Tag Archives: 2stars

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter

This story comes out of a cresting wave of literary mash-ups that started, really, with Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (which was a clever idea, imperfectly executed, but very well monitized).

However fun and clever, though, the fact that Lincoln is the main character is mostly meaningless, minus a couple of obscure moments in history that are rethought. There is neither enough history nor enough outside story to make the whole more than an evening’s forgettable distraction. And the choice of Lincoln is such a forced, nonsensical selection that I wish they had left that out and gone with the story that was crafted around the rest of history. By trying to serve both, the film is left feeling very hollow and like a one-line joke.

None of that is the fault of the cast, who all perform well with what they were handed. Editing chopped much of the potential impact (and ended up with some continuity issues as well). Cooper (Captain America, My Week With Marilyn) continues to show his chops. Sewell gets a little lost, but I’m sure had fun chewing the furniture. Tudyk is just wasted in this film and his part only serves to confuse everything. Walker does a rather credible Lincoln, and not a bad fighter, but it isn’t the most dynamic role and he is a little too short to pull it off (as compared to the rest of the cast).

I can’t blame a bad adaptation as the writer of the original book adapted his own work. OK, perhaps what I can’t blame is a writer unfamiliar with the material for the result. It could still be a bad adaptation; what was able to work in a book didn’t translate very well to the screen. The entire sense of nod and wink fun was wiped away by the earnestness of what should have been satire or, at the least, much more fantasy.

Timur Bekmambetov (Wanted, Night WatchDay Watch) was the only reason I risked my time on this movie. As a director, he knows how to have fun and shoot action. Then again, he is also the same man that gave us the 2001 Corman remake of the 1973 exploitation film, The Arena. But I suppose we all have skeletons in the closet. His choice to remain mostly historically accurate (minus aspects such as sunscreen) was surprising. There is a whiff of steam-punk throughout that could have changed the level of fun and interest. Even one step closer to Wild Wild West (the original series) would have helped. Instead he gave us a vampire film that feels more populated with emotionless zombies and bizarre motivations. I can see that there was some interesting 3D work, particularly with some of the fights, but that isn’t enough to save a movie, and I saw it in 2D anyway… and it remained pretty flat, I have to say.

Copper (Series 1)

Barring absolute stupidity or just horrible dialogue, I’ll usually give a new show at least one episode; three if it seems to have promise. I gave Copper four episodes to change my near-immediate opinion. I only gave it that long because that is how many were on the first disc.

These first four episodes were a string of cliches and plot points that are never earned by their characters. There isn’t a redeeming individual in the bunch and the mysteries and resolutions feel empty. There were one or two plot surprises, but they felt more forced for shock than believable. The show is surviving on its penchant for violence and nudity. And while they may get a lot of the historical pieces right, they also seem full on anachronisms in their dialogue.

I had much higher hopes for this first BBC America series. It came from good pedigree, but somehow the process of show creation that brought us classics like the ultra-violent, flawed, and dark Luther, lost the point when they created Copper. It isn’t the shock that works in shows like Luther, it is the aftermath and depth of character. It is the complexity of the emotions and motivations. It is the drama of all these aspects in conflict.

Copper is only about corruption and base, animal wants and needs; it is simply a bad soap opera painted in blood to hide its superficiality.

Coma (2012)

This incarnation of Cook’s book from the 70’s is much more of a medical suspense mystery/thriller than its previous siblings, which were products of their time and a bit too soap opera for my taste.

Oddly, the two parts of the series have wildly different quality levels. The first part of this mini-series is actually quite strong. From the outset the story feels modern with found footage (thankfully, not too much of it) and enough clues to make sure you don’t think they think you’re a dumb audience nor unaware of the plot. It drives forward and keeps you engaged and believing. However, the second part fails to deliver, not for lack of trying, but purely for lack of writing. It is the kind of bad police procedural and “black hat” mystery writing that drives me away from so many TV shows. It is a shame as the promise of the first half was really intriguing.

Certainly, I don’t blame the cast for this failing. Ambrose, who I came to adore in Six Feet Under (and found a way to forgive for Torchwood: Miracle Day), provides a relatively believable main character. Not your likeliest med school  candidate, but not unbelievable and certainly with fierce intelligence as well as some guts and gusto. Oddly, her role here mirrors her Torchwood turn in some odd ways. The other names in this series (Burstyn, Davis, Woods, Dreyfuss) are there to lend cachet, but really should have run the other way when the script was offered. It adds nothing to their honorable resumes, even if they had fun playing arch characters. It reminds me of some of the worst “move of the week” fair that graced television through the 60s and 70s.

