Saturday, February 15, 2014

"Endless Love" 2014 Review

I never saw Franco Zefirelli's 1981 version of Endless Love with Brooke Shields and Martin Hewitt, but from what I've heard, you couldn't do much worse for a romance picture. One would think a remake might do the title some good.

If that's the case, the original literally must be the worst movie ever made because Shana Feste's 2014 update might as well be called "Endless Pain."

I've also heard that the only similarity between this film and the 1981 version is the title. Just so you're familiar with the more recent rendition of Endless Pai - sorry - Endless Love, it's about two beautiful, crazy kids (Alex Pettyfer, Gabriella Wilde) - Jade, a girl of privilege, David from the working class - who fall madly in love the summer after high school graduation. Their desire is complicated by Jade's college plans and the wishes of her intimidating father (Bruce Greenwood) that she focus on her future as a pre-med student.

The character development lent by Feste and Joshua Safran isn't bad. The most well-crafted is Jade's father, Dr. Hugh Butterfield (Greenwood). Though we never explicitly see the death of his oldest son, we understand the toll this event has taken on Hugh. His attitudes and values against seemingly meaningless summer love are honed by it. His middle son (Rhys Wakefield) has disappointed him by studying communications which, as Hugh puts it, is "for yoga instructors." He wants his youngest daughter, Jade, to follow in the footsteps of her deceased brother. She's on track to do that until she falls for David.

When his idyllic world starts to slip out of his control, Hugh finally starts to realize the error of his ways and finds redemption by the end. The movie should've really been about him.

I've always admired Bruce Greenwood's work (I, Robot, Star Trek), and he actually fares far better here than he has any right to. This character puts a fun, sinister twist on the classic mentor / "voice of reason" role Greenwood always seems to play.

The rest of the cast never comes anywhere close to Greenwood’s level. Pettyfer and Wilde make for several unintentional laughs as they play David and Jade with far too much schmaltz to take seriously. Their motivations seem half-assed, especially when the virginal Jade takes things to a physical level quicker than Romeo or Juliet would ever dream. My girlfriend smacked me a few times for chuckling at the level of over-acting these kids did. It would be much different if Pettyfer and Wilde had played the roles a little tongue-in-cheek.
The narrative itself glorifies bone-headed behavior and premarital sex more than it does true love. Any way you see it, Endless Love is woefully unrealistic for these reasons. I felt like I was trapped in a two-hour Abercrombie & Fitch ad, despite some gorgeous cinematography by Andrew Dunn (Lee Daniels’ The Butler).

Endless Love might earn a recommendation if it had been an intentional parody because it certainly can’t be taken seriously as a romantic drama. Too many cliches ruin what could've been a halfway decent love story. This makes Nicholas Sparks look like Stephen King.


Thursday, February 13, 2014

"RoboCop" 2014 Review

Like it or not, RoboCop is here… again.

Offering far more humanity than I had expected, this 2014 RoboCop is nowhere near the colossal clunker I had feared. Having said that, I couldn’t find anything distinguishable about the remake that I hadn’t seen before in Iron Man or played in “Call of Duty.”

If you’ve seen Paul Verhoeven’s 1987 original, you pretty much know the story here.

Detroit police detective Alex Murphy (The Killing’s Joel Kinnaman replaces the iconic Peter Weller) is both an honest cop and a devoted father. After an important sting operation goes awry, Alex and his partner Jack Lewis (Michael K. Williams, removing the offbeat female dynamic that Nancy Allen brought to the original) find themselves in over their heads with some local thugs. One thing leads to another, and before he knows it, Alex has become a futuristic “Tin Man” – a science experiment spearheaded by Raymond Sellers (Michael Keaton), head of multinational robotics conglomerate Omnicorp and his resident technician Dr. Dennett Norton (Gary Oldman).

The story is diverting enough, and there is some emotional depth lent to Murphy’s character that wasn’t present in the original. I enjoyed watching him grapple with his physical situation while trying to maintain his commitments at home and to the police force. Some of RoboCop 2014’s finest moments come between Norton and Murphy when the latter reacts abnormally to corporate protocol. In these moments, I discerned a very Shelleyan quality in their relationship which feels like one between Dr. Frankenstein and his high-tech monster.

It’s just so sad that these amazing plot devices wear thin with Joshua Zetumer’s humorless script.

At least Iron Man did this with zip. 

The updated CGI and lack of gore in RoboCop 2014 remove any semblance of the “so bad it’s good,” B-movie feel that made the original a classic. I say this, save for one extended scene which showcases all the pieces left of Murphy when the suit is removed. It’s so graphic that it’s not even fun to laugh at, let alone watch.

For a watered-down, PG-13 remake, this RoboCop takes itself way too seriously. It feels twice as long as its modest 108-minute run time would suggest.

At least a handful of the supporting players try having some fun with the material. Samuel L. Jackson has a field day as Pat Novak – a loud, Wolf Blitzer-type character which allows the actor to don his finest hairpiece since Jules Winnifield’s Jheri curl in Pulp Fiction. Jackie Earle Haley (Watchmen) plays Rick Mattox, head of Omnicorp’s weapons division and quarterback of the company’s overseas operations. It’s diverting enough watching his character spar with Murphy. The two hate each other, and that dynamic makes for some of the film’s lighter moments. 

Jay Baruchel (This Is the End) is miscast as marketing executive Tom Pope. He’s as ancillary as characters come and serves no purpose except to butt in with douchey one-liners like, “Oh! He looks like a billion dollars!” and “We are going to make a loooooot of money!” I didn’t really enjoy watching Abbie Cornish (Limitless) mope around either. Something about her display of emotion just feels artificial. Not as fitting as one might think for a movie about a robot.

