Friday, May 31, 2013

Movie Review: Fast & Furious 6

**** out of 5

130 minutes
Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action and mayhem throughout, some sexuality and language
Warner Bros. Pictures

Article first published as Movie Review: Fast & Furious 6 on Blogcritics.

While most series tend to be losing their steam with only one sequel, who would have ever thought that something like The Fast and the Furious would be releasing its fifth. With an ever-evolving title process, along with its cast, the only mainstays since Tokyo Drift (#3) are its director (Justin Lin) and writer (Chris Morgan). The latest entry — with a title that changes every time you turn your head but officially called Furious 6 in the opening credits sequence — almost plays out like a greatest hits. But thankfully, Lin and Morgan keeps things running at full steam; that is, as long as there’s an action sequence at play. Of which, in Furious 6, there are more than plenty.

F6 opens with Brian (Paul Walker) and Mia (Jordana Brewster) welcoming their bouncing baby boy to the family, while making promises to themselves — and Dominic (Vin Diesel) — that now they can leave their old habits behind. But just wouldn’t ya know it, Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) shows up on Dom’s doorstep with photos proving Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) is still alive. Turns out Letty has a case of amnesia after a car explosion that left everyone thinking she was dead, and now she works for Owen Shaw (Luke Evans). Shaw is after a computer chip which is the final piece of his dastardly puzzle, and Hobbs asks Dom to get the old gang back together again to take down Shaw and essentially save the world.

So now we get the return of Elena (Elsa Pataky), Gisele (Gal Gadot), Han (Sung Kang), Roman (Tyrese Gibson), and Tej (Ludacris). Also returning, is Stasiak (Shea Whigham) and Braga (John Ortiz), just to keep the continuity flowing. Like I said, if you want action, you’ve come to the right place. Cars go vroom and things go boom, but who’d have thought that they could keep it so fun when venturing into a sixth installment of any franchise, right? If you’re looking for a film featuring the first tank propelled high flying acrobatics, you’ve come to the right place. It’s just too bad that they’ve felt the need to pad the film out to 130 minutes with tons of exposition, nearly stalling everything. So, with a seventh installment on the way, stay tuned to the first part of the credits for a payoff scene, and stay away from the film’s IMDB page to avoid the spoiler. But with how much fun they’ve made Furious 6, I can’t wait to see what happens next.

Photo courtesy Universal Pictures

Movie Review: The Hangover Part III

**** out of 5
100 minutes
Rated R for pervasive language including sexual references, some violence and drug content, and brief graphic nudity
Warner Bros. Pictures

Article first published as Movie Review: The Hangover Part III on Blogcritics.

If any series was in need of a do over, it was The Hangover. After the huge success that was the original, director/co-writer Todd Phillips followed it up with the laziest sequel imaginable. The Hangover Part II was literally a case of substituting the original setting while filming a near shot for shot remake in Bangkok. While it still went on to out gross the first one — at least worldwide — it took a critical beating. But the press weren’t the only ones raking it over the coals. Fans were just as let down too, and everyone paid the price. For the final chapter of The Wolfpack, Phillips is back with co-writer Craig Mazin to give us the sequel we deserve with The Hangover Part III.

Part III opens in Klong Prem Prison in Bangkok, and a riot is underway while Mr. Chow (Ken Jeong) makes his escape through the sewers. Back in the States, Alan’s (Zach Galifianakis) father Sid (Jeffrey Tambor) is finally driven to a heart attack, thanks to his son’s arrested development. After the funeral, Doug (Justin Bartha) leads an intervention for Alan, along with Stu (Ed Helms), Phil (Bradley Cooper), Alan’s sister Tracy (Sasha Barrese), and mother Linda (Sondra Currie). Alan has been off his meds for six months and is more brass than ever. Everyone wants him to check into a facility in Arizona and Doug talks Stu and Phil to tag along to drive him down. Soon enough, they’re forced off the road by Black Doug (Mike Epps), who works for Marshall (John Goodman) who wants the Wolf Pack to find Mr. Chow who stole $21 million in gold bars from him and believes they are the only people who can find him. Shenanigans ensue.

