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While similar in structure to many of the Coen Brothers' previous
films, "Inside Llewyn Davis" takes its time embracing the signature
style of the renowned filmmakers. It's not until almost halfway through
that the odd occurrences and even stranger characters begin to surface.
Chain-smoking valet poets, a pompous John Goodman channeling corpulent
Orson Welles, and mischievous orange cats begin to occupy the titular
protagonist's intermittently existential odyssey of self-discovery
after a meaty portion of slice-of-life drama and an ample array of
Though the staples are belated in comparison to much of the Coen's canon, their tardiness creates greater contrast and allows the impressive performance from Oscar Isaac to seep in. Here is a character far more accessible and attentively examined than any the visionary duo has offered in years. Thought provoking and somber, "Inside Llewyn Davis" bears the unmistakable mark of its creators, but also provides palatable emotion that eclipses the Coen's usual, heavily philosophical and experimental work.
Struggling to be heard in the 1960's folk music scene, musician Llewyn Davis (Oscar Isaac) performs in the Gaslight Café to make ends meet while attempting to promote his new album to prominent producers. Waning interest in solo acts and an unenthusiastic agent sheds little assurance for his professional career while his personal life doesn't fare much better. A bitter ex-girlfriend (Carey Mulligan) demands monetary assistance for past transgressions and a lack of income finds the songwriter traveling from couch to couch across Greenwich Village. Determined to confront record executive Bud Grossman (F. Murray Abraham), Llewyn begins a turbulent journey to Chicago, imbued with hope, despair, and mysterious crackpot travelers.
"Do you ever think about the future at all?" queries Mulligan's Jean. Coen Brothers' movies make the audience think. There's nothing straightforward about "Blood Simple," "Raising Arizona," "Barton Fink," "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" or "The Man Who Wasn't There." And this new film's lack of a decisive, conclusive, categorical story arc is just one of the ways they demand greater audience participation, forcing viewers to decipher meanings behind every action. Parallels to "The Incredible Journey" become more apparent when poster art is visible on camera, but the clearly circular pattern to Davis' functioning, as well as his pursuit, a rescue, and an accidental destruction of a cat, along with the final return of the neighbor's feline, symbolize the epic wandering from a starting point, through a twisting odyssey, and ultimately back to the very same origin. Time is also obscured to the point of nontraditional locomotion; while depicting a mere week, the lengthier dwelling on misadventures and disconcerting interactions disorients the characters on screen, who similarly seem confused about the amount of passing days.
It takes a bit of time to develop into a full-fledged Coen-esque picture, but by the cut-to-black finale, it's entirely fitting amongst their body of existentialism-oriented works. Folk songs are played out in their entirety, not only as live performances, but also to narrate overlapping sequences, immediately questioning the consequence of the music to the plot as it assumes the notion of watching a record. Fortunately, as the intricacies of the hardships of show business consume a depressing yet persevering main character, the songs don't overtake the appeal of the acting, the humor, or the detail-oriented observations of the early '60s folk scene. It may be tamer, not quite as saturated with oddball personalities (though Goodman steals the show as a particularly crass cynic), and slower to come into the purposeful suggestions of participation and presence, but Oscar Isaac is utterly absorbing, defining a consistently disheartened, browbeaten persona that can't help but to inspirationally get back up.
- The Massie Twins (GoneWithTheTwins.com)
Devoid of virtually any admirable emotions, characters, or resolutions,
"Out of the Furnace" is a grueling exploration into people and themes
unworthy of attention. So much time is spent building insipid,
disagreeable personas that when the pathos finally arrives it has
withered into ineffectual tedium. Though "revenge thriller" may not be
the genre label director Scott Cooper had in mind, "Out of the Furnace"
clearly nose-dives down that path. With its pervading sense of dread
and focus on retaliation, it can't expect exemption from such
designation. Yet any catharsis from vengeance is exhausted on
despicable decisions and protagonists who are often indistinguishable
from the villains. Bleak, raw, and uncompromising, "Out of the Furnace"
parallels the atmosphere of the superior "Winter's Bone," but leaves
out any hint of sacrifice, courage, and redemption.
