Ricki and the Flash


Rick Springfield and Meryl Streep are getting lost in the rock and roll.

Rick Springfield and Meryl Streep are getting lost in the rock and roll.

(2015) Dramedy (Tri-Star) Meryl Streep, Kevin Kline, Mamie Gummer, Rick Springfield, Sebastian Stan, Nick Westrate, Rick Rosas, Bernie Worrell, Joe Vitale, Ben Platt, Audra McDonald, Big Jim Wheeler, Keala Settle, Joe Toutebon, Aaron Clifton Moten, Peter C. Demme, Adam Shulman, Charlotte Rae, Bill Irwin, Gabriel Ebert, Lisa Joyce, Hailey Gates. Directed by Jonathan Demme

I was a rock critic in the Bay Area for more than a decade and in that time I spent a whole lot of time in bars seeing a whole lot of bands. It was during this time that I developed a healthy respect, even an appreciation for bar bands. This is generally used as a derogatory term, but there is a kind of nobility about bar bands that the big stadium bands often lack. I’ve had more fun listening to a bar band do covers than listening to the bands that originated them in a big, impersonal arena.

Ricki Rendazzo (Streep) didn’t always want to front a bar band. She went to L.A. with dreams of becoming a rock star, and even made a single album – on vinyl, to give you an idea of how long ago this was – which sank like a stone. She’s never really given up on her rock and roll dream but she has more or less come to terms that she is never going to open for the Rolling Stones, but now middle aged, she clerks at a grocery store to make ends meet and pays gigs at a local bar to keep her from going insane. She is having a relationship with Greg (Springfield), her lead guitarist, although she doesn’t like to acknowledge it publicly.

Then again, Ricki has a history with relationships and it isn’t good. She has a family – an ex-husband and three kids – but she abandoned them to chase her rock and roll dream and another woman raised them. Her relationship with her children is pretty rocky to say the least.

Then she gets a call from her ex, Pete (Kline) – her daughter Julie (Gummer) was deserted by her husband who left her for another woman, and she’s taken it hard. She hasn’t changed clothes in days, hasn’t bathed, mopes in her room, hasn’t eaten and barely talks to anyone. Pete is desperate; his wife Maureen (McDonald) is away tending to her own father who is in the end stage of Alzheimer’s and he needs help with Julie. So despite being bankrupt, she scrapes together what little cash she has – all of it – and buys a ticket to Indianapolis.

There she discovers that Pete has done very well for himself with a beautiful house in a gated community. Ricki, being Ricki, comes dressed like an 80s rocker chick – which is what she is – with an oddball braided hair style that no decade would be willing to claim as its own. She’s a bit like a tornado, inflicting damage indiscriminately and impossible to ignore. Her sons Adam (Westrate) who is gay and wants nothing to do with her, and Josh (Stan) who is relatively warm to her but is getting married soon and hasn’t invited her, make obligatory appearances. Ricki though starts to connect with Julie somewhat, at least bringing her out of her funk. Then Maureen returns, and Ricki is summarily dismissed.

Back at home, she goes back to her life of weekly gigs, working at the grocery store and living on almost nothing. However, her time back in Indy has given her an appreciation for not being alone and her relationship with Greg begins to flower as a result of it. Out of the blue she gets an invitation to Josh’s wedding; part of her wants to go, part of her is scared that she’s not wanted and most of her knows that she couldn’t afford a plane ticket even if she wanted to go. Can rock and roll save Ricki Rendazzo?

As I said, I’ve spent a lot of time in bars and I’m guessing Diablo Cody, who wrote this thing based on the experiences of her mother-in-law, has as well. She gets the vibe perfectly, although bands with the talent that the Flash have are pretty few and far between – that’s one of the charms of a bar band is that for the most part they have more passion than talent. The world’s best bar band is Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band, a fact that the movie gives a respectful nod to. However, few bar bands have the pedigree of the Flash – with Springfield on guitar, Parliament/Funkadelic keyboardist Bernie Worrell, session drummer Joe Vitale and Neil Young’s bass player Rick Rosas who sadly passed away after this was filmed. The movie has the advantage of using these musicians, and Streep showed in Mamma Mia that she’s a good singer and while she is more of a Bonnie Raitt kind of vocalist and less of a belter, she holds her own vocally.

