Warm Bodies review

Director:
Jonathan Levine
Cast:
Nicholas Hoult
Teresa Palmer
Analeigh Tipton
Rob Corddry
Rated: PG-13

“Warm Bodies” is your basic modern day re-telling of “Romeo and Juliet,” except in this case, Romeo happens to be a zombie.

The film follows the character “R,” played by Nicholas Hoult who starred in the 2011 film “X-Men First Class.” R is a zombie who knows his name started with the letter “r” but can’t remember anything after that. On the outside, R is just an average zombie slumping around an airport in an post-apocalyptic future. However, on the inside R is able to give a monologue of what’s going on and provides the movie a narration.

Eventually, through a chance encounter, R meets a survivalist named Julie, played by Teresa Palmer. She is with a group looking for supplies. This meeting happens to be love at first sight for R as the encounter restarts his heart. Because of this, R saves Julie and Julie begins to learn that R is slowly coming back to life.

With most zombie flicks, a very logical approach is usually taken with some kind of scientific virus usually in play. “Warm Bodies” goes in an opposite direction and goes with more of a fantasy story revolving around zombies. At the beginning, this is hard to get into. The movie was able to win me over as it went on, though.

One of the reasons for this is that it doesn’t take itself seriously. The film has a good amount of satire and cynicism that provide for some witty comedy. The comedy really helps the story move along. The plot and the premise are silly, but the movie knows that and it plays along. What comes out is a fun romantic horror comedy.

Nicholas Hoult did very well as the zombie R, being able to emote basically with just facial expressions on the outside and giving a humorous narration of what’s going on. Starring opposite of Hoult was Palmer, who surprisingly is also delivers a strong performance. Her character has some good chemistry with R, which is of course surprising since he is a zombie.

Rob Corddry also stars in the film as R’s friend and portrays the comic relief character and does a good job with it. He has some good jokes thrown in, and being an experienced comedian, Corddry’s delivery is great.

John Malkovich plays the role of Julie’s father. However, he is a bit under used here. I think his character could have been used more effectively.

The make-up effects in the film are commendable and the film doesn’t over use CG. There are also a few clever ideas that are new to the zombie genre that make the film a bit more interesting. The film was directed by Jonathan Levine, who helmed the 2011 film “50/50,” and he shows once again in this movie that he is capable of making a technically sound film.

There are some drawbacks that keep the film from being great. The beginning is rather slow and it takes some time to get into. The climax could have also been a little more dramatic too. Overall though, the film is still strong in many aspects and amazingly is able to pull off a very silly premise. High 3 out of 5.

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January 2014 Mini Reviews

Texas Chainsaw 3D – 1 out of 5
This movie to me, basically ruins the lore of the original film from 1974. They give the Sawyer family, the psychopaths all of this backstory and history that just doesn’t blend with what the original film did. The only reason I didn’t give this a 0.5 is because at the very least they tried something a little different, the problem is that what they tried was just bad.

The Last Stand – 3 out of 5
Arnold’s come back had a bit of a flop at the theater which is too bad since this was actually a pretty fun movie to watch. Arnold has charm to him that just makes him enjoyable to watch on screen and he is joined by a band of misfits that make the movie work pretty well. It’s no action masterpiece but it is hard not to like.

Broken City – 2 out of 5
This is one of those flicks that I like to call a diamond in the rough. There were good actors here and there was a pretty good premise, but the execution was just poor. The story felt like it didn’t really know what to do or where to go and the dialogue and the look of the film just made it seem like it was an average, run of the mill corruption drama. I think the film could have used some more stylization.

Hansel & Gretal Witch Hunters – 2 out of 5
This film just got more and more stupid as it went on. Did it have it’s fun and exciting moments? Sure. But it felt like it was trying to be too hard to be edgy and cool. They just took things a little too far. Still possibly worth a rental if you have a couple beers and want to make fun of it.

A Good Day to Die Hard review

Director:
John Moore
Cast:
Bruce Willis
Jai Courtney
Sebastian Koch
Yuliya Snigir
Radivoje Bukvic
Rated: R

I don’t know if I want to hear Yippee Kay Ye any more.

“A Good Day to Die Hard” takes place some unknown amount of time after the fourth film. In this one, John McClane (Willis) finds out that his son Jack (Courtney) is in trouble in Russia. John decides to travel over to find out if he can somehow help his son in any way. What he finds out is that his son is actually a CIA agent working a major case.

Through a wild course of events, John becomes involved with the operation his son is working on and the two have to work together to bring down a large organization of terrorists.

The film felt like even less of a “Die Hard” film than the previous installment. The first one had John as an underdog having to trick his adversaries. Here he is just shooting a machine gun at anything that moves. The whole thing just feels like an average action movie, a lot of huge explosions and gun fire without much style.

What’s worse is that they try to shove in this sappy “daddy wasn’t there for me” story with John and his son. Please, spare me. Why not just a movie with John’s son as the guy who likes to do things by the book and John as the loose cannon like he’s always been. That would have been enough to be entertaining.

The acting wasn’t anything special. Bruce Willis has almost become a character himself. I look back to the first one and how he portrayed John McClane there was just a simple cop who came up with crazy ideas and he barely survived any of it, now he is able to do absolutely everything. Even the old idea of him being in the wrong place at the wrong time doesn’t work here, he purposely went to help his son out, he went to Russia. He wasn’t just on vacation for fun times.

Jai Courtney as John’s son just felt like he could have been played by anybody. Unlike Willis, who actually has a little bit of fun charm to him that can breathe a bit of life into the character, Courtney put this stern look on his face that didn’t seem to come off most of the movie. Then there was the villain, the first one at least, I won’t spoil the alternate villain. The villain is played by Radivoje Bukvic and he is so cookie cutter! He tries to be a sleezeball type villain and does these dances but the film never really goes anywhere with him. He never felt like a real threat.

The action didn’t do much for me in this movie. I’ve seen so much of this type of action before and there’s nothing really fresh here that makes it very enjoyable. It’s just more of the same. Are there a few exciting parts here and there, sure, but nothing that’s going to keep you on the edge of your seat.

The fifth “Die Hard” movie for me is just underwhelming and for lack of a better term, lame. There were a couple funny lines and a few nice action pieces that looked nice. However, these were very few and far in-between. Very low 2 out of 5.

Jack the Giant Slayer review

Director:
Bryan Singer
Cast:
Nicholas Hoult
Eleanor Tomlinson
Ewan McGregor
Stanley Tucci
Ian McShane
Rated: PG-13

“Jack the Giant Slayer” is another retelling of classic fairytales, a genre which has picked up steam the last few years.

In this adaption, Jack (Hoult) ends up getting some beans through a series of events.

What’s different in this version is that an evil aid to the King, Roderick (Tucci), wants the beans because they lead to the beanstalk which has access to the giant’s kingdom in the sky. Roderick has a plan to use the giants to take over the kingdom, however, before he can thrust his plan in to motion, Jack gets a hold of the beans.

In the first act, Jack meets the Princess of the castle, Isabelle (Tomlinson). During a chance encounter, the magic beans get activated and the beanstalk grows into the sky. While Jack is left on the ground, Isabelle ends up getting caught in the beanstalk and goes into the sky. To get her back, the King, played by Ian McShane, sends his best knights including one named Elmont (McGregor) and Jack tags along. Roderick also goes along and tries to set his original plan in motion. However the giants turn in the sky prove to be quite dangerous.

This movie is packed with a lot of clichés and generic things in both story-telling and characters. Yet the film still has the execution to make for a fun, family adventure flick.

The film’s three act structure is done well and keeps things exciting. The plot sets up the characters, setting and rules of the world it takes place in, something that’s really necessary in these types of movies. The drawback of course is that there is nothing fresh and it is very predictable.

The same can be said about the characters. Any audience can pretty much guess what these characters will wind up doing. Yet the acting makes for these characters to at least give the characters a lot of likeability. Nicolas Hoult as the lead protagonist does a good job in making a compelling character to root for. This is the second film this year where Hoult has played a protagonist and he seems good in those roles, having enough charisma to shoulder a film.

The adventure aspect of the film is what really helps things move along. It’s all classic stuff and it is done well making for many fun, thrilling moments. For example, the scene where they are climbing the bean stock is made to be very exciting. The special effects were also nice looking.

Overall, “Jack the Giant Slayer” is predictable and not really fresh, but what it lacks there it makes up in being fun. I think the giants could have been a bit better characterized and there’s nothing really enough to make it special, but it’s still good enough to get a 3 out of 5.

Oz the Great and Powerful review

Director:
Sam Raimi
Cast:
James Franco
Michelle Williams
Zach Braff
Joey King
Mila Kunis
Rated:
PG

This movie can be used as a lesson on how to correctly make a prequel.

“Oz the Great and Powerful,” tells the story of the title character, Oz, who we know from the beloved 1939 film “The Wizard of Oz.” In this film, we find Oz, played by James Franco to be a rather selfish, prankster of a magician and yet seems to have a heart of gold somewhere inside. Through a series of events of being chased out of a traveling carnival and ending up in a hot air balloon, Oz finds himself sucked into a twister and ends up in the land of Oz.

As he begins to explore his surroundings, Oz meets Theodora (Mila Kunis), who tells him where he is and that she is a witch. Oz is trusting of her and is led to the Emerald City and is told that he is a wizard of prophecy that will eliminate the threat of the wicked witches. Oz decides to take on the task so that he can be rule the land. However through his journey, he begins to become a better man as he makes new friends.

The story of “Oz the Great and Powerful” really works well. It doesn’t try to be a repeat of the original, it doesn’t try to be a crazy action movie and it captures the spirit of the 1939 film. It’s a good fantasy adventure which really invites the audience into the world that it portrays and it makes for an enjoyable time. The story of keeps interest not only by showing a good adventure to follow, but the story of Oz himself to become a better person is honest and adds another level of depth which moves the film up a peg.

I was skeptical at first with James Franco but he won me over fairly quickly. Franco plays the sort of fish out of water character pretty well. Zach Braff who plays the butler monkey Finley and Joey King who portrays the girl made out of china are both good in the film as well, and have a believable amount of chemistry with Franco. Michelle Williams also does a good job playing Glinda. I did have trouble finding Mila Kunis’ performance to be believable in the movie though. Not that she did a necessarily bad job, but she just seemed more or less miscast.

Director Sam Raimi, who did the Spiderman trilogy and Army of Darkness, seems to know how to make a fun, exciting, and at times over-the-top and yet at the same time have meaningful characters and for the most part a good plot set up, and it really shows here.

He is also apparently good at doing prequels, as things we have seen from the previous movie aren’t shoved in our face like George Lucas did with the Star Wars prequels. In this case, the throwbacks to the original movie are subtle and clever, one that will make the mind remember, but not be distracted.

The special effects was something that worked well here, which was good as it made the world of Oz seem real and also inviting, much more so than the 2010 “Alice in Wonderland” did when Tim Burton tried to take on a fantasy world.

Overall, “Oz the Great and Powerful” pays homage to the original film and at the same time introduces a good back story that is interesting on more than just a single level. Combined with Sam Raimi’s direction and fairly good acting from the cast and really engaging special effects, the film comes out at a 4 out of 5.

The Incredible Burt Wonderstone review

“The Incredible Burt Wonderstone,” is a film that has a lot of comedic heavy hitters and yet it all goes wrong so fast.

The film follows the story of the title character played by Steve Carell. Burt Wonderstone is a Las Vegas magician who puts on a show with his friend Anton Marvelton, played by Steve Buscemi, and finds a great deal of success. For a good number of years, things go well for Burt, however as time goes on people grow tired of the show and the theater becomes more and more empty.

Meanwhile, a new magician named Steve Gray, played by Jim Carrey, comes onto the scene and does more extreme tricks and daring stunts. The film sets its plot around Wonderstone having to get his career back on track and outdo Steve Gray.
The script for “The Incredible Burt Wonderstone” felt like it was written back in either 1999 or 2000 and left on a shelf to collect dust. There is nothing new or refreshing about the plot, as it feels very formulaic. This can be OK in a comedy movie if the film actually makes a person laugh. Unfortunately, “The Incredible Burt Wonderstone” fails on that aspect, too. All the jokes and gags are old and it was difficult to even force a chuckle as this film went on.

