Movie Review: 3 Days to Kill

3_days_to_killIt’s not often – on the big screen, anyway – that director McG traffics in human emotion. His films are mostly about the slam and the bang, so his attachment to a movie like “3 Days to Kill” is a bit surprising at first. This is not to say that the movie doesn’t have some slam-bang moments (it does), but that it operates at a different speed than McG’s other work. The father-daughter relationship comes first, though murder isn’t far behind. The story, by Luc Besson (“The Professional”), bites off more than it can chew, and it requires “Taken” levels of disbelief to excuse carnage that our government would surely have to answer for on a public stage, but the acting performances elevate the material from ‘predictable’ to ‘predictable but fun.’

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Movie Review: 2 Guns

2_gunsIf you told us that the script for “2 Guns” had been collecting dust in Universal’s vault since 1997, it wouldn’t surprise us in the slightest. Between the reluctant but chatty partners, the non-linear timeline, the quirky but deadly spooks, the unconventional interrogation, the lone female character of importance-turned-hostage, the Mexican standoff, and most importantly the complete disregard for logic, movies don’t get much more ‘90s than this one. Thankfully, it’s also a lot of fun. It may not have an original thought in its head, but it has Denzel Washington and Mark Wahlberg, and they sell the hell out of it.

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Movie Review: 50 Shades of Grey

fifty_shades_of_grey_posterIt’s well established that “Fifty Shades of Grey” began life as fan fiction by a “Twilight” devotee who was frustrated with the lack of sex in the books, and that’s fair; there is but one sex scene in the entire series, after all. However, this married mother of two (!) didn’t just write about Bella and Edward (here named Ana and Christian) having sex: she wrote about them having rough sex, BDSM-type stuff that tries to present itself as a confident woman owning her sexuality, when in fact the sex is completely about him, and he is constantly looking for reasons to “punish” her. Christian Grey is basically the Patrick Bateman (“American Psycho”) of sex, to the point where “American Psycho” author Bret Easton Ellis saw so much of Patrick in Christian that he actually begged “Grey” author E. L. James for the right to write the film’s screenplay. She turned him down. That’s unfortunate; he might have made something watchable out of this.

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So, um, hey and stuff

So, it’s probably going to be a while before anything is posted here, since I gotta, like, get organized and plan the layout and all that stuff. Eventually, this will serve as an archive for everything I’ve ever written that exists online, which includes Bullz-Eye, ESDMusic, Premium Hollywood, Popdose, and PopMatters. Until then, hello world. See you soon.

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Movie Review: Final Destination 5

After a terribly disappointing fourth installment in the popular teen death series, New Line does the unthinkable by not only making a fifth “Final Destination” but, horrors (see what we did there?), casting old people as the leads. You know, people who are, like, 30, and even some born in the ’70s, ewww. Who wants to see old people die?

As it turns out, it was a very savvy move. “The Final Destination” was in a tough position in that its predecessor ramped up the death scenes’ difficulty factor (Rube Goldberg would have been proud, then probably ashamed) while maintaining self-awareness. “FD4” tried to maintain the planned chaos, but it was undone by bad dialogue, poor acting, and too much foreshadowing. From the very beginning, “Final Destination 5” does two things to separate itself from the previous movie: it casts grown-ups in the lead roles (David Koechner and Courtney B. Vance, holler) and gets serious in a hurry after a premonition on a suspension bridge leads a group of white collar drones to hop off the bus, Gus. Also, there are no bad last lines like “I’ve got my eye on you” (poor, poor Krista Allen), and while a death may be triggered by a chain reaction, the cause of death itself is often something normal (fall, fire). Don’t think they didn’t get creative, though; one of the women suffers a particularly gruesome accident that is impossible not to react to.

They’ve also changed the rules – which is ironic, but for reasons we cannot divulge – when coroner William Blodworth (Tony “Candyman” Todd, returning for a third tour of duty, fourth if you include his voice work in “FD3”) suggests that the survivors can cheat death by killing someone else, a la “The Ring.” It adds an interesting wrinkle, since you get a glimpse of what people are willing to do in order to stay alive. Do not under any circumstances watch the bonus features if you haven’t yet seen the movie, otherwise the big surprise, which is a good one, will be spoiled. Definitely check them out afterwards, though, as you’ll get a glimpse of Koechner adding some of his natural comic flair. A welcome return to form for what was presumed to be a, um, dead franchise.

