Archive for the '3' Category

Rob the Mob

Saturday, April 5th, 2014

***

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You steal from them, they never stop looking for you.

Rob the Mob

The H-Bomb: Small time hood Tommy (Michael Pitt) is released from the joint after doing an 18 month stretch for armed robbery and returns to the Bronx with his girlfriend, Rosie (Nina Arianda), who finds him a job working the phones at a collection agency. Tommy soon grows bored with his straight gig and starts playing hooky from work to go sit in on the trial of famed gangster, John Gotti. While listening to some stoolie testify about their social clubs, particularly the part where he mentions that no one carries a gun in a social club, Tommy gets an idea.

See, Tommy has always had a chip on his shoulder when it comes to mobsters, mainly for the way they used to bully and harass his father, and since this collection agency job just isn’t cutting it, money-wise, he comes up with an insane scheme to stick up a mafia social club. After figuring out how to work an Uzi, he somehow procured, Tommy recruits an understandably reluctant Rosie as his getaway driver, and he’s off to stick it to the mob…by sticking up the mob.

His first heist goes off without a hitch, aside from his Uzi constantly going off accidentally, and Tommy is completely taken aback by how much money he brought in, and by how freaking easy it was. Rightly emboldened, he decides to do it again, and again, growing more confident, and less cautious, with each score. Not only is Tommy royally embarrassing the mob with these scores, he has, by chance, come into possession of a list, a list that could shake up the mobsters’ power structure and land many of them in the slammer.

While all this is fun and games for Tommy and Rosie, who have been branded a modern Bonnie and Clyde in the press, this young and relatively dumb couple has unwittingly given the mob a reason far more serious than retribution to take them out…survival.

Based on the real life exploits of Thomas and Rosemarie Uva, who conducted their robbing spree back in ’92, Rob the Mob approaches its potentially dark subject matter in a somewhat lighthearted fashion. I wouldn’t call it a mob comedy, a’la Get Shorty or Analyze This, however, director Raymond De Felitta does bring a naturalistic sense of humor to the proceedings, particularly when Tommy, who has to be the clumsiest stick up man ever, bumbles his way through the robberies. The mobsters’ incredulous, deer-in-headlights reaction to being held up, and the humiliating act that Tommy forces them to perform at the end of one of the heists, are genuinely laugh out loud funny.

At first, the mildly humorous tone set against a gritty, gloomy NYC backdrop struck me as odd, but as the picture wore on, I was won over by the so-absurd-it-has-to-be-true story as well as by the likable, engaging performances of the two leads. Pitt is an actor I’ve liked ever since I first saw him in The Dreamers some ten years ago, and even though I didn’t initially buy him as a street tough kid from the Bronx, he did grow on me. As Tommy’s better half, Rosie, Arianda is a revelation. She is irresistibly feisty and ballsy, and her chemistry with Pitt is organic and genuine. They do make quite the larcenistic couple. Is larcenistic even a word? Fuck it, it is now.

As good as Pitt and Arianda are, they are backed up by a colorful supporting cast that is, for the most part, first rate. The standouts for me include Griffin Dunne as Tommy and Rosie’s unnaturally cheerful boss at the collection agency, Frank Whaley as a shifty federal agent who sells information to the press, and Michael Rispoli as the utterly bewildered mob enforcer pursuing our Bonnie and Clyde wannabes. Best of all is Andy Garcia, who brings a grace and a grandfatherly charm, along with a subtle sense of menace, to the role of underworld kingpin, Big Al. Yeah, I know the character is responsible for many off camera deeds that would make him a monster, but the gentle, understated touch Garcia gives him makes the guy strangely sympathetic.

Out of all the supporting players, the only one who didn’t work for me was Ray Romano, who just sticks out like a sore thumb as the journalist covering Tommy and Rosie’s misadventures. I don’t know if it’s his TV persona, or just that the script didn’t give him much of a character to work with, but I found his presence here distracting. Another problem the film has is the ending, which I’ll try not to spoil. It’s an extremely over-the-top, romanticized, bullshit ending that the movie really did not earn. That’s all I can say about that, though if you know how things ended for Tommy and Rosie in real life (God bless Google), then you might know what I’m getting at.

All things considered, Rob the Mob is a modestly entertaining flick based on a peculiar true life incident. It’s far from life changing, and in six months time I’ll barely remember anything about it, but it is worthwhile for anyone interested in a crime caper that’s most definitely off the beaten path.

 

 

Noah

Wednesday, April 2nd, 2014

***

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Noah

Knowing an apocalyptic event is coming, and all will be destroyed, could you still follow the word of God and do as he asks? In March 2014, we watched as Noah faced that very situation, and follow he did.

