Need for Speed


Let's race bitches!

Let’s race bitches!

(2014) Action (DreamWorks) Aaron Paul, Imogen Poots, Dominic Cooper, Ramon Rodriguez, Rami Malek, Harrison Gilbertson, Scott Mescudi, Michael Keaton, Dakota Johnson, Steve Ray Dallimore, Alan Pflueger, Brian L. Keaulana, Logan Holliday, Carmela Zumbado, Jalil Jay Lynch, Nick Chinlund, Chad Randall, Buddy Joe Hooker, Rich Rutherford, Tara Jones. Directed by Scott Waugh

Video games are fun. At least, that’s the general point of them. What could be more fun than playing a racing game, driving expensive cars you could never afford in cross country races and causing motorcar chaos in the form of multiple crashes? Why, doing it for real of course.

Tobey Marshall (Paul) is a brooding young man grieving for the recent passing of his dad. Dear old dad owned a high-end auto shop in bucolic Mt. Kisco, New York where Tobey makes a reputation for being a crackerjack racer. He and his crew – tech-savvy Finn (Malek), boyish daredevil and hero-worshipper of Tobey (not to mention occasional psychic) Little Pete (Gilbertson), worldly Joe (Rodriguez) and high flying Benny (Mescudi) – fix cars, hang out and watch the shop slowly wither away.

In comes Dino Brewster (Cooper), a rival of Tobey’s once upon a time who stole Tobey’s girl Anita (Johnson) who also happens to be Little Pete’s sister and went on to leave Mt. Kisco to drive for NASCAR. He’s since left the NASCAR circuit for reasons never fully explained and has gotten hold of a Mustang that legendary car customizer Carroll Shelby was working on prior to his death in 2012. If Tobey can finish the car, he’ll get a 25% split of the sale which Dino thinks will be in the $2 million range. Although Tobey doesn’t trust Dino as far as he could use him as a wrench, he needs the money so he and his crew get busy.

The car turns out to be more than anyone expected and Dino easily finds a buyer, wealthy Bill Ingram (Dallimore) whose representative, Julia Maddon (Poots) turns out to be a cheeky blonde Brit with a preference for Gucci boots. They agree to pay $2.7 million for the car. Everyone’s happy, right?

Wrong. Dino and Tobey are still bickering and decide to settle it behind the wheel. Little Pete wants in on the action. The three go street racing in identical Koenigsegg Ageras that Dino happens to have. During the ensuing race which Tobey looks to win, Dino purposely bumps into Little Pete’s car, sending it flying through the air and off a bridge, sending Little Pete off to a fiery grave.

Dino manages to convince the cops that he wasn’t there and of course the dozens of motorists who nearly or actually get into crashes because of the racers don’t notice the flaming red sports car so Tobey is sent to jail on a vehicular manslaughter charge for two years. When he gets out of jail two years after the fact, he’s lost everything. All he has left is vengeance masquerading as justice and the only way to do it is the De Leon, an underground street race run by an eccentric billionaire (Keaton) in which he can prove he’s the better driver once and for all.

To do that he’ll need a car and he gets one – the Mustang. However, Ingram insists that Julia accompany the car. After all, what billionaire wants to risk putting a car worth $2.7 million into the hands of an ex-con so he can run an illegal street race, right?

Look, this is based on a videogame, not an Oprah Book Club selection. Logic was never going to be the strong suit here, but  even so this movie is riddled with holes that even the least sensible of viewers is going to scratch their heads and say “But..but…” over. All I ask for in a movie is at least a little bit of common sense. There are so many elephants in the movie that are ignored that you can’t help but question how much respect the filmmakers had for their intended audience. Gamers aren’t idiots after all.

There are some saving graces to the film though. Paul, for one. While Tobey is a brooding, taciturn hero who doesn’t have a whole lot to say, Paul has all the charisma you would want a big screen leading man to have. He has the cred of his Breaking Bad work to keep the target audience from rejecting the film version out of hand.  Poots is a terrific actress still searching for a role deserving of her talents and once again she is wasted here. Someone needs to find the woman a better agent.

Likewise the movie gets points for doing their car stunts with practical effects rather than through CGI. Cars fly through the air, speed through city streets and country roads and crash into each other willy-nilly. Some of the stunts are pretty spectacular although there are only so many things you can do with a car that haven’t been done before. It sure is fun watching the filmmakers turn multi-million dollar cars that thee and me could never possibly afford to drive into oversized paperweights which seems to be the main attraction to this movie. Sadly, it doesn’t break the streak of really bad videogame adaptations from Hollywood. You’d think that someone somewhere could make a decent movie out of a videogame that isn’t a horror franchise. Just sayin’.

REASONS TO GO: Some nifty racing sequences. Great cars. Paul shows he has what it takes to be a lead actor on the big screen.

REASONS TO STAY: Lackluster logic-challenged plot. Overly long and repetitive.

