Deepwater Horizon

September 30, 2016 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Gina Rodriguez, John Malkovich
Directed by: Peter Berg (“Friday Night Lights”)
Written by: Matthew Michael Carnahan (“World War Z”) and Matthew Sand (“Ninja Assassin”)

“Deepwater Horizon,” a film that tells the heroic story of the individuals who survived a massive explosion on an offshore drilling rig in 2010, is an emotionally surface-level drama for a majority of its run time. That doesn’t mean, however, the true story isn’t compelling and executed with an effective approach by director Peter Berg (“Friday Night Lights”). Most people will know this event simply as the worst oil spill in U.S. history, but by adding a human aspect to it like Berg is able to do for the most part, the dynamic intensifies the entire narrative.

Mark Wahlberg leads the cast as Mike Williams, a veteran oil driller who helps his comrades escape the rig when catastrophe hits. Behind schedule by 43 days and budget by $50 million, the drillers are pressured by the big wigs from multimillion dollar oil company BP to get the job done as fast as possible. Mike’s supervisor Jimmy Harrell (Kurt Russell) is concerned with what he sees as cutting corners and making their work more dangerous. Of course, Jimmy’s fears are warranted when a blowout occurs forcing the drillers to find a way off the rig before it sinks.

Focused mostly on the hero of the story (but never coming off as ridiculous as Wahlberg’s other true-life survival story “Lone Survivor”) “Deepwater” stays engaging despite the lack of a real emotional hook until the very end. Kate Hudson does a fine job as Mike’s worried wife Felicia at home, and Gina Rodriguez provides some strong acting chops as the lone female on the rig. Other secondary characters, however, feel hollow, especially Dylan O’Brien’s character.  His role as a young driller on the rig feels like it was edited down to nothing. Then there’s John Malkovich, a “villainous” BP executive, whose Louisiana accent is distracting to say the least.

Although some of the characters are thinly written, the overall storytelling of “Deepwater Horizon” is done very well. This isn’t just a generic action film where Wahlberg jumps through flames (although he does jump over a fire once) and carries three men on his back to safety. Sure, sometimes films like this can fall too deep into “hero worshipping” (see the aforementioned “Lone Survivor” or something like “American Sniper”), but Wahlberg keeps everyone grounded without sacrificing the impression of true bravery.

Penguins of Madagascar

November 28, 2014 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Tom McGrath, Chris Miller, John Malkovich
Directed by: Eric Darnell (“Madagascar”) and Simon J. Smith (“Bee Movie”)
Written by: John Aboud (debut), Michael Colton (debut) and Brandon Sawyer (debut)

It shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone that animation studios are finding every possible angle to take to keep their most profitable franchises going for as long as they can. Over at DreamWorks Animation, the company is milking everything from their catalog with feature film sequels and animated TV shows and home videos and Christmas special of popular properties like “Shrek,” “Kung Fu Panda,” and “Monsters vs. Aliens.” Their biggest success, however, is probably from the mileage they’re getting out of their “Madagascar” stock, which first splintered into a Nickelodeon TV series featuring their penguin characters – Rico, Skipper, Kowalski and Private – in 2008.

With the animated film “Penguins of Madagascar” now at theaters, DreamWorks has proven there is no end in sight for the blossoming series and that secondary characters in major franchises have just as much to say as the characters (and just as much money to make) as those that take top billing. With the “Minions” movie coming out of Universal Pictures in July 2015, what can moviegoers expect to see as children clamor for more of their favorite sidekicks? How about a “Toy Story” spin-off featuring Mr. & Mrs. Potato Head? Or how about a “Frozen” movie where we get an origin story about those annoying stone trolls?

Whatever is next, parents will be happy to know that even though “Penguins of Madagascar” is unavoidable, it’s not unwatchable. It is, in fact, a creative way to introduce audiences to the stealthy spy penguins and their adventures without having anyone above the age of 12 who is accompanying the little ones planning their escape route from the theater before the credits rolls.

