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Movie Breakdown: As Above, So Below

August 29, 2014

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People are doing traditional-style reviews all over the web, so we decided to try something different.  In each “breakdown” we’ll take a look at what a film’s marketing led us to believe, how the movie actually played, and then what we learned from it all.  Read on!

The Impression:

You know, even though this is a found footage horror film that uses the terror of claustrophobia to once again try and scare the bejeezus out of me, it’s also a horror film, and no matter how strikingly bad it might be, I always love a horror film.

The Reality:

As Above, So Below is a preposterous Disneyland ride. If you’ve ever attended a local radio station’s Halloween Haunted House, then you’ve pretty much seen As Above, So Below, but instead of walking around with your stupid drunken friends, you’re walking around with a bunch of other people who, most definitely, are just as stupid, but they brought a camera and between screaming loudly they keep laying on some really thick bullshit about evil, or something. That said, as dumb as As Above, So Below is, and it is really, really, really dumb, it’s still has that haunted house shtick and the Dowdle Brothers manage to milk it for everything it’s worth. The story – part horror, part Indiana Jones, part first-person shooter – revolves around Scarlett (Perdita Weeks), a youthful archaeologist on the quest to find the Philosopher’s Stone that evaded her father, eventually driving him to his death. After a harrowing and nauseating flight through a series of undercover caves in Iran, Scarlet is lead to the Catacombs of Paris where the Philosopher’s Stone supposedly lives. Along the way she picks up a group of French street-rats (one of which, I swear to God, never says a single word the entire film), an ex-boyfriend/Aramaic scholar (Ben Feldman – Ginsberg!) and her erstwhile cameraman Benji (Edwin Hodge). I’m not spoiling anything here, but almost as soon as they get down into the Catacombs, shit starts going real, real bad, and the rest of the movie is an extended flight sequence where the group, a smaller and smaller group, tries to escape. Again, not a great movie, the characters are about as well defined as a pile of rotting, French bones, and their only traits are pinned on them just to give some meaning to events that happen at the end. There’s bad guys that appear and disappear without meaning or cause. Nothing is really that believable in the film – the emotions, the set, the characters in any way, shape or form – and it gives this sort of artifice that gives the stark impression that you are watching people go through a Disneyland ride. Really, really stupid people going through a Disneyland ride. I can’t think of a single decision made in this film that, if I was a part of this group, I would, in any way support. Again, the Dowdle Brothers aren’t trying to make films that stretch your cerebral capacities, they’re just trying to make some, fun, scary horror flicks, and for the most part, this one succeeds at that.

The Lesson:

How come whenever I watch one bad horror film, I only want to watch bad horror films?

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Movie Breakdown: The November Man

August 28, 2014

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People are doing traditional-style reviews all over the web, so we decided to try something different.  In each “breakdown” we’ll take a look at what a film’s marketing led us to believe, how the movie actually played, and then what we learned from it all.  Read on!

The Impression:

“You know what we used to call you? The November Man, because after you passed through, nothing lived.”  PIERCE BROSNAN IS BACK.

The Reality:

There’s really not a whole lot to say about The November Man.  It’s a generic, uninspired and convoluted spy thriller that feels like it was made in the 90s, shelved and then dusted off only because Relativity had a hole in their release schedule.  You shouldn’t bother seeing it.

By the way, I did go into The November Man thinking that even if it wasn’t any good, Pierce Brosnan would come through with some of the charm and charisma that made him famous.  Nope!  His performance is so uneven and disconnected that it made me wonder why he even made the film.  Here’s hoping that his poor effort is due to him being in a bad film and not because he’s transitioned into the “mailing it in” portion of his career.

The Lesson:

Does anyone have Liam Neeson’s phone number?  Pierce Brosnan needs it.

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Movie Breakdown: Sin City: A Dame To Kill For

August 22, 2014

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People are doing traditional-style reviews all over the web, so we decided to try something different.  In each “breakdown” we’ll take a look at what a film’s marketing led us to believe, how the movie actually played, and then what we learned from it all.  Read on!

The Impression:

After a nearly decade-long break, Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller return to Sin City.

