“All Is Lost” Trailer

August 1, 2013 |  by  |  movies, trailers  |  No Comments

“All Is Lost” is the story of a lone sailor whose yacht collides with a shipping container while at sea.  Robert Redford is a one-man cast in a film that is getting tremendous early Oscar buzz.  It looks like a terrific premise.  The trailer is mesmerizing.  Let’s hope it lives up to the hype.

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“Gallowwalkers” Review

August 1, 2013 |  by  |  mike horne, movies, reviews  |  1 Comment

Review by Mike Horne – contributing film critic.

So Wesley Snipes has been released from jail and must spend the remainder of his sentence under house arrest, to ponder his mistakes. Sadly, “Gallowalkers” will have to be included in his thoughts.

I was eager to see his return to the screen and, like many others, I was expecting the cool of “Blade” played out on a western stage, but “Blade” this was not. My mind reels at how truly awful it was. I hardly know where to begin. The soundtrack was abysmal and must have been produced by a stoner-rock kid on the world’s cheapest computer. The “hot” chicks couldn’t even pull off being hot in the blazing desert sun, despite both of them being naturally hot in real life. There was even a horrible voice over, but it wasn’t even Wesley’s! Did they not think we would notice? Ok, he was black, so close enough.

Snipes plays Aman, a cursed gunman forced onto the path of revenge. He must kill the “Gallowwalkers”, who seem to be an undefined posse of Zombies led by Kansa, who is shadowed by Kisscut, his knife wielding consort. For some unknown reason, Aman needs to enlist the help of a prisoner named Fabulos (Riley Smith) to help him re-kill the undead. Aman informs us of his perils with a flashback; one that regrettably has no substance. Everything is delivered like we have seen this a thousand times before. Probably because we have. It’s all laid out like napkins, barely given a thought. Snipes is in love, he leaves home, horsemen arrive and “make use” of his woman. Obviously, this angers him tremendously. He tracks them down and murders them all. But wait… They all come back to life! Who would have thunk it? Boom: Instant Evil Zombie Cowboys™.

Problem is, I don’t care. I listen to his back story, I watch the faces of the wrong doers, camping up their wickedness, and I feel nothing. I simply don’t care. Maybe I’m reading into this too much. This is a cheap blood-fest, with bullets and cliches, but Wesley can actually act, so why not give him something to work with? I won’t even mention the amazingly stupid reason for the return of the dead, but let’s just say it is one of the laziest bits of writing in movie history.

For a moment I thought the film might have some potential, as Kansa has a little flair once you get past his awful flashback scene. Oddly the director, Andrew Goth, decided Kansa was so evil that he didn’t actually have to do anything else. Okay, so he pulls a lever and some people are hanged, but they were going to be hanged anyway, so that doesn’t really count. All of the “bad” guys have these cool names, like Slipknot and Skullbucket, but they don’t do much either. So we mainly know these people are bad because they look bad and they act mean. I think they did kill some people, but Goth decided not to show us, so it could have been heat stroke. We just see bodies on the floor afterwards.

I think the overuse of horror gore was supposed to drive the point home for us. See that blood… Evil. Look, he cut that guys skin off, he’s evil. Ultimately, I’m left feeling no fear or relief as I watch Aman calmly despatch Kansas’s undead minions. Snipes goes through the motions, in this really bored, stone-faced, “Well, I guess I have to…” kind of way. I’m all for zombies and some b-movie action, but this is seriously lacking in both action and any of the “so bad, it’s good” moments required for this typed of film. In the end, this a train wreck of genres and styles that made me feel like my eyeballs wouldn’t respect me in the morning.

The premise would have worked as a graphic novel, or if it was directed by Sam Raimi 20 years ago, but I think even drug users will have a hard time trying to make this a late night classic. There are some stylish outfits, lots of funky hair, a mildly funny lizard dude, and a lovely cleavage presented by Tanit Phoenix. Beyond that, there is NOTHING else to this film… Apart from maybe dust and disappointment.

I feel really sorry for Wesley. I’m sure he dug this up from his 2006 crypt to get some cash flow, but this is really going to hurt his future prospects. Maybe “Expendables 3″ will help, but this might be the sad end for him. Maybe he can hook up with Van Damme and get some of that straight to DVD money?

Looks like we shouldn’t always bet on black.

HALF A STAR Gallowwalkers Review

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“Passion” Review

July 31, 2013 |  by  |  movies, reviews  |  No Comments

Brian De Palma’s latest thriller is a remake of the acclaimed 2011 French film, “Love Crime” (Crime d’amour).  The original starred the delectable duo of Kristin Scott Thomas and Ludivine Sagnier.  This remake stars the equally appetizing Rachel McAdams and Noomi Rapace.

The story revolves around a high powered business executive (McAdams) who starts taking credit for work created by her underling (Rapace).  This causes friction, which is soon relieved by plenty of sapphic innuendo and some Agent Provocateur lingerie.  However, the ensuing rivalry and one-upmanship begins to spiral into dangerous territory, replete with blackmail, violence and MURDER.

Sounds good, right?  Well, I thought this recipe had me lined up for a terrific cinematic dining experience.  Unfortunately, the chef piled on way too much cheese and the whose dish was ruined.  “Passion” is one of the cheesiest movies in recent memory — and that detracted from any possible tension or drama that the screenplay had to offer.

Both McAdams and Rapace are really wonderful actresses when given good material.  But no actress could have survived the dialogue written here.  It all felt so stilted and melodramatic.   Some scenes seemed lifted right out of a Mexican daytime soap-opera.

On top of that, the musical score is one of the worst I have ever heard.  It calls attention to itself at all times.  It virtually begs the audience to feel certain emotions.  Strings upon strings… harpsichords upon horns… “feel scared”, “feel tense”, “feel sensual”!!!  It is as if the director didn’t trust the story to do the job and need a steroidal injection of emotions.

I can’t say that I wasn’t involved at all.  The basic premise is engaging and the images of girls making out with each other all over the place managed to hold my attention.  However, I laughed more often than I should.  Unintentional chuckles are a killer for movies that are supposed to be gripping and suspenseful.

I’d like to go back and watch the original French version.  They seem to handle this kind of steamy material far more maturely than Americans.

TWO STARS Passion Review

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“Cold Comes the Night” Trailer

July 27, 2013 |  by  |  movies, trailers  |  No Comments

This “Cold Comes the Night” trailer looks absolutely fantastic!  It reminds me a little of the superb 1998 film, “A Simple Plan” with Billy Bob Thornton, Bill Paxton & Bridget Fonda.  Found money, chased by bad guys… that is a terrific starting point for a thriller.

Alice Eve has been one of my favorite actresses in recent years.  She always puts in a good performance.  She also happens to be a stunner to look at.  Bryan Cranston, of “Breaking Bad” fame looks and sounds menacing enough to make me forget the Teddy KGB accent he seems to be trying.

Everything about this film is appetizing.  It goes right near the top of my most anticipated films of 2013!

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“The Berlin File” Review

July 26, 2013 |  by  |  movies, reviews  |  1 Comment

Here is yet another terrific South Korean action film!  They keep churning them out at a much more successful rate than Hollywood does.  “The Berlin File” is a riveting and fast-paced espionage thriller along the lines of the Jason Bourne series.  And with the way this film concludes, it may just turn into a series of its own.

To detail this ever so complex plot would be utterly futile.  I will simply lay out the basics.  Pyo and Ryun are a North Korean couple who are living in South Korea as spies.  They become embattled in a series of events that expose their identities and set them on the run from a number of groups… the South Korean authorities… the Israeli Mossad… the CIA… international terrorists… etc.  They have to use their physical skills and mental wits to elude and deceive their way to freedom and to each other.

What is unusually terrific about “The Berlin File” is that the standardized protagonist / antagonist or good guy / bad guy delineations are very hard to decipher.  There is very little black and white here… mostly a clusterfuck of grey hues that will have you wondering what conclusion you are hoping for.  Allegiances and motives are easy to question in this story.  It may not even be that clear as the closing credits begin to roll.

