Tomorrowland

tomorrowland-logo

2015

Walt Disney Pictures

Directed by Brad Bird

Produced by Brad Bird/Damon Lindelof/Jeffrey Chernov

Screenplay by Damon Lindelof/Brad Bird

Story by Damon Lindelof/Brad Bird/Jeff Jensen

Despite my curmudgeonly demeanor, at heart I’m really a soft-as-a-marshmallow optimist. Really. I believe that Good always triumphs over Evil. That most people are good at heart and will lend a helping hand when they can. I depend on the kindness of strangers. I believe that the sun will come out tomorrow. I bet my bottom dollar that tomorrow there will be sun.

That’s why I’m really not much of a fan of dystopian science fiction. It kinda makes me sad that young people especially positively wallow in books and movies that depict the future as a pretty shitty place to live. And I think that as I get older, I want to believe more and more that mankind has a great and glorious future not only on this planet but in the far flung galaxies that I still believe we’ll explore. That’s why I was looking forward to TOMORROWLAND as it looked to be a science fiction movie throwback to an earlier time of hope and optimism that Science would make our world a paradise (It’s 2015…where the hell are my moon cities, jetpacks and flying cars, dammit?) and enrich our lives in every way imaginable.

There’s a part in the movie when disillusioned super genius Frank Walker (George Clooney) rages at Athena (Raffey Cassidy) that she did not fulfill the promise she made when she brought him to the city of Tomorrowland. Mr. Clooney could be speaking for me as well because TOMORROWLAND the movie certainly did not deliver on the promise that the trailers made to me.

Frank once lived in Tomorrowland, a futuristic city inhabiting another dimension. As a boy he invented a jetpack and eagerly brought it to the 1964 World’s Fair in Queens, NY to show it off to David Nix (Hugh Laurie) Nix is unimpressed but Athena, a young girl of surprising intelligence and maturity sees his potential and grants Frank access to Tomorrowland. Frank is later on banished from Tomorrowland and grows up mean, surly and resentful. But he still manages to monitor events in Tomorrowland. Events that may mean the end of the world.

ZZ5E9CC668

Athena re-enters his life, still looking like a young girl and bringing along Casey Newton (Britt Robertson) who in her own way may just be as mega-brilliant as Frank. Athena assures Frank that if they can get back to Tomorrowland, Casey might be able to prevent the end of the world. That’s if they can survive the attacks of killer robots sent after them by Nix who has engineered natural disasters, environmental catastrophes and implanted bad hoodoo in the minds of everybody on Earth to bring about the end of the world. Don’t ask why. The movie never bothers to explain and I’m not gonna do the screenwriters job for them and try to bail them out with extrapolating one.

Okay, let’s get the bad stuff out of the way first so I can end this review on a positive note. My major beef with the movie? That we spend so little time in Tomorrowland itself. There are two magical scenes that tease and tantalize. One is with Frank as a boy (Thomas Robinson) using his jetpack to fly over Tomorrowland and in that scene Brad Bird manages to evoke the same feeling I get when I look at the covers of 1950s science fiction magazines. The other scene is where Casey is briefly transported to Tomorrowland and explores the city. That scene also tickled my sense of wonder. Especially the swimming pools.

But except for those two scenes and near the end of the movie we never learn a lot about Tomorrowland itself. We’re constantly told how Tomorrowland is populated by inventors, scientists, artists, technologists and dreamers who are all working together to create the future. But we never see any of them or what they’re working on. And how did a guy with a head full of bad wiring like Nix wind up in charge, anyway?

Brad Bird’s direction really disappointed me as I know for a fact the man can direct a movie. He directed “Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol” which I consider to be the best of the “Mission Impossible” movies and he directed one of the best superhero movies ever made; “The Incredibles.” But TOMORROWLAND is devoid of any real energy or suspense. The movie and the characters just wander around doing things and while some of it is very exciting stuff, yes, it just doesn’t have a feel of urgency or that any of it matters.

What else? The ending feels very out of tone with the rest of the movie. It’s as if Brad Bird and his co-screenwriter Damon Lindelof felt that like every other summer movie, they needed a big explosion to finish things off.  And speaking of the writing, it leaves out so much that would go a long way to explaining Tomorrowland and the characters of Frank and Nix. We never do find out why Frank was exiled from Tomorrowland and Nix acts pretty much like a James Bond villain in that once he’s got the good guys under his thumb he explains his entire evil scheme to them.

tomorrowland-movie-screenshot-hugh-laurie-david-nix-1

Now onto the good: George Clooney is is usually charming self. I dunno…it’s impossible for me to dislike Clooney in anything he does because he’s got such an earnestness behind what he’s doing on screen that I’m sucked in. It’s always welcome to see Hugh Laurie do anything on screen and he does the best he can with such a thin character. I don’t blame him, I blame the screenplay.

The acting honors go to the young ladies, especially Raffey Cassidy who somehow manages to be both unnerving and endearing at the same time. She acquits herself equally well in action scenes such as when she takes on a pair of hipster killer robots that run a science fiction memorabilia shop as well in more emotional scenes with Frank where they have to resolve issues from when Frank was a boy and fell in love with her, not knowing her secret then.

Disney's TOMORROWLAND..Athena (Raffey Cassidy)..Ph: Kimberley French..©Disney 2015

Disney’s TOMORROWLAND..Athena (Raffey Cassidy)..Ph: Kimberley French..©Disney 2015

Britt Robertson plays Casey as spunky, nervy, brainy and downright fun. The two young actresses have a wonderful chemistry and whenever they’re on screen together, TOMORROWLAND snaps, crackles and pops.

So should you see TOMORROWLAND? While I appreciated the marvelous special effects which evoke the spirit of 1950s science fiction and the movie’s message of optimism, hope and scientific exploration, it’s continually beating us over the head with that message and it gets in the way of the story. Wait for this to show up on Netflix or get the DVD.

130 Minutes

Rated PG

Mad Max: Fury Road

10353400_661462377292620_5650103949489993553_o

Warner Bros./Kennedy-Miller-Mitchell/Village Roadshow Pictures

2015

Directed by George Miller

Produced by Doug Mitchell/George Miller/P.J Voeten

Written by George Miller/Brendan McCarthy/Nico Lathouris

With all the deserved praise that he’s been getting for MAD MAX: FURY ROAD, nobody seems to have mentioned that George Miller has revived a time honored movie tradition that has been forgotten in our age of reboot fever: he just simply recast a new actor to play Max Rockatansky aka Mad Max.  He didn’t reboot the series or felt that he had to explain why Max hasn’t aged in the thirty years between this movie and “Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome.” In fact, through some subtle visual clues such as Tom Hardy wearing the same jacket and leg brace that Mel Gibson did in the three previous Mad Max adventures, Miller lets us know this is the same guy. Hardy even gets to briefly drive the iconic black V8 Interceptor.

But he doesn’t feel the need to work some kind of jiggery pokery as to why Mad Max is now Tom Hardy and not Mel Gibson. He simply presents MAD MAX: FURY ROAD as another adventure of his signature character. You can take it or leave it. And in fact, that attitude runs throughout the entire movie. It’s a perfect example of that old adage: “Show. Don’t Tell.” Miller doesn’t waste our time having his characters stand around mouthing meaningless exposition, explaining things to each other that they already know or filling us in on the background of this visually deranged world. Miller’s attitude seems to be: “Here’s the characters. Here’s the situation. Now sit back and watch the damn movie.”

Mad Max (Tom Hardy) is captured by the soldiers of Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne) who holds sway over a hoard of worshippers due to his control of an unlimited supply of water in the middle of a desert wasteland somewhere in Australia. Immortan Joe has used the water to create an oasis where he lives with his private army, known as The War Boys and his Five Wives. They are all women of exceptional beauty he uses strictly for breeding.

Mad-Max-Fury-Road-Film-Trailer-_-Photos

Max is kept alive and used an an unwilling blood donor for Nux (Nicholas Hoult). While trying to figure out a way to escape, Joe’s right-hand woman Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) helps The Five Wives do just that very thing, hijacking the heavily armored War Rig. She intends to take them to The Green Place where she grew up. Once he discovers his wives are gone, Immortan Joe takes off after Furiosa with not only his War Boys but the armies of Gas Town and The Bullet Farm as well. Nux joins the pursuit with Max strapped to the front of his car and during that pursuit Max manages to escape and joins up with Furiosa and The Five Wives.

