Movie Review: Riddick (2013) (IMAX)

September 16, 2013 in Movie Reviews, Reviews by pacejmiller

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I don’t really remember much of the first film in the trilogy, 2000’s Pitch Black, and I remember even less of the sequel, 2004’s The Chronicles of Riddick. Despite these things, I went and watched the third and final instalment in the franchise, Riddick — in IMAX, no less — and I’m surprised to say I quite liked it.

Expectedly, Riddick again follows the fantastic adventures of Richard B Riddick (played by the supersized Mini-Me, Vin Diesel), the notorious criminal and unstoppable force of nature who can for some reason see in the dark and keeps finding himself in situations where that ability would prove very helpful against outmatched enemies. It doesn’t matter if you haven’t see any of the earlier films, or like me, can’t remember them. Even though the plots of all three movies are linked, Riddick easily stands on its own as a separate motion picture.

The film begins spectacularly, with a solitary and badly injured Riddick fighting for survival on a strange planet against a bunch of really nasty alien monster dogs and poisonous serpents. This is the best part of the whole movie, with almost no dialogue and just awesome survival horror action in a beautifully designed world. Unfortunately, other humans — in the form of dimwitted bounty hunters — eventually come for Riddick with a whole bunch of weapons and hi-tech gadgets, fully intent on putting his head in a glass box. The bounty is double if they bring him back dead, you see.

And so begins a cat and mouse game where Riddick toys with his inept foes (mostly involving over-the-top, gory violence), all while looking extremely cool and menacing and very un-Mini-Me-like. Even when he’s chained up he’s a lethal danger spewing sexist one-liners. It sounds cheesy, and it is, but it’s also quite fun, and funny. The film has practically no plot and no character development whatsoever, but it manages to stay afloat through well-executed action sequences and, simply, the badassness (that has to be a real word) of its titular character.

Riddick sadly outstays its welcome a little with an overlong climax and a total running time of 118 minutes, when something along the lines of about 100 minutes would have been perfect. But overall it’s a fairly enjoyable, adult-targeted popcorn movie that might very well be the best of the franchise.

3.5 stars out of 5

Book Review: ‘Dark Places’ by Gillian Flynn

September 16, 2013 in Book Reviews, Reviews by pacejmiller

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After tearing through Gillian Flynn’s breakthrough bestseller, Gone Girl, I wasted little time ploughing into her two earlier works. First up, her second novel, Dark Places, which intrigued me more because of its Santanic cult angle.

(Not that I am into Satanic shit myself, but I do have a fascination with how and why people get into this type of stuff. Back in the day when I was studying for my university entrance exams at the local library I would often sneak to the occult section to read up on some gruesome stories, and they always just seemed so surreal to me.)

Anyway, as I would find out, Dark Places is more of a family crime mystery than a “true” Santanic cult story. There is an occult slant, but it wasn’t as prominent of a theme as I hoped it would be. The premise is certainly an attention-grabber — Libby Day survived the murder of her whole family at the hands of her Santan-worshipping older brother when she was just seven years old. Twenty-five years later, having used up all her money, she uses what’s left of her notoriety to help a bunch of crime buffs look into her past in exchange for some cash, leading her to question whether her brother is really guilty of the crime she helped put him away for.

Like Gone Girl, Dark Places is a complex web that keeps unfolding as the pieces of the puzzle gradually fall into place. Flynn is master of holding back information and knowing when to feed it to you to keep you wanting more, and then switching the scene and point of view so you’d have to wait to find out. In this book, she does it through several interspersing narratives — Libby in the present day, as well as flashbacks to the fateful day 25 years ago from the point of view of her mother Patty and her brother Ben. Interestingly, only Libby’s story is told in first person narrative, while the others are all in third person.

It’s an intense book that builds up the suspense through a clever barrage of hooks, red herrings, and misdirection. It’s also a thoughtful story in the sense that Flynn uses the setting — poverty and marital abuse against the backdrop of the farming and housing crisis in the 80s — to bring out the grim feeling of hopelessness, despair and apathy in the tone and atmosphere.

That said, when Dark Places finally got to the big reveal, I was a little disappointed that the “truth” was not more explosive. Flynn had built up so much anticipation that my expectations had gotten too high, and I wanted there to be more than what she was giving me. I particularly hoped the Santanic cult aspect of the story would have received more attention after the explosive way she introduced it and kept it hanging, including with references to the real-life McMartin trial (which mesmerized me as a kid).

