High-Rise (2015)


An open house you may not want to attend.

An open house you may not want to attend.

(2015) Thriller (Magnet) Tom Hiddleston, Jeremy Irons, Sienna Miller, Luke Evans, Elisabeth Moss, James Purefoy, Keeley Hawes, Peter Ferdinando, Sienna Guillory, Reece Shearsmith, Enzo Cilenti, Augustus Prew, Dan Renton Skinner, Stacy Martin, Tony Way, Leila Mimmack, Bill Paterson, Louis Suc, Neil Maskell, Alexandra Weaver, Julia Deakin, Victoria Wicks. Directed by Ben Wheatley

Florida Film Festival 2016

It is part of human nature to divide people into class by their wealth; the upper classes – the haves – all the way down to the lower classes – the have-nots – and in between. Some places, class distinctions are much more concrete than others; the British have made an art form of it.

Set in 1975, this film based on a J.G. Ballard novel posits something that back in that time was only beginning to catch on as an idea but is more prevalent today – the lifestyle apartments. You know the kind; the ones that have shopping and sometimes even office space in the same building, allowing those that live there to need never venture beyond the walls of their high rise. This particular one sits just outside of London.

The middle class inhabit the lower floors with few amenities; the further up you go, the more amenities there are (gymnasium, swimming pool and so on) and of course the wealthier the resident. On the very top floor is Royal (Irons), the reclusive architect of the whole she-bang and his shrewish wife Ann (Hawes). Their luxury penthouse includes an outdoor garden where there is enough room for Ann to ride a horse and Royal to work on the other four towers of the five he has planned.

Into this environment comes Dr. Robert Laing (Hiddleston), a physiologist who is single and immediately catches the eye of Charlotte (Miller), the resident nymph who raises her son Toby (Suc) on her own as a single mom, who catches the good Doctor sunbathing nude. She invites him to a party where he meets Wilder (Evans), a dissatisfied television news reader who has the hots for Charlotte and a little bit too high of an opinion of himself.

The building is brand new and starkly furnished in the style of the time, but cracks begin to show in the facade. Electrical outages at first affect the lower floors before spreading and ending up in a complete blackout. The store where all groceries are bought fails to get resupplied and eventually panicked residents ransack it.

The social order breaks down quickly as the haves and have-nots arrange themselves into violent tribes. The women begin to gravitate towards men who can protect them from the violence and chaos going on in the building. The upper classes gravitate towards Royal as a leader (as he is the wealthiest) while the lower classes choose Wilder because of his fearlessness. Before long, civilization is a distant memory.

Ballard’s allegorical commentary on how thin the veneer of civilized behavior is was controversial in its time, although given recent events one can’t help but wonder if he erred on the side of caution. It also isn’t a particularly lightbulb-glowing concept, that the classes don’t like each other much. In some ways, the point was made better and earlier by Jonathan Swift in his A Modest Proposal which suggests that with overpopulation and food shortages inevitably befalling any civilized nation that the wealthy should look to eating the poor. And you thought Ballard was cynical!

Hiddleston has been coming on lately as a legitimate leading man presence. He has a bit of an edge compared to guys like, say, Matt Damon; I think of him as more of a ‘70s archetype for a leading man, which makes him perfectly cast here. Initially, he’s got a bit of a shy and reclusive nature, which might be what draws the ladies to him (including Wilder’s very pregnant wife Helen (Moss) with whom he has a dalliance late in the film) although it might be more due to the fact that he’s got crazy good looks. I know at least a few ladies who have him on their list of five (five men they get to do anytime, anywhere even if they are married). He’s also a hell of an actor and we watch his descent into obsessive insanity, although he never quite hits bottom. While Hiddleston is known for his villains at present, I would imagine leading roles in big-budget franchise films are just around the corner for him.

I was a teen in the era that is depicted here and there’s a bit of a shock in seeing how many people smoked (according to iMDB there are people smoking in 80% of the film) including pregnant woman. There was also rampant sexuality going on, including a crapload of extramarital affairs and plenty of drug use. All of which is captured here, which while I found unsurprising, still seemed jarring when given today’s mores. Still, I ended up feeling a bit grimy just watching it.

