Tag Archives: James Marsden

2014 Movie Blitz: Part VII

The Forger (2014)

The-Forger

It feels like John Travolta hasn’t done anything in a while, or at least anything worth mentioning. His latest effort, The Forger, is unlikely to alter that perception.

In this moody crime drama Travolta plays a master forger of masterpieces (I know, he looks just like one, right?), who strikes a deal with nasty gangsters to get out of jail earlier. Of course, it’s because they want him for his skills so they can commit a robbery, but you could forget that watching this film because most of the time is spent on the relationship between Travolta and his son (Tye Sheridan), who sadly is dying from cancer. Christopher Plummer plays Travolta’s dad and Abigail Spencer (from Suits) plays a detective on his track.

As a crime thriller The Forger is terrible. There’s no suspense and no feeling that any of it even matters. It’s no wonder