Diablo


Scott Eastwood is smoking hot.

Scott Eastwood is smoking hot.

(2015) Western (Orion/Momentum) Scott Eastwood, Walton Goggins, Camilla Belle, Samuel Marty, Danny Glover, Adam Beach, Roberto Franco, Diego Diablo Del Mar, Nesta Cooper, William Belleau, Morris Birdyellowhead, Tzi Ma, Greg Lawson, Yaniv Bercowitz, Rohan Campbell, Joaquim De Almeida, José Zuñiga. Directed by Lawrence Roeck

There isn’t anything a man won’t do when one of his loved ones are threatened. He’ll find them if he has to go to the ends of the earth to do it. He’ll take on any odds; do whatever it takes to bring them home safe and sound, even if it means doing things that may damn his soul.

Jackson (Eastwood) emerges from a burning home and barn to discover that his wife Alexsandra (Belle) has been taken by a group of desperadoes who speak Spanish. Once he rescues his horse from the barn, he takes off through the wilderness to find her. While in the mountains he meets up with Ezra (Goggins), an outlaw who takes great pleasure in killing indiscriminately. He also has an encounter with Ishani, a young Native (Marty) who fires a couple of arrows at him, but when Jackson realizes he’s just a boy spares his life.

The trail is hard and with the relentless Ezra stalking him, Jackson eventually ends up injured and cared for by Ishani’s tribe particularly his father Nakoma (Beach). However, not everyone in the tribe thinks that Jackson is necessarily the good man he seems to be and it is urged that he be given peyote and put into the sweat lodge. There, Jackson has a vision of his younger brother with whom he went to the Civil War to seven years earlier and it certainly seems that Jackson may have a few skeletons in his closet after all.

There are elements of classic Westerns in this movie, particularly in the first two thirds of it although there are elements of the Westerns of Peckinpah and Leone as well. I think the movie is going for an overall gritty feel, which isn’t a bad thing but it feels like Roeck is forcing it a little bit. There is lots of violence (some of it gruesome) and some pretty rough customers here traveling the byways of the West (mostly filmed in beautiful Alberta). Veteran cinematographer Dean Cundey outdoes himself here, giving us beautiful Rocky Mountain vistas that are absolutely dazzling, truly one of the highlights of the movie.

Goggins, who has been getting more high profile roles lately, does sterling work as the amoral Ezra. The costume helps a lot as he looks a bit like an undertaker but there is a cheerful malevolence to him that is scarier than a Snidely Whiplash type of villain. He is becoming quite a capable character actor; while the jury is out on whether he has lead role screen presence, I think it’s quite likely we’ll be seeing a lot more of him in the near future. Eastwood’s career is also picking up; he has some high profile features on the horizon, but here although his physical resemblance to his father is significant, his screen presence isn’t as developed as his old man’s.

The movie has a serious drawback and it involves the plot twist. It’s not a bad one – don’t get me wrong on that point – but they reveal it way too early and it changes the entire nature of the movie. I can kind of see why they did it that way, but frankly it doesn’t work. It’s the kind of thing that would have best been revealed during the climactic scene.

Westerns have been making something of a comeback lately; there have been some very high quality ones that have been released in the last few months, but this isn’t one of them. That’s too bad because it has some very good individual elements, but it doesn’t add up to a cohesive whole. There’s enough here to make it worth a look, particularly for those who love Westerns and those who love Clint Eastwood in particular, but even those worthies may be well-advised to play one of Clint’s classic on the home video player instead.

REASONS TO GO: Gorgeous cinematography. Goggins makes a malevolent villain.
REASONS TO STAY: The twist is revealed too early. Tries too hard to be gritty.
FAMILY VALUES: Plenty of violence, most of it in the style of the Old West, and some brief profanity.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Eastwood has purposely avoided Westerns to avoid comparisons to his father even though he receives by his count more than 50 scripts every month; this is the first one he has actually agreed to do.
BEYOND THE THEATER: iTunes, Amazon, Vudu, M-Go
CRITICAL MASS: As of 2/2/16: Rotten Tomatoes: 18% positive reviews. Metacritic: 35/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Pale Rider
FINAL RATING: 5.5/10
NEXT: The 5th Wave

Advertisements

10,000 B.C.