And that’s really all you need to know about the movie. What you’re getting is a two-hour epic car chase that is like a deliriously demented “Smokey and The Bandit” on acid. This is one of those movies that I watch in genuine amazement that nobody got killed working on this thing. It’s even more of an impressive achievement when you realize that most of the stunts and effects were done practically, at George Miller’s insistence. The use of CGI was used only when absolutely necessary and it’s actually Tom Hardy and Charlize Theron performing most of their stunts.

And speaking of Charlize Theron, she’s absolutely astounding here. The only other movie I can recall where she de-glamorized herself to this degree was “Monster.” Her role as Furiosa isn’t as dramatically daring as that of Aileen Wuronos but it’s no less captivating as she’s the best female action hero since Sigourney Weaver in “Aliens.” Yes, she’s that badass. Easily the equal of Tom Hardy’s Mad Max. They’re both warriors and survivors and come to respect each other because of their respective abilities to stay alive in this insane world. There’s no phony tacked on romance between them. They don’t have time for that bullshit. There’s only time to stay alive and ahead of the three armies chasing after them trying to kill them.

635560680919636292-MAD-MAX-FURY-ROAD-MOV-jy-1019-

Just on a purely visual level MAD MAX: FURY ROAD is brilliant. The vehicles on display are bizarre and just plain wacko. The Doof Wagon has to be seen to be believed. It’s a stage on wheels with six drummers banging away on drums while a guitarist swings back and forth on bungee cords playing heavy metal on a flame throwing guitar to Immortan Joe’s War Boys as they charge into battle.

Taking into account that he’s 70 years old, the imaginative visual power and energy of MAD MAX: FURY ROAD is nothing less than astounding. Miller throws ideas and concepts up on screen for a couple of minutes that other filmmakers would make whole movies out of. You’d expect this kind of movie from a younger director, eager to show off what he can do.

eejppxicpnba818tddc7

And maybe that makes all the difference. George Miller already knows what he can do. He did it before with “Mad Max” and with “The Road Warrior” which revolutionized the modern action movie. And he does it again with MAD MAX: FURY ROAD. If you haven’t seen it yet, stop procrastinating. It’s definitely one of the best movies of the year and next to “Avengers: Age of Ultron” a Must See for the Summer of 2015. Enjoy.

Rated R

120 Minutes

 

Avengers: Age of Ultron

International-Avengers-Age-of-Ultron-Poster-700x989

2015

Marvel Studios/Walt Disney Studios

Written and Directed by Joss Whedon

Produced by Kevin Feige

Based on “The Avengers” created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby

The best recommendation I think I can give AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON is that by the time the final credits were through rolling, my face hurt. But it was a good hurt. I’m being totally honest with you when I say that for about 85% of the movie I had the biggest grin on my face. The times I didn’t were during the appropriate and genuine moments of emotional crises suffered by the heroes. And those were welcome and necessary moments. Because Joss Whedon gets The Avengers. And he knows that without those scenes where they bicker, fight and squabble like a family, we won’t give a damn when they assemble to go into battle to save the world.

age-of-ultron-10-things-that-will-make-you-cry-in-avengers-age-of-ultron

And this time around, saving the world has a personal angle to it as Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey, Jr.) is responsible for the menace threatening it. Yep, Tony’s been playing Dr. Frankenstein and has created an artificial intelligence named Ultron. Working in conjuction with Doc Bruce Banner/The Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) Tony designed Ultron (James Spader) to be a worldwide defense program. It’s obvious to the rest of the team: Steve Rogers/Captain America (Chris Evans) Thor (Chris Hemsworth) The Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and Clint Barton/Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) that Tony is still feeling the PTS of the Chitauri Invasion of New York. It could well be that his manic desire to protect The Earth from future invasions may be clouding his judgment just a wee bit.

dd7fa75c-fe9c-4bb9-8841-3c2f22343acf

Such an understatement. Ultron achieves sentience and sets out on his own agenda to save The Earth. An agenda he feels that can only be accomplished by eradicating humanity. Ultron recruits two “enhanced humans” to his cause. The twins Pietro Maximoff/Quicksilver (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and Wanda Maximoff/The Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen). Formerly experimental subjects of Baron Wolfgang von Strucker (Thomas Kretschmann) they eagerly join with Ultron for reasons of their own that concern Tony Stark.

