Archive | March, 2010

Dear John

31 Mar

Title: Dear John
Year: 2010
Director: Lasse Hallström
Writer: Jamie Linden, adapting from the Nicholas Sparks novel
Starring: Amanda Seyfried, Channing Tatum, Henry Thomas, Scott Porter, Richard Jenkins
MPAA Rating: PG-13, some sensuality and violence
Runtime: 105 min
Major Awards:
IMDb Rating: 5.5
Rotten Tomatoes: 28%

I’m a sucker for Amanda Seyfriend, she’s one of my favorite young actresses, I’m also a sucker for a good romance, and as such a fan of Nicholas Spark’s novels, I’m not, however, a sucker for the film adaptation of his Dear John novel. The bad thing about it is that it relies too much on the framework that worked so well on The Notebook, but because of a performance that I found uneven by Tatum and an all-over-the-place direction from Hallström.

We know how Nicholas Sparks’ adaptations work, they are the ultimate love stories, and the guy actually has some real talent as far crafting love stories, we know that there’ll be tears, tears fueled by the story of two really great characters, and we know once it’s all over there’ll be a bittersweet taste left in our palads.

Channing Tatum is the titular John, John Tyree, an army-man back home for two weeks on leave. Amanda Seyfried, looking every so lovely, is Savannah who’s purse once falls off a pier, John then dives to rescue it, and then they fall in love, though, as I said, John’s time there in South Carolina has an expiration date.

We get to see those two fall in love during the days they are together, we get to meet John’s father, played by Richard Jenkins, who, as Savannah observes, probably has a mild case of autism, something that creates an argument between the lovers. And then we get to the part where John has to leave, he says he’ll back in a year, and then they can resume their love for each other and live happily ever after.

But not so fast, this is a Nicholas Sparks story, if that happened we would close the novel, or in this case leave the theater, with a huge smile on our faces, Sparks always aims for the sadder smile, wet from the tears that have traveled to our lips, and that’s what he gets in this one, because 9/11 happens, and John re-enlists, and then Savannah finds a new love, a really good man, someone who John, who re-enlists yet again, is told about in the letter that gives title to the film, a man who John can accept to take care of the woman he loves.

This isn’t a great Sparks adaptation, it’s really not, but its a solid one that could have been just as good as The Notebook had it had a tighter direction and a better male lead. It may sound like I’m pounding on Tatum a bit too harshly, and maybe I am, he’s really not bad at all, in fact it’s his likability, along with Seyfried’s, that make this one work on the level that it does, but ugh, I don’t know, there’s just something about his performance that sadly didn’t do it for me.

As a stand-alone film maybe this one does work, but as an adaptation I’m not so sure, I’m not in love with adaptations that change the ending of the source material like this one does. But nevertheless as romantic entertainment for you to go see on a date this one works, it provides that sort of heartache you sometimes seek when you go to the movies, you just have to wonder how much better this could have had those two errors I’ve pointed out been adjusted.

Grade: C+

When in Rome

31 Mar

Title: When in Rome
Year: 2010
Director: Mark Steven Johnson
Writer: Mark Steven Johnson, David Diamond, David Weissman
Starring: Kristen Bell, Josh Duhamel, Will Arnett, Jon Heder, Dax Shepard, Danny DeVito, Anjelica Huston
MPAA Rating: PG-13, suggestive content
Runtime: 91 min
Major Awards:
IMDb Rating: 5.3
Rotten Tomatoes: 17%

If I say this film is bearable it’s just because I really really like Kristen Bell, but even in my most extreme moments of fandom I will never say this is a good film, or even an okay film, because the truth is that When in Rome is completely bad, it relies on a series of really unfunny gags and even though Bell and her male co-star Josh Duhamel, are both quite likeable they are put through too many stupid situations for us to care for them for a whole film.

Yes, they are in typical rom-com, these are the most predictable types of films, we know the two will end up together, I’ve learned to lower my expectations with rom-coms, there are only a couple of really good ones released every year, and that’s if it’s a good year, but still, even with my lowered expectations I need the required obstacles the couple must endure to be funny, and in When in Rome they are painfully ridiculous.