Directing this 138 minute action/adventure/drama is Darren Aronofsky.

Trying to keep their heads above water are: Russell Crowe as Noah, Jennifer Connelly as Nammeh, Logan Lerman as Ham, Douglas Booth as Shem, Leo McHugh Carroll as Japheth, Emma Wtson as Ila, Ray Winstone as Tubal-Cain and Anthony Hopkins as Methuselah.

God saw the earth was corrupt and violent, so God decided to cleanse the world with a great flood. Not wanting to wash everything away, God speaks to a man named Noah in a dream, showing him what will be and what he wants done. Noah is to build a boat, big enough to save the animals that God shall send to him. Following God’s wishes, Noah and his family start to prepare for the coming flood.

I have to say this is probably the hardest review I’ve had to write. Since I first saw the trailer I was stoked to see the movie. It was so big and powerful looking on the big screen, I was captivated by everything I saw. When the trailer was over, I no longer cared what I was originally in the theater to see, I wanted it to be Noah. Then, finally, all that time waiting… was over. I eagerly found my seat and wished for a fast forward button to magically appear to shuffle the trailers out of my way so I could finally witness the awe of Noah. Darkness engulfed me as I sat there in the theater, then… there was light. Pretty epic opening to the review huh? It only seemed fitting considering the subject matter, seeing as how Noah is a pretty epic story to be heard.

The first part of this review is for anyone that doesn’t care how accurate their biblical films are. With that being said, this film was so freaking good! The storyline starts off grabbing your attention and doesn’t let go. Before you know it, chaos fills the screen and you can’t look away. Yeah, I was entertained, not only did Crowe and Connely do amazing work here but Watson has shown she has the skills to make it past her Potter films and flourish in the industry.

The special effects were really cool and flowed smoothly, except out of nowhere amongst all this eye popping coolness you’re slapped in the face with crappy… stock footage? Really? Yeah but luckily it’s only a few spots, which made it stand out even worse. For me it was more of a “what the?” kind of spot in the film, but don’t fret because then the coolness is given back to your optical nerves. I really liked the play-through at first, because once it started it had a good pace and kept moving. Then it hits a lag that dragged it’s feet a little longer than it should and hurt the flow of the movie.

For those that are a little sensitive, there are times where you may have to look away, because it gets a little gritty. Giving the film a dark aspect, which come on, the earth is being flooded and lives are being lost. Kind of fitting for what it is. Also, Clint Mansell who did the music made something that was a perfect fit for the film.

Now as for the script, it’s a little preachy, but I’m sure you guested that it would be right? Which brings me to the part of my review for those viewers that want some biblical accuracy in their movies, or as much as can be done. I myself have enough bible study in me to be able to find a bible on the bookshelf. So, curiosity got the best of me and I sat down to read the story of Noah. When compared, well, the film did have a man named Noah that had a wife and three sons. He did build a huge boat that was filled with animals and there was a flood. Beyond that, I felt there was a lot of personal interpretation going on in the movie. Then again, when don’t you see personal interpretation in films. Isn’t that what movies are all about? While this is going on you have the push that vegetarians are good and meat eaters are bad. Mix it with the Humanism view it took, and the film might not settle well with some individuals.

So how do you grade something that as a film was really good, but as far as the subject matter goes… was questionable? Well I think Aronofsky said it best when he said “It’s a very very different movie. Anything you’re expecting, you’re wrong.” He was spot on with that comment because I expected… and I was wrong. Overall, amazing special effects and a great job by the cast. If accuracy isn’t a problem for you then it’s well worth the money, otherwise don’t worry about rushing right out to see it.

 

 

Muppets: Most Wanted

Friday, March 21st, 2014

***

It sucked!It'll be on cable.I liked it.It was good!It was awesome!! (1 People gave this 5.00 out of 5)
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Only a paid critic would say this was as good as The Muppets!

MUPPETS MOST WANTED

Swift shot: Where’s the star?  The Muppets exploded a few years ago with avid Muppetphile Jason Segel and Amy Adams attacking the film with as much intensity as Rizzo the Rat going after cheese, but there was no comparable star power in Muppets: Most Wanted.  In fact, the title is ironic, as it left me wanting more.

Starring . . . no one, but with plenty of cameos strewn throughout the 112 minute run time, Muppets: Most Wanted is essentially a stale re-hash of the The Great Muppet Caper and The Muppets Take Manhattan,  which were much better and had real stars (of the time) behind them.  In those films, Miss Piggy is framed for stealing jewels, and The Muppets travel throughout Europe getting into funny situations and there is a Muppet wedding.

