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The Purge (2013)
Potential Largely Wasted
On the surface, this concept has some very good potential. As noted by another review I read, this film has a lot of connections with other successful 'sanctioned violence to cleanse society' types of films like Battle Royale, The Hunger Games, or even Death Race 2000 for example. But you can easily see where there film cuts itself short and limits itself from the beginning.
First is that it horribly downplays real societal and national views, including the psyche of many of the key characters regarding the event. Second, it uses too many vacuous characters. Several are clearly nothing but obvious plot devices with no meaning. Third is sadly, I think budget ruined this film. One could have added a ton of depth to the family (and some of the villains for that matter) with another half hour of development. But that requires skilled talent and not mostly unknown character actors and actresses. It also amazes me how the 'best home security system' is little more than metal panels that can be ripped away with some horsepower and lots of video cameras. In reality, the ideal and actual solution would be more like Panic Room or to some degree, a house built like one big panic room.
This film in some ways reminds me of (although much better) the film In Time, which had its own great societal view and sort of twist on that factor. But while In Time as least did do some light investigation into the themes and morals of the real issues in the film (it could have done so....much....more), this film pales in comparison.
Since it loses any effort at going into real issues, it has turned what could be a great concept into just another attempt at a home- invasion/eventful night film. In that aspect, it does not stand up. ONe can only hope that at some point a visionary writer and director can see the potential and turn one of the later sequels into a real film.
The Hangover Part III (2013)
One Hangover Too Many
This is what happens when one tries to force a capstone film on a trilogy that really did not need one. The fact is that the first two movies were big because the first one had a refreshing and unique take to it and let's be honest, the sequel just recycled it. This movie eschews that formula entirely. In fact there is no "how did this happen?" hilarity but rather a lot of bland, forced narrative. In fact, its biggest mistake is taking the two characters best used as momentary oner-liners and scene-stealers and trying to develop a whole movie around them. It leaned far, far too heavily on the very dry Alan and the 'Chow' character. He was a million times better jumping naked out of a trunk.
They avoid exactly what made them great to force a storyline that 'wraps up' the trilogy. Unfortunately, as many have noted, the last scenes are more like we'd expect.
Red Tails (2012)
This Film Is A Disservice To ITs Own Cause
When you take on a film like this, it's inevitable that you're going to be called out for its blatant racial factor. You really cannot do this film without acknowledging that you are trying to bring the glory of real men whose heroic deeds have bee obfuscated by racism and overlooked by history. It's folly to present what is most noticeably a film about an ethnic minority and their righteous contributions to society and then entirely skirt the race issue.
That's what happens here. The film not only merely broils down racial tensions and feelings to one or two key scenes but also later plays it off as "Hey, no problem" as if you know, racism is forgotten with a handshake and a beer. But it also does little to make heroes of the men involved. One is a hot-shot who won't follow orders, they take big risks on targets, their leader is a drunk, and they're all braggards and show-boat artists. Maybe the director was trying to play them off as being as human and real as every other soldier. That just like Caucasian soldiers, they had flaws too. Sadly, it was handled about as well as the black crows from Dumbo.
If you want a great film with a true WW2 pilot-native romance, watch Flyboys. If you want a film featuring flying fortresses, watch Memphis Belle. IF you want superior in-flight action from WW2, watch the key battle scenes of Pearl Harbor. If you want to find out about African-American contributions to WW2...watch the Truskeegee Airmen.
Otherwise in comparison this film is an action flick that seemingly is built on a basis of racial drama and social justice that fails in drama or any matters of racial issues. If you want to imagine a pack of loud-mouthed, harlem-bred, African-American young men shooting down some Nazis while playing up racial stereotypes and doing nothing to address the social issues of their location and time period? Watch this film. I give it maybe a 1.5/4 and that's being generous.
Priest: The Movie that Will Make You Pray You Never Watched It
If this movie were reviewed by an Earl Gray tea sipping, crumpet nibbling, art-house film critic he would say it was so bad that if the celluloid it were made on was melted into goo, blessed by the Pope, and turned into a cure for AIDs he'd still rather flush it down his toilet.
As a casual fan who is not going to judge it on its artistic merit, this film is still a piece of schlock. Sadly, it doesn't even cross yet alone flirt with that magical barrier where bad turns into hilariously good with a few drinks like 'Troll 2' or 'The Room'. The fact that this is a feature action film in under 90 minutes says a lot.
It says that one day someone financed this movie and a ways into shooting the producers saw the dailies and had to fight their gag reflex to keep their lunch down. They than realized they needed to cut their losses. The result is a film where they seemed desperate to end it on a minimal budget as fast as possible. Then they shoved it into the post-Oscar scramble/Pre-Tentpole season known as February-April where 'mistake films' go to die, like 'Sucker Punch' and more notably, 'Greed'.
Any sake of establishing the setting in this fantasy world is relegated to a voice-over and anime-like cartoons over the opening credits. The relation between characters in the film is superficial and very, very poorly developed if at all. The plot is wire-thin and pushed from one point to the next with little reason beyond the obvious. In fact, the main plot moving Macguffin is paper thin and the central themes involving religious corruption, religion versus faith, and whether religion in fact can speak for God's intentions or seem to know them are glossed over with no depth or attempt to explore such themes.
If you took 'V for Vendetta' and remove everything about government, the governments use of fear to control its citizens, and all of the back story to V and made V a Priest, then had the script rewritten by a high schooler and the film edited by a Mexican whooping llama, you'd have almost exact same film as Priest.
About the only redeeming qualities are some nice background views of the other-worldly 'wastelands', Brad Dourif in a very limited but noticeable role, and Maggie Q's constantly 'excited headlights' for the male folk.
Conan the Barbarian (2011)
Enjoyment Is Highly Attached To Expectations
What you expect out of this film will largely tell what enjoyment you will receive from watching it.
What is positive about this film? Excellent action sequences and well, it's a popcorn sword and sorcery flick. It has sword fights, a creature battle, bare chested women, some magic, and more sword fights. If you are looking for a pure adult-male testosterone rush with nice graphics and a simple plot, you've got this film. You will get what you paid for and will enjoy it the same way the Fast and Furious films feed your need for adrenaline car-racing.
That said, if you're looking for a world-class re-imagining of a classic tale that spawned a whole genre explosion the way we're seeing Superhero/comic films today, you will be let down. This film has a simple plot-line, simple dialogue, and one especially lacking quality. Really, there are about two memorable lines in the whole movie. One was horribly trite and drew laughs from the audience and the other was rather elementary and bookends the film, rather weakly at that.
*Minor spoilers to follow* While Nichols is much easier on the eyes than previous counterpart Bergman, her character is little more than breasts, beautiful eyes, and a plot device. It is horribly motivated and explained. Unlike the Arnie original which featured companions with whom he interacted, in this film the 2 key players are short, have no background or depth, and are again: plot devices. In fact, about the only characters beyond Conan with any depth or motivation are the two main villains. One can also note the complete lack of script. Even the original had some entirely well delivered, excellent lines: "There comes a time, Thief..." and "All the Gods, they cannot sever us..." from the original are two key examples. There isn't one in this film lacking camp to its tone.
The result is a good, solid popcorn sword and sorcery adventure that will, in the end be forgotten due to its simplicity and lack of depth. It had a shot at a big film and it didn't even take the risk of trying, in fact, it also tries to be so popcorn and afraid of even attempting what could have been much better. Take for example The Prince of Persia, which had depth to characters on top of excellent action and an interesting plot-line. Instead what we got is just a slightly higher budget Scorpion King. Simple straight-forward with a weakly delivered romance side-plot but otherwise...in a year or two will be forgotten.
If Greek Gods Were Real, They'd Have Stopped This Movie From Having Been Made
Take the writing of a failed CW/WB network tween comedy, add in producers who think "disney movie of the week" production levels deserves a big screen, and add in horrible casting while giving a big middle finger to Greek mythology and you would get this movie.
It's painfully obvious that they likely overpaid a cadre of known actors and actresses. Most likely on the promise of as appearances in sequels. Keaner, Bean, Coogan, McKidd, Sossamon, Brosnan, and Thurman would likely pay the money back to get it erased from their resumes. The protagonist is uninspiring, his sidekick more annoying than anything while being a racial stereotype, and the female love interest is basically a stunning set of eyes with little acting skill.
The money goes into some big CGI 'magic' effects and what amounts to cameo green screen appearances. Not into excellent set decorations, location shooting, soundtrack, sound effects and mixing, or the main cast and clearly not writing. If one took out big name cameos and some of the effects,, in all honesty, it would be indistinguishable from a bad movie of the week.
It really is a 'Hanna Montana does Greek Mythology' kind of attempt with some big name, misplaced casting and it shows...big time.
The Next Three Days (2010)
Interesting Jailbreak With Little Else
This movie had some real promise to it but ultimately it falls short in all of the areas that could have made it that much better.
Let's start with the unusually wooden performance by the son. Given how much screen time he gets and the complexity of his role, I don't mean to bash him for being a young actor but he didn't deliver. It puzzled me that they went to lengths to get actors like Neeson and Dennehy for small roles but then skimp on getting a bigger child actor.
The second fault is the films inability to truly sell the desperation of the main characters. The wife's suicide attempt and mini-psychotic break just didn't do enough to sell it to me. That in turn didn't translate to the husband. The entire impetus behind him acting so differently as to do some of the things he does wasn't there. The decision to focus more on the doubt of her innocence in the end was the wrong direction to go.