Likewise there are things that sort of rock the logic meter to its core. For instance, why don’t people just LEAVE? After all, the chaos is limited to this one building; if the situation became that out of control, wouldn’t you just walk out the door and be done with it? Also, why doesn’t the grocery store get restocked? That’s never addressed.

I think a lot of how you’re going to digest this movie is going to depend on your own social situation. People who are wealthy and/or conservative are going to identify with the upper class tribe; those who are working class and/or liberal might well identify with the lower class tribe, although the latter were guilty of some unspeakable acts which might give you a hint as to where Ballard’s own sympathies lie (or at least the filmmakers; I haven’t read the source novel yet). Quite frankly, from what I’ve read the jury is out as far as opinions regarding the book’s sympathies.

Similarly, the movie is polarizing – people either love it or hate it. I wanted to like it more than I did, but like Mick LaSalle of the San Francisco Chronicle pointed out, watching any five minutes of this film will convince you that it is brilliant but watching the whole of it will not – he called it the best disappointing film you’ll watch this year and in that he is absolutely correct.

REASONS TO GO: Class warfare for dummies. Hiddleston shows some star power.
REASONS TO STAY: Logical holes abound. Makes you feel like a full ashtray has been dumped on your head.
FAMILY VALUES: There’s some fairly disturbing stuff here; violence, rape, graphic nudity, sexual content, drug use, foul language and a partridge in a pear tree.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Author J.G. Ballard published the novel this is based on in 1975, the same year that ABBA’s “S.O.S.” was released (the song was covered by two different artists on the soundtrack).
CRITICAL MASS: As of 6/26/16: Rotten Tomatoes: 62% positive reviews. Metacritic: 65/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Snowpiercer
FINAL RATING: 6/10
NEXT: Raiders!: The Story of the Greatest Fan Film Ever Made

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Resident Evil: Retribution


Go ask Alice.

Go ask Alice.

(2012) Horror Action (Screen Gems) Milla Jovovich, Michelle Rodriguez, Sienna Guillory, Kevin Durand, Shawn Roberts, Colin Salmon, Johann Urb, Boris Kodjoe, Li Bingbing, Aryana Engineer, Robin Kasyanov, Ofilio Portillo, Oded Fehr, Megan Charpentier, Mika Nakashima, Ray Olubowale, Toshio Oki, Takato Yamashito, Ali Larter. Directed by Paul W.S. Anderson

6 Days of Darkness 2013

Some fights you can’t run away from. Sooner or later you have to take the fight to your enemy because otherwise you’ll be running until you’re caught and/or killed. Sometimes those fights will cost you more than you know.

After the events of Resident Evil: Afterlife Alice (Jovovich) has been taken prisoner by the evil Umbrella Corporation and is being interrogated by former ally turned enemy (thanks to a parasite buried in her chest) Jill Valentine (Guillory). She escapes with the help of Ada Wong (Bingbing) who is one of the chief operatives of Albert Wesker (Roberts), the evil head of the Umbrella Corporation. However, he is no longer in charge; the computer program Red Queen, activated after the fall of The Hive has taken over and is at war with humanity – and she is winning.

Alice and Ada are in an Umbrella cloning facility where several environments were created to work out different scenarios to T-Virus infection protocols. Wesker sends in a strike team to retrieve Alice and Ada and also Becky (Engineer), a cloned little girl who operated as a daughter to a cloned Alice in a Raccoon City scenario. Make sense? Don’t sweat it.

Anyway the strike team along with Alice and Ada are up against hordes of mutants, Jill Valentine as well as clones of Rain Ocampo (Rodriguez) and Carlos Olivera (Fehr). They will have to fight their way through simulations of Moscow, Tokyo and Raccoon City. The now-fully human Alice will have to rely on her wits and her indomitable will to survive in order to get out of the base alive and once they do, a final battle on the surface awaits in which friend becomes foe, foe becomes friend and the world prepares for a last stand in the most unlikely of places.

