Happy St. Paddy’s Day – Jekyll Centurion In The Grey Bruges

Well no green beer for me this year but I thought I’d highlight some films from my favorite Irish actors.

The Grey

 

The Grey (2012) – Rated R

After narrowly surviving a deadly plane crash in the Alaskan wilderness, a band of oil riggers must battle the elements — and a pack of wolves.

Obviously, Liam Neeson kicks serious butt. He currently stars in Non-Stop which was a lot of (nonsensical) fun AND The Lego Movie (as Good Cop/Bad Cop) which was even more fun. While I enjoy his action movies, The Grey is not actually the survival story the trailer would have you believe. Instead it’s a wonderful existential treatise on life and death disguised as a survival movie.

Jekyll

Jekyll (2007) – TV-14

In modern-day London, Dr. Jekyll’s last living descendant believes he can control his dark side, but a secret society has other plans for him.”

James Nesbitt is a favorite Irish actor of mine, mostly for this British miniseries. He is just fine as Jekyll but the first time you see him as Hyde, you’ll be hooked. He currently stars as Bofur in The Hobbit movies.

In Bruges

In Bruges (2008) – Rated R

After a job goes wrong in London, two hit men are ordered to lay low at a bed-and-breakfast in Bruges, Belgium, until their boss contacts them.”

In Bruges features two of my favorite Irish actors. When he isn’t getting into trouble, Colin Farrell is quite the charmer and Brendan Gleeson is always good, usually better than his material deserves. In Bruges is absolutely hysterical, an understated gem from the folks that made Seven Psychopaths (also hysterical)

Centurion

Centurion (2010) – Rated R

In 2nd-century Britain, a famed centurion and a handful of Roman soldiers try to survive behind enemy lines after Pict tribesmen decimate the platoon.”

I really enjoy Liam Cunningham in everything. Lately I’ve caught him as Davos in Game of Thrones but that obviously isn’t on Netflix. Netflix does stream Centurion, in which Liam has a supporting role. Not only that but it has Michael Fassbender in a starring role. In spite of that, the movie is stolen by Dominic West as General Virilus and Olga Kurylenko as Etain.

 

300 Rise of an Empire – Second Verse NOT the Same as the First

This weekend I was blessed (well cursed and then blessed) to go see two movies at the theater: 300: Rise of an Empire and Non-Stop.

300 Rise of an Empire

 

300: Rise of an Empire (2014) – Rated R

Greek general Themistokles leads the charge against invading Persian forces led by mortal-turned-god Xerxes and Artemisia, vengeful commander of the Persian navy.”

I will attack the Greeks with my entire navy!” (really? because while that might seem logical, she just ends up sending them in a few at a time)

One Line Review: More is not better.

I loved 300 the book. It was a wonderful fantasy retelling of the battle of Thermopylae by Frank Miller. Thankfully he copied one of my favorite lines into his version as well:

“Our arrows will blot out the sun.” – “Then we will fight in the shade.”

Miller had just the year before seen his masterwork Sin City series adapted into an incredible movie by Robert Rodriguez, while retaining all the flavor and art of the comic. 300 was turned over to director Zack Snyder, fresh off the impressive remake of Dawn of the Dead.

Snyder slavishly followed Miller’s narrative and brought to life the graphic novel. The only real difference was a subplot in the film involving Queen Gorgo, presumably to help offset the almost entirely male cast. This subplot is rather ridiculous but it’s hard to argue against with the topless, abbed-up Spartans facing off against giants, a rhinocerous, and elephants and building walls of corpses.

300 was bombastic and filled with homoerotic scenes yet strangely has a line dismissing Athenians as “boy lovers” but I digress. 300: Rise of an Empire is based on Miller’s follow-up to 300, Xerxes. There seems to be no listing for it on Amazon and I have not read it so I’m not sure whether to place the writing blame on Miller or screenwriters Zack Snyder and Kurt Johnstad, both of whom wrote the 300 screenplay.

All of the same writing team are in place, the remaining actors reprise their roles, CGI has improved in the eight remaining years, what went wrong? The story of Themistocles is a fascinating one and would make for a great film. Unfortunately this one is ridiculous – Themistocles was not the hero of Marathon and most certainly did not kill Darius (who did not die at that battle in any case).

