Movie Review ~ The Devil Has a Name

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The Facts
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Synopsis: A psychotic oil matriarch leaves the whole industry exposed when she attempts to outfight a bullish farmer whose water has been poisoned.

Stars: David Strathairn, Kate Bosworth, Pablo Schreiber, Katie Aselton, Haley Joel Osment, Alfred Molina, Edward James Olmos, Martin Sheen

Director: Edward James Olmos

Rated: R

Running Length: 97 minutes

TMMM Score: (4/10)

Review: When Netflix first came out, the hardest part was waiting for those discs to come in the mail.  It was especially difficult when you got a movie that you hated and didn’t watch all the way through because you essentially just wasted up to a week of your monthly subscription waiting for another film to arrive.  That’s why the streaming service was such a fantastic upgrade because whenever you wanted to tap out of a movie or show that wasn’t grabbing you, there wasn’t as much guilt as before.  That’s both a good thing and a bad thing.  Good because of the reasons I just mentioned but bad because we’ve all talked to someone that stopped watching Schitt’s Creek after the first few episodes of Season 1 saying they “just didn’t get it” though we all know that show took several episodes to find its stride.  People just aren’t willing to stick with something if they aren’t into it…there’s too much out there to waste time.

I have a confession to make.  Sometimes I feel that way about screeners as well.  Look, when I say I’ll review something, I’ll review it and I’m going to give it my all.  Take the new drama The Devil Has a Name (not The Devil All the Time…which is, coincidentally, a Netflix film) from actor-director Edward James Olmos.  This was one of those examples where the movie started and I had that sinking feeling in my stomach that I had gotten myself into something that was going to be trouble to review.  It starts off very badly and stays that way for at least the first twenty or so minutes.  I wanted to chuck it and give up but forced myself to stick with it…and I’m glad I did because while it got only marginally better it did have some redeeming qualities that I wouldn’t have caught if I gave up at the outset.  On the other hand, the more I watched, the more problems I had with the turgid script, oversized performances, and sloppy filmmaking.

Gigi Cutler (Kate Bosworth, Homefront) is in big trouble with the head honchos at her family’s Houston-based business, Shore Oil.  For what, we aren’t sure of yet but, like many a film, she’s going to down a swig from a flask and tell them (and us) just what brought about her bad behavior.  Flashing back, we’re introduced to Fred Stern (David Strathairn, Lincoln) a widowed almond-farmer whose land has been unknowingly polluted by a nearby oil-rig owned by Gigi’s family.  They’ve found this out before him and, wanting to avoid a costly lawsuit, attempt to buy his land for a paltry fee via negotiations by local yokel Alex ( Haley Joel Osment, Tusk).  Sensing something isn’t right and eventually uncovering the truth with the help of his longtime foreman Santiago (Olmos), Stern turns the offer down and hires legal counsel (Martin Sheen, The Dead Zone) to sue the company.  A legal battle ensues which brings out a whole host of nasty actions and a brutal fixer (Pablo Schreiber, Skyscraper) into town to make sure nothing gets in the way of a win for the oil company.

Viewers are going to have to hunker down and commit to the film from the start, there’s no easing into Robert McEveety’s screenplay and the direction from Olmos (Wolfen) doesn’t help much either.  I found the first twenty minutes to be disorienting as character introductions were slack or nonexistent and when they are onscreen they’re so oversized that it feels as if Olmos used a fifth take where he told them to “be as big as possible, just for fun.”  The degree of seriousness afforded to some rote dialogue is pretty funny after awhile.  Things pick up once the legal proceedings begin (because who doesn’t love a good courtroom drama?) but even that starts to get wacky after a bit, with the kind of grandstanding and unbelievable turn of events even the soapiest of legal dramas would raise an eyebrow at.

Speaking of performances, I wonder if Strathairn watches the film and wonders what movie everyone else is in.  He’s essentially playing the same low-key role he’s played before and that works well for the high strung movie but everyone else can’t decide exactly what volume they want to pitch their performances.  Schreiber is having a field day with his professional slimeball, aiming for dark and lethal but landing on gentlemen’s club bouncer.  The only thing he’s missing is a well chewed toothpick in his mouth. Come to think of it, he may have had one of those, too.  It’s always great to see Olmos in front of the camera, but wearing two hats seems to have clouded his ability as an actor to question some of the crappy dialogue he has to wade through.  I don’t quite know where to start with Osment, what worked for him as a child actor has not carried over to adulthood.  He’s just completely unappealing (which is the point of the character) but as an actor he’s also unquestionably terrible. Aside from Straithairn, Bosworth probably comes off the best because she at least puts some dynamics into the role so she has some place to go.  There’s a regrettable scene where she goes mental on a piece of carpet but anytime she’s cool, calm, and collected is when she’s at her most dangerous…and most interesting to an audience member.

