Movie Zone Editor, News Columnist, Film Critic, DVD Reviewer, and host of 411mania Movies Feedback.
Hosted the Top 10 B-Movies feature, the Top 5 Christmas Movies, and the Movies Roundtable.
Creator of "The Best Movies of the Alphabet", Straight to Video Nightmares, and Nether Regions.
"Our greatest glory is not in never falling, but in getting up every time we do."
Chad applied to be a writer at 411mania after his friends suggested he be a film critic. Since he displayed his brief thoughts on new releases in his AIM away messages for friends, Chad joined 411 and had no trouble fitting in. Having this position has been great, and has given him an excuse to finally leave the criminal justice field for something ten times better.
Rock of Ages Mini-Review - 06.26.2012
The stage musical Rock of Ages has enjoyed a long healthy run on Broadway, and by all accounts, it is a good ole time. It goes to say then that a film adaptation would be equally as successful, right? Apparently not. Being a rocker at heart and a child of the 1980’s, the music featured in this movie was a big part of my life. The cast seemed promising, but I was still skeptical. My gut instinct turned out to be correct. Rock of Ages is poorly made, inherently stupid, not to mention a massive waste of time and talent.
Let’s begin the music, shall we? The amount of inconsistencies and lack of logic is mind boggling. Tom Cruise has fun portraying Axl Rose, err Stacee Jaxx, frontman for the group Arsenal. They sing a Bon Jovi tune, among others. We also have Drew (Diego Boneta), one of the two leads. His group (Wolfgang von Colt) gets a shot to open for Arsenal at the Bourbon Room and is told, “No covers.” They play Twisted Sister’s “I Wanna Rock.” Am I missing something? If these bands are responsible for these songs in this fictional universe, does that mean the real bands do not exist there? No, because the two main characters clearly venture into a record store where thousands of records by the bands we know and love rest waiting for customers. Def Leppard and Poison album covers can be observed, but the story leads us to believe that these songs belong to the characters. Ahhh! It makes no sense! And during the crucial emotional moment, Drew writes a song for his newfound soul mate Sherrie (Julianne Hough). Instead of inserting just ONE original, his heartfelt number is actually just a Journey hit. This is lazy, nonsensical, and aggravating. What exactly was the goal?
In other words, Rock of Ages doesn’t lay out its universe properly, and as a result, it comes across like Glee without the soap opera shenanigans. The movie also doesn’t understand 80’s music or the Los Angeles strip scene from that decade. I was only a toddler at the time, and am from the east coast, but I’ve seen enough documentaries and interviews to know that Rock of Ages presents a watered down, fantasy version of that era. Adam Shankman directs, and I didn’t care for his Hairspray musical either. Bright colors and paper thin characters are the order of the day for him. He is never quite certain about the identity. What does he want this to be, a story about love, the longing for fame, 80’s music, a combination of all? I also felt the editing was sloppy, leaning towards the overly manipulative and the lip synching with the cast members was downright horrid in some sequences.
Julianne Hough and Diego Boneta are the stars, and if they have a morsel of chemistry, that’s being generous. The performances are conveyed with Broadway’s theatrics in mind, but those exaggerations don’t translate to the big screen well in this case. Paul Giamatti has a blast as the sleazy manager of Stacee Jaxx, but other than that the acting is a mixed bag, with Shankman and company underusing their talent. Bryan Cranston is there for no apparent reason other than to inform us he is the husband of Catherine Zeta-Jones. Alec Baldwin is odd as Bourbon Room owner Dennis Dupree, and it doesn’t help when a weird homosexual sub-plot is shoehorned into the screenplay out of nowhere between he and a sporadically amusing Russell Brand.
As an enormous fan of 80’s rock and heavy metal, I feel like Rock of Ages portrays this period and its music in a way that will not do the bands that lived it many favors in the long run. If all Rock of Ages aims to be is a celebration of this music, then I say what’s the point? If you want to play karaoke to Guns ‘N’ Roses or Whitesnake, stay up late and watch one of those Time Life infomercials promoting their various CD box sets. It will be free and have the exact same effect.
Final Rating = 3.5/10.0
The Ides of March Mini-Review - 10.19.2011
With a cast as powerful as in The Ides of March, it seemed like a no lose situation. Ryan Gosling as your lead, followed by George Clooney, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Paul Giamatti, Jeffrey Wright, Marisa Tomei and Evan Rachel Wood. The disappointing reality is that this is a passable film that should have been great. The problem is not the direction. Clooney shoots this political thriller with a steady hand, evoking a All the President’s Men vibe. The primary flaw is the screenplay, which was adapted from Beau Wilmington’s play Farragut North. Having not seen that show, I have no clue how the translation holds up. But I can say that The Ides of March story stumbles when the focus relies on the romance between Wood and Gosling. They are both talented, but when you throw viewers into a pit of intriguing political turmoil, we could care less about the flirting of co-workers.
That sub-plot soaks up too much of the already short running time, but then there’s the twist to consider. I won’t spoil it here, but the trailer certainly lets you know one is coming. It’s safe to say that this development is supremely disappointing. Clooney, along with screenwriters Grant Heslov and Beau Wilmington, resort to soap opera shenanigans and mediocre melodrama when a line-up of this caliber deserves so much more. The dialogue is not snappy enough and the pace is not smooth or exciting. Once you know the surprise, the rest of the story is easily predictable. Gosling is a superb actor, but since he is the focus, his trouble with wading through the shoddy script is evident as the action progresses. Giamatti and Hoffman shine above the rest, and if any nominations arise from this, it will be to them. Clooney is solid as the candidate that genuinely wants to make a difference, and Wood is fine as “the intern,” but her character is plagued with the worst aspects of this effort.