The thing that has made this series so spectacular is not just the videogame franchise it’s based on but on Milla Jovovich’s interpretation of Alice. Jovovich, because of her appearances in a lot of sci-fi, horror and action movies, is sometimes underrated as an actress (much like Kate Beckinsale is) but she really has a great deal of screen presence and the focus is entirely on her, which gives the filmmakers smart points. Then again, Anderson is married to her so he probably knows her abilities better than any other.

The movie is like a non-stop chase scene, beginning with the spectacular opening sequence in which Alice’s capture is done in reverse sequence going back to the final moments of Afterlife. It’s imaginative, far more so than one would have expected from a franchise that’s supposed to play to a less-discerning crowd. While the sequence following that opening which consists of cloned Alice, cloned Carlos and Becky playing house is a bit confusing, the rest of the movie takes off at warp speed. Non-stop battles between humans with a seemingly inexhaustible supply of ammo and increasingly grotesque mutants will more than satisfy the entertainment quotient.

The Resident Evil film series has been the only successful franchise (or standalone film for that matter) to capture the nature of the videogame that inspired it. While it doesn’t compare to playing the game and having that interactive element that is missing in a film, it is as close as film is going to come to that element simply because of the frenetic pacing and touches that less attentive directors might miss. One gets a sense that Anderson plays a lot of videogames.

I’m not sure how much farther they can take this franchise. There are after all only so many ways you can go here until it starts to get repetitive and it is absolute death for a franchise such as this to repeat itself – even the Friday the 13th franchise fell into that trap. They do seem to be leading to a climactic battle and the next movie, scheduled for release on September 12, 2014 may be the climax of the series. If so, they’ll have a fairly high bar set for them in order to make the series go out with a bang, which I sure hope it does rather than the fizzle that it could easily go out with.

WHY RENT THIS: Mindless fun. Jovovich has made the role of Alice iconic in horror films.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Kind of been there, done that.

FAMILY VALUES:  Lots and lots and lots of violence. And I mean lots.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Jovovich is the only actor to appear in every Resident Evil film to date.

NOTABLE HOME VIDEO EXTRAS: Along with outtakes, there’s a nifty interactive database that allows viewers to explore the world of the franchise through bios, video clips and more. There’s also a look at Nakashima, the lead Japanese zombie and a reunion of cast members from previous installments in the series.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $240.2M on a $65M production budget.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Silent Hill

FINAL RATING: 6.5/10

NEXT: Six Days of Darkness 2013 concludes!

The Big Bang


Noir, 21st Century-style.

Noir, 21st Century-style.

(2010) Mystery (Anchor Bay) Antonio Banderas, Sienna Guillory, James van der Beek, Snoop Dogg, Autumn Reeser, Sam Elliot, Jimmi Simpson, Thomas Kretschmann, William Fichtner, Robert Maillet, Delroy Lindo, Bill Duke, Rebecca Mader, Robert Ernie Lee, Rachel Handler, Sean Cook, Khanh Doan, Keith MacGeagh, Chandra Bailey. Directed by Tony Krantz

When you think of film noir, you think of hard-bitten detectives in rumpled suits, gorgeous dames in dresses two sizes too tight and big bruising thugs with brass knuckles. You think of soft black and white, foggy back alleys and sleazy private investigator offices. You think of Bogart, Bacall, Mitchum and Greenstreet. You don’t think of Antonio Banderas and neon colored strip clubs.

But they can be noir too. In this celluloid extravaganza Banderas is Ned Cruz, a P.I. from the mean streets of L.A. A Russian boxer named Anton “The Pro” Protopov (Maillet), freshly release from prison after killing a man in the ring, is looking for a girl. Not just any girl though – you can find one on the Internet – but the lovely Lexi Persimmon. You heard me. Anyway, she wrote him a bunch of letters in the slam but gave the galoot no info to go on, no address, no social security, no phone number – not even an e-mail.

There’s also this stash of $40 million in blood diamonds, a waitress named Fay (Reeser) who loves particle physics, a porn director (Dogg) who loves his product a little too much, a kinky movie star (van der Beek) with a dark secret, a cross-dressing nuclear physicist (Simpson), a crazy billionaire (Elliot) obsessed with finding the God particle and willing to re-create the Big Bang in the New Mexico desert to do it and the billionaire’s wife (Guillory) who might be the key to the whole sordid tale. Oh, and did we mention the three brutal cops (Kretschmann, Lindo and Fichtner) chasing down Cruz to find out where the diamonds are?

