Cake

January 22, 2015 by  
Filed under Cody, Reviews

Starring: Jennifer Aniston, Adriana Barraza, Anna Kendrick
Directed by: Daniel Barnz (“Won’t Back Down”)
Written by: Patrick Tobin (“No Easy Way”)

Over the past couple of months as Oscar season has been ramping up, studios and distributors have been feverishly pouring money into awards campaigns to try to get their films and their cast and crew nominated. Perhaps nobody was given a larger push than “Cake” lead actress Jennifer Aniston. Highlighting her lack of vanity in wearing no make up and adding facial scars, Aniston was everywhere promoting the film and campaigns were seen all over the internet. Of course, when the nominations were announced last week, Aniston’s name was absent, perhaps proving that Oscar noms can’t always be bought or influenced…or maybe voters were simply acknowledging that “Cake” is not a good film.

After suffering a tragic accident that left her in chronic pain, among other things, Claire (Aniston) has become a miserable and angry person. When a fellow member of her chronic pain support group, Nina (Anna Kendrick) commits suicide, Claire becomes fascinated with her life and her widowed husband Roy (Sam Worthington). As the two become closer, they connect as people trying to put the pieces back together.

In her defense, this is the best work of Aniston’s career as she is able to sink her teeth into a dramatically heavy role and capture the essence of a truly unpleasant person. It may not be Oscar worthy, but it proves that Aniston has the chops to take on roles with a little more substance. It should also be pointed out that perhaps the only character in the film that has any sort of depth is Adriana Barraza who plays Claire’s housekeeper Silvana. Barraza, who is fiercely loyal in the face of being treated horribly, is the only source of true humanity in the film as a whole.

The film itself starts off decent enough, with a pretty good opening scene that shows how caustic Claire is in the wake of her accident. From there, however, screenwriter Patrick Tobin begins to paint Claire as a woman with no redeeming qualities. As the scenes progress, the character of Claire becomes increasingly boorish and quite frankly, annoying to watch. It is to a fault, as Tobin tries to foster empathy with a character that is rude and mean for no reason. Yes, she is in the wake of a horrible tragedy and in chronic pain, but she is regularly lying, threatening blackmail, and insulting people who are simply trying to help her. That is just the tip of the iceberg. Adding to the faults of the screenplay are far too many dream sequences as well as hallucinations of the dead Nina, which essentially play out as the devil on Claire’s shoulder and add virtually nothing to the mix.

As the film goes on, it also becomes more and more contrived, hitting a peak with the storyline that explains the films title of “Cake.” By the time we see the façade of Claire begin to crack, the filmmakers have pushed her detestability so far that any chance for sympathy is too far-gone. A redemption story is only worthwhile when you can actually invest in a character, which is nearly impossible in “Cake.”

Wrath of the Titans

March 30, 2012 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Sam Worthington, Liam Neeson, Ralph Fiennes, Rosamund Pike
Directed by: Jonathan Liebesman (“Battle: Los Angeles”)
Written by: Dan Mazeau (debut) and David Leslie Johnson (“Red Riding Hood”)

When we last left our hero, half man/half god Perseus (Sam Worthington), he had saved a princess, squared off with the gods, and defeated the Kraken to wrap up 2010’s “Clash of the Titans,” the poorly-received remake of the 1981 film of the same name. While the weak script was about as deep as a Grecian urn, the spectacular action sequences drove the mythological motion picture to nearly half a billion dollars at the box office, paving the way for more adventures featuring the ass-kicking demigod in the sequel “Wrath of the Titans.”

“Wrath” picks up the story 10 years after the events of the first film. The time of the gods is drawing to a close thanks to humanity’s lack of devotion and worship, and their weakened state has made containing the imprisoned Titans a difficult task. Led by Kronos, a giant lava monster and father to Zeus (Liam Neeson) and Hades (Ralph Fiennes), the angered Titans threaten to wipe out both the gods and mankind. The world’s only hope lies in convincing Perseus, content as a father and a fisherman, to hop on the back of his Pegasus and wield his sword once again.

Even with a sparse script that seems better suited for a video game, “Wrath” manages to improve on its predecessor in the screenwriting department. That isn’t to say it’s well-written or anything, but at least the brevity of it leads to it being not quite as big a mess of mythology and melodrama this time around. Director Jonathan Liebesman (“Battle: Los Angeles”) wisely amps up the action, pausing only long enough on plot points to set up the next set piece. From a forest battle with a pair of giant Cyclopes to perilous trek through a massive labyrinth to a final battle with the aforementioned towering lava monster, “Wrath” rarely lets up the visual assault.

