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 ~ Still Alice

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The Facts:

Synopsis: Alice Howland, happily married with three grown children, is a renowned linguistics professor who starts to forget words. When she receives a devastating diagnosis, Alice and her family find their bonds tested.

Stars: Julianne Moore, Alec Baldwin, Kristen Stewart, Kate Bosworth

Directors: Richard Glatzer, Wash Westmoreland

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 101 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (8/10)

Review:  It’s happened before…actors have been nominated for Oscars, deserved to win, and lost.  The next time they’re nominated maybe they win…but often it’s not for the movie that they really earned their Oscar gold for.  I could give examples (coughcoughRusselCroweinGladiatorareyoukiddingme?coughcough) but I’ll instead just say that though she’s been nominated for an Academy Award four times before, if Julianne Moore wins for her work in Still Alice (and she really, really should) it wouldn’t be for any other reason than her performance is worthy, moving, and delivered with a fierce honesty.

As a brilliant linguistics professor diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s disease, Moore (The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio, Non-Stop, Don Jon) takes us through the stages of denial and acceptance as her character fights to maintain the life she’s led and the future she so desperately wants to keep intact.  With her husband as supportive as he can be and three children to think of, Alice charts a new course to a future while it’s still within her control.

As adapted by co-writers/directors Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland from Lisa Genova’s 2007 novel, Still Alice doesn’t pull any punches nor is it a downer of a film.  By dealing with the illness head-on, it breaks down the walls of mystery that surround Alzheimer’s disease, allowing for the truth about its effects on families to come through.

Alec Baldwin (Blue Jasmine) is a bit of an odd presence here.  Though Baldwin and Moore have a generally believable rapport as married scholars that can wax on about textbooks till the sun comes up, there’s something slightly missing from Baldwin’s overall presentation of the healthy spouse gradually realizing his own limitations to fully assist his ailing wife.  Kate Bosworth (Homefront) is the oldest child trying to start a family of her own and Hunter Parrish is the son that turns up with a new girlfriend for each family occasion.  Both roles aren’t as well-defined but Parrish and especially Bosworth admirably make the most of their time onscreen to not simply be reactionary to the catalyst of the disease.

Then there’s the youngest child, played by Kristen Stewart (Snow White and the Huntsman) in a turn that makes you forget the Twilight movies ever happened.  Stewart isn’t a bad actress, just the unfortunate victim of hitching her wagon to an oft-reviled series of films that opened the door for numerous treacly imitations to clog movie houses.  In Still Alice, we get to see Stewart back in fine form as the rebellious child that doesn’t see a lot of herself in either of her parents…especially not her mother.

It’s Moore’s film, make no doubt about that, but her generosity is such that every other actor she comes in contact with is made to look that much better because they have such a great scene partner.  As her character begins to forget more and more, we see her frustration manifest itself in small ways that become more heartbreaking as they get increasingly personal.  The first time Moore forgets one of her children (albeit briefly) nearly sent me over the edge but it’s when she stands in front of a conference for those suffering from Alzheimer’s and states “I’m not suffering, I’m struggling” that you’ll want to have a Kleenex on standby.

It’s interesting to note that co-directors Glatzer and Westmoreland are married in real life and that Glatzer suffers from ALS.  During the making of Still Alice Glatzer’s condition got so bad that he had to direct part of the movie using a speech-to-voice app on his iPad.  Considering the couple behind the scenes making the movie may be going through something similar to what Moore and Baldwin’s characters are experiencing help to give the film a real sense of dignity and unwavering grace in the face of a degenerative illness.

Is it Moore’s year to win her Oscar?  I sure think it is and even if some have said the Best Actress category is weak this year (um, did you see the impressively varied work of the other nominees?) there’s no denying that Moore’s performance stands tall above the others.  It’s also nice to report that the film itself is quite good, a bonus when you consider how many Oscars go to strong performances in otherwise weak films (coughcoughMerylStreepinTheIronLadycoughcough).  Now if you’ll pardon me, I have to get this cough looked at.

The Silver Bullet ~ Still Alice

still_alice

Synopsis: Alice Howland, happily married with three grown children, is a renowned linguistics professor who starts to forget words. When she receives a devastating diagnosis, Alice and her family find their bonds tested.

Release Date: January 16, 2015

Thoughts: Will this be the year that four-time Oscar nominee Julianne Moore finally takes home the trophy? Even turning up in the silly Non-Stop hasn’t seemed to hurt her chances at making her way to The Academy Awards come February. Between the buzzed about performances in Still Alice and Maps to the Stars (not to mention a nicely nuanced turn in The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1), Moore is having a killer 2014. Odds seem to be good she’ll be nominated for both films but even money says Still Alice is a lock and after a look at the trailer showing Moore as a successful woman coming to terms with her early onset Alzheimer’s it’s easy to see why. Co-starring Alec Baldwin (Blue Jasmine), Kristen Stewart (Snow White and the Huntsman), and Kate Bosworth (Homefront), it’s sure to be Moore’s show but she seems to be in good company.

Movie Review ~ Homefront

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The Facts:

Synopsis: A former DEA agent moves his family to a quiet town, where he soon tangles with a local meth druglord.

