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Although well shot in front of gorgeous vistas, on location in New
Zealand, Namibia, and South Africa, 10,000 BC is just another loud,
dumb, and eminently pointless CGI adventure from the tactless,
talentless, hacky direction of Roland Emmerich.There’s a plot, believe
it or not, something about the true love between some tribesman and a
hot chick, set in the very distant past, and these rampaging marauders
attack their peaceful prehistoric-era tribe and carry off the
womenfolk, so our hero spends the next two hours of movie time trying
to get her back.
But who cares, right? No one in his right mind would watch a Roland Emmerich movie for the plot. The man brought us Godzilla, Independence Day, and The Day after Tomorrow, after all. No, your focus here is supposed to be on the prehistoric-ness of the thing, like the wild, carnivorous birds, or the mastodons, or the sabre-tooth tigers. Oh, and the smoldering hotness of lurve that Our Hero and His Love can barely contain.
Your first clue that this won’t be much more than a silly bore is the simple fact that our noble hunters speak perfect, inflectionless English. No idea why. I’m not the biggest fan of subtitles, granted, but I think here they at least would have made sense. Instead, we have these perfectly coiffed young people with gleaming white teeth - as any prehistoric hunter would have - speaking the Queen’s English to each other. It’s bizarre and off-putting. These cool kids look like they fell out of a Gap commercial; they’d be dead in minutes if they actually had to fend for themselves on a tundra or in the jungle. They’re as believable as Ed Begley, Jr. at a biker rally. Which is not very believable.
And it’s not as if they get clever, intelligent dialog to mouth. D’Leh (heh, sounds like Delay) tells a vicious, trapped sabre-tooth tiger, “Do not eat me when I set you free!” See, because he doesn’t want to be eaten, and he figures that reasoning with the beast will do the trick. D’Leh, played by newcomer Steven Strait, is sort of a poor man’s Colin Farrell, complete with otherworldly eyebrows. He wants you to think he’s earnest and sincere, but instead you think he’s vapid and vain. Crazy! (”Do not eat me when I set you free!” That’s hilarious right there. Why, it’s right up there with “Throw me the whip, and I’ll throw you the idol!”) Besides, this whole pursuing-the-savages-who-stole-our-people thing was done much better only a few years ago in Mel Gibson’s Apocalpyto. Now, you might not buy into the notion of using an ancient Mayan dialect in a movie, but at least it made some sense. Using that dialect, with subtitles, there was a real sense of adventure and tragedy; here, the fluid English feels woefully inept and completely anachronistic.
Unlike Apocalypto, there’s scant fighting and mayhem here. The tribe (like that in Apocalypto) is a hunting tribe, so that explains why for much of the movie they run and hide and duck and cover. I will find you! What’s his name cries. And then he finds her and then loses her again, and he says, I’ll come back! And then he spends the next hour or so trying to find her. His One True Love is like a set of pretty car keys.
Back to that tiger, which makes a couple of appearances. Now, I like CGI as much as the next guy. It can very easily enhance a scene, make the unrealistic seem obvious and believable. But this tiger reminded me of the cyclops and other fantastical creatures you’d see in those old fifties Greek-epic movies, the ones featuring the work of the great Ray Harryhausen - basically, essentially, stop-motion animation. And that looks crappy here in good ol’ 2008.
10,000 BC isn’t meant to be a historical epic - the year 10,000 BC is used here merely to connote a Long Time Ago - which is fine in and of itself, but really isn’t anything compelling about it other than its setting. It’s predictable pap without much of a heart, instilling no compassion or feeling from its audience.
127 Hours is one of those infrequent movies that makes great use out of
its limited resources; in this case, its space. It's about a hiker,
played by James Franco, who finds himself partially trapped by a rock,
pinned against the wall of a crevasse. It's a stunning, visually
visceral film with a couple of gut-churning scenes, but overall it is a
magnificent, evocative thriller.