Worthington’s Perseus remains a hero of few words, which is probably for the best. As estranged godly brothers, “Schindler’s List” co-stars Neeson and Fiennes bask in the cheese while making the most of their expanded screen time, getting a chance to enter the battle this time instead of standing around in the heavens unleashing Krakens and whatnot. While Rosamund Pike’s Queen Andromeda (replacing “Clash’s” Alexa Davalos in the role) merely fills the generic love interest role in Perseus’ team, Toby Kebbell’s demigod Agenor brings some welcome comic relief to the quest. And an always-welcome Bill Nighy delights as daffy fallen god Hephaestus, who’s choice in a conversation partner proves that the only people who still want a goofy clockwork owl hanging out in their fantasy action movies are, indeed, crazy.

Man on a Ledge

January 28, 2012 by  
Filed under Cody, Reviews

Starring: Sam Worthington, Elizabeth Banks, Jamie Bell
Directed by: Asger Leth (debut)
Written by: Pablo Fenjeves (debut)

There is something fascinating about seeing dramatic and life-altering events play themselves out in front of the public eye. It is why traffic gets backed up when there’s an accident on the highway or why crowds of people flock when police or fire trucks show up somewhere. As Nick Cassady (Sam Worthington) stands perched on the ledge of a hotel room, it is clear that he is trying to rile the crowd up for motives unknown to those trying to help (or in the crowd’s case, encourage) him. While this perilous setup doesn’t leave the movie completely devoid of entertainment value, poor acting, lame dialogue, and a lack of creativity plague the appropriately titled “Man on a Ledge.”

As prison escapee Nick Cassady arrives at his hotel, he writes a note and steps out onto a ledge high above New York City. Claiming he is innocent of the diamond theft he was putting prison for, he threatens to jump unless he gets police officer Lydia Mercer (Elizabeth Banks) there to talk to him. As he is up on the ledge manipulating Mercer and entertaining the crowd below, he is in contact with his brother Joey (Jamie Bell) and his girlfriend Angie (Genesis Rodriguez) via earpiece as they attempt to commit a crime to prove his innocence.

Worthington, sporting a Kenny Powers style near-mullet, turns in yet another robotic performance. Not only is he completely dull, but his Australian accent randomly rears its head throughout the film. While Banks is great at many things, she fails to pull off the role of a cop convincingly. There is something about her cadence that is distracting and can’t be taken seriously in this type of setup.  In fact, Bellis the only actor who plays his role well. There are too many supporting performances in the film that are hokey and trite. Ed Harris (“History of Violence”) is the typical bad guy, the other cops in the film have the familiar cop attitude and use ridiculous lingo, and Rodriguez plays the annoyingly played-out stereotypical “fiery Latina,” hurling out insults in Spanish when she gets worked up.

There is a sense throughout “Man on a Ledge” that these are all things that have been done before. There is a recycled heist gag straight out of “Mission: Impossible 3,” the cop cars and crowds surrounding a suspicious hostage situation in New York City evokes “Phone Booth,” and the cop/criminal conversations and general themes of “Inside Man” can be found as well. When mixed in with a script chock full of cheesy conversations, the end result is a film that feels very redundant.

Despite the film’s shortcomings, “Man on a Ledge” unfolds rather briskly and is never boring. While most of the film’s far-fetched logic can be overlooked for the sake of entertainment, the ending of the film is so absurd that even the most open-minded filmgoer will react incredulously. There are certainly worse movies than “Man on a Ledge,” but the film is overall stifled by its lack of originality and corniness.

The Debt

September 2, 2011 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Helen Mirren, Jessica Chastin, Sam Worthington
Directed by: John Madden (“Shakespeare in Love”)
Written by: Matthew Vaughn (“Kick-Ass”), Jane Goldman (“Kick-Ass”), and Peter Straughan (“Sixty-Six”)

A friend turns to me an hour into the stimulating espionage thriller “The Debt” during a scene when retired Mossad secret agent Rachel Singer (Helen Mirren) deplanes in the Ukraine only thinking of her intended target.

“It’s Jason Bourne’s grandma,” he tells me as Mirren bobs and weaves like a spy 30 years too late for the start of the Cold War. I’d join in with a couple of old-lady jokes if I wasn’t so convinced Mirren could probably Krav Maga my ass into couscous.