Unfortunately, that lack of clarity may also be why the film falls short of greatness.  There were times during this film when I simply had to accept that I had no idea what was happening.  I was scratching my head trying to keep up with who was who and what was actually what.  It is mesmerizingly complex.  This occasionally becomes frustrating.

Nevertheless, the pace of the film is relentless.  The acting is superb.  I am a massive fan of Gianna Jun after seeing her in this and the even superior heist flick, “The Thieves” earlier in the year.  The visual palette is reminiscent of some of the classic cold war movies.  The action sequences are magnificent.  There is just so much to admire here.   If it weren’t for the confusing opening 30 minutes, I would have given this movie a perfect four-stars.   As it stands, “The Berlin File” is another entry in a long line of very good South Korean films in recent years.

THREE AND A HALF STARS The Berlin File Review

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“Oblivion” Review

July 23, 2013 |  by  |  movies, reviews  |  4 Comments

The year is 2077.  Earth was devastated by a war with an alien race of “Scavs” some 50-60 years earlier.  Humans won the war, but had to relocate the population to a colony on Titan.  Tom Cruise plays Jack Harper, a technician assigned to patrol a section of Earth while tracking down and repairing the drones that hunt down the remaining scavenger bandits.  He lives with his partner, Victoria, who oversees his missions and communicates with the new home planet.   They have both had their memories erased for security purposes. However, Jack is haunted by faint memories of his previous life… and those memories are refreshed when he discovers that all he has been told is not quite what it seems.

“Oblivion”  is an awkward film to grasp.  It is both grand and intimate.  It is both quiet and action-packed.  It is both poetic and silly.  In fact, I am not sure it really know what it wants to be.  There are aspects to admire here.  I loved the visual aesthetic.  I thought the acting was unusually nuanced for this type of movie.  The score was haunting.  The effects were seamless enough to never call attention to themselves.  And I admire the ambitious scope of the film.

That being said… I can’t help but feel that the narrative is lacking.  It feels more like the skeleton of a screenplay than a fully developed idea with all the details adding up to a satisfying whole.  I don’t feel like I truly know any of the characters.  The sequence of events and reasons for some of the larger aspects of the story seem rushed and glossed over.   The movie needed about 30 minutes more screen-time to colorize what is a somewhat bleak palette.

“Oblivion” is the abbreviated highlights of the actual film I wanted to see.  Cruise, Kurylenko & Riseborough are all very good.  Morgan Freeman and Melissa Leo are given nothing to do.  Nikolaj Coster-Waldau is used so little, he might as well not have been cast.   I have to lay the blame at the feet of director, Joseph Kosinski.  He did a superb job with “TRON: Legacy”, but he restrains himself too much this time around.  Perhaps there will be a director’s cut of this movie on DVD with all the parts he chose not to include.  That might make for a far better film.  As it stands, “Oblivion” isn’t a bad effort — but it isn’t particularly memorable either.

TWO AND A HALF STARS Oblivion Review

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“Only God Forgives” Review

July 20, 2013 |  by  |  movies, reviews  |  1 Comment

Nicolas Winding Refn and Ryan Gosling collaborate again, following on from their superb 2011 film, “Drive”.  Much of the same aesthetic is on display again here, in “Only God Forgives” — a minimalist dialogue and narrative… a saturated red/blue color palette… eerily haunting music… a Ryan Gosling performance of remarkable restraint… a solemn tone… and characters that are intentionally distant.

If you felt cold and removed from “Drive”… then you will likely despise “Only God Forgives”.  However, if you were drawn into to Refn’s direction, and you are prepared to go even further into the obscure darkness, then this may be of interest to you.

Early word is that this film is polarizing critics.  Some love it… Many hate it.  It feels very much like some of Stanley Kubrick’s work… initially despised — only to slowly gather momentum as the years treat it favorably.   I happen to admire this film’s originality and daring.  You can put me squarely in the “love it” camp.

