Hitman: Agent 47


Shoot first and and don't bother to ask questions later.

Shoot first and and don’t bother to ask questions later.

(2015) Spy Action (20th Century Fox) Rupert Friend, Hannah Ware, Zachary Quinto, Ciaran Hinds, Thomas Kretschmann, Jurgen Prochnow, Rolf Kanies, Sebastian Hulk, Jerry Hoffman, Dan Bakkedahl, Emilio Rivera, Helena Pieske, Johannes Suhm, Angelababy, Tom Jester, Charlene Beck, Jesse Hergt, Daniel Stockhorst, Mona Pirzad. Directed by Aleksander Bach

Videogames are a multi-billion dollar business. There are tens – perhaps hundreds – of millions of gamers in the United States and around the world. Why, then, are movies based on videogames so bad and why have none been embraced by the gaming community? One theory is that gaming is an interactive medium whereas watching movies is a passive undertaking. Gamers prefer to influence their games, make decisions, determine the shape of the story. They can’t do that in a movie.

Which is horse hockey. Sure, gamers prefer an interactive medium, but that pre-supposes that gaming is the only medium they subscribe to. In fact evidence points to gamers also being readers as well as moviegoers. The reason that gamers can’t get behind movies based on games is because the studios, notorious for not understanding games or gamers, put what can only be described as a cursory (no pun intended) effort behind the film adaptations and the results are movies that aren’t just bad videogame adaptations but just bad period.

Take Hitman: Agent 47 for example. Games are by their nature cinematic and one gets the sense that Bach actually understands this; the movie is beautifully rendered, mainly lensed in Singapore (which is a city of fantastic architecture) and Berlin. The look of the movie is sleek and futuristic. There are some shots of a bikini-wearing woman slowly entering an infinity pool at the top of an exclusive Singapore hotel at dusk; cobalt blues, neon reds and greens blend to give the scene a surreal urban glow. However, this shot is also a microcosm for what’s wrong with the movie; the shot only exists for us to see Hannah Ware in a bikini. She has no reason to be swimming at that moment and it’s not germane to the plot.

The plot consists of Agent 47 (Friend), a genetically engineered assassin who is smarter, faster and stronger than the average human. He is on the hunt for Katia (Ware), a young woman who has shall we say hidden talents. What he’s really after is her father Dr. Litvenko (Hinds), who originated the Agent program. Many have tried to duplicate his work without success; one multinational corporation – known only by the obviously non-sinister nomenclature of The Syndicate, really wants an Agent. An army of them, in fact and their director, the Belgian Le Clerq (Kretschmann, a German) has sent a genetically modified assassin, John Smith (Quinto) to fetch the girl and find out what she knows. However 47, with a barcode tattooed on the back of his bald head, has his own agenda.

The story is weak and cliche and to be honest, I think that the studios really believe that the gaming community has to be pandered to rather than giving them stories that have depth and innovation. It hasn’t occurred to them that gamers are used to vast universes with complex back stories and games that not only challenge the gamer to think but require him/her to. Videogames are not all shoot-em-ups or football simulations.

This is a beautiful looking film, with lovely cityscapes and urban environments. The syndicate’s headquarters is all glass and fiberglass, with computer terminals the size of desks and cubicles that look like they were designed by the same person who does the W Hotel chain.  The film is well-lit for a change, which means that the movie isn’t murky throughout like a lot of action movies seem to be these days.

There are also some nifty action sequences with Syndicate goons going after 47 and Katia, or vice versa. Generally the movie is at it’s best when the action takes center stage. Friend is fairly limber which is necessary when making some of the moves 47 does, pirouetting and tumbling about like a demented gymnast in a suit. The choreography, while not up to some of the great Hong Kong action films, is nonetheless superior to most Hollywood action movies.

Friend goes through the movie essentially trying to play a Vulcan, which he could have gotten pointers from Quinto on. He mostly speaks in a monotone which really isn’t the way to go and from time to time I get the feel that the actor is frustrated with his role. Quinto is a good deal of fun when he’s onscreen, the reliable Hinds does what he can in a standard aging mad scientist role and Ware is pretty much wasted in a role that could have been a strong feminine heroine but isn’t.

