Review # 162
Director – John Huston
Cast – Michael Caine, Sylvester Stallone, Max von Sydwo, Pele, Maurice Roëves, Tim Pigott-Smith, Julian Curry
There is a lot of cross over between sports films and POW films. Sports films invariably feature an under dog team who are disadvantaged in some way (Remember the Titans, We Are Marshall, Bad News Bears) playing the arrogant douche-bag team. And of course, POW films inevitably pit the good ol’ Allies against “The Huns” or “The Japs”. To combine the two was either a stroke of genius or an awful idea. The problem with Victory! is that it isn’t sure which of those options got decided on. It’s luke warm, and thus will be spat out, as the saying goes.
Plot-wise, a German officer (Max von Sydow) decides to challenge the prisoners under his watch to a game of soccer, POW’s vs. guards. Once the German higher-ups hear about this they decide it will be a great propaganda move, and decide to allow Colby (Michael Caine) to round up the best soccer players held as captives in Europe, and form a team to play the German national team in Paris. Meanwhile, Hatch (Sylvester Stallone) plans an escape to occur during the halftime of the game, aided by the local Resistance.
The movie is of two minds – there is the rather carefree, fun sports movie firstly. This is the movie that Michael Caine heads. It is interesting, fun, and a touch cheeky. Stallone heads the other side – the side that deals with the Resistance, escaping POW’s, and dangerous escapes. These topics (and the associated tones) don’t necessarily clash… but somehow they found a way. To make it worse the team decides halfway through the game to not even escape, rendering half of the movie pointless. Then to top it all off we have a ridiculous ending that is vague, un-earned, and that panders embarrassingly badly to Stallone. It has to be seen to be believed. My jaw literally dropped.
Plus the DVD print was awful. (Which brings to mind the famous joke “The portions were awful, and so small.)
Now that I’ve bitched about the ending, I must admit that the beginning had me along for the ride. We see Caine training his team, and Pele showing off his bicycle kick. Max von Sydow has a great role as the kindly but firm German head-of-camp, and the interplay between he and Caine is nice. Stallone has a subplot about his awful soccer skills that mostly works, but it would have worked better if Stallone had been content to let the movie be an ensemble piece, too. Really, the whole movie would have worked better. You can practically hear him off-screen, getting himself more screen time. But come on… did he really need a romantic interest here? Did he need to save the game in slow motion?
On the other hand you have to admire him though. We never saw Schwarzenegger trying to go so far out of his comfort zone. I’ve always admires Stallone for that… he knew what he did well, but didn’t mind trying out something new once in a while. Let’s see Chuck Norris lose 40 pounds to work with a director like John Huston. No siree, bob!
Victory! is a movie that more or less fails, despite a decent first half and a surprisingly kinetic soccer game at the end. There are quite a few British actors in the background who would become standby’s of UK film; people like Tim Piggot-Smith and Maurice Roëves. Julian Curry even makes an appearance, and it’s great to see the actor known mostly for the excellent Rumpole of the Bailey series get some work.
But unfortunately the movie can’t find the right tone, miscasts Stallone horribly, and hands us a ludicrous ending. So much for that!
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Source Code Review
Director – Duncan Jones
Cast – Jake Gyllenhaal, Vera Fermiga, Michelle Monaghan, Jeffrey Wright, Michael Arden, Russel Peters
Source Code is the second film from Moon director (and son of David Bowie), Duncan Jones. The idea at the core of the movie is that Colter Stevens (Jake Gyllenhaal) must repeatedly relive the eight minutes prior to a train bombing in order to deduce the culprit.
It’s a great idea, but I never felt it living up to its premise, and while it may be a bit unfair to judge a movie on the heights it fails to hit, we can’t help but think of how much better the movie could have been.
The movie is really a murder mystery at heart. The victims are the train passengers, the train is the island or snowbound inn of countless armchair mysteries, and the murderer must be one of the people on the train. Colter of course, is our Poroit. Agatha Christie would be proud. But what is the main rule of a murder mystery? It seems to me that is that you solve the crime at the end of the story. Source Code solves the crime far too soon, not too long after the half way point, and then moves on to a far less involving plot. This just plain doesn’t work.
