Archive for January, 2010

Review: Edge of Darkness

Posted in Reviews on January 30, 2010 by C.F. Varnau

NOTE: With this review I start a new rating scale. From now on, films will either get a “kudos” or “goober” rating. “Kudos” is good, “goober” is not. So here goes…

Rating: Kudos

Mel Gibson gives a great performance in “Edge of Darkness.” He is often pissed off, usually out of his mind and always brutal. Watching him give this performance reminds us of him in “Payback.” He’s mean, and he should be.

If you’ve read anyone else’s review of this film, you will see them complaining about the tired plot. It is a tired plot, but don’t let that sway you. The trick to a tired premise is in how it’s written, directed and acted. The plot is about a Boston cop named Craven (Gibson), who witnesses his daughter’s murder one night. Now… but you know what now. Vengeance. When reading others’ reviews on the film, and all their rants about the plot, I’m reminded of the direct-to-video film starring Steven Seagal called “Out for a Kill.” It’s the same set-up, but executed terribly on all the requirements listed above. It’s so bad, it’s unwatchable.

So when I’m reminded of that film when I watch “Edge of Darkness,” I stop thinking about the cliché plot and start looking for other things about the film that make it better than “Out for a Kill” and all its clones.

One advantage this film has from all its predecessors is the depth of the story. A lot is going on in this film, enough to keep the viewer engaged. The action is also hard-boiled and swift, with quick editing from Stuart Baird (who also worked on “Casino Royale”). “Edge of Darkness” is a good-looking film, and the script from William Monahan (“The Departed,” “Body of Lies”) and Andrew Bovell keeps twisting away with new developments at every turn.

Director Martin Campbell (“Goldeneye,” “Casino Royale”) also does a decent job delivering the goods. He stays with Gibson’s character Craven through most of the film, leaving his side for only a few plot-important scenes. His style is good and he handles each scene well.

The villains in the film, namely Danny Huston’s corporate head, are a little disappointing at times as they are occasionally being evil for evil’s sake. When Huston asks Gibson how does it feel to lose a daughter, it seems a little too sinister for a film that is trying to take itself seriously. It’s a setback, but it doesn’t stop the film from entertaining. Danny Huston recently played Colonel Stryker recently in  “X-Men Origins: Wolverine.” I feel like these two roles are rather similar. Huston is a good actor and I hate to see him typecast.

These shortcomings aside, “Edge of Darkness” is still a well-made action flick. It’s not top of the line, but it gets the job done. And I think that’s good enough for a kudos.

Review: When in Rome

Posted in Reviews on January 29, 2010 by C.F. Varnau

* * out of four

When you were a kid, did you ever wonder why your parents told you not to take coins from a wishing fountain? “Daredevil” director Mark Steven Johnson solves this mystery in “When in Rome,” a very predictable, sometimes funny and overall ho-hum romantic comedy.

Kristen Bell (“Astro Boy,” “Couples Retreat”) plays Beth, whose younger sister is getting married to some Italian guy she’s only known for two weeks while Beth is more in love with her job in an art gallery than a man. Josh Duhamel (“Win a Date With Tad Hamilton,” “Transformers”) is best man Nick, and when he starts flirting with maid of honor Beth, it looks like things are changing in Beth’s life. But soon we have the “accidental misinterpretation,” where Beth sees something, makes an assumption and abandons her hopes with Nick.

Now, feeling rejected, she wades in one of Rome’s beautiful fountains. She decides to take some of the coins which she believes were thrown in by people wishing for love. What she doesn’t know is with each coin she picks up, whoever threw it will fall hoplessly in love with her.

She is soon trailed by four strange men, played by Will Arnett, Danny DeVito, Dax Shepard, and Jon Heder. She also seems to be running into Nick a lot. She seems to be falling for Nick, after said misunderstanding is cleared up, and wouldn’t you know it, she finds evidence that Nick is in fact the owner of the fifth coin she picked up. So… is Nick in love with Beth or is it just a spell?

You should already know where this is going. It’s an easy film to predict. So that aside, let’s look at the rest of the film.

Chemistry: rom-coms are all about this one crucial attribute. You must believe the two people are really into each other. As a couple, I suppose Beth and Nick work. But their characters are too dull, to the point where they have to rely on funny slapstick gags to keep us entertained. They’re not a bad couple, just not an interesting one.

