Sunday, February 28, 2010

From Paris with Love (Review)

    The critics thought very little of "From Paris with Love" and I didn't think I wanted to watch John Travolta act like an idiot for an hour and a half, but I was bored and I didn't want to drive very far, so, it was "From Paris with Love," a couple of chick flicks, a couple of kiddie movies, or an idiotic comedy.  As it turns out, the least of all evils was actually not bad at all. 

     "From Paris with Love" is an action/spy flick starring John Travolta (and his royale with cheese) as bulletproof, super spy Charlie Wax and Jonathan Rhys Meyers as wanna be spy James Reece.  Wax is trying to take out terrorists and the drug ring supporting them and Reece is just along for the ride, desperately trying to get home to his hot, French girlfriend played by Kasia Smutniak.  Along the way, Reece, ever so slowly, learns to trust Wax, and just shut up and do what he says.  This is an action movie, so the plot isn't all that important, but it does take a few, nice twists here and there.  (Don't try to solve the mystery, there isn't one!  Travolta tells you that.)

     Travolta is really the only reason to see this movie.  If your not a fan, don't bother.  Meyers plays his character well, but his character isn't exactly likable until near the end.  The action sequences are not too fast to follow or done in annoying, shaky cam, but they do paint Travolta's character as an invincible, super spy who can kill a room full of bad guys while sliding, upside down, down a fireman's pole.  Despite this, you don't have to suspend disbelief as much as one might think, because Meyers' character can't believe it either and he's in the film.  There's a decidedly dark turn toward the end, but the drama doesn't take over, and it all  makes for a satisfying and solid, action movie, ending. 

     If you're looking for an Oscar worthy story or an all out action blockbuster, "From Paris with Love" isn't it, but if you're looking for a solid action movie with a story that's better than most action movies, this is it, plus John Travolta

The Crazies (Review)

     Crazed, bio-warfare zombies in a small town quarantined by the government; so much promise and so little delivery. 

     "The Crazies," a remake of George Romero 1973 film by the same name, is about a small Iowa farming community where residents are going insane.  Very slowly and calmly they become homicidal, bloody, and then dead.  Sheriff Dutton, played by Timothy Olyphant, who, surprisingly, is not a former police officer from 'the big city' who's come to a small town to get away from city crime and police drama, (everything else about the film was completely cliche, why shouldn't that be?) begins to piece together why townsfolk are ever so slowly going nuts, and figures it out, all too conveniently, just in time for the government to show up, quarantine the area, and evacuate everyone who isn't a bio-zombie.  Sheriff Dutton must, of course, escape from the government quarantine, to find his pregnant wife who has been falsely identified as being one of the crazies.  They then proceed to hook up with a couple of other survivors and wander around Iowa, trying to find a car and escape government quarantine.  

     This film has so many failings.  Where to begin?  Let's start with the fact that there is no tension.  Every time they try to build tension, it's obvious what's going to happen next, so there is no tension, just a long, boring moment where you wait for the bio-zombie to pop out, the gunshot that will save someone at the last second, or nothing at all.  (Ha ha, fooled you.  Not really.)  It got tedious quickly.  Also tedious was all the walking.  Most of this movie is people walking, or taking very short lived trips in vehicles, that they walked miles and miles to get to.  Some of this walking is supposed to be character development, but the characters are extremely cliche, so you know where all that's going as well.  The plot, if you can call it that, wanders around as much as the four main characters.  They are trying to escape, they are trying to find people, they are trying to escape, they are trying to find the military, they are trying to avoid the military, they are heading for the military, they are hiding from the military, and then they are trying to escape yet again.  Once you get the basics, bio-zombies, government quarantine, and a small group of survivors, all the characters in this movie do is slowly walk from one place to another, hoping to find a vehicle, and then they lose it really quickly.  Most of their wandering is pointless as well.  Why get a car when black hawk helicopters are constantly patrolling and killing anything that moves?  Why walk along the highway when black hawk helicopters are constantly patrolling and killing anything that moves?  Why head for the largest known concentration of military forces in the area if all you are going to do is try to sneak past them?  Worse than the lack of direction is the 'plot convenience theater' happening throughout the movie.  More than once, people outside or in other rooms, who don't have a clear view of what is happening, take miracle gun shots that take out bio-zombies and save their comrades in the nick of time.  Need to set a bio-zombie on fire?  Good thing you just happened to grab a lighter about five minutes ago.  Bio-zombies want to attack you while you're in the car?  Good thing it suddenly develops engine trouble and won't start.  All the convenient coincidences only make the predictability of the film worse because, now, you know exactly what's going to happen and it's highly unlikely. 

     There isn't nearly enough action or bio-zombie attacks to make this film likable to action or horror movie fans and the complete lack of plot, character development, pacing, and just about everything else that goes into making a movie makes it unenjoyable to anyone else.  (Except maybe the kid two seats over texting non stop.)  Skip this hack of a remake and go rent (illegally download) the George Romero version.  I haven't seen it and have no idea how good it is, but it has to be better than watching four people wander aimlessly through empty fields in Iowa


     The only moment that actually took me by surprise is when the sheriff gets stabbed through the hand, but that was it and definitely not worth the ticket price.  Good thing Abby bought the tickets.  Hopefully he'll forget I owe him on this one. 

