The 33


Chippendale's goes underground.

Chippendale’s goes underground.

(2015) True Life Drama (Warner Brothers/Alcon) Antonio Banderas, Rodrigo Santoro, Juliette Binoche, James Brolin, Lou Diamond Phillips, Mario Casas, Jacob Vargas, Juan Pablo Raba, Oscar Nuňez, Tenoch Huerta, Marco Treviňo, Adriana Barraza, Kate del Castillo, Cote de Pablo, Elizabeth De Razzo, Naomi Scott, Gustavo Agarita, Bob Gunton, Gabriel Byrne, Paulina Garcia. Directed by Patricia Riggen

One of the problems with bringing a real life event to the big screen, such as the sinking of the Titanic or the destruction of the Hindenburg is that everyone knows what’s about to transpire pretty much. For the mine collapse of the San Jose copper mine in Chile’s Atacama Desert on August 5, 2010 that trapped 33 miners miles below the surface for 69 days, most people are aware of how that turned out.

For most of the miners of the San Jose copper mine, August 5, 2010 was just another working day. After a retirement party for Mario Gomez (Agarita) who has just a few days to retire, Mario Sepulveda (Banderas), engineer Luis “Don Lucho” Urzua (Phillips), Elvis impersonator Edison Pena (Vargas), Dario Segovia (Raba), a homeless alcoholic and the devout Jose Henriquez (Treviňo) are among those who go down to earn their living, even though there are signs that something catastrophic was about to occur (and in real life, several miners had died and the mine owners repeatedly fined for poor safety conditions in the century-old mine).

Then a rock twice the size of the Empire State Building shifts and falls, burying the miners miles below the surface. When the 33 miners in the bowels of the earth reach their refuge, they discover that the medical supply cabinet is empty, the emergency food rations nearly so, and the telephone to the surface unconnected. The ladders in the ventilation shaft are also discovered to have never been completed. At first the miners take out their frustrations on foreman Urzua but Sepulveda’s level head prevails. They go about rationing the little food and water they have access to.

On the surface, the families of the miners, led by Maria Segovia (Binoche), the estranged sister of Dario, demand to be informed as to what is being done. The mining company, without the wherewithal to mount an expensive rescue operation, has decided to assume the men are dead and are making only token attempts to see if the miners are alive. The arrival of Chile’s Minister of Mines Laurence Golborne (Santoro) changes that; as he quickly discovers the lack of interest on the mining company’s part of getting their employees home alive, he takes charge of the rescue operation, with the blessing of Chilean President Piňera (Gunton) and with the assistance of mining engineer Andre Sougarret (Byrne).

In the meantime, things are looking dire in the mines as the first boreholes sent to the shelter miss their targets. However, once the miners are discovered alive and well, the gaze of the world turns to this compelling story in a small Chilean town.

Part of the problem with The 33 lies in its own title; there are 33 miners trapped underground and the movie can’t really spend a whole lot of time developing any of their characters. Throw in the families, political and media figures, the rescue teams including the one led by American Jeff Hart (Brolin) and it’s nearly impossible for director Riggen to give us a figure for the audience to latch onto, with the exception of the larger-than-life “Super Mario” who became a media darling in Chile during the actual event.

So a solid cast led by Banderas and Binoche, one of the most gifted actresses in the world, is left with frustratingly little to do other than occasionally mouthing a cliche meant to project their character’s role in the movie as comic relief, antagonist, love interest and so forth. Riggen has been criticized for this somewhat but to be fair I don’t think any director could have wrangled all of these characters and made them three dimensional unless she had a mini-series to do it with. Going back to Super Mario, during the movie there’s an incident when the miners turn on him because of his perceived favored status. One wonders if the actors in the film felt the same about Banderas who is really the only one of them who gets to make any sort of impression.

The rugged Chilean desert nicely contrasts with the mine scenes which were filmed in working mines in Columbia. They do capture nicely the flavor of being deep underground, although the sense of just how deep they were gets a little lost – in reality it would take the miners about an hour to reach the level they were trapped on from the surface, and of course an hour to return.

The movie glosses over some of the more disturbing aspects of the story, such as the mining company’s negligence or the absolutely disgraceful dismissal of their lawsuit three years after the disaster, or of the Chilean government’s opportunistic use of the miners to prop up their own sagging popularity. However, to be fair, the movie makes it clear that this was a defining moment in the history of Chile and that cannot be overlooked.

