Movie Review ~ Color Out of Space


The Facts
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Synopsis: After a meteorite lands in the front yard of their farm, Nathan Gardner and his family find themselves battling a mutant extraterrestrial organism that infects their minds and bodies, transforming their quiet rural life into a technicolor nightmare.

Stars: Nicolas Cage, Joely Richardson, Madeleine Arthur, Brendan Meyer, Julian Hilliard, Elliot Knight, Q’orianka Kilcher, Tommy Chong

Director: Richard Stanley

Rated: Unrated

Running Length: 111 minutes

TMMM Score: (7/10)

Review: It may seem like a distant memory now, but there was a time when Nicolas Cage was a bona fide movie star that had clout at the box office and with the notoriously picky voters in several guilds/associations that handed out major awards. Winning an Oscar for Leaving Las Vegas in 1995, Cage was always a bit of an odd duck in his approach to his craft and his habit for driving his co-stars nuts (the female ones in particular) has been well documented as more than just idle Hollywood lore. Recently, Cage has seemed to revel in leaning in to the public perception of him and it feels like he pops up in some random movie every other month. I’m not sure when the man has time to sleep or get his well cared for hair system spiffed up but he’s an old school acting workhorse.

Though most of the films Cage stars in are indecipherable from the other, every now and then he finds himself in one that gets people talking. Back in 2018 that film was Mandy, a grim head trip of a horror movie that became a bit of an underground hit – inspiring late night showings and putting Cage back in the good graces of fans that hadn’t seen a movie of his in theaters for years. That movie was very nearly an art project, a true experience into hell that had an impressive style and some bold moves but ultimately didn’t thrill me as much as it did others that were welcoming Cage back into the fold. Now, just a little over a year later comes Color Out of Space, another strange foray into the unknown with Cage in the drivers seat but this time he’s in a vehicle that’s going someplace interesting.

Adapted from H. P. Lovecraft’s 1927 short story “The Colour Out of Space”, this isn’t the first time Lovecraft’s supernatural sci-fi has gotten the big screen treatment. Audiences first saw a version of it via the 1965 Boris Karloff schlocker Die, Monster, Die! and the one I remember fondly, The Curse from 1987 but for some reason within the last ten years it has become a hot property with two other versions floating around. For this retelling, the screenplay comes courtesy of Scarlett Amaris and director Richard Stanley and they’ve done a rather remarkable job updating Lovecraft’s story while maintaining much of his original set-up.  Though modernized, it’s quite reverential to Lovecraft and the nightmare he dreamt up.

The Gardner family has come to the tiny town of Arkham, Massachusetts for a change of pace. Raising llamas while trying to get his gardening business off the ground, Nathan (Cage, Valley Girl) is making the best out of a recent rough patch of setbacks. His wife Theresa (Joely Richardson, Endless Love) may have followed her husband from the city to the country but she hasn’t quite unplugged from her corporate life in doing so. Their children Lavinia (Madeleine Arthur, Big Eyes), Benny (Brendan Meyer), and Jack (Julian Hilliard, The Haunting of Hill House) are all adjusting in their own way with Lavinia opting to fully embrace her Wiccan ways and rituals now that she’s fully ensconced in nature’s beauty.

When Ward (Elliot Knight) a visiting water-surveyor enters the picture, he finds more than just a contaminated stream after a meteor crash lands on the Gardner’s property and begins to have a strange effect first on the flora and then on the family. At first, the changes are barely noticeable. New plants sprout up, unexplained phenomena increase in their occurrences. Then, those that drink from the water in the well begin to exhibit increasingly bizarre behavior until the extraterrestrial force that was contained within the meteor is fully unleashed, bringing with it an otherworldly terror. As the force gains power and begins to spread, the survivors have to evade a deceptive intelligence that aims to trick them into following it into darkness.

