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Entries in John Malkovich (5)

Friday
Jul192013

Red 2

It was a great year for movies in 2010. Pixar put out their most mature film to date with “Toy Story 3,” David Fincher blew us all away with his masterful Facebook movie, “The Social Network,” we saw a completely different side of Natalie Portman in the haunting “Black Swan” and Colin Firth gave an unforgettable performance in the Best Picture Academy Award winner, “The King’s Speech.” But the year was also full of perplexing oddities, movies that gained a surprisingly large fanbase and a warm critical reception when they hardly did anything special. “Red” was one of those movies. It wasn’t terrible, but it wasn’t particularly interesting either and, despite some minor improvements, “Red 2” is just more of the same, for better or worse.

Much like the previous film, ex-black ops CIA agent Frank Moses (Bruce Willis) is on the run, deemed a domestic terrorist by his own government, and, through some complicated plot structuring, on the hunt for a dangerous portable nuclear device that was previously thought to be nothing more than a Cold War myth. To help him, he enlists the help of his old buddies, Marvin (John Malkovich) and Victoria (Helen Mirren). It gets more complicated, however, when he learns that the world’s greatest contract killer, Han (Byung-hun Lee), is out to kill him, all while a former fling and Russian counter intelligence agent, Katja (Catherine Zeta-Jones), attempts to seduce him to fulfill her own ulterior motives, much to the chagrin of his girlfriend, Sarah (Mary-Louise Parker).

The best part of the original “Red” was not the action scenes, but rather the banter between the group. Watching these veteran actors play off each other is an absolute joy, but it was bogged down in the first film by what can only be described as pseudo-hipster dialogue, a lame attempt to spice the film up and cater to a younger demographic, despite the older cast. Thankfully, much of that is gone here while the witty banter remains. Malkovich is at the top of his game, eliciting laughs with the slightest of facial cues and many of the one-liners are undeniably amusing.

But the film never goes past that amusing state. “Red 2” is humorous, but it’s never really funny. It’s clever, but it’s never really smart. It’s lighthearted, but it merely teeters on the edge of being fun. The movie plays out almost like something that’s surprised it exists in the first place, rarely venturing beyond what barely worked in its predecessor and rehashing the same pleasant, yet unimpressive, style and tone. Where the film steps it up is in its get-to-the-point dialogue that does away with needless filler (like in the first movie when Morgan Freeman revealed he had stage four level cancer and then completely drops it, not unlike the breast cancer line in Tommy Wiseau’s infamous “The Room”) and in its varied action.

The first film was boring. It moved slowly and its action took place in some of the most clichéd places imaginable. Locations like a shipping container yard and parking garages were its highlights, giving it a feeling of a generic shoot ‘em up video game. Due to the nature of its story, “Red 2” jet sets all around the world (sometimes to an annoying and confusing degree), but it gives way to a number of various locales that were all but missing in the original. There’s a great hand-to-hand battle in an airport hangar, a suspenseful infiltration of the Moscow Kremlin and a terrific finale that takes place in the Iranian embassy in London. While much of the action is far-fetched (and if you want to see aging movie stars wielding giant weapons, you’re better off checking out the far more entertaining “Expendables” movies), it’s this diversity that keeps it interesting.

Although “Red” wasn’t an unpleasant movie, it was too bland and generic to stand out. “Red 2” has many of the same problems, but it fixes enough of them to make it the easy choice among the two. Certain scenes are so good, particularly the interesting new take on interrogations—turns out there’s no need for torture; just get the victim all hot and bothered by a beautiful woman and he’ll tell you everything—that they’re almost worth the price of admission alone. Luckily, there’s a bit more here than just random scenes that work. You still won’t care about what ultimately happens, but you’ll have a pleasant enough trip getting there.

Red 2 receives 3/5

Friday
Feb012013

Warm Bodies

It wouldn’t be unreasonable for a cynic to look at Warm Bodies and fear that it will ruin zombies the way the Twilight franchise ruined vampires. Like Twilight, it takes a creature that should be scary and feared and turns it into a lover, trapped in a teen-friendly romance that is sure to be endeared by young girls across the country. Luckily, Warm Bodies is nothing like Twilight. It’s funny, self-aware and all around charming. It occasionally devolves into cheese and hits a few narrative lulls that drag the overall product down, but this is a solid film that takes a concept that really shouldn’t work at all and makes it palatable to a wide reaching audience.

