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Saturday, February 27, 2010

District 13: Ultimatum (2010)

In 2004 Pierre Morel directed District 13, a French-language action flick mixing parkour with guns, government and the walled in ghettos of Paris, France. Co-written by Luc Besson the film earned enough buzz, and Morel's work was appreciated enough that he went on to direct Taken (also co-written by Besson) to a domestic box-office total eclipsing $145 million and a bona fide action-director career. While Morel isn't back for this sequel it will be interesting to see if the same luck finds new director Patrick Alessandrin considering the two films are almost carbon copies of one another.

Set two years after the original film, District 13: Ultimatum is set in 2013 and the government's promise to clean up the Paris ghetto dubbed D-13 has not been kept. The government has little interest in its inhabitants, and why should it? Populated by drug dealers, gunrunners and criminals it's not exactly a haven for young children, newlywed couples and white picket fences. However, our vigilante hero Leito, played by David Belle returning to the role he played in the original, is determined to clean things up as this film sets out to tell pretty much the exact same story the first one told. Keep in mind when I say "exact" I'm not straying too far from the truth.

Returning with Belle is Cyril Raffaelli playing undercover cop Damien Tomaso as they must face off against a government agency whose goal is to evacuate D-13 and demolish the crumbling cityscape so they can make a real estate deal on the sly and profit from the misfortune of others. Standard silliness for an action film simply interested in figuring out a way to set up moments of chaos, but it is amateur hour in the script department as all of Damien and Lieto's investigating leads them to the knowledge the contractor set to benefit from all of this is called Harriburton giving us the following hilarious exchange:

Damien: The Prez demolishes, Harriburton rebuilds.

Lieto: Like in Iraq.

Damien: Yeah… except they're French.

Good thing they spelled that out, because I wasn't quite understanding the name similarity. Sheesh.

It hardly needs to be said, but the plot of this thing is paper thin, so much so the subtitles are hardly necessary as the story can be figured out without a single spoken word. However, that doesn't mean it doesn't entertain. It just means it's entertaining in that straight-to-DVD kind of way, which is pretty much how I expect most people will end up seeing it.

This isn't a big surprise – as anyone that saw the original already knows – this is glossy videogame-esque fodder. Movies like this are space-fillers and while the original made a minor stir this sequel won't find the same traction. More of the same and less interesting is never a recipe for success, but that isn't to say District 13: Ultimatum director Patrick Alessandrin isn't using the film as a stepping stone the same way Morel did.

As I said, Morel went from District 13 to Taken starring Liam Neeson and it appears Alessandrin is finding similar momentum as he preps the action thriller Protection which is set to star Clive Owen. It seems writer/producer Luc Besson knows what he's doing as he not only brought these two French directors to Hollywood, but Incredible Hulk and Clash of the Titans remake helmer Louis Leterrier is yet another French prodigy of Besson's. Perhaps that fact alone makes District 13: Ultimatum a film to watch all on its own. However, I wouldn't recommend you waste too much effort as I can only imagine this one will be streaming for free on Netflix very shortly, much like its predecessor.


Friday, February 26, 2010

Edge of Darkness (2010)

If you were looking for Edge of Darkness to be as entertaining as last year's vengeful father thriller Taken you will be sorely disappointed. Surely that was the goal for Warner Bros. as it aims to take advantage of the exact same release date that earned Taken nearly $150 million at last year's domestic box-office. However, WB shouldn't be on the lookout for a similar return as the "from the director of Casino Royale" tagline and what's left of Mel Gibson's star power is sure to only grant this film a modest opening weekend as word-of-mouth won't be strong.

Written by the same man that turned the Hong Kong thriller "Infernal Affairs" into the Boston area crime drama The Departed, William Monahan, this time, adapts the 1985 BBC miniseries of the same name into another Boston adventure and while the accents are over-cooked and obvious so are the mundane plot twists.

Every move of this thing is telegraphed and while Mel investigates, if you aren't willing to talk he's likely to bash your face in. Occasionally he'll only ask a name before smashing some guy in the nose and taking him for a tumble down a hill. Edge of Darkness is a beat-'em-over-the-head thriller that's trying way too hard to be smart and comes off just plain dumb. It's a film ripe for an episode of "Mystery Science Theater" as a laugh track would have made the third act more tolerable.

Director Martin Campbell has proven over time he can churn out a good actioner as evidenced by Casino Royale, GoldenEye (sort of) and Mask of Zorro, but this film just sits there — lifeless from the start to the point you begin questioning each scene rather than absorbing them. Such as how did that car know when she was going to open that door? Why didn't they just kill him in the first place? Lord knows had they shot both Thomas and Emma in the opening act the audience would have been saved from the tedium that followed.


Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Daybreakers (2010)

Daybreakers is an interesting entry into the vampire genre, basically throwing up its hands in the face of the recent rash of vampire films and TV shows and saying, "Fine. Vampires… you win. You can have the world, but good luck figuring out how to survive after you kill all the humans and run out of blood."

It's 2019, vampires are in control of everything, and the remaining humans not being farmed for their blood are on the run and in hiding. Using corporate greed vs. the betterment of society as its catalyst Daybreakers offers some interesting concepts, but is only satisfying on the most basic of levels. Primarily due to the fact its concept doesn't far enough and all the surprises are pretty much telegraphed throughout the picture.

The story follows Ethan Hawke, playing a vampire blood doctor working for the world's largest blood supplier, and as the amount of human blood remaining is on the decline he and his team have been charged with developing a synthetic blood to ensure the vampires' survival. ("True Blood" anyone?) As it turns out, a lack of regular blood causes normal vampires to turn into gruesomely deformed beasties. As things become dire, Hawke joins forces with a group of humans who claim to have a cure for the vampire virus, which means instead of causing the extinction of the human race and relying on synthetic blood, vampirism can be eliminated altogether.

I'm a fan of Hawke and I think he is always watchable, whether it's in one of my personal all-time favorites Before Sunset, the Oscar-winning Training Day or even the remake of Assault on Precinct 13, which itself is similar to the B-movie fare we have here with Daybreakers. He's a cool cat and he plays his characters well, rarely stepping into that region of over-acting.

Daybreakers also gets a great performance out of Sam Neill playing corporate head-honcho Charles Bromley, an upper crust-vampire you may find turning the pages of "Cigar Aficionado" and he fills the shoes perfectly. However, the best casting may have been the decision to bring in Willem Dafoe and not cast him as a vampire. I hear vampire movie and Willem Dafoe and I automatically think he'll be the big dog leading some pack of vampires to destroy any and all humans in his way. No sir. Instead he plays a member of the human resistance who goes by the nickname Elvis. It's a pleasure watching the old dog work.


Monday, February 22, 2010

Sherlock Holmes (2009)

As a big fan of both Robert Downey Jr. and director Guy Ritchie my hopes were high for Sherlock Holmes, and it does succeed on some levels, but it never really rises above a one note comedic routine with a mystery at its core. I should also mention I have never read a single word of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's detective novels and have no idea if this adaptation holds true to the source material or deviates drastically. If you're looking for that kind of commentary I just can't oblige, but I will say it's entertaining as a theatrical outing and sets itself up nicely for franchise capabilities. However, in its attempt to kick start a franchise it does feel as if this one is bloated and trying to disguise the fact it's a bit weak when it comes to story.

The film establishes Sherlock Holmes (Robert Downey Jr.) as a highly sought after, yet easily bored detective of quite the eccentric sort. With him is his sidekick Dr. John Watson played by Jude Law. Downey and Law make for an entertaining pair and it is their performances and banter back-and-forth keeping this film from getting too boring, but it also makes for that "one note" element I referred to earlier.

At its core, Sherlock Holmes is a 19th century buddy cop movie. It's hardly any different than the set up for Lethal Weapon with Watson taking on the role of Danny Glover as the level-headed one interested in retiring from the detective business and Sherlock is Mel Gibson, the eccentric one that just gets things done, but not without making a mess. The bond formed between the two culminates in a very well done scene late in the film, but everything the two get involved in just isn't that interesting.

Holmes soon finds himself engaged in a case dealing with the villainous Lord Blackwood (Mark Strong). Blackwood dabbles in black magic and following his recent hanging has risen from the dead and is attempting to take over the country with his diabolical plan. Mu hu ha ha haaa! None of this feels new and for as adventuresome and entertaining as Watson and Holmes are as a duo, the action sequences never seem to live up to the lead in as Holmes finds obvious satisfaction in the challenge presented by his resurrected foe.

I've heard some complaints regarding Sherlock's use of action and hand-to-hand combat. Apparently there seems to be a disagreement on just how much of a physical force Sherlock was in Doyle's stories, because he is quite capable here. Ritchie has also brought his signature editing style to the proceedings taking the opportunity to not only show off Holmes's talent as a martial artist, but to also show how his superior intellect plays a role in his winning moves. It's an interesting approach, but it almost felt old before I even saw it played out to completion.

