The Silver Bullet ~ Lights Out (2016)

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Synopsis: A woman is haunted by a creature that only appears when the lights go out.

Release Date:  July 22, 2016

Thoughts: Boy, horror maestro James Wan (The Conjuring, Insidious, Insidious: Chapter 2) sure wants to keep your summer scary.  A month after the release of Wan’s The Conjuring 2 comes Lights Out, a Wan-produced feature length adaptation of a scary as all get out short film. I know that any trailer editor worth their salt can make even the lamest of fright flicks seem like a Grand Guignol spectacle of shrieks, but this first look at Lights Out sent a nice layer of shivers up and down my spine.  Starring Teresa Palmer (The Choice), Maria Bello (Prisoners), and Billy Burke (The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 2), this one could be a nice bit of mid-summer frightening fun.

Movie Review ~ Triple 9

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The Facts
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Synopsis: A gang of criminals and corrupt cops plan the murder of a police officer in order to pull off their biggest heist yet across town.

Stars: Casey Affleck, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Anthony Mackie, Aaron Paul, Clifton Collins Jr., Norman Reedus, Teresa Palmer, Michael K. Williams, Gal Gadot, Woody Harrelson, Kate Winslet

Director: John Hillcoat

Rated: R

Running Length: 115 minutes

TMMM Score: (6/10)

Review: Triple 9 kinda snuck up on me.  Admittedly, I’ve been a little distracted with the upcoming Oscars to prep for and an aversion to perusing trailers that give too much of the movie away.  Still, I was surprised that a movie boasting the A-List talents that Triple 9 has didn’t register on my radar until it’s release date was already rapidly approaching.  We’ve emerged out of the murkiness of a dull January and are entering into the warmer waters of February and while Triple 9 isn’t the best work of anyone involved, it’s a solid entry into the crime drama family.

Presented with the right amount of grit, grime, and gore (one bloody scene takes place in a dilapidated housing project infested with vermin both human and animal), the movie takes a solid 45 minutes to get going into any interesting direction.  First it’s a heist film, then a cop drama, then it’s (briefly) a buddy picture before settling into its tale of corruption and double crosses.  All of it seems a bit recycled from better pictures but I kept going back to the fact that it’s quite well made and earnestly performed by its impressive roster of bad guys and gals.

The film opens with a bank robbery executed with tactical precision led by small time criminal Michael Atwood (Chiwitel Ejiofor, Secret in Their Eyes).  On a mission to obtain the contents of a security deposit box that’s set to net him and his crew a tidy sum upon delivery, Atwood has more than money on his mind as his payday is being funded by his son’s mother’s sister (did you follow that?), the acting head of a Russian mafia family.  When the boss lady (a smirking Kate Winslet, Labor Day) demands Atwood and his crew take on one more mission, it comes with hefty consequences for all involved.

Into the mix is thrown Chris Allen (Casey Affleck, The Finest Hours) a cop returning to duty in a new precinct.  The new kid on the block steps on some toes, including that of his grumpy partner (Anthony Mackie, Pain & Gain) and the local gangbangers who are used to cops looking the other way. How Chris becomes linked to Atwood is one of the twists you’ll have to experience for yourself but no double cross comes as a surprise and no one is safe from the chopping block as one major character learns early on.

Look, there’s some good stuff to be found here, such as director John Hillcoat’s (Lawless) staging of several tense chase scenes and shoot-em-ups.  Hillcoat is solid at ratcheting up the stress meter of the actors and the audience as we peer around dark corners not knowing what we’ll find.  We’re all let down by Matt Cook’s script, a mish mash of underdeveloped characters and a final feeling that the whole dirty business was pretty pointless.  As you can see from the poster above and nearly all the marketing materials, red is the color du jour and Hillocat goes a little overboard with the red herrings and red visuals (smoke, clothes, signs, lighting, etc) to the point where you just want to say “OK, we get it…it’s symbolic.” and move on.

Ejiofor seems a little sleepy here, only coming alive in scenes where he’s going toe to toe with Winslet.  Winslet, for her part, is to be commended for trying out another bad girl (after her swing and a miss with Divergent) but it just doesn’t suit her…kinda like her iffy Russian accent.  Winslet’s actually in more of the movie than I thought she’d be, but it’s reduced to a series of scenes where she taunts Atwood that she can whisk his son away at any moment.  Aaron Paul (Need for Speed), Clifton Collins Jr. (Pacific Rim), Teresa Palmer (The Choice), and Gal Gadot (Fast & Furious 6) comprise the rest of the cast and, especially where the women are concerned, fade to the background faster than they should.  Let’s not forget Woody Harrelson’s (Out of the Furnace) half serious/half jokey performance as a veteran detective, the uncle to Affleck’s character.  Seeming to be impersonating his True Detective co-star Matthew McConnaughey’s laid back twang and sporting a confusing set of false teeth, Harrelson adds some spark to the film…but at what some significant cost to his overall effectiveness.

