Friday, April 26, 2013

Movie Review: “Pain & Gain”

Another notch on Bay's belt of contempt for audiences.

Zero stars
130 minutes
Rated R for bloody violence, crude sexual content, nudity, language throughout and drug use
Paramount Pictures

Article first published as Movie Review: Pain & Gain on Blogcritics.

There may only be two movies opening this week, but it has truly been an exhausting experience. As if The Big Wedding wasn’t bad enough, along comes Michael Bay to pummel our patience into the ground with Pain & Gain. While the screenplay from Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely may be based on true accounts (from Pete Collins’ “Magazine Articles” for the Miami New Times), Bay continues to prove he knows nothing about tone. Let alone the fact that he tries to revolve a movie around three would-be criminals, he condones their actions by making them the heroes and flipping the bird at the actual victims.

Pain & Gain accounts the tale of Daniel Lugo (Mark Wahlberg), personal fitness trainer and body builder at the Sun Gym in Miami, Florida. Lugo is a big dreamer with a skewed view of the American Dream. After Lugo takes on a new client, Victor Kershaw (Tony Shalhoub), who rattles on and on about all of his money for hours on end (and attends self-help guru Johnny Wu’s seminar on becoming a Doer, not a Don’ter), Lugo decides that he’s had enough of sitting second fiddle to self-made “losers” who don’t deserve what they have. Along with fresh out of prison Jesus-freak Paul Doyle (Dwayne Johnson), fellow body builder Adrian Doorbal (Anthony Mackie), and illegal immigrant stripper Sorina Luminita (Bar Paly), they hatch a plan to get everything Victor owns handed over to them.

To say Bay expects us to sympathize with the trio of baddies is to belittle what’s going on here. Wahlberg was obviously hired for his motor-mouth skills to go along with his physique, but surely he was also brought on to bring some likeability to such a fowl character as the manipulative Lugo. “The Rock” continues to bring his charisma and shows how pea-brained Doyle is, but any kind of true charm flies out the window once the character gets hooked on cocaine. Anthony Mackie has very little to do and doesn’t even come close to matching the body mass of Wahlberg and Doyle, but that has more to do with the fact that his character joins Lugo’s schemes to make up for his physical shortcomings (read: erectile dysfunction).

Alas, all the typical Bay idiosyncrasies rear their heads — gun fights, explosions, slow motion, explosions in slow motion, walking away from explosions in slow motion, homophobia, misogyny, spinning cameras — none of his usual tricks get left behind. With his next film being a pseudo-reboot of his own Transformers series (with poor Wahlberg attached no less), maybe the best we can hope for is Bay to get back to playing with his toys. Although considering he’s been recently apologizing for some of his films, rather being misquoted or not, Pain & Gain is certainly lots of pain, with absolutely no gain, and it’s just another notch on Bay’s belt of contempt for audiences.

Photos courtesy Paramount Pictures

Movie Review: “The Big Wedding”

Spring takes one last dump before summer finally kicks off.

Zero stars
90 minutes
Rated R for language, sexual content and brief nudity

Article first published as Movie Review: The Big Wedding on Blogcritics.

Of all the films that got greenlit and sent out to the masses this year, none may be as head scratching to its existence as The Big Wedding. Featuring a smorgasbord of Hollywood stars — Robert De Niro, Diane Keaton, Susan Sarandon, Robin Williams, Amanda Seyfried, Topher Grace, and Katherine Heigl — they have all somehow been talked into starring in one of the worst films ever made. A film so bad, it’s right on par with De Niro’s own Little Fockers. Perhaps it should be taken as a sign from now on that whenever De Niro agrees to be in a comedy, now we know what to expect. It’s all just another atrocious American remake of another French farce — this time it’s Jean-Stéphane Bron’s Mon frère se marie.

The Big Wedding is one of those misguided films that thinks raunchy automatically equals funny. Working as a sort-of geriatric American Pie, it opens with Ellie (Keaton) arriving back at the old lake side homestead where she used to live with her ex-husband Don (De Niro). She lets herself in with the spare key and makes her way through the living room when Don and his long-term girlfriend Bebe (Sarandon) come in having a conversation about cunnilingus, along with all the other slang terms they can possibly think of. Ellie inexplicably hides herself but is finally found out as Don is about to head downtown and Bebe spots her making an escape. This is where you should find your own dear reader because it’s all downhill from there.