In “Penguins of Madagascar,” the fearsome foursome of flightless birds are on the trail to stop villain and geneticist Dr. Octavius Brine (voiced perfectly by John Malkovich) who is actually a purple octopus disguised as a lanky man of science. Dr. Brine (AKA Dave) has developed something he calls the Medusa serum and is set on using it to cause global havoc. We won’t ruin what the serum actually does since that happens in the third act, but it’s reminiscent of what happens to our friends the Minions in “Despicable Me 2.” Helping out the penguins on their mission is another group of spies called the North Wind, made up of a team of international agents, who also happen to be animals.

While the spy roster gets a bit diluted with the number of members on the team, there are enough exciting moments and homages to the spy genre that, while familiar, are enjoyable, especially when it’s the penguins who are giving most of the tactical support to save the day. “Penguins of Madagascar” isn’t very inspired filmmaking, but with Malkovich’s voice work and our arctic heroes leading the way, it’s harmless fun.

Red 2

July 20, 2013 by  
Filed under Cody, Reviews

Starring: Bruce Willis, John Malkovich, Mary-Louise Parker
Directed by: Dean Parisot (“Galaxy Quest”)
Written by: Jon Hoeber (“Red”) and Erich Hoeber (“Red”)

It’s pretty clear the current trend in Hollywood is making sequels. Franchises dominate and most new follow-up entries are surefire ways for studios to make some guaranteed cash. But the existence of “Red 2” is a strange one. The first installment had a decent reception from critics, but the box office numbers were far from impressive. The film only garnering $22.5 million and finishing second on opening weekend and grossed under $100 million domestically. Nonetheless, with sequels as popular as ever before (and whether audiences were clamoring for it or not), “Red 2” has arrived and deserves a little fanfare.

Now retired, Frank Moses (Bruce Willis) is told by old friend Marvin Boggs (John Malkovich) that killers are after then and they need to find a safe place to retreat. Thinking Marvin is just paranoid, Frank would rather just stay put with his girlfriend Sarah (Mary-Louise Parker) and get on with life. A quiet life for Frank, however, isn’t in the cards. Soon, Interpol is on their tail thinking they are somehow tied to a nuclear device that has fallen into the wrong hands. Oscar-winning actress Helen Mirren returns to the action as Victoria, a contract killer who has been paid to take out her former colleagues.

There’s a palpable sense of fun between cast members. Willis and Parker have great chemistry throughout the film and Willis in particular embraces the loose tone while bringing an appropriate level of action most fans know him for. Perhaps nobody is having more fun than Malkovich, whose paranoid and overly prepared character is easily the best in the film. So much of what Malkovich does is at the very least amusing. At its best, you can see why directors like the Coen brothers and Spike Jonze have cast him in darkly comical roles in the past. Still, it doesn’t all work. The novelty of seeing Mirren fire giant guns has worn off a bit, and the villain characters of the film are worthless.

The biggest struggle “Red 2” has is a fight for tone. At times, the film can strike a nice balance of humor and action, mostly when utilizing its veteran cast. In others, it is far too hokey. Characters like those performed by Brian Cox or Catherine Zeta-Jones are over the top and unfunny when put into context of the film. It’s things like Mirren reaching two arms out of either side of a moving car to fire guns or Cox watching Mirren’s feet as she shoots a gun and smelling her shoes that add a goofy albeit off-putting element.

It’s an interesting concept to see people in their 50s and 60s be able to star and hold their own in an action film. Many of the action scenes work well and are entertaining. Still, its loose tone is both a blessing and a curse. It’s highest moments provide some solid comedy and action (mostly courtesy of Malkovich) while it’s lowest feel like a director trying way too hard. There’s nothing here that is going to amaze viewers, but you could do a lot worse this summer than “Red 2.”

