REVIEW: Olympus Has Fallen

3 03 2015

Lest we forget, the sight of the White House, the very icon of the American Presidency, in flames could have been a non-fiction tale (or a Paul Greengrass film). On September 11, 2001, United Flight 93 was likely headed to Washington, D.C. to take out the beloved building. So given that history, a modicum of respect – not even Christopher Nolan levels of seriousness – and reverence seems due for the landmark.

None of this registered with the makers of “Olympus Has Fallen,” however. Director Antoine Fuqua seeks to inspire anger by focusing on the sight of the edifice under siege, yet the film just feels too cartoonish in its destruction for any real emotions to register. (This is a movie where someone gets killed by trauma to the head inflicted by a bust of Abraham Lincoln, after all.)

Furthermore, the trigger-happy festival of gore devalues innocent lives taken by terrorists – NOT a smart move when trying to invoke the legacy of 9/11. As Gerard Butler’s Mike Banning seeks to rescue the prisoners of the North Korean attackers who take over the White House, the stakes feel rather low. In terms of hostage movies, this feels about on the level of a bank robbery.

“Olympus Has Fallen” will not even leave you chanting “USA! USA!” And, keep in mind, this is a movie that stars Morgan Freeman. What a squandered opportunity. C2stars





REVIEW: How to Train Your Dragon 2

15 06 2014

Stay long enough through the credits of “How to Train Your Dragon 2” and you’ll see an interesting member of the crew: Roger Deakins, on board as a visual consultant.  That name may not mean much to the casual film fan, but he’s the cinematographer responsible for the look of some of the past two decades’ most iconic films.  An 11-time Oscar nominee, Deakins has done remarkable work on films as varied as “The Shawshank Redemption,” “No Country for Old Men,” and “Skyfall.”

His presence on the film signals that DreamWorks Animation is giving the franchise the kind of serious attention that ought to be paid to all their products.  “How to Train Your Dragon 2” may very well be the most gorgeous animated film I have ever seen, no doubt thanks to Deakins’ keen eye.  The film is like a ballet of the skies where humans and dragons soar through the skies with stunning aerodynamic agility.

It’s not just the flight sequences that show off DWA’s fixation on fine details.  The film has a remarkable texture, particularly in the design of the dragons themselves.  I felt like I could envision just what they would feel like if my 3D glasses weren’t an illusion and I could reach out and touch them.

In fact, I loved looking at the film so much that I often found myself lost in the visuals and not in the plot.  For whatever reason, I just felt somewhat less engaged with the proceedings than I was in the original “How to Train Your Dragon.”  The sequel is still sweet and entertaining, though, and the addition of Cate Blanchett to the cast certainly doesn’t hurt.  But it didn’t capture my imagination in the same way, perhaps because it seemed more interested on action sequences and effects and less focused on characters.  B2halfstars





REVIEW: The Bounty Hunter

1 09 2010

Have you ever watched a movie and wondered what could make an actor’s standards drop so low?  Even if you haven’t before, you will watching Gerard Butler and Jennifer Aniston slog through the miserable “The Bounty Hunter.” You may not have held either of these actors in the highest of regards anyways, but it’s easily a career low for both stars.

The movie is an action comedy – well, if you count Butler punching a few people as action and a few pity sneer as comedy.  We’ve never quite seen a plot like this, where exes fight with stakes as high as prison, but it never feels the slightest bit original.  In fact, it just feels like an old trip down Memory Lane, mimicking every sort of used gimmick with ex-lovers.  But boy, Memory Lane has never looked so run-down or shabby.  It’s time for some renovation.

It’s the typical “hate turns to love” romance story as Butler’s bounty hunter Milo gets to track down ex-wife Nicole, Aniston’s flighty news reporter who foolishly misses her court date over an article.  He finds her and begins hauling her to jail, and on their journey, they suddenly start to realize that they never gave their marriage a fair shot.  I’d call it a dumbed-down Stockholm syndrome, but something tells me the writers of this movie don’t even have the intelligence to use Wikipedia and look it up.

Don’t even mention the writers adding insult to injury by trying to add complexity to the plot by adding in other storylines.  Honestly, if anyone wants to spend nearly two hours of their life watching this movie, they want to see it for Butler and Aniston.  The last thing we want is to have our time wasted by anything that detracts from the main story – sorry, Jason Sudeikis, but you really stink here, and Lorne Michaels would fire you if you ever did anything this bad on “SNL.”  D /





REVIEW: Law Abiding Citizen

5 04 2010

The gold standard for the cat-and-mouse thriller is “The Silence of the Lambs,” which won Best Picture back in 1991.  To be honest, it really isn’t fair to judge similar movies against it just because of how amazing that movie is.  But nevertheless, I still have to do it.

