Thursday, August 28, 2014

Movie Review: ‘The November Man’

** 1/2 out of 5
108 minutes
Relativity Media

Article first published as Movie Review: ‘The November Man’ on Blogcritics.

August has always been known as a Hollywood dump month. Lots of trash left for audiences to pick through while they wait for school and football to start again. This year we got lucky with the release of Guardians of the Galaxy, which is still cleaning up nicely at the box office and has officially become the highest grossing film of the summer. But since then we’ve been bombarded with the likes of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Into the Storm, Sin City: A Dame to Kill For, and If I Stay. And just when we thought the dust was beginning to settle, along comes Pierce Brosnan in the summer’s dopiest film yet: The November Man.

November Man, Pierce Brosnan, Olga KurylenkoBrosnan stars as CIA agent Pete Devereaux, whom we meet training his protégé Mason (Luke Bracey). Mason has an itchy trigger finger and an assassination attempt results in Pete taking a couple of hits and a dead child. Five years later, Pete is retired but is asked by his old CIA buddy Hanley (Bill Smitrovich) to help out the love of his life Natalia (Mediha Musliovic), who’s working undercover in Moscow under the sleazy Arkaday Federov (Lazar Ristovski). After Mason takes out Natalia, Pete sets himself on a mission to find out why she was killed, leading to a missing war refugee and a key witness named Alice (Olga Kurylenko) with super assassin Alexa (Amila Terzimehic) hot on their tails.

If it wasn’t for the fact that November Man is so pedestrian through most of its runtime, the Bad Boys finale could probably have been more forgivable. Unfortunately, director Roger Donaldson brings absolutely nothing new to the table. It also doesn’t help that writer Michael Finch is adapting Bill Granger’s novel There Are No Spies as a long-lost ’90s Brosnan-era Bond film. A few comparisons could be made to the Bourne franchise, but if you were to go that route, this would be The Bourne Lobotomy. Brosnan overacts every chance he gets, erupting into screams when he’s not breathing so heavily that he sounds like he’s having a heart attack. If he wants to keep making these kinds of films, he’ll need to invest in an inhaler, seriously.

November Man, Pierce Brosnan, Olga KurylenkoIf you do wind up seeing the film, just wait for the finale when shit gets real when you’ll be saying, “Ah, hell no,” and wanting to walk out. Unintentional hilarity prevails. For some reason, Relativity had already greenlit a sequel, even while The November Man sat at an astounding 0% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. It has since moved its way up to 33 percent, but considering most people didn’t even know the film is coming out and is bound for horrible word-of-mouth, The November Man makes for one lousy Labor Day weekend release. Just go see Guardians of the Galaxy again (or for the first time), or the 30thanniversary release of Ghostbusters if you want to see something this weekend. As for The November Man, move along people, there’s nothing to see here.

Photos courtesy Relativity Media

Friday, August 22, 2014

Movie Review: ‘If I Stay’

*** out of 5
106 minutes
Rated PG-13 for thematic elements and some sexual material
Warner Bros. Pictures

Article first published as Movie Review: ‘If I Stay’ on Blogcritics.

For a film chock-full of music and band name-dropping, it’s a shame that director R.J. Cutler’s If I Stay is so tone deaf. And the pacing is also terminal. All jokes aside, adapting author Gayle Forman’s novel into a film looks like it was no easy task, so it’s a shame that Shauna Cross’ screenplay is such a structural mess coming after proving her girl-power sassiness with the hilarious derby girl comedy Whip It.

If I Stay, Chloë Grace Moretz, R.J. Cutler, Shauna Cross, Gayle Forman, Jamie Backley, Liana LiberatoAt least most of the cast helps keep the film from imploding, although some additional editing could have helped too, because the film is about 15 minutes too long. And just when you think it might be over, another flashback comes along full of cloying sentimentality making If I Stay only making you wish you could go.

If I Stay refers to the internal dilemma faced by teenager Mia Hall (Chloë Grace Moretz) after she winds up in a coma and deals with an out of body experience. Through her reflections and voice over we get to see every reason why she may want to stay alive. She has a loving and supportive mother and father, Denny and Kat (Joshua Leonard and Mireille Enos), and younger brother Teddy (Jakob Davies).