Streep isn’t afraid to show she’s getting on; clearly Ricki’s best days are behind her but she still is a handsome woman who looks pretty damn good in a leather catsuit. Streep’s creation of this character is dead on; I’ve met many women like her who are kind of a stuck in an era and for whom the music is everything. Ricki is through and through a rocker chick and would not think that an unfair description. She wears her allegiance proudly.

Kline is one of my favorite actors and here he plays a bit of a square, but when he’s around Ricki he actually blossoms a bit. Usually in pictures of this sort the gender roles are reversed but Pete realizes that he has to be the responsible one for his kids and when he’s left holding the bag at last, he finds himself the most stable woman he can to be their mom. Kline is at his best when he’s playing characters that are a little bit oblivious to the world around them and Pete carries that quality as well. Streep and Kline are two of the best actors in the business and watching them together is a rare treat.

Streep also gets to act with her real life daughter who plays her onscreen daughter and Gummer shows that she didn’t get the part through any sort of nepotism; the lady can act as well and while there will always be her mom’s shadow looming around her, one has to admit that Streep’s shadow really covers nearly every actress of the last 20 years – that’s how good she is – and Gummer handles it extraordinarily well. We darn tootin’ will see more of Gummer and in, I predict, some higher profile roles.

The music here is mainly covers, which is as it should be. The Flash are as I’ve explained above a lot better than the average bar band in covering these songs, and they certainly don’t disgrace any of them. That’s a plus for a movie like this.

Where the movie falters the most is that the cliche monster is actively working on some of the scenes and plot points. We know how this is going to end almost from the moment the movie kicks into gear with Ricki singing Tom Petty’s “American Girl” and to be honest, the characters are so compelling that you don’t mind that the movie is heading to an obligatory feel good vibe. The point the movie is trying to make I guess is that family is family, even when they make horrible mistakes. There is redemption even for the most unforgivable errors within family and that is true enough. Demme, who is into his 70s now and has had a hell of a career of his own, understands that. This really isn’t typical of a Jonathan Demme film, but then again he’s made a career out of keeping audiences guessing.

This isn’t disposable entertainment exactly, but it is as close as you can get to it in a movie that Meryl Streep is in. Like the local bar with the local cover band playing on a Thursday night, it is a movie that demands you have a good time whether you want to or not. It is a movie that reeks of stale beer, desperate women with too much perfume and too much make-up, working class men who are desperate to relive their glory days, and the soundtrack of a generation that is now, as your critic is, a bit long in the tooth. And Amen, Amen, Amen to all that.

REASONS TO GO: Streep and Kline are always worth seeing. Gets the bar band vibe right.
REASONS TO STAY: A little too cliche a little too often. Tends to use a sledgehammer to make its points.
FAMILY VALUES: Here you will find some drug use, foul language, sexuality and adult content.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Streep and Kline previously starred together in Sophie’s Choice, for which Streep won her second Oscar. At the time, Streep was pregnant with her daughter Mamie who would play her daughter in this film, 33 years later.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 8/29/15: Rotten Tomatoes: 61% positive reviews. Metacritic: 54/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: It’s Complicated
FINAL RATING: 6.5/10
NEXT: Sinister 2

Real Genius


Party on, nerds!

Party on, nerds!

(1985) Comedy (Tri-Star) Val Kilmer, Gabe Jarret, Michelle Meyrink, William Atherton, Jonathan Gries, Patti D’Arbanville, Stacy Peralta, Ed Lauter, Louis Giambalvo, Charles Shull, Robert Prescott, Mark Kamiyama, Tom Swerdlow, Randolph Dreyfuss, Dean Devlin, Yuji Okumoto, Deborah Foreman, Monte Landis, Paul Tulley, Joanne Baron, Charles Parks, Beau Billingslea. Directed by Martha Coolidge

I have to admit having a great deal of fondness for movies that came out in the 80s. I was in my 20s back then (ugh!) and although I was already skewing towards a demographic that movies weren’t serving quite so much, I was still close enough to it to relate.

The 80s were kind of a transitional period, moving away from the anti-heroes that were the rage in the 70s and more towards lighter, fluffier movies that started with Star Wars and continued as special effects began to become more sophisticated. It was also a great era for comedy as directors like the recently departed Harold Ramis, the late John Hughes and Ivan Reitman were all turning out classics like Ghostbusters, Sixteen Candles and Caddyshack.