It’s a rather mulligan stew of a picture and it’s too long by a good twenty minutes, but Triple 9 isn’t a totally unwelcome guest.  Might be worth a lazy matinee day but it could easily wait to take up your time at home.

Movie Review ~ The Choice

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The Facts:

Synopsis: Travis and Gabby first meet as neighbors in a small coastal town and wind up in a relationship that is tested by life’s most defining events.

Stars: Benjamin Walker, Teresa Palmer, Maggie Grace, Alexandra Daddario, Tom Welling, Brett Rice, Tom Wilkinson, Sharon Blackwood

Director: Ross Katz

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 111 minutes

TMMM Score: (7/10)

Review: I fought The Choice.  I mean, I fought it hard.  And if you’re like me, you’ve tired of your long ride on the Nicholas Sparks emotional merry-go-round film adaptations where true love is easily won and tragically lost.  It also didn’t help that The Choice has, without a doubt, the worst marketing and trailers for any Sparks film to date.  I warmed slightly to 2013’s The Lucky One, disliked 2014’s The Longest Ride, and was buckled in for another trite trip through a gossamer North Carolina doomed romance. Surprise! I liked it, finding it the most enjoyable Sparks film since The Notebook (that’s seven movies ago, in case you were wondering) and, while imperfect, a decent addition to the modern romance genre.

To be fair, it’s rough going for the first 20 minutes.  Screenwriter Bryan Sipe (Demolition) uses that old chestnut, The Flashback Framing Device, to bait us into waiting 90 minutes for an answer to a question posed in voiceover by our leading man.  Traveling seven years back in time (and making sure we know it by the hauling out a crude Blackberry) we’re plopped on the deck of a North Carolina boat where Travis Parker (Liam Neeseon look-alike Benjamin Walker, In the Heart of the Sea, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter) is sweet-talking some bikini-clad extras.  While he’s not painted as an outright d-bag, Walker certainly gives off the ‘won’t call you back’ red flags that would send any female with half a brain running in the opposite direction.

He meets his match in Gabby Holland (Teresa Palmer, bouncing back nicely from a wasted turn in 2015’s Point Break remake), a headstrong medical student nearing the end of her rotations that’s renting the cottage next door to Travis. Their ‘meet cute’ moment is anything but, with Walker and Palmer awkwardly stammering their way through the first of many squabbles eventually leading to a passionate session on top of Palmer’s dining room table.

Ah…but there’s a problem.  She’s already spoken for, the trophy girlfriend of another doctor (Tom Welling, Draft Day, looking positively inflated to the point of bursting in his child’s size clothes) and he’s managing an on-again, off-again romance with a girlfriend (Alexandria Daddario, Texas Chainsaw 3D) his friends have dubbed Boomerang because she keeps coming back.  When her boyfriend goes out of town and his girlfriend simply vanishes from the film without much fanfare, the path is cleared for Travis and Gabby to get all handsy as they drift around the picturesque Carolina shores.  But wait…this is a Nicholas Sparks film after all so there has to be an obstacle (or obstacles) to overcome.

Like the spoiler-free reviewer I am, I’ll stop there because while the film may be lacking in overall surprise, it’s in the execution of the predictable happenings that pepper the final 1/3 of the film that helps to set The Choice apart from other Sparks yarns.  Walker and Palmer overcome their initial misalignment and find some genuine chemistry which helps them both fuel the fire needed for the final act.  Walker, especially, is quite good.  Though at first I felt he was doing a great Matthew McConaughey impression with his country-fried twang and winking flirtations, he comes through in a big way and carries the film through some rough waters.

In retrospect, Sipe’s screenplay leaves more than a few loose ends hanging: Gabby makes a big stink about studying for her final tests only to never hear from them again once she locks eyes with Travis.  It’s like her career and ambition evaporate in favor of a warm embrace. To each their own but it reduces Gabby to being a follower.  There’s also some talk of Gabby coming from wealth and apart from an amusing trip home, little more is made of this diversion after milking out some laughs from a comedy of errors.

In addition to Walker and Palmer, director Ross Katz (who also helmed the excellent HBO film Taking Chance) has cast the film well.  Tom Wilkinson (The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel) seems uncommonly relaxed as Travis’ dad, maybe because he doesn’t have to do any seriously heavy lifting.  I’m still not a fan of Maggie Grace (Lockout) but she has a few nice moments as Travis’ wise sister…though it’s a shame she has to do it in one of the most hideous wigs (at least I hope it was a wig) I’ve seen onscreen in some time.  Special mention must be made for Sharon Blackwood (Magic Mike XXL), a riot as an ever so slightly meddlesome receptionist.  Oh, and there’s a cute dog that elicited the appropriate amount of coos from audience members.

Bring a hanky for the finale but know that you’ll have enough time to dry those tears because the film doesn’t really know when (or how) to end…so it just sort of keeps puttering along until it finds a way to close out the proceedings.  It’s a too long wrap-up that starts to weigh the picture down instead of keeping it afloat.   An overall sense of good will makes this extended good-bye easier to stomach, even for this reviewer so averse to schmaltz.  Arriving just in time to be a smart Valentine’s Day, um, choice, this is an above average effort that’s a whole lot better than its own studio would have you believe.

Movie Review ~ Point Break (2015)

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The Facts:

Synopsis: A young FBI agent infiltrates an extraordinary team of extreme sports athletes he suspects of masterminding a string of unprecedented, sophisticated corporate heists. “Point Break” is inspired by the classic 1991 hit.

Stars: Édgar Ramírez, Luke Bracey, Teresa Palmer, Delroy Lindo, Ray Winstone

Director: Ericson Core

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 113 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (2/10)

Review:  When the first trailer for this remake surfaced back in May, I went against the popular opinon that decried its very existence and said “here’s hoping the boys of summer bring some heat to the holidays.”  Little did I know that the heat I was hoping for came in the form of pure fury.  In retrospect, calling that early preview ‘kinda fun’ makes me shiver in my snowboots that I ever truly had faith that the 2015 Point Break could ever hold a candle to the original from 1991.

Now, let’s not fool ourselves into thinking that that Keanu Reeves/Patrick Swayze led action film was any kind of classic.  It’s very much a product of its time and capitalized on what both stars brought to the table, the laid-back (nigh sleepy) performance of Reeves and the dangerous-but-I’d-still-like-to-be-his-friend vibe Swayze was great at delivering.  That it was helmed by a female director (future Best Director Oscar winner Kathryn Bigelow) with more macho bravado than any five films directed by her male peers only made it more of an attractive property over the years, strangely fascinating with each subsequent viewing.

So yeah, I kind of get why a remake of Point Break looked somewhat appealing.  The original wasn’t so much of a blockbuster that it felt untouchable and its slight cult status in the years following its release didn’t give off a feeling that a remake would be outright condemned.  And I can imagine that the studio heads over at Warner Brothers cooed when they hired director Ericson Core to not only direct the film but serve as the cinematographer as well.   Add in a script updated by Kurt Wimmer (who also delivered a new treatment for Total Recall in 2012), lock in some hunky but cheap talent, and decide to release it in 3D and call it a day.

If only they had quit while they were ahead.

Moved from an intended summer release date to Christmas Day, instead of riding the wave to holiday thrills this remake is hanging ten on my worst of the year list.  It’s an abysmally conceived action film with hardly any action that winds up taking itself so seriously that you can’t help but laugh every time a character waxes poetic about nature and our place in the ecosystem of life.

Opening with a stunt sequence that changes the career course for extreme action star Johnny “Utah” (we learn Utah is his nickname, related to his Native American heritage…oy), it features an accident handled so awkwardly it’s hard to fathom how it winds up playing such a big part of Utah’s later mission with the FBI.  Morphing from his extreme sports career to an FBI trainee in danger of being cut, Utah discovers a connection between a series of bank robberies and the test of the wills sort of vision quest he believes the burglars to be embarking upon.

Before you know it, Utah (remember, he’s not even a full FBI agent yet) is given carte blanche by his superior (Delroy Lindo, phoning it in like a pro) to cozy up to the men he believes are behind the daring swindles.  It brings him on a globe-trotting adventure where he forges a sort of kinship with the adrenaline junkies and their leader, Bodhi.  Lines between right and wrong get blurred for a period until it disintegrates into a stilted chase picture that wants to fly but never takes wing.

The film strays so far from its source material that I almost wished it had ditched the title and went on its own merry path, shrugging off obvious comparisons to certain touchstone elements of the original.  Making the film less about robberies and more about conservation of resources, it becomes a new age-y garbage dump of plot holes and extended action sequences that feel far too long.

There’s some praise to be had here, though, and that has to do with Core’s thrilling cinematography that takes audiences through mountains, waves, alpine slopes, and through the streets of its European locations.  Seen in 3D, there are some mighty impressive sights to behold, all filmed with elaborate flair from someone that obviously knows what he’s doing.

Where Core succeeds in cinematography, he outright fails as the overall director of the piece.  Aside from the aforementioned chuckle-headed script, the acting in Point Break is maybe the most offensive thing of all.  I can tell that Luke Bracey (The November Man) wants to make his character multi-dimensional but the way he plays it feels like an acting exercise gone horribly wrong.  Attaching the wrong emotion to nearly every one of his hysterically inane line readings, Bracey’s future looks bleak as an actor let alone a leading man.  He’s covered in some of the most atrocious tattoos ever put on film, making him look like a complete douchebag (the man-bun doesn’t help), offering him no chance to be someone the audience can root for.  Speaking of bad tattoos, nearly everyone in the movie sports some sort of heinous skin art…the kind of ink you wake up with after a drunken night in Cabo San Lucas.

Faring ever so slightly better is Édgar Ramírez (Joy) as the earthy Bodhi, a kind of spiritual father figure to Bracey’s lost boy.  Ramírez is a better actor than Bracey (actually Pauly Shore is a better actor) but is taxed with delivering the most grueling of the zen fortune cookie lines.  Ramírez and Bracey have several ab-offs as they flex, surf, and punch their way through a series of high stakes tests of their mettle.  At one point, I was wondering if they’d ever get back to robbing banks.

Thrown in for dictation is a lame love interest for Utah named Samsara (Teresa Palmer, Warm Bodies) and though I’m sure sparks are meant to fly here, Bracey and Palmer can’t rub their two sticks together to create anything more than a frustrated puff of smoke.  Palmer’s character waltzes in and out of the proceedings seemingly at will, only showing up when the testosterone level reaches its max peak.  At least the original film had Lori Petty as the love interest, Petty and Reeves had little chemistry too but she was such an interesting actress that you wanted to see more…here I couldn’t wait for Palmer to exit stage right.

I’m guessing by some poorly dubbed lines that the movie was filmed as an R-rated action flick but edited down to a more box-office friendly PG-13.  How else would you explain Bracey calling a group of thugs ‘funny a-holes’…a line that doesn’t match what his mouth is saying.

An endurance test to be sure, this remake of Point Break surfs shallow waters and sinks like a stone early on.  It never can overcome its shortcomings in the acting department, even if some parts are beautifully shot.  With so many better movies to see at your local theater, this is one to avoid at all costs…

The Silver Bullet ~ Point Break (2015)

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Synopsis: A young FBI agent infiltrates an extraordinary team of extreme sports athletes he suspects of masterminding a string of unprecedented, sophisticated corporate heists.

Release Date: December 25, 2015

Thoughts: I realize that this is going to make me sound like a tremendous hypocrite after decrying the recent remake of Poltergeist but I kinda think this reboot of the 1991 Keanu Reeves/Patrick Swayze action hit looks kinda…fun.  Sure, it seems to have precious little to do with surfing and stars Luke Bracey (The November Man) and Edgar Ramirez (Zero Dark Thirty) will never replace the memorable stars but just as the original was a product of its early ‘90s time, so does this remake look like it’s squarely set in the high adrenaline, tech-savvy new millennium.  Moved from its planned summer 2015 release date to a competition heavy bow on Christmas, here’s hoping the boys of summer bring some heat to the holidays.

The Silver Bullet ~ Knight of Cups

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Synopsis: Unknown (and the trailer won’t help you)

Release Date: TBD 2015

Thoughts: Director Terrence Malick doesn’t play the Hollywood game so it’s interesting that his newest film seems quite focused on the California lifestyle of the Tinsel Town elite…or does it? It’s hard to say because plot details are scarce and any attempts at figuring out who Christian Bale (Out of the Furnace) is playing could provide you ample amount of head-scratching time. Though only Malick’s seventh feature film since 1973, his style is instantly recognizable and it’s intriguing to know that it was mostly improvised. People either love or hate Malick; there’s no halfway camp (hello, Tree of Life bashers!) but even in his most obtuse the man knows how to frame a scene to make ordinary images seem extraordinary. Co-starring Cate Blanchett (Blue Jasmine), Natalie Portman (Thor), Imogen Poots (That Awkward Moment), Jason Clarke (The Great Gatsby), and Joel Kinnaman (RoboCop).

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.