Friday, August 30, 2013

"Getaway" Review


"When life gives you lemons, you make lemonade," as the saying goes.

In the case of Getaway director Courtney Solomon, those lemons are GoPro video cameras, and the lemonade is far from palatable.

Getaway stars Ethan Hawke as Brent Magna, a former race car driver who is forced to lay low in Sofia, Bulgaria with his wife (Rebecca Budig). After she is kidnapped from their apartment, Brent is forced to steal a tricked-out Ford Shelby Super Snake. 

He must carry out all orders barked at him by "The Voice" (Jon Voight) from the car's dashboard if he wants to see his wife again.

Things get more complicated, if you could call it that, when a young kid (Selena Gomez) tries to carjack Brent and ends up along for the ride.

What ensues is an atrocious barrage of car chases and crashes with minimal regard for storytelling.

According to IMDb.com, Getaway features over 6,000 cuts as opposed to the average 1,600 of most films. 

This means that the action is so frenetically edited from GoPro cameras mounted to the car that it's difficult to tell, let alone enjoy, what’s happening on-screen. 

What should be a late-summer romp turns out to be nothing more than migraine-inducing road rage.

To make matters worse, the story surrounding the set pieces is abysmal. 

I still don't know why exactly Magna's wife was taken in the first place or why he's constantly strung along on high-octane objectives that feel as if they were ripped directly from a "Need for Speed" video game. When "The Voice" finally explains things, it all hardly seems worth the trouble.

The characters' backstories fail to garner any sense of empathy. Magna, his wife, "The Voice" and "The Kid" are all too one-dimensional for the audience to care about them.

Along with shallow characters, the screenplay, by first-timers Sean Finegan and Gregg Maxwell Parker, is riddled with dialogue that’s unintentionally funny. There’s little cause for smiles in this heavy-handed picture.


The typically stellar Hawke is clearly overqualified for his role as Brent Magna, perhaps lending more of his chops than necessary to the part.

Gomez fares slightly better than I had anticipated, shedding her Disney charm in favor of a more hardened exterior as “The Kid.” She is still difficult to take seriously since her chemistry with Hawke is almost non-existent. Macaroni has more in common with cheese than these two do with each other.

As “The Voice,” we don’t actually see enough of Voight to pass much judgment, although his accent becomes grating after about the halfway point.

The film’s strongest sequence comes in its late throes when Magna chases down another vehicle.

The scene is a single-take, point-of-view shot from the Ford Shelby as it speeds close behind an SUV, dodging early morning traffic along the streets of Sofia.

There is no dialogue or musical score here; just the sounds of revving engines, shifting gears and squealing tires.

For roughly ninety seconds, your eyes are glued to the screen in this state of adrenaline-pumping nirvana. Afterwards, all you can think is, “Why couldn’t the rest of the movie be like this?”

But one sound sequence does not make up for myriad mistakes.

As flashy as the armor-plated, turbo-charged Super Snake may be, this “Getaway” vehicle is in need of a serious tune-up.


Steer clear this Labor Day weekend.

3/10

Super"hero"?


Director Zack Snyder’s long-awaited Superman epic, “Man of Steel,” was one of the biggest blockbusters of the summer.

“Chronicle” screenwriter Max Landis recently took to YouTube and voiced his opinion on the latest incarnation of Superman, as well as the general state of today’s superhero films, in a video titled “Regarding Clark.”

The clip brought a startling truth to my attention that I think is worth sharing.

Icons like Superman, The Avengers, the Autobots and even the Jaeger pilots from this year’s “Pacific Rim” all possess some form of heroic duty. 

This usually stems from a “gift”, or some physical ability that makes them superior to, and ultimately responsible for, the rest of humanity.

As the famous “Spider-Man” adage goes, “With great power comes great responsibility.”

So then why is it that when Superman fights General Zod, all of Metropolis gets leveled in the process?

Why is it that when The Avengers square off against Loki and his intergalactic army, New York is reduced to rubble?

Why is it that when the Kaiju sea monsters close in on Sydney, the city only proceeds to burn once the Jaegers show up?

Think about the most financially-successful films of the past two or three summers. “Everything ends in the same city-destroying pandemonium with a terrorist attack from outer space,” as Landis says.

When our “heroes,” the very beings sworn to protect us infantile humans from harm, become the source of destruction and death, they cease to become heroes.

Regardless of whether the bad guy is stopped or not, there’s nothing “heroic” in watching Iron Man and Optimus Prime stand tall at the end of a fight when there’s nothing behind them but ruin.
“That isn’t a superhero, to me,” says Landis. “That’s like a rock star.”

