Gimme Shelter

January 24, 2014 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Vanessa Hudgens, Brendan Fraser, Rosario Dawson
Directed by: Ron Krauss (“Amexica”)
Written by: Ron Krauss (“Amexica”)

No one is blaming actress Vanessa Hudgens for trying to separate herself from the fluffy roles that made her famous during her more formative years. She, along with fellow Disney princess Selena Gomez, was able to put some space between her and her tween fan base last year when she starred as a scantily clad criminal in “Spring Breakers.” It’s a routine other actors have tried before, all with varying success. Think Macaulay Culkin in “The Good Son” or Dakota Fanning in “Hide and Seek.” Even Molly Ringwald went to the dark side in “Malicious” after playing a slew of goody-two-shoe characters in the 80s.

While Hudgens has been working on her transformation for only a couple of years (she was also in the unwatchable “Sucker Punch” and “Machete Kills” where she tried some “edgier” roles), she still hasn’t found a character written well enough for anyone to take real notice. Unfortunately, the same can be said of her starring role in “Gimme Shelter.” In the film she plays Agnes “Apple” Bailey, a pregnant teenager who leaves her abusive mother (Rosario Dawson) in search of her estranged father (Brendan Fraser). When things don’t go as planned on account of her bad attitude, Apple finds sanctuary in group home for pregnant teens with the help of a caring priest (James Earl Jones) and a shelter caretaker (Ann Dowd) who guide her.

It’ll take more than a choppy haircut, baggy clothes, a neck tattoo and other unrecognizable features for audiences to believe Hudgens can lose herself in a role like this. She does her best with what she is given, but with as script as inauthentic and blatantly heavy handed as the one director/writer Ron Krauss offers up, Hudgens has nowhere to go emotionally. In fact, the only real change we see in her character is when more makeup is applied to her face after each scene in the third act to give some kind of false impression of resurgence and self-confidence.

There’s nothing in Apple’s life that should lead audiences to even imagine she is going to be alright. Are we to believe the girls she spends such little time with in this facility have done enough to help her see the error in her ways? Is Krauss trying to say that since God has her back, nothing bad can happen to her? The fact that Krauss is masking Apple’s personality with a host of weak relationships she creates during this pivotal time in her life makes her journey feel all the less affecting. Without Dawson mugging for the camera and Fraser emoting some ridiculous facial expressions, “Gimme Shelter” would be an empty vessel.

Journey 2: The Mysterious Island

February 11, 2012 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Dwayne Johnson, Michael Caine, Vanessa Hudgens
Directed by: Brad Peyton (“Cats & Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore”)
Written by: Brian Gunn (“Bring It On Again”) and Mark Gunn (“Bring It On Again”)

Dear Dwayne Johnson,

While I was never a fan of wrestling, I’ve always been a fan of yours. Even if I didn’t smell what the Rock was cooking or respect the People’s Elbow, I recognized your talent was too big for the squared circle, and I looked forward to your inevitable transition into movies. You were the perfect post-modern action hero: beefy and intimidating, yet funny and self-aware. Your easy charm would have been a welcome presence as action movies evolved away from the bombastic cheese of the ’80s. You started off with smart choices, like when Arnold Schwarzenegger unofficially passed the torch to you in “The Rundown,” or when you stole the show in the otherwise-terrible “Be Cool,” especially when you performed the monologue from “Bring It On.” You even took crazy chances, working with a madman posing as a director to play a dual role is the psychotic fever dream “Southland Tales.”

So…what happened?

Look, I’m well aware this isn’t your first family movie, but this seems to be a new low. I’m no Hollywood insider, but my guess is that any project that features as much pre-production drama as “Journey 2” had is fairly creatively compromised. In case you weren’t aware, Brendan Fraser passed on this sequel out of loyalty to the original film’s director (Eric Brevig, who wasn’t finished with post-production on “Yogi Bear” in time to start shooting). Didn’t more red flags raise when the studio replaced Brevig with “Cats & Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore” director Brad Peyton just to meet the their desired release date? I mean, look at that murderer’s row of crappy movies and add that to the fact that Brendan Fraser, who obviously never says no to anything, said no to this.

And you said yes.

But hey, no one’s ever backed up a dump truck full of money in front of my house asking me to take over something Brendan Fraser decided not to do, so I really have no point of reference. Heck, maybe you read the script and saw you’d be filming in Hawaii for a few months and you read the part about punching that giant lizard square in the face and thought, “Eh, why not?” Sure, you probably rolled your eyes at the expository dialogue your character would have to spout, like the nonsense about recognizing soil liquefaction thanks your time in the Navy and such, but you probably just cracked a smile and shook your head, because it’s just a stupid family movie, right?