Mia also has a boyfriend who swoops into her life in the form of rocker Adam (Jamie Backley) who falls in love with her the second he sees her geeking out on her cello. Her best friend Kim (Liana Liberato) spends lots of time with her wandering school halls, attending family dinners, and at local coffee shops. Mia and Adam’s love hits the skids when he finds out she auditioned to Juilliard and could move to New York. But everything gets put on hold after the car accident and Mia has to try to decide if she wants to live.

Cue the violins!

Watching If I Stay turns into a chore toward the final third of the film when you realize how repetitious everything is. With everything being told in flashback, there’s only so much sentimentality director Cutler can wring out of the concept, but it feels like he’s sitting next to you the whole time yelling, “You’re not feeling hard enough!” in your ear. And he directs every scene at full heartstring tugging capacity.

Thankfully, Moretz makes the film far more watchable than your typical angst-filled teen romance. She makes a likeable enough couple with Davies, and feels like real friends with Liberato. The parental scenes even feel more natural than usual, but even if Enos is slightly irritating. Unfortunately, things go south very quickly at a certain point and the film never recovers. What the filmmakers of If I Stay should have done was made a film that people will want to stay and watch. As it stands, it’s just another DOA August release.

Photos courtesy Warner Bros. Pictures

Movie Review: ‘Sin City: A Dame to Kill For’

** 1/2 out of 5
102 minutes
Rated R for strong brutal stylized violence throughout, sexual content, nudity, and brief drug use
Dimension Films

Article first published as Movie Review: ‘Sin City: A Dame to Kill For’ on Blogcritics.

When Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller’s theatrical adaptation of Miller’s Sin City graphic novels was released in 2005, it was one of the coolest comic book movies made. Nine years later, it still stands up to the best of them, with its use of stark black and white noir and hyper-stylized violence. After years of rumors and lots of talk, a sequel has finally been cobbled together in the form of Sin City: A Dame to Kill For. As excited as fans were to get a sequel, does Dame live up to the wait? If you’re simply looking for more of the same then I suppose. Unfortunately, it’s also a case of too little too late.

Sin City, A Dame to Kill For, Robert Rodriguez, Frank MillerJust to be clear, Sin City: A Dame to Kill For is a prequel and a sequel. I didn’t know this going in and it never really specifies during the runtime. Our first clue that it’s part sequel is when Goldie (Jaime King) — who died in the first film — shows up alongside her twin sister Wendy (also King). This plot revolves around a few stories that don’t intertwine like they did last time. But there is a four-stage set up and then they’re all tied up individually.First we get to “catch up” with Marv (Mickey Rourke) who wakes up amongst a bunch of dead bodies and a case of amnesia.

Next we meet cocksure gambler Johnny (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) on a quest for revenge against Senator Roark (Powers Boothe); Dwight (Clive Owen in the first film, now played by Josh Brolin in a pre-facial reconstructive surgery plot) facing his demons after being sought out by ex-lover Ava Lord (Eva Green) with a case of ulterior motives. And finally, we’re reunited with stripper Nancy Callahan, with her own score to settle with Roark after the death of John Hartigan.

While there may be fewer storylines this time — and they are more streamlined — Miller’s script feels even more convoluted. The production also feels rushed with plenty of bloodshed but none of the perverse glee Rodriguez and Miller infused in the first Sin City. More of the usual suspects reappear — Rosario Dawson as Old Town’s Gail is given way more to do, along with the Manute character (now played by Dennis Haysbert with the passing of Michael Clark Duncan between productions) — but there’s also a slew of new characters to keep track of.

Sin City, A Dame to Kill For, Robert Rodriguez, Frank MillerJGL’s Johnny is a complete waste once you find out what happens to his character, and his visit to Dr. Kroenig (Christopher Lloyd) is nowhere near as fun as it could have been. Ray Liotta camps it up as a framed man who’s in love with a hooker (Juno Temple), and a couple of cops (Christopher Meloni and Jeremy Piven) are called in to investigate Dwight’s murder of Ava’s husband Damien (Marton Csokas). Even Miho returns to slice and dice with her swords but Devon Aoki has been replaced with Jamie Chung. Roarke is the only one who looks like he’s having fun and can clearly play Marv in his sleep.

With all the loose ends A Dame to Kill For leaves dangling, you’d think Rodriguez and Miller are hoping to have the same kind of success they had the first time. But I doubt we’ll be seeing a third installment anytime soon. I’ve noticed it seems as if fanboys are the only ones who even know this is coming out and the film is a huge bore. After only an hour you’d swear it was wrapping itself up but then you realize there’s still another 40 minutes to go! Sin City: A Dame to Kill For is too little too late, and if it takes another nine years to make a third entry, I doubt anyone will even remember Dame happened.

Photos courtesy Dimension Films

DVD Review: ‘Varsity Blood’

Article first published as DVD Review: ‘Varsity Blood’ on Blogcritics.

There’s nothing wrong with a director wearing his inspirations on his sleeve. It worked wonders for the Scream series, but writer/director Jake Helgren has gone and made his directorial debut Varsity Blood so straight-faced it’s ripe for the Mystery Science Theater 3000 treatment.

Unintentional comedy abounds. Plus, it doesn’t just nod at other, and far greater, horror films, it blatantly rips them off. I said out loud the final line of the movie before the main character could, which is the same last line from the original Friday the 13th. Now, any horror movie aficionado will know how it ends, so this would normally be a spoiler alert, but don’t they all end that way? Find out who’s picking off the poor jocks and cheerleaders on DVD August 19 from Image Entertainment.

Varsity BloodVarsity Blood sets up way too many lambs to slaughter, good luck following who’s who, how they’re related, or care if anyone finally bites the dust. As it stands, Hogeye High School is a day away from celebrating Halloween festivities, but someone has gone and killed Herman (Vincent Giovagnoli), the team mascot. Now, the killer is running around in the costume, but only has time to kill off one person before forcing us to spend another 40 minutes before the next kill.

Needless to say, of course, the killer shows up at an abandoned farmhouse party where no one has cell reception and characters spout out that they’ll be “Going to our graves remembering this night.” Well, at least they got that right. There’s also a subplot involving the death of the school principal’s daughter exactly one year ago, and if it weren’t for those “damn meddling kids” (I kid you not) the killer just may get away with his dubious plans.

Sadly, there’s no way you can’t guess who the killer is the first time you see him out of costume. Even while Varsity Blood sets up at least a dozen red herrings. It’s almost as if director Helgren watched the Scream films and wrote down all of the rules to making a horror movie on pieces of paper, tossed them on his bed, and rolled around in them. As if the actors weren’t bad enough already, they get to recite such “fantastic” lines as “She must be on her period or something.” That kind of absurdity sums up the entire film. Had it had a sense of humor, it might have worked, but considering how long it takes before anything finally happens, all we’re left with is a bore. Avoid at all costs no matter how much the DVD artwork may entice you.

Movie Review: ‘What If’

**** 1/2 out of 5
98 minutes
Rated PG-13 for sexual content, including references throughout, partial nudity and language
CBS Films

Article first published as Movie Review: ‘What If’ (2014) on Blogcritics.

A note to the MPAA — who decided a title change was in for the U.S. distribution of the The F Word after its premiere at the 2013 Toronto International Film Festival — how is The F Word any worse than Meet the Fockers or Little Fockers? Apparently it’s okay to imply foul language in a big studio movie, but not independently. Thankfully, the film in question—now titled What If — will hopefully generate enough word-of-mouth buzz to help audiences find out that this is the best romantic-comedy since (500) Days of Summer.

What If, Danielle Radcliffe, Zoe KazanRemember that part in I Love You, Man when Paul Rudd says, “God I love that movie” in reference to The Devil Wears Prada? You’ll feel the same way walking out of the summer’s biggest surprise you probably haven’t heard of. Featuring two fantastic leads in Daniel Radcliffe and Zoe Kazan, this is the date movie of the year so far.

Still suffering from his breakup over a year ago, Wallace (Radcliffe) meets Chantry (Kazan), the cousin of his best friend and college roommate Allan (Adam Driver) at a party. Wallace and Chantry hit it off right away. Wallace offers to walk Chantry home where she gives him her number, but makes sure he knows she has a boyfriend, Ben (Rafe Spall), and they can only be friends. Wallace accepts the challenge and the two spend a lot of time emailing back and forth when they’re not spending all their free time together.

Eventually, Chantry invites Wallace to have dinner with her, Ben, and her sister Dalia (Megan Park). As time passes, Ben gets called off to Dublin for work, leaving Chantry in Toronto to figure out her feelings about her relationship with Ben, and friendship with Wallace. Meanwhile, Wallace has to decide if he’s going to be stuck in the friend zone forever or make his move.

What If, Danielle Radcliffe, Zoe KazanWhat If has a lot to say about relationships and Elan Mastai’s screenplay wrings the truth out of every scenario. Even about relationships that start “dirty.” Sometimes you just can’t help it. Mastai has crafted one of the wittiest rom-com’s in years adapting T.J. Dawe and Michael Rinaldi’s play, Toothpaste and Cigars. It’s PG-13 without being dumbed down and raunchy without being gross. It helps that the cast actually act like they’re all best friends and have great rapport. Radcliffe and Kazan have chemistry to spare with Radcliffe in particular completely shedding his Harry Potter shtick.

What If is just the kick in the ass the genre has needed, and it’s a shame that there’s not a whole lot of advertising going around because it’s going to only help the film wind up being one 2014’s best film’s you didn’t see. Director Michael Dowse keeps the film moving and there’s never a wrong turn emotionally. It’s always funny and earns its moments of sap. It’s also about time we had a couple to root for in one of these kinds of films. Do yourself a favor and seek out What If; it’s a charming and delightful film; that says a lot coming from a guy. I don’t mind these kinds of films when done right, and this is one of the best.

Photos courtesy CBS Films

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Blu-ray Review: ‘Y Tu Mamá También’ – The Criterion Collection

Movie: **** 1/2
Video: *****
Audio: **** 1/2
Extras: ****

Article first published as Blu-ray Review: ‘Y Tu Mamá También’ – The Criterion Collection on Blogcritics.

I suppose when approaching a review for Alfonso Cuarón’s Y Tu Mamá También, there’s at least one thing I should get out of the way: I have no interest in the political situations happening in the background. Politics in general don’t hold my attention, so let’s be clear that I see the film for what it is on the surface: a fantastic coming-of-age road trip comedy-drama. It’s not surprising to see Y Tu released on Blu-ray by the Criterion Collection with Cuarón having just won Best Director earlier this year for Gravity. Now you can see what all the fuss is about — or revisit —the sex-filled misadventures of Diego Luna, Gael García Bernal, and Maribel Verdú on August 19.

Y Tu Mamá También, Alfonso Cuaron, Diego Luna, Gael García Bernal, and Maribel VerdúSet against the backdrop of the end of a 71-year run of Mexican presidents from the Institutional Revolutionary Party, we follow the misspent youth of middle-class Julio (Bernal) and Tenoch (Luna), the son of a high ranking political official. The boys’ girlfriends have just left on a trip to Italy and have no idea what to do with their free time. Before they get too bored with their drugs and alcohol, they meet Luisa (Verdú), the unhappy wife of Tenoch’s cousin Jano (Juan Carlos Remolina) at a wedding. The boys proposition her to join them on a quest to find the fictitious beach known as “Heaven’s Mouth.” After a trip to the doctor and a call from her cheating husband, Luisa decides to set off with the two youths where they all discover more about themselves, and each other, than they planned.

Criterion has delivered a stunning 1080p transfer for Y Tu Mamá También on a 50GB disc, framed in its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio. Grain is always present and thankfully never turns into noise in darker sequences. Blacks are spot on, never turning grey or blue. Detail is exact whether in facial detail, costume designs, cracked stucco, grains of sand, or grassy fields. Depth is exceptional with detail as far as the eye can see, no doubt thanks to Oscar-winner Emmanuel Lubezki’s cinematography. The Spanish 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track is no slouch either. Completely free of any anomalies, while front heavy, makes sure that every line of dialogue is crystal clear; something useful when a film is so dialogue heavy. Surrounds kick in when necessary, mostly in the busy Mexican traffic or a breeze coming off the beach. Criterion has even featured a brand new translation for the English subtitles. The disc comes region-locked “A.”

Y Tu Mamá También, Alfonso Cuaron, Diego Luna, Gael García Bernal, and Maribel VerdúY Tu doesn’t come filled to the gills with special features, but what is included makes sure we are getting quality over quantity. A two part documentary – “On Y Tu Mamá Tamién” includes a “Then” (10:51) and “Now” (40:53). “Then” features the cast and crew on set during the production, with Cuarón explaining the inspiration of his use of narration during the film thanks to Jean-Luc Godard and how he was tired of teen comedies being romanticized. “Now” is a newly assembled behind-the-scenes with the cast and crew revisiting the film, with Cuarón admitting that after A Little Princess and Great Expectations he considered himself a director-for-hire and decided it was time to finally film the idea he came up with his brother/co-writer Carlos and Lubezki. One of the best anecdotes is when Cuarón jokes that while it may have taken them 10 years to develop the script, it only took them one hour to get stuck in the writing process.

