Movie Review: Last Vegas (2013)

February 6, 2014 in Movie Reviews, Reviews

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The idea’s not too bad: a bunch of old friends (emphasis on “old”) catch up for one final hurrah in Las Vegas. Throw in four huge stars — Michael Douglas, Robert De Niro, Morgan Freeman and Kevin Klein — as the leads, toss in a few old jokes (again, emphasis on “old”), and that’s Last Vegas in a nutshell.

I didn’t have a huge problem with Last Vegas, but there was really nothing to like about it either. Directed by Jon Turteltaub (Cool Runnings, National Treasure 1 & 2, and The Sorcerer’s Apprentice), it’s a very safe, mildly amusing comedy driven by the star power of its four leads. On the other hand, there’s not much to sustain the film apart from the gimmicky old jokes, and the result is a frequently lame, utterly forgettable experience that you’ll likely erase from your memory in a hurry. It’s a film that wouldn’t have been contemplated without its stars, and is in any case probably best reserved for the straight-to-DVD rack.

Douglas, De Niro, Freeman and Klein are childhood friends who grew up on the tough streets of Brooklyn and remain in touch today as seniors dealing with their own separate problems. De Niro’s character is still mourning the loss of his wife, Freeman’s character is battling an array of physical ailments and his overbearing family, and Klein seems to have lost interest in life. In comes Douglas’s character, seemingly the most charismatic of the group, who is about to get married to a woman less than half his age, and decides to throw a bachelor party in Vegas with his three oldest friends.

So as you might have guessed, the whole fish-out-of-water scenario is designed to put four old guys in a place they’re not expected to be comfortable with, and having us watch them have fun drinking, dancing, splurging and having the time of their lives. The Hangover for Geriatrics is essentially the idea, and it’s not a bad idea, except that it doesn’t work for very long. The running joke throughout the film is that old people are clueless and not cool, a schtick that just keeps getting rehashed again and again. But given that they are the protagonists, the film then tries very hard to convince us that they are, after all, very cool indeed, and young punks who disrespect them will come to regret it. And of course, all four of our heroes will learn important life lessons when it’s all said and done.

I’ll have to be brutally honest here. After a nice setup, the film devolves into cliches and becomes painful to sit through. The jokes are obvious and repetitive, and despite the best efforts of its stars (including the adorable Mary Steenburgen as the love interest), the film is inescapably bland and predictable until its merciful conclusion. It’s not horrible, it’s just…meh.

I am probably making Last Vegas sound a lot worse than it actually is. If you are in the mood for a streamlined plot, obvious jokes and 105 minutes of stereotypical icky Hollywood feel-goodness, then Last Vegas is borderline enjoyable. If you expect more than that from a film with four screen legends, like I did, then chances are you’ll end up bitterly disappointed.

2 stars out of 5

Movie Review: Oblivion (2013)

April 21, 2013 in Movie Reviews, Reviews

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I won’t lie. Oblivion looked pretty awesome from the trailers and I had expected a lot. Which might explain why the film was kind of disappointing. It’s perfectly adequate and beautiful to look at, with moments of tension and occasional thrills. But in the end, it is a film that falls way short of its lofty ambitions and does little to separate itself from other post-apocalyptic sci-fi flicks in recent years.

It is no surprise that the film was directed and co-written by Joseph Kosinski, who made his silver screen debut with Tron: Legacy in 2010, another sci-fi flick that values style over substance. Kosinski’s background is in CGI commercials, including for video games Halo and Gears of War, and he definitely brings that video game feel to Oblivion.

The story is told largely through the point of view of Jack Harper (Tom Cruise), a technician who fixes drones on a post-apocalyptic Earth that has been rendered uninhabitable following the attack of an alien race. Harper resides in a futuristic home with his mission and personal partner (Andrea Riseborough), who maintains regular contact with a woman (Melissa Leo) from headquarters.

Not surprisingly, things start to fall apart for Jack following an encounter with Scanvengers and a frightening discovery. He starts to wonder if everything he believes is real, and whether the reality he knows is an illusion. I don’t need to say much more, but you can already tell from the brief summary that Oblivion has a fairly typical sci-fi storyline about one man’s search for the truth, and that truth is probably what you suspected all along.

I guess that’s where my problem with the film lay. While it had its fair share of action-packed moments, including several high-speed chases and explosive gunfights, the film travelled at what felt like an intentionally slowed pace so it would come across as more of a “thinking man’s” sci-fi movie. But the thing is, the more I thought about the movie the less sense it made, and the less clever and creative it felt. It just wasn’t as original or intelligent or “different” as it thought it was or wanted to be. The plot twists were also rather predictable and the ending was overdone.

