Movie Review ~ The 33

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The Facts:

Synopsis: Based on the real-life event, when a gold and copper mine collapses, it traps 33 miners underground for 69 days.

Stars: Antonio Banderas, Rodrigo Santoro, Juliette Binoche, James Brolin, Lou Diamond Philipps, Bob Gunton, Gabriel Byrne

Director: Patricia Riggen

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 127 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (7.5/10)

Review: Based on the book Deep Down Dark, narrative journalist Hector Tobar’s weaving together of the firsthand accounts from the men who were there, The 33 is a drama in real life story that has its heart in the right place. The whole world was riveted by the plight of the Chilean miners trapped 2,300 feet below the ground by a cave-in for 69 long days. As the country watched, an international rescue team was assembled to devise a way to get to the men before time and food runs out. Anyone that’s picked up a newspaper or watched the news during that time knows how it all ended, but the details were a bit cloudy for me five years later which added to the dramatic tension the movie builds nicely.

I told someone after the movie that I thought it was “mostly good” because for all of the genuine emotion and heroism captured on screen, there was a strange disconnect that comes out of the film being watered down and becoming more traditionally American-ized than it should. I was surprised at how clearly divided into three acts the movie was, with the traditional climax happening about 3/4 of the way through the film. There seemed to be a carefully rendered formula to every new development that presented itself to the men below the surface and the government officials, family members, and rescue crews racing against the clock to save the trapped workers.

I also found myself really wishing that the Chilean film was entirely in Spanish. All of the signs and news report headings were in Spanish yet the actors almost uniformly speak English with a fair to decent accent. Something that always annoys me is when a movie takes the time to subtitle actors speaking in a foreign language only part of the time. Here, a song of hope and pain starts off with an English translation before the subtitles disappear – perhaps it’s a way to provide a bridge between two cultures but it can come off as slightly manipulative with the filmmakers only translating information they want you to know.

Attracting high-profile talent, the film has a wealth of strong performances. Though he’s billed a bit far down in the credits, Lou Diamond Phillips has perhaps the best, most moving arc as a miner who worked his way up to management, knowingly making concessions along the way that comes back to haunt him. Phillips is one of the last people you see in the movie (before it breaks to a roll-call like credits sequence that should leave a lump in your throat) and he makes a significant impression.

Also impressive is Juliette Binoche (Godzilla) who convincingly masters the language (though her French slips in every now and then) as a strong-willed family member of a trapped miner and Antonio Banderas (The Expendables 3) who is better here than in any movie he’s made in over a decade. Rodrigo Santoro (The Last Stand) is notable as a government official with a conscience while James Brolin and Gabriel Byrne pop up for some histrionically dramatic scenes. The Irish Byrne, it must be noted, totally gives up on his Spanish accent well before the movie reaches its conclusion.

The movie covers all the bases and even brings in a few of the more human interest stories that developed while the men were underground. Most notable are the amusing above ground fights between the mistress and the wife of a hapless fellow and the impending birth of a young miners first-born. It’s all handled nicely by director Patrica Riggen set to the late James Horner’s rousing score (it’s nice to see a tribute to Horner at the end, the second film I’ve seen it in after Southpaw)

Not a movie delivered on an epic scale, The 33 is nonetheless a powerful tale of the human condition and the strength to continue on in the face of terrible odds. Worth digging into.

The Silver Bullet ~ The 33

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Synopsis: Based on the real-life event, when a gold and copper mine collapses, it traps 33 miners underground for 69 days.

Release Date:  November 13, 2015

Thoughts: Like many, I watched the developing story of the Chilean miners during the course of the 69 days they were trapped underground.  A remarkable story of survival, its drama in real life tale seemed like a perfect TV movie of the week fodder.  Instead, it’s been given the big screen treatment and The 33 looks to be an impressive account of the ordeal as seen through the eyes of the men trapped and their families awaiting their return.  It’s also probably the only time I’ll be able to report that Oscar winning actress Juliette Binoche (Godzilla) took over a role that Jennifer Lopez (What To Expect When You’re Expecting) signed up for.