John Malkovich – Warm Bodies

February 5, 2013 by  
Filed under Interviews

In “Warm Bodies,” a self-aware zombie named R saves a human girl named Julie from certain death, falling in love with her in the process. The fate of the human race hangs in the balance based on whether or not the two of them can convince Julie’s father, the gruff General Grigio, played by the eternally-quirky John Malkovich, of R’s change of heart. I had a chance to speak with Malkovich last week, when he talked about the current popularity of zombie fiction, acting opposite CGI zombies, and the modern-day zombies smartphones may have created.

Zombie fiction is huge right now. Are you a fan or is it something you don’t pay attention to?

I don’t pay the slightest attention to it. (Laughs) One of many things I don’t pay the slightest attention to.

Are you a fan of any supernatural fiction at all? Or is that a genre you completely avoid?

It’s not so much avoidance, its just really not on my radar, generally. This book [“Warm Bodies” by Isaac Marion] was an interesting story since it kind of went out of the normal publishing circles and it was written by a young person. And I liked the tone and thought it would be interesting and challenging to try and capture. But no, I never—even as a kid—I didn’t follow much supernatural…probably didn’t go further than Ray Bradbury, maybe.

You mentioned the book. Did you read the novel beforehand?

I did. But not before I was involved with the film.

It has a huge youth following.

Mmm-hmm. And, in fact, I think my producing partners probably read it as something for us—our company is called Mr. Mudd—something for us to produce. Because they seemed to know it quite well.

Near the beginning, the film touches on the isolation caused by modern technology like smartphones, Twitter, and Facebook. Are you constantly connected in that way?

I really can’t afford to stay away from it because, you know, when I’m here just doing [press for a film], I’m having to deal with something in the fashion business I work in. I’m having to deal with the production of a French play, getting the financing to bring it to London. I’m having to deal with setting this [interview] up. I’m having to deal with the cuts of two movies we have in post-production now. There’s a lot you have to deal with. But I don’t do Facebook or Twitter, but certainly for emails and text I kinda have to.

You aren’t typically known for appearing in films with lots of special effects. Does acting opposite armies of computer-generated zombies take some getting used to or is it just like any other acting job?

I think it’s just like any other acting job. It has its irritations, sure, but in acting you’re always pretending. And you can either pretend or you can’t. And pretending with someone else…yeah, it’s probably easier in some ways, but still, in the end, you have to pretend by yourself. You have to be capable of suspension of your own disbelief anyway. And they generally explain quite clearly what it will be, what it will look like, what it will do. And I don’t find it so difficult.

Warm Bodies

February 1, 2013 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Nicholas Hoult, Teresa Palmer, John Malkovich
Directed by: Jonathan Levine (“50/50”)
Written by: Jonathan Levine (“50/50”)

Zombie movie purists beware. “Warm Bodies” will make your head explode.

Now, don’t get me wrong. Unique twists to the sometime tired genre are always welcomed. There are only so many underlying political issues George A. Romero can cover before things start to feel repetitious. So, when original zombie ideas like “Warm Bodies” rear their ugly heads, you can’t help but take a bite.

In the last decade, we’ve seen a masterpiece like “Shaun of the Dead” and solid comedies like “Zombieland” and “Fido.” These kinds of movies can be done and done very well. Unfortunately, “Warm Bodies” doesn’t rise past its quirky synopsis. It’s a zombie romantic comedy (zom rom com) at a loss for believable plot devices and consistent laughs.

The film follows a zombie named R (Nicholas Hoult), a somewhat self-aware young zombie male who isn’t really feeling his new lifestyle now that the world has ended by way of zombie apocalypse. His emo-esque internal monologue conveys his desire to connect with people again and express himself. A zombie, however, isn’t much of a conversationalist.

Things begin to change for R when he meets Julie (Teresa Palmer), a survivor who is ambushed by the undead during a mission to find medicine for the other humans living in a safe concrete compound. During the attack, R saves Julie and somehow persuades her through his moaning and grunting that she would be better off escaping with him instead of doing what any sane person would do and run away.

