Wednesday, January 30, 2013

At the Movies – February 2013 – Part 2: Hollywood Films

Romance and Rom-Coms:

Safe Haven (Lasse Hallstrom) – Romance – Feb 15
Plot Summary: Katie has a dark secret that haunts her past – one that she is on the run from. Her latest place of refuge is Southport, NC. There she meets a charming widower and begins to fall for him, but to truly let him in she must confront her mysterious past (yup, it is a Nicholas Sparks story). Filmmakers: Director Lasse Hallstrom has tackled a Nicholas Sparks adaptation before with 2010’s Dear John (a film that I did like, and actually it is my favorite of the few adaptations of his work I have seen), but he is better known for his great work in drama and romance with films like My Life as a Dog, What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, The Cider House Rules, and Chocolat. I also enjoyed Salmon Fishing in the Yemen, which was released last year. Hallstrom is working with his same Dear John crew: composer Deborah Lurie, cinematographer Terry Stacey, and production designer Kara Lindstrom. Cast: It stars Julianne Hough and Josh Duhamel, with Cobie Smulders and David Lyons in support. Expectations: Safe Haven is more than likely going to be a throwaway generic romance drama, and one with a fairly poor cast at that. I like Julianne Hough, she has a good energy, but she is not yet a good actress (based on what I saw in Rock of Ages – one of the worst films I saw in 2012). The only reason to be somewhat optimistic about this film is director Lasse Hallstrom, who is a good fit for the story. His career is littered with poor films, yes, but it also features quite a few good films too. Anyway, this is a rental at best (or maybe a date movie if there is nothing else). Trailer: Here.

Beautiful Creatures (Richard LaGravenese) – Drama/Romance – Feb 15
Plot Summary: Lena Duchannes is a young witch in the Deep South, almost at the age of maturity. When she reaches that age her powers will be claimed for either the light or dark. Should she be claimed for the dark, and given her immense power, her kind could (and would) enslave humanity. To complicate matters, she meets a boy, Ethan Wate, who she falls for, but their relationship puts everyone in danger as her emotions seem to lead her closer to the dark side (like Luke Skywalker). Will this young love end in tragedy? Filmmakers: Writer-director Richard LaGravenese has made three prior films – two are okay and one is decent (that being Freedom Writers). He is somewhat well suited to make a romance fantasy (I guess), as his last film was P.S. I Love You (since it sort of had a supernatural element to it). He is working with first time composer Thenewno2 (apparently this is a band), cinematographer Philippe Rousselot (Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows), and production designer Richard Sherman (Twilight: Breaking Dawn). Cast: The film stars Alice Englert and Alden Ehrenreich, and features Emmy Rossum, Jeremy Irons, Emma Thompson, Viola Davis, Thomas Mann, Kyle Gallner, Zoey Deutch, and Margo Martindale in support. Expectations: Beautiful Creatures is essentially a glorified CW show – it looks and feels like that to me at least (The Secret Circle). Warner Bros. is hoping it will be the next Twilight for them (they even hired the same production designer to give it the same look and feel). It has a mediocre creative team, but a good cast, leading me to think it will likely be average at best and forgettable, but maybe the cast can elevate it. However, for Warner Bros. the quality does not really matter (look at the Twilight franchise, they are all objectively terrible films and yet all print money); all they really care about is whether or not this will connect with its intended demographic (like Twilight and The Hunger Games did, or like the CW’s The Vampire Diaries does – but at least The Hunger Games and The Vampire Diaries are actually good). Trailer: Here.

Serious Films:

Stand Up Guys (Fisher Stevens) – Crime Drama – Feb 1
Plot Summary: Val, a criminal on his last legs, is released from prison after serving a lengthy sentence, having taken the fall for his crew. His best friend and fellow criminal Doc picks him up. However, Doc has been tasked by their crime boss to kill Val. Thus, the two go out for one last night out of reminisce and to feel like young men again. Filmmakers: Stand Up Guys marks actor-turned-director Fisher Steven’s second feature film (yes, he was Ben Jabituya in Short Circuit), his first was 2002’s Just a Kiss. He is working with composer Lyle Workman (Win Win), cinematographer Michael Grady (Friends with Benefits), and production designer Maher Ahmad (Gangster Squad). Cast: Al Pacino and Christopher Walken star, with Alan Arkin co-starring. Julianna Margulies, Mark Margolis, Lucy Punch, Addison Timlin, and Katheryn Winnick feature in support. Expectations: Stand Up Guys has a great cast with Pacino, Walken, and Arkin. That might be a good enough reason alone to see it. However, Fisher Stevens is not a great director, and the buzz from its advanced screenings has been mixed. I think it looks like an okay drama, completely reliant on its actors. Is it worth renting? If you like the actors, yes. Trailer: Here.


