Friday, April 27, 2012

The Raven (2012) - Movie Review

The Raven is the true story of how the Baltimore Ravens were founded.  Wait...I'm being tapped on the shoulder and reminded that this isn't what the movie is about.  Sorry, I'm distracted by the ongoing NFL draft.

John Cusack plays Edgar Allan Poe, some obscure writer that nobody has ever heard of.  Okay, enough kidding around.  There actually was some unusual circumstances surrounding Poe's death.  The story is that he was found wandering around Baltimore, delirious and wearing someone else's clothing and died shortly after being taken to the hospital.  Little is known or understood about how he got there or what happened.

The Raven attempts to add some story to the week leading up to his death.  A mysterious murder is committed that has confounded the police.  When a detective (Luke Evans) realizes that the murder has a similarities to one of Poe's previous works, he interrogates Poe and considers him a suspect.  However, when the murders continue and are also inspired by his work, Poe is asked to help find the serial killer.  Later, the killer directly challenges Poe to stop him, which his fiancĂ©e's (Alice Eve) life in the balance.

Contrived premises involving a real event always kind of bug me.  Let's take something that actually happened, but little is known about, and force a story around it.  It can work, if done well and adds some depth to what we already know.  In this case, you don't really learn anything compelling about Poe other than he was an alcoholic and broke.  I actually think a docu-thriller would have worked better, rather than just being a pure work of fiction.  I guess as far as making people interested in Poe it might have that effect, but I think a lot of the references in the movie would probably be lost on people not heavily familiar with his work.

While The Raven is bloodier than I expected, it still felt like it pulled some punches.  At one point a character jams a needle through a hole in an attempt to injure a person and you hear a 'squish', but then later, you see that the person is uninjured, so what was the noise for?  To fake us out?  I would have thought something based on Edgar Allan Poe would have been darker or more disturbing, but it's just not scary or all the suspenseful.  Plus, the other issue is that there's really nothing new here.  A copycat serial killer has been done many times before.

It is a nice looking movie though and has a good cast.  Luke Evans is a totally underrated actor and I wish he'd start getting some stronger roles.  One of my favorite actors, Brendan Gleeson, is wasted in a small roll again.  Alice Eve is striking but really isn't given much to do.  Initially, I thought John Cusack might have been miscast as Poe, but I didn't find anything wrong with his performance.  He brought some unexpected humor to a otherwise drab movie.

I was expecting a little more from The Raven, as it was directed by James McTeigue, who's best known for V for Vendetta, a movie I've always enjoyed.  I don't think he could ever settle on a tone for the film, so it's all over the place.  The script by Ben Livingston and Hannah Shakespeare is very thin.  There's very little depth to any of the characters.  Overall, there's just nothing to sink your teeth into.

The Raven is an example of a movie that was based on a decent enough idea, but the execution was poor.  It's just kind of lifeless and it felt like something was missing the whole time.  I didn't think it was a terrible movie, but it drags on a bit.  I was surprised after the movie to see that it was only 100 minutes long.  It certainly felt longer.  This is the type of movie that's much better suited for a rental on a rainy day.

2.5 (out of 5) Death Stars

Thursday, April 26, 2012

The Five-Year Engagement (2012) - Movie Review

Jason Segel and Emily Blunt star as Tom and Violet, a couple living in San Francisco that have been dating for a year.  In what shouldn't be a spoiler to anyone, since it's the title of the frigging movie, they get engaged.  Due to career changes and other issues that come up, they have to keep delaying their wedding.  This gets stretched out over several years, once again illustrated by the title.  Can you have spoilers when the title is, in itself, a spoiler?

Right out of the gate, The Five-Year Engagement is very funny and San Francisco natives will probably get a kick out of seeing many familiar sites.  At one point, even I laughed when they went to a neighborhood a friend of mine used to live in and I was like, "Hey, I've been there a bunch before!"  The familiarity helped me get into the movie and identify with it.

Anyway, shortly after their engagement, Violet gets accepted to a two-year graduate program at the University of Michigan. As a compromise, they decide to postpone the wedding and Tom quits his chef job.  Unfortunately, this happens just as he's about to be named head chef of a new restaurant, so as they are leaving there's already an element of 'what could have been' for Tom. Things are going well for Violet after the move, but Tom has difficulty getting work and has too much time on his hands.  Having a lot of time to think probably isn't the best thing in this situation.

As the movie progresses, Violet's stay in Michigan is extended further due to her success and things continue to get worse for Tom.  It becomes less about their engagement and more about how they keep dealing with the strains of their careers, being away from their family and friends and Tom's resentment and depression about the whole situation.  Eventually, it gets to the point where they doubt their whole relationship. 

While that may make it sound like the movie is depressing, it managed to be consistently funny.  It's one of those movies where people were laughing enough that sometimes you couldn't always hear the next thing said.  Like many Judd Apatow-produced comedies, it's a little on the raunchier side for a rom-com.  However, it still manages to feel realistic and have a little more substance that you would normally expect.  I'm reminded of Funny People, another movie that was very funny but ended up dealing with some serious issues.  While The Five-Year Engagement is not a totally conventional rom-com, the way the story develops doesn't leave you with many places to go, so you know how it's going to play out.  The ending had an almost magical, fairy tale feel to it, but at the same time didn't seem cheesy.  

A comedy is usually only as good as it's supporting cast and this doesn't disappoint.  Many of the supporting roles really stand out.  Alison Brie is great as Violet's sister and fans of Community may be surprised to see her speaking with a British accent.  She ends up in a relationship with one of Tom's chef friends, played by fellow NBC Thursday night alum, Chris Pratt.  Those two steal every scene they are in.  Tom's co-worker, played by comedian Brian Posehn, has some great lines, and Chris Parnell was funny as a 'faculty husband'.  The research team Violet works with, featuring Rhys Ifans, Kevin Hart, Mindy Kaling and Randall Park are consistently funny.  I think I enjoyed the supporting characters more than the leads.

That doesn't mean I have an issue Blunt or Segel though.  Emily Blunt keeps up her streak of having great chemistry with whoever she seems to be cast against.  I think she might be the reigning queen of romantic comedies.  Jason Segel gives another good performance as well and it's hard not to sympathize with what his character is going though.  Together, they make for a cute couple and you want to see them work things out.

