Jack Reacher: Never Go Back (2016)

Posted in Action, Sequel, Thriller with tags , , , on May 23, 2017 by The Confused Critic

(** out of ****)

 JR2

Plot: The trials and tribulations of stoic Major (ex-Major, actually, as he will remind you countless times throughout the film) Jack Reacher (Tom Cruise) continue as he innocently stumbles his way into a nefarious conspiracy involving the military, Taliban, missing guns, and an endless supply of private security firm goons. Teaming up with (current) Major Susan Turner (Cobie Smulders) and a young teen who may or may not be his daughter (Danika Yarosh), Reacher must uncover the truth beneath this ghastly plot before he can peacefully return to his brooding drifter lifestyle.

Review: The first Reacher movie was a mildly amusing, if not mindless, attempt to bring the character to life on the big screen. There was nothing outstanding about its plot, characters, or set pieces, and it mainly served as reminder that Cruise can secure an impressive budget for even the most unremarkable of projects. It was a chance for action-hounds to whoop and holler over a few broken bones and growled one-liners. Never Go Back, the second in the series, fails to move on beyond this simple blueprint, instead turning the movie into one long chase scene. Its story is silly, simple, and implausible – factors that can usually be ignored by all but the most refined cinephiles when a film is willing to demonstrate at least a modicum of self-awareness.

Despite the presence of a talented cast, there is nothing interesting or unique about any of the characters in Jack Reacher II: The Search for More Masculinity. These no-nonsense archetypes deprive the film of the bombastic excitement and winking humor that would enable its success. The sparseness of the story saps them of backgrounds, pathos, or relatability. Likewise, the action sequences are carried out with such an indifferent ho-humness that the proceedings are rendered bland and pedestrian. Only an all-too-brief sequence involving a New Orleans Halloween parade gives 2 Jack 2 Reacher any sort of color or pizzazz.

What we are left with is a tedious slog through routine mediocrity. Cruise misses the opportunity to exhibit the charismatic thrills that have made his Mission: Impossible franchise so successful over the years. Unlike Ethan Hunt, Reacher is an overly serious bore that tries too hard to embody the quintessential cinematic badass. Unfortunately, these films have neither the stylish flamboyance of John Wick nor the over-the-topic, exploitative glee of Taken that could excuse such flaws. Given Hollywood’s inability to curtail Cruise’s omnipresence, do not be surprised if we see another one of these in two years.

Confused Take: I have never read any of the books by Lee Child, so it is tough to say whether or not this film faithfully captures its source material. While my review may be overly harsh, this movie is not the worst way one could spend a rainy Sunday afternoon. Stream this one or catch it on cable when it rolls around, but refrain from spending your money if possible.

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Star Trek Beyond (2016)

Posted in Action, Sci-Fi, Sequel with tags , , , , , , , , on August 19, 2016 by The Confused Critic

(**1/2 out of ****)

Synopsis: After traversing the vastness of the galaxy for an indeterminate period of time, Captain Kirk (Chris Pine) and the USS Enterprise gang seek retreat and relaxation on the Yorktown space station. Upon landing, they are approached by Kalara (Lydia Wilson), an alien being requesting the crew’s help in rescuing her ship, which is currently stranded on a planet within an uncharted nebula. As would be expected at this point, the rescue mission is not as straight-forward as initially suggested and the Enterprise soon finds itself up against its newest foe, Krall (Idris Elba).

Review: Is third time a charm for the Star Trek franchise? For the most part – yes. Star Trek Beyond eschews the shamelessly familiar plot points that its predecessor, Star Trek into Darkness, insisted upon. This time around, we get a livelier script that smartly breaks the crew of the Enterprise into a handful of subgroups in the second half of the film. Such plotting allows the actors a greater opportunity to give their characters range and distinctive personalities. The film’s best moments occur between a bickering Bones (Karl Urban) and Spock (Zachary Quinto), while the lost in translation relationship between Scottie (actor and co-writer Simon Pegg) and series newcomer Sofia Boutella’s Jaylah provides much needed lightness and comic relief. Beyond succeeds best in its quieter, more character-driven moments that punctuate its lengthy and bombastic scenes of chaos and destruction.