Law Abiding Citizen” actually has a little bit in common with “The Silence of the Lambs.”  Outside of the cages, we have our Clarice Starling counterpart Nick Rice (Jamie Foxx), committed to justice so long as it doesn’t ruin his high conviction rate as a lawyer,  Inside, we have our Hannibal Lecter counterpart Clyde Shelton (Gerard Butler), committed to justice in the form of revenge and payback against those who ruined his life.

Does “Law Abiding Citzen” measure up?  No, but there has yet to be a movie that has, so that shouldn’t be taken too harshly.

Overall, it’s a pretty good movie and it delivers some quality entertainment for an hour and 45 minutes.  I don’t know if I could go as far as to use a sensational adjective like spellbinding or gripping to describe it, but I managed to stay very engaged and curious about what would happen next.  This might not have been great to see in theaters, but it makes for a satisfying rental.  I’ll gladly stop and watch this on Starz when it comes on in a few months.

The main thing that didn’t thrill me about “Law Abiding Citizen” was that I felt very little friction between Foxx and Butler.  “The Silence of the Lambs” exploded off the screen because Foster and Hopkins played off each other so well.  I don’t take issue with Foxx’s contribution so much as Butler, who played his psychopathic killer quite similarly to the way he played the crude womanizer in “The Ugly Truth.”  He is a long way from delivering a performance so eerie that it could earn an Academy Award (like Hopkins), but in spite of his flaws, the movie doesn’t suffer too badly.  B /





REVIEW: How to Train Your Dragon

4 04 2010

Ever since the dawn of full-length computer animated movies, Pixar has been the most reliable brand name in the business.  But in the past few years, DreamWorks Animation has been slowly gaining ground and clipping at their heels.  With each movie, they move closer and closer towards raising their game to the Pixar standard.

Their latest output, “How to Train Your Dragon,” isn’t quite at that level.  But the bright side is that it is one of Dreamworks’ best animated movies so far.

The story or the morals aren’t highly original, yet the movie still works and delights.  The hero, Hiccup (voice of Jay Baruchel), is a plucky youngster with a tiny frame.  In his Viking society, where bigger is better, that isn’t exactly a positive.  His father (a heavily accented Gerard Butler) has little faith in him, and the village doesn’t either as a result.

But this tiny little village has a big problem.  We like to think termites and ants are bad; they have to put up with dragons who terrorize their town, killing people and destroying houses.  The Vikings fight and kill the dragons, training the youth of the village to do the same.  But Hiccup has a different approach: he learns how to tame and train dragons after he rehabilitates one of the most dangerous species, which he affectionately names Toothless.  He then learns in a very Jake Sully-ian fashion that the creatures they had been treating with hostility could become great friends if they are treated with respect.

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What To Look Forward To in … March 2010

12 02 2010

There’s more to March than just the Oscars.  Finally, March arrives and we can stop dwelling on 2009.  In my opinion, March is usually a pretty decent movie month.  This year’s crop looks especially promising with new movies from Tim Burton, Paul Greengrass (“The Bourne Ultimatum”), and Noah Baumbach (“The Squid and the Whale”).

March 5

After almost 3 months, “Avatar” will have to cede those illustrious 3-D and IMAX screens to Tim Burton’s twist on “Alice in Wonderland.”  The titular character is played by relative newcomer Mia Wasikowsa, who will look quite a bit older than the Alice you remember from Disney’s 1951 animated classic.  If that’s not a big enough draw for you, surely Johnny Depp as the Mad Hatter (who will hopefully channel more of his glorious Jack Sparrow than his Jacko-esque Willy Wonka) will suffice.  No?  How about Helena Bonham Carter as the Queen of Hearts?  Or Anne Hathaway as the White Queen?  Perhaps Alan Rickman as the Caterpillar?  No doubt about it, this is one exciting cast, and I’m sure Tim Burton won’t have any problem distinguishing himself from the numerous “Alice in Wonderland” rip-offs that have sprouted over the past few years.

“Brooklyn’s Finest” is directed by Antoine Fuqua, helmer of “Training Day,” which was enough to get me interested.  However, it really looks to be little more than a mash-up of every cop movie ever made.  But hey, that may be your thing, which would make this your potpourri.

March 12

I’m excited for “Green Zone,” which looks to be a smart political thriller. See my previous post at the release of the trailer for more info.

On the indie side of things, Noah Baumbach looks to return to Oscar form after “Margot at the Wedding” underwhelmed with “Greenberg.”  The movie stars Ben Stiller as Greenberg, the grouchy misanthrope who finds a reason to be pessimistic about everything.  However, a special woman comes along and begins to melt his heart.  I’m looking forward to a double-edged performance from Stiller, one that can show off his dramatic chops but also give us plenty of hearty laughs.