This is like a supermodel with a lobotomy; great to look at but really nothing inside which is a shame; there’s a lot of potential in the franchise but the producers and the studio bungled it in a depressing way. The studios will probably go on thinking that the gamer market should be dumbed down to and will pour money into all the wrong things when it comes to videogame adaptations and audiences and critics alike will continue to go on thinking that the studios don’t have a clue what to do with these franchises, which is a frustrating situation for those who’d love to see some really good movies come out of these great video game franchises. Why is it that Hollywood can make great movies out of comic books but not of video games? I think that someone like Blizzard or Square Enix will have to do what Marvel did – create their own film division – before we see that happen.

REASONS TO GO: Visually impressive. Quinto is fun to watch.
REASONS TO STAY: Inane plot. Wasted potential.
FAMILY VALUES: Plenty of violence and a smattering of foul language.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Paul Walker was set to play the title role until his untimely death.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 9/9/15: Rotten Tomatoes: 7% positive reviews. Metacritic: 28/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: :Kingsman: The Secret Service
FINAL RATING: 5/10
NEXT: Meru

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Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation


Tom Cruise is within earshot of Rebecca Ferguson.

Tom Cruise is within earshot of Rebecca Ferguson.

(2015) Action (Paramount) Tom Cruise, Rebecca Ferguson, Simon Pegg, Jeremy Renner, Ving Rhames, Sean Harris, Simon McBurney, Jingchu Zhang, Tom Hollander, Jens Hulten, Alec Baldwin, Mateo Rufino, Fernando Abadie, Alec Utgoff, Hermione Corfield, Nigel Barber, James Weber Brown, America Olivo, Adam Ganne, Eva-Marie Becker. Directed by Christopher McQuarrie

When we go to the movies in the summer, it is with a different expectation than when we go in the fall. In the autumn and winter months, we expect something more thoughtful, something challenging. In the summer, we want spectacle. We want things blowing up and car chases and bullets flying but never ever hitting the hero, who is usually a big Hollywood star. We wanted to be wowed.

Well, nobody ever accused the Mission: Impossible franchise of failing to give the people what they want. The IMF finds itself in hot water, but not from some baddie with an axe to grind who wants to take over the world; no, not unless you count the CIA and Congress among that demographic. You see, the head of the CIA (Baldwin) wants to break up the band – shut down the IMF. He feels that they have no oversight, they do essentially what they want, have a ginormous budget and the return on that budget is shall we say chancy. Being that there’s no Secretary to speak up for the IMF, it is up to agent William Brandt (Renner) to carry the torch and he basically has his hands tied. End result: the IMF is history.

It’s a bad time for the IMF to take a header. The Syndicate, an evil organization that is out to sow the seeds of chaos and war around the world (and fans of the original series will remember was often the antagonist to the IMF back in the day), is ready to rear its ugly head and agent Ethan Hunt (Cruise) has made contact with them – at least, he knows what some of their agents look like. Aided by a British agent named Ilsa Faust (Ferguson) who has a name that would have sounded better on a sexy SS agent, he escapes their clutches and sets out to foil their plans and bring the anti-IMF – which is what the Syndicate is – to its knees, if not on its back in the morgue.

To do so Hunt is going to need old friends Brandt, Benji Dunn (Pegg), an expert on computers and gadgets and Luther Stickell (Rhames), maybe the world’s best hacker. They’ll be going up against Solomon Lane (Harris), the head of the Syndicate and a soft-spoken but wholly deranged former British agent, and his top dawg Janik “The Bone Doctor” Vinter (Hulten) who should sue for a better nickname. They also can’t be sure about Ilsa, who may be a double agent but has some pretty messed up stuff in her past, nor about Atlee (McBurney), the weasel-like head of the British Secret Service who is either a ruthless spy out to protect his country at all counts, or just plain ruthless.

The film begins with a sequence that includes Hunt holding on for dear life to the outside of a cargo plane – which is an actual stunt actually done by Cruise which I’m sure led to some cardiac arrest in the halls of insurance companies worldwide. He also is really driving the car going down the steps and flipping over like something out of NASCAR, and that really is his knee almost touching the asphalt as he drives his high speed motorcycle around a hairpin curve on a mountain road outside of Casablanca.