Eight years ago, something happened. What that something was is unclear, but it caused the dead to rise and hunger for human flesh. Now, the humans still left alive have retreated into a confined part of their city, protected by a humongous wall. Of course, resources within that space are finite, so teams must venture out occasionally to gather more necessities. One day, a group of young kids, including Julie, (Teresa Palmer), the daughter of the city’s leader, go out to do just that. Unexpectedly, they are ambushed by the dead. However, one of the zombies actually takes a liking to her, probably due to his prior consumption of her boyfriend’s brain, which causes him to gather his memories and feelings, and he ends up protecting her from the zombie horde. For some reason, when he’s around her, he feels different and actually becomes more humanlike. Nevertheless, he still speaks in grunts with only the occasional monosyllabic word and he can’t remember his name, so Julie starts calling him R (Nicholas Hoult).

The film begins in R’s head with an inner monologue. He’s dead and his brain doesn’t quite function properly, as one would expect from a zombie, but he’s aware of this (just one of many contradictions that deviates from zombie lore). He can’t feel physical pain anymore, but he feels loneliness and lost, sometimes literally given that he tends to wander around unfamiliar places. His desire to be alive, to feel and to love is something we all feel from time to time, especially when our lives become a monotonous loop we seemingly can’t get away from. Not many movies have a set-up and structure that enable them to explore such themes, or at least not in this way, which makes Warm Bodies a unique offering. He may be a zombie, but R is one of the most likable and, oddly enough, relatable characters to be on the screen in quite some time.

Its themes don’t stop and start there, however. Other themes include some we’ve already seen, like the idea of humans living like we’re dead (which was better explored in Shaun of the Dead), and some that are a little too obvious to really work, like desegregation and acceptance in a world of people that are different than you, but the fact that these themes are there at all just goes to show how thoughtful the movie is. It doesn’t desire to be the mopey tween romance it so easily could have become. It shoots much higher. Granted, its central message of “love is what makes us human” is inherently cheesy (and it singlehandedly killed 2008’s Hancock), but Warm Bodies handles it as delicately as a similarly themed movie possibly can. When the end rolls around, you won’t be wiping away tears, but you also won’t be rolling your eyes. In fact, you’re likely to find it kind of sweet.

Although a cliché saying at this point, Warm Bodies is greater than the sum of its parts. If each part was analyzed individually, it would be easy to point out their flaws (like those aforementioned memories that aren’t seen in first person as they should be, but rather in third person, the way they were shot), yet there’s a gentleness and warmness to the film, despite some blood splatter and organ eating, that can’t be overlooked. It poses no threat to the dominance of the more brutal zombies we know and love, instead creating its own little nook in zombie lore that reinvigorates the walking dead in a way few have done before. It’s not your typical romance, but it’s the movie to see this Valentine’s Day. Men and women alike will find something to cherish.

Warm Bodies receives 3.5/5

Tuesday
Jun282011

Transformers: Dark of the Moon

Aside from the horribly inept, yet inexplicably popular, 1999 action movie, The Boondock Saints, Michael Bay’s first Transformers film is hands down the most overrated “guy” picture out there. If my experiences are any indication, men from all corners of the country hold that film up as an example of how action films should be, and for the life of me I cannot figure out why. It’s loud, overblown, overlong and convoluted, among other things. It may not match the abomination that is Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (which made my worst of the year list back in 2009), but it’s still a decidedly bad movie. It appears the third time’s the charm, however, for director Michael Bay. Transformers: Dark of the Moon is easily the best film yet in the series and although it’s far from amazing, it rectifies many of the previous films’ shortcomings, making it one of the most pleasant, if ultimately unfulfilling, surprises of the year.

The film begins with a history lesson, but it’s a little different than what you learned in school. After being informed by American scientists that something of mysterious origins has crash landed on the moon, President Kennedy gives his famous 1961 speech promising to take a man to the moon and back safely. The catch is that the mission is to investigate the crash site, where Buzz Aldrin and company find an alien spacecraft from the planet Cybertron, the home planet of the Transformers, carrying cargo of unknown capabilities. Meanwhile, in present time, Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf) is living in Washington, DC with his new girlfriend, Carly (Victoria’s Secret supermodel, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley), and can’t find a job, despite saving the world twice and receiving a medal from President Obama. He soon finds out that his unemployment is the least of his problems, though, when the Decepticons find the cargo on the moon and threaten to use it to destroy Earth.

Based on that plot synopsis, it would be easy to conclude that the story here is just as inconsequential as they were in the previous two films, but that’s not necessarily the case. It’s still rather ridiculous (as is the whole concept of alien robots from outer space, in fact), but it works here for one reason: Bay takes the time to develop it. For about an hour and a half, Dark of the Moon does a decent job of building its characters and allowing the story to flow naturally through dialogue. The romance between Sam and Carly, mercifully replacing the Megan Fox character from the first two films, is delicately handled and genuine. Huntington-Whiteley is a beautiful young woman with a surprising amount charm and comes off like a natural acting opposite the always amusing LaBeouf. Thanks to this, their chemistry rings true, which makes the later scenes of peril that much more tense because you’ll have invested so much in their relationship together.

There is some good humor too, much of which stems from their relationship and Sam’s jealousy towards Carly’s flirtatious boss, Dylan (Patrick Dempsey), but Transformers: Dark of the Moon is nevertheless a darker film than its predecessors. I hesitate to call it a more mature film, however, because cinematic maturity comes with favoring story over explosions, but after that initial hour and a half, it devolves into another mind-numbing action picture. Like most Michael Bay movies, it begins to resemble something similar to what a 13 year old boy would do if given a camera and $200 million to play with. The story hits a standstill, the characters stop developing and the promising set-up is undermined by flavorless stupidity. It’s like Bay shot the movie in order, eventually got bored with all the talking and decided it was about time to blow stuff up. One of my chief criticisms of the original film was that the final action scene, as impressive as it was, went on for far too long, an exhausting 45 minutes. Well, in Dark of the Moon, the final action scene hits closer to the hour mark. Bay is a master at staging these types of scenes, there’s little doubt about that, but he needs someone to tell him when enough is enough. His refusal to edit them down to a manageable length does nothing but weaken an otherwise impressive finale.

What makes Transformers: Dark of the Moon still work in spite of those stumbles is that the events leading up to the mindless action are better handled. Although it still suffers from some of the same problems that plagued the previous films, many of them are fixed. There are no more offensive, stereotypical Transformers, no wrecking ball testicles, no small robots humping anyone’s legs and the acting is all around better thanks to a terrific supporting cast that includes veteran Frances McDormand, the personable Alan Tudyk and John Malkovich in a delightfully off-kilter role.

Of course, Transformers: Dark of the Moon is just as shallow and empty-headed as its older brothers, but it’s competently handled and more coherent. And given the track record of this franchise, that’s about as good as it’s going to get.

Transformers: Dark of the Moon receives 3/5

Friday
Oct152010

Red

It’s not everyday you get to see Helen Mirren wield an Uzi. It’s with this thought that I found myself so excited for Red, the latest graphic novel to be given the Hollywood treatment. Unfortunately, it’s a movie that can only be described as a polished mess. It takes more than some decent hand-to-hand fighting choreography and an A-list cast of actors to make a riveting action movie.

Bruce Willis plays Frank Moses, an ex CIA black op agent who has little interaction with the outside world apart from his phone calls to Sarah (Mary-Louise Parker), a government pension administrator. Although they have never met, there’s a connection and when he tells her he is about to visit her area, they decide to meet up. But before he leaves, he is nearly killed, discovering he is now on the government's hit list and unsure why. After discussing it with former partners Joe (Morgan Freeman), Marvin (John Malkovich) and Victoria (Mirren), he and his gang head out in search of some answers.

There’s no shortage of comic book movies, or on an even broader scale action movies, in Hollywood. Red is merely another in a long line of mediocrity, but it tries real hard to be something different. It tries to make interesting the action by giving loud weapons to actors that are aged well into their 60’s and 70’s and by including poorly written pseudo-hipster dialogue that is laughable coming out of their mouths.

The fact of the matter is that compared to recent comic book movies, this isn’t as funny as Kick Ass or as original as Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World and when it comes to action, it’s not as exciting as something like The Expendables or The A-Team. It’s a third rate combination of all of those films.

What’s disappointing, outside of its lack of originality and misappropriation of its stars, is that for an action flick, it moves slow. It wastes its time with needless conversations that contribute so little to the plot that their inclusion is nebulous at best. Take for instance an early scene where Joe tells Frank he has stage four level cancer. This little anecdote is brought up and dropped so quickly it recalls memories of the breast cancer line in Tommy Wiseau’s The Room.

When Red finally does take time for some action, it’s generic fare, with gun battles in a maze of shipping containers and parking garages. The most interesting scenarios in the whole film are sidestepped by the most convenient placement of characters I’ve seen in a while. Whenever somebody was in peril, a distant friend would show up at the exact right moment and snatch them away from harm. This tactic is repeated a number of times, further crippling its already crumbling structure.

I didn’t hate Red, however, despite my criticisms. Bruce Willis oozes cool in the film and never breaks a sweat, even when surrounded on all sides and facing a hail of bullets, and although Mirren and Freeman aren’t given much to do, it was interesting seeing them at their age as the main stars of a comic book action movie. The fun the actors had making Red comes across onscreen, but that fun never reaches us.

Red receives 2/5

Friday
Jun182010

Jonah Hex

Comic book movies are all the rage these days. With Iron Man, The Dark Knight and the X-Men flicks tearing up the box office, it should be expected. Coming soon are Thor, Captain America and The Green Lantern, but for now we have to contend with Jonah Hex, a cataclysmic disaster that was dead in the water from frame one.

The film stars Josh Brolin as Hex, a former soldier in the Civil War who had everyone and everything he ever loved taken away from him at the hands of the evil Quentin Turnbull, played by John Malkovich. On top of the emotional torture from watching his family burn to death, Turnbull brings him some physical pain by branding his initials on his cheek, though Hex quickly does away with it later by burning off the side of his face, leaving a giant whole in his cheek and a cleft lip on his right side. Now he lives only to seek vengeance and kill Turnbull, finding himself closer than he's ever been after gathering information on his whereabouts by talking to a dead guy (did I mention he could do that?). Oh, and there’s also a prostitute named Lilah, played by Megan Fox, who has some sort of history with Hex and loves him despite his monstrous looks.

I guess. Take away the credits and Jonah Hex is one hour and 15 minutes. There’s so little time spent on story that there practically isn’t one. Why does Lilah love Hex? How the hell did he get that power? And what is Turnbull’s motivation? After killing Hex’s family, we find out that he has a plan to destroy the soon-to-be-one-hundred-years-old America with a previously unused weapon, a bunch of shiny yellow balls that can apparently wipe out whole continents. His hatred for America is never explained. Nothing is. This thing putters along exhaustingly and still barely reaches the finish line despite its short runtime.

I suppose that’s okay, though, because the little bit of story that is here is unappealing and nonsensical. Stretching it out would have been unbearable. It’s a lose-lose situation no matter how it’s looked at. It hides behind the veil of a comic book and throws in some mysticism for good measure, but Jonah Hex is little more than a revenge picture, not unlike the hundreds of others we’ve already seen, and it’s a terrible one at that.

Its main drawback is that Hex simply isn’t an engaging character. He lost his family in a devastating fire at the hands of a madman, but he cracks jokes as often as possible. He pretends to be doing good deeds, but he’s a ruthless killer and will take you down if you step in his way. There’s no reason to root for him. The usually reliable Brolin gives a lackadaisical performance, as if he knew he was working his way through dreck and couldn’t wait to be done.

It feels that way for the rest of the actors as well. Most are miscast, including Malkovich and funnyman Will Arnett as Lieutenant Grass whose usage in the film is nebulous at best, but Fox trumps them all. Outside of one moderately passable creepy turn in Jennifer’s Body, she has churned out one bad performance after another, proving herself to be little more than eye candy.

The only thing left when you take away the nonexistent story, bad performances and uninteresting characters is the action, but the director Jimmy Hayward, whose only other directorial effort is the animated Horton Hears a Who!, doesn’t know how to stage them. Not since National Treasure have I been so bored watching what ultimately amounts to inconsistent, dull, phony action.

Writing credits on this train wreck go to Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor, the minds behind Gamer and the two Crank pictures, and when they saw the potentially disastrous route this thing was heading down, they gave up their spots as directors and abandoned it completely. Consider this if you will: their previous films are dumb fun at best and just dumb at worst. Jonah Hex couldn't even meet those standards. And that's saying something.

Jonah Hex receives 0.5/5