In Muppets: Most Wanted, Ricky Gervais plays pompous Dominic Badguy, #2 to super-spy, mastermind criminal #1 Constantine (a frog identical to Kermit save one large mole).  There is a less than inspiring song about how Badguy is always going to be #2.  It lacks anything comparable to the Academy Award winning Man or Muppet also written by Bret McKenzie.

Constantine frames The Muppets for jewel heists around Europe, as Ty Burrell as some French inspector that is always taking Socialism approved breaks works with Sam Eagle [Swift aside: my favorite muppet] a barely capable CIA agent to find The Lemur (an international jewel thief).  They bumble and stumble and provide probably the only real laughs of the film, as many of the other jokes just didn’t cut it for me, a Muppet connoisseur. My six year old kid was less than thrilled by many of the kid-targeted pratfalls and physical comedy . . . and, he likes just about everything at this age.  And the parent-targeted humor received merely a passing grade.

That was the film’s major flaw, aside from the lack of star power, it wasn’t strong on any level.  The juvenile jokes were sub-par, and the parental targeted jokes were less funny.  I will admit that my favorite scene had to do with Tina Fey as a Siberian prison guard revealing a softer side to her character, but there was no real emotion in any of the film.  Heck, I remember actually feeling for Amy Adams in the last film, and Walter and Gary – but with Muppets: Most Wanted, it was like one big joke that I wasn’t a part of.

Now, let me say one thing I really, really enjoyed about Muppets: Most Wanted, it was a direct attack on the 2012 Presidential selection, err, election.  See, Constantine is an impostor, and while the Muppets (on the surface) can’t grasp that, deep in their hearts they know there is something just off with Kermit (who is rotting in that previously mentioned Siberian Gulag).

They even spoon-feed the metaphor at the end, when The Muppets realize that the false-Kermit was going along with everything they wanted to do, no questions asked, the reviews were great, they were getting free stuff and it didn’t matter that they kinda had a hunch Kermit was, well, not Kermit.  See the comparison there?  I sure did!  The way that Constantine was manipulating the reviews and padding the audience was lost on The Muppets, because they were happy living in the fantasy that they were ever that good.

Sadly, and I do mean that because I wanted it to be different, but this Muppets film was just not that great, folks.  There was no star of the show, I have already seen a Piggy/Kermit wedding, and the lack of Amy Adams and Jason Segel just couldn’t be surpassed.  I won’t call this a major disappointment, but it will leave only a minor mark.

Basically, if you are going to bore me OR my kid, I can understand you targeted one of us more than the other, but if you bore us both, what’s the point?  I expected better.

 

 

Rise of the Fellowship

Wednesday, February 26th, 2014

***

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What do you think would turn four friends into adventurers? In December 2013, we were shown exactly what would do that: An epic quest!

Rise of the Fellowship

Directing this 92 minute adventure/comedy/fantasy is Ron Newcomb.

Some of the adventurous cast is: Justin Moe as Randall, Jayme Bell as Squirrelly, Cole Matson as Nate, Emma Earnest as Stacey, Jason Kriznarich as Joe, Drew Trementozzi as Thad/Gollum Kid,  Ron Newcomb as Stan, Pete Stephen Rourke and Wolf J. Sherrill as Baba Melvin Schnabel.

Randall and his friends have heard the greatest news in the world. There is going to be a Lord of the Rings online game competition. The game store Randall works at is hosting a smaller qualifying competition to see which team from their area will make it to the big competition. It’s an honor every team wants, and some will do anything to make sure their team is the one that makes it to the competition.

Unfortunately, due to a villainous plot, Randall is unable to make it to the qualifying competition, which leaves his team a man short and far from victory. Crushed hopes and dreams will soon lead these four friends on what will be an epic quest. One of courage, redemption… and of course, honor.

Some movies motivate us to do great things, while some movies inspire us to create great things. Here you have both in one package.

Now, I don’t know about you but I’m a Lord of the Rings (LOTR) fan, and well, after watching this flick I got the feeling that writers Christopher Bunn, Scott Mathias and Ron Newcomb are… really big fans. As we’ve all seen, sometimes when a great movie hits the media world we as viewers have been flooded with less than interesting carbon copies trying to tell that same tale over and over. Here you get something… well, different, which has a really cool playthrough. Now, by no means is this a serious film, but an adventurous, cheesy, fun, LOTR reference filled parody. So I can see this movie not being everyone’s cup of tea, but for gamers and/or LOTR fans, I’d recommend it for at least a one time watch.

