Gringo

March 8, 2018 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: David Oyelowo, Joel Edgerton, Charlize Theron
Directed by: Nash Edgerton (“The Square”)
Written by: Anthony Tambakis (“Warrior”) and Matthew Stone (“Intolerable Cruelty”)

It’s been a decade since filmmaker Nash Edgerton, brother of actor/director Joel Edgerton (“The Gift”), released his first feature film, “The Square,” an exciting Australian crime drama that finds a unique way of telling a typical bag-of-money story without going through the same tired tropes (it’s comparable to 1998’s “A Simple Plan”).

With “Gringo,” Edgerton, even with an impressive cast, which includes his brother in a lead role, can’t recapture the same kind of thrills his debut movie provided. Leading the way is actor David Oyelowo (“Selma”) as Harold, a mid-level manager who fakes his own kidnapping in Mexico while helping his horrible bosses Richard Rusk (Joel Edgerton) and Elaine Markinson (Charlize Theron) close a deal on a marijuana pill that could make their pharmaceutical company tons of cash. The biggest problem with “Gringo” is that there are far too many unnecessary subplots, which the weak narrative can’t support.

Plus, besides Harold, the majority of the characters are so unlikeable, it’s impossible to invest much into them. If the dark comical personality traits of Richard and Elaine worked better, it would be a different story, but none of what they do or say feels authentic or even satirical enough to keep the film’s tone from going off the rails. “Gringo” definitely has a nasty streak, but Edgerton and crew fail to make it cut deep enough.

Atomic Blonde

July 28, 2017 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Charlize Theron, James McAvoy, John Goodman
Directed by: David Leitch (debut)
Written by: Kurt Johnstad (“300”)

I’m firmly on the record as being on board for everything that “John Wick” maestros David Leitch and Chad Stahelski attach their names to from now until the end of time. Their action scenes are among the best cinema has to offer this side of Gareth Evans, and the worlds they create are so rich they put entire blockbuster franchises to shame.

Leitch’s “Atomic Blonde,” headlined by Charlize Theron, is another explosive showcase of the director’s talent. A lot of press lately has focused on Charlize doing her own stunts, and the movie certainly delivers on heroine ass-kicking. There’s decidedly less action here than in either of the John Wick installments, but Leitch cranks up the mayhem here to unprecedented levels of insanity. One particular sequence featuring a car chase is easily in contention for one of the greatest action sequences ever put to film.

In case you hadn’t already caught on, “Atomic Blonde” has fantastic action sequences. Regretfully, it doesn’t offer anything beyond that. Atomic Blonde has a running time of 115 minutes, and you really feel it. So much time is spent on exposition and backstory, but none of it accomplishes anything beyond turning the film into a dull slog. In adapting the graphic novel series by Anthony Johnston and Sam Hart, screenwriter Kurt Johnstad (both “300” movies, “Act of Valor”) tries his hardest to make a Cold War thriller, but even the slowest John le Carre moments bubble with more intrigue.

Review etiquette requires me to give some sort of a plot synopsis, but I’m going to have to forgo that formality due to the lamentable fact that the events that play out in the film are so instantly forgettable. Even great supporting talent like John Goodman, Toby Jones, and Sofia Boutella seem bored by having to deliver lifeless dialogue that is simultaneously dense and dull. Theron’s performance has a bit of that lifelessness too, which works for her character, but surrounding her lethal assassin with similar cold beings lessen her performance’s effect.

On the flip side, James McAvoy and Eddie Marsan tear up the screen in such a way you really want to see the crazy movie that they were in. There are lots of cases where Leitch seems to be down to make that movie, too, what with his upbeat (albeit on the nose) 80s soundtrack and his neon-tinged visuals. Ultimately, though, not even the brilliant mind of Leitch can save this movie. There’s a great ballet of carnage on display in “Atomic Blonde,” but the remainder of the film is so painfully out of tune you leave the theater wondering why such greatness had to be showcased alongside something so tepid.

The Huntsman: Winter’s War

April 23, 2016 by  
Filed under Jerrod, Reviews

Starring: Chris Hemsworth, Jessica Chastain, Emily Blunt
Directed by:  Cedric Nicolas-Troyan (debut)
Written by:  Evan Spiliotopoulos (“Hercules”) and Craig Mazin (“The Hangover Part II”)

I know for a fact that I saw 2012’s “Snow White and The Huntsman” on DVD, delivered to my mailbox by Netflix (!) and watched with all of the urgency I could muster (meaning it sat on the TV stand for months before I decided to just get it over with). Perhaps best known for featuring a dull “Twilight”-era Kristen Stewart (as Snow White) paired with slumming Thor Chris Hemsworth (as Eric, the Huntsman) to take on evil queen Ravenna (Charlize Theron in a vampy ham sandwich performance) and some fairly striking imagery featuring a liquidy golden mirror on the wall, the first adventure did well enough (I guess) to warrant this odd, Stewart-less prequel/sequel that isn’t afraid to outright steal from things that are popular with the kids these days, namely “Game of Thrones” and “Frozen.”

“The Hunstman: Winter’s War” opens years before the first film, with dastardly Ravenna taking control of a kingdom after killing the sitting king during a magically-charged chess match. Meanwhile, her kindly sister Freya (Emily Blunt) has fallen in love with a prince and given birth to a daughter. Tragedy strikes, however, and when it appears the prince has killed the girl, Freya’s latent ice-princess powers are activated, and in her rage and sadness she exiles herself to the frozen north to conjure up an ice castle of her own. Please, stop me if you’ve heard this before.

Anyway, Freya enslaves children in her kingdom, training them as Huntsmen and forbidding them to fall in love. Two of them grow up to be Eric and Sara (Jessica Chastain), who, of course, fall in love. Freya loses her cool, however, and ices things up (sorry) by making Eric believe Sara has been killed. He runs for his life and goes on to have his adventures with Snow White in the first movie.

Several years later, Snow White (played by the back of a brunette’s head, since Stewart doesn’t return) sends her prince to tell Eric he has to get Ravenna’s mirror and destroy it, since it’s killing Snow White. Or something. So he and a couple of dwarves (Nick Frost and Rob Brydon) set off on a quest to get this done, and are helped along the way by a mysterious stranger who…screw it, it’s Sara. She was never dead. It was a trick!

After 45 minutes of unpacking the backstory and connective tissue, “The Huntsman: Winter’s War” finally kicks into the story and…it’s just not that interesting, and the blatant cribbing from other medieval-ish media is supremely distracting as well. Chastain’s thankless character is essentially a less-vulgar version of Ygritte the Wildling in “Game of Thrones,” and all the shit with Blunt’s ice queen borders on “Frozen” plagiarism so much you can imagine Disney lawyers drafting a lawsuit as the film unfolds. Theron, in what amounts to a cameo appearance, seems to be the only one having any fun, which will be true for the audience as well.

Mad Max: Fury Road

May 15, 2015 by  
Filed under Jerrod, Reviews

Starring: Tom Hardy, Charlize Theron, Nicholas Hoult
Directed by: George Miller (“Mad Max,” “Happy Feet”)
Written by: George Miller (“Babe: Pig in the City,”) and Brendan McCarthy (debut) and Nico Lathouris (debut)

I’m not going to lie and say that I can’t let spectacle wash over me from time to time in a movie theater, ignoring the flaws or lack of substance in a story, but when it comes to assessing the film after the fact, after the awe and excitement have worn off, the shortcomings are typically the first thing that come rushing to mind. Wait, why were those guys doing that thing? Who is this guy again? What’s the deal with the [insert elaborate mythological back story that’s not explained whatsoever]? Such is the case with “Mad Max: Fury Road,” an insane 2-hour post-apocalyptic car chase across the desert that doesn’t really amount to anything more than, well, an insane 2-hour post-apocalyptic car chase across the desert.

The paper-thin plotting kicks off with stoic, lizard-eating Max Rockatansky (Tom Hardy, stepping into the role that put Mel Gibson on the map 30-plus years ago) being captured by “war boys” to be used as a “blood bag” for weaker warrior Nux (Nicholas Hoult). The war boys are loyal to Immorten Joe (Hugh Keyas-Byrne, who played villain Toecutter in previous Mad Max films), a warlord who controls his subjects through brutality and strictly rationing water. When Joe sends his most trusted Imperator, Furiosa (Charlize Theron) on a mission across the desert in a war rig to acquire gasoline and bullets, Furiosa instead leads the convoy on a mission to deliver Joe’s sex-slave wives to a the colony Furiosa grew up in, freeing the women from their captivity. Joe and the war boys give chase, with Max strapped to the front of Nux’s dune buggy like a living masthead. When a dust storm interrupts the pursuit, Max is able to escape Nux and form a reluctant alliance with Furiosa. The chase resumes, and doesn’t ever really stop for anything else, not even to explain what the hell is going on.

As other reviews for “Fury Road” reach critical mass, heralding the film as an amazing piece of filmmaking and one of the best films of the year, I’m left wondering why I’m missing out on the breathtaking excitement. Have I been spoiled by years of Marvel blockbusters, where the mythology is explained like it’s going to be on a final exam in theaters in 3 years’ time? Is my general lack of knowledge of a 36-year-old Australian action franchise somehow a hindrance to properly enjoying mega-budget action film in 2015? Maybe to both, but it really boils down to basics: the story just isn’t there for me to take the enjoyment to next level. I want to know more about this world, and director George Miller just seems intent to focus on the admittedly amazing mix of physical and CGI effects with little regard for anything else.

Young Adult

January 1, 2012 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Charlize Theron, Patrick Wilson, Patton Oswalt
Directed by: Jason Reitman (“Up in the Air”)
Written by: Diablo Cody (“Juno”)

It’s taken screenwriter Diablo Cody (Showtime’s “United States of Tara”) a few years to get the memo, but in her latest film, “Young Adult,” it looks as if she’s started paying attention to some of the constructive criticism aimed straight at her hipster heart. Besides cutting back a bit on the forced pop-culture references, Cody seems to have also put the reigns on the gimmicky prose that marked her fresh albeit frustrating pro-choice dark comedy “Juno” back in 2007. She really has! Honest to blog!

Despite my own “Juno”-related cynicism, I still found the Academy Award winner a sweet coming-of-age story that would probably brighten my day if I came across it on cable. The extreme likeability of Ellen Page (“Inception”) in the title role overcame the overly smarty-pants dialogue. With “Young Adult,” however, Cody and director Jason Reitman (“Up in the Air”), who reunite for the first time since the prego indie, don’t have that same advantage. Instead, Cody challenges both herself (and her audience) with a movie character as attractive on the inside as Michael Cera showing off his pasty chicken thighs in flimsy running shorts. It’s not an easy task, but with some surprisingly refined writing, Cody proves in possession of more creativity and humor than her phony pen name would lead you to believe. (That is, of course, provided you disregard her misguided foray into the horror genre with “Jennifer’s Body” as just a bad dream.)

In “Young Adult,” Oscar-winner Charlize Theron (“Monster”) stars as Mavis Gary, the kind of emotionally detached individual who doesn’t swoon over babies or cry over breakups. Author of a young-adult book series (think “Twilight Saga” scribe Stephenie Meyer without the vamps), Mavis subsists on Diet Coke breakfasts and promiscuous sex inside her filthy bachelorette pad. She spends her time watching trashy reality TV and living vicariously through the naive teenie boppers she writes about inside the pages of her paperbacks.

Having never really matured past her high school years where she was both lauded as a queen bee and loathed as a “psychotic prom-queen bitch,” Mavis enters into a delusional state of grandeur when she is included in a mass email from her ex-boyfriend Buddy Slade (Patrick Wilson) about the birth of his new baby. Instead of simply hitting “reply” and offering congratulations, Mavis misreads the message from Buddy as a call for help and decides to pack up and pay him a visit back in her small hometown of Mercury, Minnesota. There, the cold, calculating and materialistic Mavis forms an unlikely acquaintance with Matt Freehauf (Patton Oswalt), a dweeby former high school classmate she hardly remembers despite the fact his locker was right next to hers. As Matt, Oswalt gives a sincere and grounded performance much like he does in the lead role of 2007’s scarcely-seen dark comedy “Big Fan.”

“Buddy Slade has a life,” Matt says trying to dissuade Mavis from wrecking Buddy’s happy marriage. In that, he’s also suggesting that Mavis needs to get a life of her own, too. There is no epiphany or happy ending in “Young Adult.” Theron embraces her lack of congeniality with a remarkable combination of resentment, hostility, and self-hatred that is both uncomfortable and compelling, especially when the end result is such a colossal train wreck.

The Road

November 30, 2009 by  
Filed under CineStrays

Starring: Viggo Mortensen, Kodi Smith-McPhee, Charlize Theron
Directed by: John Hillcoat (“The Proposition”)
Written by: Joe Penhall (“Enduring Love”)

Man is left to fend for himself in the excessively bleak and beautifully shot film “The Road.” Adapted from a Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Cormac McCarthy (the same author who gave us 2007’s Academy Award Best Picture winner “No Country for Old Men”), “The Road” stars Oscar-nominee Viggo Mortensen (“Eastern Promises”) as a father who is trying to survive in a post-apocalyptic world with his son (Kodie Smith-McPhee). The film follows the two traveling south towards the coast and avoiding anyone they see out of fear for their safety. Since food is scarce everywhere, many people have resorted to cannibalism. While the narrative leaves more to be desired, director John Hillcoat and cinematographer Javier Aguirresarobe create a devastatingly miserable atmosphere that can’t be shaken. Along with the gray palette and brilliant performance by Mortensen and McPhee, “The Road” may not be one many in the mainstream will want to travel, but there is a daunting strangeness that could reel some of the more curious cineastes who have a yearning for something truly disheartening.