RoboCop is the first American movie from Brazilian filmmaker José Padilha, who is famous for the critically-acclaimed Elite Squad films. With as strong an action pedigree as Padilha has, it’s a shame in its own right that this remake just feels like another reassembled video game. At least it’s not buried as far down the scrapheap as I had feared.


Monday, February 10, 2014

"The Monuments Men" Review

George Clooney's latest period piece, The Monuments Men, boasts an intriguing premise and an all-star cast but squanders them with a flat, misguided narrative.

The story picks up when Frank Stokes (Clooney) is tasked with recovering, returning, and otherwise preserving millions of pieces of artwork stolen by the Nazis during World War II. To get the job done, Stokes rounds up a crack team of his colleagues - architects, artists, curators - to go deep behind enemy lines in search of Europe's greatest works, including the famous Ghent altarpiece and Michaelangelo's Madonna & Child. 

It makes for a riveting concept on paper, but in Clooney's hands, The Monuments Men isn't quite the romp many had hoped for. If you're looking for National Treasure, you'll surely be disappointed. The screenwriters Clooney and Grant Heslov (Good Night, and Good Luck) fumble between a Kelly's Heroes - like comedy, Saving Private Ryan melodrama and hints of romance in the vein of Casablanca. As such, it appears Mr. Clooney doesn't quite know the kind of movie he wants to make. As I was watching Monuments Men, I couldn't help but wonder how much more entertaining it might've been in the hands of Quentin Tarantino. He, at least, would've made a consistently engaging diversion inspired by the true story.

That's not to say that the film is devoid of any genuine heart whatsoever. The cast is impeccable, including Matt Damon, John Goodman, Bill Murray, Bob Balaban, Hugh Bonneville, Jean Dujardin and Cate Blanchett. Within the narrative, most of these core characters are paired up and given various jobs to do, including scouting the locations of hidden art or bringing to justice the Nazi officers responsible for stealing in the first place. I noticed that most of these pairings were between actors who have previously worked together on other films. Matt Damon and Cate Blanchett (stars of The Talented Mr. Ripley) find each other in Paris. What starts as a professional relationship founded on the mutual hope of finding the stolen art soon takes a brief, but awkward, romantic turn. Guys, if you've ever forgotten to wear a tie to a formal occasion, you'll understand.

Other pairings include John Goodman and Jean Dujardin (stars of recent Oscar-winner The Artist), as well as Wes Anderson veterans Bill Murray and Bob Balaban (The Grand Budapest Hotel, Moonrise Kingdom). I've heard some audiences claim that Murray feels miscast, but I find that he and Balaban drive some of the movie's funniest moments between sharing a cigarette with the enemy and attempting to rescue Granger (Damon) from stepping off of a land mine.

I'm glad to see that Clooney lends most of the screen time to his buddies in the cast, including a fun cameo at the end; focusing more on his duties behind the camera than in front. It's too bad his efforts prove feeble in saving The Monuments Men from uneven storytelling. This is one squandered work of art which, for now, remains lost.


Friday, February 7, 2014

"The LEGO Movie" Review

Not only is "The Lego Movie" better than "Frozen," and not only is it the best animated film since "Toy Story 3". It's also one of the best movies (period) in recent memory.

The story follows Emmett (Chris Pratt) – an ordinary LEGO mini-figure who’s mistakenly recruited to join the legendary team of Master Builders. Members include Wyldstyle (Elizabeth Banks), Batman (Will Arnett), Vitruvius (Morgan Freeman), Benny the 80s-something Astronaut (Charlie Day) and Unikitty (Alison Brie). Together, they must prevent the evil President Business (Will Ferrell) from permanently gluing their universe together.

Other voice talents include Channing Tatum, Jonah Hill, Dave Franco, Keegan-Michael Key, Will Forte, Nick Offerman, Shaquille O’Neal, Cobie Smulders, Anthony Daniels, Billy Dee Williams, and Liam Neeson. With a superstar cast this size, everyone is clearly in it for a good time.

Day, Freeman, Ferrell, and Neeson stand out as the most entertaining of the bunch, with the typically brooding Neeson handling the vocals of a dual role that’s unlike anything he’s ever done.

There’s a clever mix of computer animation and stop-motion techniques here that make most of the film’s moving parts – including the characters – appear stiff and wooden. In short, it’s exactly how living, breathing LEGO people would move if you were playing with them.

The special effects – explosions, fire, crashing waves – are all cleverly made of LEGO pieces.

Folks might recognize a few blockbuster clichés from “Transformers” and “The Avengers,” but the script from writers/directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller (“21 Jump Street,” “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs”) is full of enough subversive humor to keep adults hooked while the kids are scarfing down the visual eye candy. Any grown-up who’s ever put two LEGO bricks together will have just as much fun as their children.

Only one aspect was worn thin, and that was Tegan and Sara’s bubbly anthem “Everything is Awesome”. The track is the only song allowed by President Business’s radio stations, which means it’s played nothing short of a dozen times. As the favorite song of everyone in the city of Bricksburg, “Everything is Awesome” represents a sign of the citizens’ conformity. Aside from that, the title is a pretty accurate representation of how “awesome” the rest of the film itself is. I just would’ve liked some variety in the soundtrack.
In the end, the film is more than just the sum of its bricks. It has a heart, brain, and a funny bone. Its message regarding the importance of imagination and creativity may seem predictable for a film about construction toys, but the way it’s presented comes in a fresh, colorful package that the kid in all of us could use right now. 

With "Lego," Lord and Miller have cemented their status as two of the most exciting, colorful, and imaginative filmmakers working in mainstream Hollywood today.