FAMILY VALUES:  Plenty of foul language, some disturbing car crash scenes, nudity and sexuality.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Paul was originally being considered to play Dino Brewster but after executive producer Steven Spielberg and Waugh binge watched Breaking Bad they both decided he would be more suitable as the lead.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 3/23/14: Rotten Tomatoes: 23% positive reviews. Metacritic: 40/100.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Fast and the Furious

FINAL RATING: 5/10

NEXT: Tim’s Vermeer

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jOBS


Ashton Kutcher counts the number of good reviews.

Ashton Kutcher counts the number of good reviews.

(2013) Biographical Drama (Open Road) Ashton Kutcher, Dermot Mulroney, Josh Gad, Lukas Haas, J.K. Simmons, Matthew Modine, Lesley Ann Warren, Ron Eldard, Ahna O’Reilly, Victor Rasuk, John Getz, Kevin Dunn, James Woods, Masi Oka, Robert Pine, Nelson Franklin, William Mapother, Eddie Hassell, Elden Henson, Abby Brammell. Directed by Joshua Michael Stern

Some people are really hard to figure out. They may have greatness in them – a vision so profound it changes the world and everything in it. They may also have demons in them, demons that sometimes reduce them to assholes and tempers their greatness.

Steve Jobs was a lot like that. The co-founder of Apple revolutionized technology and its place in our lives, but he was famously difficult to deal with. He set standards that were ridiculously high and didn’t react well to those who questioned his vision. He was volatile and not above screwing his friends over. It’s hard to reconcile his greatness with his pettiness.

The film opens with Jobs (Kutcher) addressing the troops at Apple, announcing the iPod in 2001, then immediately heads back to his undergraduate days at Reed College where he is a hippie-esque dropout auditing courses, taking drugs and making love with the woman he says he loves, artist Chris-Ann Brennan (O’Reilly) – but whom he’s not above cheating on.

After a trip to India, he returns home to the San Francisco Bay Area and gets a job at Atari but his prickly personality causes friction. He is given a project to work on  his own on – which would turn out to be the game Breakout – and eventually turns to his old friend Steve Wozniak (Gad) to help him. He misrepresents the payment to his genial friend, keeping the lion’s share of the payment for himself. However, a project Woz is working on as kind of a sidelight grabs Jobs’ attention and imagination. It’s a graphical interface that allows display on an ordinary TV screen. This would become the Apple computer. After limited success selling to local hobbyists, former Intel executive Mike Markkula (Mulroney) is drawn to Jobs and the product of the nascent company. He agrees to invest and Apple computers is born.

From there, Jobs, Wozniak, Markkula and the design team including Rod Holt (Eldard), Bill Fernandez (Rasuk), Daniel Kottke (Haas) and Chris Espinosa (Hassell) design the Apple IIe, one of the most crucial devices in the history of home computing. Apple takes off, becoming an economic engine. Jobs becomes obsessed with developing new products, starting with the Lisa – named after the illegitimate daughter whose paternity he vehemently denied even after tests showed him to be the father.

But Apple has grown into a corporation with money men and shareholders. One of the board members, Arthur Rock (Simmons), is deeply concerned with Jobs’ perfectionism and obsession with design at the expense of profitability. Something has to give and when Jobs brings on former Pepsi executive John Sculley (Modine) as the marketing genius to help take Apple to the next level, it does.

The mark of a good biopic is that we leave with at least some sense of who the man was. I think the success here in that regard is mixed; we certainly are treated to some of Jobs’ infamous tirades but we also don’t get a real sense of what causes that rage; we’re told early on that he was adopted but we never get a sense of whether or not that is a motivating factor.

That’s not Ashton Kutcher’s fault. He nails some of Jobs’ mannerisms (capturing his distinctive walk somewhat eerily) and certainly captures his passion. It’s the underlying stuff that we never get to see and that’s the script talking in that regard. I get the sense that the writers didn’t really bother to do a ton of research on Jobs – in many ways what we get is a very surface portrayal of event and milestone, but never what Jobs is thinking or where his ideas are coming from. They’re just…there.

Otherwise, Kutcher is much better than the critics have given him credit for. He gets some pretty solid support from Mulroney whose Markkula’s shifting loyalties and self-preservation tendencies are a model of the modern businessman but not necessarily admirable (and karma is a bitch, isn’t it) as well as Gad as Wozniak who is much more than the computer geek he appears to be.

This isn’t really a complete biopic. It takes on only a section of Jobs’ life, ending just prior to the release of the iPod (which is depicted at the beginning of the movie but the development of which really isn’t gone into). It doesn’t  show the iPhone which in many ways revolutionized society just as much as the Mac did, nor does it spend any time on his time at Pixar which is somewhat understandable.