3 out of 5 stars (3 / 5)
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Movie Review: The Final Destination

After becoming wisely self-aware in its third installment, the “Final Destination” franchise has taken the tongue that was firmly planted in cheek and impaled it on a 3D stick. Everything takes a back seat to the effects here, and that is the rule of 3D, but is that the right play? As Roger Ebert once said, the effect alone doesn’t matter, but whether the audience cares about the effect. When it comes to “The Final Destination,” the answer to that question is a resounding ‘no.’

The movie takes place at a well-worn race track, where Nick (Bobby Campo), his girlfriend Lori (Shantel VanSanten), and two friends are watching a NASCAR race. Nick has a horrific vision of a series of events that leads to the deaths of dozens of people. He urges his friends, and his insistence inspires a few bystanders, to leave at once, and within seconds after leaving, his premonition comes true. However, Death is not content to let his victims get away, and the survivors soon suffer equally horrific accidents, in the order that they were originally “supposed” to die.

The premise, as you can see, is identical to the other “Final Destination” movies, with one added detail: Nick continues to have visions before each person’s death, though he doesn’t see any of the details well enough to know which survivor is next or where it will take place. This gives director David R. Ellis, who helmed “Final Destination 2” as well as the immortal “Snakes on a Plane,” the opportunity to go nuts with the 3D – he even has a snake slither to the tip of your nose, yuk yuk – but these sequences wipe out the tension of the death scenes before they even have a chance to build, since the audience now has an idea of how the next person will bite it. The dialogue is also painfully bad, even by “Final Destination” standards (and padded with unnecessary ethnic slurs, to boot). The acting isn’t much better,

In fact, the best part of the movie is the opening credits, where Ellis uses X-ray-type graphics to re-enact deaths from the first three movies. (Strangely, the best death from “Final Destination 2,” involving the teenager and the sheet of glass, was not included.) Ellis also sets up a Sam Raimi-type kill shot that was good for a laugh. Most of the death scenes, however, are just lame, and writer Eric Bress inserts an awkward, self-referential scene in a 3D movie theater that’s as subtle as a sledgehammer. He also recycles at least two weapons from previous installments, though one of them is admittedly a classic. It doesn’t appear that a lot of thought was put into “The Final Destination,” outside of the 3D. It is this approach to moviemaking that causes 3D to go out of style almost as soon as it’s back in style, and it’s surprising to see New Line handle one of their most profitable franchises so carelessly. Of course, New Line is a shell of the company it was when the first “Final Destination” debuted, so in a way it makes sense that this installment would be equally vacant.

2 out of 5 stars (2 / 5)
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Movie Review: First Descent

Q: How does a snowboarder introduce himself?

A: He turns around, waves and says, “Sorry, dude!”

Obviously, a skier wrote that joke, but even the skier who came up with that joke would find lots to love about “First Descent.” There is some exhilarating camerawork of the best of the best doing things that they didn’t even know they were capable of doing. The easy way out would be to describe it as a Warren Miller movie for ‘boarders, but it is actually much more than that. While it deals with the stars of the present, it also includes a comprehensive history of the sport’s origin and evolution, which makes it part Warren Miller and part “Dogtown and Z-Boys.” If only it had been about 20 minutes shorter.

The setup for the movie is that five of the world’s best snowboarders – Shawn Farmer, Shaun White, Hannah Teter, Nick Peralta and Norway’s Terje Haakosen – travel to Alaska to do some hardcore mountain skiing, the likes of which the 18 year-olds White and Teter have never attempted. This 10-day adventure is broken into chapters by interchanging storylines on the history of snowboarding and the backgrounds of the five snowboarders. Given the range in ages of the five main players – White and Teter are 18, Farmer is 40 – you get a lot of different takes on what snowboarding means to them and how much it’s changed since they started ‘boarding.

Farmer is easily the most fascinating of the bunch. Looking like the bearded love child of Flea and Pete Rose, Farmer (no one calls him Shawn, and that’s not in deference to wonderboy Shaun White) has a raw enthusiasm for the sport that belies his years. Sometimes this gets him into trouble – after one wipeout, his left arm looks like something out of a Joe Theissman clip, without breaking the skin – but it leaves the viewer impressed just the same. White is impossibly composed for an 18-year-old. A five-time X Games winner, he is uncommonly graceful about his success. When he meets NASCAR driver Jeff Gordon, and Gordon tells him that his boots are Shaun White boots, White is clearly bowled over. “Gordon’s getting a free board for that comment,” he jokes later.

Of the two devices that cut up the action, the historical overlook, narrated by Henry Rollins (it is surely not a coincidence that “TV Party” appears as background music), is the more compelling. The shots of the early ‘70s gear is hilarious (riders held a rope attached to the board’s nose to keep their balance), and the clips from skiers in the ‘80s, disgusted that they have to share their slopes with these punks, are even funnier. Throughout the timeline are shots of incredible freestyle moves and footage from the early snowboard videos which, as one of the stars of those videos says, were indeed “Jackass” before there was “Jackass.” The most jaw-dropping moment comes when White’s buddy Travis Rice does a run from a nearly pristine mountaintop, and in the process creates a monstrous avalanche that nearly takes him under. They show it three times from two different angles, and not once does the gravity of the moment lose its impact.

If “First Descent” has a fault, it’s that it doesn’t know when enough is enough. In their attempt to make an all encompassing doc on the sport, filmmakers Kemp Curly and Kevin Harrison didn’t know when they had outstayed their welcome. By the time you got to Terje’s “flashback” (all five skiers were shot spending time at home one month before the Alaska trip), you realize that, while they all came from vastly different backgrounds, their upbringings, surprise, were very much alike, and as a result were quite dull. Terje’s story, though, will open the eyes of many to the fact that there is surfing in Norway. Who knew? Besides the Norwegians, that is.

Still, only skiers and non-snowboarders will bellow about the movie’s length. “First Descent” (yes, it does end with one ‘boarder making the first drop on one steep-ass mountain, but I won’t give away the details here) will thrill anyone who’s ever strapped a board on a slope. But speaking as a fellow skier, would it kill these guys to not run over our skis when they pass by?  

3.5 out of 5 stars (3.5 / 5)
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Movie Review: Flightplan

David St. Hubbins was more right than he knew when discussing the fine line between stupid and clever. “Flightplan” is a pitch perfect example of it, in fact. It’s a simple premise with a convoluted payoff, and it depends on a series of staggering coincidences in order to stay afloat. To the filmmakers’ credit, they do a good job of deflecting any and all suspicion, but only for so long. In the end, they can’t escape their own contrivances, and while the movie is well executed, it’s fatally flawed.

Jodie Foster stars as Kyle Pratt, an engineer for an airplane manufacturer living abroad in Berlin. Her husband has just killed himself, and Kyle is taking her daughter Julia (Marlene Lawston) back to the States to bury him. Kyle and Julia take a couple empty rows in the back of the plane to stretch out, and after snoozing for about three hours, Kyle wakes up to find Julia missing. She does a cursory check through the cabin (having worked on the engines for the plane, she knows the layout backwards and forwards), convinced that she’s off playing with other kides, but no one can find Julia. She has a sympathetic ear in Carson (Peter Sarsgaard), a US Marshal, but the jaded flight attendants aren’t terribly helpful, and neither is the captain (Sean Bean). The reason for that is, according to their records, Julia isn’t on the plane. Worse, the crew is telling her that they have a communication from the morgue in Berlin that not only is Kyle’s husband dead, but her daughter is, too.

Kyle begins to unravel. She got on the plane with her daughter, she knows it. Didn’t anyone see Julia? Kyle then goes into Protective Den Mother mode, using every trick she can think of to check every aspect of the plane, including the cargo holds. This doesn’t help her cause, as now both passengers and crew think she’s a nutcase, and the Marshal has no choice but to treat her as a threat to the safety of everyone on board.

At the risk of being a spoiler, if you think that Julia never boarded the plane, you haven’t seen many movies. But the truth is, I haven’t spoiled that for you; the studio did. There is a particular shot in every trailer I’ve seen of this movie that gives the game away completely. It brings to mind the trailer that Touchstone, the studio behind “Flightplan,” assembled for “Ransom,” yet another children-in-peril thriller. In that movie, Mel Gibson’s character turns the tables on his kidnappers, turning the ransom into a bounty for the kidnappers’ heads. A great twist, no doubt, but imagine how cool it would have been to not know that going into the movie. It would have been a totally different experience, yes? Well, too bad, because they based the movie’s entire ad campaign on that one scene, effectively neutering the movie before it’s begun, and they did the same thing here. If you don’t know which scene I’m referring to, I won’t give it away.

Still, this is only half of what is wrong with the movie. The entire second half relies on a series of events that is tenuous to say the least. If the first piece doesn’t fall into place – and in real life, it wouldn’t – there is no movie. In fact, there are several moments where the “plan” is in reality seconds from falling apart, and when the endgame reveals itself, the plan, as it were, is difficult to swallow. Call it sleight of hand moviemaking, where the audience is misdirected at such a pace that they can’t put the pieces together until the movie ends. Once they have the time to think about what they’ve seen, though, the more deceived they feel.

But God love Jodie Foster, who gives the movie her absolute all. Her Kyle is melting down on the inside, and barely keeping her composure on the outside. You can see the gears turning in her engineer’s melon, trying to figure out what is really going on. She sells it well, but unfortunately no one else appears to be as into it as she is. Seeing Bean play a pilot is almost amusing at this point in his career. This guy’s not a pilot, he’s 006, he’s Boromir, he’s a heavy duty man of action! Also, the sight of Erika Christensen (“Traffic”), once considered a hot up and coming talent, relegated to mousy flight attendant, is troubling. Certain movies can get away with asking the viewer to take gigantic leaps of faith or logic. “Just Like Heaven,” for example, asks you to buy the possibility that this one guy can see Reese Witherspoon, but her sister can’t. And because it’s a romantic comedy, we do buy it. Action thrillers used to have a similar leniency applied to them (“Bad Boys,” the later “Lethal Weapon” movies), but “The Matrix,” among others, changed those rules permanently. As a result, “Flightplan” feels like a movie out of time, something that would have been a thrill a minute in 1997, when audiences gobbled up airplane thrillers like, horrors, “Air Force One.” “Flightplan” is actually better than “Air Force One,” but that is hardly an endorsement.

2.5 out of 5 stars (2.5 / 5)
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Movie Review: First Descent

Q: How does a snowboarder introduce himself?

A: He turns around, waves and says, “Sorry, dude!”

Obviously, a skier wrote that joke, but even the skier who came up with that joke would find lots to love about “First Descent.” There is some exhilarating camerawork of the best of the best doing things that they didn’t even know they were capable of doing. The easy way out would be to describe it as a Warren Miller movie for ‘boarders, but it is actually much more than that. While it deals with the stars of the present, it also includes a comprehensive history of the sport’s origin and evolution, which makes it part Warren Miller and part “Dogtown and Z-Boys.” If only it had been about 20 minutes shorter.

The setup for the movie is that five of the world’s best snowboarders – Shawn Farmer, Shaun White, Hannah Teter, Nick Peralta and Norway’s Terje Haakosen – travel to Alaska to do some hardcore mountain skiing, the likes of which the 18 year-olds White and Teter have never attempted. This 10-day adventure is broken into chapters by interchanging storylines on the history of snowboarding and the backgrounds of the five snowboarders. Given the range in ages of the five main players – White and Teter are 18, Farmer is 40 – you get a lot of different takes on what snowboarding means to them and how much it’s changed since they started ‘boarding.

Farmer is easily the most fascinating of the bunch. Looking like the bearded love child of Flea and Pete Rose, Farmer (no one calls him Shawn, and that’s not in deference to wonderboy Shaun White) has a raw enthusiasm for the sport that belies his years. Sometimes this gets him into trouble – after one wipeout, his left arm looks like something out of a Joe Theissman clip, without breaking the skin – but it leaves the viewer impressed just the same. White is impossibly composed for an 18 year-old. A five-time X Games winner, he is uncommonly graceful about his success. When he meets NASCAR driver Jeff Gordon, and Gordon tells him that his boots are Shaun White boots, White is clearly bowled over. “Gordon’s getting a free board for that comment,” he jokes later.

Of the two devices that cut up the action, the historical overlook, narrated by Henry Rollins (it is surely not a coincidence that “TV Party” appears as background music), is the more compelling. The shots of the early ‘70s gear is hilarious (riders held a rope attached to the board’s nose to keep their balance), and the clips from skiers in the ‘80s, disgusted that they have to share their slopes with these punks, are even funnier. Throughout the timeline are shots of incredible freestyle moves and footage from the early snowboard videos which, as one of the stars of those videos says, were indeed “Jackass” before there was “Jackass.” The most jaw-dropping moment comes when White’s buddy Travis Rice does a run from a nearly pristine mountaintop, and in the process creates a monstrous avalanche that nearly takes him under. They show it three times from two different angles, and not once does the gravity of the moment lose its impact.

If “First Descent” has a fault, it’s that it doesn’t know when enough is enough. In their attempt to make an all encompassing doc on the sport, filmmakers Kemp Curly and Kevin Harrison didn’t know when they had outstayed their welcome. By the time you got to Terje’s “flashback” (all five skiers were shot spending time at home one month before the Alaska trip), you realize that, while they all came from vastly different backgrounds, their upbringings, surprise, were very much alike, and as a result were quite dull. Terje’s story, though, will open the eyes of many to the fact that there is surfing in Norway. Who knew? Besides the Norwegians, that is. Still, only skiers and non-snowboarders will bellow about the movie’s length. “First Descent” (yes, it does end with one ‘boarder making the first drop on one steep-ass mountain, but I won’t give away the details here) will thrill anyone who’s ever strapped a board on a slope. But speaking as a fellow skier, would it kill these guys to not run over our skis when they pass by?