Bullet to the Head (Walter Hill) – Action Thriller – Feb 1
Plot Summary: James Bonomo is a New Orleans hit man. Taylor Kwon is a Washington D.C. detective. What do they have in common? Both of their partners have been killed by the same man – so, they form an alliance to take down their shared enemy (because, who doesn’t like buddy movies). Filmmakers: Director Walter Hill is one of the action genre’s great filmmakers, having made Hard Times, The Driver, The Warriors (which with 48 Hrs. is my favorite of his), The Long Riders, Southern Comfort, and 48 Hrs., as well as producing the Alien franchise (I also enjoy his gangster western Last Man Standing). He is working with composer Steve Mazzaro (his debut), cinematographer Lloyd Ahem II (frequent collaborator), and production designer Toby Corbett (Running Scared). Cast: Sylvester Stallone and Sung Kang star, with Sarah Shahi, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agaje, Jason Momoa, Christian Slater, and Jon Seda in support. Expectations: Bullet to the Head is a return to classic action – i.e. mindless, violent, and cheesy but very entertaining. Walter Hill has somewhat been out of the game (his last work was on the good miniseries Broken Trail and an episode of Deadwood, and that was seven years ago), but he is one of the filmmakers that helped create the genre, as is the film’s star Stallone. It has been getting surprisingly positive buzz from its advanced screenings. If you love pure action films (like the stuff made in the 1980s and 1990s), this is probably going to work for you. Trailer: Here.

A Good Day to Die Hard (John Moore) – Action – Feb 15
Plot Summary: Die Hard 5 sees John McClane travel to Russia to visit his son Jack, who he discovers is a CIA operative on a mission to prevent a nuclear-weapons heist. Naturally, they team up (one would think that McClane would be tired of being shot at and having things explode around him – but I guess him just saying, “Okay son, you got this, I’m going back to the hotel to take a nice bath” would have made for a less exciting movie). Filmmakers: Director John Moore was seemingly hired because he has made some action films in the past. It probably does not matter that they are all somewhat bad (and also, his remake of The Omen is unwatchable). Anyway, he is working with frequent collaborators composer Marco Beltrami (he also scored Live Free or Die Hard), cinematographer Jonathan Sela, and production designer Daniel T. Dorrance. Cast: Bruce Willis stars (and is executively producing) as McClane (for those who don’t know) with Mary Elizabeth Winstead returning for a cameo as his daughter and Jai Courtney playing his son. Expectations: Does Die Hard 5 need to exist, probably not. Die Hard 4 was entertaining, and I guess it has been long enough that having a new adventure in the John McClane saga seems somewhat reasonable. This basically looks like lots of explosions, gun fire, violence, and one-liners stripped of all character and real drama (which is what made the original Die Hard great) leaving only caricatures, catch-phrases (like the stupid poster you see to your left), and mindless noise and visuals. And yet, I probably will still rent this (as I seemingly am a slave to the machine). Action fans might find something to like here, but I predict that it is not very good. Trailer: Here.