Avengers253d1a2031442d

That’s the bare bones of the plot and that’s really all you need to know. AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON is so much fun because it’s exactly what I look for in a superhero movie and Joss Whedon knows how to make one, that’s for sure. The action sequences are nothing less than spectacular and even though they’re extremely busy, it’s always very clear which Avenger is doing what and why. I especially liked the different and inventive ways Whedon came up with for Captain America and Thor to work together using their signature weapons of shield and hammer. Each and every one of the fight scenes is big enough to have easily been the conclusion of any other superhero movie. Trust me on this. Right from the raid on Strucker’s Hydra base that starts the movie, Whedon cranks it up to eleven and keeps it there for the entire running time.

But it’s not all wall to wall action. Whedon knows how to slow down the action to allow the human, emotional moments to take over and they’re just as suspenseful as the action sequences and in some cases, a complete and total surprise. There are revelations concerning Hawkeye, the Black Widow and The Hulk that I really didn’t see coming. And in the case of Hawkeye, those of you who like me, complained that he didn’t have enough to do in “The Avengers” will be delighted to hear that he gets more than enough to do this time around.

hawkeye-avengers-age-of-ultron

James Spader as Ultron does some interesting things with his characterization that has subtle echoes of Downey’s characterization of Tony Stark which only makes sense to me. Chris Evans can no longer be billed: Chris Evans as Captain America. From now on he gets billed: Chris Evans is Captain America. While he still is presented as a man out of time, it’s his values and morals from that time that always gives the team its drive and sense of purpose. It provides a nice balance to Tony Stark’s Australia-sized ego and single-minded focus on what he thinks his best for the world.

As the new kids, Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Elizabeth Olsen hold their own with the more experienced ensemble cast and carry their roles admirably. I really enjoyed Taylor-Johnson as Quicksilver and preferred him to the Quicksilver in the “Days of Future Past” X-Men movie. That version was too frivolous and smart-alecky for my taste while Taylor-Johnson had the intensity and pissed-off attitude I like in my Pietro.

It’s a big, complicated story with a lot of characters and a lot of cameos featuring faces you’ll recognize from the standalone movies featuring Thor, Iron Man and Captain America but you’ll never be lost or feel like the story doesn’t once know where it’s going. And the best thing about it is that it’s a superhero movie that makes you feel good. The Avengers never lose sight of the fact that they’re supposed to be the good guys and even when they stumble, they pick themselves up and jump right back into the fray. It’s downright refreshing to see superheroes who worry first about getting civilians out of harm’s way before going into combat with the bad guy (in a marvelous massive melee combat scene I’m convinced is a homage to the final shootout in Sam Peckinpah’s “The Wild Bunch”)

avengers-age-of-ultron-trailer-screengrab-13-chris-hemsworth-chris-evans

AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON gave me the same feeling I had as a kid when I first discovered the comic book and I treasure that feeling. It shows that superhero movies can be visually eye-popping and have astoundingly jaw-dropping fights and still not lose sight of what makes these characters work: they are men and women of godlike power who truly care about protecting the world and the people who inhabit it.  By all means, go see it and have fun.

PG-13

141 Minutes

Furious 7

Furious-7

2015

Universal Pictures/Original Film/One Race Films/Relativity Media/Media Rights Capital

Directed by James Wan

Produced by Neal H. Moritz/Vin Diesel/Michael Fottrell

Screenplay by Chris Morgan

Based on characters created by Gary Scott Thompson

I have a lot of admiration for “The Fast and The Furious” film series. The first movie “The Fast and The Furious” was little more than an unofficial remake of “Point Break” substituting street racing clubs for surfers. Gradually the movies changed and developed into crime thrillers, teenage coming of age dramas and heist movies. With “Fast & Furious 6” and now FURIOUS 7 they’ve become full tilt boogie action-adventure spectacles with international locations, larger-than-life villains, breathtaking fight scenes and mind-boggling stunts that easily match and yes, sometimes top what you would expect to see in a James Bond or Mission: Impossible movie. There a scene in this movie where silky smooth spymaster Mr. Nobody (Kurt Russell) tells Dominic Torretto (Vin Diesel) “This is the world you’re in now, like it or not.” Which I interpret as a sly hint that this type of globe-trotting espionage capers is where the franchise is heading now. And if we’ve got more movies as good as FURIOUS 7 coming, then I eagerly await them.

It seems as if life has finally settled down for Dominic and his family. He’s helping Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) try and regain her lost memories. Ex-cop/Ex-FBI agent turned professional criminal Brian O’Conner has resolved to become a family man with his wife Mia (Jordana Brewster) and their son Jack even though he reveals to Mia that he misses the jazz of his dangerous life.

