Archive for January, 2010

‘Edge of Darkness’ a brooding throwback to classic film noir

Friday, January 29th, 2010
Mel Gibson in "Edge of Darkness" Homicide detective Thomas Craven (Mel Gibson) investigates his daughter’s murder in Martin Campbell’s “Edge of Darkness.”

“Edge of Darkness” is directed by Martin Campbell, who gave us the greatest James Bond movie of the past 30 years, “Casino Royale.”

But his newest movie isn’t your standard Hollywood action fare at all. It’s a moody, growly, smart and gritty throwback to the classic film noir productions pumped out by Warner Bros. during the 1940s and ’50s.

If anything, “Edge of Darkness” recalls the 1950 Edmund O’Brien noir classic “D.O.A.” (“Dead on Arrival”), mixed with elements from Liam Neeson’s 2009 angry-killer-dad thriller “Taken” and a nod to “Silkwood.”

On top of this, Campbell is simply directing a theatrical remake of his 1985 BBC big-business conspiracy miniseries, updated by William “The Departed” Monahan.

“Edge of Darkness” (a title taken from a 1943 Warner Bros. war movie) stars Mel Gibson, marking his first starring role in eight years, as Boston police detective Tom Craven. He’s a single dad who dotes on his grown daughter Emma (Bojana Novakovic). She has just returned home from her “glorified internship” at an unspecified company.

Right away, we can tell something’s amiss. Emma vomits. Her nose starts bleeding. Craven insists on taking her to the hospital, but they barely get to the door when a shotgun blast, perhaps intended for Craven, blows her across the room. (Read more…)

Amateurish acting bogs down irritating ‘Rome’

Friday, January 29th, 2010
Kristen Bell and Josh Duhamel in "When In Rome" Beth (Kristen Bell) gets sudden attention from Nick (Josh Duhamel) after stealing coins in a fountain in “When In Rome.”

Just when I thought romantic comedies couldn’t possibly go lower on the quality barometer than last month’s behemoth baddie, “Did You Hear About the Morgans?,” along comes “When in Rome,” an itchy, scratchy, irritating allergen of a movie featuring a leading performance so shrill and mannered that it makes Kristin Davis’ acting talents look positively mediocre.

Kristen Bell, star of the TV series “Veronica Mars,” plays an up-and-coming New York curator named Beth. She rolls her eyes to express whimsy. She bites her lip to suggest frustration. She frowns ever so fiercely to show her displeasure.

Every gesture, every facial change has been cartoonishly overplayed, as if she were on stage in a massive theater trying to communicate her emotional state to someone in the 1,000th row.

But I don’t think it’s her fault. Bell didn’t manifest these bizarre acting tics in the TV shows “Heroes” and “Gossip Girl” or the hilarious comedy film “Forgetting Sarah Marshall.”

I can only assume that Mark Steven Johnson – the man who unleashed “Daredevil” and “Ghost Rider” upon our unsuspecting world – directed her that way. (Read more…)

Shortcomings abound in apocalyptic horror tale ‘Legion’

Tuesday, January 26th, 2010
Lucas Black in "Legion" A man named Jeep (Lucas Black) witnesses the beginning of the Apocalypse in Scott Stewart’s angel horror tale “Legion.”

Five things I learned about God and angels from watching Scott Stewart’s apocalyptic horror tale “Legion:”

1. God may demand obedience from angels, but secretly loves the rebellious ones that think for themselves.

2. Angels’ wings can deflect bullets and slice a man like a hunk of sausage.

3. Angel-possessed humans act just as evil and demonic as Satan-possessed humans.

4. Archangels are a lot like mad slashers. You think they’re dead, but they’re merely waiting to jump out and scare us.

5. All archangels speak with British accents.

God has finally grown tired of waiting on humans to stop waging war, stop being racist, stop arguing about health care reform and what not.

Instead of washing the plate clean with a 40-day, 40-night rain (or, as we’ll call it, California weather), the Lord opts to launch His version of “The Exorcist” meets “Night of the Living Dead” as directed by James Cameron.

He dispatches His angels to possess humans in Arizona and kill a local town tramp before she gives birth to a baby who will re-save the world. The floozy, Charlie (Adrianne Palicki), holes up in an isolated diner, Paradise Falls (metaphor alert!), with her fellow flawed humans. (Read more…)

Lack of passion makes medical drama less than ‘Extraordinary’

Tuesday, January 26th, 2010
Harrison Ford and Brendan Fraser in "Extraordinary Measures" Desperate dad John Crowley (Brendan Fraser) gives Dr. Stonehill (Harrison Ford) support in “Extraordinary Measures.”

Tom Vaughn’s passionless “Extraordinary Measures” comes extraordinarily close to becoming a smart expose on the roles that corporate politics and old-fashioned capitalism play in the creation and manufacturing of lifesaving drugs for children living under a death sentence called Pompe disease.

We learn that Pompe, a form of muscular dystrophy, is classified as an “orphan” disease, which means that it afflicts so few people (less than 200,000) that big pharmaceutical companies don’t bother looking for a cure because there’s no profit in it.