On paper this really does sound like my kind of movie – something smart but timeless, using the conventions of a noir detective thriller with a touch of sci-fi and a little bit of black humor mixed in. However, references to physics and science doesn’t necessarily a smart film make although this one is pretty clever in places.

Banderas is an engaging star but I didn’t really believe him in the role. Ned Cruz should have been a lot more badass than pretty boy; in some ways I think Danny Trejo might have been more suitable but of course Banderas is the bigger box office draw so from that standpoint I can’t really blame the producers.

The cast is pretty impressive for a low budget thriller with a tiny distributor but not many of them get the kind of screen time that makes for much of an impression. Most are little more than cameos although Elliot seems to be having the most fun playing the kind of character he rarely gets to play while Simpson camps it up nicely. Reeser and Guillory really don’t have much more to do but look pretty which to be fair they do very, very well – but I suspect if their characters had been given a little more fleshing out they would have risen to the challenge as well.

I don’t think the movie achieves everything the filmmakers set out to do, but it is entertaining enough to be worth a look-see. Although I criticized his casting earlier, Banderas at least does an adequate job of playing the tough guy and of course doing the narration which is a noir tradition. While the movie takes a few left turns too many, it nonetheless at least doesn’t disgrace the genre and given that since its heyday many have tried but few have succeeded in giving us a good noir thriller I have to at least admire the attempt.

WHY RENT THIS: A noir thriller involving particle physics – I can’t make this stuff up. Decent cast.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Goes a little bit off into left field occasionally.

FAMILY VALUES: There is some nudity and quite a bit of sexuality (some of it graphic), a bit of foul language and some violence.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: There was an extended sex scene shot that got the film an NC-17 rating that was removed from the film in order to bring it down to an R rating; director Krantz refers to it on the home video commentary track but the scene isn’t included on the Blu-Ray release.

NOTABLE HOME VIDEO EXTRAS: None listed.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: Not available

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid

FINAL RATING: 6/10

NEXT: The Perfect Host

Resident Evil: Afterlife


Resident Evil: Afterlife

A triple treat for Milla Jovovich fans!

(2010) Sci-Fi Horror Action (Screen Gems) Milla Jovovich, Aly Larter, Kim Coates, Shawn Roberts, Sergio Peris-Mencheta, Spencer Locke, Boris Kodjoe, Wentworth Miller, Sienna Guillory, Kacey Barnfield, Norman Yeung, Fulvio Cecere, Ray Olubuwale.  Directed by Paul W.S. Anderson

The term “popcorn movies” refers to movies that are kind of lightweight, don’t require a lot of thought and are thoroughly entertaining. For some critics, popcorn movies are a dirty word. For moviegoers however, they are often the reason they go to the multiplex in the first place.

Alice (Jovovich), the superhuman T-virus recipient of the Umbrella Corporation, invades their Tokyo facility with a small army of her clones in order to take out Albert Wesker (Roberts), the malevolent CEO who unleashed the horror of undead flesh eaters on the world and effectively instituted Armageddon.

Wesker escapes but not before infecting Alice with an antidote to the T-Virus, effectively taking away all her superhuman attributes and rendering her human once again. At a crossroads, she decides to fly to Alaska to link up with the friends she sent up there to find Arcadia, the reputed safe haven for non-infected humans. Instead, she is attacked by her friend Claire Redfield (Larter) who has a strange device strapped on her. Alice manages to defeat Claire and take off the device, but Claire has lost most of her memories of what happened to her teammates that went up there with her.

They decide to follow the Arcadia signal which is now down in Los Angeles. There they find a group of survivors in a high security prison surrounded by zombies. The ragtag band is led by Luther West (Kodjoe), a former pro basketball player. Among them is Bennett (Coates), a self-centered former film producer, Yong (Yeung) his assistant, Crystal Waters (Barnfield), a former actress, Angel (Peris-Mencheta) a mechanic and incarcerated in the prison, Chris Redfield (Miller), Claire’s brother (small world, ain’t it).

Alice finds out that Arcadia is actually a tanker that has been moving up and down the West Coast, picking up survivors as it goes along. The plan is then to get themselves there and try to make it past the horde of survivors that surrounds them, among whom is the Executioner, a gigantic zombie carrying a gigantic hammer.

Chris claims to know an alternative way out. First, they would need to get a mobile infantry vehicle ready which Angel, Bennett and Yong are tasked to do. Second, they would need to reinforce the front gate to buy them more time to get ready, which is Luther and Claire’s job. Finally, they needed weapons and Chris, Crystal and Alice go to the armory to retrieve them.

However, their time is running out. Zombies are beginning to find ways into the prison through the sewers. The gates are failing. They are about to be betrayed from within. And once they make it to Arcadia, what is it that they are going to find there? New hope? Or a new betrayal?

Anderson, who directed the original Resident Evil and has written or co-written all of the movies in the franchise, returns to the director chair for the second time and takes the series, which had begun to look moribund after the last two movies, and revitalizes it. The action moves at a frenetic pace here and the opening Tokyo sequence is one of the best in the entire series in terms of mayhem.

One of the main reasons for seeing any of the Resident Evil movies is Jovovich. She is a genuine action star, as good as Linda Hamilton in her day or Angelina Jolie currently. Jovovich does most of her own stunts, but also is beautiful and charismatic onscreen. Going back to her days in The Fifth Element she has become one of the more reliable actresses when it comes to action movies. She’s also capable of dramatic acting, although she doesn’t get many of those sorts of roles these days.

I might have liked to have a bit more exposition in terms of some of the mutant zombies. The Executioner, for example, just shows up at the prison gate. How did he get so huge? What’s his backstory? Gamers might know the answer, or they might not care but a movie audience requires a bit more substance.

The movie kicks ass, which for the most part is all anybody picking up a disc or streaming it is after. Who’s gonna argue with a small group of attractive people kicking zombie and monster ass? Not me, I can tell you. The movie works the way it’s supposed to and leaves room for a sequel that brings back Jill Valentine (Guillory), reason enough to make fans of the series giddy. Although a giddy gamer can be a site far more terrifying than any flesh eating zombie.

WHY RENT THIS: High octane action and Jovovich make a lethal combination.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Not a lot of character development and monsters show up without explanation other than for kick-ass value.

FAMILY VALUES: Big time violence, some fairly foul language and a few disturbing images make this one I’d think twice about showing to smaller kids.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This was the first film of the series to be released in IMAX and also the highest grossing film of the series to date.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: While there isn’t much on the DVD in terms of extras, the Blu-Ray has a trivia track as well as a picture-in-picture feature (Undead-Vision) that is one of the better of these type offered. There’s also a nice nod to the gamers who make up the core of the RE audience with a feature on them called “Pwning the Undead: Gamers of the Afterlife.”

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $296.2M on a $60M production budget; the movie was a big hit.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

NEXT: Captain America: The First Avenger

Eragon


Eragon

Eragon asks Sephira for a light which proves to be a mistake.

(2006) Fantasy (20th Century Fox) Ed Speleers, Jeremy Irons, Robert Carlyle, John Malkovich, Rachel Weisz (voice), Sienna Guillory, Garret Hedlund, Alun Armstrong, Djimon Honsou, Chris Egan, Gary Lewis, Richard Rifkin, Stephen Speirs, Joss Stone.  Directed by Stefen Fangmeier

Since the advent of Harry Potter and the onscreen Lord of the Rings trilogy Hollywood has been scrambling to cash in on the fantasy bandwagon. Whereas young adult fantasy fiction has all but dominated bestseller charts, other than J.K. Rowling’s juggernaut that hasn’t translated to box office gold as of yet.

This challenger for the title starts in the magical land of Alagaesia, although the inhabitants thereof would find little magic in their lot. Once a prosperous, kindly land, it has sunk into darkness and despair. Where once wise and just Dragon Riders maintained peace and justice, a despotic King rules with an iron fist. The most terrible thing is that Galbatorix (Malkovich) was once a Dragon Rider himself, but he betrayed and slew all the dragons save one egg, which his sorcerer Durza (Carlyle) is unable to destroy. The egg waits patiently for a Rider to bond with it before it will hatch.