As could be said about the previous two entries in this series, the likability of the cast and their comfort with one another elevates this movie above standard summer action movie fare. Their ability to embody the core qualities of their original series counterparts without completely aping them remains a strength of this franchise. Quinto’s gentle, if not slightly aloof, Spock continues to be a standout, as does Urban’s Bones, who provides a majority of the laughs in the film. As far as antagonists go, Elba does what he can in his portrayal of the vindictive Krall. Like other actors who have portrayed villains in this series (Benedict Cumberbatch and Eric Bana), his acting is undermined by his character’s convoluted plans and motivations. Ultimately, Krall is an average, mostly unmemorable threat to our heroes.

Unlike the previous two entries in the series, Justin Lin has assumed directorial duties in place of J.J. Abrams, who is now heavily involved in the new Star Wars trilogy. Lin employs the same hyperkinetic direction that he utilized to reenergize the Fast and the Furious franchise to mixed results. While it is hard to deny that he has injected some serious adrenaline into the picture, this may not have necessarily been the missing ingredient in the first two Abrams movies. The camerawork here is overactive and dizzying, making it difficult for the viewer to comprehend the visual geography of a fight scene or space battle. Furthermore, though many criticized Abrams use of lens flares, Lin’s constant barrage of Dutch angles and upside down camera shots is far more distracting. That said, both the cinematography and the decision to mix practical effects and CGI whenever possible allow for a visually pleasing experience.

It still feels as though this series wants to be a viable Star Wars alternative rather than a true Star Trek franchise. The cerebral concepts and ethical debates that made the original series and (most of) its ensuing films so memorable are nowhere to be found here. Instead, viewers are given endless action sequences that dull the senses and seriously detract from the more human aspects of the story. Although this film does an admirable job of further developing a few of its characters through its dialogue-driven scenes, it also introduces some character side-plots (e.g. Spock and Uhura) that it is unwilling to explore beyond a surface level. All in all, the studio does not seem to have much faith that audiences will buy into a character-based Star Trek film. Like its reboot predecessors, Star Trek beyond skates by on a likable characters, a passable story, and nostalgic callbacks to the legacy of the original series.

Confused Take: Have you ever sat through a movie and enjoyed it well enough, but then struggled to precisely articulate what exactly it was that you liked about it? That was what happened to me here. Although I generally liked the action of the movie and laughed at its humorous bits, the whole viewing experience felt like a bit of a blur. As the story took a serious backseat to overblown action sequences, I numbed out and, perhaps, shut down the critical process that are normally at play in my brain when watching a movie. There was nothing I particularly loved or hated about this film. Going forward, it would be great to see a Star Trek movie that is heavier on story and character development, as this is truly where the fun of the series lies. It would also be nice to switch things up and have a smaller scale threat with more-focused and comprehensible action sequences. Not every movie in this franchise needs to center around a planet-destroying, world-shattering plot device.

The Boy (2016)

Posted in Horror with tags , , , , , , , , on August 13, 2016 by The Confused Critic

(** out of ****)

Synopsis: Looking to escape an abusive relationship and start a new life, Greta (Lauren Cohan) relocates to England to become a nanny to Mr. and Mrs. Heelshire’s (Jim Norton and Diana Hardcastle) son Brahms. Naturally, Greta is surprised when she is introduced to Brahms and is greeted by a life-sized glass doll that resembles the Heelshire’s deceased son. As the Heelshire’s depart for vacation, they leave Greta with an explicit list of rules that outlines how she is to care for the seemingly non-sentient Brahms. Both annoyed and disturbed by this unusual scenario, our protagonist ignores her assigned duties and contemplates how she landed herself in such a predicament. However, her cynical, blasé attitude quickly dissipates as unusual phenomena begin to pile up around the house.

Review:  The Boy is the fifth directorial effort from William Brent Bell. Like his filmography (Stay Alive, The Devil Inside), what we get here is a bit of a mixed bag. Although the film looks stunning at times and introduces some truly unsettling ideas, it is a pretty house with no one home. For all its sweeping camera shots and dramatic music swells, the story never picks up or takes the viewer anywhere too unexpected. Instead, the team behind this movie plays it safe and avoids going into any real unexpected territory. For instance, with such an eerie plot setup, it is unfortunate that Bell relies so heavily upon canned jump scares that manipulate the viewer into a reflexive startle. Rather than actually build tension via a suspenseful setup, the filmmakers utilize obnoxiously loud music and obvious camera misdirection to force their scares.

