A Whole bucket load of film reviews.

Lucky Number Slevin

Lucky Number Slevin is a fast paced comedy thriller about a case of mistaken identity. Slevin (Josh Hartnett) takes a shower at his friend Nick Fisher’s apartment just as two rival New York mafia bosses (Morgan Freeman and Ben Kingsly) send their thugs to collect on Fisher’s gambling debt. Downside for Slevin is that both bosses are being controlled by me of the movie, mistaken identity, this is a Lucy Liu we haven’t seen before. While she still doesn’t bring anything to the proverbial acting table, she does come off as a lot less annoying then she does in say… everything else she’s been in.

Freeman finally took a role which isn’t God, or a wise old man or something like that. And he doesn’t have to narrate, like he did in his past 7000 films. But he does seem uninterested in the role and this film. Willis plays the puppeteer assassin with a heart of gold, though like Freeman, he seems a bit removed from the film.

Again, here comes that recurring theme of mistaken identity. It’s rough to see these two actors, both of whom I am a fan, take a walk on this. They seemed distracted, like the film was a waste of their time. It’s not what I expect from these two. Fortunately they both have projects looming on the horizon that would return them to their more lively selves.

With so much talent and an interesting story, I really wanted to like this movie. I did, honestly. But the laziness of everybody involved (with the exception of Hartnett, who did his best with what he was given) dragged it down.

2 stars

Slither

Schlock horror films are as American as baseball and apple pie, and with horror films being the only genre that is easily bankable these days, it’s no surprise Universal Studios turns to Dawn of the Dead scribe and Troma Films alumni James Gunn to helm the latest fright offering, Slither.

Slither is a successful fusion of two different horror sub-genres: aliens and zombies. First the aliens come down and start taking over the world, starting with a rich man in a hick town, Grant Grant (Michael Rooker, and yes, that is his character’s full name). He becomes the “parent” of sorts to the rest of the alien slugs that take over the town. Then, the aliens turn the townspeople into bloodthirsty zombies, eating any sort of living flesh they can get their hands on. The town’s only hopes for survival are on Police Chief Bill Pardy (Nathan Fillion) and Grant’s love for his young wife, Starla (Elizabeth Banks).

It would take multiple viewings, a notebook and a film encyclopedia to catch all of the references and homages contained in Slither, but some of the more notable and obvious ones include Alien, George A. Romero’ Living Dead films, The Thing, Evil Dead, and Night of the Creeps.

The cast is populated by no big stars, but identifiable faces. Fillion is the most identifiable. Coming off of last year’s Serenity, his rising star is following much the same path as cult icon Bruce Campbell. Rooker, known best as Mr. Svenning in Mallrats, hams it up as the utterly grotesque uber-slug. Banks, in her biggest role to date, following minor roles in both Spider-Man films and The 40 Year Old Virgin, transforms into an undeniably appealing scream queen. Jamie Lee Curtis, the queen-iest of them all, would be very proud.

Gunn, while not matching the cool or scare factor he had with his Dawn of the Dead script in 2004, still puts together a funny and tight script that seems to come right out of a Sam Raimi mold. The scares to give you a good jump every now and then are there. The jokes are there to remind you that the whole thing is done with tongue planted firmly in cheek. The “ick” factor that makes you want to vomit is there.

This film is not for the squeamish. It just isn’t. And even the strong stomached out there should probably bring a bucket or a large cup, or just refrain from eating for a few hours before hand. When Starla walks down into the formerly locked basement where the transformed Grant had been keeping his food, which is nothing more than raw meat and the neighbor’s dog, you just can’t look. And the sound of flies buzzing, oh man, that’s just not right.

Unfortunately, like most horror films (especially modern ones), this one has no real social redeeming value. It’s pure escapism at its best. The shelf life of afterthoughts on “Slither” clock in at an hour tops, unless you try really hard. It fails to have any of the social commentary that Romero’s films (racism, consumerism) or John Carpenter’s films (sexism) or even some of Wes Craven’s films (parental intimidation) had. While it works as a visual homage to their films, the concepts (or lack there of) fail to match up with those it’s trying to emulate. The closest it comes to any kind of commentary is the addressing of the sanctity of marriage, and even that’s stretching it.

3 Stars

Political intrigue. A fast moving plot. Assassinations. Kiefer Sutherland. No, this isn’t 24 the movie. More like off-brand 24 the movie, only with Michael Douglas and Kim Basinger thrown in the mix.

In The Sentinal, Sutherland plays Secret Service agent David Breckinridge, estranged protege of Douglas’ Pete Garrison, and is assigned to sniff out the Secret Service mole involved in a plot to assassinate the president. Turns out the mole is Garrison, who just so happens to be carrying on an affair with the first lady (Basinger).

Don’t worry I didn’t give away a major plot point. A bulk of the movie is Douglas trying to prove he isn’t the mole, while trying to stay one step ahead of Sutherland and his rookie partner, Eva Longoria (Desperate Housewives).

So what is wrong with this movie? Aside from the obvious rip of The Fugitive, it doesn’t spark. Sutherland plays Jack Bauer (his character from 24) in a suit. I would personally want to see Sutherland stray away from that in his off time. Play a villain of some sort, or even a psycho (but not villainous).

I don’t watch Desperate Housewives, and this is the only thing i’ve seen Eva Longoria in, so it would be difficult to comment on her range of acting capability. But if this film is any indication, it’s pretty limited.

The two old-timers of the primary cast, Douglas and Basinger both play roles that are suited to their age. And oddly, about 15 years ago when this film should have been made, Douglas would have been right at home in the Sutherland role.

The script was mostly lazy, all the characters a type we’ve seen many times before, and nothing new is done with them here.

I don’t have much left to say. I didn’t like it.

2 Stars

United 93

Every true life event has had a film that kicks the viewers in the gut with it’s gritty and uncomprmising take on reality. Vietnam had Platoon, WWII had Saving Private Ryan, Jesus had The Passion of the Christ. 9/11 gets it’s hard hitting expose with Paul Greengrass’ brutally honest United 93.

Featuring a cast of virtually unknowns, the biggest name being Peter Hermann, best known for a recurring guest role on Law & Order: SVU, United 93 examines the last 2 hours of the passengers and crew on the doomed United Airlines Flight 93, which flew out of Newark on Tuesday, Sept. 11th 2001, was highjacked by 4 armed terrorists, and was crashed by a brave few into the Pennsylvania countryside, preventing it from reaching an unknown target in Washington, D.C. (Greengrass theorizes that the intended target may have been the Capitol building).

But it’s not told completely with in the confines of the plane. We have the air traffic controllers on the ground dealing with the attacks in New York and the possibility of more hijackings (they are still unaware of Flight 93’s situation) and the military’s handling of the attacks during those few hours.

What makes this film work, is the cast of unknowns and real people. Several air traffic controllers and military personell were hired to portray themselves, and I can only imagine how difficult it must have for them to relive this terrible day in both their personal history and American history. And you aren’t clouded by starry eyes by having a big name actor in the film, and that helps you connect to the characters more.

Greengrass’s patented “shakey” cam technique may get irritating or nauseating at times, but that all depends ont he viewer, I personally didn’t have a problem with, but several other viewers i’ve spoken with didn’t appreciate it.

In the history of cinema, only four films can claim the honors of having brought me to tears. Gladiator, The Green Mile, Field of Dreams and now United 93. It is that moving and powerful.

The biggest question to stem from the release of this film has been “Is it too soon?” Is it too soon after 9/11 to have a film about 9/11 put into wide release? I’m of the camp that says it isn’t. None of us will remember, as it happened 40 years before you or I were born, but the first fictional Pearl Harbor film, Remember Pearl Harbor was released into theatres just six months following the attack. So as far as time is concerned, we’re four years more lenient than we were 65 years ago.

I think that this is just about the right time to re-introduce us to the tragedy. New Yorkers certainly haven’t forgotten, but the rest of the country (particularly the government) seems to have stored it at the back of our collective minds and use it as a get out of jail free card when we feel backed into a corner.

This film and Oliver Stone’s coming August release, World Trade Center will stand as a reminder to exactly what happened to us. They (Greengrass and Stone) aren’t providing an “us vs. them” mentality, where we’re us and the terrorists are them. And they certainly aren’t trying to dishonor the names of those who died in the attacks. If you consider this a capitalistic ploy by American filmmakers to make a quick buck, ask yourself why there isn’t a 9/11 memorial erected in New York yet, then do a bit of research to find the answer. I believe that the filmmaker’s intentions are nothing short of nobel, and would like to officially support Greengrass and his film come awards season (I’ll wait till August 9th before I do that for Oliver Stone).

5 Stars

Mission:Impossible:III

It would be impossible to talk about a third in a trilogy without bringing up the previous two. And as far as the Mission:Impossible franchise, the first one is the only one worth talking about.

