In Praise of Teasers ~ In the Line of Fire (1993)

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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.

Missed my previous teaser reviews? Check out my look at Alien, Misery, Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Showgirls, Jurassic Park, Jaws 3D/Jaws: The Revenge, Total Recall, Halloween II: Season of the Witch

Movie Review ~ Red 2

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The Facts:

Synopsis: Retired C.I.A. agent Frank Moses reunites his unlikely team of elite operatives for a global quest to track down a missing portable nuclear device.

Stars: Bruce Willis, John Malkovich, Mary-Louise Parker, Anthony Hopkins, Helen Mirren, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Byung Hun Lee, Brian Cox, Neal McDonough

Director: Dean Parisot

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 116 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (4/10)

Review:  Merriam-Webster defines goofy as “being crazy, ridiculous, or mildly ludicrous” and also defines silly as “exhibiting or indicative of a lack of common sense or sound judgment”.  Based on a popular graphic novel from DC Comics, 2010’s original Red was a film of goofy fun that was a surprise sleeper hit at the box office thanks in no small part to its game cast willing to poke fun at their gradual over-the-hill-ness.  Unfortunately, the sequel falls into the silly category with the gang reassembled for a movie that feels constructed for a quick buck.

Red 2 throws the audience right back into the middle of the lives of Frank (Bruce Willis, Looper, Moonrise Kingdom), Marvin (John Malkovich, Warm Bodies), and Victoria (Helen Mirren, The Door, Monsters University)…all supposedly classified as Retired and Extremely Dangerous (RED).  It’s hard to put the gun down though so all three still get in on the occasional action, though Frank is more focused on shopping at Costco with his quirky love Sarah (Mary-Louise Parker) than playing international spy.

Elements from a mission from Frank’s past pop up suggesting his involvement with smuggling a nuclear device into Russia and that’s when Frank, Marvin, and Sarah have to go on the run to avoid several interested parties in getting their hands on the device and Frank.  This leads to a globe hopping mission that would make James Bond airsick and is punctuated by title cards announcing the latest destination in a redundant fashion (i.e. one moment we are in “England” and then it’s “London”)

Willis is a curious actor that seems to appear in no less than twenty films a year, many of them instantly forgettable.  Still, I enjoy the fact that he seems to realize where he sits on the Hollywood food chain and happily takes the money from the work he gets.  As always, Malkovich keeps things interesting while Parker instills her character with perhaps one too many layers, effectively short-sheeting herself.  You can almost hear Mirren’s eyes rolling throughout the film, yet she comes out largely unscathed thanks to the actress tackling the material and forcing it into submission.

As is the case with most sequels, this one gathers some new folks to replace those that didn’t survive the first film and that’s where the movie starts its rapid swerve off course.  Korean assassin Han Cho Bai (sleepy looking Byung-hun Lee, so much more effective in the nightmare-inducing I Saw the Devil) has some beef with Frank and a running gag of Frank stealing Han’s private plane has little mileage.  Neal McDonough’s American assassin is so perfunctory it almost seems like he was filming scenes for another movie.  While Anthony Hopkins (Hitchcock) is an interesting choice for the role of a looped-out scientist, the script by returning screenwriters Jon and Eric Hoeber never gives the award-winning actor much room to breathe and the result is a stifled performance.

Then there’s Catherine Zeta-Jones (Rock of Ages, Side Effects) as a Russian with the most pronounced Welsh-accent in film history.  I thought several times that Zeta-Jones might just make a meal out of the kitten-esque spy role but she’s treated so poorly by the script that she becomes yet another casualty of uninspired creativity.  In the end, the most dramatic thing about her is her bangs.

Instead of the tongue and cheek approach Robert Schwentke brought to the original, director Dean Parisot instead takes to sticking his tongue out at the audience who paid money to see this overly jokey film that takes shameless product placements to new levels.  It simply never finds its footing and has too many holes and passages that can’t be taken seriously.  The action sequences are devoid of any excitement and its PG-13 rating means that while lots of guns get fired and bombs explode there is nary a speck of blood in the entire film.  I’m not advocating for splatter sprayed all around just for the hell of it but the film was clearly trimmed of any/all serious violence to stay within its rating.

Red 2 is the most disappointing kind of sequel – one that tries to outdo the first without tipping its hat to any of the elements that made the original so appealing.  It’s a lazy and cheap looking film that might make for a decent rental down the road on a day you’re home sick from work.  That way, you can fall asleep in your own bed rather than in a movie theater and not feel quite as guilty.  Skip it.

The Silver Bullet ~ Red 2

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Synopsis: Frank Moses and his motley crew of retired assassins return for a second outing.

Release Date:  July 19, 2013

Thoughts: In 2010, RED was an unexpected fall hit, propelling a sequel forward with much of the original cast in tow.  The nicely constructed first film was an oddball mix of action, comedy, and violence that played into the strengths of people like Bruce Willis while letting a star of Helen Mirren’s ilk go guns ‘a blazin’.  The sequel looks to be more of the same and in true Oceans 11 fashion more big names have been added to the list like Oscar winners Catherine Zeta-Jones and Anthony Hopkins.  With new director Dean Parisot (taking over for Robert Schwentke who had his hands full with R.I.P.D) I’m hoping the same light touch is maintained, making this second film the first of several sequels.

Movie Review ~ Warm Bodies

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The Facts:

Synopsis: After a zombie becomes involved with the girlfriend of one of his victims, their romance sets in motion a sequence of events that might transform the entire lifeless world.

Stars: Nicholas Hoult, Teresa Palmer, Rob Corddry, John Malkovich, Analeigh Tipton, Dave Franco

Director: Jonathan Levine

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 97 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (8/10)

Review:  Though it won’t be released until early February, fans of quirky romance films will want to make some space in their schedule for Warm Bodies.  It’s a unique love story that successfully brings together several different genres and themes to form a successful and quite entertaining winner of a picture.  There’s enough going on in the movie to satisfy the needs of most moviegoers.  If you’re looking for zombie action, there are brains to be eaten.  If you’re starved for a romance and can’t wait for Safe Haven or Beautiful Creatures, you’re in luck because the chemistry between our two leads is wonderful and flows freely from the screen. 

Adapted by director Levine (50/50) from a novel by Isaac Marion, Warm Bodies opens like many post-apocalyptic zombie films do…with legions of slow-moving undead milling about a deserted location (in this case, an airport).  We’re introduced to R (Hoult), a different kind of zombie that will be our engaging narrator and star for the next 97 minutes.  With a wry sense of humor to his narration, R remarks on his situation as a zombie and provides clever commentary on the state of the world. 

On a routine feeding, R happens to chomp down on someone close to Julie (Palmer) and when he catches her eye his undead heart doesn’t so much skip as beat as it does start to beat again.  Protecting Julie from his fellow zombies is a relatively easy task and removes unnecessary suspense from what happens next. You see, the connection R and Julie have over the next few days sparks something in the zombies of the world…a spark that could change the fate of everyone both living and dead. 

The movie is so centrally focused on R and Julie that without the right leads the movie would have been as ho-hum as they come.  Levine has aced his casting exam here by hiring two very good actors that fit together with their parts and each other so well.  Hoult in particular is one of the most endearing zombies you’re likely to meet and his performance is reason enough to see the film.  Looking alarmingly like a young Tom Cruise, Hoult captures the frustration going on inside R with genuine pathos without being as emo as his hair and outfit would suggest.  His leading lady is no slouch either with Palmer (a blonde doppelganger for Kristen Stewart…and a better actor too!) keeping pace with him by turning on her own blend of charm. 

Hoult and Palmer share much of their onscreen time together in an honest dance between two people that shouldn’t be in love but find themselves hopelessly headfirst in the thick of it.  Levine uses a diverse soundtrack to chart the course of their courtship…the music springs forth mostly from a record player and is occasionally sweetened by composers Marco Beltrami and Buck Sanders. 

Supporting our two lovebirds is Malkovich as Palmer’s father who just happens to be the militant leader of an army that hunts down corpses just like R.  Tipton is a snazzy hoot as Palmer’s best friend as is a nicely restrained Corddry as R’s fellow zombie bud.

Even working with a smaller budget, there are a few nice effects here with the Bonies (zombies that have deteriorated to just bones) adding an extra bump of adrenaline to a few action sequences.  It’s actually in these moments where the movie feels the most flat…probably because the action can’t manage to be more entertaining than the one on one scenes between R and Julie.

If you’re paying attention, you’ll draw some parallels between this film and another classic tale (just look at the character names if you’re stumped) but try not to jump too far ahead of the film that’s in front of you.  With assured performances from Palmer and especially Hoult partnering nicely with Levine’s easy-going direction, Warm Bodies created a nice warm feeling in this viewer – it’s not going to change the face of the romance picture but it’s worthwhile, quality entertainment that I’m happy to recommend.

The Silver Bullet ~ Warm Bodies

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Synopsis: After a zombie becomes involved with the girlfriend of one of his victims, their romance sets in motion a sequence of events that might transform the entire lifeless world.

Release Date:  February 1, 2013

Thoughts: The resurgence of the zombie craze has inspired some interesting projects.  The gigantic popularity of TV’s The Walking Dead has given cable television another hit and 2013’s World War Z is hoping for summer blockbuster status.  Throwing the genre a bit on its ear, Warm Bodies looks like any other troubled teen romance…until you consider that one of the teens is a member of the undead.  What’s interesting about this film is the appearance that everyone is in on the joke-y nature of the premise…which could spell a lot of fun for audiences.  An appealing cast and promising director (Jonathan Levine did great work with 2011’s 50/50) are added bonuses.