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The Frozen (2012)
A Very Pleasant Surprise
I have to admit that I had very low expectations of this movie. From the plot summary I had read it seemed as if it would be little more than a routine thriller, with perhaps some blood and gore added in. Actually, it turned out to be a pretty nifty little psychological thriller, with little blood and no gore, likable leads in Brit Morgan and Seth David Mitchell, and what I thought was an effective twist at the end that was sufficiently ambiguous that it left me not entirely certain what the character's ultimate fates were.
Mike and Emma have gone off camping in the winter wilderness, but they manage to wreck their snowmobile and things start to look pretty desperate pretty quickly. As things begin to look progressively bleaker, Emma starts to see a man following them. Is he real, or is she imagining it? You wonder for a while, but once it's cleared up you start to wonder what this guy is about. When Mike disappears, it becomes pretty obvious that this is a bad guy. Or is he?
The final "twist" was pretty effective, and the ending of the story - to me - very effectively left a lot up in the air, leaving it to each individual viewer to decide whether Emma made a wise choice or not. Without giving too much away, let me just say that I found the end of this movie to be foreboding rather than hopeful, but either interpretation works.
This is a short and effective little thriller; much better than I had been expecting. (8/10)
It's "Titanic" Set In The Roman Empire
Almost from beginning to end I was having feelings of deja vu while I watched this. Think about the story. There's a disaster a-comin'. We know that. There's no mystery about it. Pretty much everyone knows the story of Pompeii being destroyed by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius. The story of Pompeii's last days gets told through a romance that brings together boy and girl from different classes. In this case it's the slave turned gladiator Milo (Kit Harington) and Aurelia, the daughter of Pompeii's leading citizen (Carrie-Ann Moss) who ignore their difference in social status and fall for each other. One problem, though, is that she has a powerful man who she doesn't like but who expects to marry her in her life (Sen. Corvus, played by Kiefer Sutherland.) Wait a minute. Basically, that's the plot of 1997's "Titanic" transplanted to ancient Rome. OK. It loses on the originality scale.
"Pompeii" has some strengths. The sets work, and it seems to be a reasonable portrayal of ancient Rome. The special effects around the eruption of Vesuvius are well done. There's even an interesting and still relevant political reflection about the opposition to centralized government. The movie opens with a rebellion against Roman rule by Celtic tribes in Britain, and even though Pompeii is a stone's throw from Rome, you get the impression that its citizens are less then enamoured with the Empire's capital. And this is mercifully short. Most blockbusters these days (and my sense is that this was intended to be a blockbuster) seem to feel the need to be stretched out to at least three hours. This comes in at less than two.
The length, mind you, demonstrates the movie's biggest weakness: a weak story. It plods along, it's not especially exciting, and the romance didn't draw me in. I didn't much care about these two - or anyone else. That's a huge weakness. I'd frankly rather just watch "Titanic" again. (5/10)
Sex Tape (2014)
When It's Funny It's very Funny. But ...
In one sense, this movie has to rank as a success. It made me laugh. Out loud. A lot of comedies - even well regarded ones - don't make me laugh out loud. This one did. But ... the problem with this movie is that all (and I mean literally ALL) the laughs are restricted to one series of scenes that are set in Hank's house. Those scenes are funny. But it's just one set of scenes. The rest of the movie is either crude or boring, and it features a truly obnoxious young teen character who becomes a blackmailer.
The story such as it is revolves around Annie and Jay (Cameron Diaz and Jason Segel.) Dealing with some troubles in the bedroom, they decide to spice things up by making a hot video of themselves having sex for 3 hours!! Unfortunately, that obnoxious teen (played by an actor named Harrison Holder) gets hold of it and makes it public, and Jay himself accidentally distributes it to several of their friends and acquaintances. The movie follows their attempts to get the tape back.
Cameron Diaz didn't work in this for me. Her performance was OK, but as an actress she just didn't work in this for me. I can't explain that any better. My gut reaction was just that this wasn't a character that was really made for her. The rest of the cast was OK - Rob Lowe playing Hank in that series of very funny scenes was great! Otherwise, I didn't really find anyone offering truly noteworthy performances.
When it's funny - in the scenes in Hank's house - it is, indeed, very funny. Yeah, it made me laugh. Out loud. But only in those scenes. I give it a 5 only because those few funny scenes were so funny. Overall, though, it's a pretty weak movie.
Draft Day (2014)
You Can Enjoy This Even If You're Not A Football Fan
Be warned off the top: this movie is a little bit niche-ey. It's about the pressures and the wheeling and dealing that takes place on NFL draft day. You don't have to be a sports fan to enjoy this, but it does help a little bit. I'm not much of a fan of the NFL to be honest, but I am a hockey fan, and draft day for the NHL has a similar feel to it, so I could easily get into this. My wife, on the other hand, isn't a sports fan at all, but she enjoyed the movie, periodically asking me questions about the draft and how it works. So, this being a bit of a niche-ey movie, my advice to a non-sports fan who watches it would be to watch it with someone who knows a bit about how draft day works and can explain a few points now and then.
