I don’t know if it was an official New Year’s Resolution or not, but I decided that in 2015, I would make an effort to see more new releases on a more consistent basis. And, thus far, I’ve been doing a pretty good job, keeping up with whatever Hollywood can throw at me. (There have been exceptions, of course.) The only problem with seeing so many films is that I don’t have the time to review them all. That’s why, this week, I’m catching up on everything I’ve seen in the last two months with short blurby reviews. It has to be done. I will do it chronologically, and I won’t include films I caught up on from last year. I’ll do that … soon. If you read the entire piece, you will tragically notice that the film I loved the most wasn’t even released in the cinema.
Taken 3 (released Jan. 9) – Liam Neeson is back playing Bryan Mills, an ex-government operative whose raison d’etre is to rescue/save/avenge his unfortunate family members – wife (Famke Janssen) and daughter (Maggie Grace). What differentiates this installment from previous ones is the fact that one of those family members ends up dead – pretty early on, too – and Mills finds himself being accused of the crime. He spends the rest of the film, trying to solve the murder and clear his name. I like Neeson, but with these films he’s essentially collecting a paycheck. This isn’t stellar acting, direction, or plotting … it’s just watching him, running around, issuing threats, and killing people. Nothing new to add to the genre or this franchise. Forest Whitaker joins the cast, and Dougray Scott is back. So there is that, but in the grand scope of things none of this is particularly noteworthy. I like Sam Spruell, an actor you’ve seen in Snow White and the Huntsman, and The Hurt Locker, but he’s horrible here, and to make matters worse, he has a pretty laughable fight sequence with Neeson that, I think, is supposed to pay homage to the infamous fight sequence in Eastern Promises. Sadly, it fails miserably. Of course, that film was directed by David Cronenberg, and this is by Olivier Megaton. Enough said. Fans are going to watch Taken 300, if Neeson lives that long, and they can like or love this franchise all they want. I just find that it needs to end already. My moviegoing companion suggested that we see this film, because he is a fan, but even he came away disappointed. Rating: 2 out of 5 stars.
Blackhat (released Jan. 16) – Chris Hemsworth plays a convicted hacker who is let out of prison so that he can stop cyberhacking terrorists. His investigation takes him all over the world, from the U.S. to Hong Kong to Jakarta. Directed by Michael Mann, this action/crime/drama seemed so amazingly convoluted and tedious to me that I could barely keep up with what was going on. (I was also incredibly sleepy.) Hemsworth felt miscast, and the story was too reminiscent of Swordfish, which also didn’t grab my attention. By contrast, my moviegoing companion LOVED this film, but then he’s a huge Mann fan. I am not. Not that he’s a bad director – quite the contrary, I enjoyed Thief, Manhunter (Red Dragon is better, though), The Last of the Mohicans, The Insider, and Collateral, which is my favorite – I just don’t love him as much as many people do. And by the box office results, Blackhat wasn’t really loved by anyone. It had an estimated budget of $70 million, and has only grossed about $8 million. Ouch! That smarts. Rating: 2 out of 5 stars.
Predestination (VOD)- Even though they only have two titles under their belt – Undead, and Daybreakers – I am a huge fan of the Spierig Brothers, and I was super freaking excited to discover that they had directed another film. I found it one day while I was looking through Amazon’s Instant Video Rentals. Immediately, I had to rent it. Best money I have ever spent on a film. This stylishly awesome action/drama/mystery is a mixture of Source Code and Looper, but it’s much, much more. There is a really interesting exploration of gender and identity, and it also examines the choices we make and the outcomes that follow. The ending literally had my mouth dropping open and freezing there for about one minute. Ethan Hawke plays the lead character, and although he’s getting all kinds of buzz for Boyhood, THIS is the film that should be on everyone’s lips. It’s super smart, beautifully filmed, and so creative. These directors create worlds unlike you will ever see; a mixture of the future and the past. (The main character goes back to the 1960s). In some ways, they are paying homage to what Ridley Scott was doing in Blade Runner but without ever seeming derivative. Predestination comes out on Blu-ray on Feb. 12, which means I will be buying my copy as soon as humanly possible. I might even buy extras and hand them out like evangelists hand out Bibles. I need everyone to experience such greatness. Intelligent, stylish sci-fi is so rare, and movies rarely make me this happy. Spierig Brothers, please keep on directing. Rating: 5 out of 5 stars.
Mortdecai (released Jan. 23) – When I saw the trailer for this film, I chuckled every time, but for some reason, when it came out, I listened to the critics, and decided to avoid it. Surely the best bits were in the trailer, right? Wrong. I laughed throughout this film, which feels very Film 4 produced British fare; something that Simon Pegg would write and star in. It helps that I really like Johnny Depp, particularly when he’s being weird – and he is really weird in this. He’s playing the titular art expert who gets tapped to find a stolen Goya or something along those lines. He is accompanied by his tough as nails, sexually rampant man servant named Jock (Paul Bettany), and enlisted by Martland (Ewan McGregor), who still has the hots for Johanna (Gwyneth Paltrow), Mortdecai’s wife. Because he is recently mustached, there are many jokes about Mortdecai’s facial hair; as well as well-deserved jokes at the expense of Americans. Sexual innuendo and bumbling antics are also part of the fun. Everyone in this film seems to be having the time of their lives, and their joy is infectious. I would probably buy a copy of this, and laugh all over again. If you like zany Depp, and you are an Anglophile, you are going to love Mortdecai. Rating: 4 out of 5 stars.
