DVD Review: The Last Stand

Schwarzenegger prepares for battle alongside Knoxville.

Schwarzenegger prepares for battle alongside Knoxville.

Though billed as Arnie’s big comeback to acting, The Last Stand only really ever adds up to the Governator spinning his wheels and spitting out paltry clichés. What should feel exciting and fresh in this actioner instead comes across as cloying and threadbare, a wasted opportunity. Painfully stilted line reading from the entire cast, especially Arnie, doesn’t help. Sadly, The Last Stand ultimately does more harm to Arnie’s rep than good; Schwarzenegger looks shockingly old, and he’s given agonizingly little to work with.

The Last Stand doesn’t waste much time with set-up. A bad man in a fast car is heading for the border, and only a small-town sheriff (Schwarzenegger) and his motley crew of deputies can stop him. It’s a simple premise but not an unpromising one. And as Arnie, partnered with Jaime Alexander (Thor), Rodrigo Santoro (300), and resident Jackass Johnny Knoxville, preps for battle and comes out guns blazing, the film has a certain charm. What a shame that the energy it should have dissipates so quickly.

Schwarzenegger knows he’s best at kicking ass, so that’s what he spends a good portion of the movie doing. It’s once he’s required to start talking that the film really starts to fall apart; between his thick accent and the often incomprehensible script, nothing but the action works. And it’s not even all Arnie’s fault. The supporting cast, composed of typically fine actors like Forest Whitaker (playing a DEA agent) and Alexander, is for some reason incapable of delivering any good lines at all. Most of them are so mediocre that they fade from memory before the end credits roll. Watching Whitaker pace as his prisoner escapes him is less fun than watching paint dry. It’s only Knoxville who manages to make some jokes land with his typical manic, daredevil energy, but his part is strangely limited to only a few scenes. A buddy-cop flick with the Governator and the Jackass would have been much more fun to watch. Alas, they share only a few minutes of screen-time, spouting hackneyed dialogue all the while.

The action is serviceable, with some nifty car chases and a satisfying shootout that decimates half of the sheriff’s sleepy town. But there’s not enough of it, and The Last Stand takes too long in getting to that titular climax. The first hour and twenty minutes feel like warm-up, because that’s all they are. By the time the bullets start flying in earnest, it’s too little, too late. It would be one thing if the screenwriter had something interesting to say in the scenes he stuffs with dialogue, but it’s all dull platitudes, accomplishing nothing. There are only a couple of lines that show signs of life, but those are rarities, and the monotony is grating. I’m sure that Arnie will back, and I can only hope that it’s in fare better than this. C-

 

Photo Courtesy: Spinoff – Comic Book Resources.

DVD Review: Hansel and Gretel – Witch Hunters

Arterton and Renner have a bone to pick with the world's witches.

Arterton and Renner have a bone to pick with the world’s witches.

Reviewing a movie like Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters is a fool’s errand. Anyone who can read knows that this dark fantasy, starring Jeremy Renner and Gemma Arterton, is not aiming to win any awards or make picky critics happy. Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters wants to be exactly what it sounds like – a bloody, fun, and unapologetically loopy revenge fantasy, starring two very attractive people and a whole lot of nasty-looking weapons. And there’s something to be said for a movie that gives its audience exactly what it promised them in the first place. For most of its short (88-minute) running time, it’s a shamelessly simple, delightfully disposable take on a classic story. I enjoyed the hell out of it.

The movie picks up the tale of two extremely gullible siblings fifteen years later; evidently lacking access to therapy, they’ve dealt with their trauma by becoming formidable bounty hunters, hunting down every witch in sight with a stockpile of crossbows, shotguns, and pistols. Both still bear serious psychological and physical scars from their imprisonment (Hansel’s a diabetic as a result of his forced candy binge, a nice touch), and their mission to destroy all witches is a very personal. When they arrive in the town of Augsburg, where children are going missing, Hansel and Gretel face their toughest challenge yet: a coven of witches led by the powerful Muriel (Famke Janssen).

