Archive for February, 2013

Mini-reviews to help you choose

I have to admit I was really excited for the first quarter of 2013, especially late January through Valentine’s Day. The movie calendar showed that in a four-week span ‘solo’ movies from the three greatest action stars of the 80’s & 90’s would be released. Arnold Schwarzenegger, Bruce Willis, and Sylvester Stallone would once more take up arms and blow shit up.

I had hoped that after the moderate success of the two Expendables films that these flicks would be an easy sell for a movie audience that had grown weary of seeing Jason Statham, Vin Diesel, and The Rock in pedestrian action vehicles that would be crushed beneath the boot heels of John Rambo, The Terminator, and John McClane in their primes. Box office receipts would seem to indicate I was wrong. Arnie & Sly’s flicks landed with a thud while Bruno’s movie was critically ravaged.

I won’t give up on The Holy Trinity though. And I hope that Hollywood, despite the lackluster response by the fickle movie going public, won’t either.

The Last Stand (C+)

The Governator returns in his first feature role since the third Terminator film in 2003. Of course, he has been busy since then while still occassionally finding time to make a few cameo or smaller appearances in a handful of films. Here he plays Ray Owens, the sherrif of a small Arizona town on the Mexican border. Retired from the LAPD, he had hoped to live out a quiet life, protecting the citizenry of his adopted home. Unfortunately, that small town lies directly in the path of a cartel kingpin who is fleeing California and the FBI at 200 MPH in a desperate but well-planned bid for freedom. Arnie, never the most gifted of actors, seems especially stiff after his hiatus and his classic one-liners feel even more forced then usual. The plot is predictable and some of the acting from the supporting players is downright bad. It’s all harmless fun but it can wait for home video and at this point you may have to.

Bullet to the Head (B-)

Journeyman director Walter Hill (The Warriors, The Long Riders, Southern Comfort) and Sylvester Stallone serve up a curious adaptation of a French graphic novel. Stallone plays Jimmy ‘Bobo’ Bonomo, a gun for hire. He partners with, Taylor Kwon, a DC cop played by Sung Kang of the Fast and the Furious franchise. The criminal and the lawman discover a common enemy in the man responsible for the deaths of their previous partners and decide to work together to take down the criminal overlord. The flick feels a lot like another Hill buddy film, 48 Hrs but is missing a strong comedic presence like Eddie Murphy. There’s plenty of casual nudity and lots of blood so if that’s your thing, you should be very pleased. Bonus points for excellent work by Jason Momoa (Conan, Game of Thrones) as a special forces mercenary. He has more personality and charm on display than either of the two leads.

A Good Day to Die Hard (B)

NYPD Lt. John McClane returns in this fifth outing of wrong place, wrong time physics defying superhuman mayhem. The action has shifted to Mother Russia where the bald man makes haste upon discovering his estranged son, Jack (played by Jai Courtney in a nice bit of casting,) has been imprisoned and is awaiting trial for murder. Stuff goes down, McClane sticks his nose where it doesn’t belong, generic criminals conceal their true motives, people get shot and many, many things explode. The films, never firmly grounded in reality, have abandoned any illusions towards the same. In the last flick, he killed a helicopter with a car. The first major action sequence of this one features one of the most ludicrous car chases I’ve ever seen. But hey, it’s a Die Hard movie. One knows what to expect by now. It is neither the least or the greatest of the franchise which, according to Mr. Willis, will continue into a sixth and reportedly final entry in the venerable series.

Because some things demand your immediate attention

Warm Bodies (w & d Jonathan Levine)

Grade:  A-

Zombie movies are a dime a dozen.  It’s a rare treat to find one that offers something original to the genre.  And while ‘zombie romances’ are not necessarily a new thing, Levine (who previously directed the cancer comedy, 50/50, and the criminally under seen and domestically unavailable, All the Boys Love Mandy Lane) adeptly brings a fresh eye to this tale of the walking dead.

Star Nicholas Hoult is on the cusp of superstardom.  He’s set to appear once more as Hank ‘The Beast’ McCoy in next year’s sequel to X-Men:  First Class.  He’s going to be in the Mad Max reboot.  He’s come a long way from his breakout role as a 13-year old kid in the wonderful About A Boy.  His leading lady here is Teresa Palmer, a very lovely Australian actress who has been mainly playing supporting characters in a variety of projects.  I think this film qualifies as her real first leading role and I hope to see here in such a capacity again.

Hoult plays zombie ‘R’ and his narration drives the plot, giving us insight to the inner thoughts of a dead man who can only communicate through grunts and the occasional random word.  He lives in the airport with others of his kind, never sleeping.  Palmer plays Julie, a human survivor of the zombie plague.  She lives behind a giant wall in the city with others led by her father, played by a grumpy John Malkovich.  The two ‘meet cute’ when her group of the living, searching for supplies beyond the wall, runs into his group of the dead who is searching for some fresh food outside their normal friendly confines. 

In the fray, he kills her boyfriend but upon seeing her is immediately attracted.  He saves her from the carnage and spirits her away to safety in his own private airplane.  Julie is horrified at the situation but is somewhat relieved after ‘R’ clumsily articulates his intentions to protect her from his fellow zombies.  Her relief slowly evolves into fascination towards the ‘man’ who saved her life.  The two grow closer as he tries to help her get home and both of them experience fundamental changes that will affect not just them but all of the living and the dead.

If it all sound a little Twilighty, that’s because it is.  But if that’s what you want, you should probably steer clear.  This film is more clever, witty, and at times genuinely scary than any single one of those fang-banger flicks could ever hope to be.  I would be very surprised if this treat of a movie, perfect for the upcoming Valentine’s Day holiday, doesn’t end up in my year-end top 10.

Highly recommended!