Cinematic Spillover: Short Reviews of Tigers Are Not Afraid and The Fanatic

September 6, 2019 by  
Filed under CineBlog

The Fanatic

If you thought actor John Travolta was disturbingly bad in the 2000 sci-fi bomb Battlefield Earth, brace yourself for something just as awful – but with far fewer cheesy special effects. In The Fanatic, Travolta stars as Moose, an autistic man living in Los Angeles who spends his time tracking down celebrities to collect their autographs. His paparazzo friend Leah (Ana Golja) refers to it as his “freaky little hobby.” But when Moose meets his favorite action star Hunter Dunbar (Devon Sawa) and is rejected, he develops an unhealthy obsession with the man and drives himself into full-blown stalker mode. Directed and co-written by Limp Bizkit frontman Fred Durst (The Longshots), who actually drops a Limp Bizkit reference in the movie (seriously, he does), The Fanatic should be an embarrassment for everyone involved. Not only does Travolta deliver one of the most cringe-worthy performances in recent memory, his interpretation of an individual on the autism spectrum is stereotypical garbage and downright offensive. Even without Travolta’s laughable role, Durst and first-time co-writer Dave Bekerman pen a script that is more tasteless than the plaid shorts and Hawaiian shirt combo Moose wears throughout most of the movie. Every character is exaggerated to a level of annoyance that might be considered as cruel and unusual punishment. The absurd friendship between Moose and Leah amounts to a series of phony signs of affection – just enough to gaslight viewers into thinking that maybe Travolta’s character is simply misunderstood. Someone should start polishing up those Razzies for the Worst Film, Director, Screenplay and Actor of 2019. Grade: F

Tigers Are Not Afraid

Mexican writer/director Issa Lopez’s dramatic fantasy Tigers Are Not Afraid begins with some startling statistics. Since the beginning of the drug war in 2006, 160,000 people have been killed and 53,000 people have disappeared in Mexico. “There are no numbers for the children the dead and the missing have left behind.” We meet some of these orphans – Estrella (Paola Lara), Shine (Juan Ramón López), Tucsi (Hanssel Casillas), Pop (Rodrigo Cortes), and Morro (Nery Arredondo) – Lopez’s version of Peter Pan’s Lost Boys in her creative, heartbreaking and violent fairy tale. Unlike most fairy tales, however, there are no happy endings in Tigers. Kids in Mexico see dead bodies in the street every day and have become desensitized to the bloodshed. During a gun battle outside of her school, a teacher gives Estrella three pieces of chalk while they both lie face down on the floor and tells her that she now has three wishes. Her first wish is that her mother, who was kidnapped by a local cartel, returns to her. When Shine steals one of the cartel member’s cell phones containing incriminating evidence of the crimes they’ve committed, the ragtag group of kids become the target of the narcos who won’t stop until they’ve silenced everyone. Filled with beautiful magic realism throughout the film, Lopez’s Tigers is a powerful piece of cinematic art that will move audiences and allow them to see the hellish conditions presented through the eyes of the children who are suffering. Like Guillermo del Toro’s Oscar-winning 2006 film Pan’s Labyrinth, Tigers’ mix of horror and childlike imagination is something that you won’t soon forget. Grade: A-

From Paris with Love

February 6, 2010 by  
Filed under CineStrays

Starring: John Travolta, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Kasia Smutniak
Directed by: Pierre Morel (“Taken”)
Written by: Adi Hasak (“Shadow Conspiracy”)

“From Paris with Love” is another shoot ‘em up action film without any character development. This is John Travolta in one of the sillier roles of his career. Actor Jonathan Rhys Meyers does his best to keep the story fresh, but screenwriter Adi Hasak doesn’t really give him anything to work with other than the usual car chases and gun play.

Old Dogs

November 27, 2009 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: John Travolta, Robin Williams, Seth Green
Directed by: Walt Becker (“Wild Hogs”)
Written by: David Diamond (“Evolution”) and David Weissman (“Evolution”)

While he is considered by many to be one of the funniest men in Hollywood, Robin Williams has been attracting some rather pathetic scripts over the last few years.

With the exception of this year’s Bobcat Goldthwait-directed “World’s Greatest Dad,” a dark comedy few people even saw, Williams hasn’t delivered a watchable, non-animated film since he doubled-up on the creepy dramatic roles of 2002’s “Insomnia” and “One Hour Photo.”

As far as comedy is concerned, however, Williams has struck out considerably with mishaps like “RV,” “Man of the Year,” “License to Wed,” and the sequel to “Night at the Museum.” It must only be a matter of time before he’s able to pump out a couple of consecutive winners before “Mrs. Doubtfire” and “The Birdcage” feel light years away.

Sadly, “Old Dogs” is not the comedy that’s going to get things started. It’s another irritating, family-friendly flop that could be described as the cinematic equivalent of a shot to the groin. Those who are easily entertained will probably chuckle even if they’ve seen it a million times before. For everyone else, “Old Dogs” will be old-hat.

In the film, longtime friends and business partners Charlie (John Travolta) and Dan (Williams) are in the middle of landing the biggest sports marketing deal of their careers when they’re sideswiped by some surprising news: Dan is a daddy. Vicki (Kelly Preston), a woman he had a fling with in Miami years ago, shows up with his 7-year-old twins Zach and Emily (Conner Rayburn and Ella Bleu Travolta) and leaves them in his care at the most inopportune time.

The formulaic set-up all leads to a montage-happy physical comedy featuring Travolta and Williams tripping over themselves for 88 minutes of painfully unfunny poop jokes and sight gags. Not even a collection of high-profile cameos by the likes of Matt Dillon, Amy Sedaris, Dax Sheperd, Justin Long, and the late Bernie Mac (in the final film of his career he plays some sort of techno-puppeteer) can thrust “Old Dogs” past its goofy and cliché premise.

