Movie Review ~ The Other Woman

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The Facts:

Synopsis: After discovering her boyfriend is married, Carly soon meets the wife he’s been cheating on. And when yet another affair is discovered, all three women team up to plot mutual revenge on the three-timing SOB.

Stars: Cameron Diaz, Leslie Mann, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Kate Upton, Taylor Kinney, Nicki Minaj

Director: Nick Cassavetes

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 109 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (6.5/10)

Review: In my review of the trailer for The Other Woman, I remarked that I felt the movie looked “like a mash-up of Outrageous Fortune and The First Wives Club” and that wasn’t too far off the mark. Actually, I’d add a few other girl power movies to that stew as well…titles like 9 to 5 and The Witches of Eastwick popped into my mind occasionally as this pretty flimsy but modestly entertaining film breezed by.

Probably destined to be added to the selections to consider at a Friday night martini slumber party for best girlfriends, The Other Woman brings nothing new to the landscape of female driven comedies. This is thanks in no small part to a hackneyed script from first timer Melissa K. Stack and slack direction from Nick Cassavetes (The Notebook). Both screenwriter and director let the film get away from them, with jokes that go on to long and a bizarre final dénouement that feels too heavy to rest of the shoulders of what had up until that point been a feather light revenge comedy.

What keeps the film afloat is a performance from Cameron Diaz that finds the actress at her most fresh, focused, and funny. Diaz is an actress that I have a love-hate relationship with…her film roles have always frustratingly reflected an actress that doesn’t want to be pigeonholed (The Counselor, What to Expect When You’re Expecting), but her talent clearly lies in comedy and her new film reflects a return to form that I welcomed with open arms. Decked out in svelte clothes that show off her just-past 40 bod and residing in the kind of glam NYC apartment that seems appropriate for a high powered attorney, Diaz brings her A game to what is a B- picture.

Second billed Leslie Mann (Rio, Rio 2) had something to prove to me: could she thrive in a film not directed by her husband (Judd Apatow…responsible for directing Mann in the heinous This is 40) and for the most part Mann keeps things on the up and up. I was worried at first that her voice was going to grate my eardrums like a block of cheese (it’s actually the awful Nicki Minaj, barely in the movie as Diaz’s annoying assistant that will make your ears bleed) but thankfully a brief adjustment period brought forth a ribald side to Mann that shows she can be ballsy without being Apatow-like crude. Even so, every now and then when a comedic bit would go on too long I couldn’t help but wonder if Apatow was on set that day.

Mann and Diaz are the wife and mistress of a businessman (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Mama, Headhunters) that discover each other by accident. Unable to confront her husband or talk to any of their mutual friends about the infidelity, she turns to Diaz for a toned shoulder to cry on. Initially hesitant to buddy up with the wife of her flame, Diaz is soon won over by milquetoast Mann and in short order the ladies raid Diaz’s closet, braid each other’s hair, have at least two drunk scenes, and then find out hubby is cheating on both of them with a Hamptons beach bunny, played by the buxom swimsuit model Kate Upton that’s been blessed with a fine figure yet not one scintilla of acting promise. Somehow, the three jiltees team up to take down Mr. Cheater but by then the movie is half over and there’s barely time to throw in some last minute shenanigans about embezzlement, an afterthought of a romance for Diaz (the genial Taylor Kinney), and an extended trip to the Bahamas which seemed like an expensive excuse for Diaz, Mann, and Upton to work on their tans.

Then there’s that ending. Comeuppance is always the payoff in these films yet what Stack worked up and how Cassavetes filmed it makes it feel like it came from a different, darker film. It doesn’t help matters that Coster-Waldau plays these final moments like he’s auditioning for a Scorsese film and overall isn’t very good as the philandering husband, never finding the balance between charm and smarm.

With several continuity errors, equipment visible (I saw Diaz’s wireless mic pack twice), and messy overdubbing to remove swear words that would have brought the film to an R rating, the film feels a little choppy though it does manage to find some smooth waters for Diaz and Mann to sail in. There are certain movie theaters that let you bring drinks to your seat with you and The Other Woman is one where a daiquiri, martini, or Long Island ice tea would enhance the experience quite nicely. Not terrible, not great…it’s sophisticated and funny enough to get a slight recommendation from me.

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The Silver Bullet ~ The Other Woman

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Synopsis: After realizing she is not her boyfriend’s primary lover, a woman teams up with his wife and plots mutual revenge.

