Reviews: Chernobyl Diaries, Men in Black III, Battleship

Chernobyl Diaries

Chernobyl Diaries

3 stars

Starring Jonathan Sadowski, Nathan Phillips and Devin Kelly

I have a love/hate relationship with the works of Oren Peli. I loved Paranormal Activity (as long as I watch the original ending, not the theatrical one), but hated the sequels. I loved Insidious. The River (his show on ABC) was oddly fascinating, but it really struggled to find its footing (I hope Netflix picks it up for more episodes, or he finds funding for follow-up films). Chernobyl Diaries is the first venture of the Peli brand that I’m overall “Meh” on.

Bradley Parker is marks his directorial debut with this film, after a long career as a visual effects artist/supervisor on Fight Club, The Time Machine and Let Me In, among others. He shows some serious promise in the horror genre, and for modern mainstream horror, Oren Peli’s a solid mentor to have. But Chernobyl just takes far too long to get going. We cross the halfway mark of the film before anything remotely scary (other than the car breaking down) even happens, as it relates to the overall plot. There are a few startles sprinkled here and there, but they’re unrelated  to the thrust of the film.

This is one instance where it would have been better to show things on camera. I know that, for the most part, what you don’t see is sometimes scarier than what you do see. But Parker took it to the extreme, and you see almost nothing, mostly reaction shots. You don’t even know what the Big-Bad is till almost the end of the third act, but it’s all in glimpses, and I’m still trying to figure out the precise nature of them.

The film is buoyed by a strong, yet mostly unrecognizable cast. I got a little horror-nerd excited when Nathan Phillips showed up. Phillips was in the amazing 05′ Aussie horror flick Wolf Creek (one of the best of the ’00s).

The big plus however is that it’s NOT found footage, a sub-genre that is starting to wear out it’s welcome.

Worth a rent, or a matinée if you really want to see it on the big screen.

Men In Black 3

Men In Black III

3.5 Stars

Starring Will Smith, Tommy Lee Jones, Josh Brolin, Jemaine Clement and Emma Thompson

I’m a sucker for many different kinds of movies. The two that pertain to this review are Will Smith movies and time travel. I’ve been a Will Smith fan since his Fresh Prince days (music career, not TV Show, that’s how far back it goes). Loved the first Men In Black, was OK on the 2nd, and this one was a suitable installment, and greatly enjoyable.

There was always something about K (Jones) that they never really fully explored throughout the first two, that they really cemented with this one. Diving into the character’s back story in a fun, lighthearted way, yet keeping the depth of the character was something I didn’t know if they could properly pull off, but to Sonnenfeld’s credit, he did. And the film is just as fun as the first one.

One of my favourite things to do with the first two was keep an eye and ear out for the throwaway pop culture references regarding who’s an alien, and there’s plenty in both the modern setting and back in 1969. Keep an eye on the background monitors at MIB headquarters, and pay close attention to K’s story about his time in the UK, and his exchange with Bill Hader’s Andy Warhol (one of the best scenes in the movie).

The biggest hinderances are the flow and the necessity. It’s a choppy, uneven film that has great scenes followed by filler followed by not so great scenes. And it fails to answer the biggest question: Why, after 10 years, was this film necessary? It’s fun escapism cinema, sure, but why retread a long dormant franchise?

Fans of the original will not be disappointed, but if you were only lukewarm on them, you could probably wait for the rental.

Battleship

Battleship

2 stars

Starring Taylor Kitsch, Liam Neeson, Brooklyn Decker and Tadanobu Asano

I never had any hint of a notion that this would be a good movie. Not once. But I would have liked for a character, any character (but preferably Liam Neeson with his growl) to say “You sunk my battleship.” But NOOOOOOOOOOO they were too busy making a movie that’s only slightly better than either of the Transformers sequels.

With two very high-profile flops within months of each other, can the studios stop forcing Taylor Kitsch on us? He’s got Savages coming out in July with Oliver Stone, and that could be where his calling is. Smaller dramas with directors of a signature style. But headlining blockbusters is clearly not his calling. He’s Sam Worthington all over again. Kitsch can act. You could see it on Friday Night Lights, you can see it in this… but he’s just not quite there. He can’t push himself over the edge into consistent, quality work.

Maybe someone else who saw the film picked up on something that maybe I missed, but as I saw it, we were the aggressors in the film. The aliens came to our planet, sure, but we met them with battleships and destroyers. They reacted to perceived hostilities, and acted accordingly. Again, as I saw it, I didn’t notice any hostile intentions instigated by the aliens. We were the aggressors.

It’s that kind of muddled plot ambiguity, along with a ridiculous script that’s on par with the worst of Michael Bay. But the action is solid, and the thin plot that strings the events together is less insulting than anything in the Transformers films.

This will make its way to basic cable in a few years, and if you find yourself with nothing to do one lazy Saturday afternoon (and you still have cable), then you could find worse things to watch. It’s not a complete waste of 2 hours of your time.

Reviews: Safe, The Five-Year Engagement, The Raven

Safe
Safe

Safe

2 stars

Starring Jason Statham, Catherine Chan, Robert John Burke & Anson Mount

One thing I like about Statham is that he has a type of film. He’s found a genre he likes, and he sticks with it- loner action hero. He does it quite well, and I tend to like his films. That’s not to say they’re generally good… but I enjoy them. Safe has some solid action, but is ultimately hindered by a ridiculous plot and sloppy writing.

There was one line in particular that was uttered by two different characters in two different scenes. The characters had no contact during their respective scenes. So in addition to being a well-worn plot, the writers are recycling their own dialogue within their own movie. That was one of the more cringe worthy aspects of the film.

Otherwise, they made the film way more complicated than it really had to be, with plot points being introduced way too late in the game to make them viable to the arc. It’s similar to the problems with The Raid. They hit the third act when they realize they need to a way to tie it all together, and they end up doing so in the laziest way possible.

But credit where credit is due, Statham does a considerable amount of actual acting in this role, playing a broken, world beaten man who does what he has to do out of some sense of redemption. And of course the action is wildly entertaining, it’s what he does best. I just wish he’d pick better vehicles to showcase it. I can’t wait for his return in The Expendables 2. If you absolutely have to see it, I say wait for DVD/Netflix.

The Five-Year Engagement
Jason Segel and Emily Blunt in The Five-Year Engagement

The Five-Year Engagement

3.5 Stars

Starring Jason Segel, Emily Blunt, Chris Pratt, Alison Brie

The comedy team of Jason Segel and Nicholas Stoller is one of the more productive and hilarious in recent years.  They kicked it off 4 years ago by working on Forgetting Sarah Marshall together, Stoller directed, Segel wrote and starred. They carried that success into getting the prestigious gig of writing  The Muppets last year (which Stoller also directed, and Segel also starred in). Fast forward to this year, and we get their latest offering, which despite a strong cast and solid premise, just isn’t as strong as their previous efforts.

I can’t not like Segel. He’s a very funny guy, and so disarming with it. He’s just a nice guy you’d love to hang out with. Everything he’s in, from How I Met Your Mother to the movies mentioned, he’s just so gosh darn likable. Add into the mix the beautiful and equally charming Emily Blunt, who is always a delight, with Parks & Recreation‘s Chris Pratt and Community‘s Alison Brie, and you’ve got the perfect recipe for comedy gold. But it just goes on too long.

I have no problem with long movies. Some of my favourite movies push the three-hour mark. This one was slightly over 2, and that’s not terrible for a comedy… if they can keep the audience’s interest. Unfortunately the film drags way too much and can’t overcome that fact.

It’s a standard romantic comedy, and you can guess the end of the film with the trailer, but it’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey, and they take the long way to get there. During the parts where it drags, there’s also a drought of laughs, which is where I would get lost. It’s right around the middle of the 2nd act, and the 3rd act is slow going. If they would just trim the fat, this would be perfect.

If you’re looking for a good date night movie, this is it, just be warned that it gets a little tedious in the middle.

The Raven
The Raven

The Raven

3 stars

Starring John Cusack, Alice Eve, Luke Evans, Brendan Gleeson

Much like last year’s Anonymous did with Shakespeare, The Raven looks to cast a new light on a famous writer, this time we head to the 19th century and take a look at Edgar Allan Poe. And much like last year’s Anonymous, it’s actually a really good film if you know absolutely nothing about the writer or the times. Having written term papers in college on both men, my enjoyment was a little marred.

This is a sort of departure for Cusack, as he’s not known for doing period piece. I kind of like him as Poe. He really played it straight, with some classic Cusack neuroses thrown in, which was a good choice. I was scared they were going to go over the top gruesome with him, and play him his as more of a caricature than as a man, and I appreciate the restraint.

As someone who didn’t particularly care for V For Vendetta (the message got lost/forgotten), I was quite impressed with director James McTeigue’s vision. Much like Cusack, he played it straight, and just made a really solid thriller. This is the kind of film that if Tim Burton got his hands on it, it would have been a schlocky macabre mess. But McTeigue kept the focus on the cat & mouse between Poe and his adversary (don’t want to spoil it for anyone) and plays out in an almost Holmesian way.

A really solid gothic thriller about the master of horror. It’s not worth full price, see a matinee or a 2nd run theatre.

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