The Escapist Review
Review # 144
Director – Rupert Wyatt
Cast – Brian Cox, Damian Lewis, Joseph Fiennes, Seu Jorge, Liam Cunningham, Dominic Cooper, Steven Mackintosh, Frank O’Sullivan, Jack Walsh
The Escapist stars Brian Cox in a stunning turn as Frank Perry, an inmate in an unnamed English prison. Hearing news of his daughters sudden illness (brought on by an unknown-to-him drug addiction), he decides he must see her before she is lost to him. With help from a brash boxer (Joseph Fiennes), an old friend (Liam Cunningham), and a drug dealer (Seu Jorge), he meticulously plans an escape, while trying to avoid the attentions and cruelty of the powerful inmate known as Rizza.
I love movies that confine themselves to one are. A remote manor house with Agatha Christie, a tall tower for John MacClane (before the airport, the city, and then whatever he did in Die Hard 4). The rules are always so clear, bringing great satisfaction when the hero manages to succeed. In this case e are immersed immediately into the rough and tumble world of the prison. We creep through the halls with the characters, and feel just as scared as they do. With rapists and murderers around every corner, we don’t blame Frank for wanting to escape, we would probably even forgive him without his daughter as motivation.
The Escapist structure is based on a bit of time jumping, from plan of escape to its execution, back and forth and so on. While a tad confusing the first time, I loved this device here. Sometimes it can be pretentious or just disconcerting, but it is not so here. It built tension in a very effective manner.
And tension really is the key to the movie. Stakes are high, and people get hurt. Many even die, and when Frank and Co. do make it out of the prison walls, they realize that the worst is yet to come… they must navigate their way through old tunnels and subways, deep underground. We want Frank to get out and meet his daughter for one last time, and it constantly seems like he may not make it out. And then comes the twist…
They say the best thing to do with a “twist movie” is to not only not reveal the twist, but not reveal that there is a twist at all. But what happens when the twist is the only bad thing about the movie? Such is the case here. It destroys the preceding two hours, rendering them absolutely needless. Not only that, but it is a bit vague as well, begging questions instead of providing answers. It’s plain insulting.
The Escapist is an absolutely thrilling and fascinating movie that is wasted with a ridiculous twist that slaps the audience in the face for following the characters as long as they have. Wonderful actors do great work here, but one script change would probably have made this into my favorite prison escape movie. As is, it is just frustrating.
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The Perfect Host Review
Review # 143
Director – Nick Tomnay
Cast – David Hyde Pierce, Clayne Crawford, Nathaniel Parker, Helen Reddy, Megahn Perry, Joseph Will
The Perfect Host is a fairly low-budget thriller/horror film, starring David Hyde Pierce as Warwick, a seemingly mild-mannered man who finds himself unwilling host to John, (played by Clayne Crawford), a young man who is on the run from a bank heist. Things take a turn for the worse for John, as things are wont to do. He quickly comes to realize that this particular choice of refuge was very poorly chosen, as Warwick has…well… issues. In fact, he is a bit of a full-blown psycho.
I don’t think it ruins the movie to reveal that, as we learn this very early on. In fact, this is just the first of many twists. Many, many twists. Too many. So despite a good start, good performances, and the intriguing idea at its core, this movie becomes irredeemably muddled, confusing, and almost a chore to sit through.
At first, David Hyde Pierce is very, well, David Hyde Pierce, but slides very well into his characters dark side. There are many downsides to having a much-loved character on a long running TV show, and of course association with that role is one of them. Thus, I could not help but see Frasier‘s little brother Niles pop in and out occasionally, but that stops quite quickly when he starts bashing John over the head with things. We can appreciate this nice bit of anti-casting, as Warwick is anything but a shy milquetoast. The problem, however, is that while the characters are performed well, they’re all wrong. Just plain wrong. We don’t care about any of them, and once the multiple twists keep on coming and character motivations are revealed (often revealed but never explained), we just don’t give a damn any more. While some movie can make unlovable characters work, this one doesn’t even try.