Overall this is a miss. You may find it interesting enough to stick with… especially if you can squint through the second half. Or watch the first half and then read the book (it is close enough to the original material) to find out what’s going on, if you couldn’t figure it out already.

 

4:44: Last Day on Earth

The quiet apocalypse movie is a standard and an art. Unlike the easier to create, primarily action approach of, say, 28 Days Later or the Resident Evil series, or even War Games, this sub-genre focuses on base realities. Look at On the Beach, Miracle Mile, or even last year’s extraordinary Melancholia. The question in these films isn’t so much if the world will end or how, but rather what you would do for that short time period before it ended if you knew it was coming?

4:44 starts off strongly enough, if quietly. It cleverly fills you in on the situation by using background news and other programs as well as stray visuals and conversations. Relatively quickly you are up-to-speed, even if the details of the characters and their relationship is yet to be revealed. Unfortunately, then they start to talk and the dialogue is not nearly as clever as the rest of the direction… and no amount of recurring cleverness at this point redeems the film which attempts to slowly unwind humanity’s last day on earth in microcosm.

Dafoe, as always, commits to his role. It seemed, in some ways, a weak reprisal of his work in Antichrist. There was nothing new he showed us here. There was nothing compelling he created. His co-star was equally committed and equally uncompelling as a character. As the film is primarily these two, it isn’t a good foundation for a satisfying experience. It would have made a much better 15-20 minute short, given the ultimate moments and ideas. As it is, you’ll have to wade through 90 minutes, by which time you just ready for it to end–and perhaps that was part of the intent, but that doesn’t make it any more worth recommending.

Dating Rules from My Future Self (Series 2)

I hate to see clever ideas die under their own weight. The first round of this web show was surprisingly entertaining and delightful and really played on the geek angle. This was true both for the main character and the plot. Sadly, this next iteration aims more at the party-girl angle and includes somewhat vacuous video conversations across time… just because. And the addition of the video honestly diminished the fun and mystery of what was going on in the future.

By pulling away from the original storyline, characters, and cast the series also managed to lose all of its layers. Admittedly, those layers were part of a relatively light plot to start with, but at least they were there in the first series. In fact, the round became just a pretty straight forward plot with some light situational humor. Frankly, even with a cast that committed to their parts, I just couldn’t connect with the new lead the way I could with the first. Does this mean it won’t work for others? Probably not. But I’m betting I’m not alone in feeling let down by the new choices.

This series is about the same length as the first, but produced in 6, 10min segments. Spread over several nights or slotted in between stuff, it is a small commitment, but you can probably skip it. Perhaps they’ll correct it all in another iteration. One advantage of these web-based, low-cost productions is that they can fail without breaking the bank or the spirit of the runners. It is an experimental medium and they can try again with little risk overall. Would I give them that chance? Probably. They showed me something in the first series I was hoping to see them capitalize on. The show may get there yet… just not this time.

 

Attack the Gas Station

There is something in this movie, but I’m hard pressed to recommend anyone takes the time to go find it.

The story starts off with a bit of black humor that feels like Clerks… if they were willing to use their hockey sticks on people. But this isn’t a comedy about Seoul slackers by a long shot. If I had to put my finger on it, I’d say it was commentary on the cycle of violence for young men in Korea who feel abused or disinfrancised. A Rebel Without a Cause with a very differnt approach and ending.

But, sadly, I think that implies a much better movie than is provided. The film is slow, absurd, angry, and annoying. While we get to know each of the characters involved and we see the unintended consequences each growing upon one another, even as we see the root of each of the choices, you don’t really care for anyone. Nearly everyone in this film is flawed beyond sympathy. Without that tether, what you have is a sort of angry, visual, essay.

If there is any spark of real genius to the film, it is the final moments before the credits when reality bleeds away for a second and everyone, and I mean everyone, is essentially threatening everyone else. As an image or a painting it would have been powerful on its own, however it isn’t really worth the time getting there.

Bedlam (Series 1)

I’m going to violate one of my standards and review this series before seeing it all. It just doesn’t warrant waiting.

Basically, this series is about a bunch of 20-something screw-ups living in a haunted apartment building as flat-mates. Of course the other tenants are also messed up 20-somethings so they can have crazy adventures and, probably, sex. The premise of it being an old asylum passed down through the family is a good one, but there is no snap, only skin to help support the predictable and banal plots, not to mention arch characters with shaded motivations. Heck, there isn’t even good dialog to make it fun… it is all so earnest.

I’ve only viewed the first 2 of 6 episodes, and will watch the 3rd tonight; I’ll allow it a Hail Mary pass only because I have the disc on hand. As such, I reserve the right to revise my comments here tomorrow, but really don’t see that happening. Even Being Human (BBC), for all it’s weaknesses when it started, had something to it that drew me back. Bedlam has nothing of that draw for me. Seeing it on the same night as The Woman in Black most certainly did not help my ability to appreciate this weaker submission to the Gothic horror genre.

Personally, I’d give this a pass unless what you want is bad soap opera and semi-nude rooms with a view.

The Rundown

Why, you ask, is this rating so low? One word: lost potential.

The story and setting for this action/adventure are both top notch. The writing isn’t even all that bad, except for the moments it devolves into juvenile idiocy. These kinds of films only work if you can buy into the fact that everyone is capable of being where they are and who they are. I could forgive Walken’s scene-munching turn as the bad guy. He worked with what he had and made it work as best he could. The Rock (this was before he became human Dwayne Johnson in credits) shows acting growth after his rather poor turns in The Mummy Returns and The Scorpion King. Rosario Dawson rocks her part pretty much completely. Even the absurdist character Ewen Bremner (recently in Page Eight) played works within the bounds of the story.

On the other hand, Sean William Scott, who has to support half this flick, was done no favors by the script nor his attack of it. You need to believe Scott is a PhD candidate and son of a mobster. He comes off as a lost Spring breaker, still coming down from a long holiday on drugs.

I understand that this was a WWE film, and thus it was aimed at a particular kind of audience in their minds. But there was so much more there that it just frustrated me to no end. Every time there were great moments, they were followed up with 3 Stooges style material that just sucked the reality and momentum out of the pic.

That said, one thing the WWE mentality did bring to the painful slog through this story was incredible fight sequences and stunts. These, probably more than anything else, kept me in my seat, at moments gasping audibly at the gags.

Berg directed what he had relatively well. The pacing is solid. Given his track record in quality as actor and director, though, I can’t tell how much he is to blame for the mess that made it to screen and how much was his WWE producers, who undervalued their audience’s intelligence. Here is a man who was involved in  Hancock and Going Overboard, Smokin’ Aces and Corky Romano, Friday Night Lights and Fire in the Sky. There is just no sense of what his vision really is to judge his ability, other than the fact that he gets a lot of work in the business. In fact, I found this film because of his upcoming Battleship, which is about to hit theaters.

Clearly, as the director this round he has to take some of the blame and praise of what he puts on the screen. There is ability displayed up there in pure technical capability. In sensibility, it fails on almost all levels… again, more because of the unfulfilled promise made by moments of solid reality and character that are torpedoed by foolish antics and absurd dialog and decisions. Many people swear by this film, and you may as well, but it is definitely out of my wheelhouse for fulfilling enjoyment.

The Wolfman

There are good reasons for remaking a classic. As technology changes, the experience can be improved. A new look at a story can make it fresh, funny, or otherwise unique. But no matter the reason, you have to bring something new to the story so that it stands on its own and isn’t merely a reflection of the original.

Despite great casting, though often empty acting, and beautiful cinematography, there is just nothing that the script or Johnston brought to this remake that would have me recommending it. Del Toro’s accent is utterly distracting and makes him feel completely void of emotion and sympathy. Hopkins was directed to be cold and empty, and he pretty much is. Weaving and Blunt bring more to their bit parts than either of the leads bring to their longer screen time.

I mentioned the casting… and that really did deserve notice. Hopkins and Del Toro really do look like father and son and Butterfield really does look like he could have grown up to be Del Toro. So often there is only a nodding similarity that we’re supposed to squint past. This casting director really worked hard to find actors with potential that could work. I’m sure make-up helped here too.

Another good choice, or at least a nod to the intention, was the wolfman makeup. The design mirrors the original Lon Chaney Jr. rather than the more recent and horrific imaginings of such a monster birthed in the 80s.

But your best choice is to skip this empty retelling of the 1941 classic and watch the original. The Universal monster series lives on precisely because they are well done and more about the characters than they are about the ailment. The original Universal monsters were a look at the inner human condition and the fears of the time. None of that is overt, but it added the edge that sets them apart. Most of remakes forget the undercurrents and focus on the period or the blood. In this case, they just forgot the heart.