Ellie is back for the wedding of their adopted son Alejandro (Ben Barnes) to Missy (Seyfried). Missy’s parents, Barry and Muffin (David Rasche and Christine Ebersole), are already mortified that their beloved Missy is marrying a Columbian, so just wouldn’t you know it, his mother Madonna (Patricia Rae) and sister Nuria (Ana Ayora) are coming as well. There’s also subplots involving Don and Ellie’s other children — Jared (Grace), the virgin doctor, and Lyla (Heigl), the baby-hater. Alejandro drops a bomb on Don, Ellie, and Bebe that his mother doesn’t know that his parents aren’t divorced as Madonna considers that to be the worst sin ever. Now he wants Don and Ellie to pretend they’re still married, even though she’d rather punch him in the face and he can’t keep himself from calling her the c-word. Hilarity does not ensue.

What does is 89 minutes of excruciating pain inflicted upon the audience as writer/director Justin Zackham forces his cast to enact his grotesqueries upon an unsuspecting public. You know a film is in trouble when you have to sign an embargo entering the theater and commercials are advertising Buy One Get One admission. I originally had a little bit of hope for the film with its R-rating, but even that is only because De Niro can’t stop spewing the f-bombs. We’re treated to a rear shot and some side boob courtesy of Ayora, but even that falls to the way side when her big sex scene with Jared finally shows up. At least Zackham only takes 15 minutes to get to the vomit while Keaton talks about having nine hour tantric orgasms. Another subplot involves the fact that Bebe is a hippie of some sort and has forced Don to give up meat and alcohol. He tells one of his kids, “It sucks being sober,” and that’s exactly how you’ll feel sitting through this mess. Being one of the characters in Evil Dead would be less painful than having to sit through The Big Wedding ever again.

Photos courtesy Lionsgate

Movie Review: “Tai Chi Hero”

A worthy follow up, I can't wait to see the final chapter of the trilogy.

**** out of 5
100 minutes
Not rated
Well Go USA

Article first published as Movie Review: Tai Chi Hero on Blogcritics.

When I popped in my review disc for Muay Thai Warrior, I came across a trailer for Tai Chi Zero. Looking like a mix of Scott Pilgrim vs. The World and Kung Fu Hustle infused with steampunk, I was pretty excited that the Blu-ray was sitting on my shelf, just waiting to be watched. Director Stephen Fung delivered exactly that. With some friends joining me, we noticed that a slew of objects seemed to be flying at the screen, so it was no surprise to see a 3D section during the end credits. Not knowing the film was part of a trilogy, we were pretty let down to not see the film reach a true climax. I learned online that it was indeed part of a trilogy and that they were all originally in 3D, and the first two are available for purchase on Blu-ray from overseas. So when the opportunity to review Tai Chi Hero finally came to be, I just had to see what came next.

Picking up right where Zero left off, we meet up again with Yang Lu Chan (Yuan Xiaochao), learning the ways of Tai Chi in Chen Village with the help of his bride, Chen Yu Niang (Angelababy), daughter of Master Chen (Tony Leung). Furthering the story, we learn of the Bronze Bell Prophecy that says if the bell tolls at night, the village will fall. Everyone is reluctant to taking in Lu Chan, but the 10th Grandmaster (Yin Tse) has his back while sharing words of wisdom such as, “Eat, drink, shit, and fart is all related to kung fu.” Meanwhile, Fang Zi Jing (Eddie Peng) has returned, bringing with him the dastardly Duke Fleming (Peter Stormare) of the British East India Company. Also returning is big brother Zai Yang (Feng Shaofeng) and his wife Yuner (Nikki Hsin-Ying Hsieh), who can’t help but stir up trouble with their steampunk antics.

I first ran across the deliciously loopy work of director Fung through Netflix with his House of Fury. Continuing with his own brand of goofy fun, Tai Chi Hero lets the slapstick fly while mixing in the dramatic elements but leaving room for some hilarious spoof moments. The kung fu doesn’t fly as well as in Zero, even with both being choreographed by the legendary Sammo Hung. Seeing how Zero and Hero were filmed together, perhaps for the final installment Fung can bring in some fresh blood. I know Yuen Woo-ping is still available, and I can only imagine what a grand finale that could make bringing him into the mix.