Still, I really enjoyed Dark Places and felt comfortable in Flynn’s skillful hands as she took me on this dark detour into the heartland of America. On a side-by-side comparison, I still think Gone Girl is the better and more polished book, and it’s easy to see why it was that book that has taken the world by storm, though Dark Places is still one heck of a riveting read and page-turner I would recommend to any crime fiction lover.

3.75/5

PS: The success of Gone Girl means Dark Places is also getting a film adaptation set for 2014. It’s going to star, of all people, Charlize Theron as Libby Day, which is completely at odds with whom I had in mind for the role (considering Libby is supposed to be very short — though if Tom Cruise can play Jack Reacher then why not?). I much preferred the original choice, Amy Adams.

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The cast of Dark Places: Charlize Theron, Chloe Grace Moretz, Christina Hendricks and Nicholas Hoult

Nicholas Hoult is set to play Lyle, whom I had envisioned as more of a greaseball-type character. Christina Hendricks will play the mother, Patty Day, which I don’t see either (they better really de-glamorize her and make her frumpy-looking), and Chloe Grace Moretz will play Diondra, which feels like a complete mismatch as well. Corey Stoll from House of Cards will play the older Ben, which I can see, while Tye Sheridan (one of the kids from Tree of Life, whom I can’t remember) will play the younger Ben. Seriously, did the casting director read the same book as me? That is one heck of a glamorous cast for a bunch of characters who are supposed to be white trash. I much prefer the casting of Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike for Gone Girl.

Movie Review: Pain & Gain (2013)

September 16, 2013 in Movie Reviews, Reviews by pacejmiller

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I had no idea Pain & Gain was a Michael Bay film until the credits started rolling at the end. I was surprised, because the film was, for the most part, perfectly adequate. Even fun.

Supposedly based on a true story from the 90s, Pain & Gain follows three dimwitted body builders — Marky Mark Wahlberg, The Rock and Anthony Mackie — who kidnap their dickwad of a wealthy client (Tony Shalhoub from Monk) and try to steal everything he owns. Naturally, being nitwits, their plan goes all kinds of wrong, especially as a private detective (Ed Harris) starts looking into the case. It’s a cautionary tale about how the American Dream can become the American Nightmare — if you are a moron.

It’s one of those “so crazy it’s gotta be true” stories. Being a rather violent kidnapping film, Bay could have tackled Pain & Gain as a really sharp dark comedy in the vein of say Fargo, though he decided to make a straight-up crime goofy comedy. The problem is that in taking this route, Bay had to make our protagonists likable — albeit immensely stupid — dudes, even though from their motivations and actions we can tell they are clearly some nasty people. Misguided and naive, perhaps, but still difficult to root for. Just because you find their stupidity amusing doesn’t mean you have to like them. Sure, their victim is a twat, but there’s only so much a director and good actors can do to make this trio affable. The rest is up to the audience’s disposition and tolerance.

Marky Mark, The Rock and Anthony Mackie are, under ordinary circumstances, a fun trio to be around. The Rock, in particular, stands out as a thick-headed and tick-bodied lost soul trying to balance his violent temper with his desire to please God. Marky Mark, on the other hand, shows a bit more of a mean streak as the ringleader, while Mackie kind of fades to the side a little more, getting overshadowed even by his own love interest, played by the always-brilliant Aussie gem Rebel Wilson. The other female role, a semi-retarded Russian bimbo (played by Bar Paly) is also a hoot, though neither female character does much to improve the perception of how Bay treats women in his movies. (Also gotta mention Ken Jeong, who does his best Ken Jeong impersonation in a small role as a motivation speaker.)

That said, for a Michael Bay film, Pain & Gain is actually pretty good. It’s fairly funny, especially in the first hour or so, and the satirical bite had a surprisingly strong edge to it. The mood was light despite the violence, though the further the film progressed the more serious — and less compelling — it got. At 129 minutes, it was also far too long, and my interest waned dramatically as the film stumbled to a predictable conclusion. However, on the whole, and by Michael Bay standards, I’d still call Pain & Gain a relative success.

3.5 stars out of 5