All teasing aside, Mirren proves she is one tough homemade cookie as she continues to explore more vivacious supporting characters. It was only a year ago in the action comedy “Red” when she showed us how trigger-happy she could be as a contract killer behind a semiautomatic. In “The Debt,” which is based on the 2007 Israeli film “Ha-Hov,” Mirren loses the smirk and gets serious when a dark secret from her paramilitary past is dug up after the death of a colleague.

Constructed by intense scenes shifting back in time to a young Rachel (Jessica Chastin) and her male cohorts (Sam Worthington and Marton Csokas) hunting down a merciless Nazi monster (Jesper Christensen) in East Berlin in 1965, director John Madden (“Shakespeare in Love”) allows the leisurely-paced narrative to unfold naturally when their mission goes awry.

Chastin carries most of the film’s emotional weight although a melodramatic love triangle doesn’t do the script any favors. Her interaction with Christensen in their handful of unnerving encounters set the tone, which is elevated by some dank-looking cinematography and grim location choices, specifically for the flashbacks.

Unpredictable throughout, “The Debt” may harp on the fine line between fact and fiction a bit much, but with Mirren in the passenger’s seat, there’s little chance the film isn’t going to reach its final destination with some style, class and riveting insight.

Clash of the Titans

April 2, 2010 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Sam Worthington, Liam Neeson, Ralph Fiennes
Directed by: Louis Leterrier (“The Incredible Hulk”)
Written by: Travis Beacham (“Dog Days of Summer”), Phil Hay (“Aeon Flux”), Matt Manfredi (“Aeon Flux”)

“Clash of the Titans” is the type of movie where overblown ideas are enough to get a studio to pull the trigger on a production. Disregard a descent script; gigantic scorpions should be just enough to keep the box office bustling for a while.

While adding big-budget special effects to 1981’s kitschy Ray Harryhausen-inspired cult classic might be passable for teenage boys waiting on the next “Transformers” installment, anyone actually interested in the mythological context of our heroes and villains will be hard-pressed to uncover an actual dramatic narrative to go along with the raging CGI and lax 3-D images. If studios were looking for someone to be interchangeable with Michael Bay, they may have found him in director Louis Leterrier (“The Incredible Hulk,” “Transporter 2”). Leterrier – along with his trio of screenwriters – offers some escapism, but fails to deliver much more than the stock epic standard.

In “Clash,” Sam Worthington (“Avatar”) plays Perseus, the demigod son of Zeus (Liam Neeson) who wages war against Hades (Ralph Fiennes) and his Underworld minions. Hades has killed Perseus’s mortal family and is conjuring up some trouble for his brother Zeus on Mount Olympus. He has also threatened to unleash a massive sea monster known as the Kraken on the people of Argos if they do not kill the princess Andromeda (Alexa Davalos).

Chaos reigns for the most part in “Clash” as Leterrier sidesteps any real characterization when introducing us to the men (and one woman) on Perseus’s crew. Gemma Arterton plays the lone female warrior Io, who is also Perseus’s spiritual guide. The rest of the cast has about as much personality as a colossal Greek column. Even Worthington, when he’s not flanked by computer-generated creatures, couldn’t be labeled much more interesting than any of the oiled-up heroes in “Troy” or those in the original “Clash” for that matter.

If watching Perseus chop the head off the slithery Medusa, ride a Black Stallion version of the Pegasus, or duke it out with the Kraken is enough, have at it (save some cash and watch it in 2-D though. The updated 3-D version is a mere marketing ploy and does nothing for the action sequences). If, however, you’re looking for even the slightest bit of cohesive storytelling, “Clash” is a mediocre entry into the fantasy genre. Medusa might turn men into stone with one glance, but Leterrier and company are just as guilty of turning it into a movie as dumb as a bag full of rocks.

Avatar

December 18, 2009 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldana, Sigourney Weaver
Directed by: James Cameron (“Titanic”)
Written by: James Cameron (“Titanic”)

It has taken filmmaker James Cameron quite a while to get behind another camera for a feature film since proclaiming he was “king of the world” for delivering the sinking-ship-love-story that broke box-office records 12 years ago.

While “Titanic” went on to win the Oscar for Best Picture (over “L.A. Confidential” mind you) in 1997 and Céline Dion gave us enough firepower for a decade of “My Heart Will Go On” jokes, Cameron quietly slid out of the limelight and under the water to make a couple of documentaries on sunken ships and ocean ridges.

Now, Cameron, who is also behind groundbreaking films such as “Aliens” and “Terminator 2: Judgment Day,” has come out of the ocean for some air and found time to give us another of those visual spectacles he’s known for. With “Avatar,” not only is the sci-fi adventure a magnificent sight to behold, there’s a quite serviceable – if not all too familiar – story to go along with the breathtaking imagery.

