2014 Movie Blitz: Part VII

July 7, 2015 in Movie Reviews, Reviews by pacejmiller

The Forger (2014)

The-Forger

It feels like John Travolta hasn’t done anything in a while, or at least anything worth mentioning. His latest effort, The Forger, is unlikely to alter that perception.

In this moody crime drama Travolta plays a master forger of masterpieces (I know, he looks just like one, right?), who strikes a deal with nasty gangsters to get out of jail earlier. Of course, it’s because they want him for his skills so they can commit a robbery, but you could forget that watching this film because most of the time is spent on the relationship between Travolta and his son (Tye Sheridan), who sadly is dying from cancer. Christopher Plummer plays Travolta’s dad and Abigail Spencer (from Suits) plays a detective on his track.

As a crime thriller The Forger is terrible. There’s no suspense and no feeling that any of it even matters. It’s no wonder the film is universally panned for how boring it is.

As a father-son drama, on the other hand, I think there are some nice moments stemming from this wish-granting subplot Travolta gets into. Consequently, I don’t think the film is as bad as it has been made out to be.

Travolta is pretty much always the same as he’s always been, though I believe the tragic death of his teenage son a few years back may have prompted him to take on this role and given his performance an added layer of emotion. Christopher Plummer is always good, but it’s Tye Sheridan who stands out by proving once again (after Mud with Mr Alright Alright McConaughey) that he has a bright future ahead of him.

It’s obviously not great, and most critics seem to disagree, but I don’t think The Forger is a bad random DVD hire.

3 stars out of 5

The Loft (2014)

loft

Every now and then you get a film like The Loft — a forgettable B-grade thriller with a roster full of recognisable names and faces. In this case we’re talking Karl Urban, James Marsden, Wentworth Miller, Eric Stonestreet and the Transformers blonde Aussie duo of Rachael Taylor and Isabelle Lucas.

It’s hard to give you an idea of what the film is about without a little detail. Basically, the loft is a sleaze-pad shared by five married friends (the above four actors plus Matthias Schoenaerts) to use for rendezvous with girlfriends, mistresses, one-night stands and so forth. Classy, I know.

But of course, something terrible happens and they have to figure out how to resolve the problem and solve a mystery while they’re at it. It’s actually a remake of a Dutch-language Belgian film from 2008 that must have done well enough to get Hollywood’s attention.

On paper it looks good. Respectable, good-looking cast, a locked room mystery of sorts with flashbacks and a whole load of twists and turns that will kind of keep you guessing. I can see the attraction of such a project.

However, The Loft has a fatal flaw: the characters are just so sleazy, so disgusting, so despicable and such degenerates that they are completely unworthy of sympathy and incapable of invoking any empathy. They’re more than just people with loose morals — some of them are genuinely sick.

As a result you’re just watching a bunch of dickheads get what they deserve and a couple of cardboard female characters act like a couple of cardboard female characters.

That said, you don’t necessarily have to like or care about he characters for a movie to work. Unfortunately, The Loft doesn’t have the requisite elements to qualify as a guilty pleasure. It’s just not satisfying enough, not intelligent enough, not campy enough and not so-bad-it’s-good enough.

Despite all this, the film passes as a watchable DVD or VOD experience owing to its star-studded cast and having just enough intrigue to not be boring. Just don’t expect too much.

2.5 stars out of 5

The Gambler

gambler

I really wanted to give The Gambler its own individual post, but sadly it doesn’t deserve it. I was naturally partial to this film given that it is the follow-up effort of Rupert Wyatt, director of Rise of the Planet of the Apes, and I desperately wanted The Gambler to be awesome.

However, while the film does have some intriguing aspects and nice moments, I can’t in good conscience proclaim it a good movie.