Release Date: April 25, 2014

Thoughts: I blame only myself…just a few days ago I was talking with a friend and commenting how thankful I was that overrated rapper Nicki Minaj had yet to make the leap from video star to movie star.  Then I catch Minaj in the trailer for The Other Woman and realize that I probably cosmically jinxed myself.  It looks as though Minaj plays a supporting role in the revenge comedy, leaving the heavy lifting to Cameron Diaz (The Counselor, What to Expect When You’re Expecting) and Leslie Mann (This is 40).  Coming off like a mash-up of Outrageous Fortune and The First Wives Club, The Other Woman doesn’t appear to be more than a standard “girls rule, boys drool” kinda affair and though I find Diaz and Mann and costar Nikolaj Coster-Waldau (Headhunters, Mama) to be intermittently enjoyable this isn’t one I’d put high on my list.

Movie Review ~ Oblivion

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The Facts:

Synopsis: A veteran assigned to extract Earth’s remaining resources begins to question what he knows about his mission and himself.

Stars: Tom Cruise, Morgan Freeman, Olga Kurylenko, Andrea Riseborough, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Melissa Leo

Director: Joseph Kosinski

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 124 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (8/10)

Review:  I’ll start this review with an admission of bias: I really like futuristic sci-fi films set in a dystopian climate.  From Prometheus to Moon to 2001: A Space Odyssey to 2010: The Year We Make Contact, I just really respond to the chilliness of the whole genre.  So it’s no surprise that early trailers for Oblivion caught my eye and I made it a point to see this film on the biggest screen possible to immerse myself in the world created by director Kosinski (Tron: Legacy) and screenwriters Karl Gajdusek, Michael DeBruyn (who adapted Kosinski original graphic novel)

A lot of people had issues with Kosinski’s Tron: Legacy feeling that it was a meal that looked good but offered no sustenance.  I can see where those detractors were coming from but found that film to be better than its predecessor decades earlier.  Kosinski wisely knows how to use current technology to make a future world look sleek and believable and though Oblivion isn’t as all tech consuming as Tron: Legacy was it’s still a strong entry into the sci-fi genre.

Plot-wise, there’s not a lot here that you haven’t seen before if you’re a fan of science fiction of any kind.  The notion of a future world suffering the after effects of a war with an alien race has been done to death from the truly great films to the very awful direct to television offerings.  What sets this one apart, though, is a focus on stronger character development, impressive visual effects,  and a crack cast that knows exactly what kind of movie they are operating in.

Star Tom Cruise is having a nice renaissance after several years of being the punch line to a never-ending onslaught of couch jumping jokes.  Though he started 2012 strong with Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, his next two films didn’t catch fire like everyone had hoped…though to be fair Rock of Ages was a nightmare film with Cruise the only saving grace.  December’s Jack Reacher was vastly underrated and should have been a bigger hit. Oblivion has put Crusie back into a fighting spirit and for good reason…it’s a role tailor made for the action star and it gives him a chance to kick butt while showing a lighter side too.

He’s supported ably by two strong females.  Andrea Riseborough may be my new star to watch…after turning up in Madonna’s directorial debut W/E, she delivered a layered performance in Disconnect and her role here as Cruise’s partner in work and love is nicely complex. We’re never quite sure what side she’s on and even when we think we’ve figured it out, the film throws some nice twists in to keep us guessing.  Kurylenko (Quantum of Solace) plays a character with secrets I shan’t give away but proves to be more than a woman that Cruise has to merely save.

Don’t be deceived by ads (or the above poster) that show Morgan Freeman playing a main role in the film.  While he does hold some significance his screen time is severely limited, ending up being more of a cameo appearance than anything.  Melissa Leo is one of the most earnest actresses out there so one should watch her performance here carefully…after the film is over her restraint is quite telling.

Seen in an IMAX theater, Oblivion has a lot of sound and fury…signifying something.  It’s a booming picture with amazing visuals and a sound design seemingly meant to test the sound proofing on any theater (as the credits were rolling I was almost out the door to the theater and could still hear the film playing).  The soundtrack by M83 is electronic heavy (I originally though Tron: Legacy composers Daft Punk had been tapped again for the soundtrack) and works nicely into the action.

This is a film that really should be seen first in the theater for the visuals alone.  It’s not going to revolutionize the sci-fi genre, nor does it really aim to.  It’s a compact re-tread of the best parts of other films that works more than it probably should.  I know the film has its nay-sayers and I completely see where they’d be coming from – but the film experience that I had was very rewarding and very unexpectedly entertaining.

Movie Review ~ Mama

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The Facts:

Synopsis: Annabel and Lucas are faced with the challenge of raising his young nieces that were left alone in the forest for 5 years…. but how alone were they?

Stars: Jessica Chastain, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Megan Charpentier, Isabelle Nellsse, Daniel Kash, Javier Botet, Jane Moffat

Director: Andy Muschietti

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 100 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (7/10)

Review:  When it comes to horror films, I find that I’m pretty forgiving.  I’ll sidle up to a cheesy direct to video scare flick and happily pass the chainsaw-lovin’ night away just as easily as I’ll plunk down my money for the latest sequel to whatever is the current popular horror trend.  All I ask is that the people behind the scares have their hearts in the right place and can provide a few decent spook-outs along the way. 

With Mama, the latest production from Spanish filmmaker Guillermo del Toro, what we have is a strong creepshow that bursts out of the gate early on and maintains a strong hold over its audience for about 2/3 of its 100 minutes.  It’s the final third that threatens to squander the good will that director Andy Muschietti has built up but thankfully even that doesn’t become a deal breaker.

What I’ve come to appreciate about del Toro’s productions (The Orphanage, Pan’s Labyrinth, Hellboy) is a commanding sense of atmosphere that trumps trivial plot developments.  Even more than that, Spanish horror films in general seem less interested in producing franchise funding killers than it does about providing its audience a entertaining and chilling ride (see Julia’s Eyes, Tesis, The Uninvited Guest).   

The brother and sister team of Andy and Barbara Muschietti first came to the attention of del Toro when their short film of Mama was released in 2008.  Less than three minutes long, the short managed to elicit a more solid scare than countless Hollywood films.  Check it out here to see what I mean.  The concept intrigued del Toro enough to come on board as producer of a feature length version…and this 2013 film is the result.

Even with a relatively small budget, the film looks incredible with fine attention to detail and strong cinematography by Antonio Riestra.  There’s a tendency for these kinds of horror films to use dark corners as easy scares but there seems to be a pointed effort to avoid such trappings.  On several occasions you think a character is going to venture into a spot we know they shouldn’t…only to be the wiser person like we hope they would be.   

Muschietti expands on his short film with engaging characters and strong performances from a game cast.  Even though I knew the lead was played by Chastain (who scored a nice coup recently by having Mama open at #1 at the box office followed by her Oscar nominated work in Zero Dark Thirty taking the #2 spot) the actress is virtually unrecognizable with her famous flame locks tucked under a black mop of a haircut.  The actress also physically transforms herself into something quite different than we’ve seen her do before.  She’s an intelligent heroine for most of the film and believably freaked out when scary things start to occur when the nieces of her boyfriend (Coster-Waldau from Game of Thrones and Headhunters) turn up after living in the woods for five years. 

The girls are played remarkably by two young actresses that get pushed to the brink both physically and emotionally.  I sometimes bristle at child actors who wear their craft on their sleeve but both Charpentier and Nellsse are chameleons…huge assets to the success of the film.  Supporting players Kash and Moffat are slight oddities but there’s something sorta old school about the way they sink their teeth into their roles.

When the scares begin (and they begin early) they are achieved via fairly simple methods that don’t always come with the aid of a large music jolt or random cat thrown into frame.  What the Muschietti’s instead create are terrors springing from things slightly off screen or that come into focus at the right moment.  More than a few times the camera lingers just long enough on a slow burn scare to send a chill down your spine.

The problem with the film is that the more that the secret behind the ghostly apparition Mama is uncovered, the less involving the film becomes.  I say involving because it’s not for lack of interest that the final twenty minutes sputters…it’s just that the filmmakers seemingly reached their max of creativity and settle for standard conventions to get the characters where they need to be for an admittedly unconventional (but welcome) ending. 

Those final twenty minutes should not deter you from visiting Mama in the theater, though.  It’s a handsomely made, well assembled horror that isn’t dumbed down for maximum consumption by the masses.  With a boatload of spine-tingles to be had it’s a strong scare fest that just misses the mark by a few feet.

The Silver Bullet ~ Oblivion

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Synopsis: A court martial sends a veteran soldier to a distant planet, where he has to destroy the remains of an alien race. The arrival of an unexpected traveler causes him to question what he knows about the planet, his mission, and himself.

Release Date:  April 19, 2013

Thoughts: 2012 had its highs and lows for Tom Cruise.  He came into 2012 with a hot film (Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol), turned in a great performance in a box office bomb (Rock of Ages),  went through a very public divorce, and is ending the year with a new film (Jack Reacher) that is getting above average reviews.  It won’t be long before Cruise will be back with this sci-fi epic from the director of the underrated Tron: Legacy that looks quite entertaining.  Add a cast of interesting faces and impressive effects and Cruise may be back on top by this time next year.

The Silver Bullet ~ Mama

Synopsis: Annabel and Lucas are faced with the challenge of raising his young nieces that were left alone in the forest for 5 years…. but how alone were they?

Release Date:  January 18, 2013

Thoughts: It’s been my experience that anything producer Guillermo del Toro gets his hands on has some value to it.  Though not sitting in the director’s chair, you can absolutely see what drew him to this stylized type of horror film.  We all know that a good editor can make even the friendliest of family film look like a slasher flick but the trailer presented here produces some nice tingles on the spine.  Jessica Chastain is proving to be quite a layered actress – her turn as a rough around the edges surrogate mom to two creepy girls looks to be a nice departure from that flame haired performer she’s been seen as so far.  I’m hoping that its January release date (typically a dumping ground for duds) doesn’t mean it’s a dog because it looks like a wonderfully scary tale.

Movie Review ~ Headhunters (Hodejegerne)

 

The Facts:

Synopsis: An accomplished headhunter risks everything to obtain a valuable painting owned by a former mercenary.

Stars: Aksel Hennie, Synnøve Macody Lund, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau

Director: Morten Tyldum

Rated: R

Running Length: 100 minutes

Random Crew Highlight:  Focus Puller ~ Eirik Holst Aagård

TMMM Score: (8/10)

Review: Now that Sweden’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo trilogy has been published and the movie versions are getting released, it’s time to look at the works of another Nordic author that’s been a hot commodity in Norway.  It’s safe to say that Tattoo’s late author, Stieg Larsson, paved the way a bit for Norwegian Jo Nesbø’s crime novels to get some visibility in the US.  Tapping into that same chilly vein, Nesbø has a knack for creating stories with flawed characters you reluctantly root for.  While some may think that Nesbø’s bestseller “The Snowman” may have been the film we’d see it’s actually the older Headhunters that’s seeing the light of the silver screen first.

At its core, Headhunters has a fairly routine set-up filled with the requisite double/triple crosses, femme fatales, and a decent amount of bloodletting.  What sets this Norwegian produced film apart from your direct to video fare is a healthy set of twists to what you expect that keeps you on edge and unprepared for what’s coming next.  Adding a layer of comedy to the mix is one of those unexpected delights that feels totally right even though a times its so wrong.  There’s an outhouse set-up that had the audience roaring at the same time they were ‘ew-ing’…it’s pretty brilliant.  Foreign films aren’t afraid to take their violence to the extreme and there are several stomach churning moments that led me to involuntarily avert my eyes. 

Now you may read that last sentence and it could be a deal breaker for you – please, don’t let it be.  Headhunters is one of the better movies I’ve seen in 2012 and boasts terrific performances under the watchful eye of a director that knows what he’s doing.  It’s a technically grand film with impressive cinematography and a dynamite score that is in perfect harmony with what is developing onscreen.  Even when you think that the film can’t possibly untangle itself from the web its weaving it manages to do so without apology or resorting to a cheap payoff. 

Right from the start the movie has to win us over because our lead hero (Hennie) is actually a not very nice guy.  A seemingly bland headhunter by trade but art-thief in practice he’s got a comfortable life with a stunner of a wife (glamazon newcomer Macody Lund).  With mounting bills and a lifestyle to support he’s out for one big score and he sees possibility when Clas Greve (Coster-Waldau from Game of Thrones) arrives on the scene.  But Greve has some, um, grave secrets that are unearthed and that’s all I’ll say because to give away more would expose some plot turns too interesting to spoil.

Even though a remake is (naturally) in the works be the cool person in your office and see the original now.  Subtitles in Norwegian will keep you busy reading as you watch the events develop on screen but try to keep up because this film waits for no man (or woman).  Once the film takes off about thirty minutes in it doesn’t give you a chance to breathe — cars crash, heads roll, secrets are reveled, and more than a little blood is spilled.  It’s a first rate thriller that proves you don’t need a dragon tattoo to create sparks.