You’d think with the current debate raging over American health care, “Extraordinary Measures” would be a terribly topical motion picture with something insightful to impart about health insurance and medical research.


Stripped of its Hollywood A-list stars and feature-film budget, “Extraordinary Measures” is the sort of formula underdog drama that used to be referred to, in disparaging terms, as a “Disease of the Week” made-for-TV movie.

Everything about “Extraordinary Measures” screams made for TV, from Andrea Guerra’s cloying music that guides us to dramatically unearned moments of sadness and sentiment, to Andrew Dunn’s static cinematography that will lose little impact after being transferred to a smaller home screen.

The story is a familiar chestnut about a family in need of a medical miracle. They seek out the only person who can help, and he turns out to be a constantly P.O.-ed, finger-pointing, iconoclastic hothead who so disdains the corporate world that he refuses to have his genius be sullied by it, even if it means letting two children die.

They belong to John and Aileen Crowley, played by Brendan Fraser and Keri Russell. The Crowleys have medical bills of $40,000 a month, but they are lucky. They have insurance. And John makes good money at a large advertising firm. (Read more…)

If only ‘Tooth Fairy’ hurt less than a root canal

Tuesday, January 26th, 2010
Dwayne Johnson, Stephen Merchant and Julie Andrews in "The Tooth Fairy" A disgruntled professional hockey player (Dwayne Johnson) becomes a tooth fairy for twerpy Tracy (Stephen Merchant) and his boss (Julie Andrews) in the fantasy “The Tooth Fairy.”

Look, I’d be willing to pull out all of my teeth and place them under my pillow if I could only, instead of a few measly dollars, retrieve the 101 minutes of my life I lost watching this inane, condescending kiddie comedy that doesn’t know what it’s doing from one scene to the next.

At the beginning of Michael Lembeck’s family fantasy and movie mess “The Tooth Fairy,” Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson’s character, a burned-out professional hockey player named Derek, shouts, “Dreams are bad! They’re useless!”

At the end, Derek is all about seeing the light.

“I get it!” he shouts. “Dreams are good!”

Derek starts out as a prima donna on ice, an egotistic superstar who only cares about himself and can’t relate to others, not even his single mother girlfriend Carly (a now-matronly Ashley Judd) or her two children, taciturn teen Randy (Chase Ellison) and adorable little Tess (Destiny Whitlock).

After a forced stint as an officially sanctioned tooth fairy under Julie Andrews’ direction, Derek presumably becomes a better human being who appreciates kids and Carly.

But if that’s true, why does he still lie to her? And, why does the movie condone this?

Who whipped up this morally dumbfounding drivel, anyway? (Read more…)

Haunting, beautiful ‘The Lovely Bones’ needs more heart

Monday, January 18th, 2010
Stanley Tucci in "The Lovely Bones" Stanley Tucci’s performance as a neighborly serial killer of young girls is a haunting highlight of Peter Jackson’s imaginative film “The Lovely Bones.”

Peter Jackson’s beautiful and scary fantasy “The Lovely Bones” resonated with me on a personal level that most people won’t quite understand.

It’s narrated by a 14-year-old girl who has been presumably raped, then murdered by a man she meets while on the way home from school in 1973. Her body is never found.

As a crime reporter, I covered the case of Barbara Glueckert, a 14-year-old Mount Prospect girl who had been presumably raped, then murdered by a man she met while on the way home from school in 1976. Her body has never been found.

If there was ever an audience for whom “The Lovely Bones” would easily connect, it would be people involved in that case. People like me.

And yet, so much of the emotional essence of “The Lovely Bones” has been crushed under an avalanche of spectacular, Salvador Dali-esque visions of the afterlife that the movie seduced my eye, but lost my heart.

Jackson, coming off the special effects epics “King Kong” and the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy, is infatuated with the wrong things in this movie, mainly, the wondrous visions of the “in-between” where murdered girls congregate in dreamlike landscapes decorated by colorful images and symbols that have no meaning for us. Not yet. (Read more…)

‘Spy Next Door’ another disappointing kiddie comedy

Monday, January 18th, 2010
Jackie Chan in "The Spy Next Door" Mild-mannered Bob (Jackie Chan), right, teaches a Russian spy manners in the broad, insufferably condescending comedy “The Spy Next Door.”

Brian Levant’s “The Spy Next Door” is being marketed as a family comedy, but for action movie fans, it’s truly a tragedy.

Jackie Chan, one of the greatest and most popular Hong Kong action movie stars, has been reduced to “acting” in this poorly written, badly directed, amateurishly performed and insufferably condescending movie.

Chan joins the elite group of action stars who’ve made the quantum leap into disappointing kiddie comedies: Arnold Schwarzenegger in “Kindergarten Cop” and “Jingle All the Way,” Vin Diesel in “The Pacifier” and Sylvester Stallone in “Spy Kids 3-D.”

Apparently, hack family comedies are where action movie careers go to die.

In “The Spy Next Door,” Chan plays Bob Ho, a mild-mannered nerd who lives next to single mom Gillian (Amber Valletta) and her three precocious kids, tough teen Farren (Madeline Carroll), rambunctious Ian (Will Shadley) and cute little 4-year-old Nora (Alina Foley).