A remake of the 1974 film starring James Caan, The Gambler is the tale of Marky Mark Whalberg’s Jim Bennett, a literature professor with a crippling gambling addiction. He’s one of those “all or nothing” guys who never knows when to quit, and the self-destructive habit pushes him to the edge after he begins borrowing money from the wrong people (John Goodman, Michael K Williams, etc), much to the disappointment of his wealthy mother (Jessica Lange, who is excellent in her few scenes).

Wyatt infuses the film with a lot of style and a deliberate pace that results in a completely different type of experience to Apes. It’s not unentertaining and never gets dull, but there’s ultimately not enough substance to elevate it to what it could have been.

Part of the reason is that Bennett isn’t a very likable character. He’s interesting, but he’s also a complete asshole, making him hard to root for or sympathise with. Marky Mark is pretty good, so it’s not his fault.

I’m also deducting some points for the film’s depiction of a basketball game, which is so ridiculous and unrealistic that it saps much of the tension of what is supposed to be a climactic part of the film. Thankfully the gambling scenes were executed much better.

I really wanted to like The Gambler more, but unfortunately it’s just an average and somewhat forgettable remake.

2.5 stars out of 5

This Is Where I Leave You (2014)

this-is-where-i-leave-you

This Is Where I Leave You is a “light and nice” family drama film (ie, about a family, as opposed to for the family) bolstered by one of the best ensemble casts of 2014.

It’s based on the novel of the same name by Jonathan Tropper and is directed by Shawn Levy, best known for the Night at the Museum films, Date Night and The Internship. This one is better than all those films because of its depth and cast, but the overall feel is somewhat similar — some humour, a dash of gentle drama, and a sugary vibe that takes the heaviness off its life lessons.

Jason Bateman plays Judd Altman, who returns to his hometown following a death in the family and amid person turmoil in his life. There he is reunited with his three siblings (Tina Fey, Corey Stoll and Adam Driver) and their liberal mother (Jane Fonda), and the film follows their lives over the next few days as they deal with their personal issues and relationships.

Rounding out the amazing cast are names like Rose Byrne, Dax Shepherd, Timothy Oliphant, Connie Britton, Kathryn Hahn and Abigail Spencer.

They laugh, they cry, they fight and they reflect on life, pondering what could have been and where they are heading. Everyone is at a different stage in life and has problems and regrets they must face.

It is, however, nothing like August: Osage County, another recent family drama with a huge cast. That was heavy stuff and full of emotionally-draining drama; this is much mellower and aims for sweet poignancy and sentimental reflection. Some moments work, very well even, while others feel like it’s trying too hard.

The result is a mixed bag. It’s not my type of film, to be honest, but the cast is so spectacular that you can’t help be drawn in. Each actor plays to their strengths when it comes to the comedy, and you can see their respective personalities shining through. The humour is light but it’s funny enough for the most part, and the drama is sufficiently engaging though ultimately fails to offer anything new. It’s unfortunate, because it’s a waste of the massive pool of talent squeezed into the film.

This Is Where I Leave You is not bad, but it’s certainly nothing special. I quite liked it despite feeling underwhelmed by its failure to come close to reaching its full potential.

3.5 stars out of 5

Movie Review: Poltergeist (2015)

July 6, 2015 in Movie Reviews, Reviews by pacejmiller

poltergeist

I don’t remember much of the original 1982 Poltergeist save for a few iconic scenes and phrases. You know the ones I’m talking about. I haven’t seen it for probably 15-20 years, but I do remember it was scary, though I’ve been hearing lately that it wasn’t really that good and was vastly overrated.

Still, it must be a lot better than this hilariously bad remake, which had zero scares but a lot of WTF moments and unintentional humour.

The story is a familiar one. A family moves into a new home that turns out to be haunted by malevolent spirits. Ghost hunters are called in and a kid must be saved.

The biggest problem with the film is its complete lack of subtlety and knowledge of how to scare an audience. Director Gil Kenan (Monster House, City of Ember) seems to know, nominally at least, what is supposed to be scary, such as TV static, closets and clowns, but he doesn’t understand how to elicit genuine scares out of them.

