Sunday, January 25, 2015

Straw Dogs (2011)

Starring: James Marsden, Kate Bosworth, & Alexander Skarsgard
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

For the 30th anniversary of Dustin Hoffman's classic film, Straw Dogs, the studio decided instead of re-releasing a special edition, that they would do a modern re-make of the film. For those unfamiliar with the story, it features a local girl, from a small Mississippi town, who has returned home with her new husband, after making it big in Hollywood. Once back in town, the new couple needs some work on the old farm that she inherited and hire an old friend of hers to do the job. The team is the most qualified in town, but right from the start you can see the tension starting to build. Straw Dogs is far from being a unique story, but what I really enjoyed about it was how methodical it was. The jealousy and tension are obvious from the start, but they build it slowly, through a serious of events, which lends credibility to both sides of the argument. Things continue to build right up until the end of the film when all hell breaks loose, thanks to an incident that really shouldn't involve either the workers or the couple. James Marsden and Kate Bosworth star and are both very good, but the star that shines the brightest is Alexander Skarsgard. I've never seen him in anything before and had no expectations about the kind of job he'd do and I was blown away. He really had to play two different roles in this film and it leads to some shocking and unexpected moments. Comparing the 2011 re-make to the original film, the stories are very similar, whoever I found in parts where the original was a little slow, the re-make turns up the intensity, and that's the way things should be. A lot of re-makes don't even compare to the original and are seldom better, but in this case it was. The producers looked back at the old film and enhanced the parts of the original that were too slow or didn't make a whole lot of sense, before modernizing the whole thing. There are some people who will never admit to liking a re-make, but I think with Straw Dogs, the producers took a good film and turned it into a great one.

The Client

Starring: Brad Renfro, Susan Sarandon, & Tommy Lee Jones
Rating: 3 1/2 out of 5 stars

The Sway brothers come from a single parent home, one that is so poor, that they have to be left unsupervised. Often times, they go exploring in the woods behind their trailer, but on this particular day, they run into another person, a man intent on killing himself. When young Mark (Brad Renfro) interferes, the man takes him prisoner and before taking his own life, he opens up to the boy about some things he never should have told anyone. Mark calls the police and ultimately lies to them, the way any kid would, but they know it and when the FBI comes into the investigation, the smart twelve year old decides it's time for him to go out and find a lawyer. It took me a long time to watch this film because as a fan of John Grisham, I prefer to read his books before I see his films. As is the case in the Client, a lot of those films are directed by Joel Shumacher, who remains true to the story and produces a tremendous movie. After a nationwide search, Brad Renfro was selected to star in the first role of his brief, but brilliant career. Renfro unfortunately died of a drug overdose fourteen years later, but was well on his way to becoming a superstar. Even in his very first performance, you could see that this kid had what it takes to star in a film like this and really held his own with the all-star cast. Here he's paired with Susan Sarandon, who despite her reputation is often times someone I find unimpressive. She can be fantastic, but rarely seems to fit the roles she's cast in, but not here. As Mark's lawyer, Reggie Love, Sarandon portrays one of her most interesting characters to date and gives a flawless performance. The Client is a story written by one of America's favorite novelists, and what makes Grisham's stories so good is the fact that he is a lawyer, so everything is accurate as well as exciting. Together with a terrific cast, the Client had all the action, twists, and turns a fantastic court room drama should have. This story may have been a little more out there than some of Grisham's other films, nevertheless it is still a film that will hold your interest and keep you on the edge of your seat.

The Good Shepherd (2006)

Starring: Matt Damon, Angelina Jolie, & Robert De Niro
Rating: 1 1/2 out of 5 stars

On paper, The Good Shepherd is a can't miss film. I mean how could you go wrong with a film about the beginnings of the C.I.A., directed by Robert De Niro, and starring multiple Academy Award Winners? I was really excited about finally sitting down to watch this three hour epic, the critics raved about, but sadly, it the case of the Good Shepherd, it was the user reviews that were spot on. Matt Damon portrays one of the C.I.A.'s top agents, a man whose life revolves around his work. The story is based on an investigation into what went wrong during the Bay of Pigs invasion, while at the same time flashing back to how Damon's character got his start in the spy agency. We see everything from his childhood trauma's to his recruitment in college, his actions in World War II, and everything else he did leading up to the Bay of Pigs. Matt Damon was absolutely the perfect choice to play Agent Edward Wilson, as his natural personality was a perfect fit for the characters. If Damon wasn't good enough, he's surrounded by a cast of Hollywood legends that any film would be hard pressed to duplicate, so why the low rating? Even the premise of the film was excellent, but it's downfall is in the story itself. The Good Shepherd is over three hours long and easily feels like it was double that, as the film moves at an absolute snails pace. While the story and the actors were phenomenal, the film itself is done in such a way that it's one long conversation after another, with little if any action in between. Every time an angle is built up, we're sent to the other part of the story and simply have to assume the conclusion, without actually seeing it. The lack of resolution wasn't the only issue, as the film's large cast comes back to haunt it. There are so many people in this movie that are all dressed the same, who all act the same, and who all look the same. I couldn't keep track of who was who. While the Good Shepherd has the makings of an award winning film, the truth is that everyone behind the scenes blew it. This film is much too long, much too slow, and much too confusing to ever be enjoyable, and personally I think it is one of the biggest disappointments to come along in a very long time.