Franco is Aron Ralston, a thrill seeker who loves, loves, loves the desert around Moab, Utah. And with good reason; the aerial shots give a terrific sense of just how isolated and beautiful the area is. He's hiking the Blue John Canyon when he runs into inexperienced hikers Kristi (Kate Mara) and Megan (Amber Tamblyn), whom he cheerfully helps get back on track. It's shortly after departing from the young ladies that Aron, descending into a small fissure, slips, dislodging a medium-sized boulder, which inconveniently lands on his right arm, pinning it against the rock wall.
Throughout Ralston's ordeal, he reexamines his life and concludes that he's in his position because of his own decisions, and not just the one in which he neglected to tell anyone of his whereabouts. "All my life I've been heading toward this rock," he thinks; his new insight leads him to conclude that he's let a lot of opportunities slip by in his selfish quest to do things on his own.
The movie is based on a real-life occurrence, so it's probably no spoiler to learn that the young man does somehow survive his predicament. But it's not that result that makes this so captivating. Even if you've learned beforehand just how Aron is able to extricate himself, the scene is intense, grisly, and tough to watch. It's the kind of scene that makes you want to look away and ahead at the same time.
A lot of the film's success depends on Franco himself. Like Ryan Reynolds last year in Buried, Franco is front and center; it's all about Aron, his past and present, and the lack of mobility means much must be told through Franco's expression and one-armed activities. And he's up to the task. Franco's performance here must have been physically excruciating in and of itself, as much of the cavern scenes were filmed in one sitting. But he also brings quite a bit of emotional tension to the role, and I wouldn't be surprised if he managed to get an Oscar nom out of it.
The film does have its flaws. One problem in mysteries and other thrillers is the pull-the-rug gambit, wherein the filmmakers make the audience think A, then switch to B, then repeat ad infinitum. After a while, the viewer isn't sure what's real and what they're supposed to think. Here, director Danny Boyle does trick you a few times; is what Aron sees a hallucination, or is it real? Aron makes quick video recordings while trapped, documenting his efforts. This adds more realism (how else would we know what he's done?) and engages the audience. It also allows us to see all sides of the young man; show-off, extrovert, implacable logician, terrified prisoner. Aron's epiphanies are so vivid that we feel as terrible as he does.
But there's a big upside to that realism. When the (obvious) ending does come, the result is so cathartic that it's unlikely that an average viewer could be unmoved by it. The emotional buildup during the course of the movie is justified by a denouement that just blew me away.
In 12 Rounds, an intrepid cop/detective (John Cena) matches wits with
an Irish killer (Aidan Gillen) who's holding his girlfriend hostage in
New Orleans. Danny Fisher must go the distance with the madman via
"rounds" - that is, challenges - in order to save his girl. Think of it
as Saw meets Die Hard, without the profanity and gore.
Now, this is a World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) production, so I assumed that it would be kind of action heavy, something that Stallone might have done in the eighties, something with Mack-truck-sized plot holes. But it's not nearly as disappointing; it has an actual plot and throws in enough turns to keep you riveted. Sometimes it helps to have low expectations.
First, here's the good stuff. There are a LOT of explosions. The movie's one big explosion, come to think of it. And of course it is, it's directed by Renny Harlin (Die Hard 2, Cliffhanger). Now, you might think that a movie that's just one big explosion would get tedious eventually, but the movie's tone hearkens back to those mindless star-powered action movies of yesteryear - that is, the Hero is more superhero than actual guy, and that gives it a little more appeal.
Then there's Cena. For a pro wrestler, he's a very good action star. He's believable and sincere, and since he's in peak physical condition you get the impression that he actually can do the grueling feats he's attempting. His likability here saves the movie, at least to some extent. Cena's not a character I've thought of as particularly charismatic, at least not in the sense that Roddy Piper was/is charismatic, but he's a Git R Done, meat-and-potatoes kind of guy. He's no frills action, a man you could see playing a cop, like here, or a fireman, or an astronaut.
Fisher's adversary, played by Adian Gillen, is a master planner, a meticulous scholar of revenge. The impetus for his kidnapping of Fisher's girl is that Miles Jackson's girl was accidentally killed in a hit and run while they were attempting to flee Fisher a year previously (to the day, of course). Obviously, the girl's death was all Danny Fisher's fault, so Jackson escapes from prison and hatches his elaborate scheme.