Seth Rogen’s four roommates in “Knocked Up” were equally as funny as he was. Each of them have slowly gotten their “moment”: Jonah Hill in “Superbad,” Jason Segel in “Forgetting Sarah Marshall.” Now, it could be Jay Baruchel’s turn. “She’s Out of My League” pits him similar situation: the uncomely guy getting the smoking hot babe. Hopefully Paramount gives this the push it deserves, maybe making Baruchel a breakout comedic star of 2010.

Could “Remember Me” get Robert Pattinson the Razzie for Worst Actor? After narrowly missing the cut for his two performances as Edward Cullen, this could finally be the one to get him the kind of awards attention he deserves.

Forest Whitaker is an Academy Award winning actor. What on earth is he doing in “Our Family Wedding?” For that matter, America Ferrera has won SAG and Golden Globe awards, and Carlos Mencia was once actually funny! This looks not only insufferable but almost racist. Plus, didn’t I see this movie in 2005 when it was called “Guess Who?”

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What to Look Forward to In … October 2009

29 08 2009

We give the movie industry late August and all of September to recover from the busy summer season, but in October, it starts to kick it into gear again.  Unfortunately, my most anticipated movie in October, Martin Scorsese’s “Shutter Island,” was pushed back to February.  But the month still puts forth several great movies for all tastes.

October 2

This week, I can promise you that I will be throwing my money not at a new release, but at the re-release of two staples of my childhood.  “Toy Story” and “Toy Story 2” will hit theaters again for a few weeks.  1 ticket.  2 movies. 3-D.  Need I say more?

The week also gives us “The Invention of Lying,” which could be a sleeper comedy hit. The movie stars Ricky Gervais, who was the lead of the British version of “The Office.” Around this time last year, he starred in “Ghost Town,” a comedy with a heart that you need to go rent now, that was dismissed by audiences. I have high hopes for his latest, in which he plays a man who tells the world’s first lie on an alternate Earth. He continues to wield the power to suit his own selfish needs. The movie also features Jennifer Garner, Rob Lowe, and the always funny Tina Fey.

And not to mention, the week delivers Drew Barrymore’s directorial debut, “Whip It.” The movie stars the irresistible Ellen Page (“Juno”) as Bliss, a teenager weary of the beauty pageants that she is forced into by her parents. One day, she discovers the world of roller derby and she finds the happiness that she has been so desperately seeking. The movie boasts a hilarious supporting cast including Kristen Wiig (“SNL”), Oscar-winner Marcia Gay Harden, and Barrymore herself.

And it just keeps getting better.  The Coen Brothers (“No Country for Old Men”) are back with their latest feature, “A Serious Man;” they also wrote the original screenplay.  The movie seems to be a big risk.  It features no marquee names other than the Coens themselves. The trailer is cryptic, giving no indication of what to expect from the movie. I don’t mind an aura of mystique, but this is an aura of confusion. The movie is being marketed as a dark comedy, and I pray that it is the polar opposite of the Coens’ last foray into the genre, “Burn After Reading,” which I didn’t find funny at all. The movie starts in limited release and then will slowly expand from New York and Los Angeles.

The other major release of the week is “Zombieland,” a horror-comedy with Woody Harrelson.

October 9

The only exciting movie hitting theaters across the country this weekend is “Couples Retreat.”  A comedy centered around four couples at a luxurious tropical resort that is revealed to be a marriage therapy clinic, it appears to provide something for everyone.  It has pretty women (Malin Akerman, Kristen Bell, Kristin Davis) AND funny guys (Jason Bateman, Vince Vaughn, Jon Favreau).  The movie is the directorial debut of Ralph Billingsley, best known for playing Ralphie in “A Christmas Story,” and the screenplay is written by Vaughn and Favreau.  Hopefully it can provide some good laughs in a season usually replete of hilarious comedies.

Opening in limited release is “An Education,” a movie that has been garnering massive Oscar buzz for months now.  Most of it has centered on the breakout performance of lead actress Carey Mulligan.  In the movie, she stars as Jenny, a 17-year-old in 1960s England who is set on going to Oxford.  However, an older gentleman (Peter Sarsgaard) comes along and sweeps her off of her feet, introducing her to a lifestyle that she immediately loves.  But reality bites, and Jenny is left at a crucial crossroads.  The movie has also generated buzz around supporting actors Alfred Molina and Rosamund Pike (the red-haired villain of “Die Another Day”).  Raves are also flying in for the screenplay, written by author Nick Hornby, writer of “About a Boy” and “Fever Pitch.”  And with the 10 nominees for Best Picture at this year’s Oscars, many people say it has a good chance of claiming one of the ten.

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