The Loft (released Jan. 30)- Belgian director Erik Van Looy remakes this thriller about five male friends who share a penthouse so that they can have secret trysts. The trouble begins when one of their conquests is found in the loft, handcuffed and dead. I really enjoyed Van Looy’s 2003 film, The Memory of a Killer, and I like this cast, so I had somewhat high hopes for The Loft. They were not met. The characters are, overall, pretty repulsive, particularly the one played by Eric Stonestreet. (You will never be able to see him on Modern Family in quite the same way.) I found myself wincing and grimacing at just about everything he said. The rest of the characters aren’t much better. There is a bit of sympathy created by James Marsden, who seems like such a nice guy off camera anyway; and I admit I like Karl Urban so much that whatever he does pretty much gets a pass from me. Wentworth Miller plays a creepy, stalker-y character, who makes you think he’s one thing but proves to be something else. The presence of Belgian actor Matthias Schoenaerts was a bonus for me, but he better be careful, because he’s started to become typecast as a psychotic, violent, asshat. The “wives” and “girlfriends” aren’t developed all that well, but you might recognize some of the actresses who play them, including Isabel Lucas, Rachael Taylor, Rhona Mitra, Valerie Cruz, Kali Rocha, and Elaine Cassidy. (Lucas gets a lot of work, but I think she’s like watching cardboard being rained on.) Rating: 2 out of 5 stars.
Seventh Son (released Feb. 6) – It’s never good when a film is completed and then not distributed for a while, and that was the case with this fantasy action/adventure. When I saw the trailer, I thought it had a 1980s vibe to it – you know, all of those sword and sorcery flicks that came out back then – and the cast was enticing: Jeff Bridges being all mumbly again, Julianne Moore, and Ben Barnes. But this is not a recommendable film. It is, as my moviegoing companion said, something that came out of the “medieval cliché factory.” It begins with the imprisonment and eventual escape of scenery chewing Mother Malkin (Moore), who, for some reason always has black claws and regularly transforms into a dragon or gargoyle, we couldn’t decide which. After the aforementioned witch kills Master Gregory’s (Bridges) apprentice (a surprisingly short cameo by Kit Harington), Master Gregory finds another apprentice (Barnes) and they try to recapture the marauding/troublemaking redhead. I can’t really give you anymore than that. It’s a pretty dumb story and a really forgettable film. For me, the greatest moment came at the beginning, when my buddy turned to me and said “Hey, isn’t that Jon Snow? THAT’s why you wanted to see this!” Since I had no idea he was in the film, my heart leaped for joy until I realized that Harington was going to be dispatched very soon. Poor Harington seems a bit lost during his five minutes on-screen; maybe he wandered in from the Game of Thrones set, and wasn’t quite sure what was going on. No matter. I was ecstatic to see him. When he died, it was all downhill. Save your money on this flick, and if you want a dragon/gargoyle nostalgia fix, watch Dragonslayer (1981). Rating: 1.5 out of 5 stars.
Jupiter Ascending (released Feb. 6) – The Wachowskis rank in the Top 10 of my all-time favorite directors, despite the fact that The Matrix was really their only laudable effort. (I do like the second and third installments, but I am nearly alone in this.) The Matrix, though. That film is magic. So, based on my absolute love for it, I still get excited whenever I hear that the Wachowskis are making another film. Then I remember everything else they have done, and I get worried that it will suck. (Their last film, Cloud Atlas, wasn’t bad, but it was really uneven.) Such was my reaction to Jupiter Ascending. The Wachowskis! Yay. Mila Kunis and Channing Tatum in the leads. Wh-what? Cue the tuba. Rather than summarize the plot, I will simply state that Jupiter Ascending – a playful title that refers to the main character’s first name and then astronomy, astrology, and ideas of the rise of royalty – is a mixture of The Fifth Element, and the Star Wars prequels. That might sound horrible, and a lot of people have really laid waste to this film, but it’s not as bad as everyone wants you to think. It’s just not anything other than mediocre; a real missed opportunity in every imaginable way. If the Wachowskis don’t get their shit together soon, they are going to be known as the M. Night Shyamalans of the sci-fi world; guys who had one great film in them and then nothing else to offer but sadness and disappointment. Rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars.
Black Sea (released Jan. 23 but only arrived in Omaha) – I included this in my “films to see in 2015” list but also said it wasn’t released in cinemas in the Omaha area. I stand corrected. Imagine my surprise when I saw that it was actually screening, but at a Marcus-run cinema that I rarely frequent. Nevermind. I just saw this today, and I really enjoyed it. In a nutshell, this adventure/thriller centers on a recently fired, very disgruntled Captain Robinson (Jude Law) who gets his “revenge” by assembling a team of sailors so that they can go searching for a sunken WWII submarine rumored to be filled with Nazi gold bars. The tension is kept high in this claustrophobic Das Boot-y homage, and the acting, all around, is pretty great. Law is intense, and is as handsome as ever. (He’s the reason I was chomping at the bit to see this.) The supporting cast is equally good, particularly Scoot McNairy, who plays the rich, odd-man-out American; Ben Mendelsohn, who plays the psychotic Fraser; and Bobby Schofield, who makes his feature film debut as the submarine’s nearly 18-year-old “virgin.” I hope to see more of him in the future. I wish this had been given a wider release. It’s much better, as you can see, than most of what I’ve seen in the last two months. If I have one complaint about it, it was that Law’s Scottish dialect wasn’t always consistent. Not really much to detract you from renting it when it comes out on DVD. Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars.