Dear John, From Paris, Wolfman, Percy Jackson, Valentine’s Day

Channing Tatum and Amanda Seyfried in Dear John

Dear John

3.5 stars

It’s a movie engineered to not appeal to me, a single guy in his mid-20s. And for the most part, it really doesn’t. But if Hannah Montana taught me anything, it’s to look at a film through the eyes of the intended audience. I can totally see why the intended audience, females, would dig this flick. I can’t in good conscience say it’s bad just because it’s of no particular interest to me. Still a decent flick.

After a whirlwind spring time romance between vacationing college student Savannah (Amanda Seyfried) and soldier-on-leave John (Channing Tatum), the two lovers fight to keep their love strong, despite being literally worlds apart. Eventually the long distance stress proves too much for the young couple, and part ways.

First off, there are justified comparisons to The Notebook. Mostly due to them both being books written by Nicholas Sparks. But the primary difference is why Dear John just didn’t work. Seyfried and Tatum, while not terrible, just don’t exhibit the same level of talent as Rachel McAdams and Ryan Gosling in The Notebook. Nor do they have the same chemistry. Don’t get me wrong, they’re good. And I’m a huge fan of Seyfried and really want her to have that break-out flick, but this just wasn’t it. She was playing beneath her ability in this one.

The biggest problem though, was that it was a good story told only competently. When Nick Cassavetes did The Notebook, it was a damn good story told very well. With Laase Halstrom… Listen, he can normally do a good job, engage the viewer in the characters, from What’s Eating Gilbert Grape to The Cider House Rules to The Hoax, all high marks on his resume. But this one, he phoned it in just as much as Seyfried did. And when the level of story telling isn’t on par with the story itself, the story then suffers.

But it’s not entirely bad. It maybe a movie built on clichés, but sometimes the cliché works. Which is why it’s a cliché in the first place. On a certain level, it’s an enjoyable flick. But it’s not for everyone. Of all the romantic flicks out there, this one is just for the ladies. Don’t drag your significant others to it. See it with a girlfriend, but the guy will just end up resenting you for it.

See, maybe wait till DVD.

Jonathan Rhys Meyers and John Travolta in From Paris With Love

From Paris With Love

3 stars

Pierre Morel follows up his intense Taken with his more action oriented, albeit dumber, From Paris With Love. While it may not be as explosive as his last effort, it certainly has more explosions.

Ambassador’s Aid James Reece (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) really wants to be a spy. And he gets his shot by partnering with Charlie Wax (John Travolta), who despite his unorthodox methods, always gets the job done. The two must follow a trail from drug dealers to terrorists to prevent bad things from putting a halt to a peace conference in Paris.

I’ve long said that in his later years, John Travolta was at his best as a bad guy (Battlefield Earth aside). He seems to have more fun in villainous roles, and definitely is top-notch here, finest since Broken Arrow. I don’t know about the bald head though. He doesn’t quite pull it off. Myers is still trying to become a household name, looking for that mainstream success that has eluded him so far. He’s got a good following, and his talent in this speaks for itself, but he’s still looking for that one thing to make him pop. What makes this buddy action flick work is the great dynamic developed between the two. Meyers reigns in Travolta, and I think Travolta brings a little something out of Meyers.

The action, while occasionally stunning, mostly comes off as formulaic for an action flick. But it does stand a cut above the Transporter franchise that has been coming out of the Luc Besson house regularly for the past several years. It’s a refreshing change of pace for the European filmmakers.

It’s an action flick. Nothing fantastic. Kinda dumb in parts. But even the big dumb action flicks are entertaining. The sheer joy of watching stuff get all kinds of blown up isn’t necessarily a bad thing. So guys, while your girlfriend’s at Dear John, this one’s for you.

See.

Benicio del Toro in The Wolfman

The Wolfman

2.5 stars

A throwback to the classic monster movies of the 30s and 40s is always welcome in my eyes. And with a cast including Benicio del Toro, Emily Blunt, Anthony Hopkins and Hugo Weaving, how could it not be anything but pleasing? Well, if you slow down the pacing, and get those actors on their off days, you’ll walk away disappointed.

Lawrence Talbot (del Toro) is called back to his family’s estate in rural England after the disappearance of his brother. He makes it home in time to be informed by his shut-in father, Sir John (Hopkins) that he has been found, mauled to death by some sort of beast. While conducting an investigation, Lawrence is attacked by the beast, and begins to undergo strange transformations.

First off, this kind of remake, I don’t have a problem with. It’s a classic tale, almost a folk story, and there’s no reason why our generation can’t get an updated version. Though I do still champion the merits of the original. It respects the source material, and in that vein, it’s a commendable flick.

The make-up and visual effects utilized for the werewolf character are top-notch, and in no way cartoonish. I give the filmmakers high marks for not walking into it half-hearted, expecting the legacy to carry the film. They attempted to make a good film. But unfortunately, they didn’t (completely) succeed.

Yes, it’s a horror thriller, and a slower pace is necessary to build suspense. But there is a fine line between suspense and boredom, and they didn’t so much as walk that line, they fell onto the wrong side and didn’t make any effort to get back on track. The intense, action/horror scenes were very well executed, but to get there, the “tension building” scenes, director Joe Johnston seemed to be dragging his cinematic feet.

The entire primary cast had this air of “phoning it in.” Emily Blunt is easily, without question, one of the most talented and capable actresses of this generation. Her performance was disappointing, not because she can do better (she can), but because, I just got the feeling that she wasn’t given the chance to. Her performance felt restrained. Hopkins and del Toro have both had their share of career ups and downs, so a “down” does become something to expect, but even the expected isn’t always anticipated, and there’s still that disappointment.