Being chased by a mastadon can ruin your whole day.

Being chased by a mastadon can ruin your whole day.

(2008) Adventure (Warner Brothers) Steven Strait, Camilla Belle, Cliff Curtis, Omar Sharif (voice), Joel Virgel, Afif Ben Badra, Mo Zinal, Nathanael Baring, Mona Hammond, Marco Khan, Reece Ritchie, Joel Fry, Kristian Beazley, Junior Oliphant, Louise Tu’u, Jacob Renton, Grayson Hunt Unwin, Fahruq Ismail Valley-Omar, Boubacar Babiane, Joe Vaz, Suri van Sornsen. Directed by Roland Emmerich

Our prehistory as a species before the great empires of Egypt and Assyria is basically a mystery shrouded by the years. Nothing remains of our nomadic existence prior to the founding of cities except for a few artifacts scattered here and there in Africa, China and a few other places. One can’t help but wonder what came before.

The Yagahl tribe lives peacefully in a post-ice Age valley where herds of mastodon placidly migrate every spring, providing the tribe with most of their food, clothing and shelter. Like the aboriginals of North America once the Europeans showed up, the Yagahl are finding it more and more difficult to keep things going; the herds are getting sparser and appearing less frequently and this being the stone age, nobody’s quite got the knack of the gathering part of hunting and gathering yet.

The Shaman, known only as Old Mother (Hammond) has a vision when an orphan is found on the steppes; this blue-eyed girl (Unwin) is going to become the woman of the strongest warrior in the tribe. Together, they would lead the tribe from their current existence and into a time of prosperity and plenty. The current holder of the number one warrior (Beazley) is less sanguine about it; he doesn’t think that the tribe has long enough to wait for the girl to grow up, so he skedaddles, leaving his infant son in the care of his best friend Tic’Tic (Curtis).

Years later, the young son, known as D’Leh (Strait) which is held – the German word for hero – spelled backwards has lived with the stigma of a father who deserted the tribe, something that is the height of cowardice in their culture. He has fallen in love with the blue-eyed girl, who has grown up into a gorgeous woman named Evolet (Belle). Still, he has no chance at being the tribe’s alpha male – that would seem to be the destiny of Ka’Ren (Zinal), a buff, burly homo sapiens. Still, when the mastodon herd arrives, it is the determined D’Leh who gets the kill, but as he sheepishly admits to Tic’Tic later, it was a matter of luck and not courage that took down the mastodon.

Things get really dicey when the tribe is attacked by “four-legged demons” – slavers on horseback, who kill some of the tribe and take the rest as slaves, including most of the healthy men, but worse yet, also Evolet, who has caught the eye of their leader (Badra). D’Leh vows to go after the woman he loves, also knowing that the tribe won’t survive without most of its hunting force. Tic’Tic decides to go with him, as does a reluctant Ka’Ren. They are followed by Baku (Baring), a young teen whose mother was murdered by the slavers.

They follow them over the mountain range, which nobody from the tribe has ever done, and into a steamy jungle where they and the raiding party are attacked by giant carnivorous dodos. Ka’Ren and Baku manage to get captured by the raiders when D’Leh tries to free Evolet prematurely. Tic’Tic also gets injured.

Following the raiders out of the jungle and onto a grassy African plain, D’Leh encounters a Sabretooth tiger and frees him from a trap. The grateful tiger spares D’Leh’s life and later shows up when a hostile tribe of Africans threaten D’Leh and Tic’Tic with spears. A prophecy of a hero who talks to tigers instantly turns D’Leh into a VIP and the tribe is very ready to have D’Leh lead them against the raiders, who are building a vast city with a gigantic pyramid with slave labor – essentially the tribe mates of the Yagahl and all the veldt. However, it’s a tall order; given that the raiders outnumber the peace-loving tribes. However, if D’Leh can convince the slaves to revolt, they might have a chance, but is he the leader that the prophecies say he is?