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Shutter Island (Review)

     I couldn't wait for "Shutter Island."  Martin Scorsese, Leonardo DiCaprio, and a creepy, psychological thriller; what could possibly go wrong?  Well, not much, but the end was a bit of a let down.

     "Shutter Island," as I said before, is a creepy, psychological thriller directed by film legend Martin Scorsese and starring Leonardo DiCaprio as federal marshal Teddy Daniels, who's investigating the apparent disappearance of a 'patient' from the asylum for the criminally insane on Shutter island, where nothing is as it seems and everyone's motives are in question.

     Just about everything in "Shutter Island" is dead on.  Martin Scorsese knows how to make a movie.  The actors give great performances, the cinematography is breathtaking, frightening, shocking, or whatever else Scorsese wants it to be, the story is suspenseful yet reveals its self at a good pace, and the pace keeps your attention through all two hours and eighteen minutes of film.  For me, though, the twist ending was a bit of a disappointment.  (This is where you stop reading if you don't want to know too much!) 

Undead (Review)

     After watching "Daybreakers," I was somewhat impressed with the Spierig Brothers.  I wondered if they had done anything else, and they had.  In 2003, they had made a zombie movie called "Undead."  What luck.  I love zombie movies and these two seem like promising new film makers.  "Undead" went right to the top of my Netflix queue.  Turns out that was a bad call.

     "Undead" is a (comedy?) zombie movie about a small Australian town that gets pelted by a meteor shower which quickly turns the residents of the town into zombies.  A small handful of survivors huddle together to fight off the zombie hordes, but that's only part of the story; there's also mysterious acid rain, alien abduction, and a huge spiked wall now surrounding the town and our heroes are slowly getting eaten, infected, abducted, or otherwise picked off. 

     I couldn't really tell if the Spierig Brothers had meant to make a zombie comedy, a spoof of horror movies, or just a B movie, but whatever their intent, they failed.  If "Undead" is meant to be funny, it's not.  Cliches, bad acting, stereotypical plots, and overkill gore are not funny on their own; they're just boring and tedious.  The story was original, but that only makes "Undead" seem more like a genuine attempt at a movie, and if that's the case, B movie would be a compliment.  I understand that this is a low budget film that was written, directed, produced, and edited by two people, but it still falls short by any standard.  (I suppose it could gain a cult following.)

     I look forward to the Spierig Brothers' future projects, but I am now weary of their other past works.   (All one of them.)

Sunday, February 14, 2010

The Wolfman (Review)

     I had a weary feeling going into "The Wolfman."  The same sort of feeling I had going into the recent "Sherlock Holmes."  Both films tread on the hallowed ground of classic material.  You must tread lightly there and show proper respect.  "The Wolfman" fails to do either.

     "The Wolfman" is based on the original 1941 film "The Wolf Man."  In the modern adaptation, Lawrence Talbot, played lifelessly by Benicio Del Toro, is mauled by an enormous, man like wolf creature (...a werewolf) and, at the next full moon, the curse of the werewolf causes him to also become a werewolf, and the only one who can free him from this curse (kill him) is one who loves him.  

     There isn't a lot to the plot that you haven't see before, but if the story is done well and the characters are people we can empathize with, that shouldn't matter.  In "The Wolfman," it matters.  Let's start with the action sequences.  They are far too graphic, fast, and unbelievable.  It seems like the plot and story are just a contrivance to get us to the action sequences where body parts fly, shredded corpses litter the ground, and werewolves move like actors in a kung-fu movie, defying the laws of physics to put on a show which happens far too quickly and that is far beyond any suspension of disbelief.  The basics of a great story are there.  Lawrence Talbot and Gwen Conliffe, played here by Emily Blunt, fall in love and Gwen must kill Lawrence to set him free and end the curse.  We even get an a new twist on the story with Sir Anthony Hopkins, who plays Lawrence Talbot's father, also being a werewolf.  Now the son must kill his beloved father to free him from the curse.  None of this potential is realized, however, because all three actors give us wooden, emotionless, and absolutely dead performances.  Lawrence Talbot has no love for his father, and the love story between Lawrence Gwen is never developed.  Rather, it's quickly and awkwardly established in ten second of exposition.  You are never allowed to develop any empathy or feeling for any of these characters.  They just stare at the camera and deliver lines flatly so we an all get on to the next, unbelievably gruesome scene of werewolf carnage.  While we can blame writers Andrew Kevin Walker and David Self for the lack of story, ultimately, blame rests with director Joe Johnston.  Anyone who can't get a decent performance out of Sir Anthony Hopkins doesn't need to be directing. 

