Monthly Archives: January 2015

Wild Card Review: Jason Statham Bets The House

Jason Statham is a brand, whether he wants to be or not. And actors like that can get in trouble with their audience if they try to veer too far away from that and branch out. Then again, if they take a chance and attempt something slightly different, they could come up aces. And that is exactly what happens with Statham and his latest, Wild Card.

Wild Card Jason Statham Photo

Statham is Nick Wild (great name, no?) and he is a Las Vegas bodyguard with a penchant for gambling all his money away and barely getting by. He continually swears that he wants to leave Sin City, but needs a certain amount of cash to do so. The thing is, even if he had the amount he believes is enough, would he hold onto the money long enough to leave without hitting another blackjack table?

What sets Wild Card apart from some of the other solo Statham movies is that, believe it or not, it is not until the end of the first act that we get to see him kick and punch anyone! That has to be a record, and it’s because Statham and his director Simon West (Tomb Raider, Con Air and The Expendables 2) actually took the time to do a little character development so that when our man Wild is forced to use force, we want him to hit so hard he knocks people into Arizona.

Wild gets into a little trouble with the mob. As he sees it, the only way out is to try to win the money he owes, make some for himself off those winnings (i.e. that amount he thinks he needs to leave town), pay his debt and get out of Dodge.

Not to credit Statham with going too deep here, but he is playing a gambler and even though he can punch and kick his way out of any dangerous situation, the actor plays Wild as someone who never knows when to say when. And no matter the vice, that is exactly what an addict does before hitting rock bottom and even realizing that there is a problem.

Wild Card Jason Statham

In Wild Card, there is a side story involving a young multi-millionaire who hires Wild to show him around town. It is a nice sub story in the film as it provides the catalyst for Statham’s character to even consider changing his ways. They are actually each other’s first friend and this relationship allows us to truly believe that now we have an ass kicker with a purpose. He could possibly get away with his crazy plan to save his hide, make a ton of cash and jet out of town.

There are cliches throughout, such as the Vegas gangsters who are led by Milo Ventimiglia’s Danny, who is a bit one-sided. The supporting cast is solid enough to look past some of those missteps, such as the fantastic Stanley Tucci, Jason Alexander as Statham’s lawyer, Anne Heche as his waitress friend Roxy and even Hope Davis as a casino worker friend who, yes, has a heart of gold.

Now, we’re a bit biased as Movie Fanatic is firmly in the Jason Statham camp of fandom. But we can admit when he makes a huge mistake (Parker!). Yet, our Wild Card review has to give the action hero credit for trying to stretch himself, albeit just a little bit. 

Project Almanac Review: Doing the Time Warp!

When done creatively and in a vividly original way, the found footage format — or POV — can still work. Films such as 21 and Over utilize it all sorts of wrong. But with Project Almanac, arguably geared towards the same audience, it adds something to the found footage party.

Project Almanac Cast

This is a story about a group of high school kids who stumble on one of their father’s inventions. It’s a time machine. It’s not quite ready, but with their smarts and determination, the thing eventually works. And as anyone who has been around teenagers knows, giving them that kind of power to alter the time-space continuum is and never will be a good idea.

And there you have our drama, except Project Almanac works on it in such a way that the complicated layers of time travel storytelling (check out our top 25 time travel movies) are so intertwined that the web that our characters weave and time altered trail they leave behind, smartly adds up to an enormous mess that is this side of impossible to fix.

A good time travel movie will have you leaving the theater and making sure that it all adds up. It’s natural to reflect and try to figure out if all the I’s are dotted and the T’s are crossed. What is so smart in Project Almanac is that director Dean Israelite, from a script by Andrew Deutschman and Jason Pagan, shows us our end game right from the beginning. Heck, it’s even in the Project Almanac trailer!

Before we even know that David Raskin’s (Jonny Weston) father left an incomplete time machine that could work, David and his friends are looking at an old video tape from a childhood birthday. Upon freeze-framing a moment, they realize that in the video is a current day him reflecting in a mirror as the young him dives into his birthday cake!

Project Almanac Photo

See, we know it’s all about that moment. Even as they do things that teens would do with the time machine, i.e. turn failing tests into aced exams, alleviating money problems by winning the lottery, and going back and experiencing a Lollapalooza that they wished they had attended, the audience knows that David has to return to his childhood birthday party at some point.

But, then we get into the mind-bending nature of time travel movies. Which came first, the time travel or the birthday party video? Or, was it the video that spurred the time travel back to David’s youth? Or, even better, after their various leaps of time have created practical chaos in our world, does going back to a simple childhood birthday party fix it all?

Can you fix it all?

Our Project Almanac review promises that if you want a movie that is thrilling and tense, this found footage flick is more like Chronicle than say, 21 and Over. It’s not perfect by any means. But in a sub-genre of film that sorely needs a fresh thought, having kids who are obsessed with video taping everything they do, go through what this group of friends go through with time travel, well, we’ll take it and gladly go on the ride.

Which are our favorite found footage movies? Watch Chronicle online … there’s one!

Paranormal Activity

We love all the Paranormal Activity movies, but the first one — as is often the case — is the best. And thanks to PA, found footage became a go-to format for storytelling.

Black or White Review: Kevin Costner Sees Little Grey

The race issue at the heart of Black or White comes down to family. At the end of the day, despite all the smoke and mirrors about drug addicts and raising a child in bad versus good parts of town, it is about who would be better to raise a half black and half white little girl. Should it be her grandfather (Kevin Costner) who is the only parent she has known, or her grandmother (Octavia Spencer) who believes that the girl needs to become familiar with half her heritage that has been sorely missing?

Black or White Kevin Costner Jillian Estell

In writer-director Mike Binder’s film, we learn that Eloise (Jillian Estell) loves living with her papa. Her mother, Costner’s child, died in childbirth and her father (Spencer’s child) is a crack addict who is virtually missing. When Costner’s wife dies in a car crash, that is when Rowena (Spencer) decides that not only does Eloise need to learn about her people and be around her cousins and kin, but that a female influence is also sorely needed.

For Costner’s Elliot, it’s all about (or so he thinks) how the girl’s father Reggie is and always will be a drug addict.

What Binder does with his story is use the court system to settle the issue. This method of storytelling, for one, gives Anthony Mackie (Captain America: The Winter Soldier) one hell of a role to sink his teeth into as the family lawyer who is trying to get custody for his sister Rowena.

Meanwhile, Elliot (who is also a lawyer) enlists his friend and partner and Binder’s story inter-splices courtroom moments with familial ones. And through all of it, despite Elliot’s convictions to the contrary, it does seem to actually come down to race. Yet, it’s not about stereotypes and how each race is different or where they live and even what economic strata they are in. 

Black or White Octavia Spencer Anthony Mackie

As delivered in Binder’s movie, unfortunately, it takes too simplistic a look at it and at the same time, it overreaches. This, as everyone knows, is a complex issue. Perhaps the story would have been better served if it truly was just about custody of a little girl. If we are in fact trying to espouse forgetting race in the equation of our modern lives, than Black or White does it a disservice by presenting the issue as exactly that, Black or White.

Yet, our Black or White review can safely say, it is still quite a powerful, emotional and heartwarming story about love and how it — at least — is color blind. We pull for these characters, all of them. This is a messy situation and it reflects a society grappling with race issues every day of every week. There needs to be a systemic and societal change to how we live as people — that is the root of the problem.

The issue with Black or White is it just scratches a lot of surfaces. Perhaps Binder would have been better off making a simpler story with his narrative instead of taking on a centuries old issue and framing it as a simple family courtroom drama.

Kevin Costner and Octavia Spencer Battle

Kevin and Octavia put on an acting clinic in Black or White.