Steel mill worker Russell Baze's (Christian Bale) life goes from bad to worse when he's involved in a drunk driving accident that lands him in jail. His girlfriend Lena (Zoe Saldana) leaves him, his ailing father passes away, and his gambling addicted brother Rodney (Casey Affleck) resorts to underground fistfights to pay his debts. After he's released from prison, Russell returns to his work at the mill and determines to turn his life around. But when Rodney goes missing after sinking into the high-stakes fights orchestrated by ruthless drug dealer Harlan DeGroat (Woody Harrelson), Russell seeks closure and retribution at any cost.
Everything about this film has been done before and exponentially more superiorly. It's particularly embarrassing that "Out of the Furnace" steals so blatantly from popular films that haven't faded from memory. Homage is one thing, but the purloined symbolism and character traits from "The Deer Hunter" are shocking: both are set in a small town, involve steel mill workers whose rites of passage involve war and the taking of lives, include love triangles fashioned out of absence, use violent games (one for coping, the other for money) to channel regret and depreciation, and feature the actual hunting of deer. The heavy focus on the criminal underbelly of Appalachian hill people is tacked on as a fascination for director Cooper, who seems personally amused by glorifying revenge and lawlessness and exposing the vicious villains engaged in seedy transgressions. Muted colors and grainy cinematography match the dreary activities, revealing a complete lack of artistic uniqueness.
Bale once again takes the reigns of a role steeped in griminess, destitution, and a seemingly inescapable system of lowlifes and alcohol diets, with a gun and willing collaborators never too far away. It's no longer interesting to see his transformational performances when he reverts back to a former assignment and here, a bland cast that fails to add anything fresh surrounds him (sympathetic parts are definitely unavailable). And this is taking into consideration the acquisition of a dirtbag trifecta, with Willem Dafoe and Harrelson rounding out perfectly cast white trash stereotypes. The pacing is also a hindrance, vexingly dragging out a simple revenge premise that is further frustrated by tragically innocent collateral damage, entirely attributed to Russell's unintelligent disorganization. He's not a coolly merciless avenger, but rather a sloppy, accidentally serendipitous killer.
- The Massie Twins (GoneWithTheTwins.com)
Although it shares numerous similarities with "Tangled" from 2010,
"Frozen" still manages to impart an amusing story, entertaining
characters, humor, and heart better than the majority of computer
animated rivals this year. Deceptively, and as conspicuously avoided by
teasers and trailers, this loose adaptation of Hans Christian
Andersen's "The Snow Queen" is a musical, which might clearly dismay a
large portion of movie-going audiences while also delighting fans of
modernized Broadway infusions. Shedding the darker themes of
splintered, perception distorting mirrors and deadly kisses, "Frozen"
instead opts for the lighter fare of true love, sisterly bonding, and
As little girls in the palace of Arendelle, princesses Anna and Elsa were inseparable. But Elsa was born with the power to manipulate and command icy matter, which results in the accidental injuring of her sister. With the help of magical mossy trolls, Anna is saved, but the king and queen insist that Elsa's abilities must be kept hidden, outside contact remain limited, and the staff is drastically reduced. When their parents drown at sea, the siblings continue their quarantine until, three years later, it is time for Elsa's coronation.
Anna (Kristen Bell), now a young woman, is anxious to find true love. She's so restless that she falls for the first man she meets the debonair Hans (Santino Fontana) from the Southern Isles. She hastily announces her engagement to Elsa (Idina Menzel), who is unable to discipline her temper or frosty touch, causing the townsfolk, including fearmonger neighbor the Duke of Weselton (Alan Tudyk), to panic. Fleeing the city walls, Elsa decamps to the mountains, where she constructs a massive ice castle for isolation. As Arendelle becomes frozen over with wintery conditions, Anna departs into the woods in search of her sister, hoping she can convince her to reverse the climatic damage. She's guided by mountain man Kristoff (Jonathan Groff) and his faithful reindeer Sven, who must contend with an abominable snowman, the fearful new snow queen, and an obvious love triangle dilemma.