Ignoring that they don’t even come close to telling the story of Themistocles, 300 Rise of an Empire has the Spartans repeatedly refusing to aid the other Greeks, which is not only ridiculous but contradicts the ending of 300. Themistocles repeatedly requests their navy – they essentially didn’t have a navy. Sparta was a land power and the training of their people into elite warriors shows this but in 300 Rise of an Empire, it appears as though Sparta has more warships than the entire Greek fleet put together.

Much as I love Lena Headey in anything, her storyline here is even more farcical than in 300. In the movie, she rules the Spartans after the death of Leonidas and even commands their troops. Say what?

Lena Headey does have to take a backseat to Eva Green as Artemisia. While I enjoyed her over the top villainy, it was perhaps a bit much to dress her in fishnet (oh how I wish I were kidding) for some of the battle scenes. Someone else apparently thought better of it because it appears and disappears in different takes towards the end of the film. Please don’t get me started on her sex scene. All I will say is that there was quite a bit of nervous, uncomfortable tittering in our theater though I was too busy rolling my eyes.

Also a note on tactics – if you have fireships and a close, circular formation of Greek ships, perhaps you should lead with that. Artemisia also apparently has Navy Seals. /groan.

Obviously Zack Snyder thought this was a workable formula – take 300 and ramp to 11. The music is louder but not better, the deaths are gorier but become comically so, there are more rape scenes (seriously), more blood splatters the screen but it looks faker, it’s in 3D (though I watched the 2D version), everyone shouts or growls their dialogue.

Honestly I could go on for another thousand words detailing the absurdity of this film but it is still number one at the box office.

 

A Tale of Two Hacks Continued – 3 Days to Kill

Not only did I sit through Pompeii but I also watched 3 Days to Kill

3 Days to Kill

 

3 Days to Kill (2014) – Rated PG-13

A dying CIA agent trying to reconnect with his estranged daughter is offered an experimental drug that could save his life in exchange for one last assignment.

One Line Review: 3 Days to Kill is half a week too much.

Yesterday I picked on Paul W.S. Anderson. Today is McG’s turn. McG, with his pretentious moniker, fit right in with the world of music videos. He then made the reboot of Charlie’s Angels, which was way better than it had any right to be. Fetishistic in a good way, it featured Cameron Diaz, Drew Barrymore, and Lucy Liu as the adorable, butt-kicking leads. Scenes were constantly stolen from them due to a wonderfully extensive cast of villains and sidekicks (Bill Murray, Sam Rockwell, Tim Curry, Kelly Lynch, Crispin Glover, Matt LeBlanc, and Luke Wilson). Heck even LL Cool J and Tom Green were good in their roles.

Unfortunately McG followed this up with the rather dismal Charlie’s Angels 2: Full Throttle, the heavy-handed We Are Marshall, the humorless Terminator Salvation, and the tone-deaf This Means War. I have to think that Charlie’s Angels was a fluke, particularly after 3 Days to Kill.

3 Days to Kill smacks of formula. After watching Liam Neeson kick butt each February for the last few years, we are now trying Kevin Costner as our aging action star. This is not a bad idea but this vehicle certainly is.

3 Days to Kill is churned off the Luc Besson printing press of action movies. Luc Besson wrote and directed some brilliant action movies such as La Femme Nikita, Leon (The Professional), The Transporter, and District B13. Unfortunately he now just mixes and matches action scenes with gaping plotholes and cringeworthy plot devices to produce the next franchise.

La Femme Nikita became Point of No Return became La Femme Nikita (tv series) became Nikita (tv series). Recycled bits ended up in Columbiana. Taken 3 has been announced in spite of Taken 2 being fairly awful. The Transporter 4, 5, and 6 have been announced in addition to a failed TV series based on the property.

3 Days to Kill features that hoary old secret agent/hitman on a final mission. Our agent, Ethan Renner (Kevin Costner), finds out that he has a fatal condition in his brain that has spread to his lungs and that he has mere months to live. This results in Costner giving us cute little coughs throughout the movie – never an actual coughing fit mind you, nor does he resort to the old chestnut of spitting up blood.