In the end, the brilliance of the actors carries The Ides of March to not being a failure. As I left the theater, my reaction was “That’s it?” This is certainly not a bad film from Clooney, but it does not reach its potential. Thinking of The Candidate, The Contender, and Bulworth, The Ides of March is clearly not in that league, which is a shame, because I predicted this as Best Picture nominee darnit.
Final Rating = 6.5/10.0
Warrior Mini-Review - 09.13.2011
After a largely mediocre summer at the movie theater, Warrior was exactly what I needed. Here is a formula viewers have seen numerous times before, but director Gavin O’Connor keeps it fresh and exciting. Many have cited the similarities this film has to titles like Rocky, The Fighter, and The Wrestler. True, if you enjoyed those, it is likely that you will dig Warrior. However, by changing the stage to an MMA octagon, and balancing the underdog storyline with the struggling family bond, Warrior develops its own identity with ease. And unlike The Fighter, the main characters are not upstaged by any supporting role, thus the conclusion remains absorbing and meaningful. O’Connor, who made the exemplary Miracle, understands how to inspire an audience and get them invested in the action. Combine the brilliant acting with a rousing score from Mark Isham, and you have a near triumph. Up until now, the only other noteworthy MMA film was Redbelt, from David Mamet, but Warrior is what fans have been waiting for.
Warrior is aided by the dark and moody direction from O’Connor and cinematographer Masanobu Takayanagi, but the performances are what catapult it to the next level. Tom Hardy (Bronson) and Joel Edgerton (Animal Kingdom) are sensational as estranged brothers vying for the same $5 million prize in an MMA tournament. Nick Nolte delivers his finest work in years as their father, a former drunk trying desperately to win back their affections. O’Connor recruited two stars that are believable as real fighters who need money, and he crafts the matches with electricity and emotion. Even Kurt Angle is praiseworthy as Koba, the intimidating Russian, which is an obvious nod to Rocky IV. Angle is best without lines. The relationships act as the glue in Warrior. This is a family that was broken in half, with two halves going their separate ways and being thrown back together through the sport of mixed martial arts. All the best sports films are not really about the sport, but what transpires away from those competitive events. Warrior follows that trend as a powerful, elegiac piece that I can’t wait to watch again.
Final Rating = 9.0/10.0
Colombiana Mini-Review - 09.07.2011
Colombiana is an unintentionally hilarious and somewhat awful action film. It has also possesses a hefty chunk of awesome in the vein of campy 80’s fare. Think Scarface meets Sylvester Stallone, and change the burly dude with a sexy slender female in Zoe Saldana, and you’ll understand what to expect. The story is weighted in revenge and defies all logic from start to finish. The main character, Cataleya, sees her parents get killed by a ruthless drug kingpin, and swears vengeance. The rest is…relatively predictable. She is an expert marksman the likes of which you’ve never seen. She can escape cells by picking the lock without even concentrating, scale walls with her bare hands, and become invisible from any enemy no matter how what the circumstances. Saldana (Avatar) is quite attractive so there is plenty of her to admire as she dances, takes showers, and has sex (all of which add nothing to the plot...woohoo!). She plays the role straight and serious, while director Olivier Megaton controls the substance by embracing its silliness.
Luc Besson co-wrote the script, and together, they know a thing or two about cheesy action flicks. Megaton previously helmed Transporter 3, the most tolerable entry of that series. The rest of the cast is over the top in a “so bad it’s funny” sort of fashion. Jordi Molla (Blow), permanently typecast as a Hispanic drug goon now, is always entertaining as Marco, while Lennie James (The Next Three Days) is wonderfully exaggerated as Agent Ross and Cliff Curtis (Training Day) falls right in line as the aggravated father-figure Emilio. Cataleya is the type of hero/heroine that can do anything, so the audience is just hanging on for the ride. There is nothing wholly memorable about Colombiana except for its absurdity. The dialogue is packed with side-splitting lines, not necessarily quotable, but easy to make fun of. After a summer of cookie-cutter comic book adaptations, Colombiana is a deeply flawed, but kooky breath of fresh air.
Final Rating = 7.0/10.0
Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps Mini-Review - 10.13.2010
It's good to have Gordon Gekko out of jail rocking wall street once again. Sure, he's more of a spectator (perhaps even hero) in Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps, but he is still full of priceless one-liners and riveting speeches. Michael Douglas steps back into the shoes of his Oscar winning character with ease, and it goes without saying that he owns the picture. That's not to say Shia LaBeouf, Carrie Mulligan, Frank Langella, Eli Wallach, and Josh Brolin aren't fantastic as well. Everyone brings their A-game. Director Oliver Stone may not have needed to deliver this sequel, but it is appropriate for the period and that instills the snake-like trading practice dilemmas with urgency and emotion. He convinces us that there was something new to say, and he supplies viewers with a satisfying blend of authenticity and allegory.
Stone, along with cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto, shoot the wheeling and dealing with energy, clarity, and tension. The locations look terrific, and like most Stone efforts, this one has a likable slickness. Susan Sarandon and Carrie Mulligan are underused, but not wasted. The ending is conventional and contrived, but not completely out of left field. Stone is one of the most intelligent filmmakers in terms of finesse and pacing, and he succeeds here. This is not intended to delve deep into the money culture or global finance, but instead offers a glimpse of that world and tosses it into a storyline of drive and romance with fascinating personalities and enthusiastic performances. If you want more information, take a gander at the numerous documentaries out right now. And how can you not smile at the Bud Fox cameo? Revisiting some iconic characters can be disastrous, but this is not. Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps is a worthy second chapter, one that was suitably patient and extremely enjoyable.
Final Rating = 8.0/10.0
Devil Mini-Review - 10.13.2010
The Night Chronicles, a new company from consistently sinking filmmaker M. Night Shyamalan, will churn out films based on his own stories. He will oversee each production, and will handpick each writer and director. It sounded like a promising plan, but after seeing Devil, I am dreading the next adventure, supposedly titled Reincarnate. I don't need to dwell on the problems with this travesty very long. The acting is uniformly horrible. The scares are cheap, and every kill occurs in darkness, which is boring, deceitful, and dumb. On the surface, this seems like a premise that would be easy to knock out of the ballpark, but the "twist" is not only a letdown, but so manipulative and idiotic that I regretted every penny I spent on the ticket. The religious angle on the story was also hamfisted and handled in a most corny manner. The narration from Jacob Vargas is incredibly annoying to the point of justifying walk outs. I have not seen any of Director John Erick Dwodle's other efforts, but I'm certainly hesitant to now. I was amazed that the screenplay was written by Brian Nelson, who penned Hard Candy and the 30 Days of Night adaptation. He bombs here, though I will give credit for the portrayal of security guards. The circumstances inside and outside the elevator are eye-rolling and inert. This has little gore, no suspense, and no thrills. It is sad that the laughter during the trailer was so appropriate to the full feature.
Final Rating = 3.0/10.0
You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger Mini-Review - 10.13.2010
Woody Allen pumps out films faster than most directors. At this speed, he has generated an average of 4 or 5 haphazardly made efforts as he has worthwhile successes. You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger falls into his category of films that were simply not well thought out. I must admit, even though the premise was mediocre, I was still eager to see this because of the names Allen was working with for this venture. Unfortunately it boils down to a talented cast being dealt careworn, sporadically amusing, and meandering material.
First of all, the narration, which was implemented so wonderfully in Vicky Cristina Barcelona, makes little sense here. I love narration when used properly, but when it's not needed, it can be damaging. The plot is comprised of characters and situations Allen could have created in his sleep. It feels disappointingly familiar. The Anthony Hopkins/Lucy Punch storyline is just stupid, not to mention predictable. It has to be one of Hopkins goofier turns, and the fact he has zero chemistry with Lucy Punch hurts his exertions even more. Josh Brolin and Naomi Watts are a married couple who start (or want to) relationships on the side. They veer off the straight path too quickly, as if they had been waiting for the opportunity. The scenes involving Watts and Antonio Banderas, or Brolin and Freida Pinto are too riddled with cliches and lack a sufficient amount of the Allen wit to skate by with a passing grade. The funniest scenes have Gemma Jones giving advice to Brolin and Watts through her phony psychic. The sessions with Jones and Pauline Collins are solid too.
No matter how many star caliber names you have on the poster, they need to gel at some point, and most of these people fail to achieve that. Luis Bunuel made a film called The Phantom of Liberty, where each story was cut off the moment they became interesting. Bunuel's approach was intentional and engaging. A similar scenario unfolds in You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger, but Allen was not striving for that effect. As soon as the stories get complicated, it all ends, leaving us wondering why we bothered to pay for a ticket. The whole package feels recycled and Allen is obviously not totally invested in any of it. This is just another bland effort in theaters, one that will be forgotten very soon. And I'm sorry, but the way Brolin picks up Pinto is just creepy.
Final Rating = 5.0/10.0
The Town Mini-Review - 10.13.2010
Ben Affleck's sophomore outing as a director is just as competent, thrilling, and poignant as his debut, Gone Baby Gone. He clearly has a sense of how to balance characters, themes, action, and drama. He gathers a superb cast under his watch and in turn receives equally as superb performances while his camera moves fluidly with the story and the universe. The Town is basically Set it Off with men instead of women. Amazingly, few (if any) critics have cited this comparison, but indeed almost every aspect of the story mirrors that 1996 F. Gary Gray offering. The Town is better though. Where Set if Off focused on the robberies and the action, this allocates more time to the characters, why they act in this manner, and what their lives in Charleston are like.
Affleck also stars in his film, and shows once again that he is one of the most misunderstood and underrated actors of his generation. He has a dynamic presence, and delivers each line with conviction and gusto. Jeremy Renner nearly steals the show from him as James Coughlin. It's a gritty, searing piece of acting. Watching him makes you nervous. Jon Hamm plays the FBI agent as a person that is just as strong and human as the criminals themselves. Rebecca Hall is outstanding as the bedazzled and vulnerable woman, Pete Postlethwaite is subtly intimidating as Fergie, and Chris Cooper definitely makes an impression during his brief moments as Stephen MacRay. Affleck, his talented cinematographer Robert Elswit, and film editor Dylan Tichenor prove that you can still film bank robberies in fresh, exciting, and enthrallings ways. I loved the quotes displayed at the beginning. They were a relevant and thought-provoking intro. Affleck has not just made a movie about robberies, but about life in the city of Boston as well. He captures the atmosphere and the locations with assurance and adeptness. This is a fine, worthwhile experience that moviegoers of just about any age will find absorbing.
Final Rating = 9.0/10.0
Machete Mini-Review - 09.30.2010
Much like The Other Guys, Robert Rodriguez's Machete, based on the faux trailer from Grind House, does not really know what it wants to be. All at once, it tries to poke fun at exploitation films, wants to be one of them, and also reaches to be a political satire on illegal immigration. Those building blocks just do not effective together. The pro-illegal immigration message, no matter what the intent was, will rub many people the wrong way. It comes off as almost snide, but definitely misguided. The acting is probably the best part of this adventure. Danny Trejo is ok as the titular character, but his performance fluctuates with the changing tone of the picture, so it's hard to gauge. Jeff Fahey, Steven Seagal, Don Johnson, and Cheech Marin are all terrific. Robert DeNiro chooses to coast in the middle of straight and exaggerated, so the reaction to him will be indifference. The women shine with Michelle Rodriguez, Jessica Alba, and Lindsay Lohan looking sexy and turning in outstanding work.
Rodriguez (helped along by co-director Ethan Maniquis) amps up the gore for the fight scenes and action sequences and the result is cartoonish violence, which is fine as long as the other elements click. A big thumbs for the gardening tool attack though. No one can say that Rodriguez doesn't understand this genre. He bludgeons the viewer with everything they would normally crave from it: cheesy one-liners, over the top violence, and lots of female nudity. Unfortunately its uneven qualities, lack of balance, and blurry focus make really sitting back and reveling in the mayhem difficult. The insertion of silly fake trailers as a break from Planet Terror to Death Proof was genius, but now that one of them is a movie it really didn't seem worth dampening the Grind House objective. It's an unapologetically slapdash conglomeration of themes and messages. This has been unfairly compared to The Expendables, a mindless action pic, but at least it stuck with its goal. Machete strives to simultaneously be bloody, wacky, and preachy, but the latter isn't desired for this genre. On a side note, Alba's gun flask is super bad ass.
Final Rating = 6.0/10.0
The Other Guys Mini-Review - 09.30.2010
The Other Guys, the 4th collaboration between Will Ferrell and Director Adam McKay, proves the duo have not grown or changed their tired routine at all. Ferrell plays Detective Allen Gamble, who acts like every other Ferrell character, and Mark Wahlberg tries to channell his sharp and intense portrayal from The Departed via spoof as Det. Terry Hoitz and it produces sporadic chuckles at best. This is just a disappointed picture, plain and simple. McKay and Ferrell can't decide if they want to mock cop movie cliches or embrace them. Towards the end, they rely on them in a straightforward, typical actiony manner, so what's the aim exactly? The problem is, Ferrell vehicles are funny in bits and pieces, but the package as a whole are lackluster and not worth thinking about again. Michael Keaton is one of the story's consistent pleasures as he plants his tongue firmly in cheek for the duration. The Rock and Samuel L. Jackson also have nice chemistry, but are disposed of too quickly, and in a way that is too stupid.
Many of the running gags are just repeated, as if they are trying to make us laugh at the same thing over and over again when it wasn't that funny to begin with. Gamble's ability to score hot chicks and the TLC references are two examples. Steve Coogan is comedically underused as the white-collar crime villain. Taking a financial fraud case and incorporating that into a police action film is just silly because the two don't mesh. Narration from Ice-T, freeze frames, slow motion, and odd Little River Band shout outs are just some of darts The Other Guys attempts to throw at the bullseye. They miss most of the time. Ferrell and Wahlber are a solid pair, as they showed at the 2007 Academy Awards, but just teaming them together is not enough, neither is sticking them in the spotty Ferrell/McKay fomula. The "Faceback" joke can sum up the entire film. It is a program that is discussed but never seen. The Other Guys teases us, but never fully delivers.
Final Rating: 6.0/10.0
Dinner for Schmucks Mini-Review - 09.28.2010
Dinner for Schmucks is a prime example of how not to remake a movie. This is based on the 1998 French comedy from director Francis Veber (writer of La cage aux folles), and at a crisp 80 miutes, it is a delightful experience...that also shows reestraint. That is a word director Jay Roach ignores for this updated version. One of the highlights about the original was that we never saw the actual "dinner." We see it here, and what a coincidence that the result is the worst part of this garbage. Another huge problem in this film is the character played by Paul Rudd. He is supposed to be a jerk, yet Roach wants us to simutaneously hate and sympathize with him. It sends mixed signals and makes the events overly mean spirited. The pacing is also off, and the dinner portion conveys that Roach allows the audience too much time to think about the bad gags. The fact is this is torturously long at nearly 2 hours. In addition, the humor is over the top to the point of exhaustion for the cast and forcing the viewer to rip their hair out. Jemain Clement could have been funny, but the horrid material his odd character is dealt ruins that. Carrell, Rudd, Galifiankis,and Livingston know better than this.
Final Rating = 3.0/10.0
Eat Pray Love Mini-Review - 08.26.2010
There is a portion in Eat Pray Love where the main character Liz says she wants a divorce from her husband Stephen out of nowhere. During the divorce proceedings, Stephen declares his love for her again as he obviously doesn't understand her sudden feelings. She tries to explain that they were not right for each other. Later she tells someone they were young and immature, yet somehow almost everytime we see them on screen they are a loving couple, and the husband, played earnestly by Billy Crudup, is very nice and normal. As he fails to win her back at the divorce meeting, he gets into the elevator with tears in his eyes. This is our image of Liz before she destroys a marriage so she can frolick in 3 countries for a year using the advance from a book deal. It's safe to say I hated her from that moment on.
I suppose Eat Pray Love is a fantasy for women in a similar way that The Expendables was a guilty pleasure for men. It has handsome male love interests, trips to beautiful countries, delicious looking food, and plenty of relaxation time. What I found interminable about this film is how preachy it is regarding self-fulfillment because not only are we supposed to identify and connect with Liz, but Director/Co-writer Ryan Murphy adapts Elizabeth Gilbert's popular book as if trying to tell us we should live life the way Liz did. Unfortunately, most earthlings do not have the funds or time to take a year off. Who wouldn't want to do that? It is simply not realistic, and the film seems to be arguing that Liz's happiness is right around the corner for everyone with issues. The Bucket List suffered from the same flaw.
I will confess that Liz's adventure reminded me of how spectacular the food in Italy is. However, her journey comes across as little more than a travelogue to the audience. One never really feels they are with Liz in these places. This is the movie equivalent of a postcard. Murphy's direction doesn't help either as he settles for the stereotypical touristy view of each place. Another gripe is that language is never a factor for Liz. In each country, she meets a new friend that speaks both languages and can steer her in the right direction. Must be nice, but again, it's unrealistic. She does take Italian lessons, and in 4 months, can speak it fluently. Wow. I studied German for 3 years and still have trouble. I should divulge that I did appreciate some scenes. One where Liz's Italian friends lecture her on how burned out and uptight Americans are is glorious. Later, Liz gives some advice to a female friend that is worried about her weight that also rings true.
Julia Roberts is probably perfect for this role, and in truth, her performance is fine, but her character is extremely selfish. She discards many people in her life, and in the end Murphy incorporates throwaway scenes where they are seen as happy. This manipulative nature made me want to shout "Bullshit!" Murphy also shoots her with incessant angelic lighting. No one else is on screen for a sufficient amount of time. Javier Bardem is ok, James Franco is odd, Viola Davis is adequate, and mostly everyone falls into the same category of average. Richard Jenkins is the sole stand out, regardless of the fact that he plays a cliched wise old man. The scene where he spills his guts about his life is the best 5 minutes in Eat Pray Love. That is a guy who needed a year off. He has real problems. Liz created her own, and then forgave herself. Lucky her.
Eat Pray Love tries to disguise itself from what it really is underneath the surface: a common romantic comedy. Murphy is terrific in the realm of TV (Glee, Nip/Tuck), but on the big screen he doesn't have a clue. Just watch his awful debut Running with Scissors from 2006 for proof. This is a shallow, overlong piece of tripe that missed the mark in almost every way.
Final Rating 3.5/10.0
Centurion Mini-Review - 08.26.2010
After recently returning from a vacation that included stops at Rome, Italy, I decided to re-watch some of my favorite films from that city. Gladiator was among them. The next day I watched Centurion, the new film from Neil Marshall. I probably would have noticed anyway, but it's safe to say that Centurion "borrows" more than a few scenes and lines from that Best Picture winner (among others). Like Marshall's Doomsday, which was a post-apocalyptic adventure, this is a clumsy patchwork of its genre, in this case historical epics (or sword and sandle if you prefer).
But Marshall has stated in interviews that he wanted to make a B-movie that eliminated the drama and focused on action. Well, he accomplishes to a degree, but there is no denying that he wants this to be more than just an action flick. Plus, the drama is the glue that holds these pieces together, and this was in dyer need of some. Marshall just wanted to avoid the lengthy running time. In other words, he wants to have his cake and eat it too. That is not the only problem. I will say that the sword battles, chases, and fights in general were bloody and brutal. There are a handful of juicy kills, including one where a poor sap gets speared in the nutsack, and another where one man sacrifices himself by shoving a spear through his own stomach so it reaches the enemy behind him. As neat as these were, they are definitely not praiseworthy enough to give Centurion a recommendation. We've seen great deaths before, only combined with superior storylines.
As far as historical accuracy is concerned, I am not bothered by any liberties the filmmakers took. The exact information on the 9th Legion is cloudy, so if you want something more realistic, go read a book. Michael Fassbender is our star, and he acts as a solid hero. Fassbender is a fine performer, but he can do better (See Hunger, Fish Tank). Dominic West and David Morrissey hand in healthy supporting roles as fellow soldiers. Olga Kurylenko, always looking sexy, is one bad ass mute chick that aims to hunt down these Romans. Marshall has an affinity for tough females, as he proved with Rhona Mitra in Doomsday, and Kurylenko does admirably here. The acting is just dandy from top to bottom, even the ridiculously shoehorned role Imogen Poots plays is tolerable.
The sad fact is that the story is rather sloppily constructed. First of all, the narration is completely unnecessary. Usually I don't mind it, but all Quintus Dias does is state the obvious. Many events are skimmed over and one wonders how the characters got out of certain situations or accomplished certain things. In addition, Marshall starts out Centurion with a not so subtle commentary about guerilla warfare. Mercifully he does not harp on the subject. He also stated in interviews that he wanted the Romans and the rebels to occupy a "gray area" in terms of being heroes or villains. This would have been fine if it was conveyed better, but it comes off as a total mess where the aim is murky.
I wanted to like Centurion, but Marshall makes it hard. After The Descent, I couldn't wait to see his future projects. Now I wonder if he has any inventiveness left. Centurion and Doomsday are nothing more than bad hodgepodges of their genres. Like The Expendables, there are some Magnificent Seven elements to this, but that picture didn't pretend to be something it wasn't. At least we get to see every aspect of a stag being eaten right?
Final Rating = 5.0/10.0
The Expendables Mini-Review - 08.26.2010
It is not rare in this day and age for a new film to receive huge buzz long before it is released. Many big sequels or exciting adaptations are eagerly anticipated. However, every once and awhile a film comes along that acquires such positive word of mouth, a film that people simply can't wait for. It happened with Snakes on a Plane, and it happened again with The Expendables. The pedigree of the cast members that Sylvester Stallone began assembling was impossible to ignore. As a fan since childhood, I was amped for this project. As time rolled along though, I got worried that the film was being built up so much that it could never reach the expectations people had. Thankfully, it met my expectations with a solid bang. It was neither better or worse than anticipated. When you hear the name of Stallone, you should automatically know what type of movie you're getting. This is a mindless action film as only a legend could create. It's the type of action flick that has become scarce in a Hollywood smitten with CGI.
In an interview with Cigar Afficionado, Stallone said The Expendables was intended as a throwback to titles like The Magnificent Seven and The Dirty Dozen. It is not meant to incorporate any social commentary. He does not shy away from the fact that this is just big, loud, and accessible piece of entertainment. This is something Salt was confused about, and as I predicted, the critics comments about The Expendables displays their hypocrisy quite clearly. The story follows a group of mercenaries who are hired to overthrow a dictator regime in a small country. It doesn't get much simpler than that. Stallone proved with Rambo that he understands how to craft the action according to what current audiences like. What he presents to us here is mind-blowing and just plain awesome. The beginning shootout was fantastic, the chase/escape in the middle was gripping, and all the 1-on-1 fights near the end were just brilliant. To see Dolph Lundgren vs Jet Li and Stallone vs Steve Austin is an action nerd's dream come true. All we need now is Chuck Norris.
I usually take notes when I see movies now, but I decided not to for this. I just wanted to sit back and enjoy the carnage. You have hot women, big guns, shiny knives, loud motorcycles, cigars, beer, darts, and anything else a man could ask for. yes, this is indeed a guy movie all the way through to the bone marrow. The acting is credile from everyone involved. Stallone knows who is weaker and therefore needs less lines of dialogue. Eric Roberts is suitably cheesy and menacing as the chief villain, Giselle Itie is appropriately sexy and convincing as Sandra, and David Zayas is effective as General Garza. The much talked about encounter between Schwarzenegger, Stallone, and Willis was funny and short, just as Sly said it would be. Was it an iconic moment? Who knows, but I'm glad it was there. The action is at times heavily edited, but remember that this cast did a lot of their own stunts. Many of them, especially the director, suffered injuries. The strong box office showing for this movie means that we might see a couple more Sly extravaganzas before he retires or cripples himself on set. I am certainly happy about that.
Final Rating = 9.0/10.0
Scott Pilgrim vs. The World Mini-Review - 08.23.2010
It won't take long for viewers to realize whether or not they accept the style of Director Edgar Wright's new film. He is incredibly faithful to the source material, and in the case of Bryan Lee O'Malley's superb comics, that is a positive choice. One must give themselves over to the video game graphics and wacky fights. The whole scenario of a newly smitten 23 year old Canadian who must battle 7 evil ex-boyfriends of his new girlfriend Ramona Flowers is loads of fun from start to finish. The plot is not much deeper than that. Wright and company infuse the picture with visually arresting images that are reminiscent of video games such as opportunities to continue, gain an extra life, obtain coins, and so forth. You know what to expect when the Universal logo appears at the beginning like an 8-bit game. The movie is almost entirely smoke and mirrors, but it's also increasingly effective and hilarious.
Wright understands, like O'Malley did, that you cannot drown the viewer in this razzle dazzle. It is balanced quite adeptly with deadpan humor, a touching love story, insights on relationships, and terrific music. Yes, the soundtrack is a significant part of this film as Scott plays bass in the band Sex Bob-Omb. Nothing is meant to be taken too seriously, and that is the key to it all. The special effects are used in a way that enhances the story, but they are not overwhelming. It might take some folks a few minutes to get accustomed to the method of storytelling, how the dream sequences work, the tone, and so forth, but once you get on board the train you won't want to get off. There are numerous sequences that are simply side-splitting, almost too many to mention. Stephen Stills, one of Scott's band-mates, goes on a rant right before their show, but no one can hear him because of the band that plays while he talks. However, with subtitles, we can see what he is yelling about. Another moment shows Scott as extra happy, and his every line has sound effects similar to that of a sitcom (i.e. laugh track, etc.).
The performances are collectively brilliant, especially Michael Cera, who was perfect for the titular role. Mary Elizabeth Winstead might be yet another quirky love interest for Cera, but she rocks as Ramona, and has a sexy Kate Winslet/Eternal Sunshine vibe going on. Chris Evans, Brandon Routh, and Jason Schwarztman are great as a few of the ex-boyfriends, while Kieran Culkin is equally as terrific as Scott's roommate Wallace. Animation similar to that of the graphic novels appears via flashback sequences, and that was integrated well too for more diversity. The Matthew Patel fight, which involves female demons, is a bit lame, but other than that this flick rarely misses a beat. The other battles are outstandingly witty mayhem. In addition to the visuals and the comedy, it is also a sincere coming-of-age tale that manages to say a lot about immaturity, self-doubt, and ambivalence. This universe is coherent and inventive, yet never tries to deceive the audience. And you need not be a fan of gaming, anime, or the original books to connect with this. It all comes together in one glorious package.
This is probably the best video game ever that isn't really based on a video game (on a side note, they did make a game from this movie). Somehow though, Edgar Wright was intelligent in dealing with the story, and the result is a blast of a time at the theater. I can't wait to watch it again.
Final Rating = 9.0/10.0
Salt Mini-Review - 07.23.2010
Salt is a film that starts out with potential, for all of 10 minutes, but once Jolie starts leaping from speeding semi-trucks down the highway, someone decided to throw caution to the wind. On the surface, this is standard summer action fare. At one time, this project was offered to Tom Cruise. He opted for Knight and Day. That had humor, this doesn’t. The problem is Salt takes itself very seriously. Evelyn Salt is not painted like an action hero waltzing through an absurd premise. This double (or triple) agent is presented as someone who is simply better trained than…the whole world. We are supposed to believe in the shootouts, chases, and dangerous stunts as legitimate entertainment, not mindless fun. Angelina Jolie is a solid action star when she wants to be (See Wanted), but unlike other talent that has explored this terrain, she does not have her tongue planted firmly in cheek. She is a no nonsense female.
Director Phillip Noyce has made a career out of lackluster action flicks that borrow bits and pieces from superior titles and franchises. The most glaring comparison is James Bond. The Saint, Clear and Present Danger, and Patriot Games all suffer from atrociously choreographed action. At least The Saint showcased Val Kilmer having a blast. Jolie eliminates men twice her size, leaps inside an elevator shaft like Spider-Man, drives a car by using a tazer on a stunned cop, scales tall buildings, and escapes nearly every trap. Either she is a genius or every other character is dimwitted. None of it is effective because it’s all sloppily constructed and free of levity. The plot is incredibly incongruous, full of holes, and more convoluted than I ever anticipated. By the time the final credits rolled, I was shaking my head in disbelief, not sure if what I saw was laughably awful or just plain pathetic. Live Schreiber is tolerable, but any positive qualities of his acting are overshadowed by a twist involving his character. Chiwetel Ejiofor is too boy scout-ish, and everyone else is forgettable or underused.
While watching Salt, the scenario became so preposterous and was being executed with such a straight face that Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove sprang to mind. Salt is the type of movie that was making fun of. I’ll give credit to whoever made the trailer because it barely reveals a fraction of the outlandish situations contained here. The comments and praise from many critics are downright hypocritical. So, if we accept that this is confident and not arrogant, we must therefore appreciate that and dismiss the sheer stupidity of it all? I find that impossible, and I can wager that most critics will not be making those statements once The Expendables arrives.
Some intriguing ideas are introduced early on, and Salt does possess some underlying slickness, but in the arena of action movies, this is should be declared insane. No matter what anyone claims, this is not intended to be “so bad it’s good” or brainless enjoyment. Kurt Wimmer is the screenwriter, and nearly everything he has penned is crafted to be important and significant. If that wasn’t enough, the ponderous score from James Newton Howard supports it all in the most generic way. I personally feel that there is supposed to be a message here, but I have no clue what that would be, and to be truthful, I don’t care.
Final Rating = 4.0/10.0
Inception Mini-Review - 07.20.2010
Since 1998, Christopher Nolan has not made a bad film. He continues to amaze and astound viewers with his level of skill and incredibly versatility. With Inception, a motion picture being described as a “mind-bender”, he presents 2010 with its second masterpiece. Here is a science-fiction story, set within the architecture of the mind that is complex without being deliberately confusing. When dreams and reality merge, filmmakers tend to go crazy, and forget that coherency should not be totally forgotten in favor of embracing madness and unpredictability. Thankfully this does not suffer from that weakness. Inception is not self-indulgent, but rather a profound and intricate journey that will reveal new layers with subsequent viewings. This is a movie of genuine vision, one that packs so many scenes and lines that are instantly classic.
The visuals are simply breathtaking, and the use of computer generated images is among the finest of any live-action film in years. The fact that they look so convincing augments the illusion and enhances our elation. Nolan has created a world that audiences will want to explore for themselves, a mesmerizing process that causes the mind to drift far into a fantasy world where dreams can be controlled and changed. The score from Hans Zimmer is perfect as it stirs the suspense and keeps our hearts racing without fail. This is more ambitious than anyone could have hoped for. It is clever, but not condescending. This trip through mental labyrinths combines action, comedy, adventure, sci-fi, drama with sharp writing and nuanced filmmaking and puts it all on a grand scale. The more one discovers about this wholly original idea and universe, the more fascinating it becomes.
It took nearly 8 years for Nolan to complete this script, and we should all be thankful he took his time because the final product may not have been nearly as slick or flawless. Nolan has made each project he is apart of highly anticipated, yet he delivered here above expectations. That is rare. The performances are nothing short of phenomenal. Leonard DiCaprio leads it all in another masterful turn, but you will se great acting from Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Ellen Page, Michael Caine, Cillian Muprhy, Tom Berenger, Ken Watanabe, Tom Hardy, and lastly Marion Cotillard. This is a rich, absorbing, and stimulating piece of entertainment that is about as fulfilling as any summer blockbuster could be. If I start listing my favorite moments, we’ll be here all day. This deserves oodles of nominations, and I can’t wait to see it again. That seems to be a quality most of Nolan’s films possess. This one left me speechless. It is one of those movie experiences that everyone will remember.
Final Rating = 10.0/10.0
Predators Mini-Review - 07.20.2010
I thought Director Nimrod Antal’s Vacancy was much better than it had any right to be, but it was far from perfect. I would say the same thing here for this sequel/reboot/re-imagining, or whatever this is. He has not improved much. Here is a franchise that was better left alone after 1 terrible sequel with Danny Glover and 2 horrid Alien vs. Predator crossover flicks. But with Robert Rodriguez as Producer, a mixed bag helmsman, and bizarre cast, anything could happen. The first observation is that Adrien Brody has stepped into the lead hero role similar to what Arnold Schwarzenegger did in 1987. Mentioning them in the same sentence is odd, but Brody is appropriately bad-ass here. The rest of the cast is a hodgepodge of colorful personalities such as Danny Trejo, Topher Grace, Alice Braga, Oleg Taktarov, and even Laurence Fishburne is a juicy Col. Kurtz type part. The acting is acceptable and nothing more. These are thin stereotypes that get gradually picked off, but it’s a fun gathering nonetheless. Listening to them exchange theories of where they could be and what could have happened are intriguing.
This expands on the Predator universe without going too far. The journey through the forest to the first skyview is terrific. We also see only 1 new brand of creature aside from learning more about the different types of predators. Antal films the story during the day and night, in darkness and in light without seeming manipulative or shady. We can see the action clearly. The biggest problem with this picture is that it recycles the first film’s pacing, approach, structure, and climax too bravely. This walks a fine line between regurgitation and an original spin. I would also say that Brody’s character is too smart at times, but he is the one that makes this neat. He takes the material very seriously, but does so in a way that works well. The script from Alex Litvak and Michael Finch unloads plenty of one-liners and cool fights to conceal the obvious copying from the ’87 film. Still, this angle fits better. The twist at the end is rather dumb, and unfortunately gave me flashbacks of Venom in Spider-Man 3. The weapons are big and brutal, the CGI is solid, the gunfire is paced well, the scares are not cheap, and it has a few memorable moments that prevented me from giving it a thumbs down. I’m not sure this is worth buying, but it was a summer experience that left me remotely satisfied.
Final Rating = 7.0/10.0
The Kids Are All Right Mini-Review - 07.20.2010
Could this be the quirky family independent comedy of the summer? It’s certainly possible. This is an affable, hysterical, and delicious film that takes a unique premise and makes gay related storylines more accessible for mainstream audiences. The comedy and melodrama on display here is exaggerated in very few circumstances. Much of the joy and laughter of watching stems from situations we’re not familiar with. For instance when the gay couple is engaging in oral sex while watching a porno at the same time, the volume gets kicked up and the kids hear. In addition, every time the kids refer to their parents as “Moms”, it’s hard not to chuckle. In fact, this film has many different types of humor including witty lines, slapstick, dark elements, and some that derive from awkward situations. Observing the reactions and body language when the kids first meet Clay is terrifically honest.
In terms of acting, The Kids Are All Right brings together 2 ladies I generally am not fond of, but in this instance I adored them. Annette Bening and Julianne Moore are sensational as Jules and Nic. Josh Hutcherson, finally starting to grow out of kid flicks, is fabulous, and Mia Wasikowska proves here that she is a wonderful new talent as Joni. Mark Ruffalo turns in one of his most memorable performances as Clay, the hippie organic farmer and bachelor restaurateur that shakes up their dynamic. Everyone delves deep into the characters, but what’s more is that Director/Co-Writer Lisa Cholodenko cares for these characters and this story. The tonal shifts are not as smooth as they could be, but Cholodenko understands that a mixture of the comedy and the serious are important.
The visuals will influence anyone to visit Southern California as the neighborhood seems friendly, the weather is bright and sunny, and the food looks amazing. Only during the final portion does a villain emerge, and it makes sense, but could have used better closure. The wealth is spread competently by covering lesbian marriage, sperm donors, and teen angst all as vital ingredients. This acts a slice of life, and damn enjoyable one at that. The family has a chemistry that is so rare. Not only do they “click”, but they convince us that they have been a family for almost 2 decades. Cholodenko takes family values down an entirely new path, and it is piercingly effective. The direction is not flashy often. Cholodenko, along with cinematographer Igor Jadue-Lillo are steady and credible, maintaining the dramedy atmosphere. She gets inventive once when Nic learns of a secret and the sound is blocked off because the character is only thinking of the distressing realization.
The Kids Are All Right has a pleasant aftertaste that reminds me of Sideways, and that is about as positive as I can get. I have not seen any of Lisa Cholodenko’s past efforts, but I can assure you readers that I will soon. She and Co-Writer Stuart Blumberg are responsible for one of the year’s smartest and most entertaining films. Her movie also gets Julianne Moore to sport a pair of aviator sunglasses again after Next. They fit better here Jules.
Final Rating = 9.0/10.0
Knight and Day Mini-Review - 07.02.2010
Now you could say this film doesn't pretend to be anything it isn't, and that it doesn't take itself too seriously, and both statements would be true. A couple other breezy summer action pics can make the same claims. Those are strengths of this movie, but they weren't the main reasons why I would recommend it. What makes this fun are the cool action sequences, the fresh characters, and the chemistry between the actors. That is not to say the action is perfect however. One involved a plane landing, and another had Cruise being thrown from speeding car to speeding car. Those are the types of scenes that annoy me, ones where the CGI is sloppy. For the most part though, Director James Mangold integrates the special effects smoothly and intelligently.
The production was riddled with cast, crew, and script alterations, and of course the studio threw in the towel before it was even released. Oh well. It doesn’t deserve such intense hatred. Many moments stood out. I loved Roy Miller's island hideaway, and the escape from it. The chase during the middle of the running of the bulls was inventive as well. This is a mixture of many different films such as North by Northwest, Charade, so on and so forth. You have this device that everyone wants called the Zephyr, which is such typical name for a MacGuffin like this.
Tom Cruise is pitch-perfect in this role. If Ethan Hunt enjoyed his job and didn't look so solemn all the time, he might be close to Roy Miller. Cruise uses his charm and comedic skills to give a terrific performance. Cameron Diaz meshes with him very well. She looks good, and is also quite funny. This is an on screen team that was not smug, and they're not just going through the motions. They seemed like they enjoyed the material. Peter Sarsgaard nails his creepy glare shtick with a Southern accent. Viola Davis was fine as the woman in charge of the secret agents at the FBI. Paul Dano was effective as the geek who invented the Zephyr, but his facial hair was an issue. And I'm always happy to see Jordi Molla in a mainstream movie. He was great in Blow, and was the only positive quality of Bad Boys II.
Mangold and screenwriter Patrick O'Neill (his debut script) understand that the characters are just as important as the explosions and gunfire. Listening to them converse and flirt is part of the entertainment, and it's nice to see those elements click when the cast believes in the story. The fact that we hold June's point of view was also a wise move because being in the dark makes everything more interesting. Phedon Papmichael's cinematography captures the beauty of the scenery in the various countries. There's a bunch of moments where June wakes up in a gorgeous place, and that heightens our view of it I feel.
Cruise has a motion detector/phone that is focuses on a specific address, and I liked where that tangent lead. The action-comedy genre has plenty of hits and misses (past and present). The reason I would give the ol' thumbs up to this and not say Mr. and Mrs. Smith is because it's not as snarky and blends the action and humor better. There are a handful of missteps, and this is not designed to be free of holes, but this is the sort of pleasant summer fare that leaves me satisfied.
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