I was surprised at how effective Color Out of Space was for the majority of its run time. Largely, it’s a tense bit of entertainment with a heavy dose of the paranoid thriller and credit should be given to Aramis and Stanley for keeping things at a nice simmer for as long as they do. That’s quite a feat considering they have Cage in a role that is ostensibly the lead but who remains a bit in the background until the latter half of the film. You can see Stanley did his best to restrain Cage’s performance and I think editing had something to do with the finished product because Cage comes off quite well here. Sure, near the end he starts to whirl out of control but the film kinda calls for it and no one can swerve off a cliff quite like Nic Cage can. (I do wonder, however, if he was trying to emulate a certain impeached official when his character was having violent mood swings…I mean, it had to have been intentional, right?)

Along with Cage there’s a strong supporting cast with Arthur a real star in the making. There’s a worldly curiosity to her performance that makes for an intriguing character and a snappy rapport between all of the family members made me believe they all liked each other enough to withstand a good teasing. While his contributions are limited, Tommy Chong (Zootopia) is quite funny as a local off-the-grid stoner. It isn’t a stretch for Chong but he sells it with some flair. I continue to find Richardson a very underrated actress who has lived a bit in the shadow of her late sister (Natasha) and famous mother (Vanessa) throughout the years. She’s pretty great, especially when you consider just how far Stanley asks her to go in one scene.  Other actresses might have flinched but Richardson dives right in.

It’s interesting to note this is Stanley’s first feature film since he was famously fired from 1996’s remake of The Island of Dr. Moreau. The legendary tale of Stanley’s ouster from that movie has been recounted a number of times (including the fantastic documentary Lost Soul: The Doomed Journey of Richard Stanley’s Island of Dr. Moreau, which is available on Amazon Prime) and judging by Stanley’s ferocious comeback he’s more than ready to get back to moviemaking without a lot of studio interference. Working with a budget around $12 million, Stanley and his visual effects crew have created an impressive looking world that is both a wonder to behold and frightening, often at the same time. There’s a particularly grotesque effect near the end of the film that should recharge the battery of any horror fan running low on gore fumes.

Though the film begins to lose some energy the further down the rabbit hole it goes and the characters start to make increasingly bad decisions, it’s absolutely one you should see if given the chance. I can see this one following a Mandy trajectory (though I found this far less intimidating and grimy) and finding an audience that responds to its mind-bending visuals, dynamic color palate, and shocking sequences of terror and violence. Even if it doesn’t all make sense all of the time, it’s more entertaining than I ever thought going in.

Movie Review ~ Endless Love (2014)

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The Facts:

Synopsis: The story of a privileged girl and a charismatic boy whose instant desire sparks a love affair made only more reckless by parents trying to keep them apart.

Stars: Alex Pettyfer, Gabriella Wilde, Robert Patrick, Bruce Greenwood, Rhys Wakefield, Dayo Okeniyi, Emma Rigby, Joely Richardson

Director: Shana Feste

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 103 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (6/10)

Review: My first impression of this remake of 1981’s Endless Love was not positive.  It’s formulaic construction, slightly above average performances, and treacley love story wasn’t anything to write home about even if it did get the job done if you were to step back and look at its target audience.  Then I did my homework and watched the awful original film and skimmed the book it was adapted from.  Now, not only do I find myself giving the film a higher rating than I would have but also can’t help but recommend it to those looking for a movie to go along with the Valentine’s Day weekend ahead.

Make no mistake about it…this is a film that’s quite aware of its customer and does everything in the book to give them their money’s worth.  You’ve got two gorgeous leads made up of nimble limbs extending from toned figures with great hair and just the right amount of perspiration with fleeting glimpses of the kind of chemistry so vacant from “romance” films created from market research.  Throw in some drama about true love being kept apart and a production/costume design that would make white-washed director Nancy Myers (The Holiday, It’s Complicated) drool and it’s nearly a license to print date-movie money.

Of course, to really enjoy this you’ll have to overlook the flaws that follow the film around like an unwanted stalker.  Though the film is removed enough from the source material that the author of the 1979 novel isn’t even mentioned (it’s Scott Spencer by the way) it still retains the names and certain plot developments.