The Reality:

I didn’t go into Sin City: A Dame To Kill For expecting a lot, and yet it still somehow managed to be a massive disappointment.  No other film put out in 2014 has featured so many soulless characters or nonsensical plot points, and – here’s what really got me – nothing else released this year has been more boring than Sin City: A Dame To Kill For.  There is honestly not a single entertaining moment to be found anywhere in the damn thing, and I don’t really know why.  The source material is a violent, stylistic graphic novel with over the top characters, but Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller deliver a flat film that’s nothing but indistinguishable monologues and poorly executed action pieces.  To be honest, if I didn’t know any better, I’d think that Rodriguez and Miller had never even seen the original Sin City.

Unless you’re on the hunt for a woeful time at the theater, do not bother with Sin City: A Dame To Kill For.

The Lesson:

Sometimes “one and done” is the way to go.

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Movie Breakdown: The Trip To Italy (Noah)

August 21, 2014

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People are doing traditional-style reviews all over the web, so we decided to try something different.  In each “breakdown” we’ll take a look at what a film’s marketing led us to believe, how the movie actually played, and then what we learned from it all.  Read on!

The Impression:

If you enjoyed the pleasure of the Coogan/Brydon dramedy The Trip, you should only be excited for another, more Italian outing with the two. I certainly am.

The Reality:

The Trip to Italy is a film that’s very, very much like it’s predecessor. Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon, playing (possibly) exaggerated versions of themselves, are tasked by The Observer to drive around Italy (in the last film it was England) and review six restaurants. Along the way, the two talented comedians talk, do impressions, eat a ton of food, give each other shit, and generally have a damn good time of it. This is not a film where a lot happens, but plot isn’t what’s on display to enjoy. Instead The Trip to Italy (and its predecessor) are films about two men getting older. Where The Trip focused on Coogan’s character, an actor just on the brink of something else struggling with drugs and alcohol, The Trip to Italy focuses on Brydon. Here Brydon is husband and father pushing against the soft walls of domesticity. Brydon, a impressionist and caricature, carries the film, imbuing his over-the-top humor with a sense of loneliness, especially in the moments where he actually converses with his own characters. In both men, you see the common worries of aging just below surface, their needs, wants and motivations suddenly changed. It’s a testament to the skill of director Michael Winterbottom that this film is still, in parts, laugh out loud funny. These are very, very skilled comedians and they’re able to broadcast their inner qualms while facing off in a Marlon Brando imitation duel, or talking to a Pompeii mummy. It lags a bit, but in the slow, peaceful way a lackadaisical drive through the country might. And when the film lingers to a close with Coogan and his son swimming off the Amalfi Coast, and Brydon watching from above, no real conclusion has been drawn, but that’s the point – this is life, and life doesn’t have any clean cut endings.

The Lesson:

I hope this becomes the British equivalent of Linklater’s Before Sunrise films, with Winterbottom returning to these two characters time and time again, to see where they are, and just how their lives have progressed.

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Movie Breakdown: The Possession Of Michael King (Noah)

August 19, 2014

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People are doing traditional-style reviews all over the web, so we decided to try something different.  In each “breakdown” we’ll take a look at what a film’s marketing led us to believe, how the movie actually played, and then what we learned from it all.  Read on!

The Impression:

You know, more than a few of the screeners I’ve watched over the last year or so have been so bad that instead of having nightmares I have endless loops of them that play across my dreams. The Possession of Michael King though is put out by Anchor Bay, horror archivists and all around badasses, so I have hope.

The Reality:

David Jung’s found footage, possession film does a good job to make not one (possession), but two (found footage) tired concepts seem just a little more believable. Michael King (Shane Johnson), he of the possession, has lost his wife to a freak car accident. A documentary filmmaker, he’s decided to try and cross the boundaries of the afterlife to try and find her. To do so, he engages in a string of demon summonings (some plausible, some laughable), his camera on at all times, and well, it just doesn’t turn out so good. The film, cobbled together from the remains of King’s footage, follows the slow, and painfully physical, transformation as King goes from loving and grieving father to a portal for some horrible monster. It’s a creepy film, not doubt about it, and Jung wrings every creepy bit of exorcism fare he can from the premise. There’s weird neck snapping, vomiting, demonic body lifting, creepy voices, and everything else you might associate with demonic possession. What Jung, and Shane Johnson do best though, is show what a slow demonic possession might look, feel and hear like. Johnson’s King is a smarmy disbeliever, who is slowly pulled down the demonic possession rabbit hole. From a strange static noise that infiltrates his every thought to the appearance of tiny ants to a strange circle of blood that fills in around his eyes, this movie works because we feel every beat of the gradual progress of King’s condition. Jung also does what so few horror directors do anymore – he elevates the threat level to a point where you think that King, under the influence of the demon, will do anything. It isn’t always fantastic – King and his family seem almost too perfect, and Jung’s flashback scenes are cloying – but it brings the chills in fine amount, and it makes Jung a horror director to follow.