In M:I:III, Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) is all but retired, and is finally on the family way with fiancee Julia (Michelle Monaghan) but is called back into action when protege Lindsey (Keri Russell) is kidnapped by uber-villain Owen Davian (Phillip Seymour Hoffman). Hunt enlists franchise stalwart Luther Strickell (Ving Rhames) and newcomers Declan (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) and Zhen (Maggie Q) to aid in the rescue attempt. But the story doesn’t end there. Hunt’s overloards John Brassel and John Musgrave (Laurence Fisburne and Billy Crudup) are unhappy with his handling of the rescue attempt, which failed in the capture of Davian. We then embark on a globetrotting expedition to apprehend Davian, rescue the kidnapped Julia, and gain control of a powerful weapon, known as the “rabbit’s foot”.

As I often try to do, I set aside Cruise’s off-screen wackiness in an attempt to enjoy the standard action fare offered to us. And to Cruise’s credit, he delivers a performance innumerously better than that he gave in M:I:II, which was the case with all things between the two films. Also to his credit as a producer, Cruise has been trying to go with a different tone in each film, there by employing different directors with different visions. There was Brian De Palma’s intricate tale of thrilling espionage in the first one, John Woo’s mindless guns and explosions romp in the second one, and J.J. Abrams’ guns and explosions with a quasi-plot for the new one.

What shines is the mechanics of the supporting cast, all working toward a common goal, and while none outshine the glint off Cruise’s teeth, work as a team to make us wonder if it would have been better had Cruise/Hunt not been involved. I think with some tweaking, the cast is strong enough together to carry a film on their own, with obvious title and plot changes.

It never matches the brains of the original film, and Matt Damon’s Jason Bourne has surpassed both Hunt and James Bond as penultimate cinematic spy, as both seem to be taking cues from Bourne these days (see the trailer for Casino Royale.

J.J. Abrams has a little ways to go before he’s ready to tackle a feature film, though a pre-established franchise is a good kiddie pool in which to test the waters. He’s done well on the TV front with Felicity, Alias and Lost, and within a year or two, i think he’ll be ready to follow fellow TV auteur Joss Whedon to the realm of feature filmmaking (though with an 11th Star Trek as his rumoured project, he isn’t straying far into edgy or new material).

As far as popcorn action flicks go, it’s a good entertainment, but I advise catching a rainy day matinee, as it’s not worth a full price ticket. Unless you really, really like Tom Cruise.

2.5 stars

The Da Vinci Code

If you take the most popular book in recent years, you should have the most popular movie since The Lord of the Rings, right? Well, it seems that reading is dead to some people, and the only time the story was worth protests or controversy was the coming of the film. Amid protests, pending lawsuits, and outright denouncements by Catholic officials, Ron Howard released his adaptation of Dan Brown’s novel, The Da Vinci Code.

American symbologist Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks) and French cryptologist Sophie Neveu (Audrey Tautou) are on a trans-European quest to solve riddles left by Louvre curator, Langdon’s hero and Neveu’s grandfather, Jacques Saunier, as he lay dying. The riddles and subsequent quest alledgedly lead to the true identity and whereabouts of the famed Holy Grail. Hot in pursuit of the thinking man’s Bonnie and Clyde is Javert-ian French police captain Bezu Feche (Jean Reno), intent on pinning the murder of Suanier on Langdon and Neveu, and albino monk, Silas (Paul Bettany) under the command of a mysterious telephone voice known only as The Teacher.

With a pedigree such as the most popular book in the world, two Academy Award winners (Hanks, Howard and writer Akiva Goldsman), French film superstars (Tautou and Reno) and Gandalf (Ian McKellen), you’d wonder how such a film could fail.

Well, how about the miscast of Howard as director. Howard lacks the vision to properly adapt the novel and bring it to life. Some of the blame does go to his Cinderella Man scribe Akiva Goldsman for not writing a fitting script. But Howard’s awkwardness is more prominant. If we were going to pick name directors for this film, Steven Spielberg would have been better choice, but I think David Fincher (Se7en and Fight Club)would have been perfect.

The whole production felt rushed. Having just read the book, a lot of plot points were fresh in my mind, and that may have clouded the comprehension of certain things, which i think Howard and Goldsman were counting on. Looking back on it, the first 30-45 minutes were very rushed, and i don’t think things were adequately explained. They were still referenced and used in the movie, but not explained well. It suffered from the, what i call, Godfather syndrome. Referencing things from the book at the wrong time. They could have taken their time with the film, and it would have told the same story, and been a lot better.

Hanks was out of place as Landon, our hero. He doesn’t have or project the same presence about him that Langdon should have. Might I suggest seasoned conspiracy theory veteran David Duchovny?

As with Mission:Impossible:III, the supporting cast was impeccably put together, and the one true weakness of the cast is unfortunately the keystone (maybe it’s just a bad year for actors named Tom).

Slightly better than your average summer fair, but still doesn’t hold up when put against the equally action oriented yet wholly more insightful X-Men franchise>

3 Stars

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