     "The Wolfman" doesn't have enough action for fans of action films, the gore happens to quickly for fans of splatter flicks, and is awful even for a monster movie.  I wouldn't recommend wasting your time on it, or its inevitable sequel.  (Yes, sadly, the ending set up a sequel.)

Death Bed: The Bed That Eats (Review)

     I suppose I have Ray to thank for reminding me about the Patton Oswalt bit where Patton talks about how much harder screenwriting is now that they have actually released, on DVD, Death Bed: The Bed That Eats (People.  And apples and chicken and flowers, ect...) 

     Death Bed: The Bed That Eats (People or whatever) is about an evil bed borne from demon blood that eats whoever or whatever get near it.  There's also an artist who is trapped in one of his paintings who narrates most of the story (if you can call it that) and talks to the bed...  (What am I writing??!)  We slowly get the history of bed kills played out in flashback as the current crop of victims is slowly devoured by the bed.  It all ends (spoiler alert!) in the bed's demon curse being broken and the bed going up in flames.  It stars people who you have never heard of and who would do gratuitous nude scenes in a indie film shot on 35mm film in the 70's.  There is no acting in this movie, just people calmly reading off lines.  There is, however, more inner dialogue than "Dune."  (I made that statistic up.)  There's also scenes of a man with skeletal, lots of 'blood,' and toes that bleed for no reason, the bed eats an apple and spits out the core, ect...  You get the idea.  

      Death Bed: The Bed That Eats (People or Pepto-Bismol or whatever) is awful, even for an indie, 1970's self written, directed, and produced project, but it is just tolerable enough, just bad enough, to be funny.  Well, you might need some friends to watch it with and some mind altering substances (kids, just say no) to actually make it funny, otherwise, just go find (legally obtain a copy of) the Patton Oswalt bit where he talks about the movie and watch that.  It's funnier and about seventy minutes shorter.

     Thanks Ray.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Crazy Heart (Review)

     Growing up in small (extremely small) town Texas, I have a healthy dislike for Country music.  So does "Crazy Heart."  It might seem like a meaningless distinction, but "Crazy Heart" is more about the very old school Country/Western/West Texas kind of not quite Country, not quite Rock, not quite Folk music that has a real authenticity to it without being pretentious or superior about exactly how authentic it is the way modern Country music tends to be.  The kind musical background that gives us artists ranging from Willie Nelson to Janis Joplin.  This may make this review a bit biased, but the characters and situations in this film are real (to me, anyway.)  I've known them and people like them all my life.  "Crazy Heart" is a real, down to earth drama that doesn't claim that down to earth is somehow superior like so much commercialized, so called, Country music does today.

     "Crazy Heart" is about aging Country and Western star Bad Blake, played Jeff Bridges. Bad Blake is fifty-seven, broke, alcoholic, and is now consigned to playing gigs in small bars in the middle of nowhere and bowling alleys.  On one of these gigs he meets small town reporter and hopeful writer Jean Craddock, played by Maggie Gyllenhaal.  She has a bit of an infatuation for this aging music icon and the has been Country and Western star is drawn to the occasional glimpses of family life he gets from Jean and her 4 year old son.  Add to this Tommy Sweet, played by Colin Farrell, a former member of Bad Blake's band in Blake's glory days and a current Country/Pop star who has reverence for his former mentor for teaching him everything he knows about music and resentment about his fallen idol's alcohol soaked condition.  Eventually, Bad Blake finds redemption in these two and the strength to crawl out of the bottle and write new music, even if he's not the star who's playing it anymore.

     "Crazy Heart" is an almost shockingly realistic drama and story of redemption that really lets you get to know the best and worst of its characters without getting preachy or saccharine.  Bridges' Bad Blake has a realistic, hard edge to him that isn't endearing but is very human and allows you to connect with his character and his character's situation in a very real and meaningful way.  As I said before, I may be biased because of this, but I have known people like Bad Blake all my life, and Bridges Blake was hauntingly familiar to me as were some of the other supporting characters.  Gyllenhaal is similarly authentic as the single mother who, rightfully, fears Bad Blake's alcoholic exterior but loves his warm and caring inner self.  She makes it easy to both empathize with her need to feel some kind of love and painful to watch her making the same mistakes over and over again.  The story may not be overly surprising, but it is realistic and it seems, even the characters themselves can see most of what's coming, but, just like real life, they allow themselves to be pulled into all to familiar and destructive paths until something or someone comes along to pull them out or remind them about the things in life that are worth living for.

     Despite my extreme aversion to Country music, I thoroughly enjoyed "Crazy Heart," and I hope its Western flavor doesn't stop others from enjoying this well acted, well written, drama about some very flawed, but very real characters.

     Seeing it at the Alamo Drafthouse and having their "Crazy Heart" themed Biscuit-Battered Bourbon Steak Fingers, made with Bad Blake's three favorite foods, buttermilk biscuits, steak, and bourbon, didn't hurt the experience either.  If you are ever in Austin, go to the Drafthouse.  You won't regret it.