Humor: I like rom-coms that rely on the actors’ body language and delivery and timing of dialogue and leave the sight-gags for just the right moments. “When in Rome” delivers the exact opposite. None of the actors have anything worthwhile to say, so they must be kicking champagne glasses onto power cords, falling in holes inexplicably placed on the sidewalk, hit by cars, stumbling over horse buggies, falling partway down the length of a building while painting a nude picture of someone and stopping right in front of the nasty parts, dining in a restaraunt set in pitch black where people are constantly bumping into each other and breaking dishes and of course, the obligatory shot of someone walking into a tree. I know I’m a guy and I’m a little biased to this kind of film, so let me just say that there were plenty of women young and old in the theater and not once was their anything above a minor snicker. Are you willing to spend $7.50 to snicker, when funnier reruns of “Friends” are on fifty different channels tonight?

Acting: I thought Bell and Duhamel did fine as the starring roles. My problem is that they weren’t given anything interesting to say, and very little to do. Beth and Nick needed to have more personality. Something to make the audience care about them and find them unique. Other than his physical appeal, Nick is nothing that special. I sometimes wondered if the other four lovestruck fools were simply written in there to make him seem more likable. Truth is, they were all more interesting… arguably the best part of the film!

One of my idols, the late, great Gene Siskel, once remarked that a movie should be more fascinating than watching the cast members have lunch together. When I look at the cast, including Bell, Duhamel, DeVito, Arnett, Heder, Shepard and also Anjelica Huston (who is hardly worth mentioning in this review), I think a two-hour lunch session would not only be more fascinating, it would be funnier.

Review: Extraordinary Measures

Posted in Reviews on January 24, 2010 by C.F. Varnau

* * out of four

Brendan Fraser (“The Mummy,” “Journey to the Center of the Earth”) and Harrison Ford (“Indiana Jones,” “Star Wars”) take a rest from their usual gunfighting adventure types and settle in for this drama that looks like a TV movie, smells like a TV movie and is made by CBS.

Fraser plays the intelligent yuppie father of three children, two of which suffer from the crippling Pompe disease, a boy and a girl. The girl just turned eight, the boy is six. Estimated lifespan for a person born with Pompe (a genetic disease, we learn) is nine years. The father, John Crowley, looks up Pompe expert researcher Dr. Robert Stonehill (Ford). Stonehill is hard to get ahold of, and once Crowley finds him he proves to be an interesting fellow.

Crowley impresses Stonehill after holding a fundraiser for Stonehill’s research and generating far less cash than Stonehill needs, but more than he expected. Stonehill gets Crowley on board and the two set out to cure Pompe. Soon, they will have shared success, failure, the standard falling out, and then a reconciliation. None of these happen naturally. Everything feels forced.

Fraser is occasionally good as Crowley. He’s at his best in his scenes with his kids. Here he is more free to be himself, and we get a more realistic feel from him. Harrison Ford, on the other hand, is a different matter. Ford portrays Stonehill like a subdued caricature, if that’s possible. He hardly shows any emotions except for when they are most required and for the rest of the time looks bored and tired. His interpretation is cranky, rude, but honest. Yeah, we’ve seen this character before, and we know how it’s going to work out.

Tom Vaughan directed this movie. You may have already forgotten his earlier film “What Happens in Vegas.” You’ll forget this one too. It’s like a Lifetime Movie of the Week remake of “Lorenzo’s Oil,” only without the Oscar-worthy performances and genuine emotions. Or maybe “My Sister’s Keeper” without the interesting premise or logical outcome.

I have to also mention the film’s soundtrack. It’s terrible. Big numbers play off our emotions begging for tears… in every single scene. There are a lot of easy answers. “Dad, you’re not spending time with me any more.” “OK, I’ll spend time with you.” Cue music. “Stonehill I need your help!” “Get out of my lab, Crowley! I never want to see you again!” Cue music, dissolve to next scene with Crowley crying in a corner (probably from the emotional music). “Crowley.” “Yes Stonehill?” “I didn’t mean it, I’m sorry.” “So you’ll help?” “Yes.” Cue music again. Get the idea? The music is composed by Andrea Guerra, a man named Andrea.

I’m not saying “Extraordinary Measures” is terrible. I’m not saying it’s bad. I’m saying it’s not good.