None of them have to worry about being bored. Dom’s house is blown up and he’s informed by his ally Luke Hobbs of the Diplomatic Security Service (Dwayne Johnson) that Dom and his crew are being hunted by Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham) the older and definitely meaner brother of Owen Shaw (Luke Evans) the villain from the last movie who is now in a coma. Deckard is out for revenge and has already killed Han Lue (Sung Kang)

furious7-fast7-and-jason-statham-vin-diesel-paul-walker-tyrese-gibson-szybcy-i-wsciekli7-live-2015-trailer-poster-pictures-images-photos9_9779

Dom is contacted by Mr. Nobody who offers to help Dom catch Deckard if Dom and his crew will help him stop a vicious mercenary named Jakande (Djimon Honsou) from getting his hands on God’s Eye. It’s a frighteningly sophisticated computer program that can use any digital device in the world to track any individual (think of it as the little sister of the Big Brother-ish Machine from “Person of Interest’) and Jakande has the creator of God’s Eye, Ramsey (Nathalie Emmanuel) After rounding up Roman Pearce (Tyrese Gibson) and Tej Parker (Chris Bridges) the band is back together and they set out to rescue the hacker, recover God’s Eye and save the world.

Well, maybe not save the world, but there certainly is that kind of feel as our heroes race around the globe from the Caucasus Mountains to Abu Dhabi and back to Los Angeles. And in each one these locals there are jaw-dropping action sequences that are insanely preposterous but I couldn’t help but watch with a goofy grin on my mug because dammit, that’s the reason why I go to see movies of this type. Give me the insane and the preposterous every time.

furious7-AbuDhabi

What’s even more amazing to me is that all this astounding action is served up by James Wan, who as far as I know has directed mainly horror movies. Who knew that this cat had this kind of action movie in him? And now that we know, he should be given nothing but action movies to do. Seriously, FURIOUS 7 would be an impressive piece of work from a seasoned action director. But coming from Wan, who hasn’t done this genre before…well, he gets a standing ovation from me.

By now, everybody knows their characters inside and out and in a way, we all do as well. The team just isn’t a team. It’s a family as well and while that aspect may feel like it’s being beaten to death at times, it’s such an essential element of these characters that there’s no way a “Fast and Furious” movie can do without it. Especially not when the story has these kinds of stakes, what with Torretto & Co. being hunted by Deckard for personal reasons. James Wan isn’t afraid to slow down the action to develop emotional scenes between his characters and that gives resonance to the story in-between the cars flying through buildings and parachuting out of planes.

There’s a lot of great fight scenes in here, more elaborate than I can remember being in the other movies. Paul Walker and Tony Jaa as Jakande’s Oddjob go at it. Michelle Rodguez and Ronda Rousey have a memorable throwdown that while I enjoyed the hell out it also had me wondering since when did Letty become such an accomplished martial artist that she’s able to take down three other opponents at the same time before her main bout with Rousey’s character? We also get Johnson vs. Statham and Diesel vs. Statham. There’s your money’s worth right there, partners.

Furious 7 Film

So should you see FURIOUS 7? What, are you kidding me? YES. It’s a non-stop action extravaganza that’s not afraid to show heart and emotion, especially at the movie’s end which is both a truly moving tribute to Paul Walker and a sendoff for Brian O’Connor. If they never do another “The Fast and The Furious” movie, FURIOUS 7 is a more than satisfying way to end the series. This is the rare film series that has has gotten bigger and better with each new entry (I won’t mention “Tokyo Drift” if you won’t, okay?) and I hope it only continues to get bigger and better. Highly Recommended.

edfbb467-7ffd-423c-a880-a75dd57bcf57Wallpaper1

137 Minutes

PG-13

The Gunman

3e9f4c4b_gunman

2015

Anton Capital Entertainment/Canal+/Silver Pictures/TF1 Films Production/Open Road Films

Directed by Pierre Morel

Produced by Adrian Guerra/Sean Penn/Peter McAleese/Andrew Rona/Joel Silver

Screenplay by Don Macpherson/Pete Travis/Sean Penn

Based on the novel “The Prone Gunman” by Jean-Patrick Manchette

Just going by the trailers I saw for THE GUNMAN I figured that Sean Penn was throwing himself into the same pool that Liam Neeson, Sylvester Stallone, Kevin Costner, Arnold Schwarzenegger and their ilk are already swimming in: becoming a credible and legitimate Action Movie Hero even being over the age of 50. And actually, being over 50 works for Sean Penn in this role as he’s now got a face that looks lived in. It’s the face of a man who’s experienced life.