The Lesson:

Don’t summon demons. It never works out well.

Look for The Possession Of Michael King on DVD/VOD on 8/26.

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Movie Breakdown: Frank (Noah)

August 15, 2014

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People are doing traditional-style reviews all over the web, so we decided to try something different.  In each “breakdown” we’ll take a look at what a film’s marketing led us to believe, how the movie actually played, and then what we learned from it all.  Read on!

The Impression:

This is a movie where a world famous movie star wears a giant paper mache head for the entire film. I’d say I’m pretty excited.

The Reality:

Lenny Abrahamson’s Frank is an impressively strange, and at times wonderful film, that comes loaded with an armada’s worth of observations about the indie music world. So many in fact that when the film ends, you wonder just where exactly Abrahamson and Jon Ronson (the writer of the screenplay and the original article on which it was based) stand on the whole thing. Domhnall Gleeson plays Jon, a British 20-something stranded in a dead-end suburb with, seemingly, no musical talent and an ambition to be a star. When he stumbles across a crumbling band in need of a keyboardist, his dreams, or so he believes, suddenly come true. Enter Frank (Michael Fassbender), the leader of the band, a former mental patient, and a man who wears a giant paper mache mask on his head. At all times. To say that the band (who’s name is so egregiously, and purposefully indie, that I won’t take the time to write it out here) is opposed to success is an understatement, but Jon – a product of the new world of tweeting ‘n’ tumblin’ – wants more. And thus a story is born. The film though, doesn’t live or die by the strength of it’s narrative. This is a film about big personalities crashing against each other, and when Abrahamson gives the time to just let Fassbender (a marvel, even in a fully face covering mask) play his character to his most bizzare extremes, the film feels downright perfect. But this is 2014 and just letting characters smash and bash their personalities against each other is no longer any sort of definition for a film, and thus Abrahamson drops some convenient goals, and even more convenient plot devices to get it moving. These moments, where narrative suddenly jumps out over weirdness, never feel completely true, and you find yourself yearning for Frank to just do to his thing. More so the film struggles to ever pinpoint what it’s saying. Is this is a film about the dwindling authenticity of music? A film about role of mental anguish in creation? A film about the world of social media and what it’s done to a little thing called fandom? Abrahamson and Ronson never say enough to make it clear, and thus the film becomes merely a quirky oddity, nothing more, nothing less.

The Lesson:

Just let the freak flag fly, brother.

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Movie Breakdown: The Expendables 3

August 15, 2014

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People are doing traditional-style reviews all over the web, so we decided to try something different.  In each “breakdown” we’ll take a look at what a film’s marketing led us to believe, how the movie actually played, and then what we learned from it all.  Read on!

The Impression:

The Expendables are back for a third round of explosions and whatnot.  Mel Gibson is the villain.

The Reality:

Let’s face it, the Expendables films just are what they are, and you know that when you sit down to watch one you’re going to get something that’s loud, dumb, violent, weirdly meta and thoroughly ridiculous.  With that being said, I did go into the third entry hoping for something a little more than what the first two films in the series delivered.  I wanted to see a break in the formula (film opens with crazy Expendables mission, something terrible happens, the team gets inspired and enters a battle they can’t possibly win) and a real attempt to just make the wildest action movie of all time.  But it didn’t happen.  I will say this about The Expendables 3 though, it’s the most fun flick in the trilogy.  While it’s about 20 minutes too long and does nothing fresh story-wise, the selection of new old faces (Wesley Snipes, Antonio Banderas, Kelsey Grammar, Harrison Ford) and young ones (Victor Ortiz, Glen Powell, Ronda Rousey, Kellan Lutz) is totally on point.  They each churn out enthusiastic performances, so the movie often has an infectious amount of energy driving it.  It’s just too bad the lot of them didn’t get to appear in a better film.

