Ask 411 Movies for 10.28.13: Sinners, Saints, and Hallowieners
Posted by Chad Webb on 10.28.2013
Was Carrie a good horor remake? Did Stallone and Schwarzenegger deliver on Escape Plan? What are the best movies about Saints? All that and more covered this week in Ask 411 Movies!
An "Ask 411 Movies" column would be nothing without questions, so please toss them my way. Why should you ask me instead of using Google? Well, perhaps I'll tell you something you can't find there, or maybe you just like my conversation and soothing words. You can post any questions or thoughts below in the comments section, email me at email@example.com, or send me a tweet using the links below:
Only had one question this week, so I decided to include a few of the mini-reviews I post on Letterboxd. Here we go!
Take Stallone, Schwarzenegger, a prison escape plot, mindless action, and plenty of one-liners and you have many of my favorite things rolled into a single doobie of awesomeness. Escape Plan would have had to royally suck for me to dislike it, but hey, at least I admit that. Toss into a subtly evil Jim Caviezel and I'm even more pumped. Is this a perfect movie? No. Is the storyline ridiculous at times? Sure. But it's still a f'n blast. This is a setup you would only see emanate from Hollywood, but it is intriguing and fun: a man who breaks out of prisons for a living. In fact he charges approximately $2.5 million every time he does this. That's a steep price-tag to tighten your security.
One of the main aspects of Escape Plan that struck me is the production design. I appreciated that director Mikael Hafstrom and his crew went out of their way to craft a prison/layout we'd never seen before. Stallone's Ray Breslin starts out in a regular maximum security prison, but ends up being thrown in a slick, inventive new model. Screenwriters Miles Chapman and Jason Keller do integrate an anti-privatization commentary into the fray, but thankfully it's not ham-fisted. With these stars you're not getting a polemic. Though the script is not flawless, I did enjoy that Breslin and Schwarzenegger's Emil Rottmayer made mistakes and were forced to call audibles from time to time when the situation didn't go the way the wanted.
On the acting side, Stallone excels at his brooding "man of few words" persona. I realize that his efforts are not for everyone, but the fact that some critics still accuse him of "phoning it in" when he acts in this manner is baffling. This is the performance that has been bringing people to theaters for decades. Arnold Schwarzenegger is hilarious as Rottmayer, a superb name. Arnold gets most of the best one-liners, but he and Stallone establish good chemistry (as they did in The Expendables 1 & 2). Both portray highly intelligent men, which makes the their conversations, along with the wtists and turns of the plan very interesting. Amy Ryan and Curtis Jackson are solid as Breslin's compatriots, and Vincent D'Onofrio is terrific as his business partner. Jim Caviezel is excellent as the subdued and maniacal Warden Hobbes, channeling Patrick McGoohan & Bob Gunton, and you also have a badass Vinnie Jones as the lead guard.
The balls-to-the-wall action of the last segment is chaotic but fantastic. I would have preferred a longer fight sequence between Stallone and Schwarzenegger, but what we saw was entertaining. As conventional as the plot might seem, it was suspenseful and did contain a few twists I didn't anticipate. Hafstrom's direction is smooth & reservedly stylish with a snappy pace. This is Stallone's second straight-up prison film (his 4th where he's an inmate), and I'd rate this about on par with Lock Up. Escape Plan is less about action than it is soaking up the charisma of its leads, and that's ok. It accomplishes exactly what it set out to do, doesn't pretend to be anything it's not, avoids taking itself too seriously, and overall meets expectations nicely. If you don't care for the two stars, don't see it. I loved it.
Final Rating = 7.5/10.0
When it comes to remakes, I don't like that the amount of them has increased so much from year to year, but I like to think I've grown to accept that fact to some degree. I just ask one thing of them: justify your existence. If you're simply redoing an old story for new audiences the same way, that's not enough in my eyes. It's unimaginative, lazy, and greedy. Kimberly Peirce's Carrie doesn't fulfill this obligation. Having read the book and seen Brian DePalma's overrated adaptation, I can say that no key plot points have been changed...none.
I'm sure upon discussing this with people that they will inform me of minor alterations, but what is different is inconsequential. What follows is basically a word for word copy of my criticism of the original film. I didn't have to change much except for the names. Every incarnation of Carrie is a mishmash of cliches and poorly realized characters. The major failing of the story is in characterization. Everyone is a caricature aside from Carrie: the religious fanatic, the bitchy pretty girl, the sex-obsessed dolt, and the caring teacher. Then there are Tommy and Sue, whose murky motives are without rhyme or reason. On the other hand, Carrie, while not developed to her full potential, is still an intriguing persona that is distinctive compared to everyone surrounding her. We do sympathize with Carrie, and like Sissy Spacek, Chloe Grace Moretz gives a terrific performance, one with subtlety and nuance, unlike every other person in the cast. She is just as gripping as Spacek, but affords her own version of this girl. Yes, Julianne Moore is fine, but she succeeds within the context of the story and what the role called for. In truth, her character is thin and over the top, whereas Moretz is not, and then you have sitcom-esque students. Moretz also accomplishes what Spacek did in single-handedly salvaging certain scenes from being utterly horrendous.
Obviously bullying is a hot-button topic nowadays. I don't see anything in Carrie that offers a new spin, take, opinion, approach, commentary, or whatever else in relation to being picked on or tormented in school. The villains in the film are cartoonishly evil and there is a huge disparity between that and genuine bullying. If we're claiming that this includes a profound message on bullying, then so did Family Matters in relation to Urkel. In fact, all the expressions of teen angst are overstrung and overcooked here; the bad dialogue only reinforces that. The lengths certain characters go to just to hurt Carrie is ridiculous. It was dumb in 1976 and is equally so now. In a year filled with moving coming-of-age efforts, this is easily near the bottom of the pile.
In analyzing the "horror" of Carrie, once again it is carefully veiled, which in turn causes the entire production to come across as a mismanaged, scantily written, B-movie version of a John Hughes film. Revenge flicks have particular bright spots to look forward to, and two of those are the build-up to the climactic act and the pleasure of seeing the antagonists get what's coming to them. Neither of these qualities emerges in Carrie. Peirce fails to generate any more tension than DePalma over 3 decades ago; everything plays out like lame melodrama. When the moment of vengeance arrives, it happens so chaotically and results in so many deaths that we're barely given an opportunity to savor the crucial ones. Admittedly, the second windshield death was cool, but Peirce (along with screenwriter Robert Aguirre-Sacasa) come dangerously close to Carrie going through a Walter White transformation during the cheap exploitation.
So they have given the effects and overall guise of the story an upgrade for today's audiences. Yay. This is a bland retread in every sense. At least DePalma's vision was somewhat gritty, Peirce's direction is too slick and...whatever the opposite of innovative is (uncreative and uninspired I guess). The most disappointing factor in all this is that premise has potential, it's just never explored. This is no more involving than the original, less-so to be truthful. Chloe Grace Moretz is a great talent, but she should stop doing horror remakes.
Final Rating = 4.0/10.0
If you want a director to properly dramatize a real life ordeal, there are few better choices than Paul Greengrass. He has done this brilliantly three times, first with Bloody Sunday, then United 93 and now Captain Phillips. This is a film that will have you digging your nails into the arm rest of your chair. It is undeniably suspenseful, meticulously detailed, and uses Greengrass' signature pacing and style to great effect. What makes this so exciting is that the material is not rushed. It is allowed to develop and build as organically as possible. And even though this could have settled for being a mere re-telling of the events, it ventures further to show why it happened, putting us in the shoes of both the perpetrators and the victims. The action and the thrills are constructed with such urgency and immediacy. The decisions of the characters, even if you don't agree with all of them, are believable and are understandable given the situation. The fact that Greengrass can take a news story in which the ending was widely known and still have every viewer so riveted, so engaged, and so moved, is a testament to his skill as a filmmaker.
But Captain Phillips would be nothing without its acting. Tom Hanks delivers another bravura performance that starts out as very straightforward and procedural and becomes a man placed in an untenable position. The audience clings to his every movement and word. He is wonderfully matched with Barkhad Abdi as the pirate leading this hijacking, Muse. Their scenes together are electric. As for the supporting cast, they are tethered so steadfastly to reality due to Greengrass' vision, that we tend to overlook how unassuming and superb their turns are, but everyone does a fabulous job.
I had seen the trailers for Captain Phillips so many times, and they gave away so much information and footage that I expected the experience of seeing this to be tainted for me. Thankfully I was wrong. This is a phenomenal effort from a director and actor I only respect more with each passing title. Obviously the accusations from the actual crew members, talking about how fictionalized this movie was, has been making the rounds. I'm not bothered by that controversy. I see this as a poignant, tense, sterling film.