The Perfect Host is essentially torture porn that tries to substitute a fun performance from David Hyde Pierce for torture, but then castrates the character with one strange move after another. The final act is unbelievably bad, with no focus, no point, and no sense of what the hell the movie should be. I have never wanted to yell at the screen quite like this before. With a great third act this could have been a decent movie. An early trailer promised a movie with a clear identity and a simple story, but oh no. Bring on the pointless twists! They work so well for M. Night, right?
Despite a decent first act, The Perfect Host is a horrible mess that makes itself worse as it goes along. The actors work is done well, but the script is all over the place. I was intrigued by the movies awesome trailer, but don’t waste your time on this movie folks. Not even David Hyde Pierce can save it. It is full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.
Look, it even made me quote Shakespeare in a movie review. How’s that for pretentiousness, eh?
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Upcoming Movies – The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
(Opening Date: December 14, 2012)
And now, a two month old trailer!
The Hobbit is the prequel to Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy. The book The Hobbit is quite dis-similar in tone to The Lord of the Rings (it is much more kid friendly), so it will be interesting to see how they tie this to the previous movies.
After much speculation, director Peter Jackson has returned to the series. Martin Freeman is the new Bilbo, and a more perfect casting there could not be. A lot of the old gang is back (including a few characters who were not in the books). Ian Holms reprises his role as “old Bilbo”, Elijah Wood is back as Frodo, and even Orlando Bloom will appear as Legolas. There are good reasons to bring them back though, so hopefully it won’t seem jarring.
The trailer is below.
I must admit to getting goosebumps when that song kicks in. The movie seems very close to the tone of The Lord of the Rings, but perhaps not as intense. That is fine by me, as The Hobbit has to build up to the first three.
I think the footage we see here is purely from the first movie, which will be released in December 2012. The second part, The Hobbit: There and Back Again, will come in December 2013.
Tomatometer Rating Guess: 88%
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Upcoming Movies – Seeking a Friend for the End of the World
(Opening Date: June 22, 2012)
Having just started to go through the US version of The Office, it is somewhat of a coincidence for me that a trailer for a new Steve Carell movie should pop up today. Seeking a Friend for the End of the World is directed by Lorene Scafaria, whose biggest accomplishment so far is to write the screenplay for Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist. This is her first directing credit. Check out the trailer below.
We all know Steve Carell as a great comedic talent, but he often is better than the actual movie in which he stars (Evan Almighty, Date Night, Get Smart, etc.) This one is going in a different direction than his usual comedy stylings though. He still playing a nebbishy guy, but the tone here is not buffoonish slapstick. There looks to be some genuine sweetness here. Whether it goes sappy or not, only time will tell, but I am looking forward to this one.
And of course it’s always good to see the under rated Keira Knightley, she always brightens up a movie. Oh, and Patton Oswalt!
Tomatometer Rating Guess: 72%
(Current Tomatoemeter Rating is 54%. Ouch, quite far off that time.)
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Upcoming Movies – The Bourne Legacy
(Opening Date TBA 2012)
The Bourne Trilogy are great examples of the spy action genre, with Matt Damon coming to embody the amnesic Jason Bourne. (Also a member of the big three “JB” spies… James Bond, Jack Bauer, and Jason Bourne.) News of a fourth film was met with equal measures scepticism and curiosity, especially as Damon would not return. This fourth would be not be a prequel, sequel, or even a reboot, but a “side-quel”, a movie that takes places in the same universe as the original series but not featuring the lead actor. Many of the supporting cast will appear, including Albert Finney, David Strathairn, Joan Allen, Scott Glenn, and adding Ed Norton (ugh…), Oscar Isaac, and Jeremy Renner as the new lead, Aaron Cross. The director is Tony Gilroy. Check out the trailer below.