The action sequences are big and bold and exciting. The sets range from gleaming high tech to dusty ancient cities to the gilded grandeur of the Vienna Opera House. Each location is proclaimed in big graphic letters so we always know where in the world Carmen Sandiego, or at least the IMF team, is. Like the Bond movies which set the formula, we get the team in exotic (and not-so-exotic) locations, we get nifty gadgets and we get amazing stunts and action. We even get beautiful women, although in this case it’s just one woman, but when she emerges from a swimming pool in a bikini, don’t tell me that you more veteran moviegoers weren’t thinking about Ursula Andress.

McQuarrie started out as a writer, penning the excellent script for The Usual Suspects among others, and has lately graduated to directing with solid results (Jack Reacher, Edge of Tomorrow) has graduated to better than that. This has all the ingredients for solid summer entertainment; and likely will dominate the box office (given the anemic early results of Fantastic Four) throughout August.

Like a lot of the M;I films, there are some twists and turns to the plot, most of them involved with Ilsa’s true allegiance, but for the most part they don’t fool anyone and in all honesty, I think the movie could have used a little more vagueness when it came to her true intentions. Well before the final denouement we all knew which side she was buttering her bread as it were.

The main fulcrum that the movie revolves around however is Cruise, and at 53 years old which in action star terms is a bit long in the tooth he still has the boyish good looks that have always been his stock in trade (although he is starting to show his age just a tiny bit). Then again, both Schwarzenegger and Stallone have been doing action films with effectiveness in their 60s. Cruise is still in fine shape and looks like he could do another  three or four of these movies without breaking a sweat and given the satisfying box office numbers here at least one more is almost certain. Cruise is a star through and through and he continues to have maybe the best fundamental understanding of how to remain a star as any in Hollywood.

This is definitely a “grab the popcorn and an ice cold soda” kind of movie, the kind that you can drag the whole family out to, or your entire circle of friends. It doesn’t matter if you’re young, old or in between – this is entertainment for nearly everybody. Just sit back, relax and enjoy the ride.

REASONS TO GO: Top notch action sequences. Cruise still has it.
REASONS TO STAY: The twists are a little on the lame side.
FAMILY VALUES: Violence and intense action sequences with a scene of brief partial nudity.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Each Mission: Impossible film has had a different director: Brian De Palma, John Woo, JJ Abrams, Brad Bird and now McQuarrie.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 8/8/15: Rotten Tomatoes: 93% positive reviews. Metacritic: 75/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Casino Royale (2006)
FINAL RATING: 7/10
NEXT: Nightingale

The Freebie


 

The Freebie

Dax Shepard and Katie Aselton have each, unknown to the other, chewed entire cloves of raw garlic prior to this take.

(2010) Romance (Phase 4) Dax Shepard, Katie Aselton, Bellamy Young, Ross Partridge, Sean Nelson, Marguerite Phillips, Joshua Leonard, Frankie Shaw, Houston Wages, Ken Kennedy, Leonora Gershman, Scott Pitts. Directed by Katie Aselton

 

Who knows what really happens between couples? Once behind the bedroom door, there’s a privacy that is intrinsic to any relationship. Not all relationships, no matter how healthy they seem on the outside, are as healthy as they might be.

Darren (Shepard) and his wife Annie (Aselton) seem to pretty well have it figured out. Outwardly friendly and affectionate, they’ve been married seven years and going strong. However, there’s that pesky behind closed doors thing going on; the spark has faded. It’s been ages since they’ve had sex; most nights they’re content with a little cuddling and crossword puzzles before lights out.

A dinner party in which Lea (Gershman), a friend, informs them that she’s split up with her boyfriend leads to a discussion in which she’s encouraged to put herself out there, to date regularly and have plenty of sex. Not terribly responsible advice but then again these aren’t supposed to necessarily be responsible people. Darren as a matter of fact boasts that when he was single he was quite the playa.

That leads to some conversation between Darren and Annie. The thrill is most definitely gone and they both are eager to get it back. They decide to rev things up by allowing each other a freebie – one night to go outside the marriage and have sex with no repercussions.