There is a hilarious scene early on where McG forgets that Ethan is terminally ill and has him ride all around Paris on a bicycle. Ethan isn’t even winded but god forbid he should take two quick steps toward an enemy and he collapses.

Ethan is given the opportunity of an experimental drug to treat this condition if he finishes his mission. The experimental drug is delivered in a comic, over-sized hypodermic in a large box. When his heart races, the drug causes him to hallucinate (what they actually mean is get woozy but what they say is hallucinate). To counteract this, he occasionally has to drink vodka. Yes, specifically vodka – no, I am not making this up.

The screenplay thinks it has various interesting things to say about family. This might work if the script weren’t so idiotic. Ethan is either completely ruthless or the softest touch in history swinging from moment to moment on the script. He abducts villains to his house, tortures them lightly, and then releases them from his house yet no one has a clue where he lives.

This stupidity just goes on and on throughout the script. Everything is stretched way too thinly to do any individual subplot any justice. We have Ethan’s wife who teaches him about family as does his daughter as do the squatters in his apartment as do not just one but two different villains. None of this heartfelt, all of it feels cliched except the squatters which feels like Besson read a French news story about them and adapted it.

Costner deserves a better vehicle. You deserve a better film.

A Tale of Two Hacks – Pompeii

I took a mental health day to clear my head and went to the movies. Unfortunately I had seen most of what was showing so off to Pompeii.

 

Pompeii

 

Pompeii (2014) – Rated PG-13

A slave-turned-gladiator finds himself in a race against time to save his true love, who has been betrothed to a corrupt Roman Senator. As Mount Vesuvius erupts, he must fight to save his beloved as Pompeii crumbles around him.

One Line Review: Jon Snow should have waited for winter.

I hardly know where to begin with Pompeii. I was very fortunate to have visited Pompeii some years ago and the ruins are absolutely fascinating. In this movie, and others depicting this event, Mt. Vesuvius is shown dramatically towering in the background. When I was there, you could barely see Mt. Vesuvius in the distance so it is no wonder that people weren’t alarmed by the early stages.

Although director Paul W.S. Anderson claims a rather lavish reconstruction of the city, Pompeii had no such harbor as depicted in the movie. Nearby Herculaneum (also destroyed) was the harbor city though I guess it doesn’t have the name recognition. Women in Pompeii, particularly Aurelia and Cassia, are portrayed ahistorically, as viewed through modern sensibilities.

Paul W.S. Anderson has a flair for visuals, particularly special effects. Mortal Kombat was a fun albeit dumb movie. Event Horizon was a fun but dumb movie. Resident Evil was a fun but dumb movie. Unfortunately as he is given higher and higher budgets, the special effects go up but the fun goes down.

Two of the three scriptwriters, Janet Scott Batchler and Lee Batchler, are best known for the execrable Batman Forever. I’m not kidding. They also haven’t made a movie in a decade. The third writer, Michael Robert Johnson, was one of four credited writers on Sherlock Holmes (2009) but that is his only other credit.

The writing on Pompeii is just awful. Jared Harris looks pained at every line he has to utter. Unfortunately, Kiefer Sutherland seems to have chosen the Joaquin Phoenix route as a Roman ruler. The leads, Kit Harington (so good in Game of Thrones) and Emily Browning, merely look good. They don’t act well, aren’t charismatic, and have little chemistry on screen. You know nothing, Jon Snow!

The movie is clearly patterned off of James Cameron’s Titanic – so much so that it could be called plagiarism. Young man of the lower classes falls in love with bored, socially progressive, high society girl. Unfortunately parents have arranged her marriage to a very powerful, rich, and evil man. This evil man has a ruthless bodyguard with a weapon and knows how to quash his rival. Plans are set in motion and then calamity strikes. All they did was view this through a standard peplum gladiator plot.

The final act of Pompeii is the eruption of Mount Vesuvius and its impact on our players. The eruption and aftermath are quite well-handled and visually impressive. In reality, there were no fireballs raining down (that’s a different type of eruption) but there was a lot of eye candy. No spoilers but I did enjoy the way the movie ended, particularly as I’d been to the ruins.