These are the kind of lazy plot holes that plague “Warm Bodies.” Although they allow the narrative to move forward, some of the script choices simply don’t make any sense. Why doesn’t Julie drive away in the car available to her at any point of the movie? Why can some zombies smell human flesh and others can’t? Why do some zombies run like the dickens and others move in slow-mo? “Warm Bodies” is bold in making up its own rules, but it should be labeled a cheater when it changes those same rules so the story can proceed.

The most shameful disregard for the screenplay comes with the fact that during R and Julie’s time together, R begins to change back into a human. Sure, that’s probably plausible in zombie world, but why do the other zombies who are unaffected by Julie in any way also begin to transform? Unless director/writer Jonathan Levine (“50/50”) is trying to make a point by saying that love, too, is infectious, it doesn’t add up.

While there are a few chuckle-worthy scenes between R and his best zombie friend M (Rob Corddry), “Warm Bodies” is more smart-alecky than it is smart. The combination of horror, romance and comedy might be less of an acquired taste than it was a few years ago, but this kind of fleshy meal just isn’t very appetizing without more substance. Brains, perhaps?

Transformers: Dark of the Moon

July 1, 2011 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring:  Shia LaBeouf, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, Patrick Dempsey
Directed by: Michael Bay (“Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen”)
Written by: Ehren Kruger (“Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen”)

Textbooks be damned. The use of alternative histories has been such a go-to fad in cinematic curriculum recently that no one should be surprised if impressionable movie-going kids really start believing vigilante superheroes helped earn America a victory in Vietnam (“Watchmen”) or that young mutants saved the country from nuclear war during the Cuban Missile Crisis (“X-Men: First Class”).

Sure, there is an obvious difference between the allegorical political statements in Neill Blomkamp’s apartheid-inspired sci-fi thriller “District 9” and the renegade Jewish soldiers who unload a slew of bullets into Adolf Hitler in Quentin Tarantino’s “Inglourious Basterds,” but it’s all in good fun when films mix make-believe scenarios and momentous events of the past. Wouldn’t more people know the history behind the Louisiana Purchase if Napoleon Bonaparte was really a French cyborg soldier?

If anyone in Hollywood needed to avoid rewriting the history books it should have been director Michael Bay, who had already mortified WWII history buffs by making 2001’s “Pearl Harbor” into a foolish wartime soap opera. And yet, a decade later, Bay is back with a unique variation on the Apollo 11 spaceflight in “Transformers: Dark of the Moon,” the third — and hopefully final — installment of the action- adventure franchise based on the Hasbro toy line of the ’80s. Yes, it’s better than “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen,” but that doesn’t say much, since the second movie had the aesthetics of what could only be described as rusty robot porn.

In “Dark of the Moon,” Bay and returning screenwriter Ehren Kruger decide the July 1969 lunar landing by NASA was more than just a space mission to beat the Soviets to the moon, a goal we see President John F. Kennedy lay out to Congress six years prior via old news reels and mediocre digital re-imaging. Instead, the objective for Apollo 11’s astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin is to investigate the mysterious crash landing of an object on the moon’s surface, which turns out to be an Autobot spacecraft containing technological secrets.

Flash forward to present time and a carefully crafted close-up of the panty-covered backside of Megan Fox replacement Rosie Huntington-Whiteley (a Victoria’s Secret lingerie model with Walmart-brand personality) strutting up the stairs to her hero boyfriend Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf), who is quick to brag about the presidential medal he received for saving the world but can’t land a job that makes him feel as relevant as he did when he was part of the Autobot forces.

A regular 9-to-5 job will have to wait when an exiled Megatron (Hugo Weaving) returns to Earth to once again lead the Decepticons against Optimus Prime (Peter Cullen) and his Autobots, now working across the globe to protect the human race. When the Decepticons figure out a way to use the Autobots’ technology for their benefit, a new battle begins between the robot races. Sam and his military cohorts find themselves in the middle of a Chicago warzone leaping from crumbling buildings and dodging twisted metal, all in glorious and exhausting 3-D.