Directed by Walt Becker, who has teamed up with Travolta before in “Wild Hogs,” “Old Dogs” is devastatingly short on laughs from the onset. As the random jokes push the limit of idiocy, we can only sit back and sigh while the image of Williams during his best years slowly fades away.

The Taking of Pelham 123

June 12, 2009 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Denzel Washington, John Travolta, John Turturro
Directed by: Tony Scott (“Déjà Vu”)
Written by: Brian Helgeland (“Man on Fire”)

Two-time Academy Award-winning actor Denzel Washington and director Tony Scott reunite for a fourth time in the remake of the 1974 film “The Taking of Pelham 123,” an underground action flick that proves to be more than screenwriter Brian Helgeland can manage when it comes to adding a little common sense to the original script.

In “Pelham,” the workday starts of like any other for Walter Garber (Washington) at the New York City Rail Control Center. Things begin to get nerve-wracking, however, when he notices some odd occurrences happening on the subway system monitors. One of the rails has come to a halt in the middle of its route. The premature stop is caused by a group of hijackers led by a man who calls himself Ryder (John Travolta).

“What is the going rate for a New York City hostage,” he tells Walter after taking control of the rail and before asking for $10 million in ransom. Setting a one-hour deadline to get him the money before he starts plugging passengers, Walter relinquishes his hot seat to hostage negotiator Det. Carmonetti (John Turturro) who immediately informs the mayor (James Gandolfini) about what is happening under his city.

Ryder, however, doesn’t want to consult with anyone but Walter. During their short time together on the phone, he has come to feel comfortable enough to execute his master plan – which in itself doesn’t even have a rational exit strategy – through the one person with the least power in the entire room.

Nevertheless, with a gun in his hand, Ryder is calling the shots and Walter is whisked back into the fray in an unrealistic plot to transport the money inside the dark tunnel before time runs out. During the waiting game, Carmonetti begins to wonder if Walter is part of the heist himself. Why else would Ryder be so adamant about pulling the heist off on Walter’s watch? When Walter’s co-workers supply information about a recent demotion and suspension for something he irrefutably denies, thing begin to get testy at the control center. All the while, Ryder and Walter continue to play a cliché game of mental chess (Ryder says “checkmate” a few time to push the issue) as the passenger cower under their seats.

And since Washington (who gives a very good performance) and Travolta never come face to face with each other, director Scott is forced into a predicament. Where will he find the “action” in his action movie? With the clock literally ticking, Scott forces the action during the scenes when the money is being delivered to Ryder. He turns the transfer into thoughtless mayhem by tossing in car crashes and other odd speed bumps to boost effect.

In the end, “The Taking of Pelham 123” is irrelevant. It’s the type of movie that keeps you awake more than it keeps you truly entertained.


November 10, 2008 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: John Travolta, Miley Cyrus, Susie Essman
Directed by: Byron Howard (debut) and Chris Williams (debut)
Written by: Chris Williams (“The Emperor’s New Groove”) and Dan Fogelman (“Cars”)

Leave it to Pixar to inject some much-needed imagination into the recent animated efforts of Walt Disney Studios. As the first animated feature entirely under the watchful eye of John Lasseter (chief creative officer of both studios and director of “Toy Story” and “A Bug’s Life”), “Bolt” may not win best-in-show, but he’s definitely a charmer.

In an opening scene shot like a canine version of “The Incredible Hulk” or “Spider-Man,” we meet the titular American White Shepherd, who is the superhero star of his own TV show. Not only can Bolt (John Travolta) run at lightning speed, he can also shoot laser beams from his eyes, lift cars between his teeth, and flatten anything in his path with a startling superbark. Eat your heart out Underdog!

While Bolt honestly believes it is his mission to protect his owner Penny (Miley Cyrus) from the sinister Dr. Calico (Malcolm McDowell) and his band of futuristic foot soldiers, the TV show’s director (James Lipton) insists the entire production crew and actors continue to lead Bolt to believe that he really is a superdog. A bit reminiscent of “The Truman Show,” everyone’s in on the intricate scheme and is able to shoot each episode without Bolt’s knowledge by using guerilla-style camerawork and special effects. The initial premise might seem outlandish (especially for a dog who always seems on script), but for argument’s sake, it works.

But when the director decides to change the show’s format because of low ratings and make each episode end in a cliffhanger, Bolt doesn’t understand what’s happening when shooting wraps one day without the usual defeat of his nemesis. Still believing Penny is in trouble, Bolt escapes his trailer on the studio lot and ventures off to save his “person.” But as Buzz Lightyear discovers in “Toy Story,” using superhero powers during real-world scenarios isn’t too encouraging for the psyche when they fail to produce the same results as in the fantasy.

Coming to the realization he might not be a gene-spliced pup after all, Bolt meets Mittens (Susie Essman of “Curb Your Enthusiasm”), a stray cat with abandonment issues who helps him learn what it is to be a normal dog by teaching him how to fetch, dig, and stick his head out the window, and Rhino (Mark Walton), a hyperactive fanboy hamster who religiously watches Bolt’s show on the “magic box” and secretly wishes to become his butt-kicking action sidekick.

Apart from the scene-stealing furry rodent who rolls around in a plastic ball for most of the film and says hilarious things like “I’ll snap his neck” or “I’ll get the ladder” with total seriousness, there are plenty more laughs and soft-hearted moments that make Bolt one of the more memorable family-friendly movies of the year. Sure, “WALL-E” will probably scavenger up most of the animation awards, but there’s no shame for other animated films to aim for silver.