The challenges are pretty nifty, too. In one, Fisher has two safety deposit boxes. One has a bomb in it, whereas the other one has info about the next challenge "round." He has to bring the contents of one of them to a location at least 20 minutes away - in about seven minutes, or the bomb will go off. He has to figure out a) exactly where the other location is and b) which of the two boxes is the bomb. In another challenge, Fisher's action in an earlier challenge has deactivated the brakes in a trolley car, which is now building up amazing speed (for a trolley car); somehow, Fisher needs to stop the trolley. Sort of reminiscent - or derivative - of Speed, but still.
Now some of the bad stuff. The endgame is easy to spot, certainly, but that might not be a debit for the most die-hard (pun) fan of action movies. I didn't think the actress playing Fisher's gal, Ashley Scott, was all that good - not really hot, as you want your damsel in distress to be, and not really believable, as you want any character to be. At least I wasn't openly rooting for her to perish.
12 Rounds reminds me of that surge of action films that came out post-Die Hard. You know, Die Hard on a plane, Die Hard on a boat, and so on. It's derivative of just about any action movie you can think of, really, with some of the dialog bordering on the highly laughable. But for me, I was able to ignore those obvious flaws and concentrate on the intrepid heroism of John Cena, just as the producers intended me to do. So yes, it's manipulative fluff that will appeal to only a small audience.
12 years a Slave, an unflinching account of a free black man in the
antebellum North who is abducted and sold into slavery in the Deep
South, is a brilliant adaptation, a real work of art by auteur Steve
McQueen. It's brutally forthcoming and neither panders to its audience
nor glosses over the evil that men (and women) do. It features an
transcendent performance by Chiwetel Ejiofor as the lead, nearly
matched by Michael Fassbender, as an exceptionally cruel slaveowner.
The story opens in Saratoga Springs, New York. Solomon Northrup (Ejiofor) has just seen his wife and two children off on a trip. While walking across the town square, Solomon meets a couple of men who wish for Solomon to play violin for their circus. He travels with them down to Washington, DC and wines and dines with the gentlemen in celebration of Solomon's contribution to the entertainment. But Solomon becomes ill and is put to bed by the men; in the morning, he finds himself in a slave pen, unable to produce papers that would prove him to be a free man.
Solomon is acquired by a slave trader named, ironically, Freeman (Paul Giamatti), who in turns sells Solomon and others to a landowner named Ford (Benedict Cumberbatch) down in Georgia. Solomon's name is now Platt, and his odyssey proceeds through several owners, some meaner than others, but none quite capable for seeing him as the human being he is. Solomon witnesses many evils, including torture, rape, and murder for even the smallest slights against white people and finds that even to survive he cannot count on any help, inside or out.
This is not an easy movie to watch. It's not just about shining a light on of the most morally deplorable times in our nation's brief history; it's about getting inside the head of a trapped man, a man desperate to return to his loving family but beset on all sides by incoherent rage and inhumanity. As Solomon himself puts it, "I don't want to survive. I want to live."
Ejiofor is terrific. When Solomon feels pain, physical or emotional, we feel his pain as well, through Ejiofor's heart-breaking, commanding performance. Solomon's attitude transforms him from a this-must-be-a- mistake nonbeliever trying to convince people he is indeed a legally free man to a defiant, determined, and desperate sojourner. It's a remarkable piece of work by Ejiofor, who had his first break into movies with Steven Spielberg's Amistad - also with slavery as its main theme.
McQueen has assembled a profoundly talented cast to back him up. As the worst villain in the lot, Fassbender (as slaveowner Epps) is more than just convincing - you half expect to learn that Fassbender is a true Southern boy rather than being German born - he is also spellbinding as the horrid Epps, a man even nastier than Leonardo DiCaprio's vaunted Calvin Candie from Django Unchained. Candie was a smirking frat boy compared with Edwin Epps, a man who delights in using his slaves for whatever he wishes, punishing them when they don't pick enough in his cotton fields, favoring one as a plaything even over his own wife (Sarah Paulson).