In "Frozen," the heroes are heroic and the villains are refreshingly villainous. Plenty of adventure works its way into the picture, along with heartfelt moments of sacrifice, stirring compassion, and unexpected deviousness from ambiguously motivated characters. While most of the roles are coordinated around singing, the purely comic relief, waddling, buck-toothed snowman Olaf (Josh Gad) is exceptionally hilarious, never delivering an impotent line and capable of inspiring laughs based entirely on visual gags. In a way, it's unfortunate his role wasn't even greater, though his importance to the plot fluctuates. One of the most memorable songs is performed by Olaf as a montage of summertime daydreaming (with some wittily calamitous ruminations on enjoying the heat), not entirely disparate from Mrs. Lovett's "By the Sea" digression in "Sweeney Todd." The story occasionally transforms around the musical numbers, but they're of notably momentous design. Choruses are booming while dialogue shifts into melodic verses. Transitions aren't always natural, and spontaneous crooning can feel disruptive when conversations are weighty (in the middle of an argument a song breaks out), but the pieces conducted in solitude are especially moving. Outside of the music, "Frozen" is a captivatingly old-fashioned fairy tale full of action, comedy, and romance. In addition, following the tradition of Pixar's works, the film is opened by a short film here, "Get a Horse!" features Mickey, Minnie, Clarabelle Cow, and Horace Horsecollar as they battle the infamous Peg-Leg Pete. It uniquely blends black-and-white, '20s-styled traditional animation with very impressive 3D, breaking the boundaries of the screen in a fascinatingly creative manner.
- Mike Massie (GoneWithTheTwins.com)
Rarely does an action movie suffer from too much story. In the case of
"Homefront," an abundance of go-nowhere set-ups, extraneous
predicaments, and unnecessary complications on already trying
situations detract from the simple enjoyment of seeing tough guy Jason
Statham pound on his enemies. When the martial artist metes out his own
brand of head-smashing justice to ruthless biker gangs and thuggish
drug dealers, the adrenaline rush is entertainingly high (as can be
expected from a screenplay by Sylvester Stallone). But mixing in
merciless killers, meth labs, and junkies with young children results
in some uncomfortably dark scenarios that, while amplifying the
intensity, significantly decreases the fun. At least the supporting
cast, playing mostly against type, bolsters the otherwise modest
After an undercover job for the DEA ends in tragedy, agent Phil Broker (Jason Statham) moves to the remote rural town of Rayville, Louisiana, to raise his young daughter Maddy (Izabela Vidovic). But it isn't long before Broker gets entangled in the lives of his neighbors. The impetuous addict Cassie (Kate Bosworth) forces her brother Morgan "Gator" Bodine (James Franco), the local drug kingpin, to teach the stalwart newcomer a lesson about bruised egos, reputations, and public humiliation. When the overzealous meth dealer uses his girlfriend's (Winona Ryder) connections to recruit a vicious biker gang with a personal vendetta against the former officer, Broker must wage a bloody war against them as well, to defend his family and his new home.
Questionable commentary on children witnessing bloodshed, youths involved in violence, and the parental influences that spawn bullying are brought up in "Homefront," a film that couldn't be further from the appropriate base for purposefully preaching about such matters. It's practically antithetical when Statham hugs his daughter while still clutching a weapon of execution, or turns the tables on his torturers by inflicting tortuous pain on them in return (via a swift screwdriver and a handy car battery). Of course, it's also largely entertaining when indisputably vile enemies are grandiosely dispatched or when a pudgy bully is bloodied and beaten to the ground by a little girl. Designing the role of troublemaker Gator to be a semi-sympathetic, understandably misguided, smalltime crook greedily getting involved with completely hardened murderers also contrasts the original black-and-white outlook on violence, demonstrating a shade of gray that carries over into Ryder's initially unwilling negotiator and Bosworth's eventually reforming tweaker.