Director Tommy Wirkola (Dead Snow) pulled off a major casting coup with Arterton and Renner, two stars typically found in higher brow fare than this. The two are game and have an easy chemistry both in their conversations and their witch beat-downs. They do a decent job of bringing to life their certifiably badass characters, no easy task. Their performances are intentionally serious, and while that does work with the film’s tone, Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters would have been more entertaining if both the script and the actors had loosened up a bit instead of playing it straight. Arterton seems to be having a better time than Renner, whose scowl never recedes for a second, but neither one of them truly runs with the absurdity of the movie’s central concept.

Wirkola keeps the pace moving quickly, likely to hide the undercooked script, and it’s not a bad choice, because with such tight direction, the film never wears out its welcome. The director also embraces his film’s darkness, maxing out the gore and griminess in his action sequences.Unfortunately, the movie’s serious tone is a poor choice given how close the movie’s concept is to falling over the edge into parody. Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters is at its heart a revenge fantasy, about two screwed up adults with a bone to pick, and that refreshingly simple concept would have served a goofier film better. Even as blood and guts splatter the screen, it’s all should be tongue-in-cheek, never grim or morbid.

The film is positioned as the start to a series, which gives me both hope and concern. There isn’t much to Wirkola’s concept, enough for one movie, sure, but probably not enough for a series. Then again, with subsequent installments on the way, perhaps the leads and the script can loosen up and tell a fun story, instead of getting weighed down with introductions. Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters doesn’t take place in any particular time period and accuracy was clearly not a concern in this first film, so the sky’s the limit for what they can do with follow-ups. One thing I do know is that Arterton and Renner are a team I’d watch anywhere. B

Image Courtesy: JoBlo.

DVD Review: Broken City

Crowe and Wahlberg come face to face.

Crowe and Wahlberg come face to face.

There are exciting, engrossing thrillers, and there are godawful thrillers. Broken City, boasting a terrific cast including Russell Crowe, Mark Wahlberg, and Catherine Zeta-Jones, should fall into the first category, but instead winds up in the middle, wallowing in mediocrity due to its disappointingly weak script. Broken City is not a bad film, but it’s also far too meager and simplistic to measure up against the classic film noirs it attempts to emulate, like Roman Polanski’s Chinatown.

Director Allen Hughes treats the audience to some gorgeous images of the cityscape, focusing in on looming, opaque skyscrapers as if to expose the city’s darker, more sinister side. New York feels alive and dangerous, and the cinematography is often striking; one brutally fast car crash is so potent that it gave me whiplash. The director’s skill in transforming his setting into a secondary character suggests a major talent. Unfortunately, Broken City‘s undercooked script doesn’t give Hughes much to work with.

Protagonist Billy Taggart (Wahlberg) is an ex-cop working as a private eye after killing a homicidal rapist who got off on a technicality. Struggling to make ends meet, he sees an easy way out when Mayor Nicolas Hostetler (Crowe) offers him big bucks to look into his wife’s affair. But when Taggart starts to dig deeper, he finds himself in over his head and in the ruthless politician’s crosshairs.

Wahlberg, sporting a thick Boston accent, plays Taggart with a mix of streetwise wariness, moral indecision, and sullen anger. Crowe one-ups him as the charismatic, slimy Hostetler; he’s a simultaneously charming, menacing, and unsettlingly plausible villain, a ruthless Machiavellian fat cat who delights in playing puppet master. It’s an unconventional part for Crowe but one that he plays well, filling every line with dangerous verve. And Zeta-Jones brings a sense of class as the elegant and sultry First Lady, as cunning and cold-blooded as her husband. The supporting cast is also strong, especially Alona Tal as Taggart’s loyal assistant and Jeffrey Wright as an unscrupulous police commissioner.