Darren immediately seeks out a barista he’s had his eye on (Young) while Annie heads to a bar where she opens up to a bartender (Partridge) about her situation with which he is more than happy to volunteer to assist with. When the night is over, it turns out that their solution to their problem was more like throwing gasoline on a fire and then throwing live ammo into the conflagration.

Aselton is married to director/writer/producer/actor Mark Duplass, who is associated with the mumblecore movement which some critics have lumped this movie into. Quite frankly, I don’t think this really fits into that mold; there are a few elements that are associated with that style (such as the hand-held cameras and intimate conversations being a part of the “action”) but overall there are more elements unalike than like…which isn’t a good or bad thing. It’s just a thing.

She does a good job with a subject that can be kind of tricky – sex within a marriage. Hollywood tends to look at the subject either as a raunchy comedy when it isn’t ignoring it altogether. Contrary to what we sometimes let on, sex doesn’t end once the marital vows are said, but often sex takes a different role within the marriage than it filled in the relationship before the marriage. It can wax and wane in terms of importance; sometimes it takes a backseat to other acts in the marriage such as cuddling and talking. Stress in the marriage (whether relationship-related or from outside sources) can also take a toll on the sex life.

For a movie like this to work, the couple in the spotlight has to be absolutely believable and Shepard and Aselton have good chemistry together. Shepard, who’s generally known for his comedic work, does some of the best work of his career to date in a role that’s more likable for the most part than the characters he generally plays. Aselton is also likable and sexy and one gets the sense that in the relationship, the problem tends to be more on Darren’s side than Annie’s; if he wanted to jump her bones she would likely be all too happy to let him.

At times this is very much like being the fly on a bedroom wall, with all the awkwardness that implies. Some might find that off-putting. Also, I was disappointed in the ending which had implications that could conceivably render the entire movie moot; that’s not a good feeling to have when you’re done watching the end credits. Still, Aselton is already a fine actress and it’s clear her husband isn’t the only director in the household. She has talent and has a future both behind the camera and in front of it – or in both places. I’m rooting for the latter, personally; the world could use a few more women who are adept at both.

WHY RENT THIS: A surprisingly adult and even-handed discussion of marital sexual apathy. Shepard delivers one of his finest performances. 

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: A little uncomfortable at times. The ending is a bit of a cop-out.

FAMILY VALUES: There are plenty of bad words and given the subject matter plenty of sexual situations as well.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Shepard joined the cast a mere 18 hours before shooting began.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: There are four faux public service announcements promoting National Freebie Day, which were also used to market the film.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $16,613 on an unreported production budget; no way this movie made money.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Hall Pass

FINAL RATING: 7/10

NEXT: Total Recall (2012)

Fin


            The chum floated on the surface of the water, lovely red in a sea of grey-green. The salty smell of the fish blood and chunks of flesh excited the senses of the predator swimming in the cool green depths. His senses so acute, he could taste the blood in the water from nearly a mile away. With powerful thrusts of his tail and flukes, he moved through the water like a rocket, intent on his prey.

            Tara tied her bikini top and adjusted it. Her pink nipples and aureole peered out. It wouldn’t do to have those in public view, although she’d been known to allow an occasional nip slip from time to time to keep the boys firmly in the palm of her hand. Tara was a bit of a closet exhibitionist in some ways.

            She was also a total beach babe. Her blonde hair and blue eyes gave her an almost Nordic cast, but the tan of her skin was pure California. Even though it was overcast and grey out, she wanted to take a nice swim. It was part of her regimen; keeping fit was important and a daily three mile swim in the nearby waters were part of keeping her fit and trim. She enjoyed the attention of boys more than most.

            She smiled to herself as she looked around her apartment at the wreckage from last night. She’d picked him up in a local bar, an English lad who said football when he meant soccer and that was his passion. She’d taken him home and found him pleasantly aggressive in the bed – not that they’d limited their passions to the bedroom. No, he’d had her on the couch, on the living room floor, in the bathroom as well as in the bed. Truth be told, she was sore down there today – a pleasant, lovely throbbing ache that reminded her of the pleasures of last night.