Astro Boy

October 22, 2009 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Freddie Highmore, Nicolas Cage, Charlize Theron
Directed by: David Bowers (“Flushed Away”)
Written by: David Bowers (“Flushed Away”) and Timothy Harris (“Space Jam”)

For those familiar with Japanese anime and manga, there is no one more influential from the genre than the late Osamu Tezuka, the artist behind such revered creations as “Metropolis” and “Kimba the White Lion.” If Tezuka was already on your radar, then you probably also know that in the early ’50s he published the comic book “Astro Boy,” the story of an android child created by a brilliant scientist to take the place of the son he lost in a car accident.

While most families who flock to the theaters to see the Hollywood version of Tezuka’s vision probably won’t care too much about the mythology, they should still know that the original story is much more appealing that the one director/writer David Bowers (“Flushed Away”) has jerry-rigged for us in the animated feature “Astro Boy.” Borrowing from films such as “WALL-E,” “Pinocchio,” “Oliver Twist,” and a host of other enchanting classics, Bowers fashions together some respectable computer-generated images young kids will enjoy, but the narrative is left as a mishmash of charming ideas and political undertones that transform into a fairly routine animation.

In “Astro Boy,” Dr. Tenema (Nicholas Cage, whose voice simply doesn’t fit his character no matter how creative he gets with his monotonous tone) builds a robot in the likeness of his son Toby (Freddie Highmore) who he loses in a freak laboratory accident. Not only does the android look exactly like Toby, Dr. Tenema has equipped him with all of his son’s memories.

Unable to accept his science experiment as a replacement for his dead child (he probably should’ve said something a little earlier, huh?), Dr. Tenema turns his back on the robo-boy (in the original he sells him to a circus) and leaves him to fend for himself against a pursing military who wants to destroy him. To escape, Astro leaves the bustling Metro City for a new life on Earth, the planet under his hovering metropolis, which has been reduced to a landfill (sans cute, love-struck, squared robot to clean up the mess).

There, Astro Boy befriends a group of salvage yard youngsters and their makeshift leader Ham Egg (Nathan Lane) and learns to live life as – say it with me kids – a real boy. But living on Planet Trash isn’t an option anymore when warmongering President Stone (Donald Sutherland) aims to get his hands on the positive energy source that powers Astro’s superhero abilities.

While the action sequences keep the movie from nose-diving into a scrap-metal mess, Bowers comes up short as a storyteller for anyone who won’t be begging for “Astro Boy” action figures for Christmas. For teenagers and parents, the narrative will come off as stiff as Astro Boy’s rockabilly hairdo.

Hancock

July 2, 2008 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Will Smith, Charlize Theron, Jason Bateman
Directed by: Peter Berg (“The Kingdom”)
Written by: Vincent Ngo (debut) and Vince Gilligan (“Home Fries”)

With Marvel and DC Comics reaping all the superhero glory over the last few years, it was about time someone else came in to attempt to claim their position in the genre again.

While “The Incredibles” was successful in doing it for animated films in 2004 and “My Super Ex-Girlfriend” failed to do it for action-comedies in 2006, someone else was bound to try again before another textbook “Hulk” or “Spider-Man” made a return to the big screen.

Enter two-time Academy Award-nominated actor Will Smith as the rough-edged superhero title-character in “Hancock.” What Hancock possesses in superhuman strength, speed, and flying ability, he lacks in people skills and finesse. While Superman will fly in to save the day with style, Hancock would rather cause more unnecessary damage to the city streets of L.A. before actually saving lives.

Because of his misguided acts of heroics, the citizens of L.A. view him as more of a public nuisance than a superhero. When Hancock saves Ray Embrey (Jason Bateman) from getting hit by a train, the struggling public relations specialist decides he will thank him by helping revamp his image into one that is more clean-cut and praiseworthy. He does this as his wife Mary (Charlize Theron) cautiously looks on with a few reservations about the whole situation.

Although the premise is a unique take on superhero mythology and could have probably filled an entire film on “Hancock” himself, screenwriters Vincent Ngo and Vine Gilligan throw a wrench in the second half of the film after the first half proves to be spiffy fun. You’ll know when this unjustified twist in the story takes place because “Hancock” becomes amateurish in storytelling as it veers off inside the writers’ heads and onto the script when it should have been more up-front and humorous.