The Rover

June 20, 2014 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Guy Pearce, Robert Pattinson, Scoot McNairy
Directed by: David Michod (“Animal Kingdom”)
Written by: David Michod (“Animal Kingdom”)

It’s been four years since writer/director David Michod materialized out of thin air to deliver his ambitious and expertly paced crime thriller “Animal Kingdom,” which follows a dysfunctional Melbourne family and their internal fight with loyalty when one of their own is murdered. Michod turns up the heat a few degrees, but still keeps it to a slow burn with his newest film “The Rover,” an aggressive post-apocalyptic drama set in the grimy Australian Outback that plays like a tale of revenge although our antihero’s motives are not defined until the very end.

In “The Rover,” actor Guy Pearce (“Memento”) stars as Eric, a thick-skinned loner traveling through an Australian wasteland. When his car, the only possession he seems to have besides the sweaty shirt on his back, is stolen by a trio of thieves, Eric makes it his mission to track them down and retrieve what is his. At the start of his pursuit, he meets Rey (Robert Pattinson, in what is easily the best performance of his career thus far), the simpleminded brother of one of the car thieves, who forms an unusual bond with Eric and decides he will help him find his vehicle.

Stylistically, Michod does some impressive work with the look and feel of a dried-up Australian Outback devoid of any reason for its inhabitants to live. We’re not talking about the same kind of misery in something like director John Hillcoat’s “The Road,” but Michod’s trek through the dusty countryside would probably still make any man go mad. We see that here with Eric, a hardened soul willing to do anything he can to get back what is rightfully his. Pearce’s anger is palpable, which balances effectively with Pattinson’s weak-minded nature and an almost strange need to feel accepted by Eric. In a way, it feels like the relationship between George and Lenny in author John Steinbeck’s classic novel “Of Mice and Men” from a character perspective. Both need each other in their lives for completely different reasons.

“The Rover,” however, is much more callous and bleak in its delivery. The sense of hopelessness throughout the film is suffocating and Pearce’s performance doesn’t let up for a second. As the more subdued Rey, Pattinson sheds the outer sparkle tweens flocked to in the “Twilight” series and proves he can do some fine work when a role is as rich as this. The ending might not hit as hard as Michod would like, but “The Rover” has an unapologetic mean streak that can’t be ignored.

Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark

August 26, 2011 by  
Filed under Cody, Reviews

Starring: Katie Holmes, Guy Pearce, Bailee Madison
Written by: Guillermo del Toro (“Pan’s Labyrinth”), Matthew Robbins (“Mimic”)
Directed by: Troy Nixey (debut)

Although children are curious by nature, there are certain things that should frighten even the most precocious of kids. In “Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark,” emotionally-unstable youngster Sally Hirst (Bailee Madison) hears strange and eerie whispering voices calling her name from the vents in her house. The voices beg for escape and invite her to play. Her reaction is to do all she can to let them out, rather than cower in fear. This questionable logic is the first in a series of distracting choices that riddle a horror film that lacks scares and leaves audiences muttering to themselves about the ridiculousness of it all.

Written and produced by well-established director Guillermo del Toro (“Pan’s Labyrinth”), “Dark” follows Sally who has relocated from her mother’s house to a house being renovated by her father Alex (Guy Pearce) and his new girlfriend Kim (Katie Holmes). While exploring a hidden basement, Sally finds a furnace occupied by tiny goblin-like creatures that steal sharp objects to attack their victims. They also crave children’s teeth and are sensitive to light. When the lights go out, these menacing and evil monsters whisper and torment Sally, who tries to convince her reluctant father their lives are in danger if they stay in the house.

Looking a little young for the age of the character she is playing, Bailee Madison feels like a slight miscast. Consistent with many of her films in her short-lived career, Madison’s ability to cry on cue is once again exploited. While she is obviously very good at letting the tears flow, there are always far too many scenes of her sobbing. With Madison being the main focus of the film, Holmes and Pearce both turn unmemorable supporting performances as the acceptance-craving Kim and the oblivious Alex.