            He had left shortly before dawn, giving her one last fuck before heading back to his house. He promised to call her later and she kind of hoped he would; she hadn’t had sex that good for awhile and Tara liked sex even when it wasn’t good. As she brushed her hair and tied it in a ponytail behind her, she saw in the reflection of her mirror the bed, stained and rumpled from last night’s activities. She felt a pleasant shiver in between her legs as she remembered the feelings of her lad inside her. She couldn’t stop smiling.

            She pulled out a pair of cutoff jeans and a t-shirt, then sat on the bed and fished out her flip flops. She could still smell him on the pillows. Her grin widened. Life was damn good when you’re hot, blonde and strong.

            She grabbed a clean beach towel and stuffed it in her beach bag, along with her sun screen, a tube of Chapstick, a bottle of water and the book she was reading, something by John Grisham. She grabbed her keys and a couple of granola bars in case she wanted to snack while she was sunning and threw them in the bag; as she walked out she remembered one last thing and grabbed it, throwing it in the bag before heading out the door.

            In her little Jetta convertible, she grabbed her sunglasses from the glove compartment and put them on even though it was cloudy. Starting her car, she grabbed a CD of pop tunes and stuck it in the player before roaring out of the apartment parking lot. She drove with the top down and the CD player blaring high energy rock tunes with which she sang loudly. It was early on a Sunday morning and there were few people about which suited Tara just fine. She liked to get her swim in before the beach got too crowded; when there were guys about, she wanted to be tanning, not out in the water concentrating on her swim.

            The beach was only a ten minute drive from her apartment and the parking lot was empty as she pulled in to her usual spot. She was still humming the tune she’d been singing as she shut the engine off and grabbed her things. Locking the car door behind her, she walked towards her favorite spot on the beach, near the lifeguard station, close to the water but not so close that she didn’t get the benefit of traffic. Even though it was overcast and a bit chilly for this time of year, it was supposed to warm up later on in the morning. Perfect.

            She set down her bag and pulled out her towel, laying it down on the sand and using her sandals to anchor it down. She felt the sea breeze hitting her legs and as it always did, it felt glorious. She quickly stripped off her t-shirt and cutoffs and dropped them in her beach bag. Her drying towel was in there; she made a mental note that she needed to do laundry today when she got home, as she was running low on towels but then going to the beach nearly every day will do that to you.

            She took off the sunglasses and tossed them in the beach bag. She spent a few moments stretching, limbering up for her morning swim. She was an impressive sight in her blue bikini, her body fit and tan. She would have turned a few heads were there any around to turn. Even the lifeguards hadn’t gotten in yet which was fine; the one that had been here lately was a douchebag. He just stared at her with eyes that were predatory; she was sure he would rape her if he got her in a dark alley. Not that she was above having sex with a lifeguard – she’d had a steamy little affair with Justin, the guy who had worked here most of the summer but Eric, the new guy, he wasn’t nearly as cute as Justin so it would have to be rape if he wanted to get into her panties.

            She giggled at herself. What a strange thought. Maybe she was off the market anyway. Jamie, her English lad, had a lot of possibilities. Maybe he would be the one who finally made an honest woman of her. If the sex continued to be like it was last night, he might be the only man on Earth able to satisfy her. She chuckled to herself. When did I become such a slut? she thought to herself, smiling. She was one of those women who enjoyed sex and didn’t care if people thought she was a slut for it. If we weren’t supposed to have sex, she told her girlfriends at the bar just last night, why did it feel so goddamn good?

            She finished stretching and trotted towards the water. The water was cold in the morning but she didn’t mind; it was invigorating not to mention refreshing. Her nipples immediately hardened, a pleasant sensation. She splashed out into the water until she was thigh deep and then started her swim.

            She liked the solitude of her morning swim. It gave her a chance to clear her head and just enjoy the physical sensations of her exertions. She could easily go to the gym (and when the weather was bad, that’s what she did) but she disliked the crowds and guys hitting on her when she was trying to work out. Here, nobody bothered her – this particular beach was almost always deserted until about 10am, two hours from now. Her swim usually took her about an hour as she would go out to the buoy and back, then repeat. Justin had told her that the buoy was about three quarters of a mile out, so two laps would take her three miles which was plenty of workout for her.