Instead of love being in full bloom at the beginning, Jade (Gabriella Wilde, maybe the best thing in the recent remake of Carrie) and David (Alex Pettyfer, maybe the worst thing in 2012’s Magic Mike) aren’t even acquaintances at the start of the film.  Blue collar David pines for upper-crust Jade but it takes a chance encounter at Jade’s country club for valet David to get into her eye line.  From there, as the tagline of the film states, Say Goodbye to Innocence.

The infamous scene from the original which found Jade’s mother watching her daughter and David make love in front of a fireplace with googly eyes is thankfully nowhere to be found…though a fireplace does play into the eventual coupling.  Instead of it being David against the family, the film is more focused on how Jade’s father (an always dependable Bruce Greenwood, Flight, Devil’s Knot) takes issue with his medical-school bound daughter risking her future on a boy with none to speak of.

I always get a little squirmy with the whole “Dad Doesn’t Like Boyfriend, Prefers to Keep Daughter a Child Forever” arcs because it seems a little pervish to me.  Director/screenwriter Shana Feste (Country Strong) does us a solid and doesn’t bother hammering this point home…but this odd obsession with his daughter’s romantic relationship hangs in the air longer than necessary.

For a movie set in the heat of a Georgia summer, it has a remarkable amount of foreign actors doing their darndest to hide their accents to varying degrees of success.  Of the eight top billed stars, only one is American (Robert Patrick as David’s mechanic father) and the rest find themselves struggling with putting a southern twist on the dialogue.  Joely Richardson (also appearing now in the dreadful Vampire Academy) seems to want to do something more with her character but can’t find a way to rise above an underwritten role.  The less said about supporting players Rhys Wakefield (The Purge), obnoxious Dayo Okeniyi, and especially puffer lipped Emma Rigby, the better.

Even though this has its fair share of eye-rolls at the non-problems that somehow become major issues, when all is said and done credit must be given to Feste and company for putting a spit-shine on what could have been a real slog of a film.  It’s light years better than the tawdry trash of the original and works almost in spite of itself.  Recommended for those who are accustomed to easily shrugging off watching a Lifetime movie on a rainy Sunday.

 

Movie Review ~ Vampire Academy

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The Facts:

Synopsis: Rose, a rebellious Guardian-in-training and her best friend, Lissa – a royal vampire Princess – have been on the run when they are captured and returned to St.Vladamirs Academy, the very place where they believe their lives may be in most jeopardy.

Stars: Zoey Deutch, Lucy Fry, Danila Kozlovsky, Gabriel Byrne, Sarah Hyland, Joely Richardson, Cameron Monaghan, Sami Gayle, Claire Foy, Ashley Charles, Olga Kurylenko

Director: Mark Waters

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 104 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (2/10)

Review: Vampire Academy sucks.  It bites.  It’s a stake through the heart of YA adaptations capitalizing on the success of franchise films like the Harry Potter series and, to a lesser extent than you might imagine, Twilight.  It’s toothless in its construction and bloodless in its execution.  Yes, my fangs are bared and my bad puns are all but used up for this cheap looking, badly acted mess that could have gone so right but finds itself oh so very wrong.

With the director of Mean Girls (Mark Waters) and the writer of Heathers (Daniel Waters, yep, they’re brothers) involved I was expecting a nice mash-up of those two films with a little bit of Jawbreaker thrown in for good measure.  Sadly, none of the sparks that made those movies a pleasure (guilty or otherwise) exist here so we’re left to wonder what in the hell went askew.

When a film isn’t screened for critics it’s usually never a positive sign but there was something that compelled me to see the film anyway, possibly hoping that this high school fantasy was just not designed for critical consumption.  Based on the first novel in Richelle Mead’s popular series, the film follows Rose (Zoey Deutch, daughter of 80’s royalty Lea Thompson and director Howard Deutch) and Lissa (Lucy Fry), two girls bonded together by an age-old prophecy and their (mis)adventures in a prestigious boarding school for vampires.