Paul W.S. Anderson is currently at work on Resident Evil 6 with his wife, star Milla Jovovich.

Attila’s Exit to Hell

Attila and Exit to Hell are currently available on instant Netflix

Attila

 

Attila (2013) – Not rated

When American soldiers inadvertently steal Attila the Hun’s secret riches, the wrath of the barbarian is awakened, and the mummified warrior will stop at nothing to get back what is his.”

Roger Corman has famously said that none of his films ever lost money. I have to imagine that that is true of Asylum movies as well. I think Asylum presells their movies based on title alone (occasionally title and guest star), collects fees from Syfy and Netflix, and then turns the handcrank on their movie production machine, changing raw material into an unrecognizable hunk of garbage, and pocketing the money.

I did not actually get through the first minute of this cinematic before I was laughing uncontrollably. Attila’s first line of dialogue is “AAAAAAAAA!” which sums up how I feel about Asylum’s pictures. Then came this nugget in voiceover:

Attila’s personal Hun army rarely needed weaponry in battle. They were the weapon.”

It then shows armies charging into battle and punching their enemies in the stomach (for some reason the Hun’s enemies also fought without weapons). Apparently winning their battle, they proceed to punch and kick their way through a village with some ludicrous CGI blood spatter. Rarely have I seen a movie go off the rails in the first minute. Congratulations Asylum!

Exit to Hell

Exit to Hell (2013) – Rated TV-MA

Four creative criminals use an old angle to work a new heist, taking jobs in a gangster-run strip club prior to sticking up the place. When the robbery turns into a bloodbath, the gang escapes only as far as the deadly town of Redstone.

Exit to Hell begins with a really cheap-looking horror movie. I resisted the urge to turn it off long enough for it to become apparent that it was a movie the characters were watching. Unfortunately once in the movie proper, it doesn’t look much more expensive.

Obviously writer/director/editor/producer Robert Conway is trying for a grindhouse aesthetic here. He uses some scratchy film and bleached out colors a la Robert Rodriguez. There are also a lot of other things copied from/inspired by Rodriguez. The film borrows heavily from From Dusk til Dawn, Grindhouse, and others.

Exit to Hell stars Kane Hodder (Jason in four Friday the 13th movies, Hatchet 1-3), Tiffany Shepis (tons of horror movies, none of them memorable), and Rena Riffel (Showgirls, Striptease, The Pornographer). Acting seems to be an all-or-nothing approach, either over the top or reading from a prompt.

Unfortunately there isn’t a cohesive story to tie this string of incidents together. I applaud Conway’s efforts but ultimately this film isn’t worth your time.

 

New Netflix Streaming Releases for the Week of 3/11/14

A slew of new streaming goodies, courtesy of Netflix. The new season of Archer for me though I know the bigger news is that Star Wars: The Clone Wars is now available, including the unaired sixth season.

Action/Adventure: Sweetwater

Uptown Girls

Comedy: And Then Came Lola, Holidaze, The Starving Games, The Improv: 50 Years Behind the Brick Wall, Uptown Girls

Documentary: Rush: Beyond the Lighted Stage, Stevie Nicks: In Your Dreams, Chasing Beauty, The Iran Job, Mr. Angel

Drama: Being Mary Jane, Private Romeo, House of Boys, Pit Stop

Faith: The Book of Daniel

Spy Kids 3

Family: Spy Kids 3: Game Over, Otto the Rhino, Tad The Lost Explorer

Music: Pink the Truth About Love Tour

Star Wars Clone Wars

Television: Real Husbands of Hollywood, The Pitch, Star Wars: The Clone Wars, Rectify and a new season of Archer

Thriller: Suspension of Disbelief

The Act of Killing Danland at the Nightmare Factory

Danland, The Act of Killing, and Nightmare Factory are currently available on instant Netflix

Danland

Danland (2012) – Not rated

Dan Lear has become famous for creating amateur porn films that swap flashiness for rough, unimaginative sex. This documentary examines Lear’s psychology and what prompted him to leave his white-collar lifestyle for a far more unorthodox profession.”

One Line Review: A shudder-worthy peek inside the life of an amateur pornographer.

I find it hard to recommend this movie but it is a fascinating look at lower level players in the porn industry. The first third sets up the premise and shows Dan in his element, making ‘amateur’ porn. It rankles because you see that Dan is really not a sympathetic character and not particularly interesting. The actors and actresses in his film are not very attractive and most of the filming occurs on dirty mattresses and furniture in a rundown house. Be prepared to shudder at some of the scenes being filmed.

The second act turns that around a bit as they show what a sad life Dan has, especially once he breaks up with his girlfriend. His life just spirals down from there. The best scenes are at the Adult Video awards in Vegas where Dan, a natural salesman, clearly feels that he is important but no one wants to give him the time of day.

I will say that the ending is brilliant but definitely be aware that this film will leave you disgusted, depressed, or both.

Nightmare Factory

Nightmare Factory (2011) – Not rated

Using the career of makeup effects guru Greg Nicotero as a case study, this documentary gives you a behind-the-scenes look at the crucial role Hollywood makeup departments play in bringing horror movies to life on the silver screen.

Obviously I am biased because my daughter is a makeup artist and she has worked on a horror film (Mister White) but I found Nightmare Factory to be an excellent documentary about horror makeup. It primarily focuses on Greg Nicotero and KNB Effects but covers plenty of other ground as well.

If you love horror movies as I do, I highly recommend this behind-the-scenes look at many of KNB’s fabulous creations.

The Act of Killing

The Act of Killing (2012) – Not rated

A 2014 Oscar nominee for Best Documentary Feature, this film follows two former death squad leaders as they reenact atrocities they committed during a bloody era in Indonesia when more than a million people were slaughtered.

I was rather disappointed that the Academy gave the Documentary award to the feel good 20 Feet from Stardom rather than this brilliant concept film, The Act of Killing. The former death squad leaders not only fully acknowledge the awful things they did but reenact them for the camera in some rather startling, surreal ways. This film will open your eyes to how real evil operates and thinks.

I should not have been surprised though as last year there were four extremely depressing/hard to get through documentaries nominated and the winner was the lone feel good film, Searching for Sugarman.

 

Horrible, Just Horrible – Zombie Night and The Fog (2005)

Zombie Night and The Fog are currently available on instant Netflix.

Zombie Night

 

Zombie Night (2013) – Not rated

As night falls in a small California town, the dead rise from their graves and go looking to feast on the flesh of the living. Two families band together to face a long night of terror, fighting to survive until sunrise.

How about we make a zombie movie? No, everyone has done that already. How about we make a zombie movie starring actors from the 70s and 80s? Brilliant! We’ll pay them a pittance and rake in the money. We won’t even have to pay a screenwriter, these things write themselves.

I cannot believe that three separate people worked on this screenplay and it is still just awful. The dialogue is wooden. The plotting is ridiculous. Yes folks, it’s another Asylum movie.

I gave this one a shot because of the cast. Anthony Michael Hall (Weird Science, The Breakfast Club) and Daryl Hannah (Splash, Blade Runner) are the leads. Asylum didn’t stop there though. Alan Ruck (Ferris Bueller’s Day Off) puts in an appearance as Joseph. Jennifer Taylor (Two and a Half Men) is Karin.

Sadly they round this off with Shirley Jones (The Partridge Family) as Nana. Shirley Jones is just awful here. It won’t take long for you to root for her character to be eaten. The character is incredibly annoying and this may be the worst performance of an actor playing a blind person that I have ever seen.

It takes a lot for an actor to make an Asylum movie even worse than usual. Kudos and avoid this movie like the zombie plague.

The Fog

 

The Fog (2005) – Rated PG-13

Selma Blair, Tom Welling and Maggie Grace star in this creepy thriller about an island town off the coast of Oregon that’s forced to contend with some unwelcome visitors from its past: the spirits of lepers and sailors aboard a ship that the hamlet’s forefathers had steered astray on purpose. Those aboard the doomed vessel all wound up lost in the fog forever. Now, they’re back from the mist, eager to exact revenge on the descendants of their murderers.

