The Crazies

February 26, 2010 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Timothy Olyphant, Radha Mitchell, Joe Anderson
Directed by: Breck Eisner (“Sahara”)
Written by: Scott Kosar (“The Amityville Horror”) and Ray Wright (“Pulse”)

With as many mediocre horror movies that come out of Hollywood in any given year, there is bound to be some apprehension when a remake of 1973’s “The Crazies” rears it’s ugly, infected head at theaters.

First of all, things don’t look too promising when screenwriters Scott Kosar and Ray Wright are attached to the project when they’ve already penned three unmemorable remakes between them in the last seven years (“The Amityville Horror” and “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” belong to Kosar; Wright remade a Japanese horror movie into 2006’s yawn-inducing “Pulse”). Secondly, although director Breck Eisner has some talented genes (his father is Michael Eisner, former CEO of Walt Disney), he didn’t make much of a statement when he dropped the cinematic bomb that was the action/adventure “Sahara” in 2005.

Funny thing is, with nothing much going for it, “The Crazies” somehow works rather well. Produced by the original film’s director George A. Romero (“Night of the Living Dead”), “The Crazies” is a stimulating blend of chilling moments, solid characters, and enough violence and gore to make aficionados of the genre screech in delight.

Set in the small, fictional town of Ogden Marsh, Iowa, “The Crazies” – if you want to get technical – isn’t part of the zombie culture Romero’s name is usually tied to. This follows a story more in the realm of “28 Days Later” than “Dawn of the Dead.” In the film, townspeople have become infected by something that is turning them all into aggressive, murderous pyschopaths. Unless the military can quarantine the population, the mysterious sickness will eventually infect millions and lead to a global pandemic.

Timothy Olyphant (“A Perfect Getaway”) plays David Dutton, the sheriff of Ogden Marsh who is trying to uncover the reason his neighbors are becoming raving lunatics. Along with his doctor wife Judy (Radha Mitchell), his deputy Russell (Joe Anderson), and his wife’s assistant Becca (Danielle Panabaker), the foursome maneuver their way through town on survive mode and become aware of something more frightening than the virus-plagued antagonists who are after them. There is something inherently wrong with the way the soldiers are sweeping through the farming community and rounding up the sick for testing that points to a government conspiracy.

While “The Crazies” doesn’t offer much in groundbreaking plot or character motivation, it does something so few horror movies do these days: avoids undermining the audience. Instead of cheap thrills created by deceitful editing and lame scare tactics, “The Crazies” stays engaging through its tone and attention to detail. It all makes for an entertaining zombie-type movie featuring military cover-ups, apocalyptic scenarios, and a paranoid cast of characters you can actually root for.

Surrogates

September 25, 2009 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Bruce Willis, Radha Mitchell, Rosamund Pike
Directed by: Jonathan Mostow (“Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines”)
Written by: Michael Ferris (“Terminator Salvation”) and John Brancato (“Terminator Salvation”)
 
Screenwriters Michael Ferris and John Brancato have a monopoly on the man-versus-machine movie this year. While they might be remembered more for penning director McG’s much-anticipated albeit disappointing sequel “Terminator Salvation,” a more engaging entry into the writing duo’s science fiction filmography is the less-publicized “Surrogates” starring Bruce Willis.

Directed by Jonathan Mostow, who’s had a hand in the “Terminator” franchise himself with the silly third installment “Rise of the Machines” in 2003, “Surrogates” finds itself in an awkward spot in September. Not big enough to play among the blockbusters of the summer and easily removed from the Oscar bait of the fall, “Surrogates” might be able to survive if enough people give it a chance to be exactly what moviegoers probably need during this transitional period: a quick flick that’s fairly satisfying.

In “Surrogates,” 98 percent of the world is run by humanlike robots known as surrogates. Basically, any human “operator” who owns one of these pristine, synthetic bodies can virtually link up to it and live out their entire life in the comfort of their own home. No longer does anyone have to go to work, run errands, or risk their lives walking out the front door. A surrogate will take care of it all.

Willis stars as Greer, an FBI agent, who along with his partner Peters (Radha Mitchell) are investigating the mysterious death of a young “operator” who happens to be the son of surrogate creator Canter (James Cromwell). Although it was thought to be impossible, someone has found a way to kill human operators by destroying their surrogates.

One person who would love to get his hands on whatever is overloading the “surries” is the Prophet (Ving Rhames), a human resistance leader whose hundreds of followers cling to his every word about the depressing dehumanization of society. Greer, too, is witnessing his own world slowly but surely distancing itself from reality. Unable to face the death of their son, Greer’s wife Maggie (Rosamund Pike) hides away in her virtual existence where she doesn’t have to confront those memories.

Much of “Surrogates” is standard sci-fi fare that never gets too technical or tries to deemphasize a plot that sometimes moves like the cogs of a rickety clock. It keeps a tolerable pace, but skips a few important beats along the way. Still, as illogical as much of it is, “Surrogates” is better throw-away-cinema than “Gamer” of earlier this month. If you were able to dodge that bullet and still need a sci-fi fix, you could do a lot worse than this.

Henry Poole is Here

August 20, 2008 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Luke Wilson, Radha Mitchell, Adriana Barraza
Directed by: Mark Pellington (“U2 3D”)
Written by: Albert Torres (debut)

Someone invite debut screenwriter Albert Torres over for Bible study. The scribe’s got a lot to say about faith and spirituality and isn’t shy about forcing it down the throats of anyone who’s ever looked out their peephole at Jehovah’s Witnesses and not opened the door. For those atheists out there, consider it the comedy of the year.

The divine intervention begins when Henry Poole (Wilson), who six weeks prior is diagnosed with a terminal disease, moves back to the neighborhood he grew up to wait out his final days crying alone in his vodka tonics. But when Esperanza (Oscar-nominee Barraza of Babel), a pious neighbor, swears to see the face of Christ on the side of Henry’s new home, no one can stop her from anticipating miracles especially when the water-stain image begins to shed tears of blood and “cure” believers. Next door, Dawn (Mitchell) and Millie (Lily), a sorrowful mother-daughter duo who are dealing with abandonment issues, keep Henry company as Esperanza (Spanish for hope) maddeningly tours God-fearing folk through his backyard.

Although the performances make it tolerable (Barraza is genuine and Wilson, when he’s not sulking, is convincing), to know who Henry Poole actually is by the time the preaching ceases is impossible. Instead of smoothing out his rough edges and giving a more meaningful insight to his life before his sickness, Torres and director Pellington drown out the narrative with cliché musings and an overbearingly uplifting soundtrack. The tracks are built around a theme song written by Orlando native and MySpace songwriting contest winner Ron Irizarry, whose lyrics are better fitted as pulpit-worthy speeches for Joel Osteen. Sure, Torres and Pellington might have left some room for religious interpretation, but not before slapping some mud in Henry’s hands and writing him into a West Coast version of Jerusalem.