Director/co-writer Nicholas Stoller teamed up with Jason Segel again and did a pretty good job balancing out the cast and all the elements of the story.  They previously collaborated on Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Get Him to the Greek and The Muppets, so you can find a lot of similarities to all of their previous films in The Five-Year Engagement.

It's not a perfect film though. The main problem with the movie is that it's a little long and starts to drag on a bit.  Granted, with it being 'The Five-Year Engagement' and not 'The One-Year Engagement', they have to cover a lot of time, but it gets to a point where you start to wonder exactly how much of their life we going to witness and if it was actually going to end.  This seems to be a recurring thing with other films in the Apatow family in that they run just a tad too long.  It's a minor complaint though.

There's a part (and I will try not to spoil it) that seemed to be edited very poorly, where a character is getting progressively drunker despite that you haven't seen him drink anything for a while.  While this is happening, their state of undress is also extremely inconsistent.  The scene was done for laughs, so it's easy to forgive and some may not even notice it, but it really stuck out to me as odd.  Oh and speaking of undress, I can probably use a little less nudity from Jason Segel moving forward.

As I commented in my Think Like a Man review, this is the second comedy I've seen in two weeks where one of the characters is a chef and eventually opens his own food truck.  Why is this becoming so common in films now?  I can imagine the start-up costs for a food truck are much lower than opening a restaurant, but they are always super successful and have great food, when normally I don't associate food trucks with either.  It just seems like it's getting to be an overused profession and plot device when they aren't sure what they should do with a character.

Sure, I'm nit-picking a little, but that's my thing.

At it's heart, The Five-Year Engagement is still a consistently funny and sweet romantic comedy about how love and relationships are never perfect, but when you find the right one, you'll find a way to make it work.  While it ultimately doesn't stray too far from typical rom-com conventions and runs a little long, the strong supporting cast helps makes it very enjoyable to watch.  It's a really good date movie to check out this weekend.

4 (out of 5) Death Stars

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

This Week in DVD - April 24th

I didn't have a DVD post last week, because I actually didn't watch much and barely anything new came out on DVD that I needed to recap, so this blog post is going to cover more of the past two weeks.

The Darkest Hour (2011)

Let's start off with a bang then.  Holy shit this is a bad movie!  How did this get released on Christmas?

Despite being based in Russia, a bunch of Americans and an Australian are the survivors of an alien attack.  Glowing orbs fall from the sky and then disappear.  Shortly after, people just start disintegrating into ash.  I will admit that was actually kind of a cool effect, but at the same time, you know a movie is low budget when you're running from invisible aliens.  When the aliens are finally revealed, the graphics looked like something done on a personal computer, from 10 years ago.

It has some of worst acting and dialog I've seen in a while.  This is filled with so many logic gaps and inconsistencies that I have a hard time believing a sane person wrote this (it appears there were THREE writers credited for this crap).  For example, the main group finds refuge in a Faraday Cage, which a friend reminded me that it's purpose is to block electrical signals, so the aliens can't find them.  However, later in the movie, they are still receiving text messages while inside.  That's exactly what a Faraday Cage is supposed to prevent. The blocking of the electrical signals isn't one way.

Another inconsistent thing is that that once on Earth, the aliens seemed to be completely ground based and couldn't get around certain obstacles, yet they flew down to Earth?  How were the aliens planning on leaving then?    

The main character, played by Emile Hirsch, is initially a party guy, but once the crisis starts, he's also the guy that is somehow able to instinctively figure everything out.  This is especially a surprise when you heard some the lame-ass dialog he says.  The movie opens when a scene of them being ripped off by a unscrupulous business partner, who advised them that they should have singed a NDA, to which Emile counters, 'You mean a non-douchebag agreement!'  Great retort, sparky!  Shortly after, he says 'Every culture has drinking and religion.  That's why I drink religiously!'  Pure genius!  With zingers like that at the beginning of the movie, you know you're in for something special.

It wasn't entertaining on any level.  This is the kind of movie I can only recommend watching if you actually enjoy watching really bad movies.

.5 (out of) 5 Death Stars - Just forget it ever existed.

Carnage (2011)

Roman Polanski co-writes and directs Carnage, based on the French play God of Carnage.  You've got a really strong cast with Jodie Foster, John C. Reilly, Christolph Waltz and Kate Winslet.  There's no supporting cast at all.

Two families are brought together after their kids get in a fight. Initially they are writing a quick letter recapping the events (I'm assuming for legal reasons) and then agreeing on a time to have the kids talk it out. While initially the meeting is civil, you can tell that things are going to escalate the longer they talk it out.

As the meeting gets drawn out, drinks are poured and then it really picks up  Dirty laundry comes out and everyone turns on each other.  The problem is though that just when it starts to get interesting, it abruptly ends, if you can even call it an ending.  It's barely 80 minutes long, so maybe this is all the fault of it being based on a play.

Despite the short length, it started out kind of rough for me, but once they started drinking, it got funnier.  The cast was the only reason I kept watching after the first few minutes.  It really is more about just watching the actors doing their thing.  It's not really a plot driven movie.

If this was something I saw in the theater, I might have been a little disappointed due to the length and lack of ending, but I think it's good rental, especially if you like the cast.

3 (out of 5) Death Stars

The Divide (2012)

After a nuclear war, a group of people take shelter in the basement of the apartment complex they live in.  A lot of what happens is unclear and never explained, so the movie is more about focusing on this group of people hiding out in this shelter.  The longer they stay in the shelter, the more their social structure breaks down and things get weird.

While there's some messed up stuff that happens, movies like this always bug me when people are clearly acting irrationally.  In this case, some of them are being affected by radiation and showing obvious effects of it, yet somehow they are the ones that remain in charge.  If the other people would band together, they would easily overpower them, but nobody trusts anyone enough to do that.

There are also scenes where people have weapons and guns facing off against unarmed opponents and still manage to lose the upper hand.  That kind of shit drives me nuts!