Snitch (Ric Roman Waugh) – Action Thriller – Feb 22
Plot Summary: After his son is caught up in a DEA case and could spend half his life in prison, a father makes a deal with the DEA to trade them information for his son’s release. To do this, he must implant himself undercover in the dangerous world of cartel drug dealers. Filmmakers: Writer-director Ric Roman Waugh used to be a stuntman. Now, he is on his third feature film. While neither of his films are critically applauded, average moviegoers seem to enjoy his last film Felon. He is working again with cinematographer Dana Gonzales and production designer Vincent Reynaud. New to the team is composer Antonio Pinto (City of God). Cast: Dwayne Johnson stars and is also producing (I guess he is famous enough now that he does not need his wrestling moniker ‘The Rock’ anymore on movie posters and title cards). Nadine Valazquez, Harold Perrineau, Susan Sarandon, Michael Kenneth Williams, Jon Bernthal, Barry Pepper, and Benjamin Bratt make up the supporting cast. Expectations: Snitch looks like a very generic action crime thriller – every action beat and plot point is pretty much already known before the viewer even walks into the theatre. Thus, for this to be any good, the action better be exciting and the plot and characters better be at least somewhat fresh – but really, these are things that probably will not happen and this will just be another throwaway February release. I do enjoy The Rock though (as an Attitude Era wrestling fan). Oh yeah, I almost forgot, the story is also based on true events, because that somehow makes it more interesting (only the events have been fictionalized so the scenes are not boring, specifically the action sequences). Trailer: Here.


Identity Thief (Seth Gordon) – Comedy – Feb 8
Plot Summary: Sandy is just your average guy with a family and a boring job. And, he is the victim of identity theft. However, Sandy is not going to take it lying down. He decides to go and find the person that stole his identity (who happens to be a deceptively harmless-looking woman named Diane) and bring them to justice, and by doing so expunging his own record. How hard could it be? Filmmakers: Director Seth Gordon got his career off to a great start with the documentary The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters, but then he went into feature comedies with Four Christmases (which was a failure critically and commercially). Next, he directed episodes for many of TV’s best comedies: Parks and Recreation, Community, The Office, and Modern Family. In 2011, he returned to features with the breakout hit Horrible Bosses putting him back atop the list of the genre’s most sot after directors – thus, expectations are high for Identity Thief, which seems to have the same feel as Horrible Bosses. He is working again with composer Christopher Lennertz and production designer Shepherd Frankel. New to the team is cinematographer Javier Aguirresarobe (Fright Night). Cast: The film stars Jason Bateman (working again with Gordon) and Melissa McCarthy. The supporting cast features Robert Patrick, Genesis Rodriguez, Amanda Peet, John Cho, Jon Favreau, Eric Stonestreet, Maggie Elizabeth Jones, Jonathan Banks, Clark Duke, Morris Chestnut, Ben Falcone, and T.I. Expectations: Identity Thief looks funny, and really that is all that matters for this type of comedy (forgettable, but in the moment very entertaining). But, Jason Bateman is already overused and bland, and Melissa McCarthy’s bit is going to be tired soon enough as she is being put in everything (she is in This Is 40 which came out in December, this film, The Heat due in April, The Hangover Part III due in May, and Tammy due later this year to go along with her regular TV gig Mike & Molly). The other potential issue is that Craig Mazin wrote the script, and he is responsible for many of the worst films (let alone comedies) in recent memory (Scary Movie sequels and another awful spoof movie – and The Hangover Part II, which took something funny and made it bad). So in summary, yes it looks funny (mostly because of wacky Melissa McCarthy), but there are concerns. Trailer: Here.


Dark Skies (Scott Charles Stewart) – Sci-Fi Thriller – Feb 22
Plot Summary: A family lives in a house. Weird stuff starts happing. Inexplicably, they stay in the house and try to deal. It all comes to a head (my prediction is aliens). Filmmakers: Writer-director Scott Stewart used to do visual effects for movies, but now he makes films. His first two were Legion and Priest (I did not see Legion, but I thought Priest was awful) – this is his third. He is working with composer Joseph Bishara (Insidious), cinematographer David Boyd (The Walking Dead), and production designer Jeff Higinbotham (collaborated with Stewart on Legion). Cast: Keri Russell and Josh Hamilton star, with J.K. Simmons in support. Expectations: Dark Skies looks like an okay horror thriller. It is produced by the Paranormal Activity team, so take that as you will. For his third feature, Stewart seems to be playing it safe with a more traditional genre film, versus the grander concept stuff of his first two films (especially Priest). If you like this kind of home invasion thriller (maybe the best of which is Poltergeist) then maybe this is something to check out, but for most of us this is probably a pass. Trailer: Here.

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