It doesn’t really show too much, does it? Those criss-cross bands… arg… But visibility issues aside, Renner is a good action man, having proved himself in Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol. But he looks rather generic to me… I don’t know if he will have the personality that Damon has. But it is perhaps unfair to judge so early, and against such a revered predecessor as well.
The director, Tony Gilroy, wrote the first three movies and the new one as well. He also directed the awesome George Clooney movie Michael Clayton, and for that reason alone I am cautiously optimistic. Michael Clayton showed Gilroy’s great directorial style. It was measured, slick, and just really, really, good. Hopefully The Bourne Legacy has a bit of that.
Here’s hoping The Bourne Legacy is worthy to sit on the shelf next to Damon’s version!
Tomatometer Rating Guess: 78%
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Review # 142
Director – Josh Trank
Cast – Dane DeHaan, Alex Russell, Michael B. Jordan, Michael Kelly, Ashley Hinshaw
Chronicle has in its story the embodiment of all our teenage desires. Who as a teen did not dream of being able to fly, or of wowing their classmates with telekinetic abilities? Come on, you know you did.
The three high schoolers of Chronicle contract their powers after investigating a mysterious hole in the middle of the woods. At the bottom is a glowing blue something; we never find out what exactly it is (and don’t need to frankly), but the next thing our trio knows is that, using their minds, they can manipulate Lego blocks in mid-air, move cars around in parking lots, and throw wicked curveballs. It starts off as innocently as that. These are teens after all, normal teens, with all the annoying traits you would associate with them. They are uncertain of their place in the world, and they are emotional. They just happen to have the ability to do move objects with their minds, and they react accordingly.
The main character of the three, Andrew, is a quiet loner who likes playing with cameras. It is mainly through his camera that we see the events of Chronicle unfold. His father is a drunk who beats him, and his mother is dying. He is not a happy child. The second, Matt, is his cousin. He is a bit more “normal”, and in a neat switch, ends up being the protagonist in the third act. The last one in the group is “the popular guy”, Steve, a nice kid who can be a bit of an arrogant jock. These kids would not normally be friends, this is made clear to us. But experience can bond people together, and these three soon find themselves spending most of their time together. Who else would you hang out with but the only two other people on Earth who can fly? Who else could you throw a football around with at 5,000 feet?
The strength of the movie (and it’s point really) is its demonstration of the old adage, “Power corrupts”. It does this fairly well, although its way of showing one of the characters “go bad” can be too on-the-nose. Some lines seem ripped out of all those movies where the bad guy says something along the lines of “Humans are an inferior species. You wouldn’t worry about killing a bug, would you?” Don’t all super villains use that line? And I will never forgive the use of the line “I am the apex predator!”
In the end Chronicle’s story is not that new (hell, add a light saber and it is the Star Wars prequel trilogy squished down to 90 minutes), but the point is the way the story is told. It is the writing that is the star here, it is truly fantastic. The characters are all fully realized and fleshed out, and the teens act like teens. They don’t spout one-liners or incessantly quote pop culture. This is not the O.C., and we can thank God for that.
The found footage style can be very immersive, and has worked excellently in movies like Cloverfield and REC. It is used to good effect here in general, but I must say the concept feels forced at times. The problem with found footage is that there must be a good reason for there to be a camera present. This is stretched to the limit a couple of times, mainly with the character of Matt’s girlfriend. We can accept a loner like Andrew always carrying a camera around with him. There is even a nice speculative line near the beginning that the reason for the camera is that it keeps him at a distance from events. But to add another character, a good-looking sociable girl, who also randomly tapes everything “for her blog” feels forced. It doesn’t ruin the movie, but it is dangerous.
Chronicle is an involving movie with extraordinary writing. The characters are fully formed, and while the story may not be that new, the style feels so new that we don’t mind. Max Landis, who wrote the movie and is Blues Brothers director John Landis’ son, is a great new talent to keep an eye on. Easily recommended.