gunman1

Now to be fair, Sean Penn was never any rival to Rob Lowe or Keanu Reeves in the looks department even when he was younger. But one thing I like about the Over 50 Action Movie Hero is that these guys look like Men and not like little pretty boys playing Tough Guy. Sean Penn could have a career in Action Movies just going on physicality alone. Seriously, the cat has been doing some working out. In the theater I saw THE GUNMAN in, I heard quite a few gasps from the ladies during scenes where Sean Penn had his shirt off. His musculature is quite impressive. Such a shame that the movie itself isn’t as impressive. Halfway through the movie I also heard quite a few snores.  Liam Neeson’s got nothing to worry about. If THE GUNMAN is the best Sean Penn can come up with then he needs to rethink this whole Action Movie thing.

Movie review: 'Gunman' shows Penn preachy, violent and a bit out-of-date

Jim Terrier (Sean Penn) is a member of a covert black ops team of military contractors working in The Congo. They’re undercover, waiting for their opportunity to assassinate a high level minister who is standing in the way of a major western corporation lusting after The Congo’s mineral wealth they wish to exploit. It’s Jim who actually pulls the trigger on the minister and is forced to flee, leaving behind his girlfriend Annie (Jasmine Trinca) to seek comfort in the arms of Jim’s friend Felix (Javier Bardem) who plays his role so broadly he does everything but wear a billboard saying: “You Will Curse Me For My Sudden But Inevitable Betrayal”

Years later, Jim is working as a volunteer in a African village and seems to have put his violent past behind him. Not. A hit team comes to take Jim out and instead gets took. Jim connects the dots based on things the members of the hit team said and their equipment and deduces that somebody wants him dead for the assassination he did. But who? Is it Felix who is now married to Annie and doesn’t appreciate Jim coming back to break up his happy home? Is it Cox (Mark Rylance) another member of the team who is now the CEO of his own international military contracting corporation? Whose side is Interpol agent Barnes (Idris Elba) on? Jim bounces from London to Barcelona and back, trusting only in the assistance of his former mentor Stanley (Ray Winstone) to help him figure out who’s trying to kill him and why.

1370527562________________javier_bardem___________________________4000x2667

1371205534_Idris_Elba

Sounds like exciting stuff, don’t it? And somewhere in THE GUNMAN there is a solid, pulpy action thriller. Unfortunately director Pierre Morel forgot the action and instead we get long stretches of dialog between Penn and the other members of the cast as they debate the morality of privatized military corporations, international politics, the raping of Third World resources by the U.S. and half a dozen other weighty subjects that are certainly relevant and need to be discussed. But not in a movie that bills itself as an action thriller and was directed by Pierre Morel, the man who directed the first “Taken” and “District B13” one of the best and most high octane Action Movies ever made.

the-gunman-sean-penn

Sean Penn is certainly game and his (few) fight scenes and gunfights show that he’s got the chops for this kind of stuff. But the painfully slow pace of the movie and the overcooking of the plot works against him. Sean Penn’s acting certainly isn’t at fault here. Like Liam Neeson, he actually can act and that gives an Action Movie of this sort more gravitas than it actually needs. But Neeson knows how to make that work for him and Penn hasn’t mastered that yet. THE GUNMAN could have done with less with speeches about corporate imperialism and the destabilization of the Congo and more with a goofy dose of pure adrenaline. Wait for this one to show up on Netflix.

Rated R

115 Minutes

Kultus

kultus poster new cast

2015

Global View Productions

Written and Directed by Thor Moreno

Produced by Annette Duffy/Chris McAninch/Shawn McAninch

I’ve been following the career of Thor Moreno for a couple of years now with a great deal of enjoyment and entertainment. He’s a director who is not interested in trying to impress with bizarre and ultimately meaningless camera tricks to distract the viewer. He wants to tell a story and he wants to communicate that story as best he can with zero confusion. And as a writer he understands that there’s no reason for the actors to tell the audience what it is that they’re looking at on the screen. So instead he uses it to clarify and illuminate character and communicate information that we can’t see.

