Movie Review: Stretch (2014)

November 27, 2014 in Movie Reviews, Reviews by pacejmiller

Stretch-Poster

Usually, when a Hollywood film with a list stars ends up having its release delayed, before being pushed to a VOD debut, it means the movie probably stinks. In the case of Stretch, however, it says a lot more about the stupidity and conservative nature of Hollywood more than anything else. Stretch is undeniably weird, wacky, and all over the place, but it is also one of the most original and gut-bustingly hilarious oddball comedy in years.

Patrick Wilson stars as a down-and-out limo driver nicknamed Stretch, who came to Hollywood years ago with dreams of making it big some day. Instead of becoming a star, he’s dumped by his gorgeous gal (Brooklyn Decker) and develops a dangerous gambling habit that has him owing a sizable chunk of money to some very dangerous people. To make ends meet, he works for a limousine service that caters to Hollywood stars and wannabes, taking over the client list of a former driver, Karl (Ed Helms), who blew his brains out because the job made him so depressed.

Stretch’s luck appears to make a turn for the better when he runs into Karos (Chris Pine), a mysterious billionaire who offers to give him a very generous tip for being an extra accommodating driver. And so begins a wild night of mayhem that will involve gangsters, police, hookers, exes, bad acting, brilliant acting, reality TV stars and smartphone hook-up apps.

Stretch is a crazy romp, and I mean that in the best of ways. There’s a sharp satirical edge throughout, taking stabs and bites at Hollywood along the way, and the jokes and one-liners are fast and furious. The pace of the entire film is frantic, as Stretch keeps getting bounced from place to place and bumping into memorable and bizarre characters.

Writer and director Joe Carnahan, who has credits like The Grey, Smokin’ Aces and The A-Team on his resume, does a fine job of making Stretch a finely tuned mess where as audiences we are just happy to go along for the ride.

Patrick Wilson is legendary in this, and Chris Pine is as funny as I have ever seen him. Other supporting cast members such as Jessica Alba, Brooklyn Decker, James Badge Dale and Ed Helms all Play their parts with the requisite amount of fun. The highlights for me, however, would have to be the extended cameos from David Hasselhoff and Ray Liotta playing spoof versions of themselves, as well as Kevin Bigley playing ex-reality TV star Faux Hawk.

The film does get wrapped up a little too neatly and resorts to more conventional Hollywood tactics down the stretch, no pun intended. Notwithstanding its flaws, however, Stretch is an undeniably brilliant farce and one of the most hilarious and energetic popcorn movies I have seen in quite some time.

4.5 stars out of 5

Movie Review: As Above, So Below (2014)

November 27, 2014 in Movie Reviews, Reviews by pacejmiller

AASB

I once had an opportunity to visit the Catacombs of Paris, which stores the remains of about 6 million people, back in 2008. I arrived a few minutes after closing time, however, and the opportunity was lost. I was curious about the place, but I was also secretly glad that I didn’t end up going in. I could feel the creepiness of the place even from the outside on ground level, and given that I don’t love confined spaces, I have concluded that it was probably for the best.

I remember wondering at the time why there haven’t been more horror movies made about the place. Someone must have read my mind, because that’s exactly what As Above, So Below is all about.

If I were constructing the typical premise for a Catacombs movie, it would be about tourists getting lost in there and running into scary things like ghosts or monsters. That’s more or less what I thought As Above, So Below was going to give us. Instead, the film turned out to be more like a treasure hunt movie with elements of a psychological horror and supernatural horror that tries admirably to avoid the most obvious clichés. It ends up being one of those films that’s not exactly good — it does have moments of creepy effectiveness — but it’s at least a little different to what you might have expected.

You get a good feel for how preposterous the film is going to be in its early scenes, when a young scholar (Perdita Weeks) discovers the mythical Rose Key in Iran as part of her goal to track down the Philosopher’s Stone, which can, you know, turn stuff into gold and grant eternal life and so forth. She also happens to be extremely young, attractive, has two PhD’s, and is an expert in martial arts. Totally believable.

Anyway, she travels to Paris, and with the aid of a former lover, translates Da Vinci code-style clues that lead her to the Catacombs. They assemble a local team to guide them in, commencing an adventure that grows more and more bizarre — and terrifying — as they venture deeper into the ground.

While the film explores some of the real-life weirdos that occupy the Catacombs, most of the energy is spent on this fictitious treasure hunt not all that different from those depicted in the National Treasure movies and the Dan Brown adaptations. Actually, it goes even beyond those films, veering into Indiana Jones territory. These parts of the film are not particularly scary, and the way the characters solve the riddles are typically trite. They rattle off various verses no one understands, before realizing they made a mistake, rattling off more versus no one understands to rectify the situation. Stuff like that.

The atmosphere is largely there thanks to the setting, though the film doesn’t really turn into a full-fledged horror until much later. From the point it does, the progression becomes fairly stereotypical, though there are a few effective scare tactics to keep the film afloat for the most part. Credit for not sinking exclusively to “boo” scares and cheap tactics and for coming up with an ending that’s not the same as every other low-quality horror in recent memory, but unfortunately, As Above, So Below is just not consistently frightening enough considering the natural benefits of its premise.

The film is presented as found footage, which I usually hate, but in this instance I can see some merit in taking this route. First person video footage helps in bringing out the macabre atmosphere and claustrophobic nature of the catacombs, giving viewers an idea of just how suffocating and eerie the place really is. Most importantly, The film uses multiple cameras — each of which are attached the heads of the characters — to give us the best view of what is happening. The level of shakiness and incoherence is also kept to a minimum. It may not be realistic, but it’s as good of an approach to found footage I have seen, because it gives us the advantages of the first-person perspective without emphasizing all of the disadvantages.

The end result is an unusual horror film that’s not all horror and not all scary. And yet it is undeniably creepy in moments and semi-interesting because of the premise. I’d therefore say As Above, So Below is above average, below good.

3 stars out of 5