Still, it’s fairly serviceable. The real Steve Wozniak takes the film to task for not being entertaining and he hits it on the head. The last third of the movie is mostly centered around boardroom drama and business politics and there’s nothing exciting about it. The best parts of the movie are in the center when Jobs and Wozniak are trying to change the world, one circuit board at a time. That they succeeded has helped create the world we live in now, for better or for worse. Which one it is will be judged by those who come after – as for us, I suppose it depends on your point of view.

REASONS TO GO: Communicates the trainers and filmmakers love for these animals. Some beautiful footage of orcas.

REASONS TO STAY: No rebuttal viewpoints (although SeaWorld declined to allow their executives to be interviewed for the film).

FAMILY VALUES:  Briefly, there’s some intense language and there are also a couple of drug-related sequences.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The scenes in Jobs’ family home and garage were almost all filmed in the Los Altos home where the real Steve Jobs grew up. The Apple scenes, however, were all sets and recreations as Apple declined to be involved with the film.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 8/24/13: Rotten Tomatoes: 27% positive reviews. Metacritic: 44/100

COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Pirates of Silicon Valley

FINAL RATING; 6/10

NEXT: Breaking News

The Woman


This is the new Goth look.

This is the new Goth look.

(2011) Horror (Bloody Disgusting) Angela Bettis, Pollyanna McIntosh, Marcia Bennett, Sean Bridgers, Carlee Baker, Tommy Nelson, Lauren Ashley Carter, Shyla Molhusen, Vincent Gordon, Zach Rand, Shelby Mailloux, Laura Petre, Lauren Schroeder, Alexa Marcigliano. Directed by Lucky McKee

Take the animal out of the person and, so the way of thinking goes, you are left with a civilized human being. Often however that civilization is only a veneer and when you strip it away you find the inner animal.

Chris Cleek (Bridgers) is a lawyer and a family man, well-respected around town. He likes to go hunting now and again and on one such trip he spies a woman (McIntosh) with a fishing knife in the river spearing it and eating it raw on the end of her knife. He is fascinated by this obviously feral woman and decides to take her home and civilize her. He captures her with a net and knocks her out.

When she awakens, she is chained in his garage on his rural, isolated property. Cleek turns out to be a monster, abusing his wife Belle (Bettis) and oldest daughter Peggy (Carter) who is becoming withdrawn at school, her grades plummeting. His son Brian (Rand) is developing a sadistic streak of his own. The youngest, Darlin (Molhusen) is just a toddler.

Chris begins enlisting his family in “civilizing” the woman, using a pressure hose to wash her, and subjecting her to all sorts of torment. Brian participates enthusiastically while Belle and Peggy are much more reluctant. In the meantime Mrs. Raton (Baker) has become suspicious of Peggy’s change in behavior and decides to pay the home a visit.

There she’ll find a house of horrors that she (and we) didn’t expect. Survival of the fittest is what nature teaches us and the woman will have to be very fit indeed to make it out of the garage alive.

This movie debuted at Sundance  in 2011 to a great deal of controversy. A significant portion of the audience walked out on the film and those that stayed accused it of being misogynistic trash. This is where you can tell the difference between a critic who understands film and those who don’t – there is a difference between a misogynistic film and one in which misogynistic acts are displayed. On the one hand, the agenda is to describe women as inferior who deserve the treatment that they’re receiving; clearly in this movie the men are the monsters, perpetrating all manner of horrors on women. However, it is these men who are woman-haters – these characters. We are able to identify them as such by their behavior. Calling this movie misogynistic is like calling the makers of the Bond films megalomaniacs because their villains behave in that manner.

A superior performance is demanded of McIntosh and, fortunately, received. She doesn’t utter a word of dialogue other than grunts, snorts, screams and screeches. Much of her acting is done through body language and through her eyes. An Oscar-winning performance this ain’t but it does show a great deal of physical talent. I’m not sure she’ll get a lot of opportunities out of this but she should – there’s a real deal actress under all the grime.

There is a good deal of gore and violence, including the (inevitable) sexual assault of the woman by Chris. This is definitely not for the squeamish or those who find violence and sex distasteful. Then, this isn’t the sort of movie that was really made for that sort of person. It is a movie about the savage inside us, one that often has a civilized veneer. Which one was truly the monster – the Woman or Chris? I think you’ll find that question easy enough to answer.

WHY RENT THIS: Brutal but not meant to be taken seriously. McIntosh lets it all hang out in her portrayal of a feral woman.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Some might find it misogynistic.

FAMILY VALUES: Warning, this is a pretty shocking film by any standards. Let’s see, there’s some pretty graphic violence and gore, misogynistic  behavior, a fairly brutal rape, graphic nudity, foul language and torture. Louise May Alcott this ain’t.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The word anophthalmia which is used repeatedly during the film by Chris refers to the congenital absence of an eye or both eyes and teases one of the aspects of the film’s climax.

NOTABLE HOME VIDEO EXTRAS: There is an animated short and a music video.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: Not available.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Shuttered Room

FINAL RATING: 5/10

NEXT: Promised Land