Unknown

Unknown is generally an interesting movie, with effective suspense, a somewhat believable storyline, mostly good actors, and a finale that more or less satisfies.

Here’s a trailer:

The deets:

Released February 18, 2011

Written by Oliver Butcher, and Steven Cornwell, based on the novel Out of My Head by Didier Van Cauwelaert

Directed by Jaume Collet-Serra

Starring: Diane Kruger, January Jones, Liam Neeson, Aidan Quinn, Bruno Ganz, Frank Langella, and Sebastian Koch

Rated: PG-13

*     *     *     *     *

Story

Martin Harris (Neeson) has just arrived in Moscow with his wife Elizabeth (Jones) for an important conference. But he leaves a briefcase at the airport by mistake and leaves his wife to check into the hotel by herself. On his way to the airport, the cab he’s in is in an accident and he nearly dies, although the lady driver rescues him.

He wakes from a brief coma with some partial amnesia. He remembers that he’s in Moscow with his wife for a conference, but when he goes to the hotel and finds Elizabeth, she doesn’t recognize him and a different man (Quinn) is Martin Harris. Nobody recognizes him; it seems his life has been erased or usurped.

Harris tracks down the cabbie, Gina (Kruger), and she recognizes him, leading him to realize something nefarious is happening. Now Harris has to uncover what is happening to him, but the truth is far beyond what he expected and he also ends up having to save the life of a terrorist target.

Everything culminates in a showdown between the two Martins, and that fight is kind of epic. How could it not be? Two aging Irish actors beating the tar out of each other is fine holiday fun.

Critique

The single worst aspect of Unknown is January Jones. She is bland, dull, flat, and altogether off-putting. Every time she’s on screen, her energy-suckness removes the viewer from the film. This person needs to get out of entertainment and perhaps take up a career in carpentry.

Otherwise, Unknown is an intriguing concept that is explored well. The writing is certainly nothing stunningly fresh, and the action film unfolds in a generally formulaic fashion. But with a lead like Liam Neeson, and with Diane Kruger very convincing in her cabby with a conscience role, this is an enjoyable film. Frank Langella makes a late entry and he makes the most of an enigma of a role.

The most redeeming factor of how this movie unfolds is that the real Harris, while he does have to get physical, uses his brains to overcome the baddies. Sure, the likely medically unfounded amnesia is a little convenient, but Neeson pulls it off.

Content warnings: plenty of action violence, some swearing, a little sensuality

Writing: 3.5         Acting: 4          Overall: 3.5

Don’t think it’s unknown to me how much you share this review with your social networks. Any less than three different links and I will find you and give you amnesia.

Or not.

Yeah, probably not.

Share

I Am Number Four

I Am Number Four, as a movie, is better than the book. Unfortunately, that’s not saying a lot. It’s altogether an okay movie, but it lacks spark and freshness, so it ultimately is quite boring.

Here’s a trailer:

The deets:

Released February 18, 2011

Written by Alfred Gough, Miles Millar, and Marti Noxon, based on the book by Jobie Hughes (using the penname Pittacus Lore)

Directed by DJ Caruso

Starring: Dianna Agron, Teresa Palmer, Alex Pettyfer, Timothy Olyphant, Kevin Durand, Callan McAuliffe, and Jake Abel

Rated: PG-13

*     *     *     *     *

Story

John Smith (Pettyfer) and the man he calls his father, Henri (Olyphant), are not from this world. They come from a different planet and here on earth they are being hunted by some bad guys called the Mogadorians, led by their chief ugly baddy (Durand). John is the fourth of seven young people from their world, and apparently they must be killed in a certain order. When the third of the young people is killed, a bright shining tattoo appears on John’s leg, alerting him to the fact that he’s next on the Mogadorians’ hit list.

John and Henri’s chief strategy is to lay low and stay off radar so the Mogadorians will have no way of finding them. The problem is that John has uncontrollable powers and such that are difficult and sometimes impossible to hide.

Do you see the problem with this story yet? You will in the Critique section.

So John and Henri go on the run, finding new identities in a smallish town, whereupon John insists that he go to school to appear normal. Although both he and Henri know that alien things are going to keep happening to John and a public high school is a terrible place to try to keep those things quiet.

So that makes sense.

But it’s all fine because that’s when Dianna Agron shows up. She plays Sarah Hart, a sweet young lady who photographs all kinds of things and who immediately shares a connection with John Smith. Sarah, of course, has a jealous jock of a previous boyfriend, Mark (Abel), so now we have a good excuse to see John’s powers in action.

Sam (McAuliffe) sees what John does and is convinced that John is not of this world and that John can help Sam find his dad, who had alien encounters.

Meanwhile, the Mogadorians are getting closer. And this all ends in a big, nasty, CG-filled showdown in the high school, during which a mysterious girl (Palmer) shows up and kicks everyone’s butt.

Critique

Look, Pettyfer, Olyphant, Agron, and the others do their level best with the material. But when your story never gives a reason for any of the action, a motivation for the aliens to have been attacked and swept from their planet, followed by a reason for the Mogadorians to have chased them to Earth– or at least a believable reason– then the movie’s just not going to work. Add to that the fact that John is essentially a complete idiot, his love for Sarah might actually just be something that occurs due to the biology of his race, and that a random creature shows up for no apparent reason– and you just have nothing to connect with.

In I Am Number Four, you have formulaic tripe that feels mass-produced in order to score the most money possible. Which is no surprise, since this movie is a product of what is essentially an unethical novel/movie factory run by James Frey– that guy who got publicly excoriated on Oprah for his Million Little Pieces fabrication.

In fairness, there are some okay interactions and some of the dialogue snaps along nicely, and the effects are nearly flawless. But this is an empty, poorly thought-out story. At least it’s not too long and you get to watch Dianna Agron be a truly graceful person.

Content warnings: Some mid-level language, a fair amount of scifi violence

Writing: 1.5          Acting: 3          Overall: 2

Be number 1 and make this review the number 1 thing you share on your social networks, or mean Mogadorians will come and saute you in a white wine sauce.

Also, did you like this book and/or movie? Tell me what’s wrong with you in the comments and maybe we can get you some help.

Share

War Horse

War Horse is about a horse with a knack for getting free of horrible situations and who is blessed with remarkable strength. This is partly why the movie is good, but is also why the movie lacks somewhat in emotional impact.

Here’s a preview:


The deets:

Released December 25, 2011

Written by Lee Hall and Richard Curtis, based on the book by Michael Morpurgo

Directed by Steven Spielberg

Starring: Emily Watson, Jeremy Irvine, Peter Mullan, Niels Arestrup, Celine Buckens, Tom Hiddleston, Benedict Cumberbatch, David Thewlis, and Eddie Marsan

Rated PG-13

*      *      *      *      *

Story

When farmer Ted Narracot (Mullan) gives in to pride and outbids his wealthy landlord for a sleek thoroughbred instead of a sturdy plow horse, his wife (Watson) is upset and his son, Albert, is over the moon excited. Albert (Irvine) names the horse Joey and trains the horse, finally getting Joey to help him plow an unplowable field. Despite, Albert and Joey’s efforts, however, the harvest of turnips is ruined and Ted ends up selling the horse to a cavalry officer who is shipping off to fight the Germans in Europe. That’s right, this is World War I.

The cavalry officer, Captain Nicholls (Hiddleston) dotes on the horse and follows his commander (Cumberbatch) into a raid on a German camp, but it turns out the camp is very well defended and the horse ends up in German hands. Not long after, Joey, with a big black horse as a friend, winds up being found by a young Belgian or Dutch girl named Emilie (Buckens) and she and her grandfather (Arestrup) keep the horses until they are taken again by Germans. Now Joey and his friend must haul artillery. It’s not a spoiler to tell you that the black horse dies of exhaustion.

That’s right, it’s a black horse that dies. The black one always dies to show the seriousness of the situation.

Joey ends up getting away from the German artillery corps and takes off through a no-man’s land between German and British lines. This is the best scene in the movie.

Meanwhile, Albert, Joey’s first owner enlisted in the army and is now in the infantry on the front lines. You can see where this goes from here.

Critique

War Horse is a legitimately sweeping epic. The narrative sweeps across Europe, through countless lives, and comes, as all epics should, full circle, with a single character overcoming odds to find a certain type of nirvana or elevation. Furthermore, the setting of the tale is grand: War-torn Europe. The story doesn’t blink at depicting the savagery of war, nor does it balk at using extra sugar at the sweet moments.

Another thing War Horse doesn’t do is flow very naturally or keep its pace steady. It also is not as effective as it wanted to be, although there are excellent moments, particularly the interactions between Emilie and her grandfather and the dynamics between the Narracot family members. The exchange between the Brit and the German on the battlefield as they free the horse is also excellent. The character of Gunther was a throwaway and a deliberately heavy-handed attempt at adding ‘heart’ to the movie.

But the horse naturally had heart and a story of a boy who is willing to do anything for his best friend, Joey the horse, already has heart, so it’s silly to add artificial heart in the form of a wasted character and obvious silhouette shots.

You will like War Horse. You will probably come out of the film wondering why you didn’t love it. I’ll tell you why: it’s trying a little too hard and the filmmakers know what works and put EVERYTHING in the movie, thus overdoing it a little.

One of the best aspects of War Horse is the lovely set design. Another is the cinematography. There are some truly magnificent shots of different parts of Europe, grounding the story solidly in space and time.

At least War Horse doesn’t blink at the harshness of war. All in all, it’s a perfectly enjoyable, if overlong, film that doesn’t quite satisfy but engages and is filled with very nice performances. Hiddleston as Captain Nicholls is particularly excellent.

Content warnings: Plenty of violence, but none of it graphic at all.

Writing: 4          Acting: 5          Overall: 4.5

I’m right and you know it. Compare my review to the ones on Rotten Tomatoes, and then don’t forget to share this review with your fan club, book club, serial murderer club, or eggplant aficionado club.