Review: Tooth Fairy

Posted in Reviews on January 23, 2010 by C.F. Varnau

* * * out of four stars

The foundation of “Tooth Fairy” rests on Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson’s shoulders. Thank god he holds it up. This film is a delightful little kids tale about believing in your dreams. Can it hold up Johnson’s career?

Johnson is at his comedic best as hockey player Derek Thompson, whose powerful face-crushing checks have earned him the name Tooth Fairy. Outside the ice, he’s a class-act jerk, telling kids they’ll never reach their dreams and acting sarcastic to other fans. His girlfriend Carly (Ashley Judd, “Twisted,” “Crossing Over”) is oblivious of this as is her daughter. Her rebellious son has picked up on it and has no interest in Thompson, who has about as much in return.

Carly’s daughter Tess loses a tooth. When Thompson needs more money for poker with the guys and autographed pictures won’t do, Thompson steals the money given to her by the “tooth fairy.” As luck would have it, Tess wakes up before he can replace it and wonders where her cash is. Thompson spills the beans and bluntly tells her there is no tooth fairy. Luckily, mom is there to cover for him and save the day, but the damage may have already been done.

As you may have guessed by now, there is a tooth fairy. Actually, there are many of them. They are all under a lot of stress lately thanks to budget cuts caused by non-believing children. Thompson is summoned by the tooth fairies (he even grows light blue wings) and sentenced to a whopping two weeks of fairy duty, as well as juggling his relationship and failing hockey career.

Comedian Billy Crystal (“City Slickers,” “When Harry Met Sally”) plays the gadget master who gives Thompson everything he needs, including a magic wand that will only work if you believe in magic, “cat away,” shrinking paste, invisible spray and also this handy-dandy amnesia dust which makes whoever inhales it forget the last few seconds. I have some right here actually.

He also gives Thompson some handy-dandy amnesia dust which makes whoever inhales it forget the last few seconds… what is this sparkly stuff I seemed to have spilled all over my desk?

Julie Andrews (“Mary Poppins” …nuff said) plays the fairy godmother and Steven Merchant (“Hot Fuzz”) plays Tracy, a tall and skinny wingless fairy who acts as Thompson’s case worker. These performances are both fine, but would be useless without a strong presence.

That presence is Dwayne Johnson. While it is cringe-inducing to see him in a pink dress, he moves from situation to situation balancing his character from being a tired old hockey player to a cocky has-been celebrity to a befuddled and confused guy with fairy wings and to a guy whose imagination is coming back to him. Johnson handles all of these roles with determination and well-crafted skill and gives a very good comedic performance, proving that he is a very capable actor.

Which is why it’s time to stop with the kid movies. His past three starring roles, “The Game Plan,” “Race to Witch Mountain,” and “Planet 51” have all done very well in the box office. Great. I’m glad the kids are pleased. But this film comes centimeters away from him committing career suicide. Four children’s films in a row, with the comedy flop “Get Smart” back there as well, might kill his acting career and will probably do it soon. This is a good movie. I liked it. But as a fan of Johnson’s I must say that I don’t want to see him in this kind of movie time and again.

Dwayne Johnson proved in “Gridiron Gang” he has what it takes to be in a drama. He proved in “The Rundown” and “Walking Tall” that he can definitely do action. Doing two kid films after that sounds about right. Four is beyond pushing it. Dwayne, it’s time to grow up.

Review: Legion

Posted in Reviews on January 22, 2010 by C.F. Varnau

*1/2 out of four stars

What if H. G. Wells’ epic tale “War of the Worlds” was told through the eyes of some people in a diner in the middle of nowhere? It works with zombie movies, right? Have an enclosed location with no one around for miles and hoards of monsters clawing at the door. It’s a good premise for that genre. But when god declares war on all of humanity and sends an army of angels after us, the story would benefit from a bigger picture.

God is pissed. Big time. He sees no hope in the human race and thus unleashes his wrath on everyone… or at least, unleashes it on a small diner on a desert highway with a few people ripped from movies with settings like these. There’s the pissed off owner, his son Jeep, the pregnant girl Jeep is taking care of (who is also the waitress), the old black guy who’s long-time friends with the pissed off owner and graduated head of his class in Morgan Freeman 101 (played by none other than Charles S. Dutton), not to mention the four people stranded there.

Then there’s Michael… as in the angel Michael, who is the last believer in humanity. He decides to protect the tired clichés from the angels, who have taken over human bodies and are now walking around like zombies (they’re even biting people).