Maybe you wanted to work with Michael Caine, who hasn’t slummed it this bad since “Jaws: The Revenge.” He’s got two Oscars, after all. By taking the part you get to spend a big chunk of the movie trading jokes and insults with him. That’s cool. And Luis Guzmán seems like a great guy to work with. He’s super funny. His Polynesian(?!) helicopter pilot Gabato provides some much-needed laughs that aren’t about how ridiculous some plot points are, like how our adventurers are somehow able to pilot giant bumblebees like they were Sopwith Camels (it’s a fighter plane, Dwayne). For all I know you’ve been wanting to work with Vanessa Hudgens. Who wouldn’t? She’s a gorgeous actress. Or, I don’t know, maybe you’re a “Sex and the City” fan and wanted to work with Kristen Davis. Maybe you just loved the first movie so much you wanted to work with that kid…you know…the one that was in the first movie, for some reason runs from the cops on a motorcycle at the beginning of this movie…hold on–

Josh Hutcherson. His name is Josh Hutcherson.

Why, Dwayne? Why would you sign on to a ham-fisted, Jules Verne-defiling sequel filled with lousy special effects and idiotic leaps of logic? You’re the hero we need, Dwayne. Please, for Pete’s sake, never sign on to another movie where you punch a reptile in the face, the upcoming “G.I. Joe: Retaliation” notwithstanding.

Your pal,


P.S. At least you can take comfort in knowing you had nothing to do with the blasphemous computer-animated 3D Daffy Duck short, “Daffy’s Rhapsody,” that preceded “Journey 2.” Yeah, it featured the voice of the late Mel Blanc and Elmer Fudd firing an honest-to-goodness shotgun, but rendering Looney Tunes characters in three dimensions should be grounds for deportation.

Sucker Punch

March 27, 2011 by  
Filed under CineStrays

Starring: Emily Browning, Abbie Cornish, Jena Malone
Directed by: Zack Snyder (“300”)
Written by: Zack Snyder (“300”) and Steve Shibuya (debut)
From putting a stimulating spin on an American horror classic in 2004’s “Dawn of the Dead” to slightly entertaining us with his next two highly-stylized films “300” and “Watchmen,” there’s no denying that director Zack Snyder can at least deliver some attention-grabbing imagery. But what he’s upchucked for “Sucker Punch,” an exceedingly erratic softcore male fantasy for gamers, is beyond inexcusable. Girls in an insane asylum imagining they’re in a whorehouse imagining they’re on a mission of girl-empowerment against German zombie soldiers, dragons, and samurai robots? Seriously, what the hell is going on here? Whatever it is, it’s not suspenseful or inventive and besides probably giving 13-year-old boys boners, it’s not very sexy either. This is the type of movie that will hang over Snyder’s head like “Showgirls” does for Paul Verhoeven. Now fanboys can officially fear for the “Superman” reboot.


August 14, 2009 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Alyson Michalka, Vanessa Hudgens, Gaelan Connell
Directed by: Todd Graff (“Camp”)
Written by: Todd Graff (“Camp”) and Josh A. Cagan (debut)

Until someone adapts “Twilight” into a vampire musical, tweens everywhere will have to put all their hopes into the coming-of-age music flick “Bandslam” to be the sensible replacement for three years worth of “High School Musical” dance sequences.

But when most of the young characters in “Bandslam” prove to have the personalities of cardboard cutouts one would find displayed in a mall music store to peddle new CDs, there’s not much to expect other than a few catchy songs and a script as fascinating as a cheesy message scribbled in the back of a high school yearbook.

In “Bandslam,” director Todd Graff, who helmed the 2003 film “Camp” about the students of a New York performance art camp, doesn’t have much of a leading man in Gaelan Connell. Connell, who looks like the lovechild of Shia LaBeouf (“Transformers”) and Jesse Eisenberg (“Adventureland”), plays high school dweeb Will Burton, an encyclopedia of music knowledge who is misunderstood by his peers and has become “comfortably numb” with his average life.

Aware of her son’s unhappiness, Will’s mom Karen (Lisa Kudrow) decides they will pack everything up and start a new life in New Jersey. At his new school, Will quickly makes friends with loner hipster girl Sa5m (Vanessa Hudgens, who explains that the 5 in her name is silent; how very clever) and ex-cheerleader Charlotte Banks (Alyson Michalka of Aly & AJ fame).

Will enrolls in school just as everyone starts talking about the upcoming music competition known as Bandslam. The talent show features the best high school bands (we’re not talking about the ones that march during halftime) in the city that are all vying for a record contract. Charlotte is set on being one of the two band chosen to represent her school. The problem is that their band Glory Dogs, a splinter group of Charlotte’s former band Ben Wheatly and the Glory Dogs, isn’t ready for the spotlight.

In steps Will as the band’s new manager ready to whip the group into shape and make the necessary changes they need to win. Everything basically falls into place pretty easily with Graff’s script. The band becomes too good too fast while Will and Sa5m discover that their friendship is turning into something more meaningful.

While Hudgens tries to break out her “High School Musical” mold and portray a character with a little more attitude, Sa5m, along with the rest of the characters, just aren’t fleshed out well enough to get past all the clichés and familiar storyline. It’s also not as witty as Graff would like it to be. Much of the dialogue is unnatural (“Emotions are overrated,” “I don’t do whys”), which drains the high schoolers of their charm.

All the rocking out leads to the Battle of the Bands-type competition and a surprise twist in the story that tries to tie everything together in the film’s waning moments. Emotionally, there’s not much to care about in the lives of these students other than their musical talent. But even that’s not enough when everyone – with the exception of Hudgens – seems like they’re lip-syncing and playing air guitar.