This works very well in KULTUS which is a mystery wrapped in an enigma and it’s one that I particularly enjoyed because I’ve been desperately missing the kind of mystery film where the investigator has to solve the crime using brainpower, life experience and a keen understanding of the human psyche instead of with computers and DNA. The pair of investigators we follow in KULTUS do indeed both have more than their share of brains, understanding and experience and it’s just as interesting seeing how they work together as it is to watch them solve the mystery.

The mystery begins with the disappearance of Beverly, a writer (Annette Duffy) who is trying to get out from under the cloud of alcoholism. She picks up on the story of a family found murdered in a house located on a North Pacific Indian reservation. The family’s mother is missing and she’s presumed to have either committed the crime herself or was carried off by whoever did it. Beverly thinks there’s more to it than that and moves into their house to try and discover what happened to them. Pretty soon she’s so far into the mystery that she suspects the solution may be more terrifying than the mystery itself.

Beverly herself goes missing and FBI agent Curtis (Jason Rainwater) is teamed up with civilian consultant Agatha (Kim Grimaldi) a woman of multiple protean talents and fearsome intelligence to find out what happened to Beverly and by extension, the family as well. It’s a case that will prove both baffling and frightening as well as highly personal for Agatha.

10846291_1515388175407962_8884287418689941881_n

There’s an awful lot I liked about KULTUS. The location shooting in Eureka, California is quite beautiful and contrasts very well with the darkness of the story. Annette Duffy and Kim Grimaldi both walk away sharing the acting honors for this one. Annette Duffy has a wonderfully expressive face and eyes that work together to convey a variety of emotions, all at the same time that easily gets across on the screen that Beverly’s screws are coming loose the longer she stays in the house. For a while we don’t know if there’s something really going on in the house or if Beverly just wants to get back to gettin’ her drink on. Miss Duffy is a tremendously appealing actress who provided me with something that doesn’t happen to me often when I’m watching a movie of this genre: she made me jump out of my seat twice. The second time is in a blood-freezing moment that I’m positive is Thor’s homage to a similar scene in “The Exorcist III”

10382509_1504424146504365_4803322268755839547_o

By the time the movie was over I wanted to watch another one with Kim Grimaldi’s Agatha solving another mystery. We’ve seen this kind of character before: the hyper-intelligent social outsider who has a short-circuited emotional switchboard. But I don’t recall ever seeing this kind of character played by a woman. And thanks to Kim Grimaldi’s talent, we never look at Agatha as just being a man with breasts. She never lets us forget that Agatha is quite a woman indeed. Especially in two interrogation scenes. In one, Agatha demonstrates a great deal of empathy towards a child and in the other, just watch her facial expressions as a woman describes to Agatha and Curtis how her son killed her husband. I dunno know if Miss Grimaldi intended it to be funny but I sure as hell laughed.

1505459_1504424716504308_7442362065386241796_n

Don’t let me give you the impression that the rest of the cast slouch on their jobs. One of the best things about a Thor Moreno movie is his casting. His people in his movies look like…well, like people. The men aren’t impossibly handsome or the women supernaturally beautiful. They look like people you could conceivably see walking on the streets where you live. His actors have faces that have experience and been lived in. It gives an added weight to the movie and draws me deeper into the story I’m watching because these people look real, know what I mean? And they play it real. There’s a lot of good actors in this movie who deserve to be better known.

KULTUS isn’t out in theaters yet but it’ll be in limited release in June. I’ll keep you posted as to exactly when and where but in the meantime, look for Thor Moreno’s other movies. They’re available on DVD or online at: https://www.indiereign.com/

 

 

Run All Night

 

RAN_RGB_INTL_2764_4096

 

2015

Vertigo Entertainment/Energy Entertainment/Warner Bros. Pictures

Directed by Jaume Collet-Serra

Produced by Roy Lee/ Michael Tadross/ Brooklyn Weaver

Written by Brad Ingelsby

Sunday rolls around and as usual I check out the results of Biff Bam Pop!’s box office predictions. On Friday they predict the box office numbers for whatever movies are opening that weekend and then Sunday they post the actual numbers. It’s always fun seeing what they got right and just as much fun seeing what they got wrong. They’ve also got a truckload of other fun stuff going on there that you should check out at your earliest opportunity (like, after you finish reading this review. Nudge nudge wink wink)

Anyway, they predicted that RUN ALL NIGHT, the newest Liam Neeson action movie would take in $14 million. It actually made $10. Which kinda surprised me as Liam Neeson has been a dependable action movie star since 2008’s “Taken” Yes, I know he’s been a badass in movies long before that in movies such as “Rob Roy” and “The Phantom Menace” but for the sake of this discussion let’s stick with contemporary action movies, okay?