Ranging from smaller implausible feats such as Sally being able to unscrew a bolt that has been sealed for perhaps hundreds of years to logical leaps that are out of place even in a horror film, “Dark” is full of moments that will leave audiences incredulous. The most annoying occurrence throughout the movie is how nobody in peril can seem to remember to flip a light switch to make the creatures scamper. As they thrash and scream, trying to fend off the fun-size miscreants, the lights only come on when someone barges down a locked door.

At one point in the film, Alex breaks down and admits he has no idea what to do. His mental crisis doesn’t come until after someone in the house is attacked and badly injured, his daughter is mentally and physically tormented, and his girlfriend slowly starts to believe Sally is telling the truth. Maybe leaving the house would be a good starting point?

While debut director Troy Nixey utilizes a few easy jump scares, a true sense of terror and dread is sorely missing. Even worse, the filmmakers strive for an entirely serious tone, which actually results in a few scenes intended to strike horror being ripe for unintentional laughter. Ultimately, “Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark” falls victim to too many horror movie clichés. While much of the movie takes place in the dark, it is no excuse for characters to miss the solutions that are right in front of their faces.

The King’s Speech

December 23, 2010 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Colin Firth, Helena Bonham Carter, Geoffrey Rush
Directed by: Tom Hooper (“The Damned United”)
Written by:  David Seidler (“Quest for Camelot”)

While it’s natural for almost anyone to get a bit nervous when speaking in public, stumbling over a few words while giving a keynote address or losing your train of thought during a toast wouldn’t signify the end of the world. If you were the King of England in 1939, however, disappointing an entire nation at the brink of war was a definite possibility. No pressure, right?

Directed by Tom Hooper (“The Damned United”) from a script by 73-year-old screenwriter David Seidler (a former stutterer himself), “The King’s Speech” tells the little-known true story of King George VI (Colin Firth), known as “Bertie” by his family and friends, and his battle with a debilitating speech impediment that causes him to panic and freeze up every time he stands in front of a microphone.

The film opens in 1925 when our tongue-tied protagonist is about to deliver a major speech as the Duke of York during the British Empire Exhibition at Wembley. The scene becomes more and more devastating as a terrified Bertie – with speech in hand – opens his mouth and is unable to string two words together without his stammer reverberating through the stadium speakers. Painful as it is to witness, Bertie’s weakness is clearly evident through these awkward moments of silence.

Unable to overcome his stutter despite ongoing vocal treatments (one of his doctors encourages him to smoke because it “calms the nerves and gives you confidence”), Bertie’s supportive wife Elizabeth (Helena Bonham Carter) sets up a meeting with Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush), an Aussie-born speech therapist and amateur actor whose unorthodox techniques don’t initially impress the duke.

But with Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin looming in the east, the monarchy needs someone confident enough to speak to the masses. Although Bertie is not meant to be the next king, the responsibility is transferred to him when his older brother David (Guy Pearce ), who holds the title of King Edward VIII for less than a year, shocks the House of Windsor when he renounces the throne so he can marry a twice-divorced American socialite.

With all of Britain watching, “The King’s Speech” builds toward King George VI’s first wartime radio broadcast to the nation. As the ineloquent king, Firth is simply mesmerizing, as is the rest of the talented cast who bring to life this fascinating footnote in British history. Charming, humorous, and engaging throughout, “The King’s Speech” is easily one of the best films of the year.

Bedtime Stories

December 16, 2008 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Adam Sandler, Kerri Russell, Guy Pearce
Directed by: Adam Shankman (“Hairspray”)
Written by: Matt Lopez (“The Wild”) and Tim Herlihy (“Mr. Deeds”)

When are actors, directors, and filmmakers in general going to learn that after they pop out a few kids with their significant other, they don’t necessarily have to take a step back during their children’s formidable years and think to themselves, “You know, I’d really like to make a movie my kid could watch.”

It’s hard enough to make a family film for parents and kids with IQs above, say, 35, but it’s probably even more difficult when you have something as precious as good intentions invested into the project. Remember the Robert Rodriguez 2005 debacle “The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl 3D,” a movie written from a story conjured up by his 8-year-old son? Even innocent ideas can be irrefutably toxic.

In “Bedtime Stories,” director Adam Shankman (“Hairspray”) and screenwriters Matt Lopez (“The Wild”) and Tim Herlihy (“Mr. Deeds”) make such a disaster on screen, it’s hard to really point fingers at anybody since the primary concept for the film seems to have been scribbled down by kindergarteners working on writing shifts.