All in all, it’s an uplifting story that is a tribute to human endurance, the unmistakable power of hope, and the undeniable lure of bare masculine chests. I don’t know that the movie captured the true nature of what the miners endured – the second half of the movie there is almost zero tension because by that time supplies were making regular appearances down a tube from the surface, they had video communication with the surface and they made it seem less of a life-threatening situation than an endurance race. In the actual situation, there were serious doubts that the miners would survive – the unstable geological situation and the unknown performance of the rescue capsule were certainly question marks. Unfortunately, Riggen doesn’t really capture that adequately and maybe no director could have. After all, it’s no secret (and therefore not a spoiler) that all of the miners were rescued. That’s certainly the outcome we all wanted, but as dramatic cinema goes it doesn’t really stack up well.

REASONS TO GO: Inspiring. Plenty of beefcake.
REASONS TO STAY: Lacks character development. Little tension since we know how it ended.
FAMILY VALUES: There’s some minor profanity and a disaster sequence that might be a bit scary for young ones.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The final film to be scored by the late James Horner, who died in a plane crash two months before the movie’s release.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 11/29/15: Rotten Tomatoes: 42% positive reviews. Metacritic: 55/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: October Sky
FINAL RATING: 6/10
NEXT: Spotlight

And Soon the Darkness


And Soon the Darkness

Both these girls need to take Horror Movie Heroine 101 over again

(2010) Thriller (Anchor Bay) Amber Heard, Odette Yustman, Karl Urban, Adriana Barraza, Cesar Vianco, Michel Noher, Luis Sabatini, Daniel Figuereido, Jorge Booth, Gia Mantegna, Javier Luna, Andrea Verdun.  Directed by Marcos Efron

Travel is one of life’s sublime pleasures. Seeing a new place, investigating a new culture can be a good way of broadening your horizon and gaining new perspective. Travel in a foreign  country however can be exceedingly dangerous as well.

Stephanie (Heard) and Ellie (Yustman) are a couple of cute American girls who decide to break off from their tour group in Argentina and go biking around some of the more rural parts. Two young girls alone, who don’t speak the language biking in a rural part of a country not known for being the safest place on earth. Sounds reasonable to me.

They stop by the Hotel Ass End of Nowhere and are warned to stay away from a certain lake by the desk clerk (Barraza). They need to get up early to catch a bus that will take them back to their group, so of course they go out and party the night before. While Stephanie is the responsible one, Ellie never met a guy she didn’t flirt with or a drink that didn’t make her shout WOOOOOOOOH! (the international mating call for college-age girls). Of course that leads to a tussle in which  strong silent guy named Michal (Urban) kicks the shit out of a local who is getting too familiar.

Of course in the struggle the alarm clock gets unplugged, they miss their bus and decide to go to the forbidden lake to sunbathe in skimpy bikinis. Of course they have an argument and Stephanie storms away. Of course Ellie disappears. Of course the police, in the form of Calvo (Vianco) dispute that Ellie is gone. And Michael, who claims to be looking for his own girlfriend, complicates matters. Is he really looking for his girlfriend or is he in fact the one who took Ellie?

Director Efron based this on a 1970 British film of the same name. I actually saw that one a long time go; there are some images I remember from it but little else save that Pamela Franklin played the good girl and Michele Dotrice the party girl – OK I remembered Franklin but I had to look Dotrice up on IMDB.

Heard is an appealing actress who is one of those performers who always puts on a performance that no matter how bad or how good the movie is, is always a strong effort. She has kind of a stock horror movie role of the plucky heroine and there really isn’t a lot she can do with it, but she makes the best of it. Yustman is a beautiful girl who sometimes gets roles that basically has only that element to them –  the pretty party girl. She does it well enough but I get the sense that she has much more in her than that. I hope she gets to show off her range one of these days.

One of the problems with this movie is that it is based on a movie that really has a lot of clichés built into it. The original could have used a little more originality and the remake doesn’t give the original any twists, nothing that would set it apart from the rest. Karl Urban, who was so good in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, plays the suspect with a likable performance but you never get the sense that Michael is seriously the culprit.

You should figure out what’s going on pretty early on. This is one of those movies where the heroines put themselves into jeopardy by acting in a way no intelligence young woman (whom Stephanie is purported to be) would ever act. Sorry guys; if you’re going to get two young women taking a bike tour on their own in Argentina, you’re going to need a better way than this to get them isolated and vulnerable. You’re also going to need a better movie than this to get my attention.

WHY RENT THIS: Some genuinely thrilling moments. 

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: An extremely derivative movie that could have used some stronger performances from its stars.