That said, it didn’t mean I didn’t enjoy the movie, which did have its moments. Tom Cruise, notwithstanding all his crazy shenanigans off camera, is his usual solid self and delivers a performance that carries the film throughout. I particularly liked his interactions with Riseborough, and thought he had much more chemistry with her than with Olga Kurylenko, who appears midway through the film. Morgan Freeman, on the other hand, felt like a poor casting choice, mainly because his star power meant he would get some screen time in the trailers, which is essentially a big spoiler, and also because that damn voice is so recognisable. Also underused was Nikolaj Coster-Waldau (Jaime Lannister), who plays one of Freeman’s henchmen.

The film placed a strong emphasis on visuals, with sweeping landscapes, cool-looking machines and gadgets. All that is good stuff, but it’s a shame the screenplay couldn’t make the film more engaging from an emotional and intellectual standpoint. A lot of questions were left unanswered and the questions that were (kind of) answered didn’t have impact I had been hoping for. In the end, I’d say Oblivion was perfectly adequate, but by no means a sci-fi classic or even one of the more memorable sci-fi films I’ve seen in the past decade.

3 out of 5

Movie Review: Olympus Has Fallen (2013)

April 15, 2013 in Movie Reviews, Reviews

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Olympus Has Fallen has been called “Die Hard in the White House”, and for once this description is apt. Of course, it’s nowhere near as good as (what I believe is) the greatest action movie of all time, but all things considered it’s about as good as you could reasonably hope for given the insanity of its central idea — the White House getting taken over by terrorists.

Gerard Butler plays Mike Banning, a former Secret Service agent who gets reassigned to a desk job after a tragic accident. The South Korean president visits and somehow the White House gets overrun by a mysterious terrorist. The US president, played by Aaron Eckhart, is held hostage, and Banning becomes the only man who can save him — and the world!

The premise is as corny as described, but to be honest I didn’t find it all that hard to swallow, thanks to director Antoine Fuqua (Training Day, Shooter), the man with the coolest surname in Hollywood. Fuqua doesn’t make Olympus Has Fallen realistic (that’s impossible), but he allows us to sufficiently suspend disbelief through clever misdirection and never giving the audience time to think about the plot’s deficiencies by bombarding them with non-stop, blazing action. I just kept thinking, “Yeah, that could happen,” and went along for the ride.

Contrast that with another film I reviewed recently, Red Dawn, also about a foreign invasion of the United States (and one of the worst movies of 2012), and you too will appreciate Fuqua’s supreme filmmaking skills. Though both films have lots of guns and explosions and Americanism, Red Dawn bored me to tears, whereas Olympus Has Fallen had me mesmerised.

The film essentially copies the Die Hard template but ups the stakes about a hundred fold. A capable dude caught in a situation he didn’t expect to be in — but instead of a commercial building you have the White-freaking-House. One man against a whole army of badasses. A mysterious and brutal villain determined to weed him out. Epic gun fights, skilful hand-to-hand combat, exploding helicopters, falling from high places, sceptical allies on the outside, no friends on the inside. Awesomeness.

I’ve never really liked Butler outside of 300,  but here he makes an excellent Secret Service guy because he looks the part. Aaron Eckhart won’t be remembered as one of the best on-screen presidents, but he’s certainly not one of the worst either. He doesn’t get to do a whole lot in this film but he makes the best of what he’s got.

The rest of the supporting cast is stellar. As usual, there is the omnipresent Morgan Freeman in the type of role we have seen too many times; Angela Bassett and Robert Forster as anxious government officials; Aussie Radha Mitchell as the wife; Ashley Judd as the First Lady; and Melissa Leo — the standout — as the feisty secretary of defense.

The weak link was Dylan McDermott, another ex-Secret Service guy. It was probably more how the character was written than his acting, but he came across as totally unconvincing and lacking in personality. His story arc was also poorly conceived and concluded. Just crap.

Also crap is some of the pitfalls of the action film that Fuqua just couldn’t avoid, such as blessing our hero with obvious insights that somehow escape the common man (and all of the president’s staff), the usual America “f*%k yeah” moments, as well as the the odd annoying cliche. I also found it strange that a number of the more interesting plot points were either not explored or wrapped up prematurely. I can’t go into details without divulging them, but those who have seen the film will have an idea.

Nonetheless, Olympus Has Fallen turned out to be far better than I expected. Stylish, explosive and rarely a dull moment, it’s the action film that Die Hard 5 could have and should have been (instead of that silly Russian story). Actually, it would have been a pretty good premise for a 24 movie too, if they ever decide to make one. This is a movie I would definitely keep watching if I happen to stumble across it on TV in a couple of years.

4 stars out of 5!