Most of the cast does a good job, but yeah not the best acting from beginning to end. Something I didn’t know was this one is officially authorized by the LOTR brand, which I thought was pretty cool. There are some great LOTR transitions and references used throughout the film that make for some great scenes. Overall, if you’re not familiar with the whole LOTR thing you may not find much enjoyment here… and it also means you’ve missed out on a great trilogy. Which that makes me sad. Yet for the other 80% of the population that is familiar with the trilogy, I say grab some popcorn and give it a spin. It might even become your next precious.

 

 

Robocop (2014)

Wednesday, February 12th, 2014

***

It sucked!It'll be on cable.I liked it.It was good!It was awesome!! (1 People gave this 3.00 out of 5)
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I’d buy that for a dollar… and not a penny more.

RoboCop 2014

The H-Bomb:  In the year 2028, America’s wars are fought by combat droids developed by the robo-tech giant, OmniCorp.  Having proven to be very successful overseas, OmniCorp’s CEO Raymond Sellars (Michael Keaton) wants to bring the droids stateside, rewire them for urban pacification, and deploy them in the crime ridden streets of America’s cities, starting with Detroit.  The problem is, the use of these robots on U.S. soil is illegal, because, as some in congress see it, police work should be left to human beings, who actually have a conscience and are capable of making moral decisions.

Sellars, the enterprising fellow that he is, finds a loophole to this law: Why not put a human inside a robot?  So, with a legal enough solution at hand, Sellars puts his top scientist, Dr. Dennett Norton (Gary Oldman) on the case of finding a maimed police officer to fit the bill.  Enter Alex Murphy (Joel Kinnaman), a Detroit detective who was recently blown to bits via car bomb while investigating a gun smuggling ring.  The good Dr. Norton is able to salvage the parts of Murphy that still work, the heart, the lungs, the spine, the right hand, and perhaps most importantly, the brain.

Norton fuses those living components with a slick robotic body and thus, RoboCop is born… almost.  See, Murphy’s brain, his intelligence, personality, and memories are all intact, so when he gets a gander at his new body, it takes him some time to readjust, as I’m sure you can imagine.  After some vigorous training and programming at their facility in China, OmniCorp thinks they have a robot cop they can control while giving Murphy the “illusion of free will,” and they bring him back to Detroit to start cleaning up the streets.

At first, all is well, with RoboCop kicking criminal ass all over the Motor City.  He’s a big hit with the public, and OmniCorp stands to make a ton of money, since it looks like their combat droids may very well be sanctioned for use in the U.S., after all.  But, an issues arises, Murphy starts thinking about his wife (Abbie Cornish) and son (John Paul Ruttan), who have been kept away from him for weeks.  He then defies his programming when he stops following company orders, and starts investigating his own murder.

OmniCorp has a very real problem on their hands; a part man, part machine that’s beyond their command.  Sellars is going to have to keep this contained while quietly disposing of Murphy.  Sadly for Mr. Sellars, this is fucking RoboCop we’re talking about, and he’s not about to be disposed of by anyone.

Just to lay it all out, this RoboCop ain’t shit compared to the 1987 original.  That film, directed by Paul Verhoeven, is a bullet-to-the-balls satire of 80’s corporatism and is hands down one of the greatest action movies ever made.  This remake/reboot/re-whatever-you-want-to-call-it, is a watered down, defanged, and downright pussified version that doesn’t have a fraction of the original’s potency.  However, watching this re-imagining as a standalone movie, it’s not half-bad.  It will never be the classic that the first movie is, but it could have been far, far worse (ahem, Total Recall refake).  I’ll put it this way, it’s far better than either of the wretched RoboCop sequels from the early 90’s.  At least this one had the decency not to include any robot ninjas or psychotic 12-year-old crime bosses.

Directed by Brazilian filmmaker Jose Padilha, who made the brutally fantastic Elite Squad films, the remake updates the backdrop from the Reagan 80’s to a post-war on terror world.  The action is mostly bloodless, and while it’s passable for the most part, it’s really nothing amazing.  I did like the agility of this new RoboCop, who’s able to jump, dodge, and dive, as opposed to simply lumbering about.  Robo’s new physicality is cool to watch, but most of the action sequences, particularly the climax at OmniCorp, are lacking any real oomph and seem weirdly half-baked.

Also lacking are the movie’s villains, with the single exception of Keaton, who gets the best role he’s had in years as OmniCorp’s duplicitous CEO.  He is slimy good and I loved him.  The other bad guys, including Jackie Earle Haley’s assholish mercenary, are sketchily defined and under-used.  Not to keep going back to the original, but that one gave us such memorable cretins as Kurtwood Smith’s cooly sadistic Clarence Boddicker, and Ronny Cox’s ruthless corporate cut throat, Dick Jones.  This one gives us a couple of bland crooked cops and some boring Rutger Hauer lookalike.  YAWN.