            She swam with slow, easy strokes, not in any particular hurry. Tara wasn’t about speed; she just wanted to enjoy her swim. She had powerful legs; years of dancing and rollerblading had given her that. She kicked strongly and as she looked back she saw the beach moving further and further away in her view. The current was a little strong but nothing she couldn’t handle.

            The predator had a sense of things and he knew that the other thing floating in the water by the chum was danger. He saw the other predators in the area feeding on the blood and sensed them suddenly thrash in pain and fear as they were attacked from above. He moved well away from the trap until he sensed something else; something in the water splashing not far away. Instantly he turned and swam away.

            She saw the buoy and realized she was a little off course. She righted herself and swam towards it, grabbing hold of it for a moment, catching her breath before shoving off of it and heading back to the beach. She continued to cut through the water, feeling the cool waters envelop her. She felt a little like the mermaid she longed to be as a little girl. She smiled inwardly; she wondered what Ariel would have thought of her activities last night. She giggled to herself as she soon reached the shore. Again she paused, catching her breath yet again before setting off on her final lap towards the buoy.

            Before she was even halfway there she realized it was a mistake. The current had grown much stronger now, and it was difficult going. She was kicking harder, paddling to near-exhaustion just to stay more or less in the same place. She realized that she was being pulled out to sea. She reached out for the buoy but the current had already pulled her past it. She screamed for help, hopelessly; she knew even as she did there was nobody to hear her.

            She hadn’t been in a rip current before but she knew the worst thing she could do was panic. She took a deep breath. She tried to organize her thoughts. What to do…if she continued to fight the current she’d be exhausted in a matter of minutes, then she’d be in real trouble. Tara had no illusions that help would come for her. She knew she had to get out of this situation herself.

            Then she remembered. Swim parallel to the shore until she escaped the current. She began to do that. Elsinore Beach was just a bit up the coast and there were surfers there…lifeguards. She began paddling in that direction. She was making some progress but she was already tired and she found she was splashing much more than usual. She had to keep her focus!

            The predator was much closer now and realized that the splashing thing was not a seal or a fish. It was something else entirely. If it had been able to smile, it would have; it recognized the scent of panic and the scent of blood. It was like a marine missile, aimed straight at the splashing entity. It recognized the smell of it in the water. It had eaten meat like this before.

            Tara’s muscles hurt and she felt like there were weights tied to her wrists and ankles. She felt tears leaking from her eyes but she gave herself a mental kick in the ass. Stop feeling sorry for yourself, she thought, Just keep your head and you’ll get out of this. Doggedly, she started swimming harder, knowing that sooner or later she’d get past this rip current and be able to swim safely ashore.

            She was a good mile and a half offshore when she felt the resistance of the current lessen. Relief flooded through Tara as she began to aim back towards the shore. Hope renewed her strength and she began swimming harder. It would all be over soon.

            She felt something bump up against her and wondered if some inquisitive fish had checked her out. She smiled at that. Must have been a boy fish. She could see the shore getting closer and closer and she thought she could make out some human figures on it.

            The pain shot through her like nothing she’d ever experienced. She screamed at the top of her lungs, agony coursing through her. The water turned red around her. “What…what’s….what’s happening?” she stammered. She looked around wildly for some clue as to what happened but she couldn’t see a thing. She began swimming again for shore but for some reason she couldn’t move her legs.

            It erupted out of the water, the predator and grabbed Tara by her abdomen. Her wails of fear and pain were the last sounds she’d ever make as she was dragged under the water by the shark that the authorities up and down the coast were chasing after having attacked four other swimmers in the past month. She struggled to escape the jaws of the predator but it was too strong and Tara too weak from both the swim and the loss of blood to put up much of a fight. The blood clouded the water as darkness took her.

********************************************************************************************************************

             Eric walked towards the lifeguard station carrying a cooler with his lunch and a couple of beers. Might as well enjoy himself if he had to hang out all day in this shithole of a beach. He noticed a towel, beach bag and some clothes strewn on the sand near his station. He looked up and down the beach but there was nobody on the sand and nobody in the water. He looked back to the parking lot and saw a small convertible parked there not far from his own Mustang.