An early prologue contains so much rote exposition to bring the audience up to speed that I half expected the actors to start saying things like “I’m opening a door. I’m sitting on a bed.  I’m looking dazed at the moment”.  Filmed in such non-descript locales suggesting the filmmakers secretly filmed in IKEA showrooms, it’s not long before Rose and Lissa are back on the ground of St. Vladimrs Academy and thrust back into a dangerous plot…the one thing Daniels Waters script doesn’t bother to flesh out.

Remember that scene in Showgirls where veteran dancer Cristal Connors asks newbie Nomi Malone to rehearse with her, only to have a cat fight stop rehearsal five seconds in?  There are at least three of passages like that here with Rose getting “trained” by the hunky Dimitri (Danila Kozlovsky) in enough time for the two to engage in badly timed fight choreography that ends with them staring longingly  at each other.  While Deutch has an Ellen Page vibe about her that’s mildly engaging, Kozlovsky is pretty much just an Aqua di Gio ad come to life.

This lack of personality in its characters is really where the film trips and falls, we can excuse Deutch’s milquetoast line readings for a while but when she’s paired with Fry the tone becomes incredibly deadly.  About as appealing as a glass of room temperature milk, Fry is supposed to be a regal princess but her cracking voice and penchant for wearing ankle length skirts gives off more Amish Princess than Vampire Royal.  The costume and make-up design is across the board awful and I can’t imagine any of the women in the film were happy that they wound up with rouged cheeks that suggest a playful three year old applied it.

The film earns two whole stars for including two bits of biting dialogue that hints at the direction the film should have gone.  Both occur too late in the film to save us from abject misery but in the hands of Olga Kurylenko (Quantum of Solace, Oblivion) and Sarah Hyland they were the most memorable moments of an entirely forgettable film.  Never deciding if it wants to be a satiric black comedy or a dewey young adult fantasy, it winds up turning to dust the moment the lights come up.

Laughably (but laudably) ending with the promise of a sequel, this movie should never have happened.  Even if the airwaves are chock full of vampire series right now, this would have been much better suited as a weekly television series because the episodic nature would have made more sense.  To the big screen the money hungry producers went, though, leaving the film to go the way of other franchise non-starters like Beautiful Creatures and The Mortal Instruments: The City of Bones.  Terrible.

The Silver Bullet ~ Vampire Academy

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Synopsis: Based on author Richelle Mead’s worldwide bestselling series, Vampire Academy tells the legend of two 17-year-old girls who attend a hidden boarding school for Moroi (mortal, peaceful vampires) and Dhampirs (half-vampire/half-human guardians).

Release Date: February 14, 2014

Thoughts: If this adaptation of Richelle Mead’s popular YA novel looks a little bit like Mean Girls meets Heathers with vampire twist, you won’t be too shocked to hear that it’s directed by Mark Waters from a script by Daniel Waters and though the two aren’t related Mark directed Mean Girls and Daniel wrote Heathers.  It’s tough to say if audiences will line up for another vampire series so soon after the Twilight saga ended and the cinematic tide has changed to zombie love…but with a sassy bite to it the movie could turn out to be a harmless guilty pleasure.

Movie Review ~ Thanks for Sharing

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The Facts:

Synopsis: A romantic comedy that brings together three disparate characters who are learning to face a challenging and often confusing world as they struggle together against a common demon: sex addiction.

Stars: Mark Ruffalo, Tim Robbins, Gwyneth Paltrow, Joely Richardson, Patrick Fugit, Josh Gad, Alecia Moore

Director: Stuart Blumberg

Rated: R

Running Length: 112 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (3/10)

Review: I was supposed to attend a screening of Thanks for Sharing with a friend visiting from out of town.  Plans changed at the last minute so I found myself in the theater alone for an early morning look at this dramedy and for the first 45 minutes, I was disappointed that I was there solo.  You see, I thought my friend was missing out on a chance to see a breezy and engaging look into the lives of several members of a support group for sex addiction.  It wasn’t long after that first quarter hour, though, that I began to realize my friend was the lucky one in this equation.

