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.

Detention (2011)

Starring: Josh Hutcherson, Shanley Caswell, & Dane Cook
Rating: 1 1/2 out of 5 stars

In 1996, Wes Craven came up with an new and innovative concept in horror. He combined a great slasher film, within a murder mystery, while having teenagers mock horror films at the same time. That film was called Scream and it was way ahead of it's time. In 2011, Detention tried to modernize this type of film and fails miserably. Detention is set at Grizzly Lake High School, a school which encompasses everything that is wrong with teenage life today. With a new hit horror film at the top of the box office, one person, who has had enough of the hip/trendy high school life, decides to make the film come to life at Grizzly Lake. This film mocks every modern teenage trend to the point of being offense. The film mocks everything from teens use of social media and cell phones to goths, cutters, emos, bullying, and even teen suicide. The killer on the loose is almost an afterthought in a film that is just in really bad taste. Josh Hutcherson stars as the most popular kid in school, and it is completely unbelievable that the most wanted boy at school is played by a short, hairy kid, with a bad attitude, who happens to be in his twenties. I usually like the roles Hutch decides to play, as they usually suit him to a tee, but Clapton Davis was never meant to be played by someone like him and it's painfully obvious. Hutch is paired with newcomer, Shanley Caswell, an unlucky teenager who often tries and fails to kill herself. She's a super emo outcast, who no one believe would ever be the target of a killer. Overall, Detention is a very mediocre slasher film under the veil of an even lazier comedy. Much like one of it's stars, Dane Cook, Detention tries much too hard to be funny. Comedy should be a natural thing, resulting from unusual events. The writers of this film put so many different types of people into such ridiculous circumstances, that what's supposed to be funny, comes across as stupid, impossible, and downright offensive. Despite the way it looks, Detention isn't even close to being as good as Scream and is most definitely a film you should avoid.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Remakes & Sequels: 2015

Many moviegoers believe that sequels ruin the original film and that remakes don't do the original films justice, however remakes and sequels are often times the highest money makers of the year. While most aren't recognized by the academy and are panned by the majority of critics, people still flock to the theaters every year to see the characters they know and love.

The Ultimate Movie Review would like to give special thanks to our friends for helping us with this years list!

Upcoming Sequels Expected In Theaters During 2014: 
 Alvin & The Chipmunks 4
The Avengers: Age of Ultron
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon II
Friday The 13th #13
Furious 7
Hitman: Agent 47
Hot Tub Time Machine 2
Hotel Transylvania 2
Hunger Games: Mockingjay Pt. 2
Insidious: Chapter 3 
Insurgent (Sequel To Divergent)
Jurassic World
London Has Fallen (Sequel To Olympus Has Fallen)
Mad Max: Fury Road
Magic Mike XXL 
Maze Runner 2: The Scorch Trials
Mission Impossible 5
Paranormal Activity 6: The Ghost Dimension
Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2
Pitch Perfect 2
The Purge 3 
Rec 4
The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel
Sinister 2
Spectre (James Bond #24) 
Spongebob 2: Sponge Out of Water
Star Wars: Episode VII: The Force Awakens
Taken 3
Ted 2
Terminator: Genisys
Transporter 4: Legacy 
The Woman In Black 2

Upcoming Remakes Expected In Theaters During 2014
The Loft
Point Break


Starring: Samuel L. Jackson, Julianne Moore, & Edie Falco
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Exploring racism and police misconduct in a mixed neighborhood, Freedomland had ambitious goals and tried to tell it's story without taking a position. As the film moves forward, it becomes very clear which way the films writers are leaning, and it defeats the films intended purpose. Julianna Moore plays a woman who claims she was carjacked in the black part of town. Samuel L. Jackson, one of the detectives assigned to the area, goes to investigate, and when he interviews the victim, she drops a bombshell, telling Jackson that her 5 year old son was in the car. We all know that Samuel L. Jackson is a legend and he performed like one in this film, but the problem was Julianne Moore. I get that she's playing a mother who is missing her kid, but she was so whiny and out of it the whole film, that every scene she was in was just painful to watch. Add to that the fact that she's trying to use some southern redneck accent, and she was barely understandable. A white woman claiming her child was kidnapped by a black man is the premise of the film and leads to the police putting down the hammer on the black part of town. It was a story that could have gone in so many terrific directions, but instead it falls flat on it's face, with nonsensical sub-plots, shotty performances, and of course a writer who did anything but tell his story objectively. The investigative part of the film was pretty interesting and Samuel L. Jackson is always great, but overall Freedomland is a cliche, that plays on racial conflict in order to get people to watch it.


