Tune to The 2 Guys Named Chris Show every Monday to get the scoop on the latest new films and releases to DVD from a Canadian point of view. Julie Crawford, Film Critic for The Vancouver Courier, gives her two cents worth every Monday morning on Rock 92.
The film was adapted from David Mitchell’s best-selling novel. But Cloud Atlas, the star-studded, time-travelling epic co-directed by Tom Tykwer (Run Lola Run) and Lana and Andy Wachowski (The Matrix fame) feels more like an expose on the sameness of formulaic Hollywood scriptwriting than it does an existential lesson on how “from womb to tomb our lives are bound to others”.
The plots span centuries: in 1849 a clerk (Jim Sturgess) is sent to the Pacific Islands to negotiate a slave contract, only to be poisoned by Tom Hanks. In 1936 a struggling composer (Ben Whishaw) acts as an amanuensis to a great composer (Jim Broadbent), and writes letters to his lover back home; in 1973 the lover (James D’Arcy) now aged, tells a reporter (Halle Berry) about a powerplant cover-up. Her life is endangered but she is saved by nuclear scientist Tom Hanks. A present-day publisher (Broadbent again), extorted by a Cockney Tom Hanks, finds himself in a nursing home. New Seoul in 2144 offers a twisted and gruesome extrapolation of Darwin’s theory, and needs a martyr (Doona Bae) to effect change. A few hundred years later we see Tom Hanks defending his village from a cannibalistic Hugh Grant and speaking to a visitor (Berry again) in a kind of space-age Forest-Gump-Middle-Ages mashup. Just assume that Hanks will show up in almost every plotline, dressed in bizarro prosthetics. (You’ll recognize him: he’s the one with the worst accents.)
In terms of casting, gender and race are erased: black plays white, men play women. But for all its CG flash and captivating production design, this three-hour magnum dopus feels like there was an incident at the local multiplex, resulting in five movies cobbled together. Themes of imprisonment, escape, faith and rebirth do resound in every story, punctuated by thuddenly preachy lines like “all boundaries are conventions, easily transcended” or “death is only a door” or “by each crime we birth our future”. But good lines in a novel do not a good film make.
North Carolina political backstory: Zack Galifianakis’ uncle Nick was a democratic congressman in the late 60s, early 70s; he challenged Jesse Helms in 1972. The action in the film centers on a congressional election taking place in North Carolina, with Galifianakis playing the naïve, cardigan-wearing new kid who goes up against lazy incumbent Will Ferrell.
There are a lot of nods to real-life politics – like Dan Ackroyd and John Lithgow, who play the Motch brothers, obviously lampooning the big-money conservative Koch brothers, mixed with an unhealthy dose of potty humour. Highlights include an improvised Lord’s Prayer and when Will Ferrell punches a baby in the face.
It’s dumb, it’s crass, but it’s a fun watch at this time of year: get out for early voting and then reward yourself with this movie.
Safety Not Guaranteed
Aubrey Plaza (Parks and Recreation), is Darius, a Seattle magazine intern tasked with hunting down the person who placed a classified ad asking for a buddy to time-travel with him: “Must bring your own weapons; safety not guaranteed”. She starts out thinking that Kenneth (Mark Duplass) is nuts but soon an awkward romance is kindled. The film won the screenwriting award at Sundance so the characters are drawn as real people, not comedy cutouts, and the film has plenty to say about loss, regret, loneliness and hope.
Extras include: a making-of featurette, the ad behind the movie, and a Time-Capsule easter egg.
Tyler Perry is the second actor to play Alex Cross: the first was Morgan Freeman, who played the James Patterson character in Kiss The Girls in the late ‘90s and in 2001’s Along Came A Spider.
Physically, Perry is perfect to play the 200-pound, 6’3” police detective and psychological profiler. He and his partner (Edward Burns), his friend since Kindergarten, are hunting a sadistic killer (“Lost’s” Matthew Fox, who reportedly lost 35 pounds for the role). He know he’s crazy because he opens his eyes really wide, has lots of tattoos, and does chin-ups naked in his houseboat (and other than Tom Hanks, all houseboat-dwellers in movies are weirdos).
The film plays like an amateurish TV cop drama interspersed with blatant product placement for Cadillac, which crops up in vehicles, in window reflections, and even in the soundtrack, as Rival Sons squawk about driving their Cadillac right into the sun.
The biggest mystery of the film – why the killer is such a psychopath – is never resolved. And the motivation for the murders and the entire movie is wrapped up in flashbacks during a phone call confession in the very last scene that plays like a Scoobi Doo episode: “And I would’ve gotten away with it too, if it weren’t for you meddling cops.”
The Perks of Being a Wallflower
This film about high school teen angst, based on the novel by Steven Chbosky, features smart writing and honest characters. It is sure to appeal to teens and with those of us who lived through all the drama and mixed tapes that the ‘80s and early ‘90s had to offer.
The story centers on Charlie (Logan Lerman), a high school freshman still hurting from a friend’s suicide and a family trauma years previous. After some horrific first-week-of-school bullying, he meets Patrick (Ezra Miller), a rebellious, gay senior who just happens to be the step-brother of Samantha (Emma Watson), who quickly becomes Charlie’s dream girl. He’s adopted into their quirky group of friends and for a time finds an escape from the depression that threatens to overcome him, but things come to a head, as they always do. Lerman (3:10 to Yuma) gives a virtuoso performance as Charlie, never stooping to stereotype of the mentally ill.
Tyler Perry’s Madea’s Witness Protection
Even when critics don’t like Madea, the films make obscene amounts of money. In this one Eugene Levy is the fall guy for the mob, with a price on his head, so his lawyer (Tyler Perry) puts him and his family where no one will ever come looking: with his larger-than-life aunt Madea (Perry again) in Atlanta.
This is definitely not one of his best (and may be his worst): characters are introduced and then disappear, and jokes fall woefully flat. A disappointment for Madea fans.
Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter
An early childhood trauma turns Abraham Lincoln (Benjamin Walker) into a fiercesome Vampire Hunter, and also spurs on his anti-slavery stance. Historical elements like The Gettysburg Address and key battles are here, it’s just that they are accompanied by scenes of Lincoln with a bloody axe in his hand.
You should know what to expect when you go see a movie with a title this silly, so if you are looking for a straight-up vampire action thriller with lots of skull-splitting, this will do the trick. There is some great acting talent (Rufus Sewell and Dominic Cooper), there is lots of gore (which probably played better in 3D). Sure, there are missed opportunities around some hot-button issues, but it’s best just to enjoy the craziness and not think too hard.
Director Steven Soderbergh helmed this huge moneymaker for Warner Bros., which cost $7 million to make and has racked up $158 million to date.
Channing Tatum stars as the Mike of the title, who really wants to design furniture but finds the money and the attention he gets from stripping too addictive. He encourages 19-year-old Adam (Alex Pettyfer) to get into stripping; however, Adam quickly falls into the wild lifestyle that accompanies the business. Overseeing all is the delightfully greasy and greased-up Matthew McConaughey as Dallas, the club’s owner.
Special features are kind of disappointing. There are a few extended dance sequences from the supporting cast (neither McConaughey nor Tatum), a dance play mode that strings all the dance sequences together, and a short featurette. Commentary by Tatum on his real-life stripping days, or from director Steven Soderbergh on how he conceived the film would’ve been an entertaining addition.
This is Ben Affleck’s film about the escape of six U.S. embassy personnel during the 1979 Iran hostage crisis. The film opens with a quick history primer, newsreel footage blended with grainy Super 8, delineating the events leading up to the crisis. Then the American embassy comes under attack and overrun by protestors, who capture 52 Americans. Six employees manage to sneak out, and after they are turned away they are taken in by Canadian ambassador Ken Taylor and his wife at their embassy residence.
The CIA calls in exfiltration operative Tony Mendez (Affleck) who decides that “the best bad idea” they have is to disguise the six as a film crew scouting locations for a science fiction movie. Mendez enlists the help of a contact in the film industry (John Goodman) who hooks him up with a well-known producer (an excellent Alan Arkin), to create a credible backstory for the film.
It’s the prolonged tension and suspense that makes the film so successful: we know how it ends, but we’re on the edge of our seats nonetheless as they bring out one improbably delay after another.
Stay seated during the credits to check out photographs of the real players in the hostage crisis, and to hear Jimmy Carter’s take on things.
That’s My Boy
Adam Sandler fathers a child with his middle school teacher (Leighton Meester) before his bar mitzvah: she ends up jailed for 30 years for child rape, he becomes a celebrity. The child (Andy Samberg) grows up to change his name and disown his father, but on the weekend of his wedding, his deadbeat dad shows up for a quick reality-TV payday.
This is standard Adam Sandler fare: that bizarre baby voice, lots of bodily fluids, jokes about fat and old people. Crass is fine, so long as there is something inventive in between gags. Vanilla Ice has a starring role, and somehow Sandler convinced James Caan and Susan Sarandon to come on board for cameos, too.
Wes Anderson’s very quirky Moonrise Kingdom is about two 12-year-olds in 1965 who decide to run away together, play records, and get married on a scenic New England island. Suzy’s oddball parents (Frances McDormand, Bill Murray) go ballistic and soon the island sheriff (Bruce Willis) and an entire boy scout troop are in hot pursuit.
The production design is wonderful: the whole thing is like an old-fashioned children’s book brought to life. Talented cast also includes Ed Norton, Tilda Swinton and Wes Anderson regular Jason Schwarzman.
This was co-written by the creator of Paranormal Activity, so expectations were high for this horror film. A group of tourists hoping to go off the beaten path in Russia tour the deserted and off-limits town of Prypiat, just outside the site of the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster. The abandoned apartment complexes that use to house the Chernobyl workers are not as empty as they thought: there are wild animals and a few creepy things wandering about, and then when the van won’t start and darkness falls, all hell breaks loose.
The film succeeds for as long as it does because of the genuinely creepy setting and the intimate, hand-held camerawork, but it isn’t long before the scares get a little repetitive. Only one or two extras on the bluray, too, so no earth-shattering special features.
The first Taken film served as a kind of big-screen stranger-danger lesson for teenaged girls. Liam Neeson played Bryan Mills, a retired CIA man with a “particular set of skills” that allowed him to retrieve his teenaged daughter Kim (Maggie Grace) from Albanian kidnappers. In this one, the father of one of the kidnappers Brian killed vows revenge and kidnaps Brian and his estranged wife (Famke Janssen) while they’re on vacation in Istanbul. It’s up to Kim to save daddy this time, by throwing grenades around and driving cars through the twisty streets of Istanbul, even though she’s failed her driver’s test twice. Neeson has done the action-hero thing a few films since, so the novelty has worn off, and now he’s almost 60. Without the dangling emotional carrot of a daddy trying to save his daughter, Taken 2 is just a run-of-the-mill, choppily edited thriller
Prometheus is the first sci-fi film from Ridley Scott (Gladiator, Black Hawk Down, American Gangster, Thelma & Louise) in over three decades. Blade Runner (1982) and 1979’s Alien are both considered some of the best examples of sci-fi out there. Noomi Rapace (of Girl in the Dragon Tattoo fame) is Dr. Elizabeth Shaw, who leads a team aboard the space vessel Prometheus to find the origin of mankind. Charlize Theron plays a cold-hearted company rep, Idris Elba is the captain, and Michael Fassbender plays the droid who gets them into all sorts of trouble.
Scott delivers amazingly rich and creepy sets (constructed at Pinewood’s massive sound stages) and creates a completely isolating, otherworldly atmosphere. There are several different types of alien life forms (or aliens in different stages of development), and filmmakers don’t cheat and show them in shadows: we get to see these things up close and personal. Solid, engaging sci-fi film.
Blu-ray has commentaries by Scott and the writer and producer, alternate openings and endings, deleted scenes, screen tests and pre-visualizations, a making-of extra and much more.
Rock of Ages
This is an adaptation of the very popular musical about a small-town girl (Julianne Hough) who heads to Hollywood in 1987 with big hair and big dreams of becoming a singer. Soon after she gets off the bus Sherrie bumps into Drew (newcomer Diego Boneta), who works at a local hard-rock club and helps her get a job as well as her first big break. The club, however, has fallen on hard times and only a gig by legendary rock god Stacee Jaxx (Tom Cruise) can save it from going under.
Alec Baldwin, Mary J. Blige, Bryan Cranston, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Russell Brand and Malin Akerman are featured but the star here is Cruise, who belts out some decent songs (“Wanted: Dead or Alive”) and livens up the film when the chemistry-free love affair between Hough and Boneta falls flat.
If you grew up in the ‘80s you’ll love the special features, which includes bits on ‘80s fashion, how filmmakers got the period just right, Def Leppard live at the premiere, and an extra on how they turned Miami into the Sunset Strip.