One of the more underrated comedies of that era was Real Genius. Directed by Martha Coolidge who had previously helmed Valley Girl, the movie was somewhat akin to Revenge of the Nerds which had been released the previous year.

Mitch Taylor (Jarret) is a 15-year-old science prodigy who has been accepted into the physics program at Pacific Tech (a ringer for Cal Tech) headed by none other than television scientist and personality Dr. Jerry Hathaway (Atherton). Not only that, he’ll be rooming with Chris Knight (Kilmer), a legend in the honors student community who is now a senior at Pacific Tech.

However, Mitch finds that college isn’t exactly the way he thought it would be. The brilliant Knight is more interested in partying and playing elaborate practical jokes than he is in studying and preparing to become the next generation of scientists and engineers that will shape the future of our world. And, just like in high school, there are a group of bullies led by Kent (Prescott) who mercilessly badger and tease young Mitch. Kent it seems is insecure about his position with Dr. Hathaway and sees Mitch as a threat – and for good reason as it turns out as Dr. Hathaway puts Mitch in charge of finding a way to power a four megawatt laser, a project both Chris and Kent had previously been in charge of.

However, things aren’t all bad although the pressure on Mitch is spectacular. He meets Jordan (Meyrink), a hyperactive insomniac who is sweet on him – and vice versa. There is also a mysterious figure who lives in his closet, one Lazlo Hollyfeld (Gries) who was smarter than both Mitch and Chris but cracked when he found out the research that he was doing had been used for weapons.

The stress is growing to the breaking point for Mitch despite Chris’ admonition to blow off steam. The pressure is also growing on Dr. Hathaway, who had been given a grant to get results but was fobbing off the work on his students (who were working for free) and using the money to remodel his house. At last he tells Chris that the job waiting for him after he graduates will evaporate – in fact, he won’t graduate because Dr. Hathaway will fail him no matter what he does in class.

After a disastrous test melts down the laser (due to sabotage from Kent), Chris has an epiphany and gets the laser to work. However, when Lazlo wonders why they are celebrating, he asks them what the use of such a powerful laser would be and there is only one – as a weapon. Devastated, these brilliant students must find a way to make sure their research is never used – and at the same time, get even with those who betrayed them.

The humor here is more gentle and less raunchy than what we’re used to today, and there is a certain amount of sweetness, particularly in the relationship between Mitch and Jordan. Kilmer, who more often than not has been cast in dramatic roles in his career, was at that point a fine comic actor (remember Top Secret?) who had a bit of a quirky edge to him. He is really the center of the movie in many ways although the protagonist is ostensibly Mitch.

Jarret was a bit underwhelming as Mitch although I suspect that is as much by design as anything else. Mitch, as written, is a bit of a doormat so at times the character seems to be dragged about by whatever current is taking him. That makes it hard for an audience to get behind him and certainly to remember him. Easily it will be Meyrink and Kilmer who most will remember about this movie.

While the film is a bit dated in places (anything about technology will look dated 20 and 30 years on), the science is surprisingly sound (with the exception of the final prank which was recently debunked by Mythbusters). To this day, a laser as powerful as the one depicted here has yet to be invented although by the standards of the time the theory was apparently sound.

While this isn’t my favorite film or even my favorite comedy from the era, it remains one of those pleasures I’ve seen dozens of times and never get tired of. It doesn’t re-invent the wheel, Coolidge has a decent story to work with that she tells flawlessly and the performances are spot on. While some young whippersnappers have complained about the soundtrack, it is evocative of its times and any movie that spotlights Tears for Fears “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” is okay in my book.

WHY RENT THIS: Light and fun, not to mention funny. Kilmer is a fine comic actor. The science is also surprisingly sound.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Somewhat dated in places.

FAMILY VALUES:  A few bad words, some sensuality.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: In the scene where a procession of cars is arranged for a test firing of the laser, the cars are set up to mirror the motorcade of President Kennedy when he was assassinated.

NOTABLE HOME VIDEO EXTRAS: None listed.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $12.9M on an unreported production budget.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Weird Science

FINAL RATING: 7.5/10

NEXT: The Lie

Sleepless in Seattle


An affair to truly remember.

An affair to truly remember.

(1993) Romance (Tri-Star) Tom Hanks, Meg Ryan, Rosie O’Donnell, Bill Pullman, Victor Garber, Ross Malinger, Rita Wilson, Carey Lowell, David Hyde Pierce, Barbara Garrick, Frances Conroy, Tom Riis Farrell, Rob Reiner, Gaby Hoffman, Dana Ivey, Calvin Trillin, Michael Badalucco, Kevin O’Morrison, La Clanche du Rand, Tom Tammi, Valerie Wright, Caroline Aaron. Directed by Nora Ephron

CINEMAOFTHEHEART-5

Back in the 90s (and who knows, maybe it’s still true) radio call-in shows were big. Many of them provided a kind of social service, therapy for those who couldn’t afford a therapist and didn’t mind thousands of people (and maybe millions in the case of syndicated talk show hosts) listened in on their problems and phobias.

Annie Reed (Ryan) is a reporter for the Baltimore Sun. She doesn’t really believe in romance, although she believes that she doesn’t want to be alone. She’s engaged to Walter (Pullman), a nice enough guy who clearly adores her but she just doesn’t feel inspired, particularly as Walter is allergic to – um, everything. She listens to the Dr. Marcia (Aaron) show late at night and yaks about it with her good friend and editor Becky (O’Donnell) the next day.

Sam Baldwin (Hanks) – not one of the lost Baldwin brothers – is in a deep funk. His wife Maggie (Lowell) succumbed to cancer a year and a half ago but things just aren’t getting any better, not even after moving to Seattle from Chicago with his son Jonah (Malinger). Jonah worries about his dad, who can’t seem to get past his wife’s death and resume living and maybe even find happiness. Sam is skeptical about it – he knew he had found his soulmate from the first touch. “It was magic,” he muses, “You don’t get that lucky twice.”

Jonah is so concerned that he phones in the Dr. Marcia show and calls his dad to the phone. Reluctantly he gets on and tells his story and as Dr. Marcia coaxes his feelings about Maggie out of him, Sam is so eloquent, so heartfelt, so lost that he stimulates the maternal instincts of every woman listening. From then on he gets bags of mail from women proposing marriage or just wanting to meet.

One of the listeners is Annie who is drawn to his story. After watching a rebroadcast of An Affair to Remember she impulsively writes an expressive letter to Sam, proposing that they meet at the top of the Empire State Building on Valentine’s Day. At the urging of Becky (who also mails the letter after Annie chickens out), she flies out to Seattle to ostensibly do a story on the talk radio phenomenon but primarily to find Sam. However, after seeing him with his sister Suzy (Wilson) she gets the mistaken impression that he has a girlfriend and flees back to Baltimore, ready to marry Walter.

In the meantime, Jonah reads Annie’s letter and tries to get his dad, who by now is dating a co-worker (Garrick) that Jonah hates, to make the rendezvous but Sam refuses. Instead, Jonah writes Annie as Sam and tells her that he’ll be there.

More I will not tell you. Either you know what happens so there’s no point in recapping the plot further, or you don’t know and I don’t want to ruin the expert heartstring tugging you’ll undergo. Romantic movies tend to be very much formulaic these days, but this one is certainly not. Yes, it does borrow liberally from classic romances (particularly the aforementioned An Affair to Remember) but it’s smarter than most rom-coms and treats its audience as intelligent people while gently poking fun at how men and women express their emotions.

The interesting thing about this movie is that Hanks and Ryan spend very little screen time together but are often considered to be one of the prime screen couples of the last 20 years – yes, it’s been two decades since this came out. The characters are so compelling thanks in no small part to the sterling performances by Hanks and Ryan that people root for them to be together with unbridled fervor. The chemistry between the two is often discussed when this picture comes up for discussion, but maybe people are channeling their performances from Joe vs. the Volcano which they both previously starred in. They would go on to do one more movie together but for many they are the greatest screen couple since Hepburn and Tracy.

The interesting thing is that Walter, Annie’s fiancée, is really a nice guy whose only fault is that he’s not Tom Hanks. Pullman and O’Donnell both deliver solid supporting performances. The only acting letdown belongs to Malinger and it’s really through no fault of his own; the script (particularly during the last third which focuses more on him) calls on him to do more precocious things and instead of being cute it becomes painfully obnoxious. He’s one of those screen kids who knows better than adults and outwits them, often with the help of his friend Jessica (Hoffman).

This is one of the classic romantic movies. There are women who get misty-eyed at the mere mention of the film. As Valentine’s Day cuddle movies go, you could certainly do much worse. Undoubtedly putting this on the TV and snuggling up together with some microwaved popcorn and a couple of glasses of wine could lead to a memorable evening of your own.

WHY RENT THIS: Terrific performances by Hanks and Ryan. The prototypical multi-hankie modern romance.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: The kid can be a bit obnoxious.

FAMILY VALUES:  There’s some mild bad language.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The radio call-in listener Desperate in Denver is voiced by Nora Ephron.

NOTABLE HOME VIDEO EXTRAS: The most recent limited edition Blu-Ray includes a separate score only track as well as a music video.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $227.8M on a $21M production budget.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: An Affair to Remember

FINAL RATING: 8.5/10

NEXT: The LEGO Movie

Evil Dead (2013)


Better Evil Dead than Evil Red.

Better Evil Dead than Evil Red.

(2013) Horror (Tri-Star) Jane Levy, Shiloh Fernandez, Lou Taylor Pucci, Jessica Lucas, Elizabeth Blackmore, Phoenix Connolly, Jim McLarty, Sian Davis, Stephen Butterworth, Karl Willetts, Randal Wilson, Rupert Degas (voice), Bob Dorian (voice), Ellen Sandweiss (voice). Directed by Fede Alvarez

One of the best horror films of the 1980s and a personal favorite of mine was 1981’s Evil Dead which starred Bruce Campbell and was directed by a young Sam Raimi. Now it’s getting the remake treatment (although Raimi and Campbell are on board as producers); is it worth the effort?

Five friends gather in a remote cabin which belongs to David (Fernandez) and Mia (Levy). David’s girlfriend Natalie (Blackmore), best friend Eric (Pucci) and his girlfriend, RN Olivia (Lucas) are there not for drunken revelry but for a more sober reason – to get drug-addicted Mia straight. She’s going to quit cold turkey and David, who’s been absent from her life (hell, he’s been absent from everybody’s life) is getting the cold shoulder from Eric and Mia and to a larger extent, he deserves it.

Mia soon begins ranting about seeing a strange young girl in the woods, and complains about a terrible smell. When they discover a hidden door that goes into the basement, they are shocked to find all sorts of dead cats hanging from the ceiling, some burned alive. They also find a book, wrapped in barbed wire and all but screaming “DO NOT READ. YOU’LL BE SORRY…”

What does Eric, the supposedly smart one do? Reads it aloud. Are you effin kidding me? And of course all Hell literally breaks loose – Mia goes for a walk in the woods and gets attacked and restrained by the trees, at which point the young girl vomits up a kind of cross between a vine and a snake and that….well, you can guess where it goes. Maybe not.

After which the young people get picked off one by one, becoming possessed, desperately trying to hack off their infected limb before the entity takes over and then…being taken over anyway. It’s grueling, gory and only 90 minutes long, by which time either you will care what happens to the survivors (assuming there are any) or you won’t. It all kind of depends on how you view horror movies in general.

This one isn’t all that bad despite the fact that it suffers from Young People Doing Incredibly Stupid Things syndrome. Of course it’s easy to judge the reactions of people from the safety of a movie theater with a mouthful of popcorn being chewed noisily, ice cold soft drink at the ready to wash it down with. I assume that in a situation in which my perception of reality was challenged I might actually…panic. I might not even act heroically which of course throughout the movie I’m thinking “David you idiot! If it were my sister, I’d shoot her in the head in a heartbeat.” The trouble is, I don’t think I could shoot my sister in the head, even if I knew she were literally suffering the tortures of the damned. I’m not sure if that makes me a coward – in the context of horror movies, however, it makes me a wimp of the highest order of magnitude.

The performances are solid enough for movies of this type with Suburgatory‘s Levy getting the most props for her portrayal of a troubled, addicted young woman. There is plenty of gore, nearly all of it practical which for my money looks a lot better to this point than the computer generated stuff. There are some pretty decent scares as well, although more of the roller coaster variety than the slow build-up and payoff type.

There are a couple of things missing here. First and foremost is the sly humor that marked the original – this is much more serious horror, no sly winks or edgy gags. And no Bruce Campbell who was responsible for a lot of the not-taken-seriousness of the first trilogy. That sense of humor is what made the original trilogy a classic; by comparison the remake is a bit stodgy.

That doesn’t mean it isn’t without its own charms however. While it doesn’t really hold up to the original, it does what it’s supposed to do competently and as modern horror films go, it holds up its end of the bargain adequately.

REASONS TO GO: Some pretty impressive visuals and scares. Maybe the ultimate “lonely cabin in the woods” story.

REASONS TO STAY: Needs a Bruce Campbell sort to make it work. In the end nothing really distinguishes it.

FAMILY VALUES:  There is a ton of blood, guts and ultra-violence, plenty of bad language and some sexual references.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Swanberg directed six films that were filmed in 2010 (and co-directed a seventh), one of the busiest years for a single director since the silent era.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 4/24/13: Rotten Tomatoes: 62% positive reviews. Metacritic: 57/100; the critical acclaim wasn’t exactly overwhelming.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Cabin in the Woods

FINAL RATING: 6/10

NEXT: Big Star: Nothing Can Hurt Me

Colombiana


Colombiana

Zoe Saldana does her gratuitously sexy dance.

(2011) Action (Tri-Star) Zoe Saldana, Jordi Molla, Lennie James, Michael Vartan, Cliff Curtis, Amandla Stenberg, Beto Benites, Jesse Borrego, Cynthia Addai-Robinson, Angel Garnica, Ofelia Medina, Callum Blue, Sam Douglas. Directed by Olivier Megaton

Revenge can be an all-consuming emotion, one that can change your life and become a focal point. When that happens, you run the risk of losing yourself – and your humanity – in your quest for vengeance.

Catelaya (Stenberg) is a 9-year-old girl whose parents owe money to a Colombian crime lord named Don Luis (Benites). Her dad Fabio (Borrego) also has some sort of microchip that Don Luis wants…very badly. So badly that after Fabio settles up his debt, Don Luis sends his right hand man Marco (Molla) to execute him and his wife (Addai-Robinson).

Fabio gives Catelaya the microchip and an address in America, telling her to go to the American embassy in Bogota and give them the microchip. He then kisses his daughter goodbye and goes to meet his maker.

Catelaya gives Marco the slip (although not before plunging a butcher knife through his hand) because apparently she’s a junior parkour champion and goes leaping and cavorting through the barrio like she’s on ESPN.  Eventually she makes it to the embassy and is shipped to the United States, but escapes from the DEA and makes it to Chicago where her Uncle Emilio (Curtis) lives. There she brashly tells him she wants to be a killer and he reluctantly agrees to teach her.

Fast forward some years later and Catelaya (Saldana) is now a full-fledged assassin, having performed 22 murders of Don Luis’ men who were involved in the murder of her parents. On each of them she left a calling card – the drawing of an orchid (the one she’s named after) in lipstick. It takes the feds in the form of Agent Ross (James) two years to figure out that the killer is a woman and two years to realize she’s sending a message to someone who isn’t them.

Once Ross publishes in the papers what Catelaya is doing, Don Luis gets the message loud and clear and sends Marco and his goons out looking for Catelaya and what’s left of her family. Now it’s a race for Catelaya to flush out Don Luis before Marco finds her and finishes what he started.

This is yet another action film from producer/writer Luc Besson, who has the Transporter and District B-13 series to his credit, as well as movies like La Femme Nikita and Taken to his credit. He is known for a style of action movie that is frenetic and often has female heroines who are damaged goods, as in this one.

Saldana has the lithe athleticism you need to make the action hero moves; she just doesn’t have the personality for it, at least here. She’s supposed to be cold, calculating and emotionless but sexy when she wants to be (she has a running relationship with an artist played by Michael Vartan that seems to be all about sex) – which seem to be at odd times where there are gratuitous shots of her dancing alone or showering which I would never imagine Liam Neeson or Jason Statham doing.

Megaton and Besson are both very good at the action genre and the action element doesn’t disappoint, from the early parkour sequence to the final shoot-out. There is nothing here that really sets the bar any higher in the genre, but it is all competently done and keeps the movie’s pace frenetic.

The plot, like a lot of these sorts of films, have enough holes to drive a Hummer through but that’s ok; most people who are interested in movies like that generally don’t give a hoot about plot. The characters tend to be cliche which is pretty much standard procedure for action films. Nonetheless this is solid entertainment which doesn’t require much intellectual investment from the audience which in these troubled times can be exactly what the doctor ordered.

REASONS TO GO: Some very well-choreographed action sequences.

REASONS TO STAY: Saldana doesn’t convince she can carry the film.

FAMILY VALUES: Like most action movies, this has it all – violence, bad language, a little bit of sexuality and a few disturbing images.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The film has been criticized for portraying Colombian culture as violent and crime-oriented.

HOME OR THEATER: While the opening chase sequence looks impressive on the big screen, the rest of the movie is definitely home theater-friendly.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

TOMORROW: Harry Brown

Premonition (2007)


Premonition

"That's strange, Jim NEVER has a second cup of coffee..."

(2007) Romantic Fantasy (Tri-Star) Sandra Bullock, Julian McMahon, Nia Long, Kate Nelligan, Amber Valleta, Peter Stormare, Shyann McClure, Courtney Taylor Burness, Marc Macaulay, .Jude Ciccolella, Mark Famiglietti, Matt Moore, Jason Douglas, E.J. Stapleton.  Directed by Mennan Yapo

Some movies sound like a great idea on paper, then lose something in the execution. Premonition is one of these. See, Linda Hanson (Bullock) has become unstuck in time. Much like Kurt Vonnegut’s Billy Pilgrim, she bounces back between past and future but without much rhyme or reason. She starts on Thursday, the worst day of her life; the day she receives word that her husband has been killed in a particularly gruesome car accident the day before on the way to a sales meeting which is actually a job interview, at least I think so — it’s kind of muddled, but you ain’t seen nothing yet.

The next morning she wakes up and – presto chango! – Jim (McMahon) is alive and it’s Monday. She chalks it up to a particularly vivid dream but when she wakes up the next morning, Jim is dead again, it’s Saturday and all her friends and family are gathered for his funeral, which makes it a bit embarrassing when she comes downstairs in her skivvies. Linda is naturally suspicious that something is amiss, but maybe she can influence the future and save her husband from his doom. That’s when she finds out that he may have been having an affair with an attractive new assistant manager (Valleta) at the office where he works. Now she’s not so sure she wants him to live.

I’m normally a sucker for movies of this type – just ask Da Queen. Hey, I even gave The Lake House a positive review, and not many critics did that. I don’t have a problem suspending disbelief. I do ask, however, that the movie stay true to its own internal logic. During the course of the movie, Bullock is able to change some outcomes but not others and there doesn’t seem to be any sort of consistency as to what she can change and what is unavoidable. She also bounces around her week like a ping-pong ball for no apparent reason other than to justify the plot points.

Not that I have a problem with Sandra Bullock’s performance. Far from it; I thought she does a very solid job as Linda, portraying a woman forced to relive her husband’s death on a daily basis but also on top of it must do it in a non-linear manner, so she is unable to even grieve properly. That she comes a bit unhinged is certainly understandable, to say the least. Bullock is nearly matched by Stormare, who plays a psychologist who is as confused by events surrounding Linda as we are. McMahon does a nice turn as the husband who is at a crossroads in his relationship, but is at heart a loving father and husband. Quite a change from Dr. Doom.

Screenwriter Bill Kelly, who previously did the much better Blast From the Past, totally drops the ball. German director Yapo, making his English-language debut, fares no better; he has a tendency to move the camera in such a way as to be annoying, rather than creating any sense of urgency or excitement. I don’t mind kinetic camera work, but not to the point where I’m unable to see what’s going on. There are many ways to portray a character’s sense of disconnection and disorientation without making the audience dizzy.

Time travel has long been a staple of romantic fantasies, but they are not as easy to write as it may appear. In order for us to accept the circumstances, the circumstances need to make sense and quite frankly, they don’t in Premonition. That’s a shame, because I really wanted to like this movie. I like Sandra Bullock, I admire the performances and I thought it had a terrific premise; they just needed to iron out the details a little more. Quite frankly, if you are in a mood to see something like this, go rent yourself Somewhere in Time until the urge passes.