Now, Stevens must try to stop the bomb exploding in the first place, despite the fact that he is repeatedly told that the mechanism which allows him to relive these events is essentially just a simulation that has no effect on real life. He insists on trying anyway, and with the illicit help of Vera Farmiga’s military character, he goes back in to save the life of all the passengers of the train. Especially the life of the hot brunette who sat across the aisle, who he apparently he has fallen in love with. The brunette with whom he has no past, no relationship, and has exchanged maybe 50 words with. Structured this way, the movie comes across as two episodes of a TV show just glued together. And the second half is nowhere near as good as the first.
Which brings us to the ending… an absolute cop-out of an ending that leaves us wanting more (in a bad way). Worse than just being a cop-out, it seems to break the rules already established previously. It just casually smashes them, and treats it like a plot twist. But a plot twist must come out of the rules already established. To go back to the murder mystery reference again, we must have been able to, if we are smart enough, figure out the ending with all the information provided; but here we had already been told (well, essentially) that the ending we get was impossible. It just felt like cheating to me.
Well, enough of the bad stuff. It cannot be argued that the actors here are all excellent, with Gyllenhaal demonstrating great leading man chops, and Farmiga once again showing us what an under valued actress she is. The true standout though is Jeffrey Wright. To those who have only really seen him in the Bond series (including me, unfortunately), his great performance as somewhat of a mad scientist will come as a shock, he really is wonderful.
Source Code is frustratingly uneven; frustrating because the first half is really good. The central idea is so strong, and filled with such promise, that it strikes me as strange that the plot line should be solved just after the half way point, to be followed by a series of much weaker events. Slack characterization and development mean we don’t care about the ensuing romantic side plot, leaving the ending lackluster and anti-climactic. The first half is great though, so that leaves the movie with a half score, 2.5 out of 5.
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Twilight: Eclipse REVIEW
Director – David Slade
Cast – Kristen Stewart, Robert Pattinson, Taylor Lautner, Bryce Dallas Howard, Jackson Rathbone, Ashley Greene, Billy Burke, Peter Facinelli
– follows Twilight: New Moon
The Twilight franchise has of course inundated our culture in a way not seen since the Harry Potter series. Team Jacob or Team Edward have become catchphrases, signifying which of the two male leads you think the lead female, Bella, should end up with. Now I have never seen the first two movies, nor have I read the books, so this review is from a Twilight outsider. Now, to get right to it.
The first two “acts” of the movie are slow and a bit unfocused. Each and every scene and line is treated as if it is the most important part of the movie. Vampires stoicly recite, and werewolves passionately overact, with poor old Bella in between them. Bella is played by Kristen Stewart, who does her best with the material (and even elevates it considerably), but she can not in the end save it from its navel gazing. Robert Pattinson as Edward the vampire reminds me somewhat of Orlando Bloom as Legolas in the Lord of the Rings Trilogy. Both have matinee great looks, both are very wooden actors, but both of them are still oddly suited to their characters.
Director David Slade (previous credits including 30 Days of Night) does deliver in the final act however. There are even a couple quite good scenes. One has Edward and Jacob trying to talk over their differences (and similarities), and is edited, acted, and even written well. The battle at the end is good as well, and the concluding scene is touching and not without a quiet sense of humour. The CGI is adequate, but not astounding.
All this is good but Eclipse can’t really get over its opening acts. If they had been written or performed at different levels (so to speak) it may have gotten by. Instead we are given the same emotional pitch all throughout. The actors (with the exception of Kristen Stewart) don’t seem to know how to read beneath their lines. They instead read each line straight, right off of the page. Subtext be darned.
Twilight: Eclipse has a decent lead in Stewart, but she fights an uphill battle with the rest of the cast, who deliver their lines dryly or with over the top sincerity. The tone is too constant, but the third act of the movie does start to deliver some decent material (at least decent compared to the first two acts). I was wavering between a 2.5 and a 3 out of 5 rating, but in the end went with the lower score, mainly because of the unfocused and fairly dull first two-thirds. I think Twilight fans (who have more invested in the characters) will get a bit more out of it than I did.