Final Rating = 10.0/10.0
If want to know more about my movie tastes, check out my page on Letterboxd by clicking right here. Also, make sure to look at all the great articles and writers at 411, particularly in the Movie-zone because that's where I predominantly am, but all of the zones.
Hey Chad, All saints day is this week. What are the best movies about saints (and please don't have 10 movies about st nick)?
I won't choose any about St. Nick, though to be honest I'm not sure I would have thought to include him anyway. This is not an easy one for me to answer because there have been a lot of obscure and relatively unknown films about Saints. If you're super religious, you might know what these are. I came across several titles I had never seen. I'll post a link at the bottom of my selections to give you a more comprehensive list.
*The Passion of Joan of Arc is a silent film produced in France in 1928. It is based on the actual record of the trial of Joan of Arc. The film was directed by Carl Theodor Dreyer and stars Renée Jeanne Falconetti. It is widely regarded as a landmark of cinema, especially for its production, Dreyer's direction and Falconetti's performance, which has been described as being among the finest in cinema history. The film summarizes the time that Joan of Arc was a captive of England. It depicts her trial, imprisonment, torture, and execution.
Dreyer's The Passion of Joan of Arc was one of the first silent films I saw after I had really became a film buff. It made a huge impact on me. Never before had I seen such vivid images of an execution. Falconetti's performance is extraordinary and will most certainly stick with you. And as for Dreyer's direction, well, he was one of kind. He crafted such lasting pieces of work, scenes that lingered with you. There have been many biopics about Joan of Arc, but not one holds a candle to this. And she is a Roman Catholic Saint.
*The Flowers of St. Francis is a 1950 film directed by Roberto Rossellini and co-written by Federico Fellini. The film is based on two books, the 14th-century novel Fioretti Di San Francesco (Little Flowers of St. Francis) and La Vita di Frate Ginepro (The Life of Brother Juniper), both of which relate the life and work of St. Francis and the early Franciscans. I Fioretti is composed of 78 small chapters. The novel as a whole is less biographical and is instead more focused on relating extravagant tales of the life of St. Francis and his followers. The movie follows the same premise, though rather than relating all 78 chapters, it focuses instead on nine of them.
Included in the acting cast is Gianfranco Bellini as the narrator, who has voice-dubbed several American films for the Italian cinema. Monks from the Nocere Inferiore Monastery played the roles of St. Francis and the friars. Playing the role of St Francis is a Franciscan brother who is not credited, Brother Nazario Gerardi. The only professional actor in the film is the prominent Aldo Fabrizi, who had worked with Rossellini before. In this film, Fabrizi plays the role of Nicolaio, the tyrant of Viterbo.
This is an episodic neorealist picture. I watched this long ago in school and have not re-watched it. I do remember enjoying it, but was struck by how the director's approach was unusually for the period. Rossellini's film was received poorly by critics upon its release and is now generally regarded as a classic. Criterion releasing definitely helped a bit. Rossellini and Fellini obviously care for these friars and are sympathetic to their way of life. There is also humor in from what I remember. Everyone should know that this is intentionally disorganized, the drama is not typical, nor is the cinematography. You just sit back and watch these character go about their lives.
*The Song of Bernadette is a 1943 drama film which tells the story of Saint Bernadette Soubirous, who from February to July 1858 in Lourdes, France, reported eighteen visions of the Blessed Virgin Mary. It was directed by Henry King. The film was adapted by George Seaton from a novelization of Bernadette's story, written by Franz Werfel. The novel was published in 1941 and was extremely popular, spending more than a year on the New York Times Best Seller list and thirteen weeks heading the list.
I must admit that I've never seen this one, but it appeared on nearly every list I stumbled across about "Best Movies About Saints," so I displayed it here. Since you mentioned it was All Saints Week, I will have to rent this from Netflix soon.
*Becket is a 1964 film adaptation of the play Becket or the Honour of God by Jean Anouilh made by Hal Wallis Productions and released by Paramount Pictures. It was directed by Peter Glenville and produced by Hal B. Wallis with Joseph H. Hazen as executive producer. The screenplay was written by Edward Anhalt based on Anouilh's play. The music score was by Laurence Rosenthal, the cinematography by Geoffrey Unsworth and the editing by Anne V. Coates. The film stars Richard Burton as Thomas Becket and Peter O'Toole as King Henry II, with John Gielgud as King Louis VII, Donald Wolfit as Gilbert Foliot, Paolo Stoppa as Pope Alexander III, Martita Hunt as Empress Matilda, Pamela Brown as Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine, Siân Phillips, Felix Aylmer, Gino Cervi, David Weston, and Wilfrid Lawson.
