Pompeii

February 21, 2014 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Kit Harington, Emily Browning, Kiefer Sutherland
Directed by: Paul W.S. Anderson (“Resident Evil”)
Written by: Janet Scott Batchler (“Batman Forever”), Lee Batchler (“Batman Forever”) and Michael Robert Johnson (“Sherlock Holmes”)

Part gladiator soap opera, part SyFy channel disaster movie, the infinitely silly period action flick “Pompeii” might fit into director Paul W.S. Anderson’s wheelhouse perfectly, but after an almost 20-year career of building a filmography only a mother (or Milla Jovovich) could love, it’s probably time Anderson fully realized he’s one of the dullest tools in the shed.

Of course, that doesn’t mean Anderson should stop making movies per se (“Resident Evil 6” is currently in pre-production). He still somehow has an audience who forgave him a long time ago for “Mortal Kombat” and “Alien vs. Predator.” It’s a good thing most of them probably didn’t see the mess he made out of “The Three Musketeers” tale in 2011. This time, Anderson takes his lack of cinematic storytelling to ancient Rome, specifically the legendary city of Pompeii, which, in 79 AD, was buried under a wave of ash when the nearby volcano Mount Vesuvius erupted.

In Anderson’s “Pompeii,” the director of “Event Horizon” sloppily sticks in a love story between Milo (Kit Harington), a slave-turned- gladiator, and Cassia (Emiliy Browning), the daughter of a wealthy merchant who has caught the eye of the vicious Roman Senator Corvus (Kiefer Sutherland, chewing up scenes like a madman). Aside from the atrocious dialogue and gladiator-movie clichés, “Pompeii” tries to hang its toga on the third act of the film where CGI-heavy scenes abound and Anderson, based on his past work, is probably the most comfortable.

It’ll take a lot more than a few flaming lava rocks and swooning between layers of smog to pull “Pompeii” out of the trenches, however. It’s another haphazard effort by Anderson, who just hasn’t figured out a way to make anything you can remember then next morning. Maybe it’ll take him another 20 years, but until then, at least he’s finding semi-interesting ways for wife Jovovich to kill the undead. They’ll always have Raccoon City.

The Reluctant Fundamentalist

May 9, 2013 by  
Filed under Cody, Reviews

Starring: Riz Ahmed, Kate Hudson, Liev Schreiber
Directed by: Mira Nair (“Amelia”)
Written by: William Wheeler (“The Hoax”)

Based on the New York Times bestselling novel, “The Reluctant Fundamentalist” takes viewers into the past of Changez (Riz Ahmed), a Pakistani man who moves to the U.S. to go to Princeton and  chase the American dream. He rises to the top of a consulting firm where he is immediately take under the wing of Jim (Kiefer Sutherland), an executive who believes Changez has what it takes to thrive in the industry. After 9/11, however, things take a turn for the worst for Changez as he is met with new difficulties because of his nationality. Met with hostility from a country he loves, he soon finds himself at the center of a kidnapping. Sitting across from him is Bobby Lincoln (Liev Schreiber), a reporter who wants to find out where Changez’s ideals lie.

The element that works best in “Fundamentalist” is Changez’s rise to prominence at his firm Underwood Samson. Changez is a natural at thinking critically and assessing values of companies, often reminded by Jim of his “gift.” Ahmed plays these scenes with a well-rounded, quiet confidence. In fact, Ahmed is easily the strongest part of the film. He shows not only the ability to anchor the story as the lead, but delivers a wide emotional range. The film also takes time to reminds its viewers of the uneasiness with foreigners (and especially those of Middle Eastern descent) that was held in America shortly after the 2001 attacks. Not only is he mistakenly arrested on the street, but when returning from an international flight, Changez is singled out, taken to a backroom and strip searched. It’s a touch ham-handed but director Mira Nair certainly gets her point across that racial profiling exists in this country.

Technically, the majority of the film takes place in flashbacks, which attempts to offer most of the intended tension for the film. The plot, however, becomes convoluted and the payoff is weak. Additionally, there is a subplot involving Changez and his girlfriend Erica (Kate Hudson) that don’t work. The romance (and the arguments) between these characters fail to ignite any passion or chemistry on the screen.

In the wake of the events of the Boston marathon bombings, “The Reluctant Fundamentalist” is likely to be a hot topic for debate. It’s anti-profiling themes can be taken several different ways, with its impact either strengthening or weakening depending on how one relates it to current events. Regardless, the film as a whole fails to muster up enough interest and wears out its welcome over its bloated 2-hour-plus run-time. It’s a nice display for Ahmed, who is likely new to American audiences, but doesn’t have enough substance to stand alone as a strong political thriller.