So, while Robo’s villains score a big fat zero, the movie does make up for it, to an extent, with its media satire, which is mainly delivered by Samuel L. Jackson as a blowhard TV commentator.  Unsubtly named Pat Novak, he is very much a jab at the Fox News style of host, but Jackson plays him with relish and gets just about all the laugh out loud moments in the film.  That bit where he blows his stack and starts screaming “Motherf(bleep)” towards the end is classic SLJ.

Another aspect I like is something that hasn’t been explored since the first film, Murphy’s humanity.  I say the remake actually one-ups the original on this point.  Here, Murphy retains his human personality, so we see his pain and anguish when he realizes he’s been stripped of his body and his life.  The fact that he is fully aware of who he used to be, and has to struggle with that throughout, is an interesting new angle that adds depth to the character.  Some will say that this approach makes Murphy seem more like EmoCop than RoboCop, but I beg to differ.  I say it makes Murphy more complex, and performance wise, Kinnaman nails it.  He may not be Peter Weller, but he’s not trying to be.  This is a new take on the mechanical crime fighter, and I’m down with that.

Other touches that work in the movie’s favor are the inclusions of Murphy’s wife, Clara, and the good natured scientist, Dr. Norton.  Only seen in brief flashbacks before, Clara is fleshed out into a full on supporting character, a woman who refuses to give up on her husband, and is played to perfection by Cornish, who is clearly giving it her all.  As for Oldman, as the well meaning Dr. Norton… well, he’s Gary fucking Oldman, what else is there to say?  After decades of wowing us by playing creeps and weirdos, he shows us, like he did in the The Dark Knight Trilogy, that he can be every bit as compelling in a sympathetic role.

In case you haven’t caught on, it’s the cast of RoboCop that carries it such a long way and makes it a much better movie than it has any right to be.  As a staunch lover of the original film, I went into this expecting, and even wanting, to hate it.  But I honestly didn’t.  Now, when I start comparing it to the original… yeah, it suffers big time.  The first film gave us so many memorable moments that were just money, from the failed ED-209 demonstration, to Robo shooting a would-be rapist in the crotch, to the guy melting from the toxic waste, and the car that hits him… the remake gives us nothing that even comes close to any of that.

The fact that Robo trades his signature Auto-9 for a souped-up taser is a telltale sign that this lacks all the edge and bite of Paul Verhoeven’s masterpiece.  But, again, judging it on its own merits, I say that RoboCop, the remake, is a solid, though somewhat forgettable, action flick.  A decent way to kill a couple of hours… just make sure you kill those hours at a matinee showing.

 

 

Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit

Wednesday, January 22nd, 2014

***

It sucked!It'll be on cable.I liked it.It was good!It was awesome!! (1 People gave this 3.00 out of 5)
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JACK RYAN: SHADOW RECRUIT

What do you do when life throws you a curve ball? In January 2014, Jack’s curve turned out to be the best thing that ever happened to him.

Directing this 105 minute action/drama/thriller is Kenneth Branagh.

So some of the cast you’ll see is: Chris Pike as Jack Ryan, Keira Knightley as Cathy Muller, Kevin Costner as Thomas Harper, Kenneth Branagh as Viktor Cherevin, Peter Andersson as Dimitri Lemkov, Alec Utgoff as Aleksandr Borovsky, Gemma Chan as Amy Chang, Lenn Kudrjawizki as Constantin, Mikhail Baryshnikov as Interior Minister Sorokin and Colm Feore as Rob Behringer.

After his helicopter is shot down in Afghanistan, Second Lieutenant Jack Ryan is left severly wounded. During his rehabilitation, Jack meets Thomas Harper of the CIA, who offers him a job due to Jack’s ability to recognize patterns. Years later, Jack now works on Wall Street, watching the numbers, looking for any evidence that could lead to possible terrorist activity. That’s when Jack notices something funny going on with billions of dollars in Russian assets. All of the accounts Jack is watching can be traced back to a man named Viktor Cheverin.

Wanting to take a closer look, Jack hops a plane and travels to Moscow so he can audit Viktor’s secret accounts. After digging deeper, Jack realizes the situation is bigger than he thought. Now, Jack must figure out what Viktor is up to, and why, before it’s too late.

So, Tom Clancy fans, we get hit with another shot of Jack Ryan. The last time we saw Jack in action was in 2002’s The Sum of All Fears. The story-line was pretty cool, and carries a real life fear which adds to the film. The cast does a really good job and Branagh, who not only directs but stars in this film, did great pulling double duty. Now, Chris Pike is the fourth man to take on the Jack Ryan character and does a really good job. Since the character has been played by others, I gotta say Harrison Ford still reigns supreme as Jack Ryan.

