Sunday, May 17, 2015

Mercy (2014)

Starring: Chandler Riggs, Joel Courtney, & Frances O'Connor
Rating: 1 1/2 out of 5 stars

I guess it was only a matter of time until someone put little Carl (Chandler Riggs) from the Walking Dead in a movie. Mercy is that film, and it is based on a short story by Stephen King. There is a reason this was a short story, there wasn't enough to make an entire book out of it, so what made them thing there was enough for a full length film? Rebecca, George, & Buddy are going to spend time living with their grandmother at her cabin in the woods. She is a sick old woman and it's only a matter of time, but she isn't a candidate for the nursing home, because she is psychotic. While caring for the old woman, George (Riggs) finds some mysterious occult stuff, that lead him to believe his grandmother isn't psychotic, but possessed. This film is everything that is wrong with the Horror movies of today, because it's not scary, different, or even all that interesting, it's more stupid than anything else. For most of the movie, nothing happens, except for this kid walking around testing his theory, but what does it matter, the old woman is going to be dead soon anyway right? Chandler Riggs stars and I really don't care for him as an actor. I realize he's just a kid, but Riggs is always playing some whiny loner, looking for help. Some people might find it cute or endearing, to me it's just annoying, especially in a film where he's the lead. The rest of the cast was underutilized, especially Super 8's, Joel Courtney, who is a terrific young talent, I would have liked to see more of. Mercy is written by the master of horror and stars two of TV's top young stars, but it was a story that never developed into anything, and is buried in some massive Stephen King short story anthology. This is not the kind of story that should have ever been turned into a film. I don't say it much, but this time I really believe that Mercy was just a waste of 90 minutes that I will never get back.


Starring: Elisabeth Harnois, Shawn Ashmore, & Matthew O'Leary
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Megan's twin sister has recently committed suicide, and it was a shock to everyone. She was popular, had a terrific boyfriend, and was on top of the world, no one knew just what happened. To celebrate her memory, her sister and a group of their friends go to their summer house for the weekend, and that's when Megan starts seeing things. Her friends think she's nuts, but Megan feels that her sister is trying to tell her something, so Megan goes on a quest to find answers. Why is it always the low budget films you hear nothing about, that turn out to be the most interesting? I honestly thought this was going to be another weird supernatural slasher film, but it wasn't at all. Solstice gives you so many angles and so many things to focus on, including intense flashbacks, a terrific mystery, a creepy neighbor, a missing child, a love story, and of course attractive people skinny dipping. The focus of the film seems quite evident early on, but it really isn't, as Solstice twists and turns in so many directions, that by the time it's over, you'll be left with your mouth open. The cast comprised of normally ancillary characters was terrific, especially Elisabeth Harnois. Her face may be familiar to film-goers, but not because of any leading roles, she has bided her time, taking small roles, learning as much as she could to use in performance like this one. Solstice was her chance to finally take the reigns and she did it with grace and intensity. The rest of the cast, featuring some well-known teen idols, also doesn't disappoint as Matthew O'Leary was hilarious, Shawn Ashmore was the level headed one, and Tyler Hoechlin was wonderfully weird. As I said early, Solstice is a thriller that has it all, from the supernatural to an earthly mystery, it is one terrific film, that doesn't stay in one place for very long. The rural setting and the way the story is told, with well timed flashbacks, just make everything that more intense. It may be a low budget, independent film, but it's better than anything you'll see on the big screen right now and I can't recommend it enough.

Transporter 2

Starring: Jason Statham, Alessandro Gassman, & Amber Valletta
Rating: 3 1/2 out of 5 stars

It was that kind of week, with finals over and the pressure off, I just wanted to see things blow up and bodies fly, Transporter 2 was perfect for that. Once again, we have a Statham movie, where the story isn't the focus and doesn't matter much at all. The allure of this film is the terrific characters created by Luc Besson. The mysterious driver with OCD is back, but is well into his retirement. Instead of helping the bad guys get away, Frank Martin (Statham) is driving rich people around, but he's forced into action when their young son is kidnapped. The story here is somewhat simplistic, but the bad guys are as creative as you will ever see in this type of film. I'm not sure where they found Alessandro Gassman and Amber Valletta, but they were so much fun to watch. He is a self-obsessed drug lord, with ridiculous moves, and big plans, while she is a deadly assassin, whose ability with a gun would put John Wayne and Clint Eastwood to shame. When Statham is added to the mix, you have the perfect formula for one intense movie. Transporter 2 was terrific in that it never stops moving and you will see things you never thought were possible outside of CGI, it was unbelievably entertaining. From the stand point of a film aficionado, while these amazing moves and characters make for a lot of fun, the story and dialogue are severely lacking. This film is not for people looking for a great story or loveable characters, it's made for adrenaline junkies who want to see explosions, long fight scenes, and intense thematic action. If you're all about the action, you won't find much better than this, but if you want there to be some greater purpose, a worth-while cause to fight for, or want to see the world become a better place because of all that happened, you'll be disappointed.

The Mechanic (2011)

Starring: Jason Statham, Ben Foster, & Donald Sutherland
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

In recent years, Director Simon West has become known for turning simple action movies into big hits, thanks his unique story lines. The story doesn't actually mean as much in action films as it does in other genres, because as long as people are getting killed and things are blowing up, most action fans are satisfied. Simon West wasn't and in recent years, he has given us some great stories to go along with the amazing action. His most recent film is actually a remake of the 1972 Charles Bronson classic, by the same name. The Mechanic is a code name for CIA hit-man, Arthur Bishop (Jason Statham). For years, the Mechanic has gotten the job done without question, until one day his next target is revealed as his mentor. The stories are similar, but the special effects and action moves are much more intense, and we have Jason Statham to thank for that. This man has single handedly taken action films to another level. For those unfamiliar, the man speaks several different languages, is trained in dozens of forms of fighting, and he's quick with a joke, many of which are unscripted. Every film Statham does is entertaining for his tremendous moves and unpredictability. The Mechanic gives Statham the chance to show off his talents and for that, I loved it, but trying to modernize the original story without changing it all that much, makes things feel a little outdated. I found many things to be tame by today's standards and the film itself does suffer because of it. Statham is paired with Ben Foster and that's problematic for the film as well. Foster is not known as an action star, he's the complete opposite of Statham, and in this case opposites do not attract, they had no chemistry whatsoever. In my opinion, Jonathan Rhys-Myers or Alex Pettyfer would have been a much better choice, but I am just a reviewer. That being said, the Mechanic isn't a bad movie, it has all the moves and wit of a typical Statham movie, but the story is more than a little outdated and aside from Statham and Sutherland, the casting left a lot to be desired.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Avengers: Age of Ultron

Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Chris Hemsworth, & Mark Ruffalo
Rating: 3 1/2 out of 5 stars

Writer/Director Joss Whedon received so much negative feedback from this film, that he actually deactivated his Twitter, but I can't understand why. It's not that Age of Ultron was a bad film, in fact there were many parts of it that were very impressive, but what bothered people was how Age of Ultron wasn't geared toward general audiences. In the first film, even if you'd never seen a Marvel film, you could follow the story and enjoy it, but that's not the case with the sequel. Age of Ultron is aimed more at the comic-con crowd and parts of it were very confusing to those of us who aren't familiar with the comics that the film is based on. There are a lot of new characters and new technologies introduced in this film, without any kind of background information given, and as the film progresses, it did become confusing. The story begins with the Avengers as a separate faction from Shield, centering on Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) and David Banner (Mark Ruffalo) working to develop a new type of artificial intelligence. The pair believe that if they can create this intelligence, everyone can retire and won't have to fight anymore. As always there is a problem though, as the A.I., known as Ultron, comes to life and fails to see the distinction between saving humanity and destroying the planet for the protection of humanity. The film then becomes a race for the clock as the mighty Avengers try to stop Ultron from destroying the planet. We all know that sequels aren't as good as the original, because the creators change things too much and Age of Ultron is no exception. The story isn't even close to as strong as the first film, but that doesn't mean it wasn't good. The special effects are even better and the chemistry between the large cast is much more important then it had been previously. These things set the foundation for a better film, but the story fails to deliver. The Avengers is a monumental undertaking for cinema, with so many well known actors and characters trying to come together as one. The idea is ingenious and the technology behind the whole thing is nothing short of magic, but as far as films go, while I loved the first one, I could have done without Age of Ultron.

Chicago Overcoat

Starring: Frank Vincent, Katherine Narducci, & Mike Starr
Rating: 1 1/2 out of 5 stars

Many actors known for their work in Mafia films become tight-cast as gangsters, meaning that audiences are so familiar with them as a gangster, that they can't see them as anything else. That's fine when they're younger, but once these guys are in their 70s, it becomes a lot harder to find work. Some turn to comedy, while other try, unconvincingly, to remain gangsters, this is one of those stories. Lou Marazano (Frank Vincent) is one of the last OG's in his Chicago crew. While he still sees himself as a gangster, the next generation sees him as a dinosaur. One night Marazano becomes aware of how the others see him, and decides to take on one last big job in order to prove himself. Frank Vincent was terrific in the Sopranos, because he was an old school boss. In this film, he's an old school hitman, running around town, trying to intimidate people with a Tommy-Gun. The whole thing, wasn't believable or funny, it was just sad, watching this old man running around like it's still 1940. The rest of the cast was no prize either, made up of guys who had three lines in a Sopranos episode 15 years ago. Chicago Overcoat proves that it takes a lot more than just gun fire and some f-bombs to make a decent film about the Mafia. There is no honor in this final act of violence and there isn't even a compelling reason for it. The whole theme of this film is an old man trying to prove something that he no longer has. I feel badly that a legend like Frank Vincent is forced to take on roles like this and I just found the whole thing to be sad and in poor taste.

By The Gun

Starring: Ben Barnes, Leighton Meester, & Harvey Keitel
Rating: 3 1/2 out of 5 stars

When a man takes the oath to become a made guy in the Mafia, he promises to put the family before anything else. For most gangsters, this never becomes an issue, but for Nick Tortano (Ben Barnes) it becomes the basis for an impossible decision. A series of events lead Tortano into having to decide between his new family and his old one. Either choice means that someone he loves will become a target, and he has to decide, who in his life is the most expendable. Most films about the Mafia follow a very specific pattern, leading people to say all these films are the same. There is some truth to that, but By The Gun is certainly an exception. The film follows a new member is a small family and the story told from his point of view, giving us a very different look at La Costa Nostra. Ben Barnes stars in one of his first leading roles and was outstanding. Barnes, mostly recognized as an ancillary character from the Chronicles of Narnia series, finally steps into the spotlight and shows that he has what it takes to star. I was impressed with the story and setting of this film, but I wasn't crazy about the cast, in fact, there were several actors who really brought the quality of this movie down, but Ben Barnes wasn't one of them. His performance really added some legitimacy to this film and if it wasn't for him, I wouldn't be recommending it at all. By The Gun is not your typical Mafia movie, because Nick Tortano isn't your typical gangster. He has a conscience that comes into conflict with his life of crime at every turn and watching him decide the fate of everyone he loves was really something worth watching.