Featuring an actual plot this time, Phillips apparently took note that he had a lot to make up for after the last Hangover. What’s funny about Part III is that there are no black outs, no missing body parts, no Mike Tyson, but still plenty of cock — even if of the fowl variety. Phillips seemed to be on a roll after Road Trip, Old School, and The Hangover; but his time in the limelight hit a roadblock after Due Date and The Hangover Part II. And while nothing could outdo the original, Phillips and co-writer Mazin give us a sequel with a new story instead of a carbon copy set in a new country. Part II may have worn out Mr. Chow’s welcome, but now they’ve managed to rein him in a little, and have really let the Wolfpack out of their cage. You could call this “The Galifianakis Show” as he’s truly the main character now and funnier than ever. It even manages to squeeze in the faintest bit of heart but makes sure we all know that this truly is the end. There may not be a Part IV, but at least The Hangover Part III is a hilarious conclusion.

Photo courtesy Warner Bros. Pictures

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

DVD Review: Mold!

Mary, Jesus, and Joseph! A low budget gore fest that doesn't suck!

Article first published as DVD Review: Mold! on Blogcritics

Imagine if Troma decided to adapt Michael Crichton’s classic novel The Andromeda Strain then you have a good idea of how director/co-writer Neil Meschino’s Mold! plays out. While it may not be quite as filthy as one of their productions — the female lead (Ardis Campbell) only winds up in her bra and granny panties — but it’s still just as off the wall and drenched in the requisite blood to satisfy the hungriest gore hounds.

In the Arizona Sonoran Desert, we enter the Metabiotics facility where Dr. Peterson (Derrick Peterson) is attacked by the mold spores he’s working on, infecting him and his lab rats. Quickly gunned down, three days later we find Dr. Julia Young (Campbell) and Dr. Dave Hardy (Chris Gentile) meeting up with Dr. Roger Bolton (Lawrence George) and Dr. Matthew Kane (Rick Haymes). Kane has been brought in to replace Peterson and give a tour of the facility to Congressman Stu Blankenship (James Murphy) who has brought along the Colonel (Edward X. Young), Sergeant Brisco (Mike Keller), and Rhodes (Nicholas Russo). Soon enough, everyone is slowly becoming infected and they must all fight for their lives and get Carter (David Pringle).

As I mentioned, Troma is known for their splatterific filmography and I’m surprised they didn’t find this little gem to release under their banner. Director Meschino makes it clear throughout the feature commentary (along with cinematographer Robert Fattorini) that CGI is for the weak, and Monster in the Closet FX gives it their all to come up with some nasty gore effects. The jokes fly fast and furious featuring a wide array of movie references. If you’re wondering why one character is named Rhodes, where this movie’s going, they don’t need Rhodes. They also include some hilarious nods ranging from Marathon Man, Pulp Fiction, American Psycho, G.I. Joe, Talladega Nights, Ghostbusters, Scream, and a particular Tommy Tutone song.

The only special features are the audio commentary, which is where they point out some of the references which even I didn’t pick up the first time. “Behind the Scenes of Mold!” runs 24 minutes featuring interviews mostly with the cast. There’s also a slew of trailers for additional WildEye Releasing features Disco Exorcist, Dropping Evil, Exhumed, Tight, The Story of Rock N Roll Comics, Night of the Living Dead Reanimated, and Mold! itself. So for anyone who’s been longing for a fantastic throwback to ’80s gore films with a B-movie sense of storytelling than Mold! is the hilarious, squishy-splashy blood bath you’ve been looking for.

DVD Review: Stripped

A Hostel/Hangover hybrid that wastes both opportunities.

Article first published as DVD Review: Stripped on Blogcritics.