Clearly, this is a film with a targeted message at the protection of the environment but the message gets lost in the large performances (can I say again how awful Osment is?) and the messy storytelling.  Olmos has directed films before that have had more solid footing but for some reason, either the directing or maybe even it’s the editing, The Devil Has a Name gets off on the wrong foot and never finds its way back in time with the music.  There should be a better way of getting the point across than relying on the unreliable resources gathered for this project.

Movie Review ~ Entourage

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The Facts:

Synopsis: Movie star Vincent Chase, together with his boys Eric, Turtle, and Johnny, are back – and back in business with super-agent turned studio-head Ari Gold on a risky project that will serve as Vince’s directorial debut.

Stars: Jeremy Piven, Kevin Dillon, Jerry Ferrara, Kevin Connolly, Adrian Grenier, Emmanuelle Chriqui, Haley Joel Osment, Billy Bob Thornton, Rex Lee, Perrey Reeves, Emily Ratajkowski, Rhys Coiro, Nora Dunn, Debi Mazar, Constance Zimmer, Ronda Rousey, Scott ‘Kid Cudi’ Mescudi

Director: Doug Ellin

Rated: R

Running Length: 104 minutes

TMMM Score: (6/10)

Review: I’ve been a loyal HBO subscriber for years but I’m one of the select few that’s never seen an episode of True Blood or made it through the entire series of The Sopranos. I especially avoided Entourage which seemed a little, well, douche-y for my tastes. I’ve known about the big screen continuation of Entourage (which had a successful run on HBO from 2004-2011) for a while and I tried to do my homework on this one, I really did. I even had the discs of the first season staring me down on my night stand each evening before I made the judgement call to watch Friends on Netflix instead.

So I approached the screening of the film with some trepidation. Would I be completely lost with the characters, not knowing their backstory? Would the bro-tastic vibe I got from the trailers send this one up, up, up into the macho testosterone grunting stratosphere? Most of all…would I enjoy myself?

The answer to these questions of world importance were no, not really, and, surprisingly, yes.

Sensing that their movie may be playing to a specific niche crowd of loyal fans, Warner Brothers and HBO have wisely made it clear in the ads and promos for Entourage that even if you never watched the show you’ll get a kick out of the raunchy debauchery of a bunch of L.A. living dudes that party hard, love the ladies, and work for the kind of bank bucks that keep them living the big life in spacious mansions that seem to always have a naked starlet in the pool waiting for them when they come home.

Truth be told, this isn’t my kind of movie at all but in many ways it’s one of the smartest (if slightest) comedies of the year so far. Its insider look at Hollywood and numerous celebrity cameos rival Robert Altman’s 1992 film The Player but the comparisons end there. While Altman’s film is a twisty noir that savages the entertainment industry, Entourage keeps things sunny and free spirited.

Playing like an extended episode of the series, the film follows star Vincent Chase (Adrian Grenier) and his entourage: half-brother Johnny “Drama” (Kevin Dillon), manager E (Kevin Connolly), driver/assistant Turtle (Jerry Ferrara, Lone Survivor), and former agent now studio exec Ari Gold (Jeremy Piven, Edge of Tomorrow) as they scramble to finish Vincent’s directorial debut that Ari greenlit and is now way over budget. The film in question is a sci-fi take on Jekyll & Hyde for the new millennium and everyone that sees it thinks it’s great. Not being familiar with the show I’m unsure if it’s normal in the series to ape on Hollywood vanity projects by having everyone fawn over a film that’s fairly terrible looking but yeesh…the little we see of Vincent’s Hyde is overproduced goulash.

The film nicely divides it’s time between the pressure Vincent has to finish the film, newly promiscuous E’s impending fatherhood with his former flame (Emmanuelle Chriqui, Fort Bliss), Drama’s insecurities as he struggles to get out of his famous siblings shadow, and uber-wealthy Turtle’s romantic pursuit of mixed martial artist turned actress Ronda Rousey (Furious 7, The Expendables 3). All four actors know these characters inside and out and the years between the series finale and the film hasn’t seemed to lessen their interest in taking things to the next level.

Piven, who nabbed three Emmys for the show, is the unquestionable star of the show. The actor has had his fair share of being put through the Hollywood wringer and maybe that’s the reason why he’s able to sink his teeth into Ari so well. Short-tempered and hot under the collar, he’s especially amped up when he has to beg for more money for Hyde from the film’s financer, a deep-pocketed Texan (Billy Bob Thornton, The Judge, looking like a withered bobble head of his former self). When the Texan sends his nebbish son (Haley Joel Osment, Tusk, who has now completed his transformation into a Garbage Pail Kid) out to Hollywood to get a feel for the film, it causes a bunch of problems for Vincent, Ari, and the gang.