Cohan, fresh off a streak of successful seasons on television’s The Walking Dead, manages to do what she can with the script. Unfortunately, she never comes across as a fully developed or even likable character. Her motivations change convolutedly from scene to scene, leaving us with an inconsistent character that is either way too dismissive of her situation or all too ready to accept and embrace the strange happenings. The same applies to the rest of the serviceable cast – they perform adequately enough to progress the plot where it needs to go without transcending their stock roles.

What we are left with is neither an offensive nor interesting film. Although we are treated to handful of creepy moments and twists along the way, seasoned horror fans may be at a loss as far as novel chills are concerned. Despite adequate performances and a final act that manages to inject some life into an otherwise routine plot, The Boy comes up short and should only be reserved for a casual streaming option on a lazy rainy day.

Confused Take: Look at that! It appears as though my last review (dutifully submitted over two years ago) covered a strikingly similar movie. Not quite sure what that says about me. I suppose that I have always been creeped out by stories that involve malevolent dolls/dummies/puppets/marionettes. Chucky was quite possibly the first cinematic antagonist to interfere with my slumbers and make me regret sneaking a clandestine peek at the USA Network’s Sunday afternoon horror movie marathon. Thus, it is disappointing when a movie like this comes up short and fails to replicate the naïve terror that I (for some reason) look back on fondly. Much like last year’s The Forest, The Boy provides an intriguing setup but, ultimately, squanders its advertised potential.

Dead Silence (2007)

Posted in Horror with tags , , , , , , , on September 23, 2014 by The Confused Critic

(**1/2 out of ****)

Dead Silence

Synopsis: After his wife is viciously murdered on the same night that an off-putting dummy is mysteriously delivered to his apartment, Jamie Ashen (Ryan Kwanten) returns to his home town, Ravens Fair, to investigate an urban legend connected to the presence of the aforementioned dolls that may be relevant to his loss. Hot on his tail is Lipton (Donnie “Don” Wahlberg), an ever-shaving detective who has no time for childish tales about the legend of Mary Shaw and her dolls and, instead, holds Jamie as the prime suspect in his own wife’s demise despite his 100% verifiable alibi that no one ever mentions. Upon his homecoming, Jamie is subjected to hauntings, a reunion with his abusive father, and the ramblings of a decidedly senile senior couple. All the while, no one questions why people remain living in a town known for its exorbitant murder rate and lack of commercial opportunities.

Review: James Wan and Leigh Whannell struck it big in 2004 with the surprise low-budget hit Saw. Dead Silence, their sophomore effort, eschews most of the gritty psychological thriller conventions and violence for a more fantastical and supernatural tale. The plot is wrapped around an inventive urban legend that is presented in a John Carpenter ala The Fog meets Mario Bava manner. The film succeeds in generating a spooky, tense atmosphere and slowly revealing it plot intricacies piece by piece. Without over-relying on CGI, the filmmakers manage to create some terrifying villains that are sure to haunt the viewer’s dreams at the end of the movie.

Sadly, this film is a beautifully crafted dummy without a master ventriloquist calling the shots. Outside of Judith Roberts’ turn as Mary Shaw, none of the actors rise above mediocrity. The limited talent is further hindered by a script that forces characters to pursue unwise, unrealistic paths in order to progress the plot-line. Obviously, it is important to suspend a certain level of disbelief when you are watching a movie about haunted dummies, but it is hard to relate to a protagonist who thoughtlessly walks into danger at every turn without the slightest indication of fear.

What we are left with is a movie that mostly fails to tap any of the potential that its premise promises. Although a handful of haunted/killer/evil doll/puppet/dummy movies have been churned out over the years, none of them, save the original Child’s Play, ever managed to quite top the eeriness of the “Living Doll” episode of the Twilight Zone. In short, Dead Silence should have been a lot scarier than it was. The dummies are freaky, the setting is ominous, and the menace of the lead villain is palpable, yet, outside of a few jump scares, the terror never quite peaks. Though competently made and far from unwatchable, you still feel the movie was a bit of a missed opportunity.

Confused Take: It has been roughly six years since I first saw Dead Silence for the first time, and the film failed to validate the frightening memories I had stored in my head all of these years. While the movie certainly had a few legitimate moments of creepiness and terror, I could not help but feel as if the intriguing premise was wasted on such a routine plot execution. A foreboding atmosphere, clever urban legend, and arsenal of disturbing dolls/dummies are all sadly overshadowed by hacky dialogue and pedestrian acting. Thankfully, Wan and Whannell have since cemented themselves as major forces in the modern horror genre and tend to have more hits than missteps. Despite my seemingly harsh sentiments, Dead Silence is not a total disappointment, but it will not hold up on repeat viewers or next to the filmmakers’ other work.