The story itself revolves around Sonny Weaver, Jr., played by Kevin Costner. In the context of the movie, Weaver is the general manager of the Cleveland Browns. He's got a high draft pick, but not the top draft pick, when an unexpected opportunity arises to trade for the top pick. He has doubts, but he's pressured by an owner who wants him to make a big splash at the draft, and he's pressured by a head coach who wants to win now and not build for the future. In the midst of it all he's also dealing with his girlfriend, who's pregnant and also works in the Browns front office, and he has his mom on his back, with his father (a former Browns coach whom Sonny, Jr. actually fired) having recently died. So, while this is mostly about the ins and outs of the draft, there's also some personal melodrama involved.
It's a good movie. It presents a realistic look at exactly what goes on in a team's "war room" on draft day as decisions are made regarding young players who are about to become very wealthy young men. It also has a really good (and even exciting) ending as Sonny works on the big deal and makes his final decisions. It's a bit niche-ey, perhaps, but it still has enough for everyone to enjoy. (7/10)
Decent Enough Mystery With A Nice Twist At The End
One thing this movie does well is point out the potentially tragic costs of revenge. Paul Maguire is a former gangster who has reformed and become a leader in his city's business community. Then one night, his daughter is kidnapped and later found shot to death. The movie is a bit of a whodunit, with Maguire and some of his former henchmen seeking out the killer, with all signs pointing to the Russian mafia.
Maguire was played by Nicolas Cage. Cage is an unpredictable actor. He's done some very good work, and he's done some very bad work. This was a middling kind of performance. He wasn't bad, but I also found it hard to take him seriously as a former notorious gangster.
The mystery of who killed Caitlin was pretty good, and included a twist at the end that I for one didn't see coming. What was sometimes lacking was a consistency or flow to the story, and it was excessively violent and bloody, often for no apparent purpose other than being violent and bloody.
Still, it held my interest, and the twist as the identity of Caitlyn's killer was revealed was a good one. This really isn't as bad as some reviewers make it out to be. (6/10)
Artificial Intelligence Turned Out To Be A Bit Of A Drag
"Transcendence" gets off to a decent enough start. Not long into the movie, there's a very dramatically portrayed series of attacks by an anti- technology extremist groups at labs throughout the United States that are working on artificial intelligence. That seemed to set the stage for a very exciting, action-themed movie. And then, for whatever reason, it just seemed to sputter along. There were brief moments of excitement, but they were well scattered, and for a movie that seemed filled with the potential for some philosophical consideration of the issues surrounding the development of artificial intelligence, there really seemed to be little of that. I was really left feeling that this was a movie that didn't seem to know where it wanted to go or what it wanted to accomplish.
It has a decent cast. Johnny Depp was in the lead role as Dr. Will Caster, one of the leading researchers into A.I. Poisoned and slowly dying as a result of those opening attacks, a way is discovered to place his mind and his knowledge into a computer, where it's joined by basically all the knowledge that there is. It raises the question (one that is raised more than once in the movie) of whether this is really Will or not. And there is the whole problem of what Will (or whatever it is) is going to do with this newfound knowledge. But nothing seemed explored too deeply.
Nor did I think the performances were especially outstanding. The movie as a whole was surprisingly cold and passionless, and that pretty much summed up my feeling about the performances. This movie lacked any sort of reason to connect emotionally with any of the characters. It was really hard to care about them.
There was some potential here, but unfortunately most of it was unrealized. (3/10)
The Raven (1963)
An Interesting Cast Makes This A Curiosity
In 1935, Boris Karloff starred in a movie called "The Raven" - a movie that had little to nothing to do with Edgar Allen Poe's poem. Fast forward 28 years. In 1963, Boris Karloff starred in a movie called "The Raven" - a movie that had little to nothing to do with Edgar Allen Poe's poem. Let's talk about the '63 version.
Your first thought about a movie called "The Raven" (and that stars Vincent Price and Peter Lorre, along with Karloff) is that you're going to find a horror movie, or at least a decent mystery or suspense thriller. Those expectations are dashed quickly. This is, after all, directed by Roger Corman. There's nothing frightening or mysterious about this. Instead the movie goes for laughs, as two rival sorcerors/wizards/magicians (Price and Karloff) go head to head with each other, with Lorre stuck in the middle - sometimes a raven, sometimes a man, sometimes a bit of both. Yes, it's a rather silly movie, which unfortunately creates expectations by being named after Poe's poem. From time to time it works in that it brings forth a few chuckles - but it doesn't accomplish much else.
To give them credit, the cast seemed to take this seriously enough and played their parts well, although I understand from what I've read that the three leads did recognize the sheer silliness of it all and had their share of fun while making it. But a few chuckles and a decent cast aside, this just isn't a particularly good movie. In the end, what's most interesting about it is probably an appearance by a very young Jack Nicholson as the Lorre character's son. In terms of quality, his performance wasn't notable, and to be honest I didn't even recognize him until I saw his name in the closing credits. That, along with the team of Price, Lorre and Karloff) makes this movie a curiosity, but it doesn't make it good. (3/10)
A Bad Movie Falls Apart Even More At Its End, But It Does Have A Few Laughs
As a big fan of the original "Anchorman" I was very hesitant about this sequel. First, sequels almost never live up to the original on which they're based, and, second, as much as I enjoyed it the original "Anchorman" was not without its share of weaknesses. Unfortunately, those weaknesses were on display again in a movie that was, overall, far less satisfying.
One of those revisited weaknesses was the sheer length of the movie. The original - much funnier - was far too long at about 1:45. This one went on for almost two painstaking hours even though there was nowhere near enough substance to fill that time. Even by the end of the first hour I was getting antsy. By about 1:30 it was getting painful to keep watching. Then, for reasons I'll never understand, much of the last 20 minutes or so was taken up (like the first movie) with a huge news team rumble that was silly, even for a movie designed to be silly. Really, this was a huge mess of a story from the start. The chemistry that I thought existed in the first movie between Will Ferrell and Christina Applegate (as Ron Burgundy and Veronica Corningstone - now, in this movie, married) was noticeably absent in this, and while the first movie made no attempt to be serious, this one added an unnecessary angle about Ron trying to be a good father to his son. Nothing much in this story worked. But ...
As weak as the story was, it did have me laughing out loud a few times, with many of those laughs being produced by Steve Carell, who was back as the laughably incompetent weatherman Brick Tamland. As far as performances were concerned, Carell's was the obvious highlight here, albeit in a supporting role. A movie that makes me laugh out loud can't be all bad, even if it does have a lame and often incoherent story. (3/10)
It Was OK
Ben Stiller was very good in the title role. That's the first thing I'd say. From my perspective, it was one of his better performances. As Walter, he plays the head of the negative assets department for LIFE Magazine, which is about to publish its last print edition before becoming an online only magazine. In that position, Walter is responsible for a series of negatives from a hotshot photographer (who would ultimately be played by Sean Penn in little more than a cameo), one of which is to be the final cover photo. But one of the negatives (#25) is missing, and the movie revolves around Walter's wide-ranging search for it.
Walter is a likable character. He's a guy who's largely bored and unsatisfied with life, who spends a lot of time daydreaming about what could be - some of his daydreams are realistic, others not so much. That sometimes gets a bit confusing, since it isn't always clear whether what we're watching is real or whether it's only happening in Walter's head. And as likable as Walter may be, I just didn't find myself caught up in the search for negative #25. It did give the movie the opportunity to go to some interesting places. You really don't see many movies that are set for significant periods of time in places like Iceland and Greenland - although whether those places were portrayed at all realistically is doubtful. Still ... Iceland and Greenland. But aside from the curiosity of the setting, the search for negative #25 rather bored me.
There was also the problem of Ted Hendricks. Played by Adam Scott, Ted was the mean and nasty boss in charge of the transition from print to online, apparently delighting in telling people they would lose their job - heartless, callous and unfeeling. Yes, it happens, and the powers that be aren't always kind and compassionate, but Ted was too much of a caricature for my liking.
This is certainly worth watching for Ben Stiller's performance, but for me at least the story left a lot to be desired. (4/10)
Mr. Sardonicus (1961)
Nicely Done Little Movie
Aside from the opening narrative and the closing "pinishment poll" (in which the audience, presumably at theatres, was invited to decide whether Sardonicus should be punished or shown mercy) from director William Castle - neither of which were necessary - "Mr. Sardonicus" is actually a pretty smart movie that moves along at a nice pace and is at times tense and that even manages to fit in some rather twisted sexual innuendo in such a way that it fit the story perfectly.
Sardonicus is a Central European baron who spends his life wearing a mask to hide his grotesque face, frozen by a traumatic incident years earlier. Convincing the English Dr. Cargrave to come to him, Sardonicus ensures the doctor's co-operation with threats against his beautiful wife, with whom Cargrave had a previous relationship.
The story is decent. The makeup for Sardonicus is a bit silly but workable, and it does offer the viewer a bit of a start when his appearance is first revealed, and there's even discussion of psychosomatic illness included. All things considered, it's a pretty well done movie. (7/10)