Monthly Archives: April 2011

Review: Dylan Dog

dylan dog one sheetThere are films that are intended to be midnight movies from the very beginning, appealing to the “cult movie” or “b movie” crowd starting with the opening title and first scene. Dylan Dog: Dead of Night is definitely one of those films, a movie that’s full of dry voice over commentary, self-referential film jokes and a deliberately light touch with horror film tropes that add up to produce a surprisingly amusing horror comedy.

Dylan (Brandon Routh) is a private investigator who specializes in the seamy and sordid, skulking about and getting photos of unfaithful spouses in flagrante delicto. His side kick is the amusing and cowardly Marcus (Sam Huntington) and together they ply their trade out of an office that’s a clear nod to Sam Spade’s sloppy PI office in The Maltese Falcon.

The film opens with blonde waif Elizabeth (Anita Briem) preparing a meal for her father at the spooky Ryan Mansion in New Orleans (think of the famous exterior shot of Xanadu in Citizen Kane), just to find him murdered and a monster leaping out of her father’s study and into the darkness. The cops don’t believe the whole monster story but a priest gives her Dylan’s business card: “No pulse? No problem.”

It turns out that there’s a war brewing between the werewolves and the vampires, the former led by wise old Gabriel (Peter Stormare) and the latter led by Morpheus-like Vargas (Taye Diggs). Seems there’s this long-lost ceremonial silver cross that contains the blood of a 5,000 year old demon: stab someone undead with it and the demon takes over.

Sound like a bloody mess of different horror tropes and stereotypes, creatures that are scary even as they stick to well-known mythos about vampires and sunlight, werewolves and silver, zombies and decomposition? Dylan Dog definitely doesn’t break new ground but it’s surprisingly well assembled, the performances are all believable within context, and there is a semi-coherent narrative logic to the story that’s both engaging and entertaining. I went into the theater expecting to dislike this film, but was surprised to find that I quite enjoyed it.
Continue reading

Review: The Conspirator

the conspirator one sheet

We all know that the actor and Confederate sympathizer John Wilkes Booth (played in The Conspirator by Toby Kebbell) assassinated US President Abraham Lincoln (Gerald Bestrom) and was later killed during capture by Union soldiers, but did he work alone? It’ll come as a surprise to many people that he was part of a much greater plot that also involved the planned assassination of Vice President Andrew Jackson (Dennis Clark) and Secretary of State William Seward, neither of whom was killed, though Seward was stabbed repeatedly.
The conspiracy that surrounding Lincoln’s assassination is perfect for a historical film and director Robert Redford delivers an excellent drama with The Conspirator, one well worth watching both for its historical value and because it’s just a darn good film with more than one surprise twist.
The film centers on Mary Surratt (Robin Wright), mother of conspirator John Surratt (Johnny Simmons). By running a boarding house in Washington DC where the conspirators hatched their plot, was she therefore culpable as an accomplice?  The heads of the military tribunal, Judge Advocate General Joseph Holt (Danny Huston) and Secretary of War Edwin Stanton (Kevin Klein), clearly believe she’s guilty and that the pretense of any trial is a waste of time, but was Mary truly guilty?
The thankless task of defending her rests with newly graduated lawyer Frederick Aiken (James McAvoy), who wrestles with matters of constitutional fairness (why a military tribunal when the accused is a civilian?) and the negative social effects of defending a much hated woman in a public court of inquiry, along with his own questions of her guilt or innocence. A former Union soldier, there’s an additional layer of conflict with his peers as he professes his belief that Mary is, in fact, innocent of knowledge of the conspiracy.

Continue reading

Review: Your Highness

your highness one sheetWhat do you get when you combine an atrocious script with a big budget production and a bevy of top actors? Your Highness, one of the worst films I have had to sit through in a long time. To think that it featured Natalie Portman, James Franco and Zooey Deschanel boggles the mind. What where they thinking when they attached themselves to this production?