“The Making of the Film” (22:35) is a 2001 documentary narrated by the film’s narrator Daniel Giménez Cacho. Filled with even more production footage, Cacho’s narration is hilarious, making this one of the better features. Three “Deleted Scenes” (3:45) are included: “Manuela,” “Stoned,” and “Whistle.” Philosopher Slavoj Žižek gets his own feature (9:01) as he discusses Cuarón’s manipulation of foreground and background to comment on the film’s political and social context. Carlos Cuarón’s 2002 short film, You Owe Me One, is another hilarious addition depicting a Mexican family with plenty of skeletons in their closets. The short is in Spanish with English subtitles. And lastly, the film’s TV spot (:30) and trailer (2:24) round out the special features.

Y Tu Mamá También may be filled with more sex than even the American Pie series, but this is obviously way better than those. To even mention them in the same review is probably unwarranted, but there’s not much else stateside to compare it to. By now, everyone is probably interested in seeing all of Cuarón’s early work after the success of Gravity. But be warned, this is definitely not in the same camp — even less so for those only familiar with that and Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. I also haven’t even made mention that Y Tu was nominated for Best Screenplay; something Cuarón has finally made up for with his win for Best Director. Y Tu Mamá También is a must own Blu-ray featuring stellar audio/video and the typical plethora of Criterion special features.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Movie Review: ‘Septic Man’

 **** out of 5
83 minutes
Rated R for disturbing vile and gruesome images, violence and language
Starz Digital Media

Article first published as Movie Review: ‘Septic Man’ on Blogcritics.

There have been some rumors about a remake of Troma’s original classic The Toxic Avenger. While fans will no doubt balk at the idea, I can see why Troma would want their famed character updated and made fresh again. A gore cult classic of the highest order, The Toxic Avenger is now 30 years old, so why not reboot it; they’re rebooting everything else in Hollywood, right?

Septic Man, Jason David Brown, Jesse Thomas Cook, Tony BurgessFor now, the closest we may get is Septic Man, from director Jesse Thomas Cook (Monster Brawl) and writer Tony Burgess (Pontypool). And while it may be receiving mixed reviews, I liked it for what it was: an origin tale wallowing in filth, never scared to wear its inspirations on its sleeves. Starz Digital Media is releasing the film on VOD August 12, in theaters August 15, and on DVD August 19.

Jack (Jason David Brown) is our titular hero, a sewage worker stuck in the middle of a water contamination crisis with the town’s water supply infested with everything from E. coli to Cryptosporidium. The Mayor (Stephen McHattie) has just ordered an evacuation, but Jack is approached by the mysterious Phil Prosser (Julian Richings) and offers Jack a down payment of $20,000 with another $180,000 paid after he figures out the origins of the contamination.

What Jack finds out is that a pair of brothers — Giant (Robert Maillet) and Lord Auch (Tim Burd) — have been dumping dead bodies into the water supply. Now, Jack is stuck down there with the bodies and is slowly transforming into a hideous beast while his pregnant wife Shelley (Molly Dunsworth) tries to find him.

Septic Man, Jason David Brown, Jesse Thomas Cook, Tony BurgessWhile never reaching the dizzyingly graphic heights of The Toxic Avenger — and never setting its sights on social commentary either — Septic Man definitely delivers what it promises: a gross night out at the movies. Septic Man definitely has plenty of yuks to go with the yucks. If you don’t need a shower after wallowing through the quick 85-minute runtime, then you may need to have your head examined. Icky is the best way to describe the happenings, but the gross outs never spoil the fun. You’ll never think of the term “blood bath” the same way again, and other peoples’ intestines sure come in handy in a fight for your life.

There’s been only one gore-filled film recently that falls in the same range of gross but fun as Septic Man, and that’s last year’s Evil Dead remake. Not to discourage moviegoers from seeing the film in theaters, but you may want to take this one in on VOD to have the comfort of your own bathroom in case you need to use it. You definitely won’t want to use a public restroom in the middle of this one. But it is worth seeking out for those who know what they’re getting into. Septic Man even comes with a theme song while ending on a note for future adventures. I for one would like to see what’s next for the new fecal mutant.

Photos courtesy Starz Digital Media