So, should you see it?  If you just want to see stuff blow up, then the answer is yes.  If you’re looking for something that will re-arrange your “favorite action films of all time” list, then I think you’re better off skipping it.

The Lesson:

Keep ‘em coming, I guess.

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Movie Breakdown: What If

August 14, 2014

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People are doing traditional-style reviews all over the web, so we decided to try something different.  In each “breakdown” we’ll take a look at what a film’s marketing led us to believe, how the movie actually played, and then what we learned from it all.  Read on!

The Impression:

Harry Potter and Ruby Sparks star in a romantic comedy.

The Reality:

While I do feel slightly hoodwinked that a movie called What If doesn’t feature anything particularly imaginative and is pretty much just like every other romantic comedy that’s ever been released, I still liked it.  This is largely due to how the film features rather charming and engaging performances from its leads, Daniel Radcliffe and Zoe Kazan.  The pair are a great on-screen match, and I was actually less concerned with the plot moving along and more interested in just watching them hangout and talk.  It also helps that aside from one poorly implemented slapstick moment, director Michael Dowse does his best to keep What If coated in normalcy, so the film never gets too goofy or unbelievable.  You can actually watch it, relate to it, and have fun with it without wanting to roll your eyes out of your head.  What a crazy concept!

What If won’t blow you away, but it’s a solid little flick.  Matinee it after brunch.

The Lesson:

Radcliffe and Kazan both deserve more gigs.

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Movie Breakdown: Septic Man (Noah)

August 14, 2014

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People are doing traditional-style reviews all over the web, so we decided to try something different.  In each “breakdown” we’ll take a look at what a film’s marketing led us to believe, how the movie actually played, and then what we learned from it all.  Read on!

The Impression:

Supposedly this film premiered at Fantastic Fest last year to stunningly bad reviews, somehow got picked up by some digital subsidiary of Starz, and is now making the rounds on VOD. I’ve put off watching it for almost two weeks now.

The Reality:

I’m of two minds on the idea of “not knowing where a movie is going”. On one hand, say like Korean revenge thriller I Saw The Devil, the film stealthily pulls you along a formulated path and then boom, pulls the carpet out from under you, leaving you on the edge of your seat, wondering what might come next. In a film like Septic Man though, the debut film from director Jesse Thomas Cook, you start with the stomach-curdling vision of a sick woman puking and shitting for two minutes before thrusting the viewer into the life of a moralistic, well, septic man who’s selected by a top secret, er, something to help rid the town of some, er, plague. It’s so confusing, and to be honest, downright boring, that you never know what the director is going to throw your way. At times it feels like a psychological drama (well, drama is a strong word…) and at others it feels like The Dark Knight Returns version of the Troma classic (well, classic is a strong word…) The Toxic Avenger. At the end of the day though, all of the baffling tonal shifts amount to a guy sitting in a puddle of piss and shit, slowly growing boils on his face. There’s other stuff – two psychotic brothers, some teeth filing, a little necro-cannibalism, a female character who does things – but when all is said and done, Jesse Thomas Cook and crew have made a film that wants to be a gross-out, horror-romp, but turns out to be a confusing, dull mess with a little boil pus and throw-up on the side.

The Lesson:

VOD is a dark and dangerous place.

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Movie Breakdown: The Giver

August 14, 2014

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People are doing traditional-style reviews all over the web, so we decided to try something different.  In each “breakdown” we’ll take a look at what a film’s marketing led us to believe, how the movie actually played, and then what we learned from it all.  Read on!

The Impression:

Famed novel The Giver finally lands on the silver screen.

The Reality:

I didn’t like The Giver.  I thought it was really bland and too concerned with trying to emulate the sprawl and action of other young adult films like The Hunger Games and Divergent (also might as well toss the upcoming Maze Runner in there, too).  It could have been a film with a big message – one that strongly supports freedom of choice and not being afraid of the highs and lows of life – and a real change of pace for the YA genre, but instead Phillip Noyce directs it in a way that glosses over anything of substance and instead focuses only on the dystopian portion of the story.  So, The Giver is nothing but the usual ambiguous government officials, elaborate class systems and so on that we’ve seen over and over again.  What a wasted opportunity.