The cast is mostly unknowns both at the time this was filmed and years later although both Camille Belle and Cliff Curtis have gone on to pretty decent careers since. Of course you have Omar Sharif – who is the off-screen narrator – who is a legend and deservedly so. There’s not a lot for them and their lesser-renowned cast mates to do. The main thrust of the movie is the gee-wow effects and not the story so few manage to rise above the cliché strata although Belle is certainly beautiful to look at and Curtis manages a nice performance.

The effects of the creatures and the raider city are really mind-boggling. If you choose a movie for great special effects and an imaginative setting, this one has both of those in spades. Although Emmerich is not an impressive director, he is at least an imaginative one, and he brings a vision to life of a world nobody has ever seen. In many ways, you really don’t know what to expect next since D’Leh and his fellow Yagahl who have never left their valley don’t know either. The pacing is nice, although the movie tends to hiccup when they move into the romantic part of the story.

The story is…ummmmm, how shall I say this…superfluous. I think the movie might have benefited from some stronger characters and better writing, but quite frankly, there’s nothing that’s really egregious here on that score. Most of the technical work – the music, the cinematography, the editing, etc. – is competently done, but nothing really breaks new ground except the subject matter itself.

This got some pretty harsh reviews, and I can’t say that I don’t see the flaws. Yes, there’s nothing really new here story-wise, but because you are being transported to a place nobody has really even attempted to show in film, it’s kind of a wash. Go in with low expectations for characterization and story and high expectations for action and special effects and you’ll be fine..

WHY RENT THIS: Spectacular special effects. Omar Sharif’s narration.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: No plot to speak of. Writing is poor and characters kind of all blend together eventually.

FAMILY MATTERS: There is a scene of human sacrifice, and some of the critters are extremely menacing, particularly the dodo-raptors, who are a cross between the raptors of Jurassic Park and the angry giant birds of Mysterious Island.

TRIVIAL PURSUITS: The constellation referred to in the film as “the sign of the warrior” is actually Orion. That constellation also played a key role in a previous Emmerich film Stargate.

NOTABLE HOME VIDEO FEATURES: The Blu-Ray edition adds a featurette (not on the DVD version) that focuses on author Graham Hancock whose Fingerprints of the Gods opines an advanced civilization that existed during the epoch the movie is set in. Although primarily about his own theories, the featurette does tie in with the movie somewhat.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $269.8M on a $105M production budget.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: One Million Years B.C.

FINAL RATING: 7/10

NEXT: Fiddler on the Roof

Father of Invention


 

Father of Invention

Kevin Spacey, a victim of the economic downturn.

(2010) Comedy (Anchor Bay) Kevin Spacey, Heather Graham, Camilla Belle, Virginia Madsen, Craig Robinson, Johnny Knoxville, John Stamos, Anna Anissimova, Red West, Michael Rosenbaum, Danny Comden, Jack McGee, Karen Livers. Directed by Trent Cooper

We all make mistakes in life, some more serious than others. When we foul up, it is on us to pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off and make life work again. In order to do that, sometimes we must re-invent ourselves. That’s an opportunity to rectify past mistakes but only if we learned from them.

Robert Axle (Spacey) is an infomercial billionaire. Or, rather, he was. One of his inventions had a design flaw, causing the user to be maimed. One prison center and several class action suits later, Axle is released from prison. His billions are gone; what was left after the settlement of the suits was spent by his now ex-wife Lorraine (Madsen) on philanthropy and a frivolous career move as a singer. Her new boyfriend Jerry King (Robinson) eagerly aided and abetted the dissolution of his nest egg.