Lastly, this film does little in the way of action or ingenuity. It is not an ingenious prison break movie. It has a weak and somewhat stunted buildup and this leads to a rather forced, sloppy jailbreak.
I like to believe somewhere there was a cut that showed a harsher, darker jail leaf for his wife, a cooler jailbreak, and less focus on seemingly unneeded big names in tiny roles. It's good for a watch if you're a big heist/prison break type of person, but it's not among the better ones. It pales especially to Spike Lee's "The Inside Man", which featured impressive jobs by all 4 principles (Butler, Washington, Foster, Plummer) but combined a much more ingenious bank heist but the film itself goes to much deeper levels.
Neat Idea But It Lacks Originality And Depth
((Warning, Some Strong, Indirect Spoilers)) Here is what I do like about Inception is that it presented a rather rare and new concept and presented a rather complex story that keeps the average movie goer confused to some levels. It also does so with a neat sense of mystery and thrill that puts the audience on the edge of their seats.
The problem is that so much of this is redux! The second I left the theatre I wish someone had told me I'd be watching "Total Recall" through the eyes of "The Prestige". Total Recall of course being the "inside of as dream...or not?!" combined with the mystery and love-lost angst and style of The Prestige as well as Nolan throwing out the now rehashed, "last 10 seconds" to make your really think about it all type of ending.
Outside of some of the complexity, this narrative offers no new schemes, devices, or twists that are worthy of making it a top 8, 9, or 10 film. In fact, I'd hand The Prestige an 8 for its innovative story, camera work and production style, and screen writing. But this film is in some sense just a redux of that in a more post-modern, dream-obsessed world.
Then there are the film-making flaws I couldn't stand. Let's first consider how the films throws you head first into the deep end of the dream-invasion concept to begin with. In the end, all of the needed sci-fi devices from "kicks" to timing to "the architect" and "subconscious" is so rapidly thrown together it confused the crud out of most fans at first. It's a whole new concept with its own lingo and we're barely allowed to figure it out before we're thrust into an ocean of it for the last half of the thrill. Along the way Murphy, Berrenger, Wattanabe(sp?), Page, and Postlethwaite(sp?) are excellent actors reduced in their roles or in the case of page, limited to a wooden delivery. This movie is in and of itself a "DiCaprio" picture featuring Cotillard limited to a sort of "Pretty looking Freddy Kruger" kind of role.
Good entertainment, interesting narrative but it is so lacking of something NEW and ORIGINAL and it limits too many wonderful cast members that it shows. You can't force a weak script to be a great one by plugging all of its small roles with notable talent to try and make it shine. This is what producers do when they realize a narrative or script is crud and try to sell a movie only on a plethora of notable names.
The Karate Kid (2010)
An Up And Down Revision That Is Lost In The Middle
*Warning contains references to minor spoilers* In my opinion, there's only 2 good ways to make a remake. One is to do just a slight modernization on a script and go forward with what is otherwise a near redo. This works great for cult classics that were not blockbusters. Simply tweaking a highly unknown original and adding star power and effects can make for a big hit. But when it comes to previous movies, this could be a huge mistake, such as say the Psycho remake of the '90s. The other option is to do a complete revision. Change setting, events, and motivations but keep the same story. This is probably the ONLY way to go when remaking a time honored favorite and well known movie. For example, how Burton managed to completely turn Alice in Wonderland on its head and still produce a winning vision.
The third option is to mix the two. To pay homages to the original and to keep key elements intact but try to tell it in your own way. This is very much hit or miss. Too many intact elements make it feel like a half-hearted direct remake and too few make it feel like you couldn't depart more and produce your own original film.
Sadly, this one tries to go for the third option and falls flat as a result.
But first let me pay some praise to what they did do write. First of all, Taraji Henson is vastly better as the mother, in some cases providing excellent comic relief as well as dramatic acting. We see a side of her character in this story weakly shown in the original. Also, to his credit, Jaden Smith portrays a better 'Daniel'. Let's face it: the original Machio was a whiney, scrawny loser, his romance with Alli never made sense and Jaden's portrayal is better. At least his youth helps sell some of his unhappiness and manners but he's a tough kid. He takes his licking and still gets up, many times over.
The other bonus was a more believable setting. Honestly, a high-schooler moving from Jersey to Seaside California is that stressful? Oh darn! Beaches and beautiful weather versus JERSEY? At least this take moves a black kid from culture friendly Detroit and moves him to China, where his dress, language, and culture are flipped upside down entirely. He is an alien to his surroundings in all forms, including skin color and undertones of racism. His lack or relation to his new surroundings is much better understood.