As Wahlberg and Crowe face off, the movie comes to life with a powerful kick, upping the tension with every line. But outside of those few compelling snippets of dialogue (Crowe’s rousing, guileful speech during a mayoral debate comes to mind), there’s very little going on. It’s all style, no substance; ultimately, Broken City‘s plot is its weakest link. Like Crowe’s politics, despite all the posturing and presentation, what it all comes down to is unabashedly straightforward. With a cast as great as this, a more interesting, layered story would have elevated Broken City above standard genre fare. As it is, the movie is diverting without being particularly smart, thoughtful, or exciting. It’s a no-frills B-movie masquerading as something much more interesting. B-

Photo Courtesy: ScreenCrave.

Review: The Purge

Ethan Hawke expects some unwanted visitors.

Ethan Hawke expects some unwanted visitors.

Is mankind inherently evil? If murder was legal, would you kill someone? Is the letter of the law the only thing preventing carnage on a massive scale? James DeMonaco’s micro-budgeted horror thriller The Purge has a lot of big questions on its mind. What a shame that it’s never given the opportunity to answer them.

The Purge imagines America in 2022 as “a nation reborn.” Poverty and crime are at all-time lows because, for twelve hours a year, citizens are given carte blanche to kill, rob, rape, destroy, you name it, in the name of purging all of their most angry base instincts. It’s a neat concept, perhaps one that doesn’t completely hold up under close scrutiny (the impoverished and starving don’t feel hungry enough to steal any other time of the year?), but one that’s innovative nonetheless.

The film narrows its scope too much by focusing on the Sandins, a wealthy family living in an affluent suburb. James Sandin (Ethan Hawke) works as a home security developer, while his wife Mary (Lena Headey) deals with the difficult kids, Zoey (Adelaide Kane) and Charlie (Max Burkholder). They live an idyllic life, until the Purge starts, and stupid/innocent Charlie momentarily lifts the fortifications to allow a man running for his life into their home. As the man’s pursuers attempt to break into their home, the Sandins find themselves fighting for their lives, and the film  begins to dissolve into horror-movie cliches.

Hawke clearly embraces his ‘action-hero’ role, and he pulls it off for the most part. His fight scenes are exciting and believable. Hawke lacks the physical presence of Liam Neeson, for one, but he succeeds in holding the audience’s attention. Headey is also well-cast, showing off a dramatic range typically reserved for higher-caliber movies than this. A psychotic Rhys Wakefield plays his small part well. No one else stays on screen long enough to make an impression.

After its promising beginning, as DeMonaco showcases some of the horrific violence perpetrated during the Purge, the film becomes disappointingly bogged down by its plot, which refuses to allow The Purge to move past the home invasion subgenre to address its most compelling ideas.The film’s bigger themes are buried by ceaseless, senseless violence, frustratingly so.

Faceless baddies lunge from the shadows, blood spurts everywhere, there’s a predictable third-act twist, and none of it sticks after the credits roll. Inexplicably, the film’s only original aspect – its thought-provoking premise – is sidelined in favor of cheap, gory, toothless kicks. The audience gets few answers, and with a running time of only 85 minutes, The Purge is too slight to pull off the thoughtful social commentary it’s striving for.

The Purge is a serviceable home invasion thriller, but it gives hints that it could have been more. With such an intriguing central idea, it should have been much more. For a high-concept movie about a society reliant on heinous violence, The Purge is dismayingly tame.  C+

Photo Courtesy: The Hollywood News.

BBC’s ‘Luther’ Will Return this Year

Luther and his accomplice Alice (Ruth Wilson) will return.

Luther and his accomplice Alice (Ruth Wilson) will return.

The BBC announced today that its hit detective series Luther will return for a four-episode third series, airing on BBC One in July and on BBC America on September 3.

Luther has been widely acclaimed for its gritty atmosphere, creative take on the detective genre, and performances. Lead Idris Elba, as tortured London detective John Luther, has been singled out for particular praise, winning a Golden Globe for the second series.