It’s basically a handful of predictable “boo” moments most horror lovers would be numb to by now, and the rest is just completely over-the-top nonsense that is closer to Ghostbusters than anything else I can think of. I’m not even exaggerating here.

There’s no build up of tension or atmosphere, as Kenan obviously does not subscribe to the less is more doctrine in horror, going all out and throwing the entire bag of tricks at the audience from the get go.

What makes it worse is that the tone is all over the place, splicing humour and horror in an awkward manner that damages the effectiveness of both. Serious scares and wisecracks rarely work well together, especially when they come at the same time. As a result I was often left wondering whether it was trying to be scary or funny, but what I do know was that it managed to be neither. I’m stunned that some people thought it was scary.

It’s so bad that the ordinarily awesome Sam Rockwell, who plays the father, appears depressed by just how awful a film he managed to get himself into. Rosemarie DeWitt, who plays his wife, seems to be putting in a little more effort, but even she is clearly disinterested at times. They have three kids in the film, and the two younger ones, who experience the most of the haunting in the beginning, are not very good actors, further reducing the scariness of the whole affair.

The ghost hunters are played by Jared Harris and Jane Adams, who I find difficult to imagine as anyone else but the pathetic girl from Happiness. They’re not nearly as creepy as the short old lady with the weird voice from original (Zelda Rubenstein).

I don’t know what I’d think of the 1982 original now if I saw it again, but I’d be shocked if it’s worse than this laughable remake.

1.5 stars out of 5

Movie Review: Insidious: Chapter 3 (2015)

July 5, 2015 in Movie Reviews, Reviews by pacejmiller

Insdious-Chapter-3-1

The original Insidious was pretty good until falling apart in the final act. Insidious: Chapter 2 was so forgettable that I barely remember anything about it. And so it was expected that Insidious: Chapter 3 would be a complete waste of time, a greedy cash grab.

To my surprise, the third instalment of Insidious was much better than I anticipated. It’s still a formulaic modern horror in the same vein as its predecessors and most other horror flicks these days, but it’s a relatively well-executed one that offers some effective scares.

Part of the reason the film feels fresher than it ought to have been is because it’s a prequel as opposed to a sequel, so you don’t really need to have seen any of the other films in the franchise to follow what’s going on. The only returning character is Lin Shaye as medium Elise, and she gets much more screen time as we delve into her backstory.

The other pertinent factor is that the film marks the directorial debut of Aussie Leigh Whannell, partner in crime of director James Wan. The duo first came to fame thanks to Saw, which Whannell wrote and Wan directed. He also wrote the first two Insidious films as well as this third one, but with Wan going off to direct Fast and Furious 7, this marked the perfect opportunity for Whannell to try his luck at the director’s chair.

What I am trying to say from all this is that Whannell knows what he is doing from all those years working alongside Wan, and he understands the material inside out because has been writing the whole thing since the very beginning. Furthermore, it’s his first time directing, so he was able to throw in a lot of new tricks he must have been saving up.

The story is not that important but I’ll give a quick intro. A young girl named Quinn (Stefanie Scott) goes to see a medium (Shaye) about her deceased mother, and a subsequent reading unleashes a demonic spirit who attaches itself to Quinn and makes all sorts of scary stuff happen. It’s not original and doesn’t pretend to be.

Instead trying to impress with story, Insidious 3 is all about the scares. It’s one frightening scenario after another for most of the tight 97-minute running time, with a crafty mix of creepy situations, hair-raising atmosphere and familiar “boo” moments to keep audiences on their toes. We’re not talking groundbreaking horror here, but what it does is at least skilful and gets the job done. The creation of that awful feeling of dread and helplessness as something terrible is coming towards you is executed especially well.

It helps that Lin Shaye is wonderful as always and Scott does a convincing scare face. Dermot Mulroney, who plays her dad, is at least not annoying, which he very well could have been.

As with previous Insidious films, this one goes off the rails a little as it nears the end and falls prey to modern horror tropes, but in all this is a prequel that is better than the sequel and one of the better generic horrors on the market.