It continues to get worse and worse and the movie drags on way too long to really enjoy or care about anything.  The whole thing was just too hard to believe.  It's a shame because I actually liked many of cast members from other movies and TV (Michael Biehn, Lauren German, Milo Ventimiglia).

1.5 out of 5 Death Stars - I'm gonna say pass on this one.

Recently out on DVD:

Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol (2011)

It's rare when a movie series starts out poorly but manages to improve as time moves on.  I actually really enjoyed the third M:I, but I think this is easily the best of the M:I series.

While a little ridiculous at times and the villain is a bit outdated, it's just a fun action thrill ride.  I've heard many people feel this this is the first M:I movie to actually feel more like the original TV show, especially with how the team dynamic worked out.  This felt the least like 'The Tom Cruise Show' of the series and that's a good thing.

I think director Brad Bird's experience with other team-based movies really served him well here.  I really hope they give him a good superhero movie to work on at some point.

Originally I gave this a 4 (out of 5) and I'll stand by that.  I strongly recommend renting this one.

Contraband (2012)

Mediocre action thriller that felt very paint by the numbers and didn't do anything new, special or all that interesting.  This is something that even my initial review, I said was ideally suited for a rental.

It has a really good cast, but they aren't given much to do and in some cases outright wasted, like Kate Beckinsale.  Why would you cast someone like Kate Beckinsale to play a housewife that doesn't do anything but get threatened by the bad guys?  It's a part that should have been used to give a break to a lesser known actress.  It probably would have saved the production some money, too.

Overall, I thought it was pretty forgettable.  I can't believe it's out on DVD already.  It was only in the theater three months ago.

2.5 (out of 5) Death Stars - It's a rental

The Innkeepers (2012)

Creepy horror film that's let down a little bit by it's pacing.  There really was no reason why this movie needed to be 100 minutes long.  If this had been 85-90 minutes, it would have been so much better.

It takes so long to get started, when you'll watch this you'll see how easily this could have been edited down and the end result would have been even more creepy and tense.  The length was the sole reason in my original review I knocked this down a half to a full star.

3 (out of 5) Death Stars - It's still a decent rental though if you like a creepy, haunted house movie.

That's it for DVD's this week.  I need to finalize some reviews for movies coming out this weekend.  Stay tuned...

Monday, April 23, 2012

The Raid: Redemption (2012) - Movie Review

The Raid: Redemption is a low-budget action movie from Indonesia.  I don't think I've even heard of an Indonesian movie prior to The Raid, let alone actually watched one.  However, if The Raid is any indication, I might have to check out a few more of these.

The story is pretty simple:  A SWAT team enters a building to capture a crime lord on the top floor.  The problem is the drug lord basically has the whole building under surveillance and has been tipped off they are coming for him.  He contacts the entire building and tells them that if they help eliminate the SWAT team, they can live rent free.  All hell breaks loose!  As there are snipers outside the building, the SWAT team can't simply escape out a window or fire escape, so their only option is to get to the top floor and capture the crime boss.

From that point, the movie is a flurry of gun fighting and action.  There's so much gun play that they actually end up running out of bullets.  Then what?  Well, you become an awesome martial arts movie!  Using an Indonesian martial arts called Silat, it features some of the best fight choreography I've seen in a while.  It's both brutal and still manages to be fun to watch. It reminded me in many ways of Tony Jaa's style of fighting.

You're mainly following the main SWAT team member, Rama (Iko Uwais) as he heads up the building.  While there are a few other characters, like Rama's estranged brother Andi (Doni Alamsyah), who's also the crime boss' right hand man; the main baddie we have the most fun with is simply named 'Mad Dog' (Yayan Ruhian).  As you can imagine with a name like 'Mad Dog', his skills are very specific.  He has several showdowns that are the highlights of the film.

You barely get a chance to breathe there's so much action from beginning to end.  I'm reminded of Point Blank in that this is another foreign action/thriller that's a little light on the story or character development, but more than makes up for it with it's action and that it never lets up for a second.  This is one of those kind of action films where you'll catch yourself going 'Oh!' or 'Damn!' during the fights. 

Written/Directed by Welshman Gareth Evans.  He directed another one of these called Merantau back in 2009 and it also stars Iko Uwais.  I think I'm going to have to check that one out.

Although, I'm a little unsure about what the 'Redemption' in the title is in reference to.  Who was redeemed? Maybe I missed that.

The Raid: Redemption is a fun, frenzied action flick that I think fans of good action or martial arts flicks will enjoy.  It's still playing in a few theaters still, so check it out if it's available in your area.  If not, put this at the top of your Netflix queue!

4 (out of 5) Death Stars 

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Think Like a Man (2012) - Movie Review

See ladies, if you want to get a man, you have to start thinking more like one.  I've been saying!  Duh!  Think Like a Man is a romantic comedy inspired by the book "Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man: What Men Really Think About Love, Relationships, Intimacy and Commitment" by Steve Harvey.  Hey Steve, you think you could have maybe shortened that title just a bit?  That's a mouthful!

The movie begins by introducing us to a group of six friends and their 'roles'.  You have Zeke, 'The Player' (Romany Malco); Dominic, 'The Dreamer' (Michael Ealy); Cedric, 'Soon to be Divorced Guy' (Kevin Hart); 'Happily Married Guy' (Gary Owen); 'The Mama's Boy' (Terrence J); and finally Turtle from Entourage as 'The Unable to Commit Guy' (Jerry Ferrara).

You're also introduced to a few women that are likewise broken down to their 'roles', like Mya, 'The 90-Day Rule Girl' (Meagan Good); Lauren, 'The Woman Who is Her Own Man' (Taraji P. Henson); Candace, 'The Single Mother' (Regina Hall); and Kristen, 'The Woman that Wants the Ring' (Gabrielle Union). I'm paraphrasing the roles a bit as I didn't take notes during the movie, but anyway...

The women, looking for a way out of their dating ruts, turn to Steve Harvey's book for advice.  Think Like a Man feels like an updated and more realistic version of He's Just Not That Into You, a book I actually did read.  Rather than just repeating the mantra 'he's just not that into you', Think Like a Man is more about understanding how men think and turning the tables on that to get what you want.  I don't mean that necessarily in a manipulative way or actually becoming more like a man, but just trying to understand why men behave the way the do when dating.

Interspersed through the film you have Harvey chiming in, either in interview form or just speaking to the audience reciting themes or rules from his book.  He talks about things like setting your standards, not giving 'it' up too soon, being respected, keeping your power, etc.  There's actually some good advice in there, that is, if you haven't heard it already.  Some of the stuff he says seems to be common sense.  I haven't read either of his dating books, so I'm not going to go into whether or not they are any good.  However, at times, the movie felt like an extended commercial for his book.  You see many scenes of women frantically rushing to book stores, buying up all the copies, carrying it around everywhere, reading it constantly, etc.  It felt a bit contrived.

Initially, the advice seems to be working for the ladies.  However, things change when the men finally become aware of the book and try to take the power back.  This leads to a lot bad lying and things backfiring on everyone.  It also leads to some of the funnier and more uncomfortable moments in the film.  You know when you catch someone in a lie and they go, 'Huh?  What?  I don't think I said that."  Stuff like that.  Part of the message that comes out of all this is that while you should have certain expectations, nobody is perfect and you can't try to change people too much.

You still have your typical rom-com conventions here and that's my main disappointment about the film.  The way this started, I thought it may end up being more of a shrewd or keen look at modern dating, but ended up being more of a standard romantic comedy, particularly with how it wraps up.  It doesn't really take as many chances as I was hoping.  Think Like a Man is only  PG-13, so it's not raunchy, has any nudity and I really don't recall much in the way of bad language.  This isn't necessarily a bad thing, as I think it helps make the movie accessible to more people.  Like if I had a kid, I wouldn't feel like they couldn't watch this.  On the other hand, I think being safe or going for the lower rating might have taken away some of the bite this could have had.

What saves it is that Think... is actually pretty funny. It started out a little rough due to some really tired jokes used and I was worried that this was going to be stale, but once Think... got it's legs, it really seemed to take off.  Also, the cast is extremely attractive and you like everyone in it. The guys in particular were really easy to identify with and it's easy to see you hanging out with them, grabbing a beer or playing ball. That's not to say that the women aren't good as well.  They all come off as normal people just looking to meet the right one.  Nobody ever seems too crazy or unrealistic.

While I thought guys like Michael Ealy, Romany Malco and Meagan Good (god damn!) stood out, the real star of the film was Kevin Hart.  He's a comedic dynamo!  In most of the movies I've seen him in, he's been relegated to smaller, supporting roles, but here he really gets a chance to shine and show how funny he is.  He steals every scene he's in and elevated the film to beyond just an average rom-com.

As you might expect, I have a few minor complaints.  It does run a little long, just over two hours, and started to feel bogged down with all the characters and their stories.  I think even director Tim Story knew this, as it seemed like every time the pacing was slowing down a bit, Kevin Hart would appear and bring up the energy.  I haven't been a big fan of Tim Story due to his work on the Fantastic Four movies (not all his fault though), but I think he did a much better job here of working with a large ensemble cast.

As I said, the length was a minor complaint, because with this large of a cast, you run the risk of neglecting a character, which wouldn't be fair to everyone in the film.  They even had to have Kevin Hart's character narrate throughout the movie to keep things moving along and not make the run time even longer.  As much as I liked the cast, it might have helped to maybe remove one of the couples, 'The Mama's Boy', perhaps, and this would have tightened up the movie significantly.  The screenplay was written by Keith Merryman and David A. Newman, who wrote last summer's Friends With Benefits. While I think they could have trimmed the screenplay down a bit, I think it's another good effort on their part. 

These next points might be a little spoilerific, so skip until the end if you plan on seeing this right away:

Another thing that kind of put me off is that you never meet 'Happily Married Guy's' wife.  He's the one guy throughout the film that's in a stable relationship and says sweet things about her and his marriage, but even at the very end when all of the couples are together, his wife is nowhere to be seen.  That just seemed odd to me and a missed opportunity to have a funny payoff when introducing his wife to the audience.  It seemed like even the rest of the gang didn't even really know who his wife was.

One thing that got a collective groan from the audience was that Chris Brown makes an appearance at the beginning, but it's not much more than a cameo.  This leads me to believe that he may have been in this more, but they cut his role due his current 'popularity'.  I'm just speculating here, so don't quote me on this.  That's just the feeling I got. 

Like with other movies, some of the characters live in immaculate places, in LA no less, that look like they most cost a fortune to live in.  Yet some of them never really go into detail about what they do for a living, so you're watching and going, how do these people pay for this stuff?  We don't know what they do for a living, you never see them working no matter what time of the day it is, but live in huge lofts in expensive areas.  When you hear people sitting around you making comments about this, it's clear that it's something that's getting noticed and not buying into anymore.

Here's another a weird thing, and this it a total spoiler, so be be warned.  I saw this the day after seeing The Five-Year Reunion (review coming next week) and that also has Kevin Hart in a supporting role.  Both movies involve a character that's a chef and they eventually open their own food truck.  Happy Endings on ABC (which is a very funny show) also has a character that fits this type.  This seems like a character type that's in real danger of being overused.  Seriously, how many people do you know that are chefs for one, but that also went into business for themselves with their own food truck?  I guess Hollywood thinks everyone does and that we all must identify with it.

This is all nitpicking though.  It didn't ruin my enjoyment of the film.

Think Like a Man isn't an amazing film, but it is consistently funny, has a likable, attrative cast and something I think most people will enjoy.  While I don't think it will 'change the game', I do think it might guide some people to look at the way they approach relationships a little bit.  If anything, I'm sure it will sell a few more copies of Steve Harvey's book, so I'm sure he's thrilled!  I'd say it's worth a matinee.

3.5 (out of 5) Death Stars

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Lockout (2012) - Movie Review

If only Guy Pearce would have suffered from the same memory affliction he had in Memento, it would have added a nice wrinkle to his character.  Also, having no short-term memory would have likely made Lockout easier to watch.  This review is going to be spoiler-heavy, so skip to the end if you're planning on watching this soon.

Guy Pearce stars as Snow, a former government agent wrongly accused and convicted of a crime he didn't commit.  Lockout begins with Snow being interrogated by Peter Stormare (who seems to be reduced to playing ridiculous characters) and flashing back to the events leading to his capture.  As Snow's recalling the events, you are treated to one of the worst CG-chase sequences I've seen in a very long time.  It looked like something from a bad video game, except video games tend to have better cut scenes.  I've seen better CG on SyFy.

Anyway in this scene, he's riding a motorcycle that doesn't have a front wheel.  It's unsure if they just didn't have the budget to CG in the front wheel, or in the future we have super-motorcycles that no longer need front wheels.  The whole scene was awful looking and you could barely tell what was going on.   At one point the hover-copter he's being chased by explodes for no reason at all.  This also sets up the exchange of some briefcase to Snow's partner that contains something important, but we have no idea what.

Next, we're introduced to Emilie Warnock (Maggie Grace), the President's daughter who's on a humanitarian mission to MS:One, a penal colony in Earth's orbit.  She wants to make sure the prisoners are being treated well, as they are held in stasis and it's believed that it has adverse affects on their sanity.  This immediately makes you wonder, if they are held in stasis, then why even bother with an outer space prison?  You can't just have them held in stasis on Earth for much cheaper?  Doesn't having a space station increase the chances of something going wrong by like a million?  They try to explain that the underwriters of the prison are secretly using the inmates as guinea pigs to test the effects of deep space on humans, but seemed like a poor script excuse to justify having the space prison in the first place.  Space exploration is never brought up in the movie again either.

They bring one prisoner (Joseph Gilgun) to talk to Emilie and it's clear that this prisoner is mentally disturbed, so you know it's going to go well.  Again, you have to wonder why did they pick that prisoner?  Maybe pick a prisoner that wasn't nuts before he was put in stasis.  Naturally, things go wrong; the prisoner escapes, manages to bring the prison population out of stasis, and take hostages.  The crazy prisoner is joined by his less-crazy brother, Alex (Vincent Regan), who takes the leadership role.  I don't know what the prisoners wanted, because I don't think they ever actually made any demands.  It didn't matter, because they pretty much killed all the hostages anyway, even though Alex pointed out that they needed the hostages as bargaining chips.

Anyway, forced to act, Snow is tasked with sneaking into MS:One and getting Emilie out.  Snow has no interest in going, but he agrees after finding out that his partner was captured and is on MS:One.  Snow's real goal is to find out the location of the briefcase exchanged earlier, which can now help prove his innocence.

Once Snow gets on MS:One, it's basically Die Hard in space, with Snow sneaking around and crawling through tunnels and air ducts.  In a way, Lockout will remind you of older, 80's action films.  Nearly every line of dialog felt like a bad one-liner.  However, this is one of those movies where you question nearly everything said or done as making no sense or being totally illogical.

For example, once Snow first finds Emilie, he attacks the inmate escorting them in an attempt to rescue them.  Even though he is clearly dressed as a agent and not a inmate, and just finished attacking the inmate that's with them, Emilie's response is to hit Snow in the head with a fire extinguisher.  She doesn't ask who he is first or notice that he was trying to rescue her.

At one point, they make sure you point out the scene is taking place on Earth by putting an "Earth" at the bottom of the screen.  Oh, is that where we are now?  Earth?  I never would have realized that considering everything else in the movie has happened on Earth and they haven't even hinted at being on other planets.

Later in the movie, a space station appears out of nowhere and crashes into the prison.  We're then told that MS:One needs constant monitoring or it will crash back into Earth.  Why have a space station that if left unmanned for even short period of time, will crash into the Earth?  How does that make any sense from a design or safety standpoint?

Finally, at the end there's this big space action sequence where a huge squad of space fighters assault MS: One, but all they do is fly around and not shoot, even though their goal is to destroy the station.  Meanwhile, they all get picked off one-by-one by the station's automated defenses.  One of the fighters flies up the middle of the station and drops a bomb that has a 30 second countdown to add dramatic tension.  In one last ridiculous sequence, Snow and Emilie jump out of the station just in time, manage to not burn up on re-entry into Earth's atmosphere, deploy parachutes and safely land on the street just seconds later.

I feel bad for Guy Pearce.  I think he was really trying here, and even seemed to have fun, but he deserves better.  The dialog he's forced to recite here is eye-rollingly awful.  It's not just his dialog either, the whole movie is a poorly written mess.  Lockout was co-written and directed by Stephen St. Leger and James Mather, and I really hope this isn't the best they can do.  Luc Besson also shared writing duties and we are told that this was based on an 'original idea' from him.  If that's the case, he's run out of ideas, or at least ideas that couldn't have also been conceived by a 13-year-old.  There's also very little blood or language, so it manages to preserve a PG-13 rating and utlimately I think that's who this will appeal to best.

I wanted to have fun with Lockout, but I just ended up getting annoyed with how stupid everything was.  There's never any real tension or anything to make you care about what's going on.  Overall, Lockout is mess.  The actors are doing their best, but they aren't given much to work with.  I've said this already, but it really is a bad video game come to life.  It's a rental at best.

1.5 (out of 5) Death Stars

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

The Cabin in the Woods (2012) - Movie Review

This is going to be a tough movie to write about, as I don't want to spoil it at all and to even give you too many non-spoiler details would be to deny you the same pleasure I got out of watching The Cabin in the Woods.

While Cabin doesn't necessarily have any twists that I need to avoid talking about, from the opening scene (featuring Bradley Whitford, Richard Jenkins, and Whedon alum Amy Acker) you'll understand that you're about to watch something that isn't going to be your typical horror film.

Then, you're introduced to five friends that head up to a remote cabin for a vacation.  You think you know where this is headed right?  Wrong!

It's very funny, smart and self-referential of the horror genre.  There are so many great lines and references that I can see myself watching this a few more times just so I can pick up on everything.  It also transcends the typical slasher flick, much like movies like the first Scream, Tucker & Dale vs. Evil or even Behind the Mask.  After watching The Cabin in the Woods, I think this will change you way you watch any horror film from this point on.  One of the great things is that actually ruins really bad horror films and takes them to task.  From what I heard from the filmmakers, that was actually one of their goals.