The opening scene itself is an example of "Lethal Weapon" styled, over-the-top, explosive heroism, with Statham donning the familiar camouflage of a wig and covert operations accessories (a la the pitiful previous outing, "Parker") to not only annihilate an illegal drug operation but also apprehend the top two chieftains. Round after round of hired thugs continue to approach Broker and he continues to rough them up while serving as a role model for his daughter and staying one step away from landing the romantic interest (Rachelle Lefevre). Poor Statham apparently can't be written to be both a father and a lover. Ultimately, "Homefront" is a touch slow to get past the repetitive scenes of fist-fighting buildup to delve into the real story (which is instigated by the extremely curious possession of his own top secret, classified, undercover police files) and main action, highlighted by tense confrontations with Franco and his lowlife posse and the vengeful biker gang that totes automatic firepower and overlooks the heinousness of slaughtering children as collateral damage. But in a Jason Statham movie, lessons on violence are often overcome by the sheer entertainment of his bombastic fighting abilities.
- The Massie Twins
Frazzled, grizzled senior Woodrow T. Grant (Bruce Dern) of Billings,
Montana is adamant about walking to Lincoln, Nebraska to collect a
$1,000,000 sweepstakes prize. It's a gimmicky marketing promotion that
isn't worth the sheet of wrinkled paper it's printed on, but that
doesn't stop Woody from falling for the false advertising. His
obstinate wife Kate (June Squibb) claims she'd put him in a nursing
home if she had the prize money, equally insistent that the old man's
obsession not be buoyed by their son's encouragement. David Grant (Will
Forte) knows there's no cash, but wishes to let his father have his
little fantasy for a few days more, as it clearly gives him something
to live for.
When Woody refuses to give up on his mission to reach Nebraska, David calls in sick to his electronics store job and plans a road trip. As the journey starts, Woody's alcoholism leads to a brief hospitalization that extends their vacation through the weekend. They stop in Hawthorne to stay with Aunt Martha (Mary Louise Wilson) and Uncle Ray (Rance Howard), where a small reunion of nearby relatives is planned. During their visit, Woody can't help but reveal his newly acquired millionaire status to all sorts of acquaintances, igniting rumors amongst the townsfolk, resulting in plenty of small talk, delusions of grandeur, and "buzzards" from the past coming forward to demand a cut of the winnings.
As if to mirror Woodrow's meager, deteriorating situation, his son lives in a tiny, shabby apartment full of dying plants, with nothing to do in his free time and a chubby ex-girlfriend (Missy Doty) who desires some epiphanic development or sincere commitment to their two-year relationship. Somber music chimes in with melancholy notes to further augment the moroseness of the characters and premise. Stark black-and-white cinematography is also employed, perhaps to highlight the uncomplicated motives of simple people, or to give corresponding colorlessness to the visual bleakness of poverty, old age, and the seemingly inescapable, meandering spiral of small town contentment that sparks evanescent ambition.
Director Alexander Payne culls humor from the despondency, easily extracting the jocose authenticity of waning years through mental declension, stubbornness, and frank conversing. It's certainly funnier from an outside perspective; those who can relate to caring for the elderly might not be as amused. A drink in a bar evolves into a bonding session for father and son that is primarily saddening the pondering of failed relationships, disinterest in love and raising children, and a general lack of compassion proves to be sorrowful stuff. Solid jokes do come along, but the pacing is slow and the spotlight placed on the pitifulness of the supporting roles is occasionally enraging.
While examining the lengths some will go to bestow happiness on others, and the revelation of waiting until the last minute to achieve a worthwhile legacy or bequest, quirky old people spout off-color comments and speak candidly about sex for a few laughs, with the younger characters matching witlessness through physical idiocies. Dern delivers a fine performance (a considerable distance away from ruthlessly killing John Wayne) and Forte and Bob Odenkirk (as the less encouraging son Ross) excellently provide personas on the opposite end of their standard comic relief parts. But it takes too long to get to the point, presenting a purpose that is as plodding as Woody's gait.