By the way, I know some of you will run out to theater anyways because of your everlasting love for the book, but I promise that you won’t get anything close to what you’re hoping for.  The film is 94 minutes of pure disappointment that’s led by Noyce’s totally uninspired direction, a thin plot and a poor performance by Brenton Thwaites (he portrays Jonas).  Don’t let your nostalgia for the book trick you!

The Lesson:

Something something Indian Giver.

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Movie Breakdown: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

August 7, 2014

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People are doing traditional-style reviews all over the web, so we decided to try something different.  In each “breakdown” we’ll take a look at what a film’s marketing led us to believe, how the movie actually played, and then what we learned from it all.  Read on!

The Impression:

Time for a new version of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.  This time around the pizza loving quartet are fully CG and directed by Jonathan Liebesman (Wrath of the Titans).  Megan Fox is also hanging about.  Cowabunga?

The Reality:

If you ask me, there are two types of viewers for the new big screen version of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.  There are children who didn’t experience the surge of turtle-related things in the 90s, and then there are those who have been fans of TMNT for 15-20 years.

Those who are the former will probably find the movie to be a pretty fun time.  After all, it has a quick pace, the effects are well done and there are plenty of goofy moments that will undoubtedly crack a kid’s shit right up.

But I imagine you’re not a child.  You’re probably (to some degree) a turtle veteran, and I’ll tell you straight up that you’re going to scoff at just about the entire film.  You won’t like Shredder wearing an Iron Man-like suit, or how weird Splinter looks, or the somewhat human look of the turtles, or the unnecessarily connected backstories, or – and this is the big one – the way that the film is as much about Megan Fox’s April O’Neil as it is Leo, Don, Mikey or Raph.  Personally, I didn’t find it too difficult to look past a lot of the changes made to characters and whatnot (hey, what appeals to kids is an ever-evolving thing), but even as I write this review I’m still lost as to why the “Heroes in a Half Shell” didn’t take up 85-90% of the screen time.  Shouldn’t that have been the easiest part to get right?  Who the hell has been asking for more April O’Neil?

Anyhow, do yourself a favor and toss on the original 90s movie or the 2003 animated effort instead of heading to theaters to see 2014′s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

The Lesson:

Needs more Turtle Power.

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Movie Breakdown: Guardians Of The Galaxy

July 31, 2014

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People are doing traditional-style reviews all over the web, so we decided to try something different.  In each “breakdown” we’ll take a look at what a film’s marketing led us to believe, how the movie actually played, and then what we learned from it all.  Read on!

The Impression:

Marvel momentarily tosses the Avengers aside to focus on a team made up of Chris Pratt, a Vin Diesel-voiced tree, a Bradley Cooper-voiced raccoon and a green Zoe Saldana.  James Gunn (PG-Porn) directs.

The Reality:

I really enjoyed Guardians of the Galaxy.  It’s director James Gunn’s best work, the “a-holes turned reluctantly heroic a-holes” storyline is a lot of fun, pretty much all of the characters are immensely likeable, and its less than overt ties to the rest of Marvel’s universe means it feels (refreshingly, I might add) more like a standalone entry than a setup film.  If you’ve been looking forward to it, then you will not be disappointed.

And what about those of you who haven’t been anxiously awaiting its arrival?  Well, that depends.  If you’re open to a quirky space adventure (imagine a more over the top Fifth Element), then the answer is a definite yes.  If you’re hoping for a superhero-centric time at the theater, then I feel as though I should warn you that Guardians of the Galaxy is not that kind of movie.  It is very much its own colorful load of sci fi that’s complete with a full-on bizarro deep space vibe, and you won’t find a costumed hero anywhere in it.  Hopefully that doesn’t sound too bad to you though, as the super fun time that is Guardians of the Galaxy shouldn’t be missed.

The Lesson:

And the Marvel machine rolls on.

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Movie Breakdown: Get On Up

July 30, 2014

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People are doing traditional-style reviews all over the web, so we decided to try something different.  In each “breakdown” we’ll take a look at what a film’s marketing led us to believe, how the movie actually played, and then what we learned from it all.  Read on!