FAMILY VALUES: There’s a lot of violence, a bit of brief torture, an even more brief bit of sexuality and a little bit of bad language.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: While this movie is set in Argentina, the original British thriller it’s based on was set in France.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: There is a director’s video diary here if you like that sort of thing.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: Not available

FINAL RATING: 4/10

TOMORROW: One Day

New Releases for the Week of February 11, 2011


February 11, 2011

Adam Sandler wonders where his career went.

JUST GO WITH IT

(Columbia) Adam Sandler, Jennifer Aniston, Nicole Kidman, Nick Swardson, Brooklyn Decker, Bailee Madison, Griffin Gluck, Dave Matthews, Kevin Nealon, Rachel Dratch. Directed by Dennis Dugan

An aging lothario who was once jilted at the altar is able to romance women by convincing them he’s a good guy in an awful marriage by wearing a wedding ring. This all works out nicely for him until he finds a girl he wants to marry – and she finds his ring. In order to save the relationship, he convinces her that he’s getting divorced but she wants to meet his ex. Desperate, he turns to his best friend to play the part of his ex. Cue comedy.

See the trailer, promos, interviews and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Comedy

Rating: PG-13 (for frequent crude and sexual content, partial nudity, brief drug references and language)

 

The Eagle 

(Focus) Channing Tatum, Jamie Bell, Donald Sutherland, Mark Strong. A young Roman centurion is assigned to Briton, determined to discover the fate of his father who commanded the fable Ninth Legion which disappeared north of Hadrian’s Wall. Obsessed with restoring the family honor and retrieving the Eagle, symbol of the Legion, he ventures north to investigate rumors that it had been seen there, accompanied only by his slave, whose identity may tie in with the secret of his father’s fate.

See the trailer, featurettes and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard,

Genre: Swords and Sandals

Rating: PG-13 (for battle sequences and some disturbing images)

From Prada to Nada

(Lionsgate) Camilla Belle, Alexa Vega, Adriana Barraza, Wilmer Valderrama. Two spoiled Latina sisters find their world turned upside down when their father passes away suddenly, leaving them penniless. They are forced to trade their Beverly Hills mansion for a Boyle Heights home with their lively aunt. They will learn the meaning of family, the importance of their cultural heritage and how to live without Gucci.

See the trailer, clips and interviews here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Historical Drama

Rating: PG-13 (for brief drug use and a sexual situation)

Gnomeo and Juliet

(Touchstone) Starring the voices of James McAvoy, Emily Blunt, Michael Caine, Maggie Smith. A retelling of Shakespeare’s greatest romance (and arguably the greatest romance of all time) as done by garden gnomes. You’re welcome.

See the trailer, clips, interviews, featurettes, a promo and a music video here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard, 3D

Genre: Animated Feature

Rating: G

The Illusionist

(Sony Classics) Starring the voices of Jean-Claude Donda, Elidh Rankin, Duncan MacNeil, Raymond Mearns. The newest animated film from the director of The Triplets of Belleville is based on an unproduced screenplay by the great French comedian Jacques Tati. It concerns a down on his luck stage magician in the 1950s who finds his profession being eroded by rock and roll. In a remote Scottish village, he encounters a young girl who will change his life forever.

See the trailer, clips and an online review here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Animated Feature

Rating: PG (for thematic elements and smoking)

Justin Bieber: Never Say Never

(Paramount) Justin Bieber and – oh who are we kidding, does anybody really care who else? Bieber Fever is in full bloom and every girl under the age of 15 has it. Does anybody over the age of 15 really know any of his songs? Will his star still be on the rise by next year? Does anybody remember the Jonas Brothers?

See the trailer, featurettes and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard, 3D

Genre: Music/Concert

Rating: G

Drag Me to Hell


Drag Me to Hell

This isn't exactly the girl-on-girl action I had in mind.

(Universal) Alison Lohman, Justin Long, Lorna Raver, Jessica Lucas, David Paymer, Dileep Rao, Adriana Barraza, Chelcie Ross, Reggie Lee. Directed by Sam Raimi

Director Sam Raimi made his bones, so to speak, in the horror genre. His Evil Dead trilogy still remains today a classic of the genre, hallmarks of Raimi’s patented horror-with-laughs style. After doing Army of Darkness, the last of the trilogy, Raimi moved on to doing the Spider-Man movies as well as a couple of other non-horror movies, but the genre has never been far from his heart – his Ghost House Pictures production shingle has been responsible for such fare as The Messengers, 30 Days of Night and The Grudge trilogy.