A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010)

Posted in Horror, Sequel with tags , , , , , on July 10, 2014 by The Confused Critic

(*1/2 out of ****)

a-nightmare-on-elm-street-2010-poster

(Originally written for The Boston College Heights on 5/3/2009)

One, two, a new remake’s coming for you … three, four, this one is quite the bore … five, six, you won’t find any new tricks … seven, eight, you could call it second-rate … nine, ten, never trust anything Michael Bay touches again.

Springwood. A nice town where children are punished for the sins of their parents. Years after the town’s adults tracked down and murdered Freddy Krueger (Jackie Earle Haley), a preschool custodian believed to be a child molester, teenagers begin having dreams about a clawed man in a green and red sweater donning a fedora. As these teens begin violently dying in their sleep one by one, it soon becomes clear that these are no ordinary nightmares. Hmm, do you think there’s a connection between these characters and why they are all having the same nightmares?

A remake of Wes Craven’s 1984 film of the same name, Elm Street falls short of the original in just about every aspect, though most noticeably in character development. None of the lead
protagonists are even remotely relatable, let alone likeable. Nancy (Rooney Mara) is not the typical virginal heroine of the slasher genre – instead she is an annoyingly angsty painter who fails to smile once throughout the course of the film. Her pseudo boyfriend, Quentin (Kyle Gallner), is a pill-popping head case who looks like he is attempting to fill the vacant spot in Fall Out Boy. Although it would be a stretch to say the audience truly wants to see these characters suffer, it would also not be unreasonable to suggest that they might begin grinning a little bit when Edward Scissorhands’ cousin is seen lurking behind the brats.

One would think that the film would have at least been able to approach the original in terms of special effects, given the 26-year gap in technology. Unfortunately, an overreliance on computer generated effects removes any appearance of realism from the movie, instead looking cheap rather than advanced. Attempts to recreate scenes from the original, such as the sequence where a teen watches his girlfriend meet her demise while levitating above her bed, do not look nearly as impressive as one would hope. It is frustrating that a low-budget film that is over two decades old looks more realistic than what is being churned out today. Clearly, computer effects will never look as good as actual stunt work. Once again, it would appear that money cannot buy everything.

Elm Street’s biggest problem is that it spells out every little detail for the audience. At one point in the film, one of the characters, in a revelation of ingenious proportions, exclaims, “You die in your sleep, you die in real life!” Since this is the film’s central plot gimmick, it should be assumed that audiences would be able to understand this premise from, oh, maybe the first five minutes. Instead, scriptwriters insult viewer intelligence by worrying that the audience will be too dense to pick up on the not-too-subtle context clues sprinkled throughout the film.

Furthermore, in the original film, the exact nature of Freddy’s crimes against young children was left up to audience interpretation. Conversely, this remake insists upon an unpleasant pedophilia subplot that hurts the film’s chances of simply being an entertaining thrill ride. Why sink the film, already dark enough with its abundantly violent content, into a realm of exceedingly uncomfortable subject matter?

Nevertheless, Elm Street does have some minor bright spots. The film’s strongest aspect is Haley, who manages to reinterpret the Freddy Krueger persona to match his creepy brand of character acting, much akin to what he did with the Rorschach character in Watchmen. Although many longtime fans will never accept another actor in the role besides Robert Englund, the man who played Freddy for the franchise’s previous eight movies, it is hard to deny that Haley has fashioned a terrifying revision of the character. Gruesomely deformed and gleeful over any opportunity to inflict pain, Freddy Krueger is once again a villain horrific enough to make anyone want to give up sleep.

At best, Elm Street reestablishes the creepy vibe that had been missing from the franchise for years. Gone are Freddy’s cringe-worthy one-liners and the cartoonish dream sequences that had been associated with this series since the late 1980s. However, this update does not really offer anything new beyond the typical conventions associated with such films. If you truly have a hankering to spend quality time with Krueger, you are better off just renting the original – at least you will get to witness a performance by a young Johnny Depp, years before it was evident that he would become a Hollywood legend.