In a feat of daring, Princess Arya (Guillory) steals the egg. With the King’s guards and his pet sorcerer hot on her trail, she finally runs out of time. Summoning the last of her strength, she uses a magic spell to transport the egg out of danger. The spell leaves her exhausted and she is captured by Durza.

Eragon (Speleers), a young farm boy, is out hunting when a bright light attracts his attention. He finds a bright blue stone, the like of which he’s never seen before. When he touches it, it burns him in a strange, reptilian pattern on his palm. He decides not to tell his Uncle Garrow (Armstrong) about what he has found, but rather goes into town to try to sell the item. When the shopkeeper finds out that Eragon picked it up in the King’s Preserve, he turns pale and tells him to get it out of the village at once lest it bring ruin on them all.

Disappointed, Eragon is sitting in the local tavern when he overhears Brom (Irons), the village whacko, talk about the near mythical Dragon Riders. This is broken up by King’s Guards, who don’t like the mention of the Riders. Eragon goes home to discover that what he thought was a stone was in fact an egg and it has hatched – a dragon. The dragon grows remarkably quickly into adulthood, and to Eragon’s astonishment, he discovers he can hear the dragon’s thoughts. She tells him her name is Sephira (Weisz) and that he is her rider.

Confused, Eragon seeks out the only man who seems to know anything about dragons – Brom. When Brom finally is convinced that Eragon is not lying, he warns him that his life is in danger – the King will want him and his dragon slain. Eragon realizes that his Uncle Garrow is in mortal danger and races back for the farm, but is too late. Garrow has been murdered. The two must flee, and Brom is dead set on taking Eragon to the Varden, rebels against the King who live in inaccessible mountains. Durza, however, is hot on their trail and his spies are everywhere. Eragon is hot-headed and impulsive, and clashes with Brom at nearly every turn. Add to that visions of Arya that move Eragon to seek her out with some urgency and it looks like his destiny to reclaim justice and peace for Alagaesia may end before it begins.

The big knock on this movie has been that it borrows quite heavily from both The Lord of the Rings and Star Wars mythologies. Quite frankly, the story of Eragon seems to have been lifted from the original Star Wars virtually intact. That’s not a sin in and of itself; both of those stories were plundered from mythologies even more ancient than their own. Still, Eragon doesn’t seem to have any sort of fresh perspective to the tale; instead, this seems to be a re-telling more than anything. One has to keep in mind that original author Christopher Paolini was a teenager at the time; for his age he’s a terrific writer but let’s face it – he’s got a long way to go to be up there with Tolkein, Brooks and Jordan. Still, you have to give the kid some slack.

To the good, it has some nice performances from Irons, Carlyle and Malkovich. Speleers doesn’t do spectacularly well, but he at least fares better than the wholly wooden performance of Hayden Christensen in the second Star Wars trilogy. The CG dragon Sephira is also magnificent; she looks like a cross between a bird and a dinosaur, and comes off as a magnificent creature with an underlying personality. She’s half the reason to see the movie.

As fantasy movies go, this one doesn’t fare too badly thanks largely to some of the veteran actors in it who at least give it the old college try, even if the material is somewhat cliche and unremarkable. However, if you’re looking for another Lord of the Rings or even another Harry Potter, look elsewhere. Fox hedged their bets by only committing to filming the first book. I didn’t see a particular reason to continue with the second, and unless the box office picks up and I would imagine the accountants at Fox won’t either.

WHY RENT THIS: Spectacular CGI dragon and sterling performances from Irons, Malkovich and Carlyle.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Uninspired, derivative storyline lifting unashamedly from Star Wars and Lord of the Rings. Speleers doesn’t make a particularly charismatic leading man.

FAMILY MATTERS: There are some semi-graphic battle sequences, a few images that aren’t for the squeamish and some fantasy violence.

TRIVIAL PURSUITS: Alex Pettyfer was offered the role but turned it down because the movie was filming in Budapest and he was afraid of flying, a fear he has since gotten over.