3.25 stars out of 5

Movie Review: Area 51 (2015)

June 14, 2015 in Movie Reviews, Reviews by pacejmiller

Area 51

There was a time I was semi-obsessed with Area 51, the alleged secret US military base in the Nevada desert where alien secrets dating back to Roswell are said to be stashed. And so I thought I’d give the film Area 51 with an attitude akin to how I approach UFO sightings these days — sceptical but hopeful.

Never in my wildest dreams did I expect it to be even worse than what I thought it would be. In short, Area 51 epitomises everything wrong with the found footage sub-genre. It uses every trite tactic in the book, looks cheap, feels cheaper, uses little-known actors to play stock characters spewing pathetic dialogue, and most of all, offers zero scares, thrills or creativity.

The premise is as formulaic as you imagined. A bunch of young people decide to break into Area 51 to uncover the alien conspiracy and government lies. Despite been terrified of getting caught and going to jail, they do a lot of stupid illegal stuff and record it all on cameras while complaining about it the whole time.

As it turns out, security at Area 51 is worse than your local supermarket, allowing the teens to get in with ease. They see a lot of lame stuff they try to trick you into thinking is impressive with their fake excitement and shock, before — you guessed it — aliens break out and start killing people.

The film’s whole idea of horror is people running around with shaky cameras while breathing loudly. That and brief glimpses of a “monster” before people are suddenly snatched away are pretty much the only two tactics of the entire movie. I guess I should not have been surprised given that it is directed by Oren Peli, whose previous directorial effort was the first Paranormal Activity.

The characters do stupid stuff and say stupid things non-stop, such as “What’s that noise?”, “Where’s that sound coming from?”, and my personal favourite, “Do you think we should be here?”

Shamefully, the film doesn’t even offer much legitimate information about the real Area 51, or at least what sources believe the place is like. Come on, at least educate us a little.

So yeah, Area 51 is a flaming turd, a combination of everything that annoys me about movies. I disliked it immensely.

1 star out of 5

Movie Review: Demonic (2015)

June 13, 2015 in Game Reviews, Reviews by pacejmiller

demonic-horror-movie-news

This is a weird one. Demonic is produced and concocted by Aussie legend James Wan (Saw, Insidious, The Conjuring, Furious 7), which is why the posters want everyone to know it’s “presented by James Wan.” It stars the reliable Maria Bello and rising star Frank Grillo from The Purge: Anarchy and soon-to-be Crossbones from the Marvel universe. It should be pretty good, right?

Well, it’s not. The warning signs were there. The project was supposedly announced in 2011 as House of Horrors, but went through developmental hell before getting its release date repeatedly pushed back from 2013 all the way to 2015. That’s never a good omen.

The story is about a bunch of young people who conduct a seance in an abandoned house where people once got slaughtered in an occult-related incident. It starts off after something has happened to the youngsters and one of them is left to tell a detective (Grillo) and psychologist (Bello) what happened, and they have to piece together the mystery from footage they took to document the experience.

Not exactly original, but the use of a non-linear format and a combination of traditional filming techniques and found footage is at least more intriguing than just found footage. And you can sense some of James Wan’s signature tricks throughout the movie, which does have a decent eeriness and unsettling atmosphere to it. I won’t deny there is a handful of effective moments horror fans should be able to appreciate.

But something obviously went wrong during the filming and production process because Demonic is all over the place. Whether it’s story, character development or tone, everything comes across as a fragmented, disjointed mess. At times I wondered if I had missed something important or wasn’t paying enough attention, because it felt like stuff that should have been there had been left on the cutting room floor.

The characters involved in the seance are also not very memorable, and neither Grillo nor Bello’s presence manage to change that. It’s unfortunate because Demonic appeared to have the potential of being one of the better cliched horror films in recent years. Instead, it’s no more than just an uneven experience littered with a few good moments.

2.25 stars out of 5

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