Thank You For Smoking

Starring: Aaron Eckhart, Maria Bello, & Cameron Bright
Rating: 2 out of 5 stars

Lobbyists represent everything that is wrong with our country. Instead of voting for the common good of the people, they are paid in voters and campaign contributions, to vote the way big business wishes them to vote. The result is laws that benefit the few and hurt the many. Thank You For Smoking takes an in depth look at one of these lobbyists, who works for big tobacco. In a satirical way, the film shows how this man is able to achieve his companies goals through bending the facts, bribery, and out right lying in a way that is completely legal under our system of government. Aaron Eckhart is terrific, which will come as little surprise to many, however the film was anything but. Like most films, Thank You For Smoking has it's moments, but overall the film is one short scene that just repeats it's self over and over again. The situations are different and the players are different, but the arguments and agendas are always the same. After watching two hours of the same thing over and over again, I was more than done with this film. No matter how charismatic the actor may be, the fact is that what lobbyists do isn't terribly interesting. It's one meeting and argument after another and the film just completely runs around in circles. The film was critically acclaimed for Eckhart's performance, but nothing else. Some critics think that one outstanding performance makes a film worth seeing, but I don't. Aaron Eckhart is an outstanding actor, who has been great in many other films that are worth seeing. Thank You For Smoking is nothing more than an insult to the American people, that runs forty minutes too long, and just goes around in circles, it's not something I'd recommend wasting your time on.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Into The Storm (2014)

Starring: Richard Armitage, Sarah Wayne Callies, & Matt Walsh
Rating: 3 1/2 out of 5 stars

Many people say that Into The Storm was too much like Twister, but that is only partially correct. Twister was the story of storm chasers, trying to beat another team to the punch in getting data from inside a tornado. Into The Storm also has storm chasers, but they're only a part of the story, as it also features the town caught in a super storm, and a family caught in the middle. If you want to compare this film to twister, simply because of tornadoes and storm chasers you can, but Into The Storm still wins, as it features a better background story, better special effects, and is overall much more intense. Richard Armitage stars as the High School's assistant principle, that goes into the storm to find his missing son, and save other people in the path. While the British Actor isn't known for anything more than The Hobbit, he showed real intensity and fortitude, making the film so much more exciting. He's paired with storm chaser turned rescuer, Sarah Wayne Callies, best known for her roles in Prison Break and The Walking Dead. Callies usual plays the strong female character with great ideas, the leaders right hand if you will. In this film however she is little more than a follower, leading to a performance that wasn't nearly as good as I thought it would be. When you have a film with the popularity of Twister, anything else that features anything even remotely similar is going to be compared to that film and ultimately called a rip off, and parts of it could be considered that. When watching the film and now reflecting on it, I prefer to think of it as updating a great idea with a new cast, story, and effects. You are free to disagree and if you're one of those people who think of it as just another rip off, I'd still recommend seeing it for the special effects, if nothing else.

The Host (2013)

Starring: Saoirse Ronan, Max Irons, & Jake Abel
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Director Andrew Niccol (Gattaca, In Time) is known for taking ideas presented in short stories and turning them into something magical for the big screen. The Host is loosely based on Robert Silverberg's classic, Passengers, and tells the story of aliens who come to earth and use human beings as host bodies. Once inside, the aliens replace their humans consciousness for their own purposes, but some are able to resist this process and even control their alien host. Melanie Stryder (Saoirse Ronan) is one of those people, and while she can't rid herself of the alien presents inside of her, she can control it. Saoirse Ronan stars and it is great to finally see her in a movie that is worth while. Ronan is one of the top young actresses in Hollywood, but she keep playing roles like Hanna, in terrible films that do little more than to allow her to show off her talent. In those films, she was the only thing worth watching, so putting her in a film that's actually good, really gave her the opportunity to shine and she was amazing. Ronan played the role of Melanie, trapped in her own body but also played the alien Wanda that was inside of her. Once gaining control of Wanda, Melanie seeks out her family, which are part of the resistance. He main love interest is played by Max Irons, who was also terrific. Known more as a model and background character, this was really one of his first starring roles, and he was fantastic, playing a man caught between his love for this girl and his hatred for the alien inhabiting her. The Host has it all, an alien race, chasing a fugitive on the run, leading up to a major dilemma, wrapped inside a love story. Silverberg's Passenger is a favorite of mine and I knew with Andrew Niccol at the helm that this was going to be a good film, but I had no idea how innovative and intense the story would be, and for that, The Host is the latest film to join our list of must see movies.

My Own Worst Enemy

Starring: Christian Slater, Mike O'Malley, Saffron Burrows, Madchen Amick, Alfrie Woodard, Omid Abtahi, Taylor Lautner, Bella Thorne, James Cromwell, Mindy Starling, & Missy Yeager

Rating: 2 out of 5 stars

My Own Worst Enemy was one of the critics picks to be the big winner of the 2008 Prime time TV line up, but was cancelled after just nine episodes. Despite gaining a cult following, and being released on DVD, the show was very expensive to make and just wasn't that interesting.

Christan Slater plays Henry Spivey, a simple businessman with a wife and two kids. Every day when Henry goes to work at his Insurance office, he looks into the elevators retinal scanner and is transformed to another person, Edward Albright, a top spy for an unknown U.S. Government agency. 

The first problem I had with this show is that the whole family situation could have been copied and pasted right from the film True Lies. If that was the only issue, I could have gotten passed it, but the truth is the every episode in the series was nearly identical and the show just went around in circles. Something breaks in Edward/Henry's brain and he keeps switching back and fourth at the most inopportune times. The two are made aware of each and often have to take each others place. They even leave digital messages for one another. 

That fact is that this show just wasn't that original, not to mention it was very predictable and extremely frustrating to watch. You had to know that almost every time Edward went on a mission Henry would appear and have to do something he wasn't trained for. It was cute the first time, but by the fourth or fifth time, I had more than enough of it. The same is true with the Edward showing up during family time and seeming strange to his wife and kids.

The bottom line, My Own Worst Enemy had a great cast, but a mediocre, predictable story, that just went around in circles. All the guns, explosions, and special effects in the world would have been enough to save this show.