NOTABLE DVD FEATURES: There’s an interview with Paolini on the trilogy of books he has written (for which Eragon is the first) as well as a look at the second book in the triology (which would never be filmed and doesn’t look like it will be anytime soon).  This is available only on the two-disc DVD and Blu-Ray editions.

FINAL BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $249.5M on a $100M production budget; the movie was only slightly profitable.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

TOMORROW: Insidious

New Releases for the Week of September 10, 2010


Resident Evil: Afterlife

Unfortunately, this isn’t an S&M fantasy: Milla Jovovich is going to kick some SERIOUS ass!

RESIDENT EVIL: AFTERLIFE

(Screen Gems) Milla Jovovich, Ali Larter, Kim Coates, Shawn Roberts, Boris Kodjoe, Sienna Guillory, Spencer Locke, Wentworth Miller, Sergio Peris-Menchta. Directed by Paul W.S. Anderson

In the fourth installment of the franchise based on a hit videogame, superhuman Alice continues to search for survivors in a world ravaged by a bio-plague unleashed by the Umbrella Corporation that turns people into flesh-eating zombies. She finds an unexpected ally when she runs into an old friend. With clues pointing to a small survivor enclave in Los Angeles, Alice and her ragged band of humans walk into a deadly trap, but escape it to force a deadly confrontation with Umbrella’s executives. Talk about global downsizing!

See the trailer, promo, featurette, clips and interviews here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard, 3D, IMAX 3D

Genre: Action Horror

Rating: R (for sequences of strong violence and language)

Flipped

(Warner Brothers) Madeline Carroll, Callan McAuliffe, John Mahoney, Aidan Quinn. For 7-year-old Juli, it’s love at first sight. For 7-year-old Bryce, it’s a horror beyond imagining. For the next five years, Bryce does everything in his power to hold the love-besotted Juli at bay, until finally he does something that may rip Juli’s heart into pieces. By then, Bryce begins to realize that he kind of likes the girl. Is it too late? This is based on Wendelin Van Draanen’s book and is directed by Rob Reiner.

See the trailer, interviews and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Romantic Comedy

Rating: PG (for language and some thematic material)

Inkheart


Me...and my...shaaah...dow!!!

Me...and my...shaaah...dow!!!

(New Line) Brendan Fraser, Paul Bettany, Andy Serkis, Helen Mirren, Eliza Hope Bennett, Jim Broadbent, Sienna Guillory, Jennifer Connelly, Jamie Foreman, Rafi Gavron, Roger Allam (voice), John Thomson, Steve Speirs, Matt King, Stephen Graham. Directed by Iain Softley.

Few things in our experience are as powerful as the written word. With it, we can inform, entertain, transport, amaze, horrify, shock, save and titillate. Even in this electronic information age, most of us still get our information by reading something, whether on a printed page or on a computer screen. The most glorious thing is that the written word still has the power to fire up our imaginations to the point where the limitless is possible.

However, there is a far more dangerous magic in the written word. Certain people, called silvertongues, can literally bring the pages of a story to life when they read it aloud. The drawback is that when a character from a fictional universe is brought to the real world, a real person must be sent to the fictional universe to balance things out. As you might guess, people with this gift are few and far between, and those that do have it tend to keep it on the down-low if they use it at all.

Expert bookbinder Mo Folchart (Fraser) learned the hard way about the dangers of this gift. Reading aloud a fantasy story called Inkheart, he drew two characters from its pages; Dustfinger (Bettany), an itinerant fire juggler whose heart is in the right place, but whose courage and integrity are lacking, and Capricorn (Serkis), a genuinely menacing villain who cheerfully plans world domination with an urbane smoothness that wouldn’t be out of place in a Bond movie. While Dustfinger desperately wants to return home to his wife (Connelly in a very small role) and kids, Serkis prefers this world, where guns and Silvertongues make evil easier.

 What compels Folchart is that his wife Resa (Guillory) was sucked into the pages of Inkheart to replace Capricorn. Now he travels Europe with his precocious daughter Meggie (Bennett) in tow. Meggie is frustrated that she is aware something odd is going on, and is bothered by the nagging feeling that her father knows a lot more than he’s telling her, particularly about her mother’s disappearance. She gets the feeling somebody is chasing him, even as he is searching for something, a specific book.