Starring: Gary Sinise, Madeleine Stowe, & Vincent D'Onofrio
Rating: 4 1/2 out of 5 stars

Impostor is one of the lesser known stories by the master of Science Fiction, Philip K. Dick. It is so unknown, that one of his biggest fans, didn't even realize that this film was based on a story by Dick, until I saw it in the credits. As usual, the story is out of this world, as it takes place in the distance future, a future where the Earth is at war with an alien species. This species has the ability to clone humans in such a realistic way, that it is nearly impossible to detect them. Special military investigator, Hathaway (Vincent D'Onofrio), is tasked with figuring out who has been replaced. On the eve of a big announcement by the President, Hathaway intercepts a transmission claiming that her top military adviser, Dr. Spencer Olham (Gary Sinise), has been replaced. When Hathaway confronts Olham, he claims to have no knowledge of this, and unlike previous replicates, he has memories. As Hathaway prepares to eliminate Olham, he escapes to the surface, where he teams up with the exiled citizens who live there. Together they try to prove Olham's innocence, while avoiding being captured by Hathaway. Vincent D'Onofrio stars as Hathaway, and much like his role in Law & Order: Criminal Intent his intensity and determination are infectious. He's paired with Gary Sinise, an actor I'm always disappointed to see in a leading role, and whom always manages to surprise me with a great performance. He isn't what I'd call an action star, and may not have been ideal for the role of Olham, but he was very believable. Impostor was only one of Dick's short stories, but it is every bit as good as his better known works, which of course include; Blade Runner, Total Recall, and Minority Report. If you want to see a unique story that blends Science Fiction, Drama, and Action, look no further than Impostor.

The Expendables (2010)

Starring: Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, & Dolph Lundgren
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

In 2010, Sylvester Stallone has the idea to take every current and former action star, and put them into a series of movies. The goal was to create the biggest, wildest, most expensive action movies ever made, and have them feature every big name action star from the past 30 years. The studio was so much behind the idea, that not only did they give Stallone a huge budget, but they also approved a sequel, before the first film was even in theaters. It took me 5 years to watch this movie, because I honestly didn't think it was going to work. There is an old saying about having too many cooks in the kitchen, and while trying to include everyone was admirable, I couldn't imagine it working, I was wrong. Stallone leads a freelance para-military organization known as the expendables. These guys work for the highest bidder and do things the government can't. In the first installment of the now billion dollar franchise, the expendables are tasked with stopping a coup on a Caribbean island. If the rival organization takes control, the island would be the largest manufacture of illegal narcotics in the world, and would be impossible to stop, enter the expendables. Sylvester Stallone may be a senior citizen now and still somewhat hard to understand, but when it comes to action movies, you'd be hard pressed to find a better leader. His second in command is currently the largest action star in the world, Jason Statham. Even after seeing hundreds of action movies, including most of Statham's, the guy continues to impress me at every turn. All the strange accents make for an interesting mix of dialogue, but that aside, the story is good, the fight scenes are better, and the special effects are amazing. The Expendables was billed as THE action film to see and it does not disappoint.


Starring: Sasha Roiz, Jenny Mollen, & Dominic Bogart
Rating: 2 1/2 out of 5 stars

Movies like Extracted, have such potential, however mistakes in the story often become their downfall. Extracted is the story of a scientist who has developed a new technology, that allows him to temporary transfer his consciousness to another person. Once inside their head, he can see their memories and know their feelings. Of course the Government is interested in this technology for criminal justice purposes and pay the scientist to go into the mind of a murder suspect, to find out if he's guilty or not. Once inside, the scientist becomes trapped and must figure out a way to make the suspect aware of his presents, before he can figure a way out. The problem I had with this story is that the scientist becomes trapped the very first time he uses his invention. What scientist would ever use themselves as the guinea pig? Additionally, are we supposed to believe that the government would just drop a bundle of money on an untested technology? Once inside the mans head, we constantly see memories out of order and jump between scientist memories, suspect memories, and what's going on in the outside world, making for a very confusing film. Dominic Bogart stars as the suspect and really does a nice job, however the scientist, played by Sasha Roiz wasn't nearly as believable. Extracted had a great story to work with, but a mediocre star, with a confusing timeline, making it nearly impossible to follow. I loved the premise, the investigation was interesting, and Dominic Bogart was really good, but all those things weren't enough to save an otherwise confusing and uneven film.