Without any place to go, he is forced to move in with his estranged daughter Claire (Belle) and take a job at a Wal*Mart-like entity where his boss Troy Colangelo (Knoxville) offers endless platitudes which are ultimately meaningless. To make matters worse, Claire’s roommate Phoebe (Graham), a lesbian and a hater of men who initially thinks Robert  is the epitome of the male species – i.e. absolutely despicable – but falls for him anyway.

Robert knows just one good idea could conceivably take him back to the top and soon enough he has it. He takes it to his old company but they pooh-pooh it – and then steal it as their own. Robert has had his share of sins in his life, but the punishment seems to be well beyond what he deserves. Still, he plugs along, getting Troy to invest in his new product and enlisting the help of long time ally Sam Bergman (West) to help design and build the new product, it looks like his way to the top is assured. That’s generally when the floor drops out from under you.

This is one of those movies that shows up that gets a “cup of coffee” release on a few screens here and there (generally in New York and maybe Los Angeles) and then goes straight on to home video. With home video, streaming, and various other ways of watching movies than going to theaters or watching them on television networks, the demand for films has increased while the quality has remained flat.

That has led to a cornucopia of mediocre movies out there that you’ve never heard of but are easily available through Netflix, on cable or through YouTube in some cases. The issue with that is that some pretty decent movies wind up falling through the cracks and getting lumped with the chaff.

This is one of those movies. Spacey has been a performer who rarely disappoints over the past 20 years; even though not all of his movies have been financial or even critical successes, you can never accuse him of phoning one in and he doesn’t here. He takes Robert Axle from broken and defeated to arrogant and driven, ending up as humble and loving. In other words, he takes us on Robert’s journey and allows us to understand the road that got him there. And he makes it look effortless in doing so.

Graham is one of my favorite actresses. Not only is she shagadelically beautiful but she also has plenty of skill. Her angry lesbian is written kind of one-dimensionally but Graham gives her some depth, mostly from the way she interacts not only with Robert but with Claire as well. I truly wish she would get some better parts to work with.

The story is pretty predictable and it is mainly Spacey’s performance that gives it any particular nuance. You know pretty much how it’s going to end up and what steps are going to happen before it gets there. Normally that would be reason enough to not even bother writing a review – but Spacey gives this movie a reason to be seen.

WHY RENT THIS: Even in bad films Spacey is always entertaining.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: The plot is kind of predictable and occasionally nonsensical. Characters are mostly clichés.

FAMILY VALUES: There’s a fair amount of bad language as well as some sexuality.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Spacey shot this while concurrently working as artistic director of the Old Vic in London, one of the most prestigious positions in the legitimate theater.:

NOTABLE HOME VIDEO EXTRAS: None listed.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: Not available.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Shrink

FINAL RATING: 6/10

NEXT: Centurion

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

Push


Push

Neil Jackson shows Djimon Hounsou that he's a rising star.

(Summit) Chris Evans, Dakota Fanning, Camilla Belle, Djimon Hounsou, Cliff Curtis, Ming Na, Joel Gretsch, Maggie Siff, Neil Jackson, Scott Michael Campbell, Corey Stoll, Colin Ford, Xiao Lu Li, Paul Car. Directed by Paul McGuigan.

It is said there is no limit to the potential of the human mind. It is also true that there is no limit to the human desire to control and exploit anything with the potential of limitless power, and no limits to how far some would go to gain that power.

There have always been humans with special abilities. Telekinetics, called Movers. Precognitives, called Watchers. People who can exert control over others, called Pushers. People who can sense the location of others, called Sniffers. These are controlled by a sinister government agency known only as Division. One of the most fearsome agents of Division is a pusher named Carver (Hounsou).

A mover named Nick Gant (Evans) has been eking out a miserable existence in Hong Kong, far away from Division. He’d watched his father (Gretsch) murdered by Carver ten years earlier. His powers have never really developed properly. His disastrous attempts to influence dice games have landed him deep in debt to the sorts of people who aren’t about installment plans. On the positive side, Division hasn’t really felt a need to go after him seriously.