The highlight is undoubtedly Downey and Law as a detective team — as it should be. This is actually the kind of role I love seeing Jude Law in, one where he gets to have some fun and show off a rather interesting bit of comedic timing. He's got a unique look and I think it plays well in conjunction with Downey's rather over-the-top and erratic portrayal of Holmes.

Mark Strong wasn't given much to work with as Blackwood. To tell you the truth it was a character that never really felt all that menacing, especially considering the threat he was said to have posed. Holmes never seemed concerned or worried about Blackwood as much as he was merely curious as to how he was pulling of all of his "tricks." As a result, each scene felt like a simple stepping stone to figuring out a puzzle the audience is never much made a part of. While I was never ahead of the game, I was never thinking there was much at stake, which eliminated most of the tension.

If you're wondering about Rachel McAdams, she plays an important role in the film, but I would never say she was used to the fullest. The only characters that even remotely seem fully fleshed out are Holmes and Watson and while they are the primary leads of the feature, the fact their opponents and allies can't match up is a problem.

I would say if you are interested in seeing Sherlock Holmes then by all means check it out in theaters. There is enough spectacle and back-and-forth between Holmes and Watson to make it worthwhile. Just don't set your hopes too high. I have a hard time believing people will come out of the film and say they weren't entertained, but I think many will say it doesn't live up to the billing or initial expectations. Here's to hoping the sequel will change all that.


Sunday, February 21, 2010

Quantum Apocalypse (2010)

Quantum Apocalypse (2010)

Quantum Apocalypse – Directed by Justin Jones. Written by Leigh Scott.

Starring: Rhett Giles, Stephanie Jacobsen, Gigi Edgley, Kristen Quintrall.

Tagline: SyFy still releases bad movies.

The idea for this doozy of a disaster movie is simple. A vortex is headed towards Earth and NASA has 39 hours to save the world… again.

While the movie was worth watching to see eye-candy such as Gigi Edgley and Kristen Jacobsen, that was about as far as my interest got in this low budget flick.

There are too many mistakes throughout the movie that brings down the movie’s overall rating. For some reason, Trish’s (Gigi Edgley) clothing keep changing throughout the movie. Lynne (Stephanie Jacobsen) gives her stepson a handgun, and she is a police officer – right, good logical thinking there.
The effects were below average. I especially loved the part where the vortex starts ripping the house apart, and one wooden pillar becomes twisted in it shape like it was made of rubber. Wood usually splinters?
The best part about the movie would have to be the acting of Rhett Giles which is actually quite nice in this horrendous movie.


Alvin and The Chipmunks 2

Alvin and The Chipmunks - The Squeakquel

Rating: 5/10

Cast: Alvin, Simon, Theodore, Zachary Levi, Jason Lee, David Cross, Wendie Malick

Director: Betty Thomas

Alvin and the gang are back in this hideously titled follow up to Alvin and the Chipmunks.

This time, Alvin, Theodore and Simon are facing a life away from their pal Dave (Jason Lee - who's reduced to a mere cameo in this sequel) after an accident at a concert lands him in hospital.

Dave dispatches the helium voiced trio to live with his nephew Toby (Zachary Levi) - and as an added bonus, Dave decides it's time for them to go to school.

As if the peer pressure of fitting in at an American high school wasn't bad enough, the Chipmunks face a new threat - a female equivalent trio, the Chipettes, who are being masterminded by former manager Ian Hawke (David Cross) who's determined to get back into the big time and rain on Alvin's parade.

Can the Chipmunks beat their toughest ever threats and triumph?

So it's summer and the movies are all really about entertainment at the moment particularly with the school holidays now in full force.

Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel isn't bad entertainment - it just unfortunately fails to bridge the all ages gap. There'll be some younger movie goers who'll love the fart gags and the continuing pratfalls of the main cast - and that's perfectly fine.

But for the older portion of the audience (ie the mums and dads who are dragged along by their brood), it may be a little more of a struggle to get through. The human actors - David Cross and Zachary Levi (of TV2 fame as Chuck) acquit themselves well - Levi continues to get by on his lovable goofiness and slacker charm whereas Cross proves why he's such a comic genius by steering his Ian Hawke away from stereotyped bad guy into idiotic despot territory.

The Chipmunks themselves are all fine - at times, they sparked off memories of the Gremlins because of their continuing buffoonery.

However, there's some morals on display here too - Alvin has to learn some harsh lessons about never abandoning family as well as peer pressure and that pride comes before a fall; Brittany, Eleanor and Jeanette, the new Chipettes provide the requisite romantic spark but all in all Alvin and The Chipmunks - The Squeakquel is a fairly light piece of unsubstantial holiday entertainment.