Though he hasn’t directed a feature film since 1998’s forgettable Kissing a Fool, Doug Ellin’s experience behind a camera on the Entourage series made him the right choice to write and direct…also helps that he’s the creator of the show. I liked that the film takes place almost entirely in the bright California sun and features a swell soundtrack that is easy on the ears. Though it does feel like a super-sized episode, it doesn’t feel like a quick cash-in on the popularity of the television show however it’s squarely targeted at fans…which can make the rest of us feel a little left out at times. That’s not the fault of the film, per se, and I’m not sure really what could have been done to fix that piece short of requiring viewing of the eight seasons before admission.

Better than I thought it would be, Entourage makes a solid bid for the attention of audiences that need a break from the bonkers mayhem of San Andreas, Mad Max: Fury Road, and Avengers: Age of Ultron. And after making it through the Pitch Perfect 2 festivities, men can hopefully get their girlfriends/wives to repay the favor and tag along to their Entourage party.

Movie Review ~ Tusk

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The Facts:

Synopsis: When podcaster Wallace Bryton goes missing in the backwoods of Manitoba while interviewing a mysterious seafarer named Howard Howe, his best friend Teddy and girlfriend Allison team with an ex-cop to look for him.

Stars: Justin Long, Michael Parks, Haley Joel Osment, Genesis Rodriguez

Director: Kevin Smith

Rated: R

Running Length: 102 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (6/10)

Review:  A certain chill washed over me when I saw Tusk on my upcoming screening agenda.  Having just seen the trailer and posted a review (see above for the link) I wasn’t sure I was quite ready to see what I knew was in store for me.  Also playing a factor is that I’m no fan of writer/director Kevin Smith’s previous work, something many film aficionados feels akin to sacrilege but which I simply chalk up to as not being as interested in what he has to say as others seem to be.

I’m not kidding when I say that walking down the hall into the theater gave me the same sort of chilly willies I get when I’m about to reach the top of a rollercoaster or turn the corner at a haunted house.  So I was surprised that 100 minutes later I walked out into the light not only being impressed with the quality of Smith’s work but that I enjoyed it more than I ever thought I could.

As far as movie pitches go, Tusk may herald a new way to throw ideas out seeing that its plot began as a joke on a podcast Smith was involved with.  When enough fans voiced their enthusiasm to see a movie made out of a twisted idea, Smith gathered his troops and produced not only Tusk but a companion film, Yoga Hosers, set for release in 2015.

Taking aim at everything from Canadians to naturalists, Tusk concerns a smarmy shock-podcaster (Justin Long) making the most out of his visit to Manitoba by answering an ad placed above a urinal at a kanuk bar by a handicapped man looking for companionship.  Traveling to a secluded home in hopes of finding his next great podcast subject, he soon gets tangled up with the mysterious man (Michael Parks, Argo, Django Unchained) who may not be as wheelchair-bound as he presents himself to be.  What’s in store for the podcaster is both horrific and horrifically bold in its dedication.

Had Smith turned the dial even a hair more into camp territory, Tusk would have been DOA but as it is the film finds a remarkable sound balance between horror and comedy thanks in no small part to the commitment of Long and Parks to the whacked out premise.  Long has never held much appeal as a leading man or even a worthy supporting character, but with Tusk he finally finds a way to make an argument for his legitimacy as an actor.  Parks has a long career as a character actor and he easily walks away with the film after delivering the first of several impassioned speeches regarding his history.

It’s when the film strays from Parks and Long that it tends to feel flimsier and less interesting to audiences.  Focusing on Long’s girlfriend (Genesis Rodriguez, Man on a Ledge) and his partner in crime (Haley Joel Osment) as they search for their lover/colleague with the help of a Jacques Clouseau-like detective (Guy Lapointe…who looks suspiciously like an A-list Oscar nominated actor under that fake nose and comic French accent), this secondary storyline feels like the padding it is–though it does give Smith the opportunity to show off some of the restraint he’s learned as a maturing director.

All in all, Tusk reminded me of a B-movie you’d catch on late-night TV.  It’s not quite as disturbing as it may look but it’s not as gross-out icky as The Human Centipede.  Providing the right amount of laughs as well as horrific images you’ll most likely view from in between the fingers that cover your eyes, it’s a well-made midnight feature (probably Smith’s best filmed to date) that works more often than it should.

The Silver Bullet ~ Tusk

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Synopsis: When his best friend and podcast co-host goes missing in the backwoods of Canada, a young guy joins forces with his friend’s girlfriend to search for him.

Release Date: September 19, 2014

Thoughts: Though director Kevin Smith was once a successful poster boy for the independent film movement, lately his cinematic efforts make blink and you missed them appearances on limited releases/festival circuits before heading to streaming devices.  I can’t say I’ve ever been a huge fan of Smith, likening his movies to his wardrobe of board shorts and hockey jerseys…comfortable looking but totally unnecessary.  I’m especially unsure of his latest product, Tusk, following a young podcaster that meets a man with grisly intentions.  If Smith’s horror-comedy turns out to go where I think it does, I’ll pass; having seen enough of these gross-out excursions into repulsive territory, I’m just not interested in watching it done via Smith’s jokey approach.