Friday the 13th (2009)

Posted in Horror, Sequel with tags , , , , , on July 10, 2014 by The Confused Critic

(**1/2 out of ****)

FridayThe13th2009

(Originally written for The Boston College Heights on 2/16/2009)

Little has changed at Camp Crystal Lake in the past 30 years since the original Friday the 13th hacked its way into theaters across America. College kids still like smoking weed, having pre-marital sex at the worst possible moment, possessing an undeserved sense of youthful invincibility, and annoying a certain hockey-masked townie with anger issues.

Friday the 13th, the 12th entry in the franchise, attempts to return the series to its roots by placing a group of dumb, attractive characters at a house in the woods, at the mercy of a deformed killer. This means no more jaunts into New York City, outer space, or Elm Street, which is a wise decision. Remakes may be a plague on the movie industry, but sometimes they help to undo the desperate sequel gimmicks introduced along the way.

For those unfamiliar with the back story of the Friday the 13th series, antagonist Jason Voorhees drowned back when he was a camper at Crystal Lake. To exact revenge on the negligent counselors, his mother went on a violent killing spree that ended with her decapitation. While it seemed like the trouble was over, it turns out young Jason inexplicably was not dead and witnessed his mother’s death. Thus, the cycle of revenge continued.

The film opens with a group of twenty-somethings traveling to Crystal Lake in search of a large crop of pot rumored to grow nearby in the woods. Within the first 10 minutes, they are dispatched by Jason. That’s right my friends; no subtle buildup or tension is going to be found here. Whereas the old films waited a good half hour for the initial bloodshed, this one slices at the jugular before we can even blink.

Shortly after the demise of the first set of nondescript characters, we are introduced to a new batch of soon-to-be corpses who are partying at a house on the lake. This cast of reject Abercrombie models contains a nice grocery list of horror movie character cliches: you’ve got Trent (Travis Van Winkle), the un-faithful, confrontational frat boy, Bree (Julianna Guill), the nubile ditz, and Clay (Jared Padalecki), the brooding motorcycle rider investigating his sister’s disappearance, just to name a few. Additionally, former “I Wanna Be Bad” pop star Willa Ford plays blonde bimbo #2. One by one, characters are killed off gruesomely through the use of machetes, axes, and bear traps. The plot really doesn’t go too much more in depth than that if you had not yet guessed.

Friday the 13th excels at promoting exploitative entertainment that one has come to expect from the series. Blood, nudity, and inane dialogue abound, which, dependingon your definition of a good time, will influence your amusement quotient. Let it be said: This is not an objectively good movie…at all. However, the people making this movie appear to acknowledge that they are not creating a profound piece of art. They succeed at giving fans of the genre a gritty, unrelenting piece of celluloid. Additionally, there is enough humor (both intentional and unintentional) to counterbalance the otherwise disturbing tone.

Pinpointing everything that is wrong with this film would be excessive and completely obvious. Without seeing the movie, one could easily predict each of the plot twists, stereotypically impractical decisions, and when a jump scare is about to occur. Though it may sound like a lazy excuse, the Friday the 13th series was never about intelligence or innovation. According to the screenwriter of the original film, the only real motivation behind the production of the movie was to mimic the success that Halloween had achieved. Therefore, when assessing the quality of a movie like this, it seems necessary to compare it to other films of its own ilk rather than attempt to explain why it is not Oscar-worthy material.

The major question raised by Friday the 13th is whether or not these kinds of simple slasher flicks can elicit a substantial reaction from an audience anymore. While the movie certainly delivers the gory violence it promises, the effect of the grisly on-screen murders does not shock viewers in quite the same way that it would have back in when the original premiered. The pervasiveness of violence in movies as well as our growing sense of familiarity with Hollywood special effects renders the shock value, the only notable feature most of these films have going for them, unsuccessful. While the Friday the 13th franchise was the touchtone for disturbing horror in the 1980’s, it now feels just a tad tamer with the existence of movies like Hostel, which belongs to a genre ever-so-creatively titled “torture porn” by film critics.

One’s enjoyment of Friday the 13th hinges on one’s attitude going into the theater. If you loathe horror films and are aggravated by nonsensical character reactions, then just stay away. However, if you are seeking a carefree, brainless thrill ride then you might just want to give Jason a visit this weekend.