Maybe that’s the idea Lopez and Herlihy wanted to convey, but in “Bedtime Stories” even the uber-dorky Adam Sandler doesn’t seem like the right match against the grab bag of nonsense tossed around so effortlessly. In the film, Sandler plays Skeeter Bronson, a hotel handyman who agrees to babysit his nephew and niece for his sister Wendy (Courtney Cox) even though he hasn’t seen them in four years. Since the kids are forbidden to do anything fun or time consuming like watch TV, Skeeter tells them a bedtime story, a story which the children happily add their own ideas to the narrative. But when the kid’s embellishments to the story start coming true (the script gets really sketchy here), Skeeter tries to use the newfound magic to manipulate a few things to go his way.

There’s plenty more grizzle and fat in “Bedtime Stories” that won’t hurt to omit since it makes no bearing either way on the topsy-turvy mess. This includes a bland romance between Skeeter and his sister’s friend Jill (Kerri Russell) and some terrible CGI effects a la “Alvin and the Chipmunks” featuring a wide-eyed hamster who gives new meaning to annoying. Actually, Rob Schneider gives new meaning to annoying, but he’s not nearly in this as much as the rodent.

Traitor

August 30, 2008 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Don Cheadle, Guy Pearce, Jeff Daniels
Directed by: Jeffery Nachmanoff (debut)
Written by: Jeffery Nachmanoff (“The Day After Tomorrow”)

The timing couldn’t have been better planned. Just as the Dems were wrapping up their histrionic national convention and attention turned to the GOP and their efforts to prove to political fence-sitters that Barack Obama’s ideas on national security are about as durable as two geeky kids holding hands during a game of Red Rover, John McCain’s potshots would coincide perfectly with the finest in film fearmongering.

Terrorists are running amok in Traitor, the espionage thriller starring Academy Award-nominated Cheadle (Hotel Rwanda), and, based on the large number the film shows infiltrating America, chances are you run into a few of them on a daily basis. One of them is probably watching you read this sentence right now (Shhh! Whatever you do, don’t look up).

At least not until the FBI tracks down Samir Horn (Cheadle), a former U.S. Special Forces Officer and devout Muslim who’s become a bit too cozy with some jihadists in Yemen. When agents Roy Clayton (Guy Pearce) and Max Archer (Neal McDonough) finally catch him selling a truckload of detonators to some shady Arabs and lock him away, it doesn’t take long for Samir to quickly develop a friendship with Omar (Taghmaoui), another Islamic inmate, who includes him in a successful prison break.

From here, Traitor becomes less like an international spy movie and more like an episode of Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? with better production values and more explosives. When trigger-happy suicide bombers start killing innocent civilians across the globe, evidence leads back to Samir, who has taken control of a new terrorist cell. At this point, it’s not apparent whether the film’s title indicates Samir’s disloyalty to the U.S. or his betrayal of comrades who remind him of the regime that killed his father in Sudan when he was only a boy.

Despite his always-intense demeanor, Cheadle’s talent trails off as Samir’s blood feud grows increasingly desperate. As Cheadle’s career has progressed over the last 25 years, he has demonstrated that when the script is substantial, he’ll make a distinct impression, whether it’s in a supporting role (’70s porn-star-turned-stereo-salesman Buck Swope in Boogie Nights) or the lead (‘60s radio talk-show activist Petey Greene in Talk to Me). Unfortunately, first-time director Nachmanoff (claim to quasi-fame: The Day After Tomorrow screenplay) wrote the film based on an idea from the wild-and-crazy mind of actor Steve Martin (who gets “Story” credit).

While Cheadle scrapes by, others like Pearce and McDonough are written into a corner as a two-headed good cop/bad cop unit spinning their wheels. Gone are the days when foot chases were paired with mind games like Tommy Lee Jones hunting Harrison Ford in The Fugitive or Tom Hanks tracking Leonardo Di Caprio in Catch Me if You Can. Instead, Nachmanoff creates a conventional hybrid of passable action sequences, cliché analogies, and geopolitical drama while still finding time to point out all the terrorists hiding in your backyard. Now that’s what I call Homeland Security.