One aspect I really liked about this movie was that it never paints any white person as the savior of the black protagonist. Never. How many movies have we seen about slavery and civil rights in which some white person deigns to help the black people and is thus their hero? It's not so here. The closest is Cumberbatch's Ford, but even then the landowner would rather save his skin than form a connection with Solomon (or hear that Solomon is actually a free man). There is no help to be found from kindly white folks here. (Aside - okay, there is, right near the end, but it's apparently true to Solomon's experiences and does not make up for the years of agony that Solomon experienced before running into said white person by chance.) A lesser movie may have tried to shoehorn in a ray of hope for Solomon Northrup in a half-baked attempt to reach a wider audience, but thankfully that didn't happen here.
This isn't a popcorn movie, and it's probably not a date movie. It's intellectual and brutish, realistic, believable, painful, and astonishing. It's clearly one of the best of the year and of the careers of McQueen, Ejiofor, and Fassbender.
Prepare to be shocked! 1408, the story of a truly haunted hotel room,
is electric and terrifying and not a little bit unsettling.
John Cusack stars as Mike Enslin, a writer who specializes in debunking haunted-whatever myths. He's stayed in hotels and inns and B&Bs all across the country and has not, he says, ever seen evidence of paranormal behavior. Even so, he's managed to make a somewhat modest living writing about his experiences. He's a cynic, as most writers are, but Enslin is not only skeptical about things, he outright doesn't believe in anything, owing in no small part to an earlier tragedy in his life.
And then one day he finds a postcard in his mail from the Dolphin Hotel in New York. There's but one sentence on the back: "Don't go into Room 1408." Enslin's research then shows that numerous people have died in that particular hotel room - people jumping to their deaths, people slashing their own throats, gouging their own eyes, and so on. Pretty creepy stuff. But since that's sort of par for the course in Enslin's line of work, he doesn't think much of it and manages to wrangle a reservation in the infamous room.
The hotel's manager, Olin (Samuel L. Jackson) tries desperately to talk Enslin out of staying in the room overnight. No one lasts more than an hour, he warns. Olin points out that many people have died in 1408 of *natural* causes, too - bringing the death toll to 56. Olin even offers Enslin a rare bottle of booze and the chance to read up on the history of the room, anything to keep Enslin from actually going into the room. He fails.
And who could blame Enslin for being a wee bit skeptical that 1408 is anything to be scared of? He's been in so many places just like the Dolphin, from seedy motels to high-rise palaces, and he's never seen anything all that terrifying, and certainly nothing that couldn't be explained away easily enough. And then he steps into 1408, and all hell breaks loose.
It appears to be such an ordinary room, a fact that Enslin notes into his dictaphone. But then it gets hot, and the window slams shut on his fingers, and he hears a baby crying, and most importantly, the digital clock radio seems to be counting down from one hour - even after he forcibly yanks it from the wall outlet. Before you know it, ghosts from his own past are appearing in his room alongside the ghosts of those who'd died there themselves.
The greatest part about all of this is that while Enslin's mind is being tortured, smacked around like a tetherball hooked to a pole of sanity, we're suffering right along with him. We jump when he jumps - and not before he jumps. He feel like screaming just as he does. We're right there with him through ever shiver, every shudder, every wide-eyed gulp of terror. Enslin isn't merely frazzled, he's undone. Even he can't explain the happenings inside 1408 as creaky floorboards or bad wiring. The horror in the room is personal, reducing even the cockiest skeptic into a pile of blubbering goo.
Cusack, whom I think is one of the finest actors of his generation, is absolutely aces. His idiom is that he's an Everyman, not someone to whom superhuman powers have been conveyed. Throw another actor into the movie, and you'd expect him to grit his teeth and wipe out the unseen enemies with a blowtorch and some grenades, but not Cusack. Cusack's Enslin doesn't know how to deal with the psychological warfare, because neither would we.
That ripping sound you just heard? It was your sanity departing right after Enslin's.