Ok, so the monsters in the film are humans with angels inside of them. Shouldn’t they be impervious to bullets? There is so much slaughter by gunfire in this movie I wasn’t sure if I was watching a movie or someone playing a video game. And once the zombie-angels are shot, down they go, never to return. How convenient!

The star of the film is Paul Bettany (“Iron Man,” “The Young Victoria”), an actor I’ve seen plenty of and honestly can’t remember at all. “Legion” explains why. His delivery in this film is monotone, unemotional and dull. Those are all synonyms, but I had to say it that way so that you got the idea. Watching Bettany’s performance, I’m reminded of a young Dolph Lundgren (“Rocky IV,” “Universal Soldier”). Bettany walks through the film trying to play the calm and collected superhero, but comes off sleepy and bored. A bad-ass always needs some kind of charisma. Check out Travolta in “From Paris With Love” in a couple weeks. You’ll see what I’m talking about.

Visual effects guru Scott Stewart (whose company The Orphanage did effects for many films including “Sin City,” “Superman Returns,” and “Iron Man”) directs his first feature film here and has received plenty of positive buzz. From a stylistic standpoint, the film looks about mediocre, but the story and screenplay, co-written by Stewart, are predictable and silly at times.

The story in general simply doesn’t work. I’m reminded of “Starship Troopers 2,” the direct-to-DVD sequel to the hugely underrated 1997 classic. In it, there is an interstellar war, spanning several solar systems, between humans and giant spiders. Needless to say, there is a lot happening in that story. The sequel’s director, Phil Tippet (also an effects guru), had not much to work with money-wise. So he told the story from the viewpoint of a squad of human soldiers marooned in an outpost on a bug planet. The film was awful for that very reason. Why take a huge premise, in “Legion’s” case a war between god and humanity, and only deliver a miniscule perspective?

Ummm… perhaps a small budget. I looked for but couldn’t find “Legion’s” cost. I’m guessing it wasn’t very much. So that makes shooting easier and cheaper when you are shooting at one location, a diner in the middle of the desert for example. The problem is, the end of the world on a biblical level needs to be seen from a lot more than just Alice’s Restaurant. For proof, check out Roland Emmerich’s filmography (“Independence Day,” “The Day After Tomorrow”). Thing is, Emmerich has a budget. Scott Stewart doesn’t.

Where am I going with this? I think Mr. Stewart needed to take his smaller budget and tell a smaller story, something that felt more original, but didn’t have to rely on big effects, an epic setting, or great cinematography. An ensemble cast is a good idea. But putting them all on the uninteresting side of an epic war to end all wars is a step in the wrong direction.

Finally, there is a film (low-budget as well) starring Christopher Walken, Elias Koteas and Viggo Mortensen about a similar biblical war that should not be missed by anyone even remotely interested in “Legion.” It’s called “The Prophecy.” It’s action-packed, funny and well-written. “Legion” is not.

Reviews to come, week of Jan. 22, 2010

Posted in Uncategorized on January 20, 2010 by C.F. Varnau

Here are upcoming reviews for this week:

Friday: “Legion,” the latest post-apocalyptic film about a war between Heaven and, well, us. Looks pretty bad, but should at least have some good effects.

Saturday: “The Tooth Fairy,” starring Dwayne Johnson as a hockey player who through some course of events becomes a tooth fairy. I think this one looks decent, but Johnson needs to do something more grown-up again.

Sunday: “Extraordinary Measures,” with Brendan Fraser and Harrison Ford. The pairing of Fraser and Ford feels to me like it would be a buddy flick, but it’s not. This one is serious. At this time of year, movies like this tend to be average, but I have my hopes.

A message to aspiring filmmakers…

Posted in Film in General on January 19, 2010 by C.F. Varnau

To young filmmakers everywhere:

Made a movie? Got a site? Want somebody to know about it?

Hollywood Blockbusters fully supports true independent film, and in the spirit of the indie film market, we’re sending out an offer to any rising filmmakers out there to advertise FOR FREE right here on the Hollywood Blockbusters Blog. No charge, no stipulations. Just send us a link and we’ll put your site on ours, as well as a small description and link in our upcoming weekly e-mail newsletter.

And if you like, we’d love it if you plug us on your site as well.

Send an email with a link and a description of your work to monmouth1685@yahoo.com. See you on the big screen!

The Hollywood Blockbusters Staff