- Mike Massie (GoneWithTheTwins.com)
As if designed to lead up to Chuck Workman's "American Masters" episode
"The Source: The Story of the Beats and the Beat Generation," John
Krokidas' keenly titled "Kill Your Darlings" traces the origins of
three prominent poets just before World War II. Unlike the
aforementioned documentary, which briefly had dramatizations by Dennis
Hopper, Johnny Depp, and John Turturro, this new biopic is very much a
movie. Mixing in romance, familial impasses, and even murder, it's
still designed to be "based on a true story," though the artistic
license is questionably unrestrained.
In 1943, young Allen Ginsberg (Daniel Radcliffe) of Paterson New Jersey is accepted into Columbia University in New York. In Professor Stevens' poetry class, Allen speaks out against tradition and form, praising Walt Whitman and his rule-breaking distaste for the "fascist" notions of meter and rhyme. He attracts the attention of Lucien Carr (Dane DeHaan), a fellow creative insurgent who introduces the impressionable Ginsberg to writer William Burroughs (Ben Foster) and former teacher David Kammerer (Michael C. Hall). Infatuated with Carr's attitude, they begin to form the blueprints for a new kind of progressive anarchical literature. When Lucien also recruits the influential and talented ex-merchant marine Jack Kerouac (Jack Huston), Allen's disorienting romantic relationship with Carr is poised to fall apart.
Despite the complicated relationships, the conflicts, the secrets, and the controversial, outmoded honor slaying defense routine, the film still manages to paint uninteresting depictions of three revolutionary writers. It's as if a borderline inconsequential backstory led up to the maturation of artists whose professional lives would have been far more absorbing in cinematic representations. The audience isn't allowed to gain a sense of who they would become (unless they're already familiar with their history). Revealing influences that would typically be immoderate, including homosexuality in the '40s, attempted suicide, institutionalization for schizophrenia, and finally manslaughter, viewers only see rebellious or troubled youths struggling to survive adolescence not the commencement of a radically different adoption of values, spawned from the contempt of traditional social and political systems.
In "Kill Your Darlings," successful artists can only be manufactured through trauma, harrowing situations, and derangement of the senses. All three hopeful poets imbibe, smoke constantly, and experiment with drugs; real inspiration, it seems, must be orchestrated through hallucinogenic, out-of-body experiences. In an attempt to shatter expectations, whether good or bad, Ginsberg and his gang transform into rebels, outcasts, and pranksters. In the context of the picture, it never leads to artistry merely psychologically metamorphic activities that either try the patience or spill into overly sexually graphic territory that will abrasively pull audiences out of the fictionalization.
There's far too little of the poetic dialogue that cleverly alludes to Ginsberg's later life, and entirely too much intrusive jazz music to denote the time period. The editing is also a bore, with its disoriented climax presented at the start, before doubling back to play catch-up. The casting, with its vast assortment of leftover but recognizable character actors (Michael C. Hall, Ben Foster, David Cross, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Elizabeth Olsen, Kyra Sedgwick, John Cullum), provides minimal amusement; but clearly its Daniel Radcliffe's film as he continues to seek out increasingly edgier roles. For this project, however, he's still the all too familiar bespectacled, timid intellect trying futilely to be anything else.
- The Massie Twins (GoneWithTheTwins.com)
"The Counselor" is anything but subtle. It's also not very inventive.
The film's advisory philosophy and views on moral dilemmas and greed
are made in the first few minutes, leaving the audience with an
additional hour-and-a-half of grueling inevitability. Scant mystery is
offered as conspicuous conversations forewarn of the dismal fate that
will befall all involved. While Cormac McCarthy's novels have garnered
much acclaim for their style and ideology, the original screenplay for
"The Counselor" attempts to simply replicate the elements the author
has become known for, rather than provide a new vision. Glaring
violence, the warlike nature of man, and even a nameless protagonist
appear as monotonous staples and weaken any sense of distinction. It's
as if the script was made up of the conservative moments of an
"unfilmable" McCarthy story and all the worthwhile sequences didn't
make it into the picture.