In Dollars, clever bank-security guy Warren Beatty teams with a kooky
call girl (Goldie Hawn) to steal from three disparate criminals, who
have each chosen to store their ill-gotten gains within the bank's
safe-deposit boxes. Beatty's Joe Collins is cool and methodical, and
Hawn is a true delight as Dawn Divine, although the movie suffers from
a lengthy run time and an ending that seems sort of a meaningless
Collins works for a bank in Hamburg, Germany that is on the cutting edge of technological security. Among other things, the bank has - get this! - a 24-hour closed-circuit camera inside its safe, the better to monitor would-be evil-doers. Much is made of this awesome camera. Kind of makes one pine for the days when security cameras were a new thing.
At any rate, Collins and Divine have picked out three nefarious marks - a corrupt sergeant (Scott Brady), a Vegas mobster (Robert Webber), and a drug dealer (Arthur Brauss) - each of whom has deposited dirty money into a safe-deposit box in the bank. These boxes are much as they are today, although the bank employees very pointedly do not get to see what is in them; privacy, you see, is a big selling point for the bank wishing to attract more and more foreign interests.
The plan is to move the monies from the three boxes to Divine's own safety box. Plenty of planning goes into this, and it culminates with a wonderfully tense scene in which Joe, trapped in the safe, attempts the exchange. It's only a matter of time, though, before the various baddies discover what's happened, and there's a long, long chase scene - mostly on foot! - that eats up a chunk of film near the end of the movie.
Hawn is at her giggly, risqué best (this would be during her Laugh-In days), and Beatty stays true to type as the Man with the Plan, the cool cat. I particularly enjoyed how anxious Hawn's Divine is at her own role in the heist - for a phone call she must make, she has her lines written out longhand, and yet she still can only whisper them to the bank's manager, played by Gert Frobe (Auric Goldfinger).
The ending felt like it was lacking something, perhaps some panache or some cohesion. It's almost as if someone woke up in postproduction and realized there was no actual climax and then hastily wrote one in. In fact, after reading a synopsis on IMDb, I wondered if I'd seen the same ending - interestingly, the IMDb synopsis made even less sense than the one I saw.
Finally, there's the issue of the editing and/or direction - the former was too choppy, the latter too rapid. When your movie features an intricate plan, maybe it's best not to rush through every step, forcing your viewers to keep up. Even when we could keep up, it seemed as if some plot elements were missing entirely, leading to many questions left unanswered.
There is now a long, grand history of disaster films in Hollywood. The
best of the lot have combined suspense with cutting-edge effects to
keep your adrenaline pumping. The worst combine cheesy CGI with shallow
characters whose deaths won't affect you much.
Here's 2012, summed up: Look, some recognizable landmark! Kablam! Look, a giant wave! Wooo! Do our intrepid Good Guys have enough time to outrun the imploding planet and foil a plot to save only the pretty, rich people? Probably! It's pretty clear what happened to bring us to this point. Roland Emmerich, who's made such cinematic classics as Independence Day, The Patriot, Godzilla, and The Day after Tomorrow, was asked if he wanted a quintillion billion bazillion dollars to make a movie about the end of the world, and he said sure. Then he took parts of each movie's script, filmed them mostly with CGI, and pocketed the rest. Viola! Greatest movie! (A quick break to sum up the plot. Apparently, the sun and the planets have all aligned with the center of the galaxy, which winds up causing the Earth's crust to break up, which then causes the tectonic plates to shift. Mass hysteria! Dogs and cats, living together! The End.) See, there are two ways Emmerich could have gone with this movie. He could have given us characters to follow whom we cared a little about, thus involving us in their plights, and mixed in some convincing special effects. Or he could have said, "The heck with the characters, give me blowy-uppy thingys." This sometimes works: See Independence Day, a movie that made me feel pretty good when I left the theater after seeing it but that ultimately, frankly, was pretty bad.
Emmerich chose the latter. Which would have been fine, but the effects themselves are wildly unrealistic and often take so long to set up that you completely notice how godawful they really are. For example and if you've seen the trailer, this is in there there's a scene in which the Sistine Chapel falls, crushing thousands of spectators. Because the toppling is so slow to complete, it becomes painfully obvious that it's just a film running on a screen behind people running away. Sad and unintentionally hilarious.
And you can forget about the plot, really, because most of it makes no sense anyway and would happen only in a Big Movie like this. Of COURSE John Cusack is divorced from his hot, bitchy wife (Amanda Peet) and of COURSE she's hooking up with a plastic surgeon who of COURSE winds up having had some flying lessons that of COURSE will save them all and of COURSE Cusack's young son will somehow save the day as well and of COURSE there is a Russian businessman who used to be a boxing legend and of COURSE he punches someone out. And of COURSE people say "My God!" a lot, because that's what people do in crappy disaster films. And of COURSE the president is black, because in Hollywood black people get to be president only if disaster is a-coming.
At least the acting isn't horrible. Because everyone just runs from place to place in an effort to escape the horror, there aren't any subtle, low-key scenes that would allow good actors to flourish. Cusack is good in general, but what the heck is he doing in here? He's usually so good at picking projects, and he chose this? Willingly? Oliver Platt plays the kind of role that Bruce McGill typically gets, the hamhanded, I'm-in-charge, Al-Haig-like politician. I can't even remember his title. Danny Glover gets to be president and does get the best dialog in the film, even if his role isn't a big one. Woody Harrelson, as a crazed DJ deep in Yellowstone is also a lot of fun, although he's not the kind of guy you'd want to sit next to on a transatlantic flight.
Final verdict: Yikes. Yikes, yikes, and yikes. If you dare watch this travesty, you might find yourself laughing hysterically at things and this is important that were not meant to be funny. If that's your thing, this is your movie. I managed to see this as a matinée, so I'm not out the $10-$15 that some people are right now, so at least I got that going for me. Best advice: Watch it for free at home on a big-screen TV to fully appreciate the magnitude of suck.
Yes! 22 Jump Street is even better than the original movie. Or the TV
show, for that matter. Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum have terrific
chemistry, perhaps the best in comic cop movies since some guys named
Gibson and Glover (over and over) were roaming the streets of LA. The
laughs come fast and furious and are generally not of a PG nature,
although apparently that was of no concern to the family of four behind
me in the theater.
Officers Jenko (Tatum) and Schmidt (Hill) are now enrolled in college, trying to nail down the source of a new designer drug (again) that's overtaking the campus. They remain in their high-school guises from the first film, mismatched brothers. Their handler, Captain Dickson (Ice Cube), is sort of glad to see the boys again, since their previous success resulted in a huge budget increase. Which he exploits to the hilt. (I wonder if he ever did get that shark tank.)
Anyway, Jenko and Schmidt try to find out where the new drug WHYPHY ("Work hard - why? Play hard - why?) is coming from. Their only lead is a photo of one student buying it from another, with one of the students later winding up dead. Jenko pals around with the jocks, which include possible suspects Zook (Wyatt Russell, Kurt's son) and Rooster (Jimmy Tatro), while Schmidt falls into the boho scene, meeting cute with Maya (Amber Stevens), to whom he develops a kind of liking.
For those of us who thought that the title sounded pretty lame, well, it's better than "21 Jump Street 2," right? And of course, this film being as self-aware as a film can be, there's a reason - Jump Street HQ is now located across the street from the old place, since the Koreans wanted their church back. Makes sense.
Much of the plot does indeed follow that of the first film, but as Chief Hardy (Nick Offerman) tells them, the boys should handle this case the same way they handled the high-school one. It's what the brass wants! But the taking-down-the-bad-guys plot is only window dressing for the real problem, the conflict between the partners as they discover that they've become more different than they were in "high school." Is it possible that they'll need to go their separate ways in order to finish this case? Will this be the last case? Well, no, that's not likely. But the first one is possible. Remember, in 21 Jump Street, somehow Schmidt was the cool guy and Jenko was the schlub who had to hang out with the AV guys (who, naturally saved the day). This time, not so much - Jenko is a BMOC, what with the being strong and apparently immune to alcohol and such. Schmidt is now the one with some doubts about their partnership, and that's the real story behind the story. He can't follow in Jenko's path, or even walk alongside him, because people like the jocks don't want him around. And suddenly Jenko sees his partner as a hindrance, someone preventing him from his true calling - football player.