I’m not sure what caused me to revisit this remake after seeing the Robocop reboot in theaters. At least the Jose Padilha was using Robocop to try to say something about our current world of drones and surveillance, even if he did fail.

Rupert Wainwright, director of The Fog remake, has no feel for the source material at all. Neither does Cooper Layne who rewrote/updated the script. Wainwright has not directed a movie since and Layne has no further adapted screenplays.

John Carpenter’s The Fog has flaws. The first act is mostly a random assortment of odd happenings. It doesn’t gel at all well with the final two acts but the final two acts are superb. Almost every choice Layne and Wainwright make to distance himself from Carpenter’s original is a misstep.

The original starred Jamie Lee Curtis, Tom Atkins, and Adrienne Barbeau. The remake replaces them with Maggie Grace, Tom Welling, and Selma Blair. In supporting roles, the original had John Houseman, Janet Leigh, and Hal Holbrook. In the remake, the supporting roles are toned down and much is turned over to the three young leads.

The most egregious mistake is the special effects. Being 1980, Carpenter was restricted to practical effects – fog machines, lighting, makeup effects. These combine brilliantly. Wainwright opts for really shoddy-looking CGI in spite of having eighteen times the budget Carpenter did. Carpenter had creatures risen from the dead. Wainwright had CGI ghosts.

Carpenter’s third act evolves into a brilliant siege film, something he excelled at, having started his career with Assault on Precinct 13. Wainwright’s third act just kind of lumbers along without any suspense. No spoilers here but Carpenter’s ending is superb, another thing he excels at (The Thing, Halloween). Wainwright/Layne’s will just have you shrugging your shoulders.

The remake of The Fog isn’t truly awful, it is just that there is nothing that it does better than the original. If it were original, it would be forgettable. Since it is a copy, why bother?

 

FREE Movies Everywhere – Disney, Divergent, 300

Disney

 

* Disney has launched Disney Movies Anywhere. It is not only a platform to sell their digital movies but you can connect it with your iTunes account to have all of your iTunes Disney movies available. If you do so, Disney will give you The Incredibles for FREE.

* Disney Movie Rewards will give you a FREE Blu-ray ($3 S&H) if you enter three movie codes (from DVDs or Blu-Rays) by the end of March. Titles to choose from include Cars, Dumbo, Secretariat, and Tron Legacy.

* NOT YET so don’t enter them until it goes live but Disney will have a promotion for the upcoming Muppet movie. Once it goes live, entering a Disney Movie Rewards number from a Muppet DVD or Blu-Ray will net you a ticket to Muppets Most Wanted.

Divergent

* On Friday, Best Buy will have movie money to see Divergent on The Hunger Games and Catching Fire steelbooks. Target also has this deal on some of their Twilight titles.

300 Rise of an Empire

* Best Buy also has movie money to see 300 Rise of an Empire on select blu-rays like 300, Clash of the Titans, Braveheart, Gladiator, Troy, Alexander, 10,000 B.C., and Wrath of the Titans. Amazon and Target also have this deal.

FREE March Movies at The Carolina

Carolina Cinemas

 

Every Tuesday at 8 p.m., the Asheville Film Society puts on a FREE movie at the Carolina in theater 6. Membership is not necessary to attend. Arrive early as they have gotten very crowded. March is apparently dedicated to Phillip Seymour Hoffman.

3/4 Almost Famous (2000, Cameron Crowe)

3/11 Doubt (2008, John Patrick Shanley)

3/18 Synechdocche, New York (2008, Charlie Kaufman)

3/25 Pirate Radio (2009, Richard Curtis)

Thursday Horror Picture Show

 

Every Thursday night at 8, Ken Hanke & Justin Souther put on a FREE horror movie in Carolina’s cinema lounge.

2/6 Bela Lugosi DOUBLE FEATURE: Night of Terror (1933, Ben Stoloff) and The Corpse Vanishes (1942, Wallace Fox)

2/13 Curse of the Cat People (1944, Gunther Frisch, Robert Wise)

2/20 Phenomena (1985, Dario Argento)

2/27 Daughter of Dr. Jekyll (1957, Edgar G. Ulmer)