Legion (2010)

gels with machine guns. That's the way co-writer/director Scott Stewart described the film and that's how I approached Legion, and with that in mind I would say I almost got everything I asked for. However, instead of angels with machine guns I got an angel with a machine gun in a war determining the fate of mankind that was so one-sided it should have been over in a matter of seconds, but somehow managed to last an hour and 40 minutes. I'm beginning to open my eyes to how much fun films with absurd plot premises can be, but filmmakers are going to have to give us more than a tagline and begin delivering on an entire plot if they ever want to make anything more than a trailer out of their feature length movies.

Legion takes place in a middle-of-nowhere diner where the fate of mankind will be played out as God has lost faith in humanity and has sent the Archangel Michael (Paul Bettany) to kill the baby that would otherwise save mankind. Michael disobeys and decides to protect the baby declaring he is giving God what he needs rather than what he's asked for, which causes God to send his entire angel army to do what Michael won't.

Occupants of the diner include Dennis Quaid, Tyrese Gibson, Charles S. Dutton, Lucas Black, Kate Walsh, Willa Holland and Adrianne Palicki. It's not exactly an A-list group of actors, which is why Bettany is getting lead credit even though his decision-making when it comes to film roles recently is at the very least questionable. Stewart directed the film and co-wrote with Peter Schink whose only previous writing credit was co-writing "Gotham Cafe" an adaptation of a Stephen King novella.

Stewart is primarily known in the Hollywood ranks as a visual effects guru. He worked at the effects house The Orphanage, and with them he worked on the effects for Iron Man, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest and Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire to name a few. As such it's no surprise his feature directorial debut would be an effects heavy feature that plays more like a video game than a movie, but that isn't necessarily the problem.

Where Stewart falters is in creating an admittedly fun premise and hands the keys to the future of mankind to a couple country bumpkins represented by Adrianne Palicki in a performance Estella Warren can be proud of and Lucas Black (The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift) playing a guy named Jeep, which really says just about all you need to know about his character. On top of that, (spoiler warning) how many black people do you need to put in a film in order to make sure at least one of them lives to see the end, or at least beyond a film's midway point? Apparently two isn't enough as Charles S. Dutton and Tyrese never even stood a chance, but I guess that's not important as neither one of them was pregnant with the baby that would save mankind. I'll tell you one thing though, if I had a choice of appointing Tyrese or Lucas Black to look after the baby that represents the future of mankind I'll take Tyrese every day of the week and — wink, wink — twice on Sunday.

I originally saw footage from this film at the San Diego Comic Con and my thoughts then assumed Legion would "be somewhere in the C-to-B-level range fantasy/CG effort." I wasn't too far off. As much as I can begin respecting absurd films for grasping tightly to their absurd plot-lines they still have to deliver more than just repeat gunfire and stereotypical screaming demons. The killer grandma from the trailer was entertaining, a demonic kid was creepy and the moment where Lucas and Adrianne climb a mountain for no apparent reason was hilarious. Hardly a recipe for even an early year effects feature.

As Legion continued to play I grew increasingly annoyed and just wanted it all to end. On home video it might make for a decent diversion, but it gives little reason to waste your money at the box-office watching something that delivers little more than its trailer did already.

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Thursday, February 18, 2010

The Blind Side (2009)

The Blind Side (2009)

Bottom Line: Sandra Bullock's a buoyant blast in this otherwise uninspired true sports story
Knowing a golden character opportunity when she sees one, Sandra Bullock takes the proverbial ball and runs with Leigh Anne Tuohy, the honey blond spitfire of a well-to-do Southern wife and mother who takes in a homeless black teenager in "The Blind Side."

She's an irrepressible hoot in writer-director John Lee Hancock's otherwise thoroughly conventional take on Michael Lewis' fact-based book "The Blind Side: Evolution of a Game."

Sticking safely to proven inspirational sports-movie/fish-out-of-water formulas while holding the inherent sociological issues to the sidelines, the dramedy doesn't skimp on the crowd-pleasing stuff, but given the setup, there also was room for more thought-provoking substance.

Bullock's feisty performance should ensure solid midrange numbers, driven by a decidedly larger female demographic than what is usually drawn to gridiron fare.

Hancock, who added a thoughtful page to the sports-movie playbook with 2002's "The Rookie," goes for a decidedly broader attack here in his depiction of Tennessee's Tuohy family and their head-turning houseguest.

When we meet up with Michael Oher (nicely played by Quinton Aaron), he's a long way from becoming an All-American football star.


Thursday, February 4, 2010

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