Despite numerous admonishments about the destructive power of greed, the Counselor (Michael Fassbender) agrees to invest in a shipment of drugs coming from Juarez, Mexico. His friends Reiner (Javier Bardem) and Westray (Brad Pitt) both support and chide his decision, but with his recent proposal to girlfriend Laura (Penelope Cruz), the Counselor determines such a venture essential to his financial betterment. When the truck carrying the drugs is hijacked, and the murdered driver coincidentally links back to the Counselor, the enraged cartel begins hunting down the attorney and all those associated with him. Forced to make a quick getaway, the lawyer must make a choice that will affect the lives of all he holds dear.
McCarthy's screenplay is trying to convey a message that was obvious from the beginning. But its delivery is so heavy-handed, blunt, and grating that there is no room for charming subtlety or slowly unveiled cleverness. It's beaten into the viewer's mind through tyrannical repetition. In an attempt to mimic an oversevere Tarantino, crafting alternately absurdly sexual accounts and cryptically wordy conversations, "The Counselor" couldn't be further from the amusing variant it sought. The opening scene is almost laughable in its romantic phoniness (a later phone sex sequence in which the audience is only privy to the man's words is also conspicuously inefficient) and the significant details in verbal observations betray a complete lack of delicacy such that when a tale is told, particulars are included and they becomes a plot device that makes a downstream appearance.
This results in a cautionary story of bleak proportions, with disagreeable characters encountering dissatisfying endings. Anticipation looms, but its not thrilling; in a way, it manifests a sense of dread, knowing that grisly things will take place solely because they were alluded to earlier in the script. And there's a lot of waiting nearly an hour passes before the protagonist is fully aware of his unintentional implications and grim elements start to surface. But empathy is slippery as the characters are knowledgeably fueled by avarice, naivety, and a false sense of superiority. It's very much McCarthy and very unentertaining.
- The Massie Twins (GoneWithTheTwins.com)
The very conceit of a muscular genius who breaks out of prisons for a
handsome living seems wildly far-fetched. Partner him with another
burly brainiac and toss them into a virtually inescapable facility and
you have "Escape Plan." Yet while the premise is certainly
preposterous, as are the surmounting obstacles obstructing the
detainees' freedom, the fun is impressively consistent. Action giants
Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger fill the screen with the
expected fistfights, shootouts, and stern-faced machismo, but are also
afforded several clever moments of intricate plotting for their daring
getaways. Perhaps it's too much to believe an ex-lawyer could be
seasoned in not only law, but also computer programming, medicine,
chemistry, nautical tools, and hand-to-hand combat, but if one can look
past such diverse proficiencies, "Escape Plan" rarely slows down.
Ray Breslin (Sylvester Stallone) has a very unique set of skills. Able to find the flaws in any prison facility, Breslin inserts himself into correctional institutions and then breaks out to demonstrate their weaknesses. When a government agent offers Breslin double his normal fee (a staggering $5 million) to test a non-sanctioned experimental prison, his partners Abigail (Amy Ryan) and Hush (Curtis Jackson) urge him to decline - but the confident escape artist is intrigued by the challenge. Once there, Breslin realizes he's been set up and discovers he's trapped in a steel labyrinth designed specifically against his techniques of escape. Now, with no help from the outside and a sadistic warden (Jim Caviezel) monitoring his every move, Breslin must team up with cunning inmate Rottmayer (Arnold Schwarzenegger) to plan the biggest prison break of his career to save his life.
With this plot and cast, "Escape Plan" is what "The Expendables" should have been. In many ways, it's reminiscent of guilty pleasure shoot-'em-up extravaganzas from the '90s (with numerous examples starring Stallone and Schwarzenegger individually). But it's not enough simply to place two of the biggest action stars of yesteryear together on screen and with the extensive character development and detailed premise, this hard-edged actioner recognizes the necessity of supplemental theatrical constitution. Slow-motion, heavy artillery, physical violence, a welcomingly age-appropriate love interest, an inordinately felonious villain, and thuggish henchmen further adorn what would have been a run-of-the-mill thriller. Somewhere amidst all of the over-the-top idiosyncrasies and sardonic dialogue, an undeniable bit of entertainment arises, managing intermittently to outpace the imperfections of this take on "The Count of Monte Cristo" (or harbinger of the upcoming "Oldboy" remake).