Hot Fuzz (2007)

Posted in Action, Comedy with tags , , , on July 10, 2014 by The Confused Critic

(**** out of ****)

Hot Fuzz

(Originally written for The Boston College Heights on 4/23/2007)

What’s this? An original comedy that does not rely on crude humor and gross-out jokes? Where are Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn? Surely we are are not ready for a comedy without these overused actors, right? OK, enough smugness for now. Let’s take a closer look.

Hot Fuzz tells the story of Sergeant Nicolas Angel (Simon Pegg), one of the best cops in London. Unfortunately, his determination and success leads his jealous superiors to transfer him for being too good at his job, which had inadvertently made the rest of the force look bad. Angel is sent to Sandford, a small English village where everything is seemingly quiet and safe.

Upon arriving in Sandford, Angel immediately arrests the town drunk who attempts to drive home after a long night of celebrating life. The next morning, he learns that the man he arrested is none other than Danny Butterman (Nick Frost), his new partner, who also happens to be the son of Sandford’s police chief, Frank Butterman (Jim Broadbent). Danny is an avid fan of films like Point Break and the Bad Boys movies and treasures the fact that he is finally getting to work with someone who has seen real action in the line of duty.

Initially, everything appears to be fairly dull and monotonous for Angel. Arresting underage drinkers and retrieving a local citizen’s goose is the extent of the action he sees. This boredom is suddenly interrupted by a series of grisly deaths. Angel is convinced that there is a serial killer on the loose, but the rest of the inept police force is comfortable with writing each death off as a common accident. As Angel and Butterman begin to investigate these crimes, a startlingly dark secret about the town of Sandford comes to surface.

Much like director Edgar Wright’s previous film, Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz neglects to tie itself down to one particular genre. American buddy cop films, murder mysteries, and slasher flicks are all respectfully spoofed and effectively integrated into the plot of the film. Of particular interest is what director Edgar Wright describes as “hard R-rated deaths out of an Agatha Christie novel.” Without giving too much away, this film revels in its ridiculously gory deaths, which are more humorous than exploitative.

What makes Hot Fuzz work so well is the chemistry between the two leads. Friends for over a decade now, Pegg and Frost display a uniquely comfortable interaction on screen. The audience realizes how much fun the two are having together and can’t help but feel that they are part of the inside jokes. It is clear that this is a film made by a group of people who hold a legitimate respect and appreciation for the films that they are satirizing.

Perhaps one of the greatest things about the film is the substantial roles that the secondary characters play. Although Pegg and Frost could carry the movie alone if necessary, actors like Jim Broadbent, Paddy Considine, and Billie Whitelaw create equally funny characters that add an extra dimension to the film. Timothy Dalton, one of the less remembered actors to have portrayed James Bond, manages to steal several scenes with his perfect sense of comic timing and irony.

Hot Fuzz is one of the most enjoyable comedies since, well, Shaun of the Dead. Director Wright and co-stars Pegg and Frost have laid a solid foundation for the future of their respective careers. Collectively, the three recognize why they love certain genres of film and convey their elements so well that audiences remember why they enjoy going to the theater. Although it might be too early to tell, it is possible that the trio could become the Monty Python for today’s generation

Resident Evil: Extinction (2007)

Posted in Horror, Sci-Fi, Sequel on July 10, 2014 by The Confused Critic

( ** out of ****)

Resident-evil-extinction-poster

(Originally written for The Boston College Heights on 9/24/2007)

Movies based on video games have a long history of bombing at the box-office. Super Mario Bros., House of the Dead, and Street Fighter were all disasters among critics and fans alike. Therefore, it is surprising to find the Resident Evil series on its third entry. Although none of the movies are masterpieces or critic favorites, viewers have not yet tired of watching Milla Jovovich go to battle with hoards of flesh-eating zombies.

Resident Evil: Extinction find’s Jovovich’s Alice at an interesting point in her life. The world she once knew has been overrun by the T-Virus, a contamination that turns humans into zombies and erodes all the plants and bodies of water that it touches. Alice has escaped from the Umbrella Corporation, the culprits who created the T-Virus. Wandering a post-apocalyptic desert straight out of a Mad Max film, she faces the dual threat of the living dead and Umbrella scientists (the evil British type who have that maniacal grin down perfectly), who want to experiment with her DNA, which may or may not hold the secret to the T-Virus. Along the way she meets up with a convoy of survivors and helps them look for a safe location where they can set up a new society.

RE: Extinction pales in comparison to its two predecessors. The plot is significantly thinner and the pace is annoyingly uneven. The desert location dominates a majority of the film’s running time, setting a bleak, static tone for the events that unfold.