So if the story and plot are both bad and the comedic writing is poor, the acting of good comedians can sometimes save a flick. Not in the case of “The Incredible Burt Wonderstone,” though. Every single bit of acting from each of the performers felt phoned in. The whole cast, Steve Carell, Steve Buscemi, Jim Carrey and Olivia Wilde, never breathed any life into their characters, nor did their usual comedic timing spruce things up. It all came off as dull, like the actors didn’t even want to be there.

Not that there was much for them to do in the first place. Each character in the movie feels hollow. You could take Burt Wonderstone’s character and replace Steve Carell with, say, Will Farrell, and it wouldn’t have made a difference. The same can be said about Olivia Wilde’s character, who plays a rather generic romantic interest for the main character and not much more.

“Wonderstone” is a disappointment, because in theory, the idea behind the flick isn’t bad. However, the execution just isn’t there. Every bit of the film looked like it had been done so lazily. From the acting to the writing to the lame attempts at trying to give the movie a heart with the story. It feels like it was just another mass produced film to make a quick buck, which is too bad considering the talented actors in this film.

I like the work of Steve Carell, Steve Buscemi and Jim Carrey, and would figure this would’ve been something better. The opposite turned out to be true though as the movie falls flat on its face and delivers next to zero laughs. 1 out of 5.

This review was first published in the March, 23 2013 issue of the Wahpeton Daily News.

Olympus Has Fallen review

Director:
Antoine Fuqua
Cast:
Gerard Butler
Aaron Eckhart
Dylan McDermott
Morgan Freeman
Rated: R

This movie is like a patriotic overload.

“Olympus Has Fallen” follows the story of a United States Secret Service named Mike Banning (Butler), who, after a terrible accident is demoted to a guard at the treasury department. Meanwhile, an attack is set in motion by a group of terrorists who capture the president, played by Eckhart, and take over the building creating a hostage situation.

Because the president and much of the cabinet is taken hostage, the speaker of the house, played by Morgan Freeman becomes acting president and the only one who manages to get inside to fight back is Banning.

The film very quickly develops into a “Die Hard” like scenario, and this was actually a good thing. In a way, this movie went really back to basics and felt like action movies from the 90s. There were many over the top moments, but nothing too terribly over the top. The story is for the most part predictable, yet it’s executed well enough to keep things interesting. Director Antoine Fuqua, who directed “Training Day,” really knows how to keep an audience engaged and on the edge of their seats.

The acting is another piece that takes the movie a step up a bit above most other action films. In that respect, it’s similar to “Air Force One,” which had a similar hostage situation and some heavy hitting actors. This is the same way with Aaron Eckhart and Morgan Freeman giving solid performances. Aaron Eckhart felt believable in the role as an elected official, channeling a bit of his role in “The Dark Knight” (without going insane mind you). And as for Morgan Freeman, the guy is just a natural, having already played a president before in “Deep Impact,” he knew exactly how to take on the role.

I also really was impressed with Butler, who is natural in these types of movies. He makes some good quips and witty remarks to the villains and delivers some good action moments. Actors like Butler are better when they are cast in these types of movies when they can thrive in action moments. I do have a gripe with the villains though, who in my view were just under characterized. Butler’s character also had a wife, but she was only in about 1.5 percent of the entire movie.

The action was done really well. It was gritty, in your face and made for some really solid entertainment value. The special effects in the movie weren’t the most top notch that I’ve ever seen, but they seemed to make do with what they had. I also liked the usage of secret passages and weapons that the White House was built with.

The film is by no means perfect, its flaws lie in the fact that it is of course predictable and the villains aren’t that great. However, all of the lead protagonists deliver what they need to deliver, the action is very entertaining and satisfying and Fuqua is able to capture the whole thing through the camera well enough to make a fine action picture. Easy 4 out of 5.