Much mirth is made of the similarities between the duo's partnership and a full-blown emotional relationship. At one point they even visit a psych professor (well, it's to get info about a patient who had taken WHYPHY, but still) and wind up revealing more of their feelings than they may have intended.
It's hard to imagine better casting for the roles of Jenko and Schmidt. Tatum and Hill appear to have been working together for decades, honing an act to impeccable heights, so good is their banter. But the fun doesn't stop with them - Ice Cube is a terror as a father and a cop, Rob Riggle and Dave Franco happily reprise their roles from 21 Jump Street (the movie), there's another cameo of a veteran of the "old" TV show, and both Amber Stevens and Jillian Bell (playing Maya's roommate) are killer good. Also on hand is the usually oily Peter Stormare as, surprise, the bad guy.
For whatever reason, I'm much more inclined to laugh out loud at a movie while at home than when I'm at the theater, but I couldn't stop laughing (or giggling, possibly when Jenko and Schmidt inadvertently take some of the designer drug). The movie was that funny. 22 Jump Street is definitely as good as the first, and for my money it's a step up.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
247°F is as straightforward a horror movie as you'll ever see. It's
uninventive and feels like a giant missed opportunity. In fact, as the
movie wears on (and on) one starts to believe that there's Something
behind our protagonists' troubles - but alas, if there is, it's
Most of the movie is set in a homemade sauna. Jenna, her friend Renee, Renee's boyfriend Michael, and Michael's friend Ian have zipped over to a remote island to stay in Ian's uncle's cabin for the weekend. Concurrently, it is the weekend of the May Day celebrations, apparently a big deal in the nearby towns, and Wade the uncle is involved with the setup of the festivities.
We learn a few things about our main characters right away. Jenna, meant to be the protagonist, is anxious, shy, withdrawn; flashbacks show us (in the first scenes) that her fiancé' was killed in an auto accident (with Jenna beside him), and she hasn't yet fully recovered. Friend Renee is outgoing, outspoken, caring about her pal and wanting to get her out of her self-imposed shell. Michael is the typical Type A frat boy - controlling, fun loving even at the expense of others. Ian, by contrast, is sedate, passionate, thoughtful, and well spoken; weird, because he looks like the lost Winklevoss twin.
The plan is for the foursome to go to this May Day pre-party, so while ol' Uncle Wade goes to set up, they head into his sauna. Then it gets too hot, so they jump in the lake. Then it's too cold, so back to the sauna. This goes on for a while. The entire time, Michael's drinking everything in sight, so you can see where this is headed. They go back to the sauna, he leaves to use the bathroom, and somehow the door gets stuck with the other three inside.
The point is to see how each will react to the extreme (and rising) heat, making it less a horror film and more of a psychological freak- out. Someone's going to crack - no surprise or spoiler that it's Renee, who's painted from the get-go as more selfish than most. Ian is determined to get them all out of there - he's played pretty well by Travis Van Winkle - and Jenna just tries to get by. They all assume Michael locked them in as a prank, but after a while the story switches to his passing out and just leaving them in there.
The movie could have gone in several directions. I kept expecting a twist; none came. This would have made for a predictable film, but since I naively kept thinking there was more to the story than met the eye, I didn't allow myself to become jaded.
The acting is acceptable. In addition to Van Winkle, we have the redoubtable Scout Taylor-Compton (Halloween) as the high-strung Jenna turning in a wonderful performance. But they have little to work with. People do behave as you'd expect, only in the case of some (Renee, Michael), it's more of a case of melodrama than acting. Tears are shed, as is some blood.
Because the movie lacks so much in substance and creativity, it's not an easily recommendable film. You have to be prepared for a lot of nothing much happening. After all, there's only so much you can do in a sauna without getting into deep psychological trauma, and the movie - although it had the opportunity - barely scratched the surface of everyone's problems. We know Jenna has issues and why, but we're unclear on how she deals with it. Would have been nice to see better character development - what does she fear now? Same for Renee; even her love for Jenna seems self serving. They've been friends forever, and Renee has an extroverted, love-life personality. Does she have demons? And does Ian do anything other than say just the right thing and be just the nicest guy ever?