Angelababy is as easy on the eyes as she is capable at Tai Chi, and Xiaochao continues to provide Lu Chan the necessary naïvette while essentially becoming a superhero. Stormare chews the scenery as much here as he has lately in things like The Last Stand and Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters, but the real star here is Fung and his writers. No sight gag is too silly or joke too broad, but it’s all played with a straight face making sure the laughs are as hard as the punches making Tai Chi Hero a worthy follow up, and I can’t wait to see how the trilogy ends — and hopefully, finally in 3D.

Photo courtesy Well Go USA

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Book Review: “FilmCraft: Producing” by Geoffrey Macnab and Sharon Swart

One of the more intriguing entries in the expanding FilmCraft series.

If there was ever any part of the filmmaking process that has more sub-titles than a foreign film, it would be that of the producer. Does anyone really know what one does? I didn’t think so. But, if Goeffrey Macnab and Sharon Swart have their way, you’ll at least get to learn of the trials and tribulations that come with the title. As part of the FilmCraft series — which has now covered Cinematography (Mike Goodridge and Tim Grierson); Editing (Justin Chang), Production Design (Fionnuala Halligan), Costume Design (Deborah Nadoolman Landis), and Directing (Goodridge) — here’s the chance to lift the veil of the most mystifying position in the industry.

Covering a wide range of prolific producers, probably the only name that may be recognizable to a broad audience would be Lorenzo di Bonaventura. Yes, this is the man behind the recent Hasbro toy-based films for better (the first Transformers film and G.I. Joe: Retaliation) and worse (G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra but mostly Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen). The producers’ films are more recognizable than their names which will come as no surprise. From Tim Bevan (whose IMDB page speaks for itself) and Bill Kong (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon), to Lauren Shuler Donner (Mr. Mom, Free Willy, and every X-Men film), the team of Ron Yerxa & Albert Berger (Little Miss Sunshine, Election), and Andrew Macdonald (Trainspotting, 28 Days Later). Macnab and Swart also include the “Legacy” sections covering some of the biggest producers of days gone by including David O. Selznick (Gone with the Wind) and Dino De Laurentiis (Conan the Barbarian).

While Producing may not necessarily be something you sit down and read from cover to cover, every chapter is full of the featured producer’s own stories. As far as entertainment factor goes, Bill Kong takes the cake supplying an endless amount of humorous anecdotes. It wouldn’t surprise me if most readers would skip a few of the chapters, flipping to whoever is of more interest, which will surely vary greatly from person to person. Working the same way as Directing did, it comes off as either an informational coffee table book or a more entertaining version of a school text book. Either way, if you’re looking for an informational behind the scenes look into the world of Producing, Macnab and Swart’s addition to the FilmCraft series is certainly one of the more intriguing.

(Cover art courtesy Focal Press)

Friday, April 19, 2013

Movie Review: “Oblivion” (2013)

A trippy blast of badass.

**** ½ out of 5
126 minutes
Rated PG-13 for sci-fi action violence, brief strong language, and some sensuality/nudity
Universal Pictures

Article first published as Movie Review: Oblivion (2013) on Blogcritics.

After only two films — first TRON: Legacy and now Oblivion — I can’t wait to see what director Joseph Kosinski has in line for his future. It may look like all he’s got lined up for now is another TRON sequel, but even that’s fine by me. He certainly knows his way around visual effects and let’s face it, that’s all we’re looking for when it comes to sci-fi. Let alone the fact that he was able to get two of the biggest actors in Hollywood (Tom Cruise and Morgan Freeman) to headline his sophomore effort, I’d say he’s doing alright so far.

Oblivion begins in 2073 with Jack Harper (Cruise), aka Tech 49, having dreams or flashbacks of someone he swears he’s met before. He explains that his memory has been wiped clean of everything prior to his clean up duties on the wasteland that is now Earth. After a war against the Scavengers (Scavs) 60 years ago, the Moon was destroyed along with most of Earth. Stationed in a tower high in the sky, he patrols the ground with Victoria (Andrea Riseborough), under the orders of Sally (Melissa Leo) for “The Tet,” while the lands remaining resources, particularly water, are harvested, and drones help patrol and destroy any Scavs along the way.