With Richard Burton, Peter O'Toole, and John Gielgud as cast members, you know you're getting great acting at the very least. This is a lavish, intimate, and absorbing motion picture about power and how a friendship can disintegrate. Directed with a steady hand by Peter Glenville, this is a basic costume period drama with above average performances. Becket was venerated as a saint by the Catholic Church.
*A Man for All Seasons is a 1966 British film based on Robert Bolt's play of the same name about Sir Thomas More. It was released on 12 December 1966. Paul Scofield, who had played More in the West End stage premiere, also took the role in the film. It was directed by Fred Zinnemann, who had previously directed such films as High Noon and From Here to Eternity. The film won six Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Actor.
Historical pieces about people who sacrificed their lives for a cause was not even new when this film was released, but the dialogue and performances in this Best Picture winner are so fiery, profound, and passionate that it makes the film a joy to watch. The acting is this picture is uniformly brilliant. Paul Scofield is outstanding as Sir Thomas More. His manner and presence are resolute and accessible. Orson Welles has a small role, but I enjoyed it as it foreshadows on events to come rather nicely. John Hurt displays his acting muscles as Richard Rich. His role is crucial to the plot, and Hurt pulls it off just right without seeming like a weasel or a nuisance. We are constantly wondering what he'll do next. Robert Shaw's King Henry VIII is the best interpretation of that figure I have ever seen. Not only does he look more like the King than anyone else, but he seems to have nailed the personality. Fred Zinneman directs this, and as a filmmaker who has made a couple classics (From Here to Eternity, High Noon), he has no trouble recreating the period, establishing a brisk pace, and developing the characters. The visual aspects are graceful, but retain that leisurely style. It has similarities to "The Passion of Joan of Arc", and other films, but the staging, costumes, and acting make this a stand out effort, and a deserving Best Picture winner.
*The Last Temptation of Christ is a 1988 fictional drama film directed by Martin Scorsese. It is a film adaptation of the controversial 1953 novel of the same name by Nikos Kazantzakis. It stars Willem Dafoe as Jesus Christ, Harvey Keitel as Judas Iscariot, Barbara Hershey as Mary Magdalene, David Bowie as Pontius Pilate, and Harry Dean Stanton as Paul.
Like the novel, the film depicts the life of Jesus Christ and his struggle with various forms of temptation including fear, doubt, depression, reluctance and lust. This results in the book and film depicting Christ being tempted by imagining himself engaged in sexual activities, a notion that has caused outrage from some Christians. The movie includes a disclaimer explaining that it departs from the commonly accepted Biblical portrayal of Jesus' life, and is not based on the Gospels. Scorsese received an Academy Award nomination for Best Director, and Hershey's performance as Mary Magdalene earned her a Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actress nomination.
I also love Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ, but if I had to compare Gibson's film to Scorsese's, I would choose this one by a hair. It's a shade superior. I realize you specified movies on Saints, but I decided to throw this one in anyway. It seemed like the appropriate time to distinguish the best JC film. Here are some thoughts from the Webb Personal Archive: "Watching Jesus struggle with his fate was moving, his miracles were stunning to behold. This is an honest and heartfelt movie that does not hold anything back and for that I am grateful to have seen it. Willam Dafoe's performance is sensational, though Jim Caviezel was a bit better. Harvey Keitel is one of the films weak links. His tone and manner does not fit in my opinion. The rest of the cast however is fabulous. This is a movie that will make you think, and that is what I felt it should have done. While Passion is bolder and more graphic (in a positive way), this is more all-encompassing and more intricate. Both movies are outstanding, but this has an edge in terms of meaningful layers and intelligent careful direction."
For more lists involving "Movies About Saints," click here, here, and here.
Steph and I don't have any big Halloween plans this year, but I did manage to show her Frailty for the first time, which is a vastly underrated horror film directed by Bill Paxton. And since watching John Carpenter's Halloween has become something of a ritual for me every year, I'll have to find time to pop that in the player. Maybe I'll go out and buy the new Blu-Ray. Until next week friends!
"The plural of Chad is Chad?"
--From the movie Recount