Bob is really a secret agent from China working on special loan to the CIA, mainly Agent Colton James (singer Billy Ray Cyrus in a robotic performance that screams “Don’t Give Up Your Day Job”) and his boss, Director Glaze (George Lopez).

Bob wants to marry Gillian, but her kids hate him and accuse him of being square.

When Gillian leaves home to take care of her ailing father, Bob begs for the chance to baby-sit her children so they can get to know each other. Gillian isn’t sure.

“I’ve brought down dictators,” Bob says. “How tough can three kids be?”

Cue the kiddie shenanigans. (Read more…)

‘The Book of Eli’ a little too arty, a little too trite

Monday, January 18th, 2010
Denzel Washington in "The Book of Eli" A murderous thug confronts the religious warrior Eli (Denzel Washington) in the apocalyptic science fiction thriller “The Book of Eli.”

On paper, or on a computer screen, “The Book of Eli” must have looked like an irresistible synthesis of popular Hollywood genres. It’s a science-fiction thriller, a samurai epic, a spaghetti western, an apocalyptic religious drama and an “Odyssey”-like quest all rolled up into one style-overloaded, color-bled cinematic ball.

This is the first feature directed by the Hughes Brothers – Allen and Albert – since 2001’s “From Hell.” And like that Jack the Ripper opus, “The Book of Eli” slowly buckles under the weight of its pretentious artiness, here, a constant parade of slow-motion shots and bleak landscapes of a desolated world in ruin.

As we quickly discover, the old world has been wiped out by some kind of natural phenomenon involving a hole in the atmosphere and a “flash” that fried most of the world’s population, leaving behind scattered groups of survivors constantly being assaulted by roving gangs of rapists and cannibalistic predators.

Denzel Washington plays an enigmatic traveler on a quest to head west.

His mission is to take an old, tattered book to some vague place of sanctuary, and it doesn’t take long to figure out what the book really is, and that he might be under the protection of a higher power. (Read more…)

‘Daybreakers’ a back-to-basics horror classic

Saturday, January 9th, 2010
Willem Dafoe and Edward Dalton in "Daybreakers" Lionel “Elvis” Cormac (Willem Dafoe) and vampire Edward Dalton (Ethan Hawke) get rudely interrupted in the blackly comic thriller “Daybreakers.”

Finally, someone has created a bloody, blackly comic horror film that deserves to be in the company of Stuart Gordon’s Grand Guignol masterpiece “The Re-Animator” and Sam Raimi’s goo-pumped demonic frightfest “Evil Dead 2: Dead by Dawn.”

It’s called “Daybreakers,” and it comes from Australian twins who call themselves the Spierig Brothers. They’ve made only one other movie, a 2003 zombie tale, “Undead.”

With “Daybreakers,” the Spierigs — Peter and Michael — have taken a low-budget production and twisted it into a fun and frenetic nail-biter, an apocalyptic tale of greed and survival in which vampires are as driven by quarterly reports as the humans used to be.

In 2019, a mutated virus from a single bat (you have to look carefully at the background TV screens to pick up some of the exposition) has turned most of humanity into vampires with large colored contact lenses. They carry on with their old human routines, except that they can only go out at night. The sun will fry them into blackened ash.

For 10 years, the growing vampire demographic has devoured most of the human population. Vampire soldiers track down the remaining humans, most of whom wind up naked in a hideous warehouse, strapped to machines that pump out their blood to be sold by the Bromsley Marks Corporation, run by a real corporate bloodsucker, Charles Bromsley (played with joyful nastiness by Sam Neill). (Read more…)

Even Adams can’t salvage Irish road romance

Saturday, January 9th, 2010
Matthew Goode, Adam Scott and Amy Adams in "Leap Year" Anna (Amy Adams) is torn between two lovers (Matthew Goode, left, and Adam Scott) in an Irish romance “Leap Year.”

“Leap Year” is another one of those plot-by-number, formula romantic comedies that doesn’t trust a woman to choose between two lovers, so the movie does it for her.

You know what I’m talking about. A woman, torn between two men, can’t decide which one is right for her, even though everyone in the audience has known it all the way through the movie.

Just as she finally chooses a suitor, a timely discovery bounces him out of contention. He’s revealed to be a lout, a liar, a child molester, a con artist, a golddigger, insincere, shallow, materialistic, a clinging mama’s boy or something else that tips the scales to the other guy.

So, the poor woman, robbed of her first choice, must accept the runner-up, who’s the guy everyone in the audience picked for her in the first place.

Granted, this is SOP (standard operating plotting) for a Hollywood rom-com, but wouldn’t it be nice, just once in a while, if the woman could be trusted to make up her own mind, and not have the decision be dictated by an 11th-hour character revelation?

What “Leap Year” lacks in novelty and freshness, it almost makes up for in charm. Most of that emanates from the radiant Amy Adams, who plays Anna, a cultured New York woman. She “stages” apartments with furniture and knickknacks to win over potential renters or buyers. (Read more…)