While this is a good movie and pretty entertaining, it’s not the super hit I was expecting and waiting to see. Overall, it falls into the average good film category, with a good cast, story and play through. Yet, it’s missing something that would make it that blockbuster I was hoping for. So, it’s something you’re going to want to see, but it’s not really worth the money to rush right out for.

 

 

Passion

Monday, November 25th, 2013

***

It sucked!It'll be on cable.I liked it.It was good!It was awesome!! (2 People gave this 4.00 out of 5)
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“There’s no backstabbing here… it’s just business.”

Passion

The H-Bomb: The 2000’s, for the most part, have not been kind to Brian De Palma, the high style auteur of such modern classics as Carrie, Scarface, and Dressed to Kill. Yes, in 2002 he did bring us Femme Fatale, which is a personal favorite, but he was also responsible for the super dumb Mission to Mars, the wretched Iraq War film, Redacted, and the astonishingly awful train wreck, The Black Dahlia, which I’ve ranted on in the past..

It goes without saying that for the last decade or so, De Palma has been way off his game. I would even go so far as to say he’s lost a step, except his films have always been hit or miss with me. So, after taking a six year hiatus, no doubt to air out the stench caused by the double stuffed shit-bomb that was The Black Dahlia and Redacted, the director returns to his roots with Passion, a relatively low key, Hitchcockian thriller, the kind of which defined his early career. Is De Palma back in fighting form, or should he have just stayed in retirement? We shall see…

A remake of a 2010 French film, Crime d’amour, Passion tells the story of conniving advertising executive, Christine (Rachel McAdams), and her seemingly naive subordinate, Isabelle (Noomi Rapace). Both women are incredibly ambitious, Christine ruthlessly so, which is made apparent when she takes all the credit for a brilliant ad campaign idea that Isabelle concocted. Isabelle, understandably, is completely livid, even though Christine assures her that it’s not backstabbing, it’s just business.

But, of course, it is backstabbing, and Isabelle isn’t about to forget it. This sets the stage for a series of double crosses and betrayals between the two. Eventually, Christine’s oily, womanizing boyfriend, Dirk (Paul Anderson), and Isabelle’s all-too-dedicated assistant, Dani (Karoline Herfurth), get caught up in the back and forth as the rivalry escalates to the point where it’s no longer about business, it’s bitterly personal. I would discuss the plot in more detail, but in this case, saying any more would be saying too much, so I won’t.

While Passion is not among De Palma’s best efforts, it’s certainly not among his very worst, either. For me, it ranks somewhere in the upper-middle of his body of work. It’s a slick, stylish exercise that’s fairly entertaining, but is also, like many of De Palma’s Hitchcock knock-offs, very thin on substance, and overall, just isn’t particularly memorable.

The first two thirds of the film are carried by the intriguing-yet-uneasy chemistry between McAdams and Rapace. There’s definitely some love/hate tension in the air, with some less-than-subtle lesbian overtones, but the hate ultimately wins out, and for a while, the constant mind games and dirty tricks made for a fiendishly fun watch. I was truly invested and curious as to how all the cat-and-mouse antics would ultimately play out. Then, at the end of act two, the movie abruptly switches gears and turns into a whodunit. A whodunit that’s as illogical as it is predictable. It doesn’t ruin the film, per se, but I would have much preferred to see it take a different path, instead of turning into some half-assed Giallo.

Still, De Palma does keep it reasonably enjoyable, with some truly striking camera work and lighting by cinematographer Jose Luis Alcaine, which become progressively more stylized as the story turns increasingly melodramatic. De Palma certainly hasn’t lost any of his visual luster, I’ll give him that. As for the performances, I’d say McAdams is the one to write home about. She inhabits this backstabbing bitch on wheels so flawlessly, that you’ll find yourself wanting desperately to see her get her comeuppance, she is that detestable.

Less convincing is Rapace as the meeker of the two. She isn’t bad by any means, and I’m sure this has everything to do with my having seen her in the Dragon Tattoo trilogy, but I just couldn’t quite buy her as meek, or as anyone who would take shit off of someone like McAdams. She does play crazy quite well, though, when her character is finally pushed to her breaking point. She gets scary dangerous, and that’s where she really shines.