Stars: Jason Statham, James Franco, Winona Ryder, Kate Bosworth, Frank Gillo, Izabela Vidovic

Director: Gary Fleder

Rated: R

Running Length: 100 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (6/10)

Review:  What possessed the filmmakers to put star Jason Statham in such a hilariously awful wig for the ten minute prologue of Homefront is a mystery akin to the whereabouts of the remains of Jimmy Hoffa.

If you can make it past the truly awful first moments of Homefront (and trust me, it’s reach for the remote bad), you’ll find that a better movie emerges after the opening credits have run.

Sylvester Stallone (The Expendables 2) had long wanted to bring DEA Agent Phil Broker to life on screen and had held the rights to Chuck Logan’s novel Homefront for years.  After renewing his option to the material several times, Stallone wisely realized that he was too long in the tooth and heavy on the filler to play the middle aged agent and adapted the screenplay into a star vehicle for friend Statham (who also turned in another good 2013 performance in the undervalued Parker).

Statham has never been called on to use much in the way of actual acting chops before, favoring karate chops instead so this was a nice departure for the action star.  Though the screenplay maybe takes the actor too far into sentimental territory, it’s bursting with Stallone’s “integrity above all else” morals that he’s so in favor of putting into his screenplays.

After a small potatoes incident on a school playground puts Statham’s single father at odds with the hick-ish parents of a bully, he gets into even more trouble when the bully’s uncle (a small time drug kingpin played by James Franco, This Is the End) is called in to teach Statham and family a lesson.  When Statham strikes back, it sets into motion events that will put his idyllic life in jeopardy as Franco and his girlfriend (an ageless Winona Ryder, Frankenweenie) make a play for the big time by turning Statham over to some bad guys out to settle an old score.

Though the film has about five climaxes (all more than decent sequences, I should say), there’s no escaping the fact that there’s more loose ends in the film that there are complete sentences.  Characters (like a pretty schoolteacher that Statham and his daughter take a shine to) appear and disappear, never to be heard from again and there’s an element of convenience in every twist the film introduces.  Even so, the film works almost in spite of itself.

Let’s be clear: there’s absolutely nothing new in the film as directed by Gary Fleder (Kiss the Girls) or in Stallone’s script.  Whatever opinion you’ve formed about the movie from the preview is exactly the kind of movie you’re going to get…and that may not be a bad thing if you know what you’re getting into.  You may actually feel better about the film waiting to watch it on Netflix or picking it up from Redbox.  Miss it in the theater but consider giving it a look when it’s easier to fast forward through the prologue.

The Silver Bullet ~ Homefront

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Synopsis: A former DEA agent moves his family to a quiet town, where he soon tangles with a local meth druglord.

Release Date:  November 27, 2013

Thoughts:  Just looking at the poster for this thriller you’d get the impression that this was merely another Jason Statham (Parker, The Expendables 2) beat-down movie.  While the latter half of the preview indicates that butts will be kicked by Mr. Statham, I was impressed that the set-up seems deeper than similar movies that have come out of Statham’s wheelhouse.  Boasting an impressive stew of actors (and James Franco, Oz the Great and Powerful), Homefront is mysteriously arriving during Thanksgiving where I’m wondering if it will have any target audience available to buy a ticket when other higher profile films are releasing around that time.  Time will tell if Turkey Day will find crowds lining up for this or Frozen, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, and The Wolf of Wall Street.

Oh, did I forget to mention this was adapted from Chuck Logan’s novel by Sylvester Stallone for his old pal Jason Statham?  It actually makes me more interested…

The Silver Bullet ~ Movie 43

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Synopsis: An ensemble comedy intertwining different tales.

Release Date:  January 25, 2013

Thoughts: Here’s a film I’ve been hearing about for a while now thanks to a word of mouth publicity campaign.  Though it reminds me a lot of the uneven semi-classic Kentucky Fried Movie, this particular entry sold me on the cast list alone.  You have Oscar nominated/winning females (Naomi Watts, Uma Thurman, Kate Winslet, Halle Berry) side by side with men that run the gamut from A-List (Hugh Jackman, Richard Gere) to has beens (sorry fellow MN Seann William Scott).  Many famous faces/names also wrote and directed the shorts so here’s hoping that the good stuff is great and the bad stuff is short.  I’ve laughed at this trailer (and its Not Safe For Work red band trailer here) and do anticipate liking this when it’s released later in January.

The Silver Bullet ~ Black Rock

BlackRock

Synopsis: Three childhood friends set aside their personal issues and reunite for a girls’ weekend on a remote island off the coast of Maine. One wrong move turns their weekend getaway into a deadly fight for survival.

Release Date:  May 17, 2013

Thoughts: Before you write this one off completely (which the ho-hum trailer practically encourages you to do) keep in mind that the screenplay was written by Mark Duplass.  Duplass has been on a bit of a roll in the past few years directing films with his brother (Jeff, Who Lives at Home) and carving out a nice little acting career for himself as well (Safety Not Guaranteed).  I’m always wary when the director is one of the stars of the film so we’ll see if Katie Aselton (also married to Duplass) has the chops to keep things afloat.  Overall, this looks like a smarmy sorta film…one you wouldn’t mind choosing from a list of freebies On Demand.