The Impression:

Tate Taylor (The Help) directs the James Brown story.  Chadwick Boseman (42) stars.

The Reality:

When I saw that Get On Up had a runtime of 138 minutes, I figured I was in for a thorough look at the life of the man known as The Godfather of Funk, Mr. Dynamite and The Hardest Working Man in Show Business.  This, as it turns out, was a rather silly expectation.  Get On Up is nothing more than a bunch of incoherent glimpses into the story of James Brown.  And to make matters worse, director Tate Taylor’s only consistent thread in the film is the one that showcases the famed musician as a colossal asshole.  Now, I actually do think this approach could have worked (because let’s face it, biopics often sugarcoat a lot about their subjects), but Taylor doesn’t take the time to dive into anything.  The movie largely plays like a montage of terrible things that James Brown did, and that’s just sort of unfortunate.  No one who sees Get On Up will learn anything about the songs that Brown wrote or why he sang or danced the way that he did, and when it comes to who he was as a person, they’ll walk out of the theater ready to label him as nothing but an egotistical dick.  What a bummer.  He very well may have been an intolerable person, but that still isn’t stopping me from feeling as though the musician part of him deserved a lot better than what is offered in Get On Up.

The Lesson:

Where’s the music?

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Movie Breakdown: Lucy

July 24, 2014

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People are doing traditional-style reviews all over the web, so we decided to try something different.  In each “breakdown” we’ll take a look at what a film’s marketing led us to believe, how the movie actually played, and then what we learned from it all.  Read on!

The Impression:

Luc Besson gives Scarlett Johansson the ability to use 100% of her brain.  Morgan Freeman watches what happens.

The Reality:

Unfortunately, Lucy and I didn’t see eye to eye.  I figured the combo of director Luc Besson (The Fifth Element, The Transporter, District B13) and Scarlett Johansson (the Black Widow-portraying badass) would provide me a wonderfully explosive time, but Lucy is actually short on the action and heavy on the philosophizing.  No thanks.  Maybe it’s because I only use the minimum amount of my brain capacity, but I just didn’t have any interest in watching Johansson slightly tilt her head to side, stare off into space and then ramble on about what it means to exist.  I just wanted to watch her walk into a room and kick ass.  Then after that I wanted to watch her walk into a bigger room and kick more ass.  Sure, there’s some of this in Lucy, but Besson doesn’t let it build into anything.  Every time there’s a cool moment he immediately kills any momentum it generated with a closeup of Johansson thinking or making some elaborate heady statement.  Again, no thanks.

I won’t say I hated Lucy, but it certainly was disappointing.  Instead of showing me something worth remembering, the film focuses on delivering the sort of conversations that drunk philosophy majors have at parties.

The Lesson:

Never go full brain.

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Movie Breakdown: Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes

July 10, 2014

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People are doing traditional-style reviews all over the web, so we decided to try something different.  In each “breakdown” we’ll take a look at what a film’s marketing led us to believe, how the movie actually played, and then what we learned from it all.  Read on!

The Impression:

The genetically evolved/enhanced ape Caesar tries to keep the peace between his own kind and a ragtag group of human survivors.  Gary Oldman refuses to help.

The Reality:

Unlike its predecessor, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes does not arrive in theaters flying ever so slightly under the radar.  Nope, Rupert Wyatt’s Rise expanded and refreshed the Planet of the Apes brand, and now audiences are excited for more.  So, does Dawn deliver enough ape-centric fun to please the masses?  Oh, it most definitely does.

Matt Reeves (Cloverfield) confidently steps in for Wyatt and directs Dawn like it might be the last film he’ll ever get to make.  He clearly wants it to impress and dazzle at every turn, and there are very few moments where he doesn’t accomplish this.  His Dawn is truly what it had to be – a smart, well made and wildly entertaining effort.  See it immediately, and be sure to note that it will more than likely re-energize any part of you that was on the verge of being done with the summer blockbuster season.

One last note, the FX work on the apes in Dawn is something that has to be considered award-worthy.  Or, if anything, someone should at least give Andy Serkis a plaque.  The man is a damn marvel in the film.

The Lesson:

Ape movies great.

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