WHY RENT THIS: Solid performances by Bullock, Stormare and McMahon. Nifty concept.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Story fails to stick to its own internal logic. Overly kinetic camera movements.

FAMILY MATTERS: There are a few images that are on the disturbing side, as well as a bit of violence, foul language and some sexual themes.

TRIVIAL PURSUITS: The film was originally to be set in New Orleans, but had to be filmed elsewhere due to Hurricane Katrina.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: There’s a 45 minute feature on people who claim to have had premonitions of their own.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $84.2M on a $20M production budget; the movie was a hit.

FINAL RATING: 5/10

TOMORROW: Mamma Mia

Planet 51


Planet 51

Now there's a sight that would scare anybody.

(Tri-Star) Starring the voices of Dwayne Johnson, Jessica Biel, Justin Long, Gary Oldman, Seann William Scott, John Cleese. Directed by Jorge Blanco

When all is said and done, we’re a pretty scary species. Oh, to ourselves we seem to be okay but if you were to look at our record of genocide, warmongering, cruelty and violence, I’d be mighty scared if I were an intelligent species on another planet that humans came to visit.

Astronaut Chuck Baker (Johnson) has done just that. Planet 51, a planet in the…well, it’s just dang far away, is the destination of his interstellar voyage. However, when he arrives on this Earth-like planet, he discovers that it’s more than just a little Earth-like; it’s just like Earth. America in the 1950’s Earth, that is.

While Chuck is a little freaked by the little green men he’s discovered, the inhabitants of Planet 51 are more than a little freaked out by his presence. In fact, they’re downright terrified, as any self-respecting species would be after decades of alien invasion movies to scare the righteous you-know-what out of them.

Only Lem (Long) has the sense to put aside his irrational fears, even though he’s plenty scared at first. Of course, Lem has a bit of an advantage – he works at the local planetarium, where he tells the schoolchildren who come to watch the light show “the universe is a very, very large place – hundreds of miles wide.”

Once he and Chuck get to know one another, they discover that they aren’t that unalike after all. However, Chuck has a big problem – his lander has been confiscated by the paranoid military-industrial complex exemplified by General Grawl (Oldman) and he has a finite window of time to get back to the service module, otherwise it will leave for the return back home, leaving Chuck stranded there forever. And Lem has problems of his own, trying to impress Neera (Biel), the object of his affections who has a soft spot for the counter-culture (after all, if you’re going to have a ‘50s that means a ‘60s aren’t far behind).

Sony Animation, who gave us Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, actually didn’t have much to do with this; Spanish animation studio Ilion is actually the entity that is responsible. It’s their first effort and as any first effort goes, has its good points and places where they didn’t do quite as well. The entire small town Pleasantville­ vibe with the sci-fi touches (cars that look like something out of the “Jetsons” for example) is done well enough, but could have been more clever and maybe a little more quirky.

There are plenty of cute characters that will keep kids occupied, like the mechanical Rover that oozes oil when it’s frightened, a dog-like creature that pays homage to the Alien movies, and the aliens themselves, a cute cross between sea monkeys and tree frogs with more than a little nod towards the Shrek franchise (green creatures with antennae sticking out of their foreheads, although they aren’t nearly as grumpy or gross as the ogres). There are plenty of bright colors to distract the very young but quite frankly, not enough real humor to keep their parents from getting bored.

Johnson’s Chuck is a bit on the smug and self-congratulatory side, a bit of a refreshing change from the insecure heroes we usually get in animated films – oh, wait, that would be Lem. In fact, most of the rest of the vocal cast is merely adequate but then again there is truly nothing offensive here; but by the same token, there’s nothing really exciting either. It’s a diversion, nothing more.

WHY RENT THIS: Johnson’s overbearing hero is a nice change of pace from the usual animated hero, who as a rule tend to be more like Lem. Some cute little pop culture commentaries.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: May be a little too weird for kids. The animation is just not all that impressive.

FAMILY VALUES: There’s a little inappropriate humor, but nothing that most tykes haven’t seen already on the Cartoon Network.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This is the most expensive movie ever produced in Spain, with a budget of roughly $70 million U.S. dollars.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: An obstacle course came featuring Rover is the most kid-friendly feature here.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $105.4M in total box office on a $70M production budget; the film flopped.

FINAL RATING: 5/10

TOMORROW: The Day the Earth Stood Still (2008)