REVIEW: In the Heart of the Sea

1 05 2016

“Do the stories only exist to make us respect the seas?” This utterance from Herman Melville (Ben Whishaw) kicks off “In the Heart of the Sea,” a two-hour riff on the inspiration of Moby Dick by Ron Howard.  The film shot in the fall of 2013, began test screening in the summer of 2014 for a planned release in spring of 2015 – only to be pushed back for a late winter 2015 opening. In those two years to tinker with the raw materials, apparently no one thought it was worth saving the project from playing like a book report run through an Instagram filter.

These kind of high intensity, high prestige dramas are normally prime territory for Ron Howard, whom I affectionately dubbed the king of the “Sunday afternoon on TNT movie” upon the release of “Rush” in 2013. He has dabbled in bringing other decades and centuries to life before, each time bringing a sense of specificity and thematic relevance. “In the Heart of the Sea,” on the other hand, feels synthetic through and through. The effect of shooting on a backlot or in front of a green-screen seeps into every frame of the film, constantly highlighting the artifice underlining this human survival drama.

As if that were not enough, the film suffers from many other predictable flaws that have become a common refrain. The nearly 30 minutes of exposition – a full quarter of the film – bog down “In the Heart of the Sea” from the get-go. When it finally does leave the port, screenwriter Charles Leavitt never commits to making the journey primarily a visual effects spectacle about the hunt for the whale or a survival drama. The two coexist unsteadily in the finished film.

Chris Hemsworth, too, proves ill-equipped to correct the course with his performance. His stardom essentially stems from the hammer with which Marvel equips him and the magazine headlines that followed. As of yet, Hemsworth has yet to really pass muster as a serious leading man. Hopefully audiences will soon see acting chops the size of his biceps. C / 2stars





REVIEW: Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter

22 06 2012

Back in 2008, Timur Bekmambetov came bursting onto the Hollywood stage with “Wanted,” a badass hitman thriller that both excited and entertained because the director seemed to understand a few things that Michael Bay and his merry band of pyromaniacs seemed to have forgotten.  Mainly, it helps to not take yourself so seriously.  You are not directing the sequel to “12 Angry Men” when you make the latest “Transformers” movie, so stop trying to serve me some BS drama and riddle the screen with bullets!

A few days ago, I probably would have said that was the only lesson that action-thrillers could take from “Wanted.”  But now, after having seen Bekmambetov’s latest, “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter,” I learned that he fell into a typical pratfall that he avoided the last time around.  Stock style without substance is an empty void, one that is inherently undeserving of being watched – no matter how cool the slow-motion blood effects are.

Seth Graeme-Smith’s book, which I hear is actually quite clever and enjoyable, is transmuted by the Hollywood machine into a campy lowest common denominator summer popcorn flick.  The allegory gets muddled as a thoughtful portrait of the Abraham Lincoln (Benjamin Walker, looking like a young Liam Neeson) is lost to one-note horror and one joke comedy.  So by all means, if you could be entertained for 100 minutes by nothing other than dramatic irony – Harriet Tubman’s appearance supposedly funny to us because the characters in the film don’t realize how famous she will be – this might be your movie.  And if you can be scared without losing your sanity by “BOO! VAMPIRE OUT OF NOWHERE!” accompanied by crescendoing strings, then by all means, you are going to be cheering in the aisles.

But for me, the laziness just made me wistfully remember one evening in July when I went into “Wanted” expecting mindless entertainment and coming out clapping.  Instead of applause, “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter” inspired me to roll my eyes while our sixteenth President slew hoards of pasty-white vampires alongside his mentor Henry Sturgess (Dominic Cooper) and childhood compadre Will Johnson (Anthony Mackie).  What was once mind-bogglingly cool to me was quickly destroyed by soulless repetition.  A revisionist history works when you have Quentin Tarantino’s panache (see: “Inglourious Basterds“), but it’s really not worth the effort when it merely provides the backdrop instead of the backbone of a story.  Bekmambetov needed the cast of Spielberg’s “Lincoln” – (Daniel Day-Lewis, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Tommy Lee Jones, among many others – to compensate.  C-