The worst part is that the film looks beautiful, with gorgeous exterior shots, terrific visual effects and a sequence of well-staged interior shots that make it clear the production team (led by director David Gordon Green) was aiming at a modern, updated The Princess Bride.  Problem is, writer Danny McBride couldn’t resist having the characters talk like wanna-be toughs who have just learned the latest obscenities, resulting in a film that was more profanity-laced than an Eddie Murphy stand-up routine.
The story, such as it is, involves the much-beloved Prince Fabious (James Franco) meeting the loopy but beautiful Belladonna (Zooey Deschanel) on a quest and bringing her back to the castle to meet his slacker brother Prince Thadeous (Danny McBride) and Dad, King Tallious (Charles Dance). She’d been trapped in a tower since a young child – a la Rapunzel – by the evil wizard Leezar (Justin Theroux) and he returns on their wedding day to kidnap Belladonna and return her to his evil lair.
Fabious now has a new quest, to rescue his fair Belladonna from the clutches of the evil Leezar, and accompanying him – on his first quest, and under duress – is Thadeous and his faithful servant Courtney (Rasmus Hardicker).  Cue a non-stop stream of sexual and scatological jokes that almost always fell flat and scenes that were often embarrassing to watch (the Great Wize Wizard, the selection of the Minotaur’s trophy), all with weirdly impressive production values.
Therein lies the tragedy of Your Highness. With a more mature writer and some adult supervision on the dialog and scenes, there really was the basis of a beautifully produced chivalric comedy. But Your Highness is not that film and unless your sense of humor is stuck in sixth grade, this is not the film for you to see. Ever.

Review: Source Code

source code one sheetWhen you die, the last eight minutes of your life remains electromagnetically imprinted in your brain. If you could inject someone into that persistent time memory and pull them back afterwards, you could send investigators into crises just before they happened and have them identify who committed the crime. It’s a fascinating premise for a sci-fi thriller and director Duncan Jones pulls it off splendidly in Source Code.

Air Force chopper pilot Colter Stevens (Jake Gyllenhaal) finds himself in a commuter train heading into Chicago on a sunny Monday morning, chatting with attractive brunette Christine (Michelle Monaghan) who certainly acts as if she knows him. But he has no idea who she is, who he is, where he is and what’s going on: his last memories were of flying a helicopter in Afghanistan. Christine refers to Stevens as “Sean” and says he’s a school teacher. When he looks in a mirror, he’s startled by the unfamiliar face that stares back at him.

Then the train is ripped apart by a bomb that kills everyone on board.
Turns out that Stevens is part of a top-secret military operation called Source Code and, as he gradually learns from his handler Colleen Goodwin (Vera Farmiga), he’s going to be sent back to relive the same eight minutes prior to the explosion again and again until he can figure out where the bomb was and who planted it.
There are a lot of sci-fi action films that fall apart by the last reel, films that tax your ability to suspend disbelief until by the end you’re just glad to get out of the theater (think of the recent remake of The Day The Earth Stood Still for an example). Source Code holds together remarkably well, with its slick design, constant twists and surprises, and a bad guy who wasn’t at all obvious when we try to identify them along with Colonel Stevens. The story makes sense and while the end was a bit melodramatic, it was a satisfying, philosophical ending with a neat twist.

Continue reading

Mini Review: Hop

hop one sheetWe’ve all been there, that moment in time when destiny knocks on the door and we’d rather just yell “go away, I already have plans!” so it’s easy to identify with “E.B.”, the drum-playing rocker in the lead role of Hop. His destiny?  He’s to take over from his Dad as the Easter Bunny. But he really wants to hit it big as a rock drummer, not distribute candy and be responsible for year round production of candy, toys and other Easter stuff.

I was surprised by how much I liked this witty, amusing hybrid animation film. It’s mostly real-action, but Easter world (located, logically enough, below Easter Island) is all painstakingly rendered computer animation. If you remember Who Framed Roger Rabbit, it’s astonishing to see how far we’ve come with animation/real-life blending.
E.G. (voiced by Russell Brand) jumps through a hyperspace portal (or something like that) and pops out at the foot of the iconic Hollywood sign. He’s ready to be discovered as the next big drummer!  In parallel, we meet slacker Fred O’Hare (James Marsden), a personable 20-something who is wasting his life, still living with his parents, and finding excuses to reject any job opportunity that comes along. His parents, Bonnie (Elizabeth Perkins) and Henry (Gary Cole) arrange an “intervention”, along with sister Sam (Kaley Cuoco) and smart-alek adopted sister Alex (Tiffany Espensen). Time to get a job.
Meanwhile, back on Easter Island, Easter chick Carlos (voice of Hank Azaria) is plotting to take over the factory, a Marxism-lite coup-d’état where the worker chicks are going to throw out the bunny bosses, and the hilarious Pink Berets have been sent to find E.B. and bring him back before they miss Easter entirely. Think “cute, cute, cute” and you’re on the right track with both of these subplots.
Fred bumps into E.B. on his way to a housesitting job and the results are comic and lighthearted. Sure, there are the obligatory sophomoric jokes commonly found in children’s films (E.B. poops jellybeans, which Sam unwittingly eats. “MMMmm… cherry!”) but it’s all lively, fun and engaging. My test audience of four 11yo boys all gave it a thumbs up. Hop is the kind of family film that we don’t see too often, one that addresses serious issues in a delightful manner, with plenty of visual jokes to keep parents engaged and a cute storyline for the younger kids.