You can look past certain things when watching a low-budget independent horror movie. Acting and production value aren’t something you’re watching to see how well it looks. Some directors use this to their advantage to tell an interesting story, while others use lots of music to provide their creep factor. What director/co-writer/producer/cinematographer J.M.R. Luna really needs to do is throw as much red corn syrup around as he can afford. Horror fans aren’t hard to please, but we want more than just tacking a Hostel-esque finale to almost an hour of Hangover shenanigans. It’s exactly what Eli Roth's original Hostel was in the first place. All Luna did was fill his film, Stripped, with a cast of terrible actors playing huge douchebags who we want to see get their comeuppance in the end — even that he refused to give us.

Stripped opens with a man in a hotel room meeting with a hooker while a news report plays on the TV about a girl named Capri found dead. The movie then switches to found footage introducing us to Cameron (Carson Aune) who is about to make a sex tape. Before they get to that point a horn honks and Cameron picks up his clothes, grabs the camera, and runs out the door. He’s being picked up by his friends Luke (Josh Cole) and Jake (Nick Cole) for Jake's 21st birthday. All they want to do is have a weekend of debauchery like every 21-year-old group of friends. Along the way they pick up Tommy Kay (Alvaro Orlando) and Capri (Nicole Sienna) who begs them to take her along so she can meet up with her boyfriend. After an excruciating 50 minutes with this band of asshats, the plot finally rears its head as they head to “Paradise” to have sex with hookers from a business card they found in a restroom. You know, like you do. And here is where the film really goes awry.

If you’re going to make a found footage film, then stick to your premise. Don’t start your film as a standard narrative, switch to found footage, and then go back and forth. All this proves is that you didn’t have enough plot to begin with and needs filler to explain what’s going on. Not one character is worth saving by the end of the runtime, let alone that once you’ve already driven home the fact that we want to see everyone die, Luna basically starts the film over by jumping back in the timeline and showing events from someone else’s camera. Yes, you basically have to suffer through the film twice in one sitting, which is sad when the runtime is a scant 80 minutes to begin with. The only special features are nine minutes worth of trailers before the menu starts up for Elevator, Vile, Creep Van, The Columbian Connection, and A Haunting at Silver Falls. Stripped is available on video now but it’s not worth a purchase, nor the buck at Redbox.

Cover art courtesy Inception Media Group

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Movie Review: American Mary

Doesn't live up to the festival hype.

** ½ out of 5
102 minutes
Rated R for strong aberrant violent content including disturbing images, torture, a rape, sexual content, graphic nudity, language and brief drug use

Article first published as Movie Review: American Mary on Blogcritics.

Working the independent markets isn’t a bad place to be when you’re in the horror genre. But we all know there’s both plenty of good and bad saturating both on the big screen and direct-to-video. For every Evil Dead there’s an Evil Things. And just because your movie plays Cannes or Sundance, doesn’t mean it’s the next greatest achievement in horror. Co-directors/writers/sisters Jen and Sylvia Soska may not be the worst to jump on the horror scene, but their latest film, American Mary, still shows they’ve got some work to do.

Mary Mason (Katharine Isabelle) is our titular anti-hero, working hard at med school, while dealing with her verbally abusive professor, Dr. Grant (David Lovgren), and wondering how she’s going to earn enough money to keep her phone from being turned off. One night she answers an ad to enlist as an escort, where she is introduced to Billy (Antonio Cupo), who runs the strip club and hides out bloody customers in the back. After offering Mary $5,000 to clean up the mess, she’s both disgusted by the situation and intrigued at the money foreseen.

Soon enough, Beatress (Tristan Risk) — who works at Billy’s strip club — comes calling and offers Mary the opportunity to work on Ruby (Paula Lindberg) who wants her nipples removed and her nether regions sewn up so that she can be a literal living doll. After making $10,000 for the procedure, she gets swept up in the underworld of surgical mutilation and even gets to have some revenge on Dr. Grant after he drugs and rapes her. A subplot involves sympathetic Detective Dolor (John Emmet Tracy), investigating Dr. Grant’s disappearance, who believes that she isn’t telling the whole truth and wants to ensure her that she’s the victim.