With two weeks of their mission left, a spacecraft comes crashing to the surface. Jack rescues one of the survivors, Julia (Olga Kurylenko) — the woman from his dreams — who has been asleep for 60 years. Jack takes Julia back to the tower with Victoria keeping a watchful eye on her. Julia insists on returning to the crash site to gather the ship’s black box. At the crash site they are attacked by Scavs and taken hostage where they meet a group of survivors lead by Beech (Freeman) with assistance from Sykes (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau). Beech wants Jack to reprogram a drone to send it up to destroy the “Tet” and tells Jack that what he thinks he knows is not all that it seems. It’s after Jack and Julia take a ride into the danger zone that ulterior motives become clear and Jack must face doing what’s right.

Kosinski sure knows the ins and outs of the genre, even if he’s wearing his influences on his sleeve. The Scavs are like leftovers from Mad Max. The drones come across as the love child of Eve from Wall-E and Robocop’s ED 209. M83’s score is an epic mix of Inception, Dark Knight Rises, and TRON: Legacy. While many of the action sequences play out like a Star Wars fan dream come true. Kurylenko may not be everyone’s favorite actress, but here she’s more likeable than usual. Considering most of the movie takes place with Cruise on his own, it’s no wonder he was cast to hold everything together. Freeman seems to be having a lot of fun considering his small amount of screentime while Riseborough has pupils the size of Jupiter and was probably only cast for a scene involving her rear end and a swimming pool. She’s rather annoying when she’s having casual conversation.

The show purely belongs to Kosinski however, and the man certainly knows how to bring his own vision to life. Oblivion is based on his own unpublished graphic novel, with final screenplay credit going to Karl Gajdusek and Michael Arndt. I’ve also read William Monahan had a hand in the writing department so it’s no wonder that the screenplay works so well. Some may have a problem with the film lending itself to a more emotional payoff but it totally works. Things are also greatly helped by cinematographer Claudio Miranda (hot off his Oscar win for Life of Pi). If there was ever a film meant to be seen on IMAX (for those of us with huge TVs, I hope this is the ratio released on Blu-ray), this is one of the best. And it’s not even in 3D! The bigger the screen the better for Oblivion, making it feel like the first big summer film of the year with a trippy blast of badass.

Photos courtesy Universal Pictures

Movie Review: “Starbuck”

See it before the Vince Vaughn remake heads your way.

**** out of 5
109 minutes
Rated R for sexual content, language and some drug material
Entertainment One

Article first published as Movie Review: Starbuck on Blogcritics.

Nobody does farce quite like the French, right? Well, in the case of the new film Starbuck, co-writer/director Ken Scott’s comedy may sound and look French, but is actually Québécois. After being released back in 2011 in its homeland, the film is finally making its way to the U.S. After reading the film’s synopsis, men may find themselves watching a celluloid nightmare. Even Family Guy has touched on the issue when Quagmire ran into several familiar looking children. If there was ever a testimony for not donating sperm, Starbuck is it.

When you’re $80,000 in debt, probably the worst news you want to hear is that you’ve fathered 533 children. Such is the case of hard luck dealt to a man anonymously calling himself “Starbuck” after donating 693 times. Turns out that man is actually David Wozniak (Patrick Huard) and he’s also down on his luck. His girlfriend Valérie (Julie LeBreton) wants nothing to do with him even though she’s pregnant and is the worst meat delivery man in all of Montreal’s. Everything comes to a head when a lawyer informs him that 142 of his biological children have issued a paternity suit for him to reveal his identity. All this causes David to decide he needs to get some order in his life, even if life events are spiraling out of control.

Scott, and co-writer Martin Petit, keep the mood light enough it never strains your suspension of disbelief making the central conflict of the legal issues easier to bare. With the film already announced to be remade by DreamWorks, thankfully Scott is returning to write and direct. The only problem I see is that Vince Vaughn has been cast as the lead, and we all know he hasn’t been funny in years. Having Steven Spielberg producing could help Scott rein Vaughn in and give the performance we hope he still has in him, but we shall see. Watching Starbuck, I couldn’t help but mentally replace some of the actors on screen with their already cast American counterparts. I don’t see Jon Favreau’s name in the credits yet, but there’s no one more perfect to play David’s best friend/lawyer Avocat (Antoine Bertrand). As for Starbuck, it’s a heartfelt comedy that pushes the right buttons and is certainly worth making your own monetary donation.

Photo courtesy Entertainment One