It’s around the halfway point that the film becomes aimless and worst of all, charmless.  The congenial air that writer/director Stuart Blumberg (The Kids Are All Right) pumps into the first half is deflated by a second act that gets bogged down in trivial emotions and obnoxious performances.  What’s left must be seen as an unbalanced cinematic outing, one that never reclaims the promise of independence that arrived at the outset.

So what went wrong, exactly?

The success story here is the charming courtship of recovering sex addict Mark Ruffalo (Marvel’s The Avengers, Now You See Me) and cancer survivor Gwyneth Paltrow (Iron Man 3).  She’s dealt with death, recovered, and doesn’t want to spend her time worrying about a mate that has serious hang-ups.  Ruffalo sees that that poses a problem for their future so forgets to mention the meetings he attends and why he may not want to go all the way on the first date.  Instead of this turning into another “Big Secret I Can’t Tell” frustrating plot device, Blumberg deals with it rather succinctly and lets this adult relationship go through its peaks and valleys naturally.  Ruffalo is one of the most underrated actors, respected though he is, and his contribution to this film is invaluable.  Paltrow, too, succeeds in role where we feel she’s letting her guard down and really being the amiable person she appears to be.

Good work also comes from Tim Robbins (The Shawshank Redemption), Joely Richardson (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) and Patrick Fugit (We Bought a Zoo) as a family of addicts/enablers cautiously finding new footing and trying to forgive the past.  Though Robbins tends to speak in dime store self-help book talk, the actor brings a certain gravitas to the dialogue that makes it ring true.

The problem couple here is a greatly miscast Alecia Moore (aka Pink) and the ever-annoying Josh Gad.  Moore is a gifted musician and songwriter and it’s probably best she stick to music because her acting isn’t convincing in the least, watching her struggle through some serious scenes isn’t very fun.  Gad’s man-child shtick was old the minute he used it in Love & Other Drugs and though he’s had good showings in 2013 with The Internship and jOBS, he’s back in Jack Black-wannabe form here.

I’d say the problem lies less with Blumberg’s script, contrived and conventional as it is, but in its ensemble structure.  The best kinds of ensemble pictures (e.g. any Robert Altman film) succeed because every character is interesting/appealing in some way or another.  If we don’t like peeking in the lives of the people featured in overlapping stories, there’s room for the audience to start to distance themselves from the ensemble as a whole.

Thanks, but no Thanks.

The Silver Bullet ~ Endless Love (2014)

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Synopsis: The story of a privileged girl and a charismatic boy whose instant desire sparks a love affair made only more reckless by parents trying to keep them apart.

Release Date: February 14, 2014

Thoughts: Scott Spencer’s 1979 novel about young love gone wrong was already made into a film in 1981 to less than satisfying results.  In fact, the movie is best remembered not for its star Brooke Shields and respected director Franco Zeffirelli but for the Diana Ross/Lionel Richie theme song and an early appearance of Tom Cruise.  This 2014 remake might just right some past wrongs by the looks of this first trailer which strikes some ominous notes that may make you think you’re watching a sequel to 1996’s Fear (which was, in turn, compared to Endless Love in its initial release).  Alex Pettyfer (Magic Mike) and Gabriella Wilde (2013’s Carrie) are the young stars and I predict that Wilde is someone to keep your eye on.  How this plays when it’s released on Valentine’s Day remains to be seen…but I’m guessing the time is right for an update.

The Silver Bullet ~ Thanks for Sharing

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Synopsis: A romantic comedy that follows the lives of three friends who meet while attending 12-step meetings to help treat their addiction to sex.

Release Date:  September 20, 2013

Thoughts: Oscar winners Tim Robbins and Gwyneth Paltrow join Mark Ruffalo (Marvel’s The Avengers), Josh Gad (The Internship, jOBS), and Alecia Moore (aka singer Pink) star in a comedy from one of the writers of The Kids are Alright, in what could be considered edgy material in some circles.  Though group meetings for sex addiction may raise some eyebrows, this seems to be a harmless (read, slight) opportunity for more than a few of the above actors to not take themselves so seriously.  I’m hoping the script shapes up to be more about finding some healthy balance in relationships rather than exploring the nether regions of material we’ve seen before.