The mostly impressive lead performances aside, Passion is merely a minor score for De Palma. Like I said, it stands head-and-shoulders above his last couple of outings, it’s visually gorgeous and fascinating to a point, but there just simply isn’t a whole hell of a lot to it. Casual moviegoers will probably be put off by the first two thirds of the film, which are rather European in its minimalism and its pacing, whereas die hard De Palma fans will love it when he goes crazy with his signature camera tricks in the final act, and will probably rate this higher. For me, though, Passion is just all right. I was hoping for something more than all right, as this is Brian freakin’ De Palma we’re talking about here, but all right was all I got. Perhaps I should simply be happy with that, because judging from his more recent track record, it could have been far, far worse.

V/H/S 2

Wednesday, November 13th, 2013

***

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Getting warmer . . . 

vhs2

The H-Bomb: Earlier this year, I reviewed the found footage horror anthology, V/H/S, which wasn’t entirely uninteresting, but ultimately, I didn’t care for it. The first half hour featured characters so thoroughly obnoxious and unpleasant that it made the film nearly unwatchable, many of the vignettes seemed half-baked, and the overall execution was just sloppy. Nevertheless, the film won enough fans in the horror community to make it a success, and now we have the inevitable sequel, V/H/S/2, a sequel that has, to an extent, improved upon a number of the original’s shortcomings.

Like the first film, this is an anthology shot in various styles of found footage, some of which are a bit contrived, but hey, you have to allow for that kind of thing. This time we are given four shorts of gruesomely gory mayhem, as well as a wrap around story. The wrap around, featuring two private investigators searching for a missing person, and finding themselves in a creepy house with stacks of VHS tapes, is pretty damn weak and only serves to bridge the stories together. The private eyes are given zippity-doo-dick in the way of personalities, and we’re never made to care about them or the case they’re investigating. Fortunately, this takes up very little screen time, as it’s the vignettes that are the main attraction, and for the most part, they do deliver.

First up is “Phase 1 Clinical Trials”, directed by Adam Wingard, about a young man (played by Wingard) who has revolutionary eye surgery after a car accident. As a result of this surgery, the man now has a camera in his eye, a camera that is recording everything he sees. Sure, it’s a major invasion of privacy, but that’s a small price to pay for having his vision restored. However, he will soon realize that the lack of privacy is about to become the least of his worries, as this new camera eye allows him to see things… things that were never meant to be seen by the living. For the sake of spoilers, as will be the case for all of these, I’ll keep the description to a minimum. I’ll merely say that this one provides your typical ghost movie jolts, albeit well executed, and serves as a nice, if unremarkable, appetizer for what’s to come.

Next we get “A Ride in the Park”, which comes to us from directors Gregg Hale and Eduardo Sanchez (co-helmer of The Blair Witch Project), and man oh man is this where V/H/S/2 really starts to one-up its predecessor. It begins with an outdoors enthusiast (Jay Saunders) going for a bicycle ride in a picturesque state park with a camera mounted to the top of his helmet. It seems like a beautiful day for a bike ride, but things quickly go south when our biker comes upon a woman who appears to have been stricken by The Walking Dead virus. The biker is bitten by this rabid she-bitch and becomes infected by whatever this bug is that ails her.

From here, things kick into a higher gear of awesome, as a zombie rampage ensues, all of which is recorded by the camera atop the zombie’s head. Now, normally I think zombie stories have been done to fucking death (I don’t watch The Walking Dead and have no interest in ever doing so), but in this particular case, having it all unfold from the zombie’s point of view makes it seem fresh and novel to where I was able to have a blast with it, despite my being bored fucking stiff with zombie movies. That it doesn’t skimp on the guts and carnage only made it all the better.

After that comes “Safe Haven”, co-directed by Timo Tjahjanto and Gareth Evans, the latter being the director of The Raid: Redemption, one of the most kick ass fucking awesome action flicks ever. This story follows a documentary film crew as they go inside the compound of an apocalyptic religious cult in Indonesia to interview its delusional nut bag (and potential pedophile) of a leader. However, as we soon realize, perhaps the cult’s leader is neither delusional nor a nut bag, as a crap load of crazy Satanic shit unfolds. This one, for me, is easily the very best of the lot, as it is the creepiest, the most balls out insane, and has by far the best ending of any of the shorts. It also features the best up the nose snot shot since The Blair Witch Project.

Finally, we come to the last story, directed by Jason Eisener, “Slumber Party Alien Abduction”, and the title pretty much says it all. A bunch of bratty kids, as well as a couple of douche bag teenagers, are having a sleep over at a lakeside house while the parents are away. They record all their prankster hijinks of the night with a video camera… just because, when all of the sudden, strange loud noises are heard, followed by bright flashes of fiery light. Next thing the kiddies know, much to their horror, the lakeside house is besieged by extraterrestrial beings who mean to harm them. Man, what a fucking buzz kill. This final segment, sadly, just kind of sucked. The characters were incredibly annoying, and the alien attack itself mistook loud and shrill for scary and exciting. And V/H/S/2 was doing so well… damn it. At least, this alien invasion does have the distinction of being filmed mostly from the point of view of a dog.