Can it be that audiences are growing tired of Liam Neeson in action movies? Sure, he’s made a couple of stinkers. Most recently “Non-Stop” and “Taken 3” but he’s mostly delivered solid, entertaining B-level action movies that I appreciate as homages to Action Movies of the 1980s. And RUN ALL NIGHT (which I would have gone to see just for the title) is one of his better ones. Of his recent movies it’s not as good as “A Walk Among The Tombstones” but it steps all over “Taken 3”

Jimmy Conlon (Liam Neeson) once a feared hitman working for Irish mob boss Shawn Maguire (Ed Harris) is now considered a joke by the other members of Shawn’s gang. So deadly and dangerous was Jimmy back in the day that he was known as ‘The Gravedigger.’ Even though Jimmy hasn’t whacked anybody in years, NYPD Detective John Harding (Vincent D’Onofrio) is still looking to put him away. Jimmy almost wishes somebody would put him out of his misery. Consumed with guilt and despondent after the death of his wife, he’s drinking what’s left of his life away. Shawn looks after him, makes sure Jimmy has booze and walking around money. You get the impression in the movie’s early scenes they have together that Shawn maybe thinks that their positions could very easily have been reversed.

In a truly convoluted series of events that reminds me of Rule #19 of ‘Pixar’s 22 Rules For Phenomenal Storytelling.” Shawn’s son Danny (Boyd Holbrook) ends up dead, killed by Jimmy. Shawn promises that Jimmy’s son Mike (Joel Kinnaman) will die before Jimmy but Mike’s got his own problems as he’s wanted by the police for the murders of a cop and a pair of Albanian heroin dealers. Mike’s a working stiff with a wife and two daughters who wants nothing to do with any of this and wants to turn himself in but Jimmy asks for just one night to make everything right. It’s not easy convincing Mike as he absolutely hates his father and his life as a criminal. But he soon realizes that he’s now in a pool of sharks his father used to swim in with ease as he used to be the biggest shark of them all.

run-all-night

Huh? Where’d all that come from you may well ask. I told you it was convoluted. But it’s a good convoluted. There’s a meaty plot at work in RUN ALL NIGHT and you have to pay attention in order to keep up with what’s going on. But I didn’t mind. This is an action movie that’s more concerned that you understand the relationships between the characters rather than how much real estate can be blown up or how many shootouts can be crammed in for no good reason at all. That’s not to say that there aren’t shoot-ups and explosions enough to satisfy any respectable action junkie. There is. But the movie really wants to say something about the relationship and obligations between fathers and sons and the lengths fathers will go through to redeem themselves for the sins they pass onto their sons.

RUN ALL NIGHT

Weighty stuff, right? Well, don’t worry. It doesn’t get bogged down in all that for long. Thanks to an exceptionally strong supporting cast including Bruce McGill, who makes a definite presence in the movie despite the fact that I believe he has only two lines. And no, I’m not trying to be funny. Common is an assassin named Mr. Price and there’s a surprise cameo by an extremely well known actor that may well have you shaking your head, muttering; “Who the hell let him in this movie?”

Run-All-Night-Common

And at the center of the movie are the really excellent performances of Liam Neeson and Ed Harris. They’re terrific at playing a pair of criminals who have lived this life for a long time and know how their current situation has to play out. But they take no joy or pleasure in it. In fact, there’s a lot of grief and regret on both sides. But they know no other way to resolve this tragedy other than with more death. There’s a scene they have in a restaurant that may remind you of a similar scene between Al Pacino and Robert DeNiro in “Heat.”  No, I’m not saying it’s that good but there’s the same kind of vibe at work there. If you see the movie you’ll know what I’m talking about.

run-all-night-ed-harris-liam-neeson

So should you see RUN ALL NIGHT? If you felt burned by “Taken 3” by all means don’t let that stop you from seeing this one. It’s a solid crime thriller backed up with a firm story and performances that elevate the movie a few notches above what you might expect. Well worth your time and money.

Rated R

114 Minutes