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Star Trek: First Contact REVIEW
Director – Jonathan Frakes
Cast – Patrick Stewart, Jonathan Frakes, Brent Spiner, LeVar Burton, Michael Dorn, Gates McFadden, Marina Sirtis, James Cromwell, Alice Krige
– follows Star Trek: Generations
– followed by Star Trek: Insurrection
Star Trek: First Contact is the eighth Star Trek movie, and the second to feature the cast of the Next Generation. It is directed by Jonathan Frakes, who plays Commander Riker, which makes it the fourth to be directed by a cast member, (Star Trek III: The Search for Spock and Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home were directed by Leanord Nimoy, who played Spock, and Star Trek V: The Final Frontier was directed by William Shatner, who played Captain Kirk.) The plot is set in motion when Captain Picard and Co. are sucked into a time warp with evil Borgs, who are intent on stopping a historic space flight which initiated first contact between humans and the Vulcans.
There is a myth which every Trekkie knows, that every even-numbered Star Trek movie will be good, and every odd-numbered one is destined to be bad. This certainly would seem to apply, given Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, and Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, all of which were great, while the ones in between are mediocre to awful.
Now I will admit that most people would have included Star Trek: First Contact in that list as an example of an excellent Trek movie. I however, always remember not being as fond of this film as others are. Having recently re-watched it I have no choice but to say that my memory has served me right. The film is certainly quickly paced, and features an interesting side character in James Cromwell, but the whole thing to me felt a little trite and uninteresting.
I am usually fairly skeptical about time travel plots in movies, and this one is one of the worst uses of it I have ever seen. Time travel opens up so many problems that it should be dealt with carefully, especially in a franchise. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban ran into this problem as well. The biggest problem raised with time travel is as follows: if you can go in time, why not go back and kill the villains before the events of the story? Why don’t Picard and his crew go back before the Borg arrive, and ambush them? Why not go back to the big ol’ battle and join forces with their “past selves” and help defeat the Borg? Hell, why don’t the Borg do that? etc etc. Instead of the seriousness with which this should be treated (it was done half decently in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home), we essentially have the characters (after having been “stuck in the past” for days,) suddenly saying “Well, that was fun! Now lets head back home, put in the time travel coordinates!” and off they go! Weeeeeeee, time travel sure is fun and full of absolutely no consequences, eh Picard! Excuse me while I take a dump on any resemblance of dramatic urgency. Weeeeeeee!
All of this could have been excused if, as in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, the movie was entertaining or made us feel for the characters. Instead, this felt like one long TV episode. The characters come across as dull and uninteresting, and we never feel that the characters or the Enterprise ship are ever in danger. The plot comes in half hour bursts, reinforcing the feeling that we are watching TV.
A subplot features Data, the android of the ship, being taunted by the movie’s “villain” (if she can be said to be so), a Borg queen. She knows he desires to be human, and gives him a skin graft on his arm. This could have been an interesting topic, that of a machine wishing to be human, but here we are treated to one cliché after another. These scenes were boring as heck.
Some aspects of the film are solid, granted. The special effects, despite seeing them almost fifteen years later, still hold up. James Cromwell is a welcome little splash of colour as the drunk, misunderstood pilot of the spaceship which initiates first contact. His character has some degree of dimension, and is quite funny to boot. Watching him try to welcome the calm and serene Vulcans to Earth with booze and rock music was hilarious and yet touching in a strange sort of way…
Star Trek: First Contact is well produced, but its story is sadly lacking, with no feeling of risk to the characters, and with too many discrepancies. James Cromwell is fun, and the rest of the cast do what they can. But the writing here is lazy at best. Trekkies may enjoy it (in fact, most of them do). Personally, I can’t really recommend it.
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Hot Tub Time Machine REVIEW
Director – Steve Pink
Cast – John Cusack, Craig Robinson, Rob Corddry, Chevy Chase, Clark Duke, Crispin Glover, Lindsy Fonseca, Lizzy Caplan
The latest man-child comedy to hit us is Hot Tub Time Machine, featuring John Cusack, Craig Robinson, Rob Corddry, and Clark Duke. The story is exactly that of the title: a hot tub transports three friends and one of their nephews back in time to the 80’s, where they relive one night of their childhoods. Guest stars include Chevy Chase and Crispin Glover.
The movie is a remarkably tired and lackluster affair. For what is supposed to be a Hangover type comedy, there is largely no energy in the movie whatsoever, with none of the actors doing much to help, except possibly Craig Robinson and Rob Corddry. Jokes are few and far between, and instead the plot concerns itself with dull and repetitious “dramatic moments” full of the awful, pop-psychology meandering that would make Oprah Winfrey blush. The movie tries to hold interest, I will give it that, but in the end fails.
There are a couple funny jokes, to be sure, with Craig Robinson being the main source of what little fun there is in the movie. The other actors try to hard to create a sense of empathy toward their characters that they forget to be funny. A plain stupid cameo role by Chevy Chase just digs the movie down further in the hole it creates for itself. A couple attempts at running gags are made, (one which concerns a one-armed man almost makes it) but they invariably fall flat. With a better script and director, this movie could have been great . As it is… not so much.
It’s such a pity that Hot Tub Time Machine fails to live up to the potential of its plot and preposterously great title. John Cusack, who normally picks decent material, was hopelessly misguided when he decided to act in (as well as produce) this movie. Dying is hard, but comedy is harder, as George Bernard Shaw (?) once said. It is so rare to have a good comedy come out. Those looking for the next The Hangover will be disappointed here.
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Alice in Wonderland REVIEW
Director – Tim Burton
Cast – Mia Wasikowska, Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter, Anne Hathaway, Crispin Glover, Matt Lucas, Stephen Fry, Michael Sheen, Alan Rickman, Timothy Spall, Tim Pigott-Smith, Paul Whitehouse
Alice in Wonderland is adapted from one of the best loved children’s books of all time of the same name, by Lewis Carroll. It is the latest of many adaptations, and as such its director, Tim Burton, recognized that a new approach needed to be taken to the classic tale. There is no point, he rightly thought, in merely repeating the work of others.
Burton decided to set the story some years after the books, and now Alice is in her late teens and her family is trying to marry her off to a horrid, snobby, snot of a boy. She is swept off by the White Rabbit again, who has been trying for years to get her back to Wonderland, where she must fight the legendary Jabberwocky and the evil Red Queen.
The cast performs admirably for the most part, especially for a movie shot almost entirely against green screen. The one problem in the cast is surprisingly Johnny Depp, whose Mad Hatter is all over the place, and not in the right way. First of all his accent changes dramatically from whiny and effeminate to butch and Scottish from time to time, and that is never explained. I got the sense that Depp is running out of weird characterizations, and decided to go with a mish-mash of Sweeney Todd and Willy Wonka.
The bright spots, acting-wise, are probably Anne Hathaway and Helena Bonham Carter, as the White Queen and Red Queen respectively. Anne is wonderfully dotty and “ditsy” with her over-the-top and purposefully on-the-nose portrayal of the do-gooder sister of Helena’s evil Red Queen, whose enlarged head dominates any scene she is in.
But despite the consistent work by a cast of Burton regulars, the story is the real let down of the movie. Despite a fabulous array of characters (most of which go horribly under-used) the story is the old well worn tale of a girl forced to find her true self by going on a journey to defeat an evil monarch in a fantasy land. It all leads up to a battle, where all the old clichés are trotted out on full display. Alice is told she alone can fight the Jabberwocky, and with no help (Why? Especially when it turns out to be SO easy to kill…), she finds the strength to turn down her snobby wannabe-fiance, etc etc. This makes the whole thing SO dull, SO boring. We have heard the sage words of advice, we have seen the plot SO MANY TIMES before. It is a pity Burton’s wonderful visual creativity doesn’t also extend to his story telling.
It is an old familiar complaint, to be sure, but a trend that is becoming more and more obvious. We can cry out for inventive story telling all we want, but nothing happens. Why? Because to be honest, the average moviegoer hasn’t seen as many movies as most reviewers, and thus a) doesn’t recognize old and overused stories, or b) are just looking for a little relaxation, and don’t want quality art. They want entertainment. All we can do (as people who have the audacity to think we know anything about movies) is write reviews for each other, and then go watch the movies we actually like. For as long, at least, as they keep making them.
Tim Burton is wonderfully inventive with his visual design, but the lackluster story is told with such boredom and with such a lack of energy that it hurts the movie irreparably, in my opinion. The cast is good, but none really excel. We still need our definitive Alice adaptation. Maybe sometime, someone will get it right.
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The Hurt Locker REVIEW
Director – Kathryn Bigelow
Cast – Jeremy Renner, Anthony Mackie, David Morse, Brian Geraghty, Guy Pearce, Ralph Fiennes
The Hurt Locker follows a hotshot American bomb defuser, William James, as he makes his way through a tour of duty in Iraq. James is played by Jeremy Renner, previously appearing in 28 Weeks Later.