PS: One of the best decisions the producers made was to make this a R-rated film (MA15+ in Australia), which allowed all the violence it needed to be effective. It will be interesting to see what type of film White House Down (which looks like exactly the same film except with Channing Tatum and Jamie Foxx), set for release in the summer, will be with what is expected to be a tamer PG-13 rating. My guess is it won’t be as good, but you never know with Roland Emmerich (Independence Day, The Day After Tomorrow) at the helm.

Movie Review: Alex Cross (2012)

January 13, 2013 in Movie Reviews, Reviews

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It’s probably best if you don’t remember the old Alex Cross played by Morgan Freeman from Kiss the Girls and Along Came a Spider. This new Alex Cross from the franchise “reboot” (of sorts) is not a charismatic, middle-aged man with a magnetic, made-for-narration voice. This new Alex Cross is played by a hulking, 6’5″ dude best known for performing in drag.

I can only imagine how Alex Cross, vaguely based on the 12th novel of the series, Cross, by James Patterson, would have turned out had the producers been able to secure their first choice, Idris Elba from The Wire. It wouldn’t have made up for the atrocious script and the deficiencies in the direction, but at least our protagonist would have the edge that Tyler Perry sorely lacks. Perry is clearly very good at what he does (his fortune from the Madea movies, where he plays a thuggish elderly woman, speaks for itself), but this role just felt uncomfortable for him.

Let me backtrack a little. Alex Cross is a psychologist and police lieutenant in Detroit who accepts a job as an FBI profiler. In Alex Cross, he and his partner (Ed Burns) begin a dangerous cat and mouse game with a psychotic killer known as Picasso, played by Matthew Fox from Lost, who enjoys drugging and torturing his victims. That’s basically it. Picasso does a lot of crazy stuff and acts all crazy and Alex Cross and his partner try to track him down and bring him to justice.

The biggest problem with this movie is the script, which I am told has very little to do with the original story. Alex Cross is supposed to be some super clever detective, but in this film all he does is get angry, jerked around and continuously outsmarted by the villain. What’s the point of this movie if all our detective uses is his massive muscles and not his brain?

My second issue is with the direction of Rob Cohen, who really shouldn’t be that bad because he’s the director of The Fast and the Furious, Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story and Stealth, none of which are nearly as horrible as this effort. But instead, the film comes across like a B-grade, straight-to-DVD affair that reeks of laziness. The movie flatlines all the way through without any genuine thrills or excitement. Even the special effects are weak. And what the heck is the deal with those amateurish slow-mo effects during the fight scenes?

This brings me to Tyler Perry, who, to be fair, wasn’t given much to work with but still underperformed as the titular character. I didn’t feel his intelligence or his emotion, even at a pivotal moment when tragedy struck. Still, he was better than Ed Burns and his annoying voice.

Matthew Fox apparently underwent some serious workouts and diets to totally transform his body for this role, and it looks like it was a waste of time. His villain looks menacing enough but isn’t given much substance. He’s undoubtedly crazy, but just not very interesting. Hannibal Lecter he certainly isn’t.

Not much else to say except to confirm that Alex Cross was indeed a huge disappointment. A sequel with Perry reprising the role was announced before this one was even released, but I wonder whether the plans will change with the film being bombarded by poor reviews and a subpar box office performance.

1.5 stars out of 5

Movie Review: Red (2010)

December 15, 2010 in Movie Reviews

Is it just me, or is every second movie these days based on (or inspired by) a graphic novel?  Not that there’s anything wrong with it.  As long as it’s fun and exciting, I’m all for it.

And fortunately, Red is both.  The title is an acronym used to describe Bruce Willis and his ageing superstar secret service buddies, including Morgan Freeman, John Malkovich, Helen Mirren and Brian Cox.

The plot is relatively straightforward — someone is trying to kill former CIA operative Frank Moses (Willis), and he’s trying to find out who it is and go badass on anyway that gets in his way.  A Weed-less Mary-Louise Parker plays the love interest, and Karl Urban is the CIA agent trying to catch him but at the same time putting all the pieces together.

With some many top stars (all of whom I like) crammed into a single film, the result is necessarily lots of fun.  My only complaint is that Morgan Freeman didn’t get nearly enough time to showcase his talents and really copped a bad deal.

Red is essentially an action-packed popcorn movie with a bunch of old people acting cool, shooting and beating up people.  It reminded me of a less sexy version of The Losers, also a comic movie (haven’t had time to review it yet).  While it is by no means a classic, Red provides 111 minutes of solid entertainment…though I still have trouble believing that the film just got nominated for a Golden Globe in the Best Picture Comedy or Musical category.

3.5 stars out of 5!

 
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