Some of the startling computer-generated visuals are what actually make “Dark of the Moon” tolerable, even at an inhumane runtime of 154 minutes. As with most of his films, however, Bay doesn’t take the less-is-more approach when it comes to spectacle. That he saves for his convoluted screenplay and flat human characterizations.

Quirky history aside, “Dark of the Moon” is exactly how you’d expect Bay to end the bankable trilogy. Let’s just hope a promise from LaBeouf to not return for a fourth will be enough to put this series to rest. At least, that is, until we find out Thomas Edison patented Megatron’s weaponry.

Red

October 15, 2010 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Bruce Willis, John Malkovich, Helen Mirren
Directed by: Robert Schwentke (“The Time Traveler’s Wife”)
Written by: Jon Hoeber (“Whiteout”) and Eric Hoeber (“Whiteout”)

Never mind the swift hand-to-hand combat skills Zoe Saldaña shows off in “The Losers” or the way Angelina Jolie leaps off highways and onto the tops of big rigs in “Salt;” nothing says sexy CIA spy like Dame Helen Mirren playing shoot-’em-up behind a semi-automatic.

In “Red,” an action-comedy adapted from a limited DC Comics series short for “retired, extremely dangerous,” gray hair proves to have a correlation not only with experience and ingenuity, but also an itchy trigger finger when a team of former black-op CIA agents reunite for one last cross-country firearms romp before their Social Security kicks in.

Playing a tough old dude again (most recently in a forgettable “Expendables” cameo), Bruce Willis has a little fight left in him as Frank Moses, the youngest of the retirees who has been spending his free time watching his avocado plant sprout two measly leaves and making excuses to phone flirt with Sarah (Mary-Louise Parker), the woman who cuts his pension checks.

When Frank becomes the target of a group of hit men, he kidnaps Sarah to ensure her safety (worst way to get a date ever) and rallies his squad of former colleagues, including retirement home resident Joe (Morgan Freeman), paranoid spook Marvin (John Malkovich), and hobbyist/freelance contract killer Victoria (Mirren), to break into CIA headquarters and expose a major political cover-up.

The mission isn’t all that challenging for director Robert Schwentke (“The Time Traveler’s Wife”) and screenwriters Jon and Erich Hoeber (“Whiteout”), who allow the geezers to come and go as they please with tons of firepower but precious little explanation. More importantly, the script maintains a playful tone and rarely takes any shortcuts by harping on the obvious, like in 2000’s “Space Cowboys,” meaning no jokes about MediCare, wrinkly asses, and drinking Ensure.

Instead, “Red” relies on its talented cast to deliver the shrewd sarcasm and a few far-fetched action sequences that make most of the film so enjoyable. While Freeman and Parker are underutilized for the most part, Malkovich is able to chew up scenery effortlessly (grenade baseball should be an Olympic sport), and Willis gives Die Hard fans reason to expect more yippee-ki-yaying before it’s all said and done.

Sure, comic-book-inspired movies don’t necessarily get better with age, but just because our heroes are on the wrong side of the half-century mark doesn’t mean things have to go downhill fast. With “Red,” it feels good to pump the brakes a bit and revel in the ridiculousness of it all.

This review originally ran in the San Antonio Current Oct. 13, 2010

Changeling

October 30, 2008 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Angelina Jolie, John Malkovich, Jeffrey Donovan
Directed by: Clint Eastwood (“Million Dollar Baby”)
Written by: J. Michael Straczynski (TV’s “Babylon 5”)

While truth may be stranger than fiction, it’s not always a wise decision for a screenwriter to choose to include events of a true story that, although accurate, seem all too tactless and build up to oddly written scenes. As a period piece set in 1928, “Changeling” is beautifully shot frame by frame and well directed by Clint Eastwood. As a dramatic suspense thriller, however, the problems lie in J. Michael Straczynski’s overambitious script.