Black Sea Review: Jude Law Goes Deep

With Black Sea, Jude Law continues his streak of awesomeness that we felt truly began to pick up steam with his most unglamorous turn in Anna Karenina and he kept extolling excellence with scene-stealing performances in The Grand Budapest Hotel, Dom Hemingway and even Side Effects.

Black Sea Jude Law Still

In Black Sea, Law is Captain Robinson, a lifelong submariner who at the start of the film finds himself being talented at a job that time has passed its need for. He’s put in years of his life and being away so much even cost him his wife and child. They live a better life that he can only see from afar. When he gets wind, through an associate and former sub man, that there is a German vessel sitting on the bottom of the Black Sea with what could be the last of the unaccounted for Nazi gold, well then, the future might just be getting brighter.

The actor utilizes a man of the streets of the UK accent that is out of this world, and that is just the tip of the iceberg of why Law is so good in this flick. Law’s Robinson is always in command, yet ruled by emotions that he refuses to talk about (it’s the English way!). But, the actor says much with his face and we know that he knows that his entire future rides on this find and pulling together the right crew to make it happen.

There’s a Russian sub that he could buy and therefore, he’d also need a half-Russian crew to run it. He has his buddies from his UK Navy days and his submarine shipyard days. Watching the UK crew and the Russian crew, with their Cold War leftover feelings of mistrust, is fascinating. There’s hundreds of millions of dollars on the line and that would make you not trust your best friend, much less a handful of guys who spent years being trained to kill you.

Black Sea Cast Photo

It all adds up to a smoldering stew of tension as their bucket of bolts dives deeper into the Black Sea to find their booty. Robinson has established that everyone gets an even share and he hopes that takes greed out of the equation. But, when you’re leagues undersea and trapped in a tiny tube, people’s minds play games. Who can you trust? That is just the first of many questions that need to be asked. Yet, there is still a job to do.

Dennis Kelly’s script is custom made for Kevin Macdonald’s directing style and the helmer shows us yet again why we think there is nothing he cannot tackle and triumph. Who would have thought that the man who gave us the Oscar-winning The Last King of Scotland and the astounding documentary Marley would deliver a submarine thriller that will have audiences gasping for air?

That’s exactly what he did. The helmer also does so in a manner that shuns cliches and embraces the submarine subgenre of thrillers and pushes the envelope to make Black Sea about so much more than taking a sub to the bottom of the titular body of water to recover hundreds of millions of dollars worth of Nazi gold.

Our Black Sea review reports that it is also a timely film about the haves and have nots. Macdonald’s work also explores the greedy nature of man and what depths we will go to for family to ensure that our children have a better life than we even dreamed of. 

There's Gold In Dem Dere Nazi Sub

Jude Law finds what he is looking for in Black Sea. But, has he invited something even worse into his world?

Star Wars Episode VIII and Episode IX: When Can We See Them?

December 18 has been circled in our calendars for quite a while as Star Wars: The Force Awakens lands in theaters. But, what about the next two films in the series? When can we expect the Force to continue?

Star Wars Moving Logo

Bob Iger, Disney CEO and Chairman, has announced that the Rian Johnson-directed Star Wars: Episode VIII will land in 2017 and Star Wars: Episode IX in 2019.

Iger also commented on the series as a whole with his announcement about when we can see them.

“As one of the few people allowed to visit the set during filming….and one of the fewer who’s seen most of the footage, I can assure the millions of Star Wars fans who have spent the last decade hoping for a new movie this one will be worth the wait,” he said.

“And it’s only the beginning of a new era of exceptional Star Wars storytelling.”

We had a general idea when the films would appear, but now we at least know what year the two sequels will arrive.

Now, will the latest teaser for Star Wars: The Force Awakens be one of those Super Bowl movie trailers?

The Scoundrel

Steve Anderson paints The Scoundrel… and if that isn’t a perfect title — I don’t know what is!