            Stupid chick must have gone home and fucked some guy and forgotten her stuff. Well, he’d put it in the station on the off chance she’d return. She’d left her car there after all. Still, wouldn’t hurt to check the bag to see if there was some cash in there. He can always say someone else must have stolen it.

            Sunscreen. A book. Keys. Granola bars. A plastic water bottle. Another towel. And a tampon. Ewwwww! Eric chucked the tampon back into the bag. Stupid slut. No cash. He tossed the bag in a corner of the lifeguard station and forgot about it even before it landed with a thud that sounded to his ears final.

            He put up the rip current flag and made sure the sign was up warning people out of the water, then settled back in his chair and waited for the crowds to come. Lots of babes in bikinis, all of them thrilled out of their minds to talk with a stud lifeguard like him. Life is damned good when you’re young, hot and strong.

Eden Lake


Eden Lake

Kelly Reilly gets a different kind of facial.

(2008) Horror (Third Rail) Kelly Reilly, Michael Fassbender, Tara Ellis, Jack O’Connell, Finn Atkins, Jumayne Hunter, Thomas Turgoose, James Burrows, Thomas Gill, Lorraine Bruce, Shaun Dooley, James Ghandhi, Bronson Webb. Directed by James Watkins

We are trained from birth to jump at things that go bump in the night. We give form to our fears in all sorts of monsters from Godzilla to Dracula. The true horror however lies in the human heart.

Jenny (Reilly) and Steve (Fassbender) are a couple who are taking a weekend trip to an idyllic lake in rural England, a place Steve has happy memories of from his childhood. However when they get there, they discover that an impending development has closed off the lake. Disregarding the “Keep Out” signs, Steve drives into the park-like setting.

The lake doesn’t disappoint – it’s beautiful and placid. However, the couple’s peace and quiet is shattered by a group of teen hoodlums. Led by Brett (O’Connell), they’re mostly obnoxious and a bit intimidating. Rather than moving elsewhere, Steve decides to stay because “they were there first.” Not very mature and not very smart.

Things begin to escalate. The kids steal their car and their things. There are confrontations. They get physical. Brett’s beloved dog is accidentally killed. Things are about to get seriously ugly, and it will be up to Jenny to save them after Steve is seriously injured. Between her is a pack of rabid dogs in kid’s bodies that are baying for her blood.

Watkins makes a film that is a worthy successor to Straw Dogs and other 70s survival movies. Once things get rolling, you will be cringing in your seat and almost begging for the couple to make it. Steve and Jenny are extremely likable and the kids so utterly horrid that there is an easy rooting interest.

Fassbender has come on in recent years to be poised on the edge of stardom, but this movie was made before his higher profile roles of late. His role here is much more of a supporting part; for most of the second half of the movie he is essentially immobile and has few lines. Still, he has an innate likability and it shows onscreen here.

Reilly is really the star of the movie. Jenny is really put through the wringer here – dragged through the mud, burned, stabbed, beaten and betrayed – she is pushed to the limit and beyond. Reilly plays her as a fragile woman who has an inner strength that comes roaring out when cornered. She’s a likable heroine who can also be fierce, pushed to do things that are she must in order to survive.

O’Connell makes for a vicious and brutal gang leader, one of the nastiest to ever be seen on screen. When things get violent, he gets out of control, savaging his own gang members when he doesn’t get his way. O’Connell doesn’t make him sympathetic but he does make him human and not just a cartoon character. The brutality may be extreme but it comes from a realistic place.

This may be an extreme case but there have been reports of incidents of people being set upon by youth gangs in Britain. As things escalate to their conclusion, we can view this as a morality tale that leaves us with a few lessons. First, never underestimate the danger that comes from a pack of people; no matter how young they are. Second, it is a bad idea to stay somewhere when there are clearly dangerous people around, no matter how much it wounds your macho pride. Finally, never come between a boy and his dog. It can only end badly.

WHY RENT THIS: An excellent thriller that keeps you on the edge of your seat throughout. The leads are attractive.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: The brutality can be off-putting.

FAMILY VALUES: There is a great deal of brutal violence, some nudity and sexuality, a whole lot of foul language and a brief bit of drug use.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Turgoose first gained critical notice for the movie This is England.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $4M on an unreported production budget; I’m thinking this probably made a little bit of money.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

TOMORROW: The Other Man

The Stepfather (2009)


The Stepfather

Dylan Walsh has a point to make.

(Screen Gems) Dylan Walsh, Sela Ward, Penn Badgley, Sherry Stringfield, Jon Tenney, Paige Turco, Amber Heard, Nancy Linehan Charles, Braeden Lemasters. Directed by Nelson McCormick

Family is at the core of our value system. Everything we do, all of our decisions are made for the benefit of our family, at least so goes the theory. Of course, there are families and then again there are families.

David Harris (Walsh) wants a family in the worst way. He seems a nice enough man and when vulnerable divorcee Susan Harding (Ward) wanders into the grocery store he’s shopping at, they strike up a conversation, which leads to romance. David is a widower whose wife and daughter died in a car accident at the hands of a drunk driver, something that gets Susan’s nurturing instincts going into overdrive. Everyone, from the neighbors to Susan’s kids, think David is a heck of a guy.

The only one who doesn’t is Michael (Badgley), the eldest Harding. He’s been away at military school for some unspecified troublemaking and has just returned home. Something about David just doesn’t ring true to Michael, whether it’s the fact that David can’t get his daughter’s name straight or that he seems to have a creepy unnatural fascination for Michael’s girlfriend Kelly (Heard). Either way, Michael’s got his eyes on David and it isn’t long before he figures out the terrible truth.

You see, David is actually a serial killer (not a spoiler kids – this is revealed in the movie’s opening moments) who insinuates himself into a family, then butchers them when they don’t live up to his high standards of what a family should be. He also has no problems offing anyone who gets in his way, whether it is a nosy neighbor or Susan’s boorish ex (Tenney). It isn’t long before David begins to think it’s time to take care of his new family and find himself another.

This is the remake of a 1987 movie that starred Terry O’Quinn (John Locke of “Lost”) in the title role. That movie attained cult status after a mediocre theatrical run due to word of mouth video rentals, enough to spawn two sequels (one with O’Quinn and the other without). Invariably, this is going to be compared to the original.

The makers of the remake also were responsible for the Prom Night remake, which bodes ill for this one. Part of the problem is that they’re going for an entirely different audience; rather than hitting hardcore horror aficionados, they’re going for more of a teen audience, which means that they have to go for a PG-13 rating. That makes for bloodless horror, which isn’t a bad thing in and of itself, but this is the kind of story that becomes more effective when you are a little more visceral.

While the cast is made up of broadcast and cable TV veterans, some very good (Walsh is excellent in “Nip/Tuck” while Tenney is a standout in “The Closer”) and some less so (Badgley in “Gossip Girl,” Turco in “The Agency”), Ward excels as the mom who is blinded to her new man’s darker side. Walsh does his best, but in the end he isn’t able to carry the role of the evil stepfather as well as O’Quinn did 20 years ago; in defense of Walsh, he isn’t exactly handed a whole lot to work with.

The results here is a movie that doesn’t really have the kind of cachet to interest teens, nor does it have the scares and the gore to capture a horror film fan. It therefore becomes neither fish nor fowl, satisfying neither audience. If I had any advice to hand out to the filmmakers, I’d tell them that when handed a horror movie, don’t hide behind terms like “psychological thriller” to justify your decisions; just go for the gusto and you’ll not only make a better movie, you’ll get more butts in theater seats as a reward.

WHY RENT THIS: The young cast certainly looks good in bathing suits.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Far too bland and bloodless for its own good, it’s a psychological thriller with few thrills.

FAMILY VALUES: There’s some violence and a little bit of sex, as well as a few naughty words here and there. Mostly, the problem here is thematic and the images which can be pretty rough on the sensitive or the immature.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The star of the original The Stepfather Terry O’Quinn was offered a cameo in the remake, but declined. 

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: The Blu-Ray comes equipped with the Sony movieIQ feature that periodically puts pop ups of trivia and factoids related to the scene you’re watching or the general movie overall.

FINAL RATING: 5/10

TOMORROW: Scott Pilgrim vs. the World