Movie Review ~ Rio 2

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The Facts:

Synopsis: It’s a jungle out there for Blu, Jewel and their three kids after they’re hurtled Rio de Janeiro to the wilds of the Amazon.

Stars: Anne Hathaway, Jesse Eisenberg, will.i.am, Jemaine Clement, Tracy Morgan, George Lopez, Leslie Mann, Rodrigo Santoro, Jamie Foxx, Andy Garcia, Rita Moreno, Bruno Mars, Kristin Chenoweth

Director: Carlos Saldanha

Rated: G

Running Length: 101 minutes

TMMM Score: (6/10)

Review: I’m fighting against the grain and resisting the urge to heed the old adage that there comes a time to put away childish things. For me, that means not seeing every single animated film released in theaters. For a time, the market was on an even keel of producing one stellar film after another…until lesser studios took it upon themselves to insert themselves into the market, sullying it with cheap looking entries that shouldn’t be mentioned in the same breath as something coming from Pixar or Dreamworks Animation. See The Nut Job if you don’t believe me…or better yet, don’t.

I think we’re nudging into a new standard of animation and audiences are starting to convey that message with their money if you look at the diminishing returns on lackluster sequels (Monsters University) and the popularity of new specimens like The LEGO Movie. Also, you can’t just tack “in 3D” on to any old film because people don’t want to pay for something that won’t give them their money’s worth.

So where does that leave a sequel like Rio 2? A continuation of the story that started in 2011 right as the animation horizon was starting to shift, this is an overall workmanlike second chapter of a novel that wasn’t that original to begin with. It is, however, better than the first film and works a kind of magic that turns an entire cast of usually obnoxious performers into an appealing band of colorful characters by letting us only hear them, not see them.

It helped me in some small way to have watched the first Rio in the wee hours of the Saturday I caught an early morning screening of Rio 2. Picking up shortly after the first film ended, Blu (Jesse Eisenberg, Now You See Me) and Jewel (Anne Hathaway, Les Miserables) are still in Rio with their three growing chirpers living the laid-back life that only animated birds could make acceptable. Originally thought to be the last group of blue macaws, when Blu’s owner (Leslie Mann, This is 40) finds a flock of macaws on an Amazon research trip the family packs up for a vacation to meet more of their kind.

Meanwhile, the now flightless Shakespearian bad bird from the first film (Jemaine Clement, Men in Black III) toils away the day as a pier side show attraction. A chance glimpse of Blu and Co. on the wing to the Amazon boils his bad blood and before you can say “extraneous subplot #1” he breaks free of the chains that bind him, taking a mute anteater and operatic poisonous frog (Kristin Chenoweth, Hit and Run) in his pursuit of revenge.

What Blu and Jewel find in the depths of the Amazon will feel mighty familiar and truth be told the entire film suffers from the same lack of originality that plagued the first one. Still, something about the earnestness of the performances, the tuneful music (I enjoyed Chenoweth’s goofy aria about Poisonous Love), and the eye-popping visuals won me over more than I thought it ever would.

Though the film does delve into more blatant themes of conservationism (ala Ferngully: The Last Rainforest), the message isn’t delivered with any real agenda so it remains benign. Returning director Carlos Saldanha keeps things moving even though the film stretches past 100 minutes, further making my point that no animated film should keep you in the theater for over an hour and a half. If there is to be a Rio 3, let’s hope the filmmakers push things forward so this pleasant series doesn’t turn into a turkey.

The Silver Bullet ~ 300: Rise of an Empire

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Synopsis: The Greek general Themistocles battles an invading army of Persians under the mortal-turned-god, Xerxes.

Release Date:  March 7, 2014

Thoughts: It’s hard to believe, but this sequel is arriving a full 7 years after the original surprise blockbuster was released.  I found the first film a hyper-surreal thrill ride filled with ample amounts of blood and bared flesh and in the years since the movie has inspired countless inferior knockoffs and quite a few new ab workouts for those wanting to get into Spartan shape.  Director Zack Snyder was busy with Man of Steel so the directing duties went to Noam Murro…a relatively green director helming only his second feature film.  Even with Snyder staying on as producer and screenwriter, it remains to be seen if the unproven Murro can really sail this ship.  Bolstered by some interesting female leads in the form of Eva Green (Cracks, Dark Shadows) and Lena Headey (The Purge), this sequel is highly anticipated and should be a nice blockbuster of 2014.

Movie Review ~ The Last Stand

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The Facts:

Synopsis: The leader of a drug cartel busts out of a courthouse and speeds to the Mexican border, where the only thing in his path is a sheriff and his inexperienced staff.

Stars: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Forest Whitaker, Johnny Knoxville, Rodrigo Santoro, Jaimie Alexander, Luis Guzmán, Eduardo Noriega, Peter Stormare, Zach Gilford, Genesis Rodriguez, Daniel Henney, John Patrick Amedori

Director: Kim Jee-Woon

Rated: R

Running Length: 107 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (3/10)

Review:  He’s back.  I mean, he always said he’d be back…right?  After exercising his political muscles as Governor of California and appearing in a few cameo roles (like The Expendables 2) Schwarzenegger is back headlining another shoot ‘em up actioner that’s heavy on ammunition but light on any semblance of subtlety.  Ok, I’m sure you wouldn’t be lining up to see a Schwarzenegger flick that’s described as subtle but is it too much to ask for a film of this ilk to play to the strengths of its star?

Though it’s constructed and filmed with its head firmly planted in 80’s action flicks, The Last Stand seems to forget that these films were fun at heart so it sacrifices some great camp opportunities in favor of letting its cast shamefully overact amidst dizzying gun battles and laughable moments of misguided exposition.  It’s probably not a good thing if you come away from a film saying that Schwarzenegger was the best actor of the bunch…or am I wrong?

Schwarzenegger heads the cast as a sheriff of a small border town going head to head with minions of a drug lord (Noriega, Tesis) that have descended into town to clear the way for their boss to continue his escape from federal agents into Mexico.  The premise sounds like a perfect fit for Schwarzenegger and to a large extent the actor glides easily with the material.  The problem is that the soggy script from Andrew Knauer, Jeffrey Nachmanoff, and George Nolfi feels like it has been around for over a decade and it’s gathered a lot of dust.  I keep considering that maybe it was a pet project for Schwarzenegger before he took office.

Respected Korean director Kim Jee-Woon (I Saw the Devil) is making his US debut with the film and I can only liken it to when Hong Kong’s equally well-regarded John Woo made his first picture stateside, the misfire Jean Claude Van-Damme vehicle Hard Target.  It’s clear the director has style and good instincts but he seems restricted here and never guides the picture to achieve a balance between all of the elements it introduces. 

That goes double for a largely forgettable cast that’s all over the map.  Whitaker looks totally lost in it all…until the movie forgets that he’s a top billed actor and jettisons his character for the latter half of the film.  Knoxville continues to play arrested development imbeciles all the way to the bank and his pajama wearing, gun-loving doofus is anything but the comedic relief it’s intended to be.  As the right hand man to the kingpin, Stormare once again goes for the gold in the crazy meter and achieves liftoff early on.  Alexander, Gilford, Guzman, and Santoro are Schwarzenegger’s allies but any attempt to make them dynamic characters is a failure. 

That leaves us with Schwarzenegger to make the picture tolerable and he almost makes it work.  With some guffaw-inducing scenes where he looks positively crazy thanks to his nutso hairstyle, the movie begins to buckle under the weight of so much wasted energy.  At a baffling 107 minutes the movie could use a 15 minute trim, tightening up the action scenes and losing needless detours involving Schwarzenegger’s past.

Though there are a few clever methods used to dispatch the endless array of bad guys, The Last Stand is sadly not the comeback picture that I’m sure Schwarzenegger intended it to be — it’s embarrassing box office performance assures that no sequel will be considered.  Schwarzenegger already has several other projects in the works so let’s chalk this one up to the star dipping his toes back in the pool he helped fill throughout the 80’s and 90’s.