Now he makes his return to the genre as a director with this nifty little film. Christine Brown (Lohman), a sweet, mousy blonde, is gunning for a promotion at the bank where she works. If it were given on competence alone, she’d be a lock but the slimy, smarmy Stu Rubin (Lee) is undercutting her and looks to have the promotion sewn up. Her boss, Mr. Jacks (Paymer) tells her that she needs to be making tougher decisions.

She puts this into practice when Mrs. Ganush (Raver) comes to her desk, begging for an extension on the third mortgage for her house. Christine is inclined to give it to her – she doesn’t have the stomach for throwing an old woman out into the street – but she reeeally wants that promotion so she turns her down, even when Mrs. Ganush gets down on her knees.

Christine has forgotten one of the basic rules of horror movies – never humiliate a gypsy. Has she learned nothing from Stephen King? Apparently not, so she reaps the consequences and hideous they are. Mrs. Ganush levels a curse on her that gives her three days before a demon drags her soul straight to H-E-double hockey sticks.

Before she gets there, however, she will go through all manner of being terrorized and grossed out, having all sorts of bodily fluids vomited onto her by the demonic Mrs. Ganush and her minions. Her incredulous boyfriend Clay Dalton (Long) thinks she’s out of her mind at first, but is supportive nonetheless – and as unexplainable things begin to pile up he too becomes a believer, sorta kinda.

She’s not alone in her fight, however; Indian spiritualist Rham Jas (Rao) helps her figure out what’s going on, and takes her to see legitimate psychic Shaun San Dena (Barraza) who fought one of these curses once before and lost, so is eager to redeem herself. It won’t be easy though, and with every possibility exhausted, there remains one last desperate hope for Christine, one that involves doing something terrible.

Most horror movies these days are either remakes of iconic franchises from the ‘70s and ‘80s, remakes of far superior Asian films, or the kind of torture porn of the Saw and Hostel series. It’s refreshing to see a good horror movie that has some great scares to it, a reasonably original premise and is a great ride to boot. Raimi hasn’t forgotten his skills as a genre director and has added to it the experience of making big-budget mega-effects driven movies, which help him increase the scope of his vision here.

Lohman has had something of a checkered career as an actress, but here she nails it. Her character doesn’t necessarily lack a moral compass in that she knows the right thing to do; she just doesn’t have the backbone to follow it. That makes her far more human than either a complete saint or an utter bitch might in that role.

Raver makes this a career highlight reel; she is astonishing as the old woman and after a career of soap operas and TV show guest appearances, she gets the kind of role finally that really lets her cut loose, even if you can barely recognize her under all the make-up. She takes a standard gypsy character and turns her into one of the most frightening movie characters of the last decade; it wouldn’t surprise me a bit if they bring her back to curse other people in sequels to this if Raimi decides to make one.

While the rest of the cast is solid, kudos should be directed at Rao who turns his charlatan psychic which was meant to serve as a plot explainer into an integral part of the movie’s success. It’s not strictly comic relief, but suffice to work that he works similarly to what the Suresh character does in the “Heroes” TV show.

There are plenty of scares here and not all of them are the artificially manufactured kind, either – you know, the ones with the jumpy soundtrack, loud crashing noises and cats jumping out of dark spaces. Nope, this is a movie where the scares are earned, and the laughs that follow them legitimate. While the movie didn’t do gangbusters at the box office (only raking in $40 million domestically), it was so cheaply produced that it turned a tidy profit so the powers that be at Universal may be amenable to sequels, even though the movie doesn’t really seem to promise one.

For my part, I’ve found the American horror movie in something of a rut in the 21st century for all the reasons outlined above. While some terrific horror movies have come from places like Japan, South Korea, New Zealand and England, there have been very few to come from the States and there is something galling about that. Fortunately here comes Sam Raimi to deliver a movie that shows you why few movies can scare the bejeezus from you like an American horror movie can.

WHY RENT THIS: This might just be the best horror movie so far of the 21st century. 

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Christine is so ditzy and spineless at times it’s hard to really feel sympathy for her. The ending was a bit of a disappointment.

FAMILY VALUES: This is plenty scary, gang. Seriously, unless your kids don’t ever have nightmares, think twice about letting them see this – some of the imagery is really, really intense.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This is the first movie directed by Sam Raimi in which actor Bruce Campbell didn’t appear (he was busy with his television show “Burn Notice”).  

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: While the DVD and Blu-Ray covers trumpet that this is an unrated version, the difference between this and the theatrical release is a single scene; the unrated version is actually nine seconds shorter in total than the theatrical version. 

FINAL RATING: 7.5/10

TOMORROW: Charlie St. Cloud