The Soska sisters have taken their American Mary through several film festivals ranging from Cannes to Fantastic Fest to Screamfest where they even garnered a few awards (Best Actress, Cinematography, Makeup, Director, and Picture). If American Mary is what swooped up all these awards, it makes you wonder what they could have possibly been up against. Granted, the makeup effects are fun, even if not overly gruesome, but the Soskas are in serious need of an editor and the cinematography is about what you’d expect from a low budget horror outing. What’s funny is that the Soskas even play a pair of twin sisters in the film and deliver the worst performance in the entire runtime. Isabelle plays her part of Mary well enough, but she’s nowhere near as much fun here as she was back in her Ginger Snaps days. As it stands, American Mary isn’t funny enough, gory enough, or even disturbing enough.

Photos courtesy IndustryWorks Pictures

Movie Review: Star Trek Into Darkness

 IMAX 3D is the only way to see this amazing addition to Star Trek.

***** out of 5
132 minutes
Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi action and violence
Paramount Pictures

Article first published as Movie Review: Star Trek Into Darkness on Blogcritics.

Now that J.J. Abrams has the setup for his alternate reality edition of the Star Trek universe, where does he go next? If you’re as fearless as Abrams is, you dive head first into heavy Trek lore. In his first outing some people were put off by the fact that he basically dismissed over 40 years of history. What he really did was give himself a clean slate to bring Star Trek to a new generation (or would that be next?). Along with his original writers, Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman, this time Abrams may not be credited to the screenplay, but regular collaborator Damon Lindelof has been brought in to flesh out the new Trek and plunge the crew of the Starship Enterprise Into Darkness.

We meet up with Kirk (Chris Pine) and Bones (Karl Urban) on the run from a tribe of Nibiru after having stolen an ancient artifact to distract them away from their village while the rest of the crew assist Spock (Zachary Quinto) in freezing a volcano before it erupts and wipes them out. Afterward, back at Starfleet HQ, Kirk finds out that Spock has sold him out in his report and now Kirk is being sent back to the academy and Spock has been reassigned. Meanwhile, at the Royal Children’s Hospital in London, Thomas Harewood (Noel Clarke) has been told by the mysterious John Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch) that he can save his dying daughter, which leads to Harewood blowing up the Kelvin Memorial Archive. Starfleet knows it was Harrison, who used to be a member of Starfleet, and after an attack on HQ, commander Admiral Marcus (Peter Weller) allows Kirk to take back the Enterprise and take Harrison out.

And that’s about all you’re going to get out of me. Abrams has really stepped up to the plate here to deliver one of the most solid sequels the Star Trek series has ever seen. Oh sure, the fanboys are going to rip this thing apart, but we all know they’re going to see it multiple times whether they like certain things or not. The rest of the crew makes their return of course — including Uhura (Zoe Saldana), Scotty (Simon Pegg), Sulu (John Cho), and Chekov (Anton Yelchin) — and Carol Marcus (Alice Eve), the admiral’s daughter/science advisor/weapons specialist has been added for good measure. To walk into Darkness with a clean slate is highly advisable, stay off the Internet at all costs! And while I may have said before that Oblivion was ripe for seeing on IMAX, Star Trek: Into Darkness blows that right out of the water. With at least a half hour’s worth of IMAX filmed footage, here’s the one film you truly need to see on IMAX. So this weekend, respect the chair, and beam yourself Into Darkness immediately.

Photo courtesy Paramount Pictures

Friday, May 10, 2013

Movie Review: “The Great Gatsby” (2013)

Luhrmann's style over substance leaves you feeling “within and without.”