But to me, this raises an even bigger question that speaks to us as paying audiences. Just as Superman and Iron Man are responsible for the people’s survival, the people are responsible for their heroes’ survival at the box office.  

With big event films like this, do we find ourselves so engrossed in a specific performance, line of dialogue, or IMAX 3D visual effect shot that we forget the broader impact of the on-screen events as they pertain to the story?

For this reason, will we, as audiences, be numb to the conflicts at hand when we sit down to watch “The Avengers” and “Man of Steel” sequels in 2015?

I like to think that most moviegoers pay their $10.50 just to laugh at Tony Stark’s witty jokes because they’re entertaining.

I’m guilty of it. I admit that I enjoy watching Robert Downey, Jr. banter with The Avengers.

I like special effects and action sequences because they make me feel like a giddy 8-year-old again.

But like Landis, I disapprove of our “heroes” increasingly becoming “villainous” in a way, since they seem to be as much of a bane to humanity as the villains do.


Life is difficult, and goodness knows, who can we look up to in times of hardship if our “heroes” become part of the problem?

Saturday, August 24, 2013

"The World's End" Review


In 2004, director Edgar Wright won audiences over with the raucous zombie romp, “Shaun of the Dead”, and continued his success in 2007 with the buddy-cop comedy “Hot Fuzz”. But in 2013, Wright and stars Simon Pegg and Nick Frost bring their “Three Flavours Cornetto” trilogy to an aptly-titled conclusion with “The World’s End”.

Twenty years after an epic pub crawl attempt goes awry, five childhood friends reluctantly reunite in their hometown after one among them (Pegg) becomes fixated on attempting to finish the drinking marathon once and for all by reaching the twelfth and final pub known as “The World’s End”. As the men come to terms with both the past and present, they eventually realize that the true battle is for the future; a point that hits home when the guys unwittingly become humankind’s last hope for survival.

Viewers unfamiliar with Wright’s “Cornetto” trilogy may be wary of an all-English cast, fearing the deadpan, sarcastic sense of humor that permeates British comedy. Such humor is not for everyone, so credit Wright and Pegg for evoking a sense of humor that everyone can enjoy with one of the year’s freshest, funniest screenplays. 

With non-stop laughs, plenty of action and a cast of layered, well-developed characters, “The World’s End” rarely misses a beat. It helps when you have the dynamic comedic duo of Frost and Pegg in starring roles, as well as the cream of today’s most popular British actors in your supporting cast. Martin Freeman (“The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey”), Paddy Considine (“The Bourne Ultimatum”), Eddie Marsan (“Sherlock Holmes”) and Rosamund Pike (“Pride & Prejudice”) are all stellar and perfectly cast in their respective roles. Also, look out for a scruffy Pierce Brosnan and an interstellar Bill Nighy in two of the year’s best cameo appearances so far.

“The World’s End” also earns props for its clever blend of comedy and science fiction. There are several elements that will have longtime sci-fi fans drawing comparisons to “Invasion of the Body Snatchers”, but as I recall, Donald Sutherland never had a pub crawl to finish. Much of the action is derived from the science fiction elements, nearly all of which are played for laughs. Concern was only briefly aroused when the inebriated heroes made a daring escape under circumstances that felt contrived at first but turned out to be logical once explained in the film’s denouement. The twists and turns along the way make for a breezy late-summer comedy.

The “Three Flavours Cornetto” trilogy earns its moniker for a motif involving Nick Frost’s characters and Cornetto brand ice cream in all three films. “Shaun of the Dead” features Frost’s Ed asking Pegg’s Shaun for a red strawberry-flavored Cornetto from the local convenience store. Red signifies the blood and gore of the zombie genre. “Hot Fuzz” features Frost’s Danny Butterman getting a “brain-freeze” after scarfing down a blue-wrapped, original Cornetto. Blue is a color associated with the police force. “The World’s End” depicts Frost’s Andy Knightly yearning for a green-wrapped, mint-flavored Cornetto after the packaging gets whisked up against a fence he’s standing behind. Green represents aliens and science fiction. 

Credit Wright and Pegg for three clever stories that all put their own hilarious twists on the horror, action and sci-fi genres, but the best Cornetto has been saved for last with “The World’s End”. A witty sense of humor that consistently delivers the laughs, loads of action, brisk pacing, well-developed characters and capable actors to fill their shoes make “The World’s End” a near-perfect late-summer film that’s worth sticking out “until the bitter end… or lager end”, as Pegg’s Gary King says, time and time again. One of the year's best and most heartfelt films so far.

9.5/10

Thursday, August 22, 2013

"We're the Millers" Review


They may look the part, but this bumbling family ain't headed to Wally World.