Share

Conan the Barbarian (2011)

Conan the Barbarian is longer than it needs to be. That’s not hard, because it should be a total of zero minutes. It’s that bad, folks.

Here’s a preview (warning: violence and even a flash of sensuality in the clip):

The deets:

Released August 19, 2011

Written by Thomas Dean Donnelly, Joshua Oppenheimer, and Sean Hood (Based on the novellas and stories by Robert E. Howard.)

Directed by Marcus Nispel

Starring Rachel Nichols, Rose McGowan, Jason Momoa, Ron Perlman, Stephen Lang, and Nonso Anozie

Rated: R

*     *     *     *     *

Story

Conan (Momoa) is a Cimmerian, a barbarian who lives by the sword. He was born by emergency slashing on a gory battlefield. How he was fed as a newborn is not an issue worthy of this film, so we move on to seeing him as an aggressive, devoted barbarian son. His village is destroyed, his father murdered, by a mean guy named Khalar Zyn (Lang) who is trying to rebuild an ancient, powerful artifact that will give him the power to resurrect his beloved witch-wife. Zyn is accompanied by some hulking thugs and his creepy witch-daughter Marique (McGowan).

Conan survives the destruction of his village and father and searches the land for his father’s murderer. We next see him as a hulking brute who is freeing a bunch of slaves, joined by his apparently good friend Artus (Anonzie). Conan is now an accomplished bandit, thief, warrior, sailor, and womanizer. Soon after freeing the slaves, Conan sees one of Zyn’s hulking thugs and uses that thug to get a lead on where Zyn is.

Conan catches up with Zyn just in time to rescue a female monk who might be the pure blood that Zyn and his daughter are looking for. This is Tamara (Nichols), who is tough when the plot wants her to be but screams whenever the sound editor runs out of ideas. The story plugs along as Tamara and Conan don’t get along initially but quickly become loyal to each other as they see each other’s mettle.

All of this leads to the climactic battle to save Tamara from becoming the reincarnated witch wife of Zyn.

Critique

Conan is a great character in Howard’s books. He’s unequivocally brutal and a serial womanizer, but he lives by a very stern code of honor. You should read them, so go check them out at Amazon. Conan in the new Conan the Barbarian is brutal, womanizing, cruel, and lives by one code: revenge. When Tamara shows up, she is a convenient way to try to make this guy somewhat sympathetic, but he’s still a mean guy who actually seems to lose some of his punch when Tamara’s around. Momoa plays the always-angry, brooding, vicious Conan very well- he may be a better actor than Schwarzzenegar was at the time the first Conan movies were made.

So the character of Conan in the new Conan the Barbarian is a little simplistic and a little stupid, so he’s kind of frustrating. The rest of the characters are flat stereotypes; even Tamara is flat, despite a rather lame attempt to make her a strong female character. We know nothing about these people and don’t give a tinker’s cuss about what happens to them.

Essentially, throughout the movie, we’re waiting for the good parts. Interestingly, I would imagine that’s how it is with porn– waiting for the ‘good’ parts. Frankly, Conan the Barbarian made me feel inside how I think porn would make me feel: uncomfortable and kind of gross and ashamed of myself. What’s more, there’s a lot of upper body female nudity, and there’s no need for it, except that this is a Conan movie.

Which brings us to one of the two major, global problems with this film, despite its attempt to stick to the source material better than the original Conan films. Where the old Conan films were campy and over-wrought, the new Conan the Barbarian is gratuitous and gratuitous. The sounds of splattering blood, the flying gore, the hacked off limbs: they all make this movie feel like a slasher film. Instead of pausing a couple of beats to focus in on mangled human bodies, maybe the filmmakers could have paused a couple of beats to let scenes transition well and build a little.

Then there’s the gratuitous nudity. I know that the source material had naked ladies etc, but I don’t need to see a bunch of breasts to have a good Conan experience. Surely the filmmakers could have used some imagination.

So the sheer gratuitousness of the violence and nudity is problem one.

Problem two is the way the story is told. Transitions between scenes are non-existent, with sometimes no logical reason for one scene to move to the next. It’s jarring. What’s more, there are scenes that are added for one very transparent purpose. For example, the battle on the ship is obviously there so Tamara can show she is a fierce fighter, so Conan will respect her. Then there’s the carriage in the attack on Tamara’s monastery. Why is it there? I’ll tell you: so it can be destroyed spectacularly.

All of that said, there’s some great production design and cinematography. The completeness of the Cimmerian village is really great.

It’s strange to have so thoroughly disliked this film, while still really appreciating Jason Momoa in this role. I loved his look and manner. I loved his fighting style.

But give me Arnie’s mumblings and campy brawn any day.

Content warnings: Lots of splattering, messy violence with hacked-off extremities. Plenty of top nudity and sexual activity. Almost no profanity.

Writing: 1.5          Acting: 2 (Momoa raises it from 1)          Overall: 1.5

Think I’m off my rocker? Check out Rotten Tomatoes and see just how right I am.

Now that you see this review is awesome and perfect, you should share it.

Share