Cabin was actually shot back in 2009, but it got shelved for a few years for various reasons.  I point this out because you may notice that Chris Hemsworth looks younger and less muscular than he did in last summer's Thor
One thing that I appreciated about the film is how it actually makes you root for the kids.  Normally in these slasher flicks, they are so generally unlikeable or disposable that you actually want to see them die in horrific ways.  In Cabin, the story develops in a such a way that you actually feel for them.  The cast is rounded out by Kristen Connolly, Anna Hutchison, Jesse Williams, and another Whedon alum, Fran Kranz.  They are all great here.

It's killing me because even just telling you what I've said so far, I feel like I'm revealing too much.  I might be a little influenced by the fact that before the screening the Lionsgate rep asked that we not Tweet or post on Facebook too much about the film as they wanted to avoid spoilers.  However, I feel like I might be setting your expectations too high now, so let me interrupt this by saying, "It sucks!  Don't go see it!"

Co-written and produced by (the man!) Joss Whedon, and I think this will make all the Whedonites very happy.  His work here makes me look forward to The Avengers so much more now.  Directed and co-written by Drew Goddard, who also wrote Cloverfield, which is arguably the best of all of the 'found footage' films.  These guys absolutely nailed it!  Another note about Goddard is that he's currently working on the Cloverfield sequel and another movie called Robopocalypse, which Steven Spielberg is attached to direct, so I'm looking forward to both of those.

If you're any kind of horror fan, then you're in for a treat.  You will love The Cabin in the Woods!  Even if you aren't a huge horror fan, the comedy and fresh take on the genre should be entertaining for most movie goers.  I highly recommend checking it out this Friday the 13th!

I'm a little torn here.  It's not perfect, so I can't really give this 5 Death Stars, but this is easily one of my favorite horror films, so I'm going to give an unprecedented rating here:

4.75 (out of 5) Death Stars!

This Week in DVD - April 11th

Point Blank (2010)

No, I'm talking about Point Break.  This is a French thriller, which means subtitles, but I don't mind in this case, as I always like to see how much of those two years of French I took in High School I've retained.  The answer is 'not much'.  You won't even notice the subtitles once it gets going, and at only 84 minutes, it wastes no time at all.  Anyone making an action thriller needs to watch this movie and take a few lessons from it.

The basic story is that Samuel (Gilles Lellouche) is working as a nurse in a hospital after a John Doe (Roschdy Zem) is brought in after an accident.  Shortly after, someone tries to kill him in his hospital bed, but Samuel is able to save him.  The next thing you know, Samuel is attacked in his apartment.  He awakens to a phone call telling him that his pregnant wife (Elena Anaya) has been kidnapped and they'll kill her if he doesn't help get this John Doe out of the hospital.

What's great about this is that it doesn't waste a lot of time with plot complexity or even all that much character development.  Many times, I'd have an issue with this, but it really worked here.  You never watch this asking 'who are these people?' or 'why are they doing this?'  They give you just enough to get invested and then from there it felt like the rest of the movie is just an extended chase.  With such a short runtime, you're practically out of breath after.  I loved this!

Point Blank is available streaming on Netflix right now and I can't recommend it highly enough.  I also hear they may be doing an American version, which somehow I feel they'll ruin by miscasting the lead and then bloating the runtime.  We shall see...

4 (out of 5) Death Stars

Enter Nowhere (2011)

Two random people are lost in the woods and find an abandoned cabin.  Then, they are joined by a third (Sara Paxton), and then eventually, a fourth, German guy.  They can't seem to find their way of the woods and it seems to circle back on them anytime they venture too far in any direction.  As more is revealed you find that the characters all think it's a different year.  What's going on?

Kind of a cool premise, right?  Unfortunately, the execution didn't quite work.  I didn't think it was a problem with the acting; I thought everyone was fine for the most part.  It wasn't really an issue with the fact that's it's pretty low budget either.

I think the issue is that this seems like something that would have worked great as a Twilight Zone episode.  It's too long and wastes a lot of time, especially once you know where it's going.  At only 88 minutes it still could have been trimmed down significantly.  Too much time is wasted getting to the point.

2 (out of 5) Death Stars - If you can catch it on streaming or on cable check it out, but don't go out of your way to rent this.

5 Star Day (2011)

After reading a horoscope on his birthday that tells him that he's about to have a 5-star say, Jake (Cam Gigandet) proceeds to get fired from his job, comes home to find his girlfriend having sex with another guy, gets his car stolen and then a water pipe floods his place and he has to evacuate.  Does that sound like a 5-star day to you?

He then sets out to prove that astrology is bullshit for his ethics class thesis.  He finds three other people born at the same time in the same hospital and then seeks them out to see if they've also had bad experiences.  It's actually kind of a cool idea, but it's too cliched and not enough really happens to keep you engaged.

Plus, the whole idea of needing to disprove astrology seemed silly to me.  Astrology is already silly, do we really need to disprove it as an actual serious theory?  Why not set out to disprove witchcraft while you're at it?

Cam Gigandet has mostly been in supporting roles, so he gets a chance to be the lead here.  He wasn't terrible, but there were times were his performance was a little off putting to me.  Like he was trying too hard. I think this may be due more to the script, which seemed a little plodding and repetitive.

2 (out of 5) Death Stars - Another one to catch on streaming or cable.

I actually don't have anything new on DVD to recap this week.  Both The Iron Lady and The Darkest Hour were released, but were two films I didn't get around to seeing.  By all accounts I've heard that The Darkest Hour is terrible (which actually makes me want to watch it more) and that The Iron Lady has a great performance by Meryl Streep, but that the movie otherwise isn't very good.  I should be able to watch both movies this week, so I'll have my DVD recaps of them up next time.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

American Reunion (2012) - Movie Review

Having just had my high school reunion last summer, I can attest to how fun it can be to reunite with everyone and catch up.  I think that made me look forward to American Reunion to see the gang back together.  Unfortunately, I had more fun at my own reunion than watching this movie.

The title pretty much tells you the entire premise.  It's time for their reunion, their 13-year reunion.  Why 13?  I have no idea.  They make reference early in the movie that there was a recent reunion they didn't attend, like their 10-year reunion perhaps?  Why not just fib a little and make it the 15 year reunion?  Sure, it's been 13 years since the first American Pie, but is accuracy really the most important thing here?

