarly enjoyable movies that you can experience and leave behind, Looper stays in your brain for some time after and keeps working on you throughout the rest of your day/night. It’s not a deceptive film that you’ll need to watch over again to fully appreciate it (like Inception, another Gordon-Levitt film) nor is it a film you’ll WANT to watch only once.
The key to its success is a willingness to try something different – not a totally unique quality in film these days but one that rarely leads to the rewards Looper offers. There are concepts at work that couldn’t be pulled off by the uninspired or relayed by a group of people that don’t love the medium of film.
Starting with a bang (literally) the film is in a state of constant motion which keeps it several steps ahead of its audience along the way. Instead of getting so far ahead that we can’t catch up, Looper leaves breadcrumbs in its wake to keep you moving forward without getting lost. You do have to pay attention to see the nuances of the time travel storyline but it’s in these details that the film is most impressive. Non-linear storytelling seems to be making a comeback in film and TV (heck, even Gordon-Levitt’s Premium Rush benefited from this angle) and in Looper the jumping around to different times nearly always makes perfect sense.
After the film was over I sat with my movie mate and discussed the various jumps the movie makes and what that meant to its overall impact. If you dig deep there may be a few, um, loopholes that become evident but you’ll have to make a strong case to me for why they detract from the overall thrust of the movie.
With Looper, director/screenwriter Johnson finally proved to me why he is a director on the rise. As previously stated, I found his Brick to be interminable…so much so that I skipped his next film The Brothers Bloom. There’s a sophistication to this work not present in his previous films and the film community is a better place because of it. Johnson , cinematographer Steve Yedlin, and production designer Ed Verreaux have collaborated on an sharp looking, well fashioned film that looks exactly like it should. Like Robot & Frank, their vision of the future is less about flying cars and aliens and more about plausibly advancing our technology to several decades from now.
After TheDark Knight Rises and Premium Rush, Gordon-Levitt scores another win in 2012 (and he’s not done yet…he plays Lincoln’s son in Spielberg’s upcoming Lincoln) with a role he clearly put a lot of work into. Playing a young version of Willis, I didn’t always see the connection between the two…but it matches enough in the mannerisms and speech that it begins to make sense. Gordon-Levitt has the tougher job than Willis in the impression department but Willis also shines in a role tailor-made for his talents.
Blunt makes a total detour from the characters she’s played previously to deliver another on-the-money performance as a ballsy single mom. Playing her son, Gagnon is a real find…equal parts precocious and mysterious as his involvement in the future is revealed. It’s heady stuff for a kid to play and Gagnon is more than up for the challenge even at his young age. Daniels makes less of an impact as crime boss…but maybe it’s because he looks like he just woke up for many of his scenes.
The one thing I’ll say in the negative category is that the movie felt longer than it was. Two hours is still a long film but there were times when its eyes may have been bigger than its content and it overreached a tad too far. Still…that’s a problem with the editing not with the full picture.
Violent at times and violently funny at others, Looper is a nicely executed cinematic meeting of the minds that delivered full force entertainment for your hard earned cash. I went in expecting to be entertained but left entertained and inspired. With a tiny trim to tighten up the running time, this could be one of those films that we look back on as the beginning of a new movement in the sci-fi genre.
Synopsis: A group of teenagers look to save their town from an invasion of North Korean soldiers.
Release Date: November 21, 2012
Thoughts: Remaking 1984’s Red Dawn is an interesting move. The original dealt with Russians invading America and how a band of teenagers went from high school quarterbacks and prom queens to militant defenders of US soil. I watched it again recently and while it has an interesting slant, it’s very much a product of its time. The remake changes the villain from Soviet forces to North Korean soldiers but keeps the rest of the premise intact. Like the original, it’s clearly a film that will have a strong patriotic message amidst bloodshed of the innocent.I’m not crazy about the hodge-podge nature of the cast (I’m sure Connor Cruise got this job on his own merits and not because we know his dad as Tom) or the overall feeling that there really wasn’t a need to remake this in the first place.
Synopsis: Three magazine employees head out on an assignment to interview a guy who placed a classified ad seeking a companion for time travel.
Stars: Aubrey Plaza, Mark Duplass, Jake M. Johnson, Karan Soni, Jenica Bergere
Director: Colin Trevorrow
Running Length: 86 minutes
Random Crew Highlight: Jones ~ Xola Malik
TMMM Score: (7/10)
Review: By this point in the history of film, romantic comedies are a dime a dozen. The plots follow the same formula and the outcome is always the same. I struggle with romantic dramadies because it takes a special kind of film to sway you into doubting the outcome you know is destined to occur. Safety Not Guaranteed is the latest rom-dram “Hail Mary” that seeks to upend our notions of predictable filmmaking…and actually succeeds.
Working from a script by newcomer Derek Connolly and directed by first time filmmaker Trevorrow, Safety Not Guaranteed is a wacky-in-a-good-way comedy that works on several levels to achieve something unique in film today. Since I had no idea where the film was going, I was never five steps ahead of the action onscreen and that forces you to stay in the moment and take in everything the same time the characters do.
Posing the question we’ve all asked ourselves before (“If we could travel back in time would we/could we/should we?”) but adding a romantic twist to it, the film benefits from a shorter running time because it clearly doesn’t want to be the last guy at the bar when final call is announced. Reflecting back on it now the movie has a clear agenda from the start but it envelops you in its charm from frame one.
Centrally focusing on journalistic intern Darius (Plaza who ranks a 6 on the Zooey Deschanel kooky-girl chart) and her relationship with Kenneth (Duplass) who may or may not have harnessed the power to travel in time, we follow her as she hides the fact she’s researching him for a story in a Seattle magazine. She’s assisting Jeff (Johnson) who has requested this assignment for personal reasons that occupy a weaker but not invaluable second storyline. The existence of a second intern (Soni) is a bit cloying as he is clearly there to be the resounding Voice of Reason when the time is right.
Even at 86 minutes the film could have been a little shorter had it not spent some extra time with Jeff romancing a high school flame and Darius accompanying Kenneth on any number of “covert” missions as he gathers intel and supplies before the big time travel journey.
“Will They or Won’t They” is a popular question for movies/series to direct at possible romantic entanglements. In this film the question applies in a two-fold manner. With such a smartly crafted and self-aware film such as this, one finds oneself wondering not only will our leads end up together…but will they have to travel through time to do so?
If you’re on the hunt for a non-mainstream film playing in mainstream cinemas, seek this one out. I found it a richly rewarding tale that is, um, safely recommended.
Synopsis: In the year 2042, a mob hitman assassinates targets that arrive from the future of 2072. For him it’s just a job… till he receives a new target: himself from the future.
Release Date: September 28, 2012
Thoughts: Now here’s the proper way to make a trailer. Give the audience some quality visuals, tease us with a bit of the plot, and then let ‘er rip with a great montage of the action sequences to come. This movie was not on my radar at all but it’s absolutely moved to the top of my list when it is released in the fall. I love the futuristic look (don’t the faces look digitally altered?) and I do guiltily enjoy a good big screen butt-kickin’ courtesy of Willis. The premise sounds original, the stars are quality, and the timing is right for this to be a big hit. Check it out and keep your eyes out for this one!