See it for the effects and great werewolf scenes, but be warned, the movie plods along, and you aren’t getting the actors’ A-game. Except for Weaving. He’s always solid.

Avoid till DVD

Brandon T. Jackson, Logan Lerman & Alexandra Daddario in Percy Jackson & The Olympians: The Lightning Thief
Brandon T. Jackson, Logan Lerman & Alexandra Daddario in Percy Jackson & The Olympians: The Lightning Thief

Percy Jackson & The Olympians: The Lightning Thief

4 stars

On the flip-side of a film that you thought was going to be good and ended up not delivering (The Wolfman), is the movie you weren’t expecting much out of, but ended up being really damn good. Such is the case of Percy Jackson, the next potential literary franchise adaptation.

Percy Jackson (Logan Lerman) has grown up thinking he was just an average, everyday kid. Come to find out, he’s actually the only son of Greek God Poseidon (Kevin McKidd), and now he’s been accused of stealing the most powerful of weapons, Zeus’ (Sean Bean) lightning bolt. Percy teams up with his best friend and guardian, a satyr named Grover (Brandon T. Jackson) and Annabeth (Alexandra Daddario), daughter of Athena, on a quest to track down the bolt and find the real thief before a war amongst the Gods breaks out.

For the past several years, all the major studios have been trying to find that one literary franchise they could turn into a film franchise that would replace Harry Potter once that was done. And so far, they’ve failed. Sure, Twilight’s become successful. But that’s not quite the same, those are Harlequin romances for the tween crowd. I’m talking deep, engrossing fantasy, tame enough for the kids, but good enough for the adults. I’m hoping, as I’m sure Fox is as well, that Percy Jackson becomes the next breakout success.

It’s flawed, sure. But if Fox nurtures the franchise, let’s it grow and develop, it would become a force to be reckoned with, and definite summer tent pole contention. Let it stumble through the first outing, and find its footing. A little tweak to the editing here, polish the script a bit more there.

Credit where credit is due, the young cast of Lerman, Jackson and Daddario handled themselves wonderfully alongside formidable veterans, including Pierce Brosnan, Uma Thurman, Joe Pantoliano, Catharine Keener and Rosario Dawson. They’re stepping into a film, knowing they’ll be compared to Harry Potter, and I feel that they’ve got a good thing going, and I for one would like to see it keep going.

Most of all, this is just a fun film. Wildly entertaining, great action, and really steps it up, considering it’s PG. There’s a healthy respect for Greek mythology, though it does take some liberties in the interest of creative license.

I do recommend this one, it’s a great flick, I loved it, so far the best movie of the year.

See.

Cooper & Roberts in Valentine's Day
Bradley Cooper and Julia Roberts in Valentine's Day

Valentine’s Day

1.5  stars

America makes its second attempt to make their own version of Love Actually, a large ensemble cast in a grand interconnecting romantic comedy. And it’s just a tick better than the last one (He’s Just Not That Into You), but that’s not saying much.

Ashton Kutcher proposes to Jessica Alba. He’s also best friends with Jennifer Garner who is sleeping with Patrick Dempsey, even though he’s really married, which she doesn’t know. Kutcher runs a floral shop with George Lopez. A little boy goes to floral shop to send a dozen roses to his crush, who is his teacher, who is Garner. That little boy is under the care of his grand parents, Hector Elizondo and Shirley MacClaine, but also has Emma Roberts for a nanny, but she’s off trying to have sex for the first time with her boyfriend, and they each get bad advice from their best friends, Taylors Lautner and Swift. Eric Dane is a football player with Jessica Biel as a PR rep, Jamie Foxx is a sports anchor trying to get a big story out of him, Queen Latifah is Dane’s agent, who has Anne Hathaway as an assistant, who is dating Topher Grace. And Joe Mantegna’s there, for some reason. OH! Bradley Cooper and Julia Roberts are on a transcontinental flight together. She’s a soldier on leave. He’s just a good-looking dude.

Wow that was incredibly convoluted and sloppy. But, so was the movie. The thing about Love Actually is that yes, the cast was recognizable, but it wasn’t a list of stunt casting, engineered to draw people in. They are all finely tuned thespians who almost always deliver a stellar performance and they had the script to back them up.

This just felt like “Hey, girls like this actor and this actress, guys think she’s hot, and let’s get a couple dudes from Grey’s Anatomy, and Taylor Swift just won all those awards, let’s toss her in there. And Kutcher’s all over the Twitter, which I hear is popular with kids. With a little Elizondo and MacClaine for class.” It didn’t have heart. It didn’t have soul. It was an empty film full of archetypes and stereotypes. I found myself more annoyed with the characters than anything else.

Some films can make clichés work for them, this one didn’t. It followed a mostly obvious trajectory from start to finish with no real surprises, save for the Roberts/Cooper story (which has ramifications on a few other stories). But ultimately the glue that held it together was Kutcher, and I actually did find his story to be quite fascinating, as much as I don’t want to admit that. Most intriguing belongs to the Grace/Hathaway dynamic, and I would have liked to see more out of that (those two have the most talent of the greener cast members).

It’s just one of those painfully obvious flicks that was thrust upon the audience and it feels like “It has all these people, SO LIKE THE MOVIE.” Honestly. It felt like the movie was yelling at me to like it. And that offends me as a cinema fan and a film critic.

Avoid.

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