In the film, Sam Worthington (“Terminator Salvation”) plays Jake Sulley, a paraplegic Marine who is called up by the U.S. government and their scientists to make contact with members of an indigenous tribe on an alien planet called Pandora. The creatures, known as the Na’vi, have blue skin and are 10 feet tall. Jake’s job is to befriend the species and get them relocate so the military can go in and collect a powerful mineral in the area the Na’vis inhabit. Yes, the parallels to the war in Iraq are aplenty.

Of course, Jake cannot simply go in on his wheelchair and expect the entire alien race to trust him and follow his orders to move out. Instead, the government scientists – led by Dr. Grace Augustine (Sigourney Weaver) – assign him to his own avatar, a surrogate alien that looks, walks, and talks like all the other Na’vis. Jake can control his avatar from the comfort of a laboratory pod.

Described by some critics as a sci-fi version of “Dances with Wolves,” Cameron captures the physical and emotional journey Jake takes as he becomes this alien being who must learn the ways of the tribe if he wants to earn his place among the clan. Zoe Saldana (“Star Trek”) plays Neytiri, a female Na’vi warrior who is delegated to teach Jake everything he must know to become part of her people. Their relationship is at the forefront of the storytelling and Cameron does not let it slip by the wayside. Beside the intriguing appearance of everything computer-generated that flashes on the screen, the connection Cameron makes between Neytiri and Jake is essential in having us believe his out-of-body experience is more than just a covert mission.

We are on a journey with Jake. From his first ride on the dragon-like banshee to his sprint through the jungle on his aliens legs, Cameron has us experience it all in vibrant detail and engaging action sequences.

While “Avatar” is not without its flaws (some of the dialogue is very laughable), there is entirely too many dazzling moments not to recommend it to anyone whose imagination craves a spectacular tour into a world never seen before.

Terminator Salvation

May 20, 2009 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Christian Bale, Sam Worthington, Anton Yelchin
Directed by: McG (“Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle”)
Written by: John D. Brancato (“Catwoman”) and Michael Ferris (“Primeval”)

What should have been a war for the ages quickly turns into an exercise in mechanics as director McG and team are somehow able to disconnect 25 years of apocalyptic mythology and groundbreaking cinematic moments with “Terminator Salvation,” the fourth installment of the sci-fi franchise.

Although director Jonathan Mostow helped spur the downward spiral with “Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines” in 2003, he at least left the final scene of the film wide open for someone else to take the reigns and drive the story to the inevitable war between man and machine. We’ve all anticipated it ever since Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) met face to face with Arnold Schwarzenegger’s killer cyborg in the 1984 classic. Instead, McG and unproven screenwriters John D. Brancato (“T3”) and Michael Ferris (“T3”) seem to feel that just because the foundation is there they can throw it into cruise control. Sadly, no one bothered to tell them that fans deserved more than a few loud explosions and artificial nostalgic moments.

The film starts with an introduction to Marcus Wright (Sam Worthington), a death row inmate who signs his body away to science before he is executed for murder. Marcus unknowingly returns as a cyborg years after Judgment Day has occurred. With no memory of his past life, he roams the smoldering ruins until he meets Kyle Reese (Anton Yelchin), who fans will know as the human sent back in time in the original film to protect Sarah Connor (Hamilton) and sow the seed that would later become John Connor (Edward Furlong in “T2,” Nick Stahl in “T3,” and Christian Bale in “Salvation”).

As the “prophesized leader of the Resistance” against the machines, John knows his future and the future of mankind lies with two things: the destruction of Skynet, the artificial intelligence network behind the nuclear holocaust, and the survival of his teenage father, a member of the Resistance. Marcus and John’s paths cross after Kyle is snatched up by a machine and taken back to Skynet. John is left to decide whether or not to place his trust in Marcus not knowing if he is the type of terminator that has been sent to destroy him.

The rescue mission, however, doesn’t happen until after a series of impressive special effects and some terrible choices in dialogue, narrative, and female characterization (Moon Bloodgood, Jadagrace, Helena Bonham Carter, and Bryce Dallas Howard do absolutely nothing to progress the story). In “Salvation,” the machines are the stars of the show – and well they should be – but not to the detriment of anything that resembles human emotion (Bale blasting off on viral audio doesn’t count). What McG and writers replace it with instead is 11th-hour metaphorical wish-wash that centers on the strength and resiliency of the human heart. Where that heart was for the rest of the film is anyone’s guess.