The show’s creator, Neil Cross, explained the long wait between the second and third series (Luther was last on screen in 2011) by saying, “To create something as brilliant as Luther takes time. But it will be worth the wait.” Cross described the third series as “four perfectly dark, chillingly-formed episodes.” Cross earlier confirmed that this will be the last series of Luther, but that a jump to the big screen is not out of the question. Elba has repeatedly expressed interest, explaining in a video interview that, “I think that’s where the ultimate Luther story will unfold, is in the big silver screen – London as a huge backdrop, and a very menacing, horrible character to play against.”

The official synopsis for the third series is below, courtesy of the BBC:

“John Luther, the near-genius detective struggling to cope with his own demons, is back under intense pressure – with two conflicting crimes to investigate and a ruthless ex-cop determined to bring him down. Luther’s life is his job, that is until love crosses his path and offers him a chance of happiness. Sienna Guillory (“Resident Evil,” “Love Actually”) joins the cast as Mary, a woman who works in a vintage clothing shop and meets Luther in a chance encounter. But is Mary ready to accept Luther’s past? And can Luther leave it behind?”

Check out the trailer over on YouTube, courtesy of the BBC.

Source: ScreenRant.

Photo Courtesy: 3xcusemyfrench.

DVD Review: Tower Heist

 

Stiller and Murphy chew the scenery in 'Tower Heist.'

Stiller and Murphy chew the scenery in ‘Tower Heist.’

Watching Tower Heist, I felt robbed. I had switched on the movie with a sense of optimism, buoyed by the hope of watching Eddie Murphy return to form playing a jive-talking street character, the sort of role that propelled him to stardom, while working alongside comedy all-stars like Ben Stiller and Matthew Broderick. Sadly, Tower Heist is mediocre on nearly all counts,  delivering neither memorable jokes, an entertaining plot nor substantial thrills.

The comedy revolves around a group of dedicated employees at The Tower, a hotel in New York (we know it’s prestigious because it’s not the Tower, it’s The Tower). When they find out that their pensions have been lost in a giant Ponzi scheme perpetrated by Bernie Madoff clone Arthur Shaw (Alan Alda), a diverse group of employees, led by meek building manager Josh Kovacs (Stiller), scheme to rob Shaw and reclaim what’s rightfully theirs. Of course, hilarity ensues as everything that could go wrong with the plan does. However, what could have been a gut-busting comedy if it had a more intelligent plot instead comes across as predictable and uninspired. The film’s real crime is its screenplay, which shamelessly lifts key plot points from superior movies like Ocean’s Eleven. However, the film’s target audience shouldn’t mind the hackneyed storyline too much, considering most of them are interested in Tower Heist solely for the film’s talented cast. Unfortunately, the film can’t even deliver on that count.

One of the film’s greatest offenses is its criminal misuse of the many stars involved. Stiller is funny at first as Josh, a fed-up, vengeful Everyman with whom all Occupy Wall Street protesters can sympathize, but his character burns out too early and has no room to develop over the last two-thirds of the film. Murphy plays Slide, a petty thief who joins Josh and his crew on their illegal endeavor. His character is the source of the few jokes in the film that actually work, though the borderline-offensive vulgarity of his humor may turn off more demanding viewers. His interactions with Gabourney Sidibe’s spirited Jamaican maid (in her first big film role since her Oscar-nominated turn in Precious) rank among the best scenes of the film. Broderick is not allowed to show off any comedic skills, miscast in the thankless role of an old, pessimistic schlub. Most of all, the talented Téa Leoni is completely squandered as an FBI agent with a poorly-developed and ultimately rudderless romantic interest in Josh. The only actor truly deserving of praise is Alda, who plays Shaw with a mix of menace and bravado. He steals the show effortlessly.

The heist itself is ridiculous to watch and even cringe-worthy at times. The inane plotting of the film never allows the audience to believe that the characters in this film would be successful at anything more than holding a door open. Not one of them acts believably at any point in the film, making Tower Heist seem more like a poorly imagined fantasy than a timely crime comedy.

Maybe I’m being too harsh on Tower Heist. After all, it doesn’t pretend to be sophisticated or witty or even good. It only promises to provide a distraction to its audience in a time when everyone needs a distraction now and again. It does have a few entertaining moments, though I challenge any viewers to recall what made the film funny a week later. I, for one, expected more from Tower Heist, especially due to all the talented people involved with the film. Where the film should thrill, it bores. Where it should move at a brisk pace, it plods along, and where it should instigate laughter, it instead generates yawns. The potential for this film was great, with the comedy one-two punch of Murphy and Stiller, but the end product is lacking in laughs and ingenuity. This minimally entertaining lowbrow comedy is both forgettable and best forgotten. C-

Image Courtesy: Cinema Dope.

Matt Smith to Leave ‘Doctor Who’

Matt Smith will depart BBC's 'Doctor Who' later this year.

The BBC confirmed today that, after almost four years of starring as the Time Lord from Gallifrey, Matt Smith is set to leave Doctor Who at the end of this year.

Smith, who took over the role from fan favorite David Tennant in 2010, first appeared as the Eleventh Doctor during the rebooted sci-fi show’s fifth season, and will make his final bow in the upcoming 50th Anniversary Special.

With Smith as the Doctor, the show has enjoyed increasing popularity worldwide, particularly in the United States. The recent advertising push for Doctor Who across the States, in addition to the growing influence of internet fandoms, are some likely causes for the surge of support for the show, but Smith, along with companions Amy (Karen Gillan) and Rory (Arthur Darvill), surely also played a role.

His energetic performance and dramatic gravitas, in addition to fondness for bowties, fish fingers and custard, and the phrase “Geronimo”, have certainly earned him a place among the best Doctors. Smith is also the first actor to be nominated for a BAFTA for the role, receiving the nod in 2011.

The search for the Twelfth Doctor is currently underway, and companion Clara Oswald (Jenna-Louise Coleman) is expected to stick around for at least one more season.

After he departs Doctor Who, Smith will next be seen in Ryan Gosling’s upcoming directorial debut, a dark fantasy called How to Catch a Monster.

Photo Courtesy: Wakonda Marketing.

Dan Harmon May Return to ‘Community’

Former 'Community' showrunner Dan Harmon may return.

Former ‘Community’ showrunner Dan Harmon may return.

The mad-genius creator of NBC’s underdog cult comedy Community may be returning to the show for its fifth season after being fired by NBC last year. Dan Harmon is widely perceived to be the creative energy behind the show, which centers on disbarred lawyer Jeff Winger, who attends the titular Greendale Community College in hopes of earning a degree and embarks on a series of misadventures with a zany and close-knit study group. Danny Pudi, Gillian Jacobs, Alison Brie, Donald Glover, Yvette Nicole Brown, Jim Rash, and (formerly) Chevy Chase co-star. Community is beloved by fans for its ambitious, high-concept storylines and affinity for meta-humor and pop culture references.

Harmon was evicted from the show after the close of the third season, following conflict between him and co-star Chevy Chase and reports that NBC was unhappy with the show’s direction and ratings. The fourth season, which was helmed by writers David Guarascio and Moses Port, concluded last month. It met with a less-than-enthusiastic reception from critics and fans, who felt it lacked the series’ typical humor and creativity, while maintaining almost the same ratings as Harmon’s Community.

News of Harmon’s possible return broke last Sunday on his podcast Harmontown, when he confirmed rumors that he was in negotiations with NBC. On Friday, Harmon tweeted, “Returning to Community, Day One: Hiring of directors hindered by an apparent promise from Sony to Jason Alexander. My deal: not yet closed.” Alexander previously appeared on the show during the fourth-season episode “Intro to Felt Surrogacy.”

Another tweet from Harmon appeared to cement the news on Saturday. Responding to a fan’s question, he tweted, “Yes yes yes! I’m back I’m back I’m back. You can thank @joelmchale.”

Community‘s fifth season is expected to air as a midseason replacement in NBC’s 2013-2014 schedule.

NBC and Sony declined to comment when asked by Entertainment Weekly.