Nevertheless, there are a few great scenes of zombie rampages, which, although heavy on cheap jump scares, manage to create an effectively frightening environment. The special effects are impressive, perhaps due to the fact that the filmmakers did not rely too heavily on CGI. Besides, any movie that has zombie birds can’t be all that bad, right?

Although the acting in the movie is passable, the script does very little in terms of fleshing out sympathetic characters. Jovovich more or less goes through the motions here, playing the same robotic, science-fiction butt-kicker that she did in The Fifth Element and Ultraviolet. She has very little dialogue throughout the film and when she decides to speak up, it is usually just to deliver a predictable one-liner. Ali Larter’s Claire is stiff and lets her sunglasses do the talking, constantly reminding us that she’s not just some piece of eye candy. Thankfully, Oded Fehr adds humor to the otherwise bland script, much like he did a few years ago for the Mummy franchise. With his character, it feels like there’s someone worth rooting for.

Director Russell Mulcahy struggles to determine how he wants the audience to view the female protagonists. Much like Paul WS. Anderson, who helmed the first two installments, Mulcahy initially portrays the women as empowered fighters but then goes on to objectify them with skimpy outfits and compromising camera angles that will appeal to the male audience. After a while, it gets a bit tiring – we get it, you have very attractive women in your movie!

RE: Extinction’s biggest fault is dipping into a vat of endless clichés, the worst being the character L.J. (Mike Epps), who returns from the previous film. Epps shamelessly indulges in his tired, socially insultingly stereotype routine, complete with the phrase, “Aww,hell naw!” In terms of genre cliches, there is the guy who gets bitten by a zombie, yet decides not to tell anyone because he believes he is somehow above being infected. None of the characters never seem to figure out that you can only kill the zombies with head shots. All the scientists have ambiguous motives, in this case a desire to domesticate the zombies. This would have been a clever idea if it hadn’t originally been done in George A. Romero’s Day of the Dead. Is it a homage or rip-off? That’s for you to decide.

There’s nothing to be lost or gained by seeing Resident Evil: Extinction. It is a middle-of-the-road popcorn flick that should be viewed by someone looking purely for a thrill ride or a fan of the series. Unless this film bombs, it is safe to say that the Resident Evil franchise will be seeing at least one more chapter.

The Number 23 (2007)

Posted in Thriller with tags , on July 7, 2014 by The Confused Critic

(*1/2 out of ****)

The Number 23

(Originally written for The Boston College Heights on 2/26/2007)

In The Number 23, Jim Carrey plays Walter Sparrow, a dogcatcher who leads a seemingly normal life with his wife (Virginia Madsen) and son, Robin (Logan Lerman) – yes, the kid’s name is Robin Sparrow. When a book that shares the movie’s title comes into Walter’s life, everything changes. The book, written by a Topsy Kretts, follows the life of a detective named Fingerling who is cursed by the number 23. Everything adds up to 23 and his resulting paranoia drives him to become a killer. As he reads on, Walter realizes that there are more than a few similarities between his life and Fingerling’s.

This discovery sends Walter into a state of paranoia much akin to that of Jack Nicholson in The Shining, minus the subtle buildup and character exploration. The movie spends a good deal of time jumping back and forth between real time and a depiction of the events that Carrey is reading. The flashbacks of the book are presented in a film noir style that is visually appealing, yet clashes with the tone of the rest of the film.

The first problem with this film is newcomer Fernley Phillips’ script. It is hard to recall another movie in recent history with a dialogue so forced as that found in The Number 23. Ridiculous lines are delivered with such a soap opera-like sense of profundity that one cannot help but laugh. For instance, was it really that much of a revelation when the characters realized that Topsy Kretts was not a real name, just a cute way of spelling out “top secrets?” It is especially painful to see Carrey and Madsen, two veteran actors, struggling to make their roles believable. Everything in this film just happens so fast that it is hard to care about any of the characters or their so-called struggles.

Furthermore, it is never entirely clear what exactly is so dangerous about 23. While it is interesting that everything adds up to the aforementioned number, it is difficult to see why it really matters. Some of these occurrences are downright ordinary. For example, at one point a character turns toward a clock that reads 11:12, which, if you had not guessed at this point, adds up to 23. Nevertheless, why should this seem so significant when such an event happens twice a day? The concept of 23 being an evil number is intriguing, but, unfortunately, most of its appearances in the film are purely coincidental.