They do manage to get the entire cast back together, but that seems like more of a reflection of the fact that none of these guys had much else going on.  It's kind of ironic that the biggest current star from the original cast, John Cho ("MILF!"), was only a bit part in the first movie.  Throughout the film they will randomly throw in a character from the series.  Towards the end, when certain characters show up, it felt more like they were just trying to fill a quota.  Like a teacher doing roll call and making sure everyone is in attendance.

There's not much to the plot either; they reunite, drink and party, and move from one awkward situation to the next.  Here's the biggest problem: when American Pie came out in 1999, it was a fresh and fun take on raunchy teen comedies.  The material, and sadly many of the actors, hasn't aged well.  Also, you have many more people out there that are doing much better versions this genre to compare it against.  You really have to have good material and unfortunately, this doesn't deliver.  There some some mildly amusing things here and there, but the movie barely got more than a chuckle out of me or seemingly anyone else in the theater.  There's nothing new here and you've seen it all before.  As with the previous films, the highlights are when Stifler (Seann William Scott) or Jim's Dad (Eugene Levy) are on screen.

When the movie is nearly two hours long, the lack of comedy really starts to wear on you.  It tries to be a little more poignant and thoughtful towards the end, but it didn't seemed earned.  This is due in large part to a pet peeve I have about movies where a misunderstanding occurs and it's something that could be cleared up with just a line of dialog or simple conversation.  Instead, someone storms off without listening to what the other person has to say.  It's a lazy way to have conflict in your movies.

It doesn't help that writer Adam Herz, from the first three films, is not back this time. Reunion was written and directed by Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg, who already haven't impressed me with their work on the Harold and Kumar series.  In the hands of a better writing team, this could have been so much more.  Hurwitz and Schlossberg are capable of writing funny things, but it seems like they miss more than they hit.  Perhaps these guys would work better writing shorter sketches.

While you don't watch an American Pie movie expecting great acting, seeing all these guys back together really makes you aware at how bad some of them are, and why you haven't seen them much outside of this series.  Chris Klein really is a terrible actor.  This isn't a surprise to anyone that's seen his recent movies, but when you stand out as the worst actor even among this group (Mena Suvari, Tara Reid, Alyson Hannigan), then it's really bad.  These guys make Jason Biggs look like a capable actor.

It felt like the real star here is Ali Cobrin, who plays the girl next door that Jim used to babysit.  Without spoiling too much, she shows off her assets in a part of the film that will be sure to please most every guy watching the movie.

American Reunion is like going for that last piece of Pie when you're already full.  It's a little cold and tough to get down, but still tastes okay.  It was nice seeing the gang back together, but it would have been better to see them in a funnier movie.  I always say stuff like this, Reunion is not awful, but it could have been so much more.  I'm just disappointed.  If you're a fan of the series, you'll get some entertainment out of this latest installment, but even then I still think it's better suited as a rental.

2.5 (out of 5) Death Stars

Friday, April 6, 2012

The Hunter (2012) - Movie Review

Maybe if this was the Green Goblin hunting a Liger, then this could have been epic!

Willem Dafoe is a hunter hired by a biotech company to find a Tasmanian Tiger, which totally sounds made up, but is actually a real animal believed to be extinct for quite a while.  However, there have been rumors about about recent sightings.  He's supposed to collect samples and organs of this animal, which would presume he's supposed to kill it.  So, you find an extinct species alive and your response is to kill it?  Why?  For cloning?  Why not capture it and take it alive?  It's not really clear why this company wants this tiger so bad, but the clock is ticking.

Dafoe arrives in Tasmania and rooms with a local family.  He has to lie and be vague about why he's there, because other companies and hunters are also after this tiger.  I'm guessing what he was doing was probably illegal as well.  He encounters resistance with the locals, as their primary employment is the logging industry and they think he's part of the environmental groups trying to stop them.

Simply put, not enough happens in The Hunter to keep it truly interesting. You're treated to lots of scenes of Dafoe driving back and forth to the forest and doing handyman tasks around the house.  Even when he's doing more interesting things like tracking and setting traps for the tiger, it's very clinical.  It looks like he really knows what he's doing, but it seems like the type of stuff that only hunting enthusiasts would get anything out of.

The whole movie's setup seemed 'off' to me and I think it's because there were too many things not really explained well.  Then, there's a subplot involving him bonding with these kids he's staying with, their sick mother, and dealing with their missing father, but none of it is developed all that well.   Even when they deal with the conflict between the loggers and the environmentalists, there will be a standoff or argument that goes nowhere. It all fizzles out.

When you finally reach the conclusion, there's actually a good sequence of events, but it took too long to get there.

Based on a novel by Julia Leigh (who just wrote and directed Sleeping Beauty), it seems odd she wasn't involved in the screenplay, which was written by Alice Addison and originally adapted by Wain Fimeri.  I know I harp on this a lot, but it seems like too many writers had a hand in this, where it seems like the movie lost it's voice by not just having Leigh involved.  It lacked focus as a result.  Is this movie a thriller?  A drama?  It's not a wilderness survival film, like The Grey.

I don't think director Daniel Nettheim could decide on a tone for the film either or what he really wanted to do with it.  To illustrate this, look at the poster at the top of this review.  What kind of movie did you think it might be?  Now look at the poster immediately to your left.  Now what kind of movie do you think it is?

Nettheim got good performances out of the cast, but they aren't given much to do.  I didn't even recognize Sam Neill or Frances O'Connor.

There's some very nice cinematography and a good performance by Willem Dafoe, who's the anchor of The Hunter, but that's about it.  It's not an awful film, but just kind of boring.  That's really all I have to say about it.  It's a rental.

2.5 (out of 5) Death Stars

Thursday, April 5, 2012

This Week in DVD - April 4th

A Dangerous Method (2011)

You'd think a movie with Magneto, Aragorn and the chick from the first few Pirates of the Caribbean movies would be better.  Did her character even have a name?  Whatever, it's Keira Knightley.

A Dangerous Method deals with the earlier days of Carl Jung (Michael Fassbender) and his relationship with Sigmund Freud (Viggo Mortensen).  Knightley stars as Sabina Spielrein, a patient that is initially brought in for treatment, but Jung is able to cure her and she later goes on to become a therapist in her own right.  One of my issues is that they totally gloss over how he managed to cure her.  It just flash forwards a bit and she's okay now.

I'm also unsure at what the dangerous method was.  The trailer implies that the relationship between Spielrein and Jung is dangerous, but at the point when the affair begins, Spielrein is already cured.  It's more that it's frowned upon that he's have a relationship with a former patient.  I guess 'An Inappropriate Affair' doesn't sell very well as a movie title.

It just felt so sterile. There are scenes where Fassbender is spanking a semi-nude Knightley and you'd think it would be sexy, but it just felt dirty, and not in that good, dirty way, but more like, "I'm spying on people and I don't want to see it."

It's actually very well acted, but the problem is that I just didn't care about anything that was going on. Nothing interested me all that much.  The parts where Jung and Freud are working together are probably the only times I was invested in what was going on, but those moments were too few and far between.

This didn't even seem like a David Cronenberg film, but more like a standard docu-drama. It didn't really do anything special and I would have liked more about Jung and and Freud and dropped the Spielrein character entirely.

2.5 (out of 5) Death Stars - It's slow and kind of boring, so it's hard to recommend as a rental unless you really like the cast.

Johnny English Reborn (2011)

I used to really like Rowan Atkinson, but he's really tarnishing his reputation with silly movies like this.

The first Johnny English was so forgettable that I honestly cannot remember a thing about it other than I known I saw it at some point.  Plus, it came out like eight years ago.  Why do they make sequels to movies that didn't do well in the first place?  Did anyone at all care that they were making another Johnny English movie?

This is yet another one of these spy spoofs where the main character, English in this case, is clueless or inept.  However, he's so inept at times that you wonder how he hasn't accidentally killed himself a long time ago.  It's even harder to believe how any agency would allow him to become an agent in the first place, let alone keep the position for years.

Sure, that's the point of these films and normally you can look past that giant hole in the plot if the movie is at least funny.  Unfortunately, this doesn't deliver with the laughs either.  Most of the humor seems to be the type of stuff that only young kids would find funny.  I will say there is actually a pretty funny chase sequence at the beginning that is kind of the opposite of the chase from the beginning of Casino Royale.  It's all downhill from there though.

The only thing that kept me watching was that Rosamund Pike and Gillian Anderson were in this.  Somehow Anderson looks hotter to me now than she did on the X-Files.

It's another movie that felt too long and it was a struggle for me to finish.  It's harmless enough.  I mean, it's not offensive or insulting.  It's just not good enough to recommend to anyone but the most die-hard Rowan Atkinson fans, well, and kids.

2 (out of) 5 Death Stars

The Hammer (2007)

I'm biased here as I LOVE Adam Carolla.  I've always been a fan of his from things like The Man Show and Crank Yankers, and his podcast is something I listen to daily.  I just get his sense of humor and love his rants.

I actually watched this years ago when it first hit DVD, but honestly, I could barely remember anything about it.  I decided to watch it again figuring I'd probably get more out of now that I listen to Carolla so much.

Fortunately, I did enjoy it very much this time around. Carolla has a background in both construction and boxing, so naturally he plays a character that works in construction and also teaches a boxing class.  After a successful sparring session, he's asked by a local trainer to try out for the US Olympic boxing team.  At the same time he starts a relationship with a girl from one of this boxing classes.

It's mainly a vehicle for Carolla and his trademark humor and rants.  It's not raunchy or fast paced, but more of just a good sports comedy, with a bit of a romantic comedy thrown in.  Much like I said about Goon in my review of that film, there's heart and sweetness about The Hammer that makes it stand apart from other sports comedies.

Even if you aren't familiar with Adam Carolla or a big fan of his, I think it's funny enough for everyone to enjoy or get something out of.

3.5 (out of 5) Death Stars - I recommend renting it.

Adam Carolla would ask you to go to Amazon if you're looking to buy anything.  Except he'd tell you to click through his site, but I'm just going to ask you to click on my link below.

Out on DVD this week:

We Bought a Zoo (2011)

While not one of Cameron Crowe's better films, I had a soft spot for it. I think the movie might have been hurt by the title.  Sure it's actually pretty descriptive as to what the movie is about, but I almost didn't go see the movie because of it.  If it weren't for the cast, I wouldn't have taken it seriously at all going into the film.  Even then, I was still pretty reluctant to watch this until the opening credits rolled and I realized it was a Cameron Crowe movie. 

I wrote in my original review that while it was schmaltzy, it was a cute family film that's well-acted and funny in the right places. I even got a little misty-eyed a few times.  It just affected me more than I was expecting.  The movie is totally harmless otherwise.

I originally gave this 3 (out of 5) Death Stars and I'll stick to that.  I recommend renting if you're in the mood for a nice family film.

War Horse (2011)

I'm not sure how this got nominated for Best Picture.  That makes it one of the most overrated and undeserving Best Picture nominees I can think of in recent memory.  Is it just because it's a Spielberg movie?

Visually, it's great, but I just felt that the story and soundtrack were too heavy-handed to the point of being manipulative.  The soundtrack tells you how you should feel, rather than let you get there on your own.  It doesn't help that the human characters weren't very well developed, so that adds to apathy.

I also gave this 3 (out of 5) Death Stars in my original review and I'll stick to that rating, too.  I do think it's worth a rental if you haven't seen it yet.

Angel's Crest (2011)

I had so little to say about this movie in my original review, that I split it with a review of another movie (Roadie).  It's not terrible, I just didn't think there was a lot to sink your teeth into about it.  It has a few decent performances, Thomas Dekker stands out, but overall it's nothing remarkable.  It also has Lynn Collins in it, who seems to be getting a lot more popularity after her performance in John Carter, so there's that I guess.

Overall, it's a depressing movie and felt a little too melodramatic for my tastes.

2 (out of 5) Death Stars - This isn't something I'd rush out and rent, but if you can catch it on cable one day or on streaming, then you might get a little something out of the performances.