In Dodgeball director Rawson Marshall Thurber's R-rated, family road trip comedy We're the Millers, the stakes of summer vacation are raised as a Denver pot dealer (Jason Sudeikis) rounds up reluctant candidates (Jennifer Aniston, "The Stripper"; Emma Roberts, "The Runaway"; Will Poulter, "The Neighborhood Nerd") to pose as a squeaky-clean, all-American family in order to move a massive shipment into the U.S. from Mexico without arousing suspicion.

But suspicion and misadventure the "Millers" do find in this edgier take on Robin Williams' 2006 film, RV. Dodging the likes of border police, rival drug gangs and another dysfunctional family (Parks and Recreation's Nick Offerman, Step Brothers' Kathryn Hahn) makes for plenty of laughs, even if the plot itself remains predictable.

The jokes rely heavily on Sudeikis's capable shoulders, while a welcome boost comes from both Offerman and Hahn who, together, practically steal the show. (Ed Helms is sadly squandered as the kingpin to Sudeikis's dealer.)

Practically, if not for Aniston's sexy Flashdance homage in a roadside auto garage; a scene with absolutely zero relevance to the plot. It's easy to see how some might say that Aniston is too old or that a sultry character like Rose Miller should be played by someone like Scarlett Johansson or, God-willing, Jennifer Lawrence. But one look at the ageless Aniston in this "unnecessary" scene, and you'll never watch another episode of Friends the same way again. In this reviewer's humble opinion, that's a very, very good thing.

In the end, an unexpected blend of clever sight and dialogue gags, as well as top-notch comedic performances by the entire cast, make up for a predictable plot and this hilariously crass, high-stakes Griswo- I mean, Miller - family road trip worth taking.

And stay for the outtakes during the credits. There's a fun Easter egg for Friends fans.

8/10

Monday, August 12, 2013

Late Summer Double-Feature: "The Conjuring" & "Elysium"

The Conjuring



Insidious director James Wan brings us the next great horror classic in The Conjuring, a story inspired by one of the most notorious cases of real-life paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren, portrayed exceptionally by Patrick Wilson (Watchmen) and Vera Farmiga (TV's Bates Motel). From the trailers, it seemed that The Conjuring was shaping up to be another clich├ęd haunted house thriller. But Wan subverts such contrivances with his old-school approach to the scares. A potent sense of dread permeates each and every frame, rendering futile the expectation of the scares and allowing the audience to cling tighter to their armrests in anticipation of a frightening payoff. Essentially, this makes The Conjuring one of the most terrifying movies in years. Horror fans will love the tongue-in-cheek references to classic films like The Shining, Child's Play, Poltergeist, The Birds and The Exorcist. The acting performances (barring a weak turn by Office Space's Ron Livingston) and engrossing true story also make The Conjuring one of the most emotionally affecting horror films you're likely to see. I found myself misty-eyed by the end. I have my fingers crossed hoping the Blu-Ray hits stores by Halloween!


9/10



Elysium


From District 9 director Neill Blomkamp comes another original vision of the future in Elysium, a story set in the year 2154 in which the one-percenters reside on a luxurious, man-made space station called (you guessed it) "Elysium" while the rest of us are left to toil away on a diseased, decaying Earth. Enter our hero, Max (Matt Damon), an ordinary guy with a desperate need to get to Elysium. In order to punch his ticket, Max takes on a daring mission that could bring equality to the polarized worlds.
The action is non-stop and consistently intense. The visual effects are impeccably life-like. The acting performances are middling overall due to underdeveloped characters, but Elysium is still one of the summer's best films. Sharlto Copley gives the film's best performance as the brooding, visceral special agent Kruger, who's assigned the task of tracking Max down at all costs before he can do any damage to Elysium. The one doing the assigning is Elysium's Secretary Delacourt, played by a mediocre Jodie Foster who makes matters worse by putting on a gaudy accent. Damon essentially dials this one in, though he's still fun to watch and easy to root for as our reluctant hero, Max.
Like District 9, Elysium serves as a stark political allegory; but instead of apartheid, issues surrounding health care and immigration take center stage. If nothing else, Elysium is a startling portrait of what our world could be like if our current policies go a century unchecked.

Elysium's greatest flaw is its lack of detail. Max and his childhood friend Frey (Alice Braga) are the only characters allowed real background development, though Max is said to have had an adolescence fraught with criminal activity, which we oddly see none of. Most of the other characters and events are not given clear context. If Blomkamp had resolved these issues in his screenplay, he'd have surely annihilated the "sophomore slump" with a near-perfect sci-fi thriller. Still, the end product is an engaging piece of summer escapism that's better than the vast majority of what's been shoveled into theaters this season, flawed though it may be.

8/10