Gosling plays Julian, a shady character who runs a gym for Thai-boxers.  Clearly though, it is a front for more unseemly business practices.  After his brother commits a heinous crime, the cops allow the father of a murdered girl to exact bloody and fatal revenge on the perpetrator.  Julian initially seeks justice… but hears the truth of the story and decides not to kill the father.

Kristin Scott Thomas plays Julian’s vicious mother, Crystal.   When she arrives in town to “see the corpse of her first born son”, she demands that Julian reconsider his leniency.  The father of the girl must die — and the cop, played magnificently by Vithaya Pansringarm, who allowed the vengeance, must also pay with his life.

What transpires after that point shall be left for your viewing interpretation.  All I will say is that the events feel dreamlike and hypnotic.  It is like a combination of “Fight Club” and “Belle de Jour”… a melange of fantasy and violence and sado-masochistic ritual that could be considered in many different ways.

Is it an entertaining movie?  No.  Is it exciting?  No.  Is it fast-paced?   No.  Is it for the average moviegoer?  No.  This film requires an experimental soul.  It demands that you experience the film rather than observe it.

I thought that “Only God Forgives” was fascinating, riveting and beautiful.  It was a relentless and rhythmical procession of haunting scenes that won’t soon be forgotten.  Nicolas Winding Refn is a visionary auteur whose work will only improve over time and upon reflection.  I am giving the film three and a half stars… but  I wouldn’t be surprised if it ends up with four stars in about 10 years’ time.

THREE AND A HALF STARS Only God Forgives Review

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“Killing Season” Review

July 14, 2013 |  by  |  movies, reviews  |  2 Comments

Roger Ebert once highlighted the “Talking Killer Syndrome” — a cinematic contrivance that has the powerful man (usually armed) babble on and on until the captive has a chance to free himself from the predicament at hand.  In “Killing Season”, that overused contrivance rears its ugly head on no less than five occasions.   This movie could have been over five times.  One can only wish.

Robert De Niro and John Travolta star as soldiers who fought in the Bosnian war.  De Niro is the tortured American veteran who is trying to forget about the past.  Travolta is the Serbian soldier who was once on the end of De Niro’s rifle and has revenge in his cold heart.

At its best, the film would have been a cat and mouse thriller with shades of “The Edge” and “Surviving the Game” coursing through its frames.  Unfortunately, it never approaches that level of excitement.  Instead, it presents a screenplay that feels like it was scribbled in crayon by a 9-year old.  It is cringe-worthy to watch these two actors mumble their way through a minefield of cliches.

De Niro isn’t horrible… simply on autopilot.  He used to be the “greatest living actor” back in the 1980′s and early 90′s.  Since then, his aura has been dulled by the passage of time and an endless sequence of poor choices.  Travolta, on the other hand, has never really been considered an actor of note by anyone.  He is more of a movie star than an actual talent.  Despite a few iconic roles, his batting average is one of the worst of his era.  His performance in “Killing Season” ranks as one of the worst of 2013 — and it will definitely win the worst accent of the year prize… if there is such a thing.

Steer well clear of this one.  It opened in 12 theaters for a total box office of $25,000.  That lack of confidence by the studio, especially considering the star power on offer, shows you exactly what to expect.  “Killing Season” is an awful film that will go in one eye and come out the other.

HALF A STAR Killing Season Review

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“Man of Steel” Review

July 13, 2013 |  by  |  movies, reviews  |  3 Comments

After an endless 30-minute prologue, set on the planet Krypton, which includes Russell Crowe reprising his role as “Gladiator” and flying dragons that seem more at home in a “Lord of the Dweebs” movie, I had just about had enough of yet another unimaginative attempt at rebooting a superhero franchise.  This woefully tired genre became defunct for me somewhere around 1997, and I have only enjoyed a handful of the 75-80 superhero movies since that time.  “Man of Steel” hammers another nail in that long sealed coffin.