“Changeling” begins when Christine Collins (Angelina Jolie), a single mother working at a phone company, comes home to find her young son Walter (Gattlin Griffith) is missing. Turning to a corrupt LAPD, who is trying to improve their tarnished image with its citizens, Christine is speechless when Capt. J.J. Jones (Jeffrey Donovan) tells her that her son has been found. The problem with that statement, however, is that the boy Capt. Jones presents to Christine is not her son, but another kid who insists his name is Walter Collins and that Christine is, in fact, his mother.

Feeling forced by Capt. Jones to take the boy “home on a trial basis,” which is a funny enough idea until Christine actually does it, Jones tells the worried mother that she doesn’t recognize her own son only because she is shocked to see him after a few months. While at home, however, Christine realizes the young stranger now living with her is three inches shorter than her son and is circumcised, unlike Walter. Her proof isn’t good enough for the LAPD, however, as Capt. Jones has accepted all the praise from the local media, and closed the case.

When Christine continues to ask questions and wonder why the police force would try to hide their mistake, she is tossed into a mental hospital for evaluation, a move made only to silence her from embarrassing the police department’s shoddy detective work.

By this time, Christine has already built her case against the LAPD with support from an number of people including Walter’s teacher and doctor, who said they would testify on her behalf that the boy brought to her is not her son. Help is also offered by Rev. Gustav Briegleb (John Malkovich), who mission in life is to uncover the criminal actions of the LAPD, and broadcast them on his local radio show.

While it all makes for an interesting episode of “The Twilight Zone,” screenwriter Straczynski drops the ball on behalf of Jolie’s time onscreen. By the halfway point, his choice to do this becomes exhausting especially when a lot of loose ends aren’t tied up. As this is happening, the story hits a fork in the road and causes more distractions before its 140-minute runtime is over.

Burn After Reading

September 2, 2008 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: George Clooney, John Malkovich, Brad Pitt
Directed by: Joel and Ethan Coen (“No Country for Old Men”)
Written by: Joel and Ethan Coen (“Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?”)

It would only be natural if you flinched a bit when you found out the recently Oscar’ed Coen Brothers would return to the comedy genre after their success with the suspenseful and fascinating “No Country for Old Men.” Not since 1998’s “The Big Lebowski” has the genre been good to them, although some may argue “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” was a minor triumph.

Still, “Intolerably Cruelty” and “The Ladykillers” were not up to form for directors who had helmed one of the best dark comedies of all time in “Fargo.” It’s good to see them slowly finding that niche again in their new film.

In “Burn After Reading,” the nation’s security is in jeopardy (well, sort of) when employees of a local fitness center, including Chad Feldheimer (Brad Pitt) and Linda Litzke (Frances McDormand), find a disc they think contains top secret CIA information.

With a bitter, recently separated ex-spook named Osborne Cox (John Malkovich) on their backs, Chad and Linda decide they are going to milk their discovery as much as possible and see how far blackmailing someone can take them.

Linda, who’s tired of trolling on internet dates sites for the perfect man, has been longing for a few plastic surgery procedures her insurance refuses to cover so she can be more attractive, while peppy Chad is simply excited about being a part of the adventure. Academy Award winner George Clooney (“Syriana”) plays Harry Pfarrer, a delusional governmental employee with food allergies who’s been sleeping around with Osborne’s cold wife Katie (Tilda Swinton). Relationships continue to cross paths in this comedy of errors as the Coens write up a breezy little spoof that pushes the plot in bizarre and sometimes unbelievable ways.

The main problem with “Burn” is that the Coens haven’t developed characters as much as they have created caricatures of real people. It’s different when we’re talking about eccentricities like John Tuturro’s Jesus Quintana in “Lebowski” or even Clooney’s grease-loving Everett in “O Brother” because they seem to be in this completely different world devoid of any sanity. In “Burn,” however, many of the characters feel too manufactured in Anytown, USA. Their exaggerated stupidity can be endearing, but most of the time you’re thinking how no one can possibly be this dumb and needy.

Still, the Coens recipe for humor laden with violence is second to none and all the principal players give enjoyably jovial performances. It really is the Coen’s funniest film since giving us The Dude 10 years ago.