Source: Entertainment Weekly.

Photo Courtesy: Digital Spy.

TV Season Review: Grimm

NBC's 'Grimm' delivers intermittent thrills.

NBC’s ‘Grimm’ delivers intermittent thrills.

In its first season, NBC’s dark fairy-tale cop procedural was often indecisive (and that’s putting it nicely), introducing new characters and plots without aim or direction and frequently dropping both without resolution. The show, about Portland detective Nick Burkhardt (David Giuntoli), who inherits the ability to see supernatural creatures called ‘Wesen’, lacked the bite it so desperately needed to be interesting. Watching Nick establish his role as a cop for both Wesen and humans was sometimes diverting but mostly frustrating. There were a few bright spots (the deliciously twisted “Organ Grinder,” serialized standout “Love Sick,” and exciting world-builder “Cat and Mouse”) but the show seemed to oscillate between expanding its universe and telling sometimes dull “monster-of-the-week” stories.

This was never more evident than in the season’s finale, “Woman in Black,” which ended the season on a sour note with little resolution and blatantly telegraphed twists. I wanted to like Grimm, and so I stuck with it this season. I was pleasantly surprised by a lot of the episodes and, (finally) the show has progressed to the point where I can happily continue to watch it. The second season, though rocky and sometimes just plain dumb in places, is a vast improvement over the first.

That’s not to say that Grimm is anywhere close to terrific. It’s certainly better than before, but then again that isn’t saying much. There are still overlong, boring character arcs and idiotic plot twists. And Bitsie Tulloch, as Nick’s laughably pathetic girlfriend Juliette, is somehow getting worse with every episode, now unable to convey a single convincing emotion. And the show made the mistake of saddling her with an overarching plot so redundant and boring that it deflated every episode it appeared in. But overall, Grimm has slowly improved, steadily building its universe and characters while figuring out what works and what doesn’t. I’m optimistic about its future, much more so this season than last.

The best episodes of the season either expanded Grimm‘s Wesen world or told entertaining and intelligent standalone stories.

In that first category, midseason finale “Season of the Hexenbiest,” the satisfying “Face Off,” and the two-part season finale (“The Waking Dead” and “Goodnight, Sweet Grimm”) come to mind. Without fail, as Nick learns more about the supernatural world he is a part of, the show gets better. The serialized episodes give Grimm an opportunity to commit to its darkness, asking tough questions of Nick as his duties as a detective come into conflict with his responsibilities as a Grimm. His tense standoff with the Wesen royal families of Europe has yielded some intriguing episodes this season.

On the procedural side, fun caper “One Angry Fuchsbau” and the gripping “Kiss of the Muse” show how entertaining Grimm can be when good performances and compelling plotlines converge. The show’s writers are mostly getting smarter, and the show has managed to establish a pace and tone that suit it well. I see promise in Grimm, which makes the bad episodes (too many to name) disappointing but bearable.

The actors, excepting the hopeless Tulloch, are also improving. Giuntoli, who gave a wooden and unconvincing performance as Nick in the first season, is visibly becoming more comfortable carrying the series, and he follows through on the emotional scenes he was unable to deliver last season. The series’ MVP is still Silas Weir Mitchell as charismatic Blutbad (a werewolf Wesen) Monroe. His scenes, particularly with love interest Rosalie (the delightful Bree Turner), are both the best-acted and most consistently amusing in the series. In supporting roles, Sasha Roiz plays mysterious Wesen Police Captain Renard with a dangerous, cool energy that makes him compulsively watchable, while Claire Coffee, as wily Hexenbiest Adalind Schade is a beguiling villainess.

The show has come a long way since its strictly-procedural roots, and the last string of episodes, culminating in a  genuinely terrific season finale, is Grimm‘s best yet. The show’s gradual but consistent improvement in quality excites me, and I’m looking forward to seeing how the show will resolve its first real cliffhanger in the fall. Its prognosis is far from Grimm. B

Photo Courtesy: Science Fiction.com.