And not only are the physical-comedy gags horrible, but the seriously weak attempts at being witty (because all rom-com writers now think they can emulate the Apatow clan) are just as abysmal, which is a shame when you have an actress like Kristen Bell who proved in Veronica Mars she can deliver them witty lines like the best of ’em.

The supporting cast is equally uninspired, Jon Heder is fine but he should be more than fine, Will Arnett is badly used, Dax Shepard really sucks, and Danny DeVito is the worst of them, that guy should just stick to his über-funny role in It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia since everything he does in film as of late has been pretty horrid, he should thank his lucky stars this film somehow doesn’t appear on his IMDb acting credits.

But meh, I won’t even dig into the plot of this film, just go look at the trailer if you want to know that, and if you do watch the trailer you don’t even have to go see the film, the blanks are stupidly easy to fill in, as is the case with this genre so often, I’m giving this one a barely passing grade, but that’s just because I want a Veronica Mars movie.

Grade: C-

Edge of Darkness

31 Mar

Title: Edge of Darkness
Year: 2010
Director: Martin Campbell
Writer: William Monahan, Andrew Bovell
Starring: Mel Gibson, Ray Winstone, Danny Huston, Bojana Novakovic, Jay O. Sanders
MPAA Rating: R, strong bloody violence and language
Runtime: 117 min
Major Awards:
IMDb Rating: 6.9
Rotten Tomatoes: 55%

Edge of Darkness was a film I was really looking forward to, not because I thought it would be great, and not exactly because I wanted to see the return of Mel Gibson. I say not exactly because it was because of it, but I didn’t want his return to be a good one in order to make Edge of Darkness shine, but rather because a solid return would be a good sign that The Beaver, his next project which I’ve been psyched about since forever, would be more than competent.

And a solid return it was, Gibson, who hadn’t had a starring role since 2002’s Signs, seemed like his old self, and that’s more than enough considering all that has transpired around him since said film. Revenge thrillers are something Gibson has done before, and in this one he is yet again a really convincing action hero that will make this film entertain audiences they way he used to.

I love the fact that Gibson could overpower what has gone on behind the screen and become a likeable lead as he plays Craven, a Boston cop who’s daughter, Emma, is the love of his life and who comes to visit him at home once. Then a man knocks at the door, Emma answers, a hooded man shouts “Craven!” and shoots poor Emma dead.

It is thought that Craven himself was the target, though Craven isn’t entirely sure and focusses his attention on the company Emma worked for, Northmoor, who’s chairman is played by Danny Huston, who also played an evil company man in The Constant Gardener.

Northmoor is obviously super evil and Craven is of course the typical hero in these sort of films, a really kick-ass cop who’s out to get revenge and who has absolutely nothing left to lose, in that sense Edge of Darkness brings absolutely nothing new to the table, but it has Gibson back in top form and a terrific Ray Winstone in the role that was originally supposed to go to Robert DeNiro before he dropped out a few days into shooting and just because of that I celebrate this film, and I continue to think Beaver will kick ass.

Grade: B-

Creation

30 Mar

Title: Creation
Year: 2009
Director: Jon Amiel
Writer: John Collee
Starring: Paul Bettany, Jennifer Connelly, Jeremy Northam, Toby Jones, Benedict Cumberbatch
MPAA Rating: PG-13, some intense thematic material
Runtime: 108 min
Major Awards:
IMDb Rating: 6.8
Rotten Tomatoes: 46%

Creation has real-life spouses Bettany and Connelly play husband and wife on-screen as they tackle the roles of Charles and Emma Darwin, and even though Amiel’s directing eye is splendid, and Bettany’s performance is nothing short of spectacular the film as a whole lacks the fire one needs from these biopics for them to really stand out.

I’m not crazy about this film, were it not for Bettany’s performance I would have probably ended up saying kind of bad things about it. But alas, Bettany is there, I love this guy’s work, go on to read every review I’ve ever done about a movie he’s been in and you’ll find praise for his performance even if the film sucked, and in Creation it’s no different.

He plays Charles Darwin, perhaps the most important scientist in history, he who created the theory of natural selection, effectively defining evolution and changing the way the world thought. At the time he had his fair share of challengers, it was, after all, the middle of the 19th century and the Church had a huge say in things, and offering the theory Darwin offered would obviously get you an opponent or two.

Emma, his wife, was one of those people that was with the church, she thought God had created men, and didn’t believe what her own husband was proposing. The film exposes how Darwin’s discoveries challenged his marriage, a marriage which lasted over five decades and spawned ten children.

I quite like biopics, but the problem with them, especially when it deals with such a heavy subject matter, is that it goes all Hollywood on them and dramatizes an element to draw in audiences and looses the essence of the story. In Creation it dramatizes the romantic side of it all and loses the scientific part, I’m no science geek and I quite like my romance, but still, it robs the film of something.

I like though how the film portrayed the inner battles Darwin had upon considering going public with his findings, delaying its publication so as to avoid the turmoil it would cause, but finally opting to reveal it because the world had to know what he knew, Amiel tackles this side of the story beautifully, with enough depth so that we can feel for him, but showing some restraint so that we don’t get caught up in it all and can pay attention to the other side of the story, problem is the other side of the story isn’t that well developed.

Creation in the end fails to illustrate the life of Darwin as we wanted it to be shown, it’s not an entirely illuminating portrait of the man, it is a decent drama about a conflicting man and his wife but it fails to shine a light on the deep history that lies behind it, and I want biopics to do that. But nevertheless, it boasts a solid direction and a tremendous performance, and that makes it more than bearable.

Grade: C+

Tooth Fairy

30 Mar

Title: Tooth Fairy
Year: 2010
Director: Michael Lembeck
Writers: Lowell Ganz, Babaloo Mandel, Randi Mayem Singer, Joshua Sternin, Jeffrey Ventimilia
Starring: Dwayne Johnson, Ashley Judd, Julie Andrews, Billy Crystal, Brandon T. Jackson, Ryan Sheckler, Stephen Merchant
MPAA Rating: PG, mild language some rude humor and sports action
Runtime: 101 min
Major Awards:
IMDb Rating: 4.5
Rotten Tomatoes: 15%

Dwayne Johnson has become a really reliable guy for Disney, even in this one, which is down-right horrible as far as script and direction go, he still brings a helluva lot of charm to the table, in the end that’s not enough for us the more adult portion of the audience but I do think the portion of the audience that still believes in the tooth fairy will probably enjoy it. And it has Stephen Merchant in it, so that helps.

The film proposes a whole work force of fairies, commanded by Julie Andrews, who sentence Johnson’s character, a hockey player called Derek, to a term in Fairy Land because he nearly killed a child’s illusion on the fairy. Dwayne Johnson, as I said, is a really solid actor for this type of Disney fare, he no great actor, but he’s solid, funny and charming which is all Disney needs to entertain the kids.

But the thing is that I’m kinda getting tired about that being it, mostly because many kiddie films are now at least trying to get in the adult vote as well, and this one just doesn’t, sure, it has Stephen Merchant as I noted before, and he’s nifty as hell, as he always is, but he’s not the main focus of the film. It also has Julie Andrews and Billy Crystal, who are fun, but who don’t really stretch that much into their roles, roles they probably only took for a nice paycheck, nothing wrong with that, just making an observation.

Sure, Tooth Fairy harms no one, and it’s not completely horrible to watch, and I guess some kids will get a kick out of it, but the thing is that it was boring as hell, at least for me, and I’ve had it with dull films so I give this one no letter of recommendation whatsoever and a low grade, which would be a tad lower were it not for Merchant.

Grade: D+

Legion

30 Mar

Title: Legion
Year: 2010
Director: Scott Stewart
Writers: Peter Schink and Scott Stewart
Starring: Paul Bettany, Lucas Black, Tyrese Gibson, Adrianne Palicki, Charles S. Dutton, Jon Tenney, Kevin Durand, Willa Holland, Kate Walsh, Dennis Quaid
MPAA Rating: R, strong bloody violence and language
Runtime: 100 min
Major Awards:
IMDb Rating: 5.1
Rotten Tomatoes: 20%

Blegh, what a horrid disappointment Legion was, I remember when I first heard and saw the sneak peek of it, I though I would be in for a thrill ride when I finally got around to seeing it, but instead what I got was a really uneven flick that even though does provide a great cast and does indeed give us some thrills is, for the most part, over-thinking and over-estimating itself, thinking it can try to be smart by confusing its plot, when in the end it just makes it all a mess, and thinking it can be more than it is by filling the film with completely unnecessary dialogue instead of more cool action scenes, and I don’t mean that in the good Tarantinoesque excessive-dialogue way, I mean it in the bad Legionesque excessive-dialogue way.

The film throws in a couple of really cool references to movies it attempts to emulate in one way or another, Terminator, Evil Dead and Aliens were the referenced films I took notice of, though I reckon there are plenty more. The film has that whole apocalyptic vibe, although in this one angels have descended upon us and all hell breaks loose (like the divine pun there?), its us against the angels as we have a group of humans trapped in the diner where the girl who apparently bears that child that will save us all is located.

See? That’s what I mean, this could have been a fucking cool action film with more than a few thrills in the middle of it all, but instead the horrible script made it be a film where more than a few good actors go to waste, even though Bettany is actually quite okay, but then again he always is, and fill this one in with way too much stupid dialogue. Yes, there are some moments that are pretty fun to watch, and it’s not totally bad, but the thing is that it could have been really good, but it thought of itself more than it should have. A real shame.

Grade: C

Extraordinary Measures

30 Mar

Title: Extraordinary Measures
Year: 2010
Director: Tom Vaughan
Writer: Robert Nelson Jacobs, adapting from the book by Geeta Anand
Starring: Brendan Fraser, Harrison Ford, Keri Russell
MPAA Rating: PG, thematic material, language and a mild suggestive moment
Runtime: 105 min
Major Awards:
IMDb Rating: 6.3
Rotten Tomatoes: 29%

Extraordinary Measures is the first feature released by CBS Films and, quite honestly, it’s one that should have been better suited as a special in the network’s TV station because, even though Fraser and Ford are both really well-known actors, and Keri Russell is a sweetheart to many, including yours truly, and even though the story is quite compelling (and actually happened), the film itself delivers what a good TV movie sets out to deliver, but as a motion picture it falls way too short.

Two kids have a rare genetic disease that won’t grant them over a year to continue living but then their dad goes on to contact this daredevil scientist who may just have a possible cure. This is a story we have no doubt seen before, more than once even, but still, it’s a story that if executed correctly can make for a decent enough film.

Unfortunately, even though it has Fraser as the dad and Russell as the mother, the story doesn’t go anywhere close to where it could and to where it ought, with such fine actors as those two their relationship could have fueled the story into a moving film, but instead they connect only about the utmost necessary stuff, and we never get to see as deeply inside of them as we need to in order to genuinely feel for these characters. Sure, their kids are really sick, and for that we feel for them, but we feel for them as movie characters, not as real people.

Ford plays the doctor who has the cure, and who Fraser’s character flies out to seek,  in the real story the doctor is a guy who worked at Duke and was Asian, Ford probably had the character then molded to fit him, and to make it seem cooler because the doctor acted as though he didn’t care, like some sort of TV-movie Gregory House, and completely lost the essence of the real story, its these sort of things that fuck this one up, the film had plenty opportunities to be good, but it ended up being mediocre at its best, and utterly bad for the most part.

The reason I’m pissed at this film, and am giving it the low grade I’m giving it, is because it has Keri Russell and lets her go to waste, and I hate people I adore go to waste. So yeah, if you’re told this is a really emotional movie based on a true story about devoted parents, à la Lorenzo’s Oil, then ignore those comments, don’t see this one unless you are the type of person who loves Lifetime movies, and even then, only see it if it actually ever airs on Lifetime, buying an admission ticket for it just isn’t worth it.

Grade: D+