I have rarely seen a more grim, bleak, monotone, dark and depressing film.  After that interminable opening salvo, the story jump cuts to a Superman in his twenties, morosely moping from one scene to another, trying to hide his powers rather than using them for good.  Thanks for being a total dick Superman!  You could have saved millions during that time… but instead, you decide that you should go lobster fishing.  All this delaying of the inevitable is due to his late father’s insistence that the world is not ready for him yet.

Cue Lois Lane, played generically by Amy Adams.  This incarnation of a Superman / Lois Lane relationship could have been mapped out on the back of a postage stamp.   There is quite literally no chemistry here… primarily due to the fact that the screenplay doesn’t even attempt to build any.

Then the bad guys arrive from Krypton and we are treated to (and I am not exaggerating here) at least 837 fight scenes where one of them flies into Superman and they go careening into buildings and gas plants and cars and bridges etc.  They get up, dust themselves off, and do it again… and again… and again… and again… and again… and again… and again… and again… and again… and again.

The film is nothing but carnage upon mayhem upon annihilation upon devastation.  Cities are leveled.  Millions must be dead.  And still… Superman and Lois end up having a smooch and a joke amidst a scene that looks like September 11th times a thousand!!!

“Man of Steel” is one of  the worst movies of 2013.  If you value subtlety and nuance and empathy and intelligence… you will despise this movie.  It feels like the moviemakers added up the special effects destruction from the last few “blockbusters” and decided that it was necessary to double-down.   “Transformers” destroyed 78 buildings, 3257 cars and killed 8 million people… NOT ENOUGH!!!  Let’s set some records and make hundreds of millions at the box office.  That’s what the sheep want!!!

HALF A STAR Man of Steel Review

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“Spring Breakers” Review

July 8, 2013 |  by  |  movies, reviews  |  3 Comments

Here is an absolutely stunning film from director, Harmony Korine.  “Spring Breakers” threw me for a loop.  I had no idea what was coming, but I loved every second of it.  This will rank as one of the best surprises of 2013 and will definitely make a run at my year-end Top 10 List.

A film starring Disney princesses about spring break rebelliousness — how good could it really be?  Well, that’s what I thought going in.  However, I knew within a few minutes that this movie was far more than the sum of its parts.  Perhaps I was too dismissive of Selena Gomez, Vanessa Hudgens and Ashley Benson.  Perhaps I saw previews of James Franco’s initially cartoonish character and decided that I already knew what was coming.  Perhaps I was distracted by the endless amounts of uber-hot tail in skimpy bikinis that dominated the trailers.

All that being said, once I fell into the rhythms of this film, I was completely under its spell.

Four broke college girls, desperate to go on a spring break adventure, stick up a restaurant and use the cash to make their way down the beer-soaked beaches of “it’s not important where”.  The screenplay traces their rather typical debauchery as they consume mass quantities and smoke weed until their eyes burst.  Money soon runs out, as does their luck, and soon they find themselves behind bars for underage drinking and possession.  Cue James Franco!  He rolls in, a creepy wannabe gangster rapper who bails the girls out and shows them where the real partying takes place.

The movie then proceeds to go places I did not expect.  It never feels like something I’ve seen before.  Typically, a Hollywood film would have these girls get into adventures, troubles and imminent danger… only to get out of that danger, scramble back home and learn valuable life lessons.  Well… no such contrivances here!  “Spring Breakers” meanders down a hypnotic path with hidden corners and dark alleys — none of which holds any lessons I can decipher.

Originality is so valuable in films today.  There are endless sequels and tired genres that pummel viewers into submission with their relentless sameness.  “Spring Breakers” defies convention.  It is uncomfortably funny.  It is utterly unpredictable.  It is sexy and dangerous and haunting and fascinating.  All the performances are superb — especially from the quad-girl leads.  Gomez announces herself as something far more than just a tween queen.  Benson and Hudgens are unforgettable… especially in the final third of the run time.  Franco has the easiest role because it is so overtly crazy.  The girls deliver subtlety and mystery throughout.  This is must watch cinema!

FOUR STARS Spring Breakers Review

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