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.



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.

Stuff That’s Streaming: Troll Hunter

Troll Hunter

Troll Hunter
Troll Hunter

The nicest thing I can say about the “found footage” sub-genre is that it exists. Cloverfield is its beacon of quality, while Oren Peli tries beat it to death every year with a “new” Paranormal Activity, and I didn’t even bother with Apollo 18 (did anyone?). But what started way back in 1999 with The Blair Witch Project (say what you will, I liked it), finally climaxed in 2010 with the Norwegian film Trolljegeren (Troll Hunter).

I say the sub-genre climaxed because this is the ultimate in found footage. One question I always raise is who, within the confines of the narrative, is taking these hours upon hours of footage of people being slaughtered (since this sub-genre is usually horror), and cutting it together into a 90 minute narrative? Whoever does is a terrible human being. But that wasn’t a big hang up for me in this one, I was with it all the way through and afterwards… it was only much, much later that the thought even crossed my mind.

Troll Hunter tells the story of a student documentary crew who trek out to investigate mysterious animal killings in Norwegian farmland, only to encounter the equally mysterious Hans. They’re able to convince him to let them join his hunt for whatever beast is killing the farm animals. While they’re all speculating that it’s bears or wolves, he reveals the dark truth: that he’s been in the employ of the Norwegian government to keep the Troll menace at bay. What ensues is a beautifully shot (easy on the shaky-cam) cat & mouse monster film.

Not to sound like a snob, but I’m one of those film nerds who can’t stand dubs, and will only watch foreign films subtitled. It’s a better presentation, and it helps get over the cultural hump. And because of this, I became much more invested in the film.

If you like monster films, this is definitely the one to check out.

10 Films to See This Summer Besides The Dark Knight Rises & The Avengers

I don’t have any reviews for this weekend. I went to a Renaissance Faire, hung out with friends and family, and I didn’t particularly want to see The Lucky One (It’s Nicolas Sparks, so it’s probably stupid, and was dragged out 45 minutes longer than needed to be by a previously unmentioned terminal disease related subplot) or Think Like A Man (looked OK, like Tyler Perry without the pandering stereotypes, but… I wasn’t interested).

So with no reviews, time for the stock filler of a TOP TEN LIST! Top 10 Films To See This Summer Besides The Dark Knight Rises & The Avengers. Those are obviously the big ones, everyone already knows about them, everybody will probably go see them. I will. I hope you do, too. You don’t need to be told about them. Here are the films that aren’t those ones that you should see this summer. It’s all releases, May through August. May starts the summer movie season, if not the solar season.

Chernobyl Diaries – May 25th

I’ve made quite a bit of fun at the expense of Oren Peli. And in my defense… not all of it’s completely undue. From the ret-conning of the Paranormal Activity plots as the sequels progress, to the lather, rinse, repeat method those films utilize to churn a new one out every year… But I was quite taken with his TV show The River, and am disappointed we won’t be getting more (though Netflix has expressed interest in picking it up and releasing new episodes). It was less of a “found footage” and more of a “Well… it was a film crew, so they shot everything.” And there was more of a narrative arc than Paranormal Activity. Which is why I’m looking forward to Chernobyl Diaries. There’s an actual plot driving this horror offering,  his crew is opting for the handheld look over the found footage look. Handheld usually means shaky-cam, which I’m definitely not a fan of. But there’s just something about Peli and his brand of horror that I can’t get enough of. Maybe it’s that it brought us out of the torture-porn era. I don’t know. But I like his stuff, and I’m actually looking forward to this one.

Prometheus – June 8th

I know this is some how being branded as an Alien prequel, which is a move I’m on the fence about. I’m all for Ridley Scott’s return to sci-fi, he’s directed two of the most influential films in the genre (the other being, of course, Blade Runner). I was listening to an interview with Prometheus writer Damon Lindelof, and as he describes it, it’s more a film that exists in the same universe and crosses over with plot/characters, but as a narrative, has little to do with the other property, in the same vein as the works of Stephen King or Quentin Tarantino. That is an easier pill to swallow concerning this film. More so… Scott directing a script penned by Lindelof, featuring Noomi Rapace, Michael Fassbender, Charlize Theron, Idris Elba and Guy Pearce… I’m having trouble finding any fault in there.

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter – June 22nd

Say what you will about Wanted, I liked it, as well as director Timur Bekmambetov’s Russian horror/fantasy epics Night Watch and Day Watch. But even that’s not what has me most excited about this adaptation of Seth Grahame-Smith’s novel (which if you haven’t read, I suggest you do. You’ve got 2 months to read it. GO! NOW!). Nor is it the phenomenal cast that includes Benjamin Walker, Rufus Sewell, Dominic Cooper, Alan Tudyk, Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Anthony Mackie. No, it’s the fact that this film is a) being made, and b) getting a summer tent-pole release. This is a property that is way on the extreme of genre works, and doesn’t quite have that broad, mainstream appeal. Not that that’s a bad thing. It just sets a (good) precedent for genre films to get a wider audience, and if it’s any good, could lead to more exciting films in the pipe-line.

Brave – June 22nd

Pixar has a lot of making up to do. Cars 2 was a positively dreadful film. It was a quick grab at cash. They had built up this reputation for lovingly putting quality films into the world, and almost destroyed that notion with Cars 2. That said… they look to be well on their way back into all our good graces with Brave, their first film featuring a female lead. It’s the closest they’ve come to Disney’s classic princess film model, but since this is Pixar, we know it will be anything but. Maybe I’m biased because I’m for anything that involves Scotland. With Brenda Chapman at the helm, who directed the better-than-it-gets-credit-for Prince of Egypt and a good strong voice cast, I think Pixar will return to glory with Brave.

Seeking a Friend for the End of the World – June 22nd

There’s something about a people centric, apocalypse themed comedy that just screams “WHY WASN’T THIS MADE SOONER?!” There’s something sweet and charming about the trailer that grabs me and makes me want to see it. Just to see Steve Carell and Keira Knightly play off one another would be worth the ticket price alone, but then add in the brilliant ensemble supporting cast of Nancy Walls, Patton Oswalt, T.J. Miller, Gillian Jacobs, Connie Britton, Rob Corddry and many more, and this a sure-fire crowd pleaser. To top it off, it’s non-franchise, non-sequel, non-book, non-unoriginal… everything the internet forums could possibly want in a film.

The Amazing Spider-Man – July 3rd

Swing the pendulum the other way from Seeking a Friend…, here comes a reboot of a franchise we last saw just 5 short years ago, Spider-Man. The first and second Raimi/Maguire Spider-Man films were what ushered in comic-book era of films. They’re still landmarks in the genre and stand as some of the best of the super-hero films. The third one was a ridiculous piece of crap that did it’s best to undo all that the first two had built up. I still don’t know how I feel about a reboot this soon after the previous franchise… but director Marc Webb helmed the fantastic (500) Days of Summer a few years back, and with Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Rhys Ifans and Denis Leary (a particularly inspired bit of casting for Cpt. Stacy) in roles, and studying the trailer like the good little Spider-fan I am, it’s hard not to feel excited about it.

Savages – July 6th

Where 09 was the year of Sam Worthington, 2012 seems to be the year the studios are trying to push Taylor Kitsch. Two big budget action films (the bomb John Carter and May’s Battleship, which let’s say bombs, too, probably), and a stylized Oliver Stone drug drama. I’m not alone in not buying Taylor Kitsch as the next big thing, but it’ll be cool if he’s able to get a Emile Hirsch thing going. Flying under the radar, but doing consistently solid work. That’s why I’m looking forward to Savages. I like Oliver Stone, though he has been hit & mostly miss for the past decade or so. But when a good ensemble cast (including Kitsch and Hirsch, Aaron Johnson, Blake Lively, John Travolta, Salma Hayek, Uma Thurman and Benicio del Toro) and solid script come together, he can actually make quite the compelling film.

Ted – July 13th

Seth MacFarlane’s a love him or hate him kinda guy (as far as his career goes). There’s not much middle ground. I enjoy his work. Sure Family Guy isn’t the same show we fell in love with in 1999, and The Cleveland Show has been a gigantic piece of shit since day 1, but American Dad has actually gotten much better since its freshman season. And if you haven’t listened to his 2011 album “Music Is Better Than Words,” do so, right now, it’s amazing. Anyway, now we get to see how his comedic stylings translate to the big screen. I’m sure we won’t get cutaway gags, and rapid fire pop culture references, but that bawdiness, that crudeness, yet still something faintly intelligent, will all be there. And it’s Mark Funkybunchberg talking to a teddy bear! That’s hilarious. If you’re on the fence about Wahlberg doing comedy, see I Heart Huckabees (which would have been lost without him) and The Other Guys.

The Bourne Legacy – August 13th

I’m a huge fan of the Bourne franchise, as it completely revitalized the spy genre which limped through the post-Cold War 90s trying to find its relevance. What excites me is that this builds on the established story, bringing back established characters Noah Vosen and Pam Landy (David Straitharn and Joan Allen, respectively) while introducing us to Aaron Cross (Jeremy Renner), another agent in the Treadstone project who’s “gone rogue.” I’m most intrigued by the addition of both Rachel Weisz and Edward Norton, two phenomenal actors who we haven’t heard much from lately. Tony Gilroy steps up from writer to director, as he has written all of the Bourne films to-date. I’m approaching with caution, only because it lacks Matt Damon and Paul Greengrass, who built the franchise.

Lawless – August – 31st

Shia LaBeouf and Tom Hardy in Lawless

I still don’t know if it’s Lawless or The Wettest County in the World, but last I checked it was Lawless, so that’s what we’ll call it from here on out. But this is a new Prohibition Era film from John Hillcoat, longtime collaborator with Nick Cave, and director of The Proposition in 05 and The Road in 09, both fantastic and you should definitely check those out. Tom Hardy and Guy Pearce anchor a cast that also features Shia “I Hate the 80s” LaBeouf, Mia Wasikowska and recent Oscar nominees Gary Oldman and Jessica Chastain. It’s got a solid pedigree, with a script from Nick Cave (who wrote a script for a Gladiator sequel I would actually want to see, see item #1). This could be one of those quite summer releases that’ll gain some traction heading into the Oscar race, let’s just hope it doesn’t get tragically left in the dust like 2011’s Drive.

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