Overall, despite being far from perfect, and despite the last vignette sort of blowing, I’d say that V/H/S/2 is a massive improvement over the original in just about every way, shape, and form. The stories are much more well thought out, more consistent, and more successfully executed, with endings that make the viewer go “ah ha” instead of “huh?” The fact that it clocks in at a reasonable ninety minutes, as opposed to an un-Godly two hours like the original, also helps quite a bit. It’s not what I would call great, and some of the stories, again, work better than others, but as far as horror anthologies go, this is a decent effort, and now that it’s streaming on Netflix, I say definitely give it a look, if you’re into this kind of thing.

The Fifth Estate

Thursday, October 17th, 2013

***

It sucked!It'll be on cable.I liked it.It was good!It was awesome!! (Give us your rating!!)
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Are people allowed to have secrets?

The Fifth Estate

Swift shot: That seems to be the question of the early Twenty-First century, are people (and institutions) permitted to have secrets? The Fifth Estate does a fair job making an argument, but overall the audience is left wondering what the answer should be. This is to the film’s credit. The downfall lies in the politics, the ego, and the pride of the film-makers and the story-teller, Daniel Berg (Daniel Bruhl). His one-sided account of the Julian Assange show, essentially, was compelling, but lacking a truth that Benedict Cumberbatch, as Assange points out at the end of the film.

In 1991, a US Air Force A-10 Thunderbolt attacked a column of armored vehicles in Desert Storm.  That pilot accidentally killed seven US Marines.

In 2009, US Army Apache choppers descended into enemy occupied Iraq and opened fire on what they thought were armed combatants.  That pilot accidentally killed several members of a Reuters team.

Both of these events were tragic – one was highly politicized and was used to smear American involvement in the Gulf.  More to the point, it was used to showcase the ego of a true menace to society, a man who thinks that he is allowed to have secrets, but anyone who gets in his way, can’t.  Make no mistake, Assange is no hero – he’s a narcissist of the worst kind, a man without scruples nor honor.

I’ll be damned if I am going to sit here and praise him for exposing national secrets and sources, jeopardizing American and allied lives.  If you see this movie and think he is some kind of hero, you are delusional at best and probably just can’t see past your admiration for Cumberbatch.  Cumberbatch, of course, does an excellent job, and I found myself many times forgetting he was playing a part.

What may have started as a noble effort for Assange and his “army” (exposing corruption and extortion), quickly turned into a rabid zealousness to “scoop” other reporters.  In the end, that’s all you really get with WikiLeaks – as Assange put it “editing reflects bias – we don’t edit.”  Actually, they do, to cover their asses and protect their sources . . . while institutions run contrary to anarchy, so they are ripe for attack.  See, Assange is just a white-haired hypocrite.  He’s no anarchist; his institution is WikiLeaks.  Does he want his secrets exposed?

The film-makers tried to mirror a better film, The Social Network, by showing how WikiLeaks was formed.  But unless you are a legit coder/hacker, it becomes tedious to watch.  Daniel has an interesting story-line, but again, he comes off as almost deific – so I call the source material into question.  All people have faults, and all people fuck up occasionally . . . even (and especially) institutions.

The Fifth Estate suffers as a real thriller, because the tension between Daniel and Julian is never really given the room to be as compelling as the film-makers pretend it is.  Julian is just an annoying asshole, Daniel is his willing lackey, and the film bounces from location to location and only really gets interesting when real lives are in danger.  There is tension, and that’s what makes this film decent enough.  And there were some intriguing social questions raised that may linger with you well after the credits roll.  But I just felt like we weren’t being told the truth by anyone.  There is almost zero levity, and most of the perceived tension is fabricated.  Only one time was I genuinely concerned for a character in the film.

And, if you are hoping to get any kind of back-story on Pvt Manning – this country’s worst traitor, ever . . . you’ll be disappointed.  Maybe some film-makers will put that story out soon, and we will be told the “truth” – whatever the hell that means anymore.  

Before I close, I want to publicly SHAME the film-makers for their pathetically veiled attempt at providing cover for ANYTHING Hillary Clinton did in the past, or will ever do in the future, by having one of her cronies admit to signing something in Hillary’s name.  This clever editing will allow her apologists to close ranks on any investigation that might show papers with her signature.  It was gutless manipulation of an already brain-washed myopic mass of entitled spenders with no care for their freedom, their privacy, nor any semblance of honor.

Enjoy your secrets, you know WikiLeaks and the NSA are always watching.