The title sequence abruptly cuts off the opening scene, as if the editors had to work with grossly insufficient footage. The brilliancy of Breslin's initial breakout is hampered by a replaying of the entire ordeal, adding in footage like the step-by-step spoiling of a magic trick. And Breslin accepts the new job without any real hesitation, as if scripting believable discord would have slowed down the narrative too much. And yet, with the inclusion of intentional humor (and plenty of unintentional tackiness), amusing camaraderie, unexpected peril, and the bracing revelation that the prison break mastermind depends not only on studying layouts and routines, but also requires inside and outside help, "Escape Plan" holds its own as a sturdy example of silly but cool filmmaking. Refreshingly, he also always has a "Plan B" that can be utilized when procedures become predictable.
- The Massie Twins (GoneWithTheTwins.com)
This is the epitome of pointless movie remakes. Never does a scene
improve upon the original, or even introduce an element that might have
been overlooked or under-explored from Stephen King's source material.
It's not a shot-for-shot redo, but in its attempt to be faithful to the
themes and subject matter, nothing is presented with any spontaneity or
flair. There are no surprises and the creepiness of 1976's theatrical
adaptation has somehow completely vanished. Do the filmmakers honestly
believe they'll find audiences that are unaware of "Carrie's" plot or
the steady build to the spectacularly tumultuous finale?
Carrie White (Chloe Grace Moretz) is shy and odd, attempting to stay out of the spotlight whenever possible. At school, she has no friends and interacts with teachers and students as little as possible. Her mother Margaret (Julianne Moore) is a fanatical, abusively castigating woman, mentally traumatized from her own unhealthily zealous upbringing. When the misinformed Carrie has her first period in Ms. Desjardin's (Judy Greer) P.E. class, she thinks she's dying and is mercilessly ostracized by her classmates. Tormentor Sue Snell (Gabriella Wilde) recognizes her cruelty and convinces her boyfriend Tommy Ross (Ansel Elgort) to take Carrie to the prom as atonement. But bullying ringleader Chris Hargensen (Portia Doubleday) and her violent lover Billy Nolan (Alex Russell) decide to lash out at Carrie again, this time blaming her for their banishment from prom.
The opening sequence adds a touch of extra blood and distress to Carrie's origins, with Margaret's uncertainty foreshadowing the teen's own naivety toward her physical maturation. But it also warns of the primary visual difference with this update: highly ineffective computer graphics. "Carrie" is the sort of story that doesn't need to be augmented with flashy, manipulated imagery, so it's particularly disappointing that the use of CG only impairs the disturbing qualities of the blood-splattering conclusion. Viewers will also likely scoff at the inclusion of a camera phone, internet uploading, and a "Dancing with the Stars" reference. Slightly modernized recreations of strikingly iconic sequences are almost laughable.
Chloe Grace Moretz is sadly miscast as Carrie, clearly unable to convey the unsettling awkwardness, reclusiveness, and eventual ghoulishness necessary for deadly telekinetic mayhem. She's cute, capable, reasoning, opinionated on her own competent interpretation of the bible, and quickly learns to discipline her supernatural gift, which appears to drastically contradict the previously terrifying aura of an abused soul pushed to the limits. Instead of snapping, with her mind spiraling out of control, she is instead a lucid killer specifically exacting revenge. As soon as she dominates her otherworldly powers, she's a superhero - not a crazed, unresponsive medium of reprisal. It also doesn't help that the supporting characters are entirely black and white: in their interactions with Carrie, each one is either genuinely remorseful or a vengeful serial killer in the making.
Julianne Moore is more comfortable in her role, convincingly looking the part, but isn't scripted to bring fresh concepts to the table. And Judy Greer is a pathetically comical choice for the gym teacher. In compensation for an obvious avoidance of nudity, a Cronenberg-esque body horror idea is appended, along with a brief courtroom skit (perhaps for realism), twin girl accomplices (Karissa and Katie Strain, seemingly because they were handy) and a supremely out-of-place dressing montage (like something out of a romantic comedy). The bland, repetitive revisions to Brian De Palma's classic thriller repeatedly summon questions as to why anyone thought it would be fruitful to rethink "Carrie" so similarly, especially in regards to informed audiences of 2013.