However, two Division sniffers (Stoll, Campbell) are waiting for him in his apartment after a run-in with some dice players. They’re looking for Kira (Belle), a pusher who escaped from Division’s medical labs with a syringe filled with a formula meant to increase the abilities of the psychically endowed, but usually winds up killing them. In fact, Kira is the only one who has survived the shot and could be the key to Division’s plans of assembling an army of enhanced psy-soldiers.

After the sniffers leave, Nick is visited by a precocious little watcher named Cassie (Fanning) whose mother remains captive in a Division facility, drugged into a stupor. She informs him that the syringe is the means of bringing down Division and to freeing Cassie’s mom. Oh, and the two of them are doomed to die. However, the good news is that the future is constantly changing and Cassie isn’t always accurate. The bad news is that a Chinese gang led by a much better developed watcher (Lu Li) is also aware of the syringe and what it could mean, and they’re gunning to find Kira and her precious cargo. Carver and Victor (Jackson), a mover far more advanced than Nick, have arrived in Hong Kong to personally supervise the operation.

Nick assembles a team of friends and rogue psychics to try and help save himself, Cassie and Kira from what is increasingly looking like a fatal ending. The odds are overwhelming, but the stakes are high…and time is ticking inexorably towards a conclusion.

This is a nice looking movie, which takes advantage of its Hong Kong milieu nicely. There are kinetic action sequences with plenty of CGI lighting effects and wire work. There is also Fanning, who tends to elevate every movie she’s in.

The problem here is that the script is overly complex and hard to follow. I consider myself a fairly savvy moviegoer and I had problems keeping up with who is able to do what and where they stand. The movie is based on a Wildstorm comic series, for which this material is better suited. The world created by McGuigan and the other filmmakers is over-the-top and convoluted, which works in a four-color medium but not so much on the big screen.

Evans, best known as Johnny Storm in the Fantastic Four movies (he must have a thing about comic books), is an attractive enough lead but Nick Gant is essentially Johnny Storm without the libido – or the flames, for that matter. While his powers progress nicely through the course of the film, his character changes wildly without a whole lot of explanation. Either far too much was left on the cutting room floor, or the script was not as well-written as it should have been.

The rest of the cast – many of them veterans of the Hong Kong action movies – range from competent to forgettable. The most surprising of them is Hounsou. He plays the movie’s main heavy with an odd lack of energy or fire. I think he’s going for menacing in a quiet way, sort of like a cobra ready to strike. However, he comes off merely wooden and bored and not nearly an object of fear that he should be.

I tend to be far more forgiving of comic book movies than most because I do love comic books, and I do love movies that are made from them. After 2008 gave us Iron Man, Wanted and The Dark Knight, I was looking for comic book movies to become more of a serious art form. This isn’t the movie that’s going to accomplish that. What McGuigan has crafted, however, is an unnecessarily convoluted but good looking movie that I can recommend with reservations, but looks to fall below the radar of the vast majority of the movie-going audience, and it doesn’t take a watcher to see that coming.

WHY RENT THIS: Exciting action sequences reminiscent of some of the better Hong Kong-made action films. Dakota Fanning is a solid actress who delivers a performance better than this movie deserves. Scenes filmed in and around Hong Kong are fascinating.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Convoluted plot that’s hard to follow. Script occasionally ignores it’s own internal logic. Hounsou isn’t nearly menacing enough as a villain and comes off as surprisingly wooden.

FAMILY VALUES: Somewhat violent, although no worse than most comic book movies. There is also some teen drinking here. Otherwise, suitable for most teens and above.

TRIVIAL PURSUITS: In order to deal with the bustle of the Hong Kong locations, director McGuigan decided to film guerilla style, out of peepholes and in the back of vans. In fact, during a scene where Kira is kidnapped at gunpoint with no crew members visibly in sight and no prior advertisement that there would be filming there that day, passers-by didn’t react or move to help.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

TOMORROW: Slumdog Millionaire