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Upcoming Movies – The Amazing Spider-Man
(Opening July 3, 2012)
A new trailer for The Amazing Spider-Man debuted today. Directed by Marc Webb, it stars Andrew Garfield as the titular character. Filling out the cast are Emma Stone, Rhys Ifans, Martin Sheen, Sally Field, and Denis Leary. Watch the trailer below.
That’s quite an eclectic cast, really, and they all seem to fit like a glove into their roles. And who would have though to put Marc Webb in the director’s chair? His biggest previous movie was the whimsical romantic dramedy 500 Days of Summer, although he does have an extensive career with music videos.
That a reboot was fast tracked so soon after Sam Raimi’s very succesful franchise has been a bit controversial, not to mention with the seemingly odd choice of director. On top of that the movie sends Peter Parker back to high school, and goes with a different girl friend. Despite all that I was kinda looking forward to this version, mainly because I flat out didn’t like Raimi’s films. It was too shiny and plastic (in both look and story), with forced humor and wooden acting. This version (at least in the trailer) seems to have more going or it.
Here is the first trailer released for the movie. Check out that awesome final shot!
And so, the reign of the superhero movie continues. Superhero movies have been the moneymaking force in cinema for the last decade, since X-Men started it all in 2000. I don’t know if this is necessarily a bad thing, as they are getting better and are in general decent movies. But this is a huge bubble, and it must break sometime. I mean, it has to, right?
Tomatometer Rating Guess: 82%
(Current Tomatometer Rating: 71%. Quite aways off again!)
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The Exorcist: Extended Director’s Cut Review
Review # 141
Director – William Friedkin
Cast – Ellen Burstyn, Linda Blair, Jason Millers, Max von Sydow, Lee J. Cobb, William O’Malley
– followed by Excorcist II: The Heretic
I am not a horror movie fan in general, and don’t expect to become one any time soon. I have a sneaking suspicion this is the result of all the torture porn out there, which isn’t true horror, in my opinion anyway. I just don’t like horror movies that rely on gore and/or jump moments for their effect. The horror movies I do like tend to inspire not so much horror per se, but a slow and rising feeling of dread. Movies where the tension just builds up and builds up, not to be released in a “jump” moment, but in an inevitable series of events, the climax that the movie has been building too.
The Exorcist is a movie like that. It hasn’t aged well in some ways, as in todays desensitized culture the shock elements are perhaps not as shocking as they once were. But The Exorcist is still unnerving, chilling, and even moving. This is good, as those are the more important elements of the movie anyway. The story is really at the forefront here, and that’s how you make a good horror movie, or any movie for that matter, regardless of genre.
We follow actress Chris MacNeil (Ellen Burstyn), whose young daughter Regan (Linda Blair) is starting to behave oddly. After countless doctors fail to come to a diagnosis, and as Regan is acting worse and worse, she feels she has no choice but to turn to a priest for an exorcism. She finds Father Karras (Jason Miller), a priest who privately feels himself to be losing his faith in God. He manages to convince the church that an exorcism is required, at which point Father Merrin (Max von Sydow) is brought in to lead it.
This movie of course has stirred up quite a bit of controversy in its time, mainly of course for the disturbing and hideous transformation of sweet 12-year-old Regan into a possessed blasphemer and, well… cross fetishist, but the scenes detailing her experiences with the medical community are almost as bad. Perhaps it is because this torture seems to come from a more real and concrete world. It is to the movie’s credit that by the end of the movie we fully believe that the demons and exorcism are just as real. The director apparently had a lot of experience with making documentaries. Perhaps the sense of realism that is palpable throughout the movie stems from that. Strange though it may seem, the most important thing in horror movie is that sense of realism. Without it, no strange and gruesome events would ever be really scary.
The Exorcist is a drama with scary bits, and works beautifully that way. It puts story above scares. While the shock factor may not work quite as well to a modern viewer, it makes up for it with an engaging story and excellent acting. Highly recommended (to those who can stomach this kinda thing).
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