When Dustfinger catches up with Folchart, the bookbinder is none too pleased to see him. In fact, Folchart runs away with Meggie, barely escaping the grasp of the juggler. Folchart and Meggie head to the home of Great-Aunt Elinor (Mirren). She is abrasive and unfriendly, but once you get past the outward unpleasantness she actually is loyal and loving. Still, she’s unprepared for her sanctuary to be invaded by men with evil intent, and her beloved antique book collection torched.

A desperate Dustfinger has led Capricorn’s men to Folchart, and the bookbinder, his daughter and Great-Aunt Elinor are taken to Capricorn’s castle, where he has a collection of creatures from the pages of fiction – the flying monkeys of “The Wizard of Oz,” the minotaur from Homer’s “The Odyssey,” the Tick-Tock crocodile from “Peter Pan” and the unicorn from the tales of King Arthur. The villain there reveals his plans – for Folchart to bring into this world a truly terrifying monster from the pages of Inkheart – the Shadow.

Director Softley has things like Hackers and K-PAX to his credit, which doesn’t really tell you how he did here. Filming in the beautiful Italian Riviera, as well as the Bourne Woods of Surrey, the cinematography has an otherworldliness that compliments the mood of the novel nicely. While it follows the plot of the Cornelia Funke novel it’s based on nicely, the movie is a bit less grim than its literary counterpart.

Fraser has been a capable action hero ever since his work in The Mummy and is proving to be quite a draw for family films as he showed in Journey to the Center of the Earth. He is less dashing and less heroic than other characters he’s played; his Mortimer Folchart is handicapped by his own guilt, and in trying to be protective of his daughter, causes her more pain than perhaps was necessary. I personally would have liked to see there be more of a rift between them – it’s hard to believe a 12-year-old girl would be too forgiving of a father who kept her in the dark most of her life about what really happened to her mother.

The central character in the book is Meggie, and while she technically is here as well, this isn’t her movie. Bennett is better than average in her performance, but when contending with actors the caliber of Mirren, Broadbent, Bettany, Fraser and Serkis, someone a little more memorable might have been better. She’s supposed to be the focus of the movie but she is clearly out of her depth here, so by default it become’s Mortimer’s story.

 My problem is that the writer gives these silvertongues immense power, but they rarely use it logically. Oh, when they’re forced to do it they can and will read things out of the classic stories, but for example when one silvertongue is imprisoned in a crypt with the Jim Broadbent character (who plays the author of Inkheart who is suffering from a massive case of writer’s block), while they are able to write all sorts of things for the silvertongue to read at the movie’s conclusion, they don’t think of writing something simple like “The locked door swung open of it’s own accord and the prisoners stepped out and escaped.” Of course, that would have made too much sense.

While the acting is top-notch, the special effects are nice and the scenery is beautiful, one of the problems I have is that this kind of movie needs a heart, something that will stay with the viewer long after they’ve gone home. Inkheart doesn’t have one. Bettany comes close, but his character is so weak-willed, and uses the excuse “I was written that way” to explain away his awful choices, so it becomes hard to root for him. Fraser is also curiously restrained; I think a little more Rick O’Connell might have served the movie better.

While this was ostensibly marketed for kids (and there were a bunch of them at the showing I attended), I wouldn’t characterize this strictly as a kid’s movie. Yes, the kids are going to enjoy this, but there is a great deal of violence and the Shadow is going to be far too scary for younger children. There is enough here, however, that make this a solid enough family movie that I can recommend without feeling guilty about it.

WHY RENT THIS: Gorgeous scenery. Nice performances from the supporting roles. Nice fantasy action and a truly frightening villain.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Lapses in logic. Some characters a bit too weak to really support. Lacks heart.

FAMILY VALUES: The Shadow is a bit much for younger children. There is also some violence, but all in all just fine for most kids.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Author Cornelia Funke wrote the part of Mo “Silvertongue” Folchert with Brendan Fraser in mind.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: Actress Eliza Bennett reads a passage from the book that didn’t make it into the movie. Using “Reading Rainbow” style visuals as well as illustrations from the novel gives the sequence some visual kick.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

TOMORROW: Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen