Tag Archives: 2stars

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.

Immortals

In keeping with this movie’s respect for myth and fiction, I can best describe it as “full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”

Depending on your mood and needs, this is either a good thing or a not so bad thing. It had eye-popping visuals, if a bit visually dark. It has buckets of blood and crushed bone and yards of skin. It has sphere-spanning views. And it has absolutely no relation to established history or myth nor, if you are willing to accept that, a particularly good or logical story. Even the main quest item hardly gets to be a satisfying part of the story and instead is just a moment’s instrument.

I like clever re-conceptions on known stories. One of the few aspects they did right along these lines was the Minotaur, at least in part. But there was so little for me to hang onto in this story that even 300 was looking like a master storyteller’s effort in comparison. What is a shame is that there was potential in the material and even in the cast, but that potential was only marginally realized.

Killing Bono

As a black comedy about finding your path and living your own dream rather than someone else’s, this film  could have worked. Unfortunately, the movie is not a black comedy. It is simply full of strum and drang until just before the very end where the possibilities become obvious. Sadly, that is 100+ minutes in and without the irony and humor, you just have an incredibly unlikable, stupid main character doing unlikable and stupid things. I dislike willfully stupid people. I don’t mean uneducated, I mean those that ignore the obvious outcomes of their actions and are surprised by or react poorly to the results.

What the story, and book it was based on, follow is the wannabe school buddies of the kids that became U2, and their attempts to be as successful as their childhood friends. As a book, it probably worked rather well. The message is very simple and the story that drives it funny in very sad ways. But little of that was realized in the film despite some good talent in there such as Robert Sheehan from Misfits.

I’m noticing, after watching several, that music biopics tend to be highly focused on individual aspects of culture. Perhaps this makes sense… musicians, like most artists, tend to be monomaniacle as are their audiences when it comes to knowing about them. As a film, however, it often creates an overly blindered view of the world and produces a self-limiting audience. I’m not averse to the music of U2 nor the era around them as they rose, but I’m also not an insane fan. Then again, U2 is only the catalyst for this film, not its focus. Still, it is through this tight lens that we see the world and the driving factors and, therefore, also miss a lot of the richness of the lives that are portrayed. Even if those portrayed are that restricted in their awareness, the viewing audience rarely is. It is definitely a conundrum that isn’t often dealt with well… and certainly wasn’t here.

If you’re a U2 nut or were in a garage band that really did try to make a run at fame, you will likely get a lot more out of this than I did. Still, I think the director missed the mark on the intent and potential.

2046

If Bergman, Kubrik, and Fellini got together and had a Chinese love-child, this might be the result. There are even nods to Lynch’s Blue Velvet. As you may surmise, it is a rather awkward and uncomfortable genetic offspring, but visually stunning.

The cast all commits to their bizarre and often Quixotic parts wholly. The story loops through reality to story within story to broken chronology and undependable narration. Perhaps the best way to think of the film is as the main character’s escape from his own memory palace. Certainly that concept is implied, if not realized.

My rating here is on the cusp…. I’ve been debating whether I can recommend it or not, in other words, is this a 3 or 2 star film. Ultimately, I’m not sure that I can, but I would certainly keep an eye on the director and would give him another chance with a less prosaic story… because, despite my disappointment with this film, I still stuck around to the end as there was enough of an intriguing thread to keep me there.

First Squad

There are two ways to watch this film, and they are very different, though the difference is created through 12 min of live action footage inter-cut with the animation during the hour-long movie.

The short version is purely anime, following an occult battle between the Russians and Germany on the Eastern Front during WWII. Germany was infamous for its occult fascination and it has been been the basis of many movies and anime over the years. If it were demonstrably true, it is believable that the Allies would have developed their own counter-attacks in the same vein. But this story is ill-constructed, using an amnesia-based plot to allow many flashbacks to explain the situation, leaves far too many questions open, and then resolves it far too quickly and not through the main character’s direct actions.

The long version is exactly the same animation, but starts with and continues to inter-cut live actor, talking-head interviews with purported war veterans, historians, and psychologists. At first, it has the effect of making the animation feel either like Russian jingoism or like an apology for how thin the plot is. As the movie goes on, you realize these are actually actors who could have been characters in the animation. Clever premise, but it ends up shifting the movie to being a sort of re-enactment. Even the style of animation supports that feel as it uses rotoscoped war footage to provide some of the landscapes and attacks.

Unfortunately, neither viewing is particularly satisfying, though I think the original, short-version is probably the better of the two as it is less self-conscious.

Half-Life

There are moments in this, some hilarious, but not much of a movie. Like many films of this ilk, you get sucked in by these moments and by the ideas that are clearly there, regardless of whether they are ever really tackled or explained. But, in this case, the story, such as it is, and the ideas never really come together into a satisfying whole.

Part of the issue is the story itself, which is fractured in multiple directions, all apexing around a child. A perfectly valid structure and way to knit together wildly different people and plots and have them interact. And, individually, some of the plots and some of the actors are good. But several of the actors, most notably Ben Redgrave, are just wrong for their roles… just not believable on any level even if they manage to convey a single aspect fairly easily (for Redgrave, it was “creepy”). To be fair, the script didn’t help. But an actor still needs to be able to deliver drivel believably. Half the time, that is what the job is.

Around the adult and world drama that is going on, we also have a huge idea and implied metamorphosis of the young boy that is never explained nor used to effect, except in one exceedingly telegraphed moment. I don’t think there is any room for re-interpretation of what is going on for the kid, but by the time we get to the end, I expected it to have a more definitive impact on the lives of those around him (other than the one moment). There is the feeling of a metaphor in the final scene, but it leaves you hanging like an unresolved note.

I’m not one of those viewers that demands easy answers, or even answers at all. However, I do require that a story hands me enough pieces so that I can construct a satisfying story, or set of stories after I’ve invested a couple hours. For me, this film failed on too many levels for me to ever recommend it, despite the fact that it kept me in my seat to the end hoping that it would pay off.

Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark (2011)

Way back in 1973, the original material for this remake, terrified me for years. Del Torro (who produced and co-wrote the script) was one of the few in the industry I’d have trusted to approach this film with the right sense of the fantastical and dread. He not only has the chops, but he also found the original scary as heck. As it turns out, you can see echos of lots of films that del Torro has had a hand in (from the tooth fairies in Hellboy 2 to Pan’s Labyrinth, to The Orphanage, and others), which is a function of the 15 or so years this project has been in process.

But this re-imagining missed on multiple levels. Admittedly, I haven’t seen the original since it first aired… honestly it scared me that much then and now I just want to protect my memory of it; it is probably as cheesy as anything else from that time. But it lives alongside Trilogy of Terror as some of the scariest stuff on film because they both prey on one of the darkest fears of childhood: something is under my bed and no one believes me. Both of these films terrified people of all ages when they aired, they are not kids films by any stretch.

Some of the changes from the original, such as the main character now being a little girl rather than an adult, could have worked. Even the alterations to the lore that drove the evil in the house was acceptable. But the choice to reveal the creatures from the beginning was a mistake and lost all the tension. The decision to have them running around visibly through a lot of the film was also an error in my opinion. It is what you cannot see that is truly terrifying. Whether that is Alien, The Thing, or these little devils, holding back and letting the audience imagination run wild based on sound and glimpse, at most, is much more effective.

I blame most of this on the director, who just isn’t as adept as del Torro. While he has similar sensibilities, he isn’t as developed. The lack of relationships between the daughter and the adults was pivotal in the failure-the director depended on circumstance to create the emotion rather than creating that emotion between the characters during their exchanges. And there are holes in the story that I suspect are on the cutting room floor. On the positive side, this is the first performance of Holmes’ that I’ve ever believed… at least until the coda, but I can give her that one.

I cannot say it was horrible film, but I wouldn’t recommend wasting your time. If you can find the original, watch that. It may be kitschy beyond words in this era, but I’m betting it still has more power to creep you out than this version did.

Priest

What a shame that such a promising property fell so bloody (pun intended) flat. You knew you were in trouble when after a quick prelude scene, we were thrust in to an, admittedly well done, animated sequence that explains the world and how they got to where they were. People, if you cannot build that into your script, you’ve already shown me you can’t write nor tell a story. Even if this is based on a graphic novel, there are better ways to impart information.

However, even if I give them a pass on the opening, the rest of the premise is pretty absurd, as explained and the directing and acting are wooden. The f/x don’t even rise to something worth seeing in most cases. I’m particularly disappointed in Urban’s character. I don’t think it was his performance … both he and Maggie Q made Paul Bettany look like a walking corpse… but the script and direction left him practically twirling a mustache and cackling.

Overall, I could see the bones of a great and fun film. Unfortunately, it didn’t materialize in just about any way. If you just have to see it, do. This is really a strong 2-stars/anemic 3-stars. I didn’t spit at the screen when done, but I didn’t feel particularly satisfied either. However, the lack of box-office success in this case was well deserved.

Mars Needs Moms

There was only really one reason this ended up in queue: Seth Green. And, sadly, all he was only used for was mo cap… the character voice wasn’t him at all; they brought in a different actor. Talk about a waste of talent. To list all the ways this movie went wrong and became one of the biggest flops of all time at the boxoffice would be to waste pixels. But let me go through a couple anyway because I just can’t resist.

Primarily, the movie had no audience focus. It really couldn’t decide if it was for 8 year olds or the parents and didn’t ride that line in a good old-fashioned Bugs Bunny way. The adult references were decidedly boomer and utterly foreign to the kids… but not in a way that really enhanced the story since it was the ideals that were driving the plot. The plot itself was generally insulting and silly and the science was lousy beyond words. OK, it was based on a kid’s book, but in translation to screen, it really coulda used some work.

The animation itself is actually really impressive and, for the first time, one of the characters eyes didn’t go dead during pauses in action. Mind you, it was only the supporting character played by Dan Fogler, but I finally realized something about mo cap movies… when they enlarge the eyes in anime-like style, they fail. Folger’s character had normally proportioned… or even slightly beady eyes. They stayed alive. Or, probabaly more accurately, I couldn’t see them go dead. The character, for all its outlandishness, lived. On the other hand, the main characer constantly fell into that scary state of souless staring that this technology is famous for. Cusack’s character was even worse in this way as her whole face was just leaden. I did evilly muse if it was a by-product of botoxing of Hollywood, but honestly, if you think about her acting style, she’s always had a fairly flat affect unless she’s pushing the boundaries. Her voice work and movement were both good.

Basically, skip the film unless you’ve an interest purely in the technology.

Falling Skies

OK, here I go again… a lack of movies in my roster forces me to write about a show still airing its season. However, since I am walking away from it for cause, I don’t feel guilty. And because I expect to be lauding a different show tomorrow when I finish watching its final season, it seemed appropriate to talk about good and bad applications of the evening hours. Mine are limited and when I take back 30 min or an hour so I can do something else, it is worth noting. I’m taking back this hour.

So, why? At the risk of bad punditry, Falling Skies fell flat for me. Despite an intriguing set of mysteries and some nice twists on the alien invasion trope, it started slow and with issues. First, few female characters of strength. The show sort of recovered from that a bit, but still has dang few female soldiers and women kicking-butt. This is the end of the world folks, everyone should be fighting. The whole “I am the man and will protect the women and children” is old-school crap. Second, the lack of grey characters was just bad writing and directing. Again, they managed to get a bit away from that over the first few episodes… but not very far away. There are clear black and white hats in the cast.

Finally, and this was the unforgivable issue that drove me from the show: the characters are “willful stupid.” Or in laymen’s terms: they were written dumb so the plot could happen. Unforgivable when it happens over and over in the show. The final straw was the 4th episode where it was so clear what was going on and no one, not one person, not even the history prof who could talk ad nauseum about collaborators throughout history, quesitons the information and situation. C’mon. I’d forgive questioning and coming to the wrong conclusion, but not avoiding the obvious all together. People are scum. They’ve established this aspect of humanity with the plots and in historical reference.

I should say that the cast, mostly, is actually fairly good and committed to their roles, even when they’re written foolishly. I think the mysteries and the aliens themselves actually made me curious… just not enough to overcome the issues. The directing even seems very competant, given the material. This really comes down to the writing, in my opinion.

Time is a precious commodity and there is no reason to waste it. I’m not saying a show cannot be just silly and pointless and worth your time. Heck, look at Big Bang Theory or any number of other sitcoms. Brainless fun is as important as thoughtful discourse. We need both. But no one needs to waste time on bad writing.