Who knows? Stories like this have been done to death in movies - trapped in an elevator, trapped in a mine shaft, trapped on a boat, and so on. They succeed because the plot involves you with the characters. Do we really care about the state of the relationship between Renee and Jenna? Not really, because the movie gives us no reason to do so. We like Jenna, we don't like Renee too much, and we're quite ambivalent over their long-time friendship.
It's seven months after the outbreak of the rage virus in London, and
it appears that the disease has been eradicated. American troops are
stationed throughout the city, which is now being repopulated. Among
the new/old citizens are two children, the first minors to reenter the
city. London is now a dystopia, much as it was in the similarly themed
Children of Men, in which mistrust runs high and the government and
military seem more antagonistic than beneficial.
It's all safe, say the American soldiers. Mission accomplished, and all that. It's safe to come back in. A dedicated military doctor wonders why the newest repatriates include children - "What if it comes back?" she wonders. "Then we kill it," she's told. I immediately felt safer.
Of course, the virus IS back, else there'd be no movie. In a prologue, a small band of survivors holes up in a secluded country cottage. When one answers the door to find an uninfected child, all hell breaks loose, culminating in one man's decision to abandon his wife to the clutches of a rage-infested undead mob.
That man, Don (Robert Carlyle), is the father of the two new young arrivals to London, and now he has to explain how their mother died. Being the kind to spare his kids nightmares and to avoid probing questions, he fudges the truth a bit. Next thing you know, the kids are scampering across the Thames to visit their old home, against the express orders of the military, which deems most of London to be very unsafe, rife with disease and pestilence and the like. These are not smart kids.
You can see where this is going. The rage virus makes its return, spreading extremely quickly from person to person, and suddenly it's a race against time to get the kids out of London. Now, in all honesty, there's a good reason they have to make it out of the city, other than preserving their own lives, but I won't spoil it here - I point this out merely to show that there is, indeed, a logical reason to hold their lives as more valuable than those of the adults around them.
But the trouble with 28 Weeks Later is that it's largely uninvolving, boring crap. The people, except for that Army doctor (Rose Byrne) and an intrepid, ethical soldier (Jeremy Renner), are largely stupid. And I don't mean just that they're all one-dimensional characters, it's that they do dumb things that cause all sorts of mayhem to rain upon them. Things like hugging a woman who may carry the rage disease. Or kissing a woman who may carry the rage disease. Breaking into a security facility to do the latter. That sort of thing. Dumb, dumb, dumb.
The second problem with the movie is that there aren't nearly enough zombie attacks. There are some, sure, but they're isolated and feel mighty stagy. Compare the scene in which the doctor and her charges attempt to get out of the city by car with the one in Children of Men in which Clive Owen attempts to escort the first pregnant woman in a generation out of the city. In one, you know the characters will run into a series of obstacles that they'll likely overcome, but in the other, there's no certainty at all - anything could happen.
The third problem is that much of the movie's action scenes feel as if they're part of a really bad music video. I'm talking choppy editing with quick, dizzying cuts - this is not a movie for those suffering from vertigo or epilepsy. The action moves so quickly that I literally could not tell what was happening, which can hardly be the point. It reminded me of being in the middle of Space Mountain at Walt Disney World. I saw flashing lights and heard screams, but that was about it. Just poor, poor editing and cinematography.
If this was supposed to be a commentary on the dangers of a having the military run a city, whoopee doo - we've seen this kind of junk before. I get it: military bad, citizens good. This movie ups the ante a little bit by actually firebombing London, a sort of Blitz II, but the effect would be the same if I were playing the old Nintendo video game Contra. Because the outbreak's so bad, you see, the soldiers are ordered to waste everyone they see. Everyone's a target. Including, apparently, the audience.
28 Weeks Later isn't just bad in the sense that most sequels are bad, it's bad in the sense that it manages to replay all clichés about dystopian societies, and End Days plagues, and so forth without giving us the goods of zombie attacks, which is what we came for.
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