3.5 out of 5 stars (3.5 / 5)
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Movie Review: Finding Nemo

Magical. God knows how they do it, but Pixar is easily the most consistent, most intelligent movie shop in Hollywood. Their movies are loaded with razor sharp wit, mind-boggling visuals, pitch perfect casting, and an abundance of heart. If Disney knows what’s good for them, they will go to the negotiating table early (“Nemo” is the last movie in their current deal together) and give Pixar whatever they want in order to keep distributing their movies. 

“Finding Nemo” had a lot to live up to: Pixar’s last movie, “Monsters Inc.,” was one for the ages, a dazzlingly clever and touching story that showed Pixar at the height of their powers. “Nemo,” by comparison, doesn’t quite strike the same emotional chord, but it doesn’t miss by much, either. And the advancements they’ve made with the visuals more than make up for any shortcomings in storytelling. 

The story begins on the Great Barrier Reef, with a nervous clown fish named Marlin (voiced by Albert Brooks). His wife is cruelly dispatched in the first five minutes (what is it with Disney movies and dead mothers?), leaving him to raise his only surviving son Nemo (Alexander Gould). Nemo, now ready to start school and smothered by his overprotective father, dares to swim over the ledge of the reef in a fit of textbook rebellion, and pays for it dearly when a scuba diving dentist catches Nemo and brings him back to Sydney to put in his aquarium. Marlin rushes off to rescue his son, and along the way he meets Dory (Ellen Degeneres), a blue tang fish with short-term memory loss who tries to help him but naturally causes an equal amount of hindrance. 

The one aspect of “Nemo” that will likely be overlooked upon viewing but remarked upon in retrospect is how spectacular the water looks. Animators will tell you how hard it is to capture the essence of water, both in terms of its movement and its tendency to be both murky and transparent, and the Pixar guys just nailed it. There are scenes with cascading water that look like real photography. Indeed, if there’s anything the artists haven’t figured out how to animate yet, it’s humans, who still look a bit like crash test dummies. Pixar picks their non-human subjects (toys, bugs, monsters, fish) for a reason, after all. Shhhhh. They’re easier to draw. 

The importance of the casting cannot be overestimated. Brooks is a natural as worrywart Marlin, but it’s DeGeneres who absolutely steals the movie. Her Dory is dead on the money, possessing an ignorant bliss that someone who is both excitable and extremely forgetful would have. Watching her drive Brooks’ character up the wall is both fun and necessary, because Marlin alone would not have been much fun to watch. 

What makes the Pixar movies truly special, however, are the supporting characters. Every Pixar movie has them. “Toy Story” had the Army men. “A Bug’s Life” had the Russian acrobatic bugs Tuck and Roll. “Monsters, Inc.” had Roz and the snakes in Celia’s hair. “Finding Nemo” has a laundry list of strong support, from Allison Janney’s starfish and Brad Garrett’s blowfish to Barry “Dame Edna” Humphries’ great white shark Bruce (a nice in-joke for “Jaws” aficionados) and Geoffrey Rush’s sympathetic pelican. But the best support in “Nemo” comes from the seagulls, whose endless squawk of “Mine? Mine? Mine?” (because really, isn’t that the only word seagulls really use?) makes them the center of attention every time they’re onscreen. They also have an uncanny resemblance to the penguin from “The Wrong Trousers,” for you Wallace & Gromit fans. 

“Finding Nemo” is not perfect, however. The movie’s not very subtle with its vegetarian message, and there are a few bits in the first thirty minutes where the pacing drags noticeably. It seems they have their eyes more on the details (for example, watch Bruce’s eyes when he smells blood) than the big picture, and while that’s commendable in the face of so many movies that paint with very broad strokes (“Dumb & Dumberer,” anyone?), it works much better when there’s a coherent, well-paced story for those details to fit into. 

“Finding Nemo” is proof positive that Pixar doesn’t make kids movies. That would imply that they’re only for the children to enjoy, while the parents sit utterly bored and insulted. No, Pixar makes family movies, ones that the kids, parents, grandparents and even sullen teenagers can enjoy. Half the attendees at the showing I saw were young couples in their 20s, which is money, baby. And rightfully so: Pixar hasn’t missed yet, and based on the hilarious trailer for their next movie, “The Incredibles,” there is no reason to suspect the next one will be any lesser. Bravo, gents.

4.5 out of 5 stars (4.5 / 5)
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