The Silver Bullet ~ The Woman in Black: Angel of Death

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Synopsis: 40 years after the first haunting at Eel Marsh House, a group of children evacuated from WWII London arrive, awakening the house’s darkest inhabitant.

Release Date: TBA 2015

Thoughts: In another example of striking when the iron is lukewarm, the sequel to the 2012 modest hit The Woman in Black will arrive in theaters in January. Having been a fan of the book and the play on which the first film was based, for the most part I was satisfied with the not quite as scary but handsomely produced effort that saw Daniel Radcliffe (What If) face scary ghosts that haunt an English manor. Only the creepy house and the ghosts are back for The Woman in Black: Angel of Death and if it retains the high production values and well-timed spooky moments of its predecessor then it will redeem itself for taking so long to start haunting again.

Movie Review ~ The November Man

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The Facts:

Synopsis: An ex-CIA operative is brought back in on a very personal mission and finds himself pitted against his former pupil in a deadly game involving high level CIA officials and the Russian president-elect.

Stars: Pierce Brosnan, Luke Bracey, Olga Kurylenko, Eliza Taylor, Caterina Scorsone, Bill Smitrovich, Will Patton

Director: Roger Donaldson

Rated: R

Running Length: 108 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (2/10)

Review:  It was only a few short weeks ago that my review for the trailer of The November Man appeared on this website, indicating my cautious optimism that this late summer action flick might be former 007 Pierce Brosnan’s welcome return to his James Bond/Thomas Crown roots.  Sadly, it serves only as a reminder that Brosnan’s cooly effortless action hero is a relic of the past, replaced by the aging and overly earnest titular character projected for audiences around the globe to (hopefully) not see.

I wasn’t aware of this until after the fact, but The November Man is based on the seventh book in a series of spy novels by the late author Bill Granger.  A pet project for Brosnan that finally moved into production after almost a decade of delay, it’s puzzling that the actor would opt to play a character so similar to Bond yet bring to the role none of the efficiency he lent the legendary spy in four films.

Instead, Brosnan makes the actors fatal mistake of attacking a deeply flawed character without really giving us a reason to understand why he’s all rough edges and fisticuffs.  Surely the script by Michael Finch and Karl Gajdusek (Oblivion) doesn’t seem to mind that it has more plotholes than open road as it bounces from one bland location to another detailing a plot concerning Russian government officials and a possible US cover-up of war crimes.  It all feels like, well, a bargain paperback knockoff of a James Bond plot.

Now I’m not saying the movie doesn’t have some modicum of potential because as an audience member I’ve been craving a tidy action film with political intrigue and near-miss car chases through international locations for some time.  Yet The November Man’s execution is so unruly and unpleasant that it feels like a chore to sit through before you’ve had a chance to get to the bottom of your popcorn.

As sexist as the James Bond franchise has been criticized for being, it pales in comparison to the icky abject misogyny on display here.  Women are treated as mere objects and I think at one point every woman with a speaking line is dragged by her arm around a locale by a gruff man that calls her a word unprintable in full but begins with t and ends with wat.  As brutal as the violence is in the film (and with gunshots to the head and knife wounds galore the film is bloodier than necessary) it’s no match for the distasteful chauvinism on display.

If I’m being honest, I’ve never found Brosnan to be that impressive of an actor.  Though he filled the James Bond suit nicely (in GoldenEye, Tomorrow Never Dies, The World is Not Enough, Die Another Day), Brosnan’s Bond wears thin on repeat viewings and the actor hasn’t found much success in his non-Bond endeavors.  I can see why tackling a character slightly to the left of Bond would be appealing but Brosnan’s teeth gnashing solemnity comes across as more him spoofing his spy thriller past than cutting new ground.

With his Sean Bean looks and Keanu Reeves acting chops, Luke Bracey makes for a lackluster adversary with the young actor unable to make even the simplest of dialogue seem convincing.  He looks too young to be a junior colleague of Brosnan’s well-worn spy and wearing an alarming amount of eyeliner he comes across as an indie-rocker more than the CIA killer he’s supposed to be playing.  An unfortunate subplot involving Brosnan and Bracey locking horns over items in their personal life adds fifteen minutes, one cat, and two extraneous characters to the proceedings.

I’m going to assume supporting players Bill Smitrovich and Will Patton got together and decided to pull one over on the hair team by asking that they switch hairstyles.  Smitrovich’s curly pate is swapped for Patton’s bald chrome dome…and that’s the only good idea either actor brings as both grow fatter as the film drones on from chewing the scenery.  Smitrovich in particular should be absolutely ashamed of himself…as should director Roger Donaldson for casting him.

If there’s one bright spot to the movie, it’s certainly Olga Kurylenko (Quantum of Solace) as a woman in need of saving by Brosnan’s off the grid spy.  Though the role is painfully lacking any sort of feminist assuredness, Kurylenko at least makes the wounded bird she’s playing somewhat sympathetic.  Chased by a female assassin (who looks like she was plucked from playing the lead role in a Moscow production of Funny Girl), Kurylenko gets the one true pleasing moment of the film as she brings one character to a nice dénouement.

Still, the film simply cannot overcome its wet noodle leads and a series of plot contrivances so ludicrous that I briefly considered breaking my spoiler-free rule and analyzing them further here.  Yet that would give the film more time than it’s worth because The November Man will be in the discount bin at WalMart before November 2014 is over.

The Silver Bullet ~ The November Man

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Synopsis: An ex-CIA operative is brought back in on a very personal mission and finds himself pitted against his former pupil in a deadly game involving high level CIA officials and the Russian president-elect.

Release Date: August 27, 2014

Thoughts: Though he’s now three films removed from the James Bond series and a sequel to the remake of The Thomas Crown Affair is stalled in development hell, Pierce Brosnan is back on the big screen in full action hero mode with The November Man.  Looking like a nice mix between his 007 days and a Mr. Crown adventure, I’m disappointed that the slick but lengthy trailer seems so full of spoilers but am willing to reserve judgment on the overall experience based on Brosnan’s track record.  Reteaming with his Dante’s Peak director Roger Donaldson (Cocktail), and joined by former Bond babe Olga Kurylenko (Quantum of Solace) and newcomer Luke Bracey, we won’t have to wait until November to see if Brosnan’s still got what it takes.

Movie Review ~ Earth to Echo

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The Facts:

Synopsis: After receiving a bizarre series of encrypted messages, a group of kids embark on an adventure with an alien who needs their help.

Stars: Teo Halm, Brian “Astro” Bradley, Reese Hartwig, Ella Linnea Wahlestedt

Director: Dave Green

Rated: PG

Running Length: 89 minutes

TMMM Score: (7/10)

Review:  More than likely had I not seen Earth to Echo at an advance screening for critics it would have been a film I wouldn’t have thought twice about missing in the theater…and probably would have skipped entirely when it popped up on Netflix or Amazon Prime.  I purposely hadn’t watched a trailer for it beforehand, relishing the rare opportunity in this day and age to go into a film having not been inundated with trailers and a marketing blitz that spoiled some surprises.

All I knew about this sci-fi adventure aimed at 8-12 year old boys was that it was funded (and, once production had been completed, subsequently dropped by Walt Disney Studios) and that it reminded me an awful lot of 80s fare like The Goonies, *batteries not included, Explorers, E.T., and a host of other films that I grew up with.

While Earth to Echo isn’t breaking box office records after being unceremoniously dumped into theaters right in the middle of this blockbuster heavy season, it’s one of the more pleasing summer entries so far in 2014.  Scoring high on sheer nostalgia factor alone, I couldn’t shake the feeling throughout that this was the kind of film I would have gobbled up back in the day.

The overly familiar plot finds three friends from a small Nevada development that’s being razed for a freeway expansion using their last days together digging into the mystery of why their phones seem to be pointing them to a spot in the desert.  On their final night in their homes they take off on their BMXs (with helmets on, in one of the film’s several safety first messages) and discover a cute as all get out alien that needs their help to get back home.

Employing a found footage technique that works more than it should, Earth to Echo makes decent use out of its short running length to find time to discuss friendship, loss, and family without shoving it down the throats of the young audience (and their parents) it’s targeting.  If the acting feels a tad on the amateur side (especially with the unfortunate late addition of a tween girl, introduced seemingly because the producers realized they needed to attract girls as well as boys) it’s because we’re dealing with mostly green actors that compensate for their lack of experience with a few nice moments of genuine sincerity.

Though it continues the trend of pushing the limits of the family-friendly PG rating with a fair share of perilous sequences, this is a nice little nugget of a film.  Even if the credits play over the too on the nose “Counting Stars” by OneRepublic, it manages to bridge the gap for parents of youngsters that are too old for silly animation and too young for those PG-13 comedies that have at least one scene that makes you regret you brought your 10 year old.

The Silver Bullet ~ 3 Days to Kill

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Synopsis: A dying Secret Service Agent trying to reconnect with his estranged daughter is offered an experimental drug that could save his life in exchange for one last assignment.

Release Date:  February 21, 2014

Thoughts: When I first saw the trailer for 3 Days to Kill I kept thinking what a great Liam Neeson impression Kevin Costner was doing.  Then I started to wonder if Neeson had turned this one down.  Then I thought about the plight of the Black rhinoceros.  Then the preview was over and I went on with my life.

It sort of makes sense that this looks like the kind of Euro-trashy action film that Neeson would have sunk his teeth into because both 3 Days to Kill and Neeson’s Taken films were written by Luc Besson (The Family), a director that favors style over any sort of substance.  The beginning of this trailer has a few good moments before forgetting totally what kind of film its trying to market itself as.  The once bankable Costner is clearly hoping for the kind of career renaissance Neeson enjoyed but taking his also-rans isn’t going to get the job done.

Movie Review ~ Don Jon

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The Facts:

Synopsis: A New Jersey guy dedicated to his family, friends, and church, develops unrealistic expectations from watching porn and works to find happiness and intimacy with his potential true love.

Stars: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Scarlett Johansson, Julianne Moore, Tony Danza, Brie Larson, Glenne Headly

Director: Joseph Gordon-Levitt

Rated: R

Running Length: 90 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (4.5/10)

Review: The early promise of Don Jon came in the form of a confident trailer for the directorial debut of Joseph Gordon-Levitt (Premium Rush, Looper, The Dark Knight Rises) but the good will sadly stops there.  Though I can say that the movie is directed with a certain flair and knowledge of what makes a modern film tick, the overall substance is lacking and the lasting effect is a close-but-no-cigar exercise of great sound and fury, signifying nothing.

Certainly on paper the film looked intriguing.  Gordon-Levitt directs his own script about a New Jersey ladies man with a future that’s not really going places but who is still happy in the circle of routine he’s settled into.  Aside from his family, his car, his workout, and his weekly Sunday confessional, the one thing that our leading man can’t get enough of is porn.  Porn in the morning, porn in the evening, porn at suppertime.  His constant reliance on being aroused by the taboo medium has led to a loss of true intimacy in his relationships because he feels like nothing will ever be as good as what he watches on his computer screen.

An interesting concept to be sure and a valid discussion point for the age of technology we live in when connection is just a mouse click away.  The problem I have with Don Jon is it never really says anything more than that.  Ok, so maybe by following Jon through his less than perfect relationship with no-nonsense gum smacking  beauty Barbara (Scarlett Johansson, Marvel’s The Avengers, Hitchcock) helps him understand some greater lessons about himself but it isn’t that pleasant of a journey for the audience to go along with.

From the opening credits the movie is unleashed on our senses at Level 10 and rarely does it turn the dial down.  Perhaps it was just the sound system at the theater where I saw the movie but the soundtrack and visuals had an overwhelming effect…so much so that I felt like covering my ears at times.  Gordon-Levitt captures the high velocity nightlife of the Jersey town where the action takes place and his routine is captured nicely (ala All That Jazz) with a repetitive style that’s edited with slick verve.

So Gordon-Levitt makes for a nice director and a less than realized screenwriter but what of his acting?  Though he’s takes on a De Niro-esque squint and wears white tank tops in a way that would make Channing Tatum jealous, there’s a glimmer of vulnerability underneath it all that helps his character not stray too far from our good graces.  Johansson’s role is considerably more shrewish than you’d think but she balances the good/bad sides nicely.  Tony Danza and Glenne Headly cut the image of typical Jersey parents…but Gordon-Levitt has scripted them to be shouting the majority of their lines and they become aggravating.  Brie Larson (The Spectacular Now) has but a few sentences as Gordon-Levitt’s tuned out sister but when she speaks it’s worth the wait.

Then we have Julianne Moore (2013’s Carrie) as a woman Jon meets in night school.  This is a puzzling character, not because Moore doesn’t shine in it because she’s the best thing in the whole movie, but that it’s created solely to provide an out for Jon that’s more convenient than true.  It’s a smaller role for Moore but it isn’t hard to see what drew her to the damaged goods mystery woman.

Interesting only in brief passages, overall this was a let-down in my book.  It’s one of the rare movies that I like less the more I think about it…mostly because it’s pretty average but also because with the talent involved I know it could have been better.

Movie Review ~ The Family

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The Facts:

Synopsis: The Manzoni family, a notorious mafia clan, is relocated to Normandy, France under the witness protection program, where fitting in soon becomes challenging as their old habits die hard.

Stars: Robert De Niro, Michelle Pfeiffer, Tommy Lee Jones, Dianna Agron, John D’Leo, Domenick Lombardozzi

Director: Luc Besson

Rated: R

Running Length: 108 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (7/10)

Review:  I wasn’t quite sure what to expect going in to see The Family.  As a fan of Michelle Pfeiffer, I knew that my seeing this was an inevitable event but based on the trailer and seriously boring title I just didn’t know how the whole thing was going to turn out.  Would it be another in a long line of Robert De Niro films that seemed to get made only because he signed on the dotted line?  Or would it be the kind of daring European action film that director Luc Besson first rose to fame for?

Well, it turns out that the movie can’t ever really decide what genre it wants to fit into so it instead just lays down and rolls around several different themes all at the same time.  That may not work for most movie audiences and it’s not surprising that people are coming away from the film feeling a little empty, but I found the film to be an interesting potpourri of tones that worked more often than not – even if it’s more than a little odd.

Moving into a new European town after an incident necessitated their hasty retreat; a family in the witness protection program find themselves in the quaint/quiet town of Normandy in France.  Taking up residence in a money pit-esque dwelling, the Manzoni’s clearly are getting old hat at the process of moving from one town to another.  Dad (a more low-key than usual De Niro, Being Flynn, Silver Linings Playbook) just wants to settle in and write his memoirs, to the horror of the long-suffering FBI agent (Tommy Lee Jones, Lincoln, Hope Springs) assigned to their case.  Michelle Pfeiffer (Dark Shadows, People Like Us) is De Niro’s wife with anger issues of her own, eventually turning to the church for help, spilling her secrets in confession that leads to a moderately nice payoff.  The kids (Diana Agron and John D’Leo) are fashioned as doppelgangers of their parents and both give off a playful vibe, even as they find themselves in hot water at school.

As the family is getting acclimated to their new town, we also follow a creepy crime henchman (Jon Freda) that continues his hunt for De Niro and his brood after De Niro became a turncoat to his Mafia family.  It’s in these scenes that wind up leading to an out of left field tension filled finale that the film may confuse some people.  The passages with the family are given a light touch that belies the darker tone brought on by Freda’s intense chase.

For me, it worked.  I enjoyed that the film feels different than what it would have been were it produced in your typical Hollywood fashion.  That it was made in Europe by a European crew and director has given the film a golden hue and the chance to take risks with its twists and turns.  By the time the film reached its finale I wasn’t sure how it was all going to work out for everyone involved.

Sure, the film has several extraneous storylines that could have been trimmed to keep the running length to 90 or so minutes but the actors play these moments so well that it’s forgivable.  It may be harder to forgive one of the most laughably contrived cases of coincidence since, well, ever, but by that point the movie had won me over enough to just brush it off.  There’s also a wonderfully weird bit where De Niro is feted by a local film society who has asked him to come and speak to the finer points of the classic film…no…no…I won’t spoil that moment for you.

Returning after several years of being absent from the director’s chair, Luc Besson (Leon: The Professional and The Fifth Element) brings his trademark cinematic flair to The Family and navigates it’s up and down and crisscrossed tones with ease.  I’ve always enjoyed Besson’s creative way of cutting from one scene to the next and he keeps the pace going, even when his screenplay based on the novel Malavita doesn’t fully support itself.

The Family isn’t a movie that you’ll need to see in the theaters but would make for an interesting watch when it finds its way into the home viewing market.

The Silver Bullet ~ Romeo & Juliet (2013)

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Synopsis: When the star-crossed lovers of two enemy families meet, forbidden love ensues.

Release Date:  October 11, 2013

Thoughts:  I suppose every generation needs its own adaptation of William Shakespeare’s classic tale of love torn apart by conflict, right?  Though the storyline has been borrowed for many a film (most recently in the clever zom-com Warm Bodies), the last big-time screen appearance was in 1996 with Baz Lurhman’s love it or leave it Romeo + Juliet which catapulted Leonardo DiCaprio and its director to true cinematic stardom.  Will it do the same for either or both of the two young actors in this new adaptation by Downton Abbey creator Julian Fellows?  Released just in time for the back-to-school crowd to swoon over, this looks like a more faithful but no less stylish take on the Bard’s tragic masterpiece.

The Silver Bullet ~ The Family

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Synopsis: The Manzoni family, a notorious mafia clan, is relocated to Normandy, France under the witness protection program, where fitting in soon becomes challenging as their old habits die hard.

Release Date:  September 20, 2013

Thoughts: Despite having one of the most lackluster titles in film history (why not just call it, That One Film with Robert DeNiro and Michelle Pfeiffer?) it’s hard for me to feel like I want to pass up a movie with Pfeiffer (Grease 2, Dark Shadows) because she works so rarely now and seems to choose projects that are of real interest to her.  True, they may not always be on the money (see Dark Shadows) but they are rarely boring.  DeNiro (Silver Linings Playbook, Being Flynn) is another story with the veteran actor making some ghastly films in the past decade.  Another bit of interest is that the film is directed by French auteur Luc Besson (The Fifth Element, La Femme Nikita, The Professional) who has stuck to producing action flicks (Taken 2, Lockout) so his return is welcome in my book.  Looking like a dark mix of mafia comedy, The Family (originally titled Malavita) probably won’t rank as career highs for anyone involved but it might turn out to be a decent romp.  We shall see.

The Silver Bullet ~ Don Jon

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Synopsis: A New Jersey guy dedicated to his family, friends, and church, develops unrealistic expectations from watching porn and works to find happiness and intimacy with his potential true love.

Release Date:  October 18, 2013

Thoughts: You may not know it but crafting a solid movie trailer is really an art form.  Sure, anyone can make a bad movie look good if left in the hands of a master editor…but delivering a truly enjoyable trailer is a rare feat.  So it’s with a wee bit of glee that I present the first trailer for Don Jon, the writing/directing debut from Joseph Gordon-Levitt (The Dark Knight Rises, Looper, Premium Rush) and it looks like a slam-dunk winner for the dependable star.  With ample amounts of laughs that I believe don’t give away the best parts, the preview is engaging and energetic as it clearly lays out what type of movie audiences can expect to find when it’s released in October.  I’ll be one of the first in line.