** ½ out of 5
143 minutes
Rated PG-13 for some violent images, sexual content, smoking, partying and brief language
Warner Bros. Pictures

Article first published as Movie Review: The Great Gatsby (2013) on Blogcritics.

How many films does it take for a director to transition to self-parody? In the case of Baz Luhrmann, apparently only five. After the pseudo-trilogy of Strictly Ballroom, Romeo + Juliet, and Moulin Rouge! he seemed to be on a roll. Then with the release of Australia, he sure caused a major hiccup on his resume. At first glance, you could assume that it was from shifting writing partners — from Craig Pearce — to a film overrun with four credited writers, Luhrmann included.

Luhrmann went back to Pearce for his larger than life (as he’s prone to do) adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. By cobbling together a fantastic cast including Leonardo DiCaprio, Carey Mulligan, Tobey Maguire, Joel Edgerton, and Isla Fisher — you’d think his directing trademarks would be suited for a film filled to the brim with over-the-top parties and star-crossed lovers. But what worked so well for his earlier work literally drowns you in its excess when it isn’t boring you to death. It’s not that The Great Gatsby is a bad movie by any means. Luhrmann’s films are always top notch technically, but throw in the fact that it’s also brought to life in 3D, prepare yourself for a major headache.

Having never read the Fitzgerald story, I thought I would be more unfamiliar with The Great Gatsby, but it turns out, having seen Moulin Rouge! was all the prep work necessary. In the Roaring ‘20s, Nick Carraway (Maguire) spends his days at the Perkins Sanitorium. One day his doctor tells him he should write down the story that put him there (along with but not limited to his morbid alcoholism). That story turns out to be his fascination with his mysteriously wealthy neighbor, Jay Gatsby (DiCaprio). Gatsby is a reclusive sort, but boy does he know how to throw a party.

One day Nick is personally invited to attend one such lavish party and eventually we are informed that it’s all a rouse for Gatsby to get closer to Nick’s cousin, Daisy Buchanan (Mulligan). Nick is soon consumed by the riotous amusement at Gatsby’s disposal, but even he never knows what to believe when it comes to his elusive neighbor. Meanwhile, Daisy may be married to “Old Money” Tom Buchanan (Edgerton), but for the last five years, Gatsby and Daisy have been pining away for each other. The subplots of Tom’s mistress Myrtle (Fisher) seems to be thrown to the wayside, but anyone who’s read the book knows what’s in store as Tom begins to dig into Gatsby’s mysterious rise to the top.

For at least the first hour, Baz seems to be keeping the film in his typical overdrive, filling the party scenes with all the quick-cutting chaos you’d expect from his previous endeavors. But working from a source material of only around 200 pages, a film stretched out to 143minutes is overkill. It takes a good while for Gatsby to even get introduced and at first, he’s a welcome distraction from Nick’s lonely life. Nick doesn’t even notice the mansion he’s living next to until he enters the grounds.

If you’re going to see the film in 3D make sure to do yourself a huge favor by skipping any theater with Dolby 3D installed. It has been, and always will be, the bane of 3D. It’s being marketed as being shown in IMAX 3D, but who really thinks they’ll be able to find it playing when last week’s Iron Man 3 will still be deservedly hoarding screens. Originally planned for a Christmas release last year, The Great Gatsby was pushed back to this weekend. Probably because Warner Bros. realized they had zero chances at the Oscars and apparently don’t mind their film only having one weekend to try to make some money before it’s chewed up and spit out by Star Trek Into Darkness.

If you’re looking for the most hyperactive screen version of The Great Gatsby, or the worst Moulin Rouge! sequel ever, look no further. Fans of the novel are bound to be let down as the spirit of the novel is deflated by Baz’s grandiose theatrics. But then again, the film doesn’t even live up to what fans of Baz’s style may be hoping for either. The Great Gatsby is a no win for anyone as you’re likely to wind up feeling much like Nick continually repeats, “within and without.”

Photos courtesy Warner Bros. Pictures