Melancholia

December 9, 2011 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Kirsten Dunst, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Kiefer Sutherland
Directed by: Lars von Trier (“Breaking the Waves”)
Written by: Lars von Trier (“Breaking the Waves”)

“I’m trudging through this,” moans Justine (Kirsten Dunst) wearily to her sister Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg). Justine is talking about her meticulously-planned wedding, owning up to the internal struggle she’s facing, wrestling with crippling depression on what is supposed to be the happiest day of her life. The same comment, however, could easily be made by the viewer in regard to the confusing, plodding first hour of the movie that focuses on said wedding. Like the art-house answer to “The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 1,” the wedding scene in “Melancholia” seems to unfold in real time, doing almost nothing to advance the plot and openly daring the viewer to just move along if they don’t want to stick around while the party full of sad people wraps up at its own leisurely pace. Unlike “Breaking Dawn,” there’s a reason to hang in there.

Written and directed by Lars von Trier (“Breaking the Waves”), “Melancholia” is the story of two sisters in the days before a planet hurtling through space threatens to smash into the Earth. Divided into two parts, one centered on each sister, the film is haunted by inescapable feeling of dread.

Part one of the movie, “Justine,” is entirely consumed by the aforementioned wedding and is peppered with things like morsels of back story and weird characters and incongruous shots of deep-space nebulae set to swelling Wagner symphonies that are orphaned by the time the second half begins. What’s the deal with Justine’s father (John Hurt) calling every woman “Betty,” or Justine’s boss (Stellan Skarsgård) and the odd cadence with which he says “onion soup?” Only Lars von Trier knows, and he’s already moved on to part two, “Claire.”

The second half nearly feels like a reward for enduring the first. Set an undetermined time after the wedding, it centers on Claire and her husband John (Kiefer Sutherland) taking Justine into their home after her depression worsens, all while Claire grows apprehensive as a formerly unknown planet, Melancholia, is five days out from brushing past Earth. It’s intense and full of fear and only a tiny bit of indie abnormality, but most refreshingly its so divorced from the proceedings in part one that it feels like an entirely different movie, as if the first half were little more than deleted scenes from an abandoned plot line tacked on to the beginning.

Kirsten Dunst has never been better, even if she’s playing the well-worn trope of “mentally-unstable woman taken in by her sister and exasperated brother-in-law” and engaging in pretentious mumbo jumbo like basking naked in the woods under the glow of a rouge planet while her sister looks on and the music swells. The heavy-handedness of the message conjures a few eye rolls (Melancholia was hiding behind the sun all this time and is ultimately inescapable, get it?) and the more baffling stretches will be difficult for the average viewer to slog through, but in the end von Trier has crafted a sorrowful piece of sci-fi that you can’t turn away from, no matter how hard it tries to make you.

 

Mirrors

August 28, 2008 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Kiefer Sutherland, Paula Patton, Amy Smart
Directed by: Alexandre Aja (“The Hills Have Eyes”)
Written by: Alexandre Aja (“High Tension”) and Gregory Levassure (“P2”)

If this really is the only live action film work actor Kiefer Sutherland can get while shooting his ever-popular “24” series, then it might be a good idea for him to stick to the TV show until some free time grants him more of a clear his head before jumping into one of the worst films of the year.

There’s nothing frightening or exciting about “Mirrors,” French filmmaker Alexandre Aja’s first film since grossing us out with the remake of “The Hills Have Eyes” two years ago. The only horrifying thing about the film is that Aja, who is considered to be part of the new “Splat Pack” of directors focusing on gory details to reel audiences into their bordello of blood, was actually given a paycheck by 20th Century Fox to make this.

The thoughtless story begins as ex-NYPD officer Ben Carson (Sutherland), who is put on an undetermined leave of absence after killing a man, finds work as a security guard for a gutted department story destroyed three years ago in a fire. What Ben doesn’t know is that there’s an evil presence trapped inside the mirrors of the store that causes anyone that looks at their own reflection to see things that are not there and do harm to themselves.

Soon, the dark power inside the mirrors follows Ben away from his worksite and begins to threaten his sister (Amy Smart), ex-wife (Paula Patton) and two children. The only way Ben can save his family is to research the history behind the store and find out what the entity wants before it strikes again.

“Mirrors” is unwatchable simply because of the poorly-written script by Aja and co-writer Gregory Levassure. There are unintentional moments of humor when Sutherland screams at the mirrors, “What do you want with me!” and predictable dialogue when a morgue employee makes a joke about “seven years bad luck.” That is the scope of what “Mirrors” offer. Well, that and the usual gruesome accents Aja tosses in to keep his bloodthirsty reputation on the lowest of plateaus. Good thing he cast someone like Sutherland, who knows from his 1990 film what it’s like to flatline.