All of this is not entirely surprising when you take a look at director Joel Schumacher’s track record. Many of you may remember him as the guy who ruined the Batman franchise in the late ’90s or as the director of Phone Booth. Schumacher is a classic case of relying on stylish gimmicks rather than providing the audience with an engaging story with well-developed characters.

In The Number 23 he borrows the visual nuances of M. Night Shyamalan and David Fincher, and, for some strange reason, decides to steal formulaic twists and turns from recent genre disappointments like Hide and Seek and Secret Window. Ultimately, there is nothing terribly interesting about The Number 23 or the actual number 23 itself. Perhaps the most dishonest thing about this movie is the fact that it was marketed as a horror film. There is nothing supernatural or particularly scary about 23. Instead, we just get a half-brained mystery with a “surprise ending” that could be guessed from viewing the 30-second TV spot. In the future, movie viewers should just stick to 13 as the universal unlucky number.

Hannibal Rising (2007)

Posted in Horror, Sequel on July 7, 2014 by The Confused Critic

(** out of ****)

hannibal-rising

(Originally written for The Boston College Heights on 2/12/2007)

It could have been great. That’s right. Hannibal Rising could have been a great movie. All the right ingredients were present: The actors and actresses were impressive, the cinematography was beautiful, the score was riveting, and the screenplay was written by Hannibal Lecter’s original creator, Thomas Harris. Unfortunately, none of this can change the fact that the story insists on being a mediocre revenge tale that dips into predictable slasher conventions.

The prologue, which is also the film’s most powerful segment, introduces us to young Hannibal Lecter as he is fleeing with his parents and sister from the family’s castle in Lithuania. Faced with the dual menace of approaching Nazi and Russian troops, the family is forced to take refuge in a small cottage. Both of his parents are killed in the resulting crossfire, and Hannibal and his sister are taken hostage by ravenous Nazis. With no food to be found, the soldiers resort to cannibalism. After witnessing his sister’s demise, Hannibal escapes half-alive and mentally scarred.

Eight years later, we find Hannibal breaking out of an orphanage to track down his remaining relatives. While trekking across Europe, he encounters his deceased uncle’s Japanese bride, played by the beautiful Li Gong. After she provides him with spiritual guidance on the subject of loss, Hannibal decides to enroll in medical school. While there, his continuous flashbacks come to a boil, and Hannibal decides to seek revenge against those who were responsible for his sister’s death.

Hannibal Rising is a grisly film that wallows in ugliness and despair. Its unrelentingly violent and morally ambiguous tone leaves viewers without any characters with which they can identify. The film paints Hannibal as a vigilante hunter that kills for the sake of punishing barbarians who were not brought to justice for their crimes. However, there is no explanation as to how Lecter would eventually become an unrelenting psychopath who indiscriminately murders for no purpose.

The movie is filled with characters that are obviously marked for death. Even most of the auxiliary performers meet a repellently gory demise. This sort of attitude is insulting toward the viewers, who naturally want good to conquer evil. The brief attempts at recapturing the famous in-depth psychoanalytical tendencies of Lecter are elementary and unsubstantial. Perhaps more emphasis on a varied story instead of routine slash-and-stalk sequences could have saved this movie.

While Frenchman Gaspard Ulliel is certainly a gifted performer, his portrayal of Hannibal Lecter does very little to advance the character that was first portrayed by Brian Cox in 1986’s Manhunter and then made famous by Anthony Hopkins in Silence of the Lambs. Although his ever-present demonic sneer is creepy and intimidating, Ulliel fails to create a believable origin to the infamous cannibal. The nature of the part itself is emotionally static and dull. Additionally, it is never quite clear whether Hannibal is meant to be a protagonist or a villain. Perhaps imitating Hopkins’ performance would have provided a smoother sense of continuity between this film and the rest of the series.

At the end of the day, Hannibal Rising is not a horrible film. It looks great and boasts a talented ensemble of actors. Nevertheless, the movie’s overall mean streak and fixation on unnecessary, gratuitous violence really leaves a bad taste in the viewer’s mouth (pun intended). The producers recently commented that they were considering using this film as a starting point for a new franchise of prequels. Unless they plan to bring Hopkins back for a concluding chapter, there is no need for the Hannibal Lecter character to grace the silver screen ever again.