Commentaries

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

CRIMINAL PACKS STAR POWER



CRIMINAL

Film Review by Fiore 


The story is a familiar template, but Kevin Costner’s latest action yarn is still worth a look due the incredible talent amassed on screen.  The theme of switching bodies or minds is consistent through the past three or four decades, but as Hollywood producers age, the theme is taking on a more serious mien.  While CRIMINAL plays on a variation of the theme, it is the movie’s star power that propels it to a higher echelon.  In addition to Costner, the film features: Tommy Lee Jones; Gary Oldman; Ryan Reynolds and Gal Gadot.  This ensemble cast helps elevate a plot that mixes THE ROCK with SELF/LESS to an enjoyable level.

What helps CRIMINAL work are the character side roads.  Jones, normally a fiery, over-the-top character, plays a meek, mild-mannered doctor.  Oldman, normally pensive and cleaver, is impulsive and reactionary; and Costner, who played the hardcore action star in Luc Besson’s THREE DAYS TO KILL, now adds the element of criminality.  The only actor repeating a character type is Reynolds.  

Jericho Stewart (Costner) is a habitual criminal.  He has no sense of right or wrong and experiences no emotions due to an undeveloped left frontal brain lobe.  This medical flaw also makes him the perfect candidate when super spy Bill Pope (Reynolds) dies containing key information to avert a worldwide disaster.  Through the extensive research of Dr. Franks (Jones), Pope’s memories are transplanted into Stewart.  Unfortunately, the memory transfer isn’t instantaneous, which causes CIA boss Quaker Wells (Oldman) to blow a gasket and brings Stewart trauma as he is exposed to emotions for the first time.  The dilemma is similar to the conflict Brent Spiner, as Commander Data, experienced in STAR TREK: NEMISIS.

KEY SCENES TO LOOK FOR:

1.      Stealing the van.
2.      The chem lab and the fight with Marta
3.      The pharmacy

CRIMINAL is similar to Ryan Reynolds’ previous film, SELF/LESS, so it’s a little surprising the casting agents opted to use him in this part. While both films have a sci-fi feel, this one is less in the fantasy field. Somehow, perhaps through watching too many movies on the Syfy Channel, swapping someone’s thoughts seems more realistic than putting someone’s mind into a new body.  

The film has an incredibly paced conclusion.  Credit Editor Danny Rafic with a final reel that makes many amends for the sluggishness of the film's midsection.  Screenwriter Douglas Cook takes considerable time in character development and as such, drags the film during the second act, something Syd Field would not find amusing.  The other script flaw is the choice of Jordi Molla as Xavier Heimdahl, the antagonist.  He is a Spanish anarchist.  Spain, really?  Of all the countries currently in the “We hate America” group, we’re supposed to believe Spain is a threat?  When the doomsday software goes on the open market, one can readily understand Russia being a prime bidder; but to have Spain outwit both superpowers, exuding levels of world dominance worthy of James Bond’s arch nemesis SPECTRE, is stretching credulity a bit far.  It still amazes me how Hollywood attempts to find nefarious no-goods for its films in the guise of everyone but who they actually are; Muslims and progressives.  

These minor flaws aside, CRIMINAL uses its stars as a crutch and carries formulaic thriller material to an enjoyable level.  The stars seem to know they are working with average material, and turn things up a notch, as Emeril would say, to make succulent sushi out of raw fish.



THE GRADE FOR CRIMINAL = B

Friday, April 22, 2016

A FEW MISSED



CATCH UP CAPSULE CRITIQUES

The following films were shuffled to the editing floor during awards season, but, as they are now resurfacing on PPV and HV, here are brief capsule critiques before you purchase or rent.

SOUTHPAW

Sports movies saw a bit of a resurgence last year, especially in boxing.  While CREED was garnering accolades for its stars and director, SOUTHPAW snuck in under the radar, and was actually the better film.  To be sure, both movies followed a tried and true template, and the title of this film is an incongruity having no consequence in the plot, but if you must watch a formulaic film on boxing, it's better to watch Jake Gyllenhaal than Michael B. Jordan.

SOUTHPAW concerns Billy Hope (Gyllenhaal), a light heavyweight champion who is riding the crest of a wave suffering the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.  The tragic death of his wife, played by Rachel McAdams causes his downfall, where he is taken from the limelight to the dregs of the city.  He loses his title, his fortune and his daughter.  What follows next is a page straight out of ROCKY II.  Slowly, painfully, Hope works his way out of depression and despair and fights to win his past glories (at this point, cue Bruce Springsteen to sing “Glory Days”, unless of course he's upset about the bathroom policy).

SOUTHPAW is predictable and at times there are rather large gaps in the plotline, like the fight to win back his daughter, but the film contains a bit of grittiness that makes it watchable.  Gyllenhaal’s transformation is akin to Michael Douglas' in Joel Schumacher's  FALLING DOWN;  and that one was fun to watch, too.  Mauro Fiore, a top Cinematographer in Hollywood, gives SOUTHPAW a fantastic look.  That look helps carry the film just as much as the story.


THE GRADE FOR SOUTHPAW = C



TRASH

When you see the stars listed in this film, Martin Sheen, Rooney Mara, you should know they are in cameo roles only.  The story centers around three youths who discover a wallet in the trash.  The wallet contains information on corrupt politicians and gangsters bleeding the town of its limited resources.  The boys, played by Rickson Tevez and Eduardo Luis, must fend off a bevy of nefarious no-goods who are seeking to recover the information.

The film is interesting in a mundane fashion.  Several times during the script, it has the ability to take roads untraveled and become something memorable, but screenwriter Richard Curtis opts to play this one straight down the line and on the safe side. TRASH, therefore, never rises above mediocrity.  The film's conclusion, is really out of texture with the characters and seems more a social commentary than a conclusion.



THE GRADE FOR TRASH = C


Wednesday, April 20, 2016

THE JUNGLE BOOK



THE JUNGLE BOOK

Film Review by Fiore 


“Look for the bear necessities, the simple bear necessities.  Forget about your worries and your strife.”  So sings Baloo the bear (hence the play on words) and his outlook on life.  It is fitting the character is voiced by Bill Murray, because it’s the same mien most of his roles personify.  Helping Murray in characterizations for this version of Rudyard Kipling’s classic are:  Christopher Walken, Ben Kingsley, Scarlette Johansson, Idris Elba, Gary Shandling, Giancarlo Esposito and Lupita Nyong’o.    Together, they create live version of the animals most of us came to know and love through the wonderful animators of Disney, back in the day, before the studio became a progenitor of socialist ideology. 

Actually, to call this version of THE JUNGLE BOOK live is a total misnomer.  The entire film, including backgrounds, is CGI.  The only live person is new young star Neel Sethi.   It’s his first movie, and it shows.  He is the weak link in the film and is over shadowed by voiced-over collections of dots.

To emphasize, this is not a kid’s movie.  Anyone expecting the same primary-color based screen flashes as the Disney cartoon will be sorely mistaken.  While the theatre was filled with wee tykes, it was relatively soon the auditorium became boisterous with the cries and grumblings of bored little minds.  If your kids are under eleven , rent the cartoon and save the ticket price.

 

       KEY SCENES TO LOOK FOR:


1.      The meeting with Kaa
2.      Baloo and the honey
3.      I want to be like you

It, admittedly, has been years since I last read Kipling’s opus, so while my memory may be faulty, I do remember the book being allegorical, with the animals Mowgli meets representative of personality types; much like George Orwell did in Animal Farm.  This script, adapted by Justin Marks, shifts the fantasy story of a young man’s development and transition to manhood to the difference between man and nature.  While not preachy, and certainly not as propaganda-filled as mockumentaries by Al Gore, it makes the story more superficial.

Jon Favreau is not my favorite comedian.  In fact, his comedy tends to cure my insomnia; however, the man can craft a film with the best of them.  He is masterful in his pacing and his storytelling.  He truly understands the revelation of the three act script in visual images.  As such, it should be no surprise Favreau has crafted a fine film here, one that is quite enjoyable to watch.





THE GRADE FOR THE JUNGLE BOOK = B