First of all I would like to mention that I am fully aware of the massive critical success of this movie. 97% on Rotten Tomatoes is nothing to laugh at. Maybe I do need to watch the movie again. However, I don’t see what else I can do to try to like this movie. I was extremely excited about seeing it, went in with an open mind, etc. Nothing doing, though. After watching it I realized I did not like the movie at all. Where to start…
The major problem with the movie (in my view) is an extremely episodic and uneven story. I felt throughout that I was watching a series of TV episodes, unconnected except for the main characters and a vaguely similar tone.The most infuriating thing is that some of the individual sequences are quite good, riveting even. But there is very little story here, and what there is is heavy-handed and full of cliché. We’ve all seen the fully dressed guy go into the shower to show his inner turmoil; the rough military guys play-fighting and it gets out of control, thus showing how fragile war makes us, etc etc.
It isn’t like the movie is lacking in ideas either. There are probably half a dozen different plot points touched on in the movie that could have gone somewhere, but instead they stop dead, usually before they’ve had a chance to develop. The young boy whom James thinks dies, the private contractors they meet in the desert, etc. All of these could have been molded into a story, but were not.
I have also never seen a worse depiction of the Iraqi people. Every single one (with one exception) is shown as a jabbering, stupid, illogical savage who must be grabbed, pushed, or cordoned off if there is to be any order in the country. Is Bigelow trying to just show us how the US Army may see these people? If so, that didn’t come across, nor was there any addressing of the huge issues involved in the American involvement in the area. In fact the point of the movie (from what I gather, that war sucks and is addicting) gets buried by little ideological side roads, each one tricking the viewer into thinking that it will be an issue to be explored.
As I said, the movie seems like episodes of a show shoved together. Any story issues are “solved” by just bringing another celebrity in for a cameo, killing them off, and then giving us a meticulously shot explosion. With no story arc, no character development, and with no clear point of where we are going, how can we as an audience expect to care? While I do plan on watching it again to try and see why everyone else seems to like it, I didn’t care about anyone or anything in the movie on the first viewing.
The Hurt Locker consists of some amazing sequences, some extremely contrived ones, and no story to speak of to tie it all together. The performances are good (especially an amazing small cameo by David Morse). But HOW CAN WE CARE if there is no story or any character arcs? Search me.
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Director – Bruce Beresford
Cast – Pierce Brosnan, Stephen Rae, Aidan Quinn, Alan Bates, Sophie Vavasseur
Pierce Brosnan tried, and tried hard, to upset his Bond image in Evelyn. He is largely succesful in the role, even though it may not have *cough* totally gotten him away from the super spy image. He is great; it is a pity that the rest of the movie isn’t so successful.
The movie overall is charming enough, and the actors certainly do the best they can. However unfortunately a few small things really bog the movie down. One “subplot” involving the title character Evelyn, has her believing that whenever she sees “angel rays” (when the sun shine between tree leaves etc.) it means her dead grandfather is looking after her. While this could have been done fairly well, the way it is dealt with here is trite, condescending, and sappy as all heck.
The “villains” in the movie are the Minister of Education who splits up Brosnans family, and a group of nuns who keep Evelyn (and many other kids) in their convent by the order of the state. The nuns are the real baddies though, as the Minister of Education gives up his stance at the first question Brosnan’s lawyer puts to him. And frankly I’ve had enough of villainous religious institutions in cheap, formulaic movies.
The subject matter of the movie is bound to get a bit sappy, and that must be recognized. The story is tailor made for a “made-for-TV” movie approach, and that is more or less what we get here. Motives for characters are often simplistic, a romantic relationship is barely even touched upon before we see them making out in the courtroom after the ruling goes their way. (That’s not a spoiler, we all know it was going to end their way. That’s how these movies work.) If it wasn’t for Brosnan signing on I suspect this would have been making its debut on late cable.
Evelyn’s setup is promising, but the second half is mired in cliche and sappy, trite subplots. It is formulaic, but to an extent the formula still works. Brosnan is good, but again, barely raises above what is needed for the formula to work. Watch it if you like this type of thing. I personally don’t. At all.
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