- The Massie Twins (GoneWithTheTwins.com)
Save for the obligatory (and only slightly fake) preview trailer and
the opening credits speckled with decay, little remains truly
"Grindhouse" about "Machete Kills." While the plot is purposely
ludicrous and strangely reminiscent of James Bond's "Moonraker"
adventure, the dialogue fluctuates between self-reflective hilarity and
just plain cringe-worthy antics. The men clearly get the brunt of good
lines while the girls are relegated to spewing trashy nonsense and
juvenile taunts. The action sequences fall into a disappointingly
similar pattern. Decapitated heads and other over-the-top
dismemberments are accompanied by excessive gush and gurgle, but such
silliness continues even into the moments that desperately need serious
spectacle over repetitive bloodletting. While mockery of 3D, Charlie
Sheen as President, and a Swiss Army knife-machete are all clever and
witty, Gatling gun bras, Lady Gaga, and a face-changing hit-man outstay
their welcome almost immediately.
When maniacal Mexican revolutionary Marco Mendez (Demian Bichir) claims to have a missile aimed at Washington, D.C., President Rathcock (Charlie Sheen) sends ex-federale Machete Cortez (Danny Trejo) into Acapulco to assess the situation. Informed by his handler, Miss San Antonio (Amber Heard), that the key to locating Mendez is through his mistress Cereza (Vanessa Hudgens), Machete rescues the prostitute who then escorts him to the madman's lair. Once there, Machete discovers that not only is the missile a real threat, but also billionaire arms dealer Luther Voz (Mel Gibson) is behind the nefarious plot. Now, with less than 24 hours to save the world, Machete must deliver a ticking human time bomb across the border, evade an elusive assassin, and outwit a clairvoyant sociopath hell-bent on plunging the world into darkness.
It must be a tremendously difficult task to purposely make a bad movie. Most filmmakers try their absolute best to craft a high-caliber piece; it's only when they fail spectacularly that cult classics are born. Director Robert Rodriguez has only mimicked a grindhouse flick in visual style and subject matter: dirty, scratched film riddled with artifacts and themes of revenge, betrayal, and murder. But what he hopes to accomplish is designing a movie that is so bad it's good a B-movie that transcends its low budget, subpar acting, and overall middle-of-the-road production value. Instead, he's constructed a considerably mediocre film, refusing to acknowledge that time-tested supporting masterpieces were almost always accidental and that self-aware outrageousness doesn't translate as anything but overreaching.
Refashioning an exploitation extravaganza for the 21st century has already been done. Here, it's redone, utilizing all of the same tactics while failing to add anything new. It's so repetitive, gimmicky, and commonplace that it's occasionally boring. All of the computer-generated blood, bevies of recognizable celebrities, and over-the-top dialogue can't save "Machete Kills" from being an intentionally second-rate affair. It's loaded with blonde women, voluptuous cleavage, beheadings, severed limbs, and explosions. And yet, for some unexplainable reason, there's not a drop of nudity in the whole film, going so far as to deliberately avoid it. What a disappointment that will be for the target audience, hoping to catch a glimpse of flesh from the femme fatale filled cast.
Bad guys are bad, good guys are bad, a bordello is overrun with machinegun-toting hookers, intestinal tenacity is undeniable (remixing the best scene from the original "Machete"), the plot is stolen from "Escape from New York," and the opening title sequence resembles a James Bond concept reject. Every pitiful element is questionably premeditated and the amateurish feel is entirely willful. But too often, eccentricities don't go far enough, or cheesy dialogue goes too far. And the abundance of cameos is handled completely incorrectly rather than filling existing roles with interesting catches, the screenplay seems as if parts were written as an addition each time a new actor joined the cast. At least Mel Gibson and Charlie Sheen are comfortable approaching ridiculous characters with a moderate sense of genuineness.
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