Now, what goes wrong? First of all, Chan's version of a 'Miyagi' is just horribly handled. He is never funny and their new portrayal of a 'tragic past' is far too central to Smith's character and weakly handled. But the worst part is it clings far too close to the original in its plot and doesn't execute what are otherwise key moments. The 'conspicuous training' of Daniel in the original is a billion times better, as was the original 'revelation' scene. 'Miyagi's' haunted past is a mere plot point here.
It does so much that the final scenes of the movie are virtually identical, except this movie messes it up. One kudos I will give is they did reinvent the 'crane technique' and made it original if not even MORE predictable, sadly. That point where the Cobra Kai students all realize how messed up their sensei really is? Missing. Seriously, the entire "Sweep the leg, do you have a problem with that!" and the eyes of Johnny and his friends in the background is missing. These kids never revolt or learn a lesson. That and the entire "I need balance" locker room scene is poorly scripted. They mention balance and then flub a few lines realizing that was NEVER used in the update plot line, and then go on to a weak second excuse. Sadly, like most of the movie, if you could combine the choreography of the update with the acting and lines from the original, this film had a shot at actually being better.
Both movies are about a young man transplanted to a new culture and society at a key age of his growth towards manhood. While he finds a fetching young love interest it also draws the notice of a gang of violent youths well trained by a malicious sensei who make his new life a living nightmare. He finds a local handyman who stops the attacks and teaches him 'real' techniques and he repairs his fractured relationships after learning a life lesson from his teacher. He then goes on to face the gang of pugilistic, high kicking oppressors in a grand tournament with nearly identical endings.
The problem is that there was some impressive magic in the first film with some scenes and moments and lines that are unforgettable. This remake sincerely loses those key scenes to buffer up other plot elements but they come at a severe cost. There are no classic "miyagi-isms" and the best scenes are nothing more than well-choreographed rehashes of the original movie.
A great 'self-empowerment' family movie for the Tween crowd but nowhere near as captivating as the original across other demographics.
I Love You, Beth Cooper (2009)
Has Promise But Falls Flat
On the outside there is no doubt that this is going to clearly be a combination of the "HS graduation night coming of age teen romance comedy of misadventures" variety. It has the geeky guy falling in love with the popular cheerleader (Can't Hardly Wait), the sudden coming of age on a key night (Dazed and Confused) mixed with the usual outlandish high jinx (Harold and Kumar, Trojan War, Dude Where's My Car, etc) of seemingly random side plots to push the main theme along. Except in this film, the 'geek' outs himself on graduation day about his love affair and the romp begins as a result of his leap of faith in front of the entire school.
With that lovely opening, there is so much promise. It's hardly like most films, especially the Can't Hardly Waits or the iconic Breakfast Club where sudden polar clique opposites suddenly get stuck together and in only one night fall deeply in love for a Hollywood ending. There is no connection between Beth Cooper and the story's protagonist. No letter. No great shared moment in the past: nothing. So at this point the film is different and I waited on the edge of my seat for a new take on things. Clearly it seemed fated that she would be a lot different than his daydreams and that he would be more than she expected.
In delivering that new twist, the film sells out and falls short with a big thunderous 'thud'. It relies heavily on Beth's psychotic, military jerk of a mountain of muscle chasing our chicken little hero all over town to move the plot. Intermixed with it are very pointless and poorly executed jokes about our hero's best friend being secretly gay and far too much useful dialogue limited to car escape-and-drive scenes. It could only have gotten worse if it stooped to levels of gross-out humor and substance abuse humor key to the American Pie style of flicks.
Only two things come true. One is that the hero finds his idyllic image of the perfect teen cheerleader Beth Cooper is a flawed girl who does some crazy and surly things. She meanwhile seems to try to intentionally shows this to him, giving the lowly 'geek' a night on the town on her behalf. Second is that as we find Beth to be a girl certain her glory days have past and has no real future, the hero helps her remember how wonderful she really is.
What fails is that the delivery is weak and stunted and doesn't sell itself well. Can't Hardly Wait's 'William Lichter' character did a far better job in one night of really 'living the popular life' than anything we see here. Plus, rather than revealing Beth Cooper to be a shallow teen idol soon to fade away, why can't both characters equally learn from each other? Clearly the hero gets a nice taste of popularity, but Beth just gets a pep talk. Why couldn't it turn out the 'geek' could fit in well if he had only tried and Beth was bit more geeky and talented than she thought she was originally? That same type of dynamic is found when 2 side characters later find a love of film and acting that connects them. What better of a movie it would have been had the hero realized that being a social pariah was not his fate and that Beth had a future ahead of her she never expected. Then the entirety of the nights events of throwing them together would be very much a lesson for both, not just a poorly ended graduation night romp.
Recommended only for those who want to see a slightly different style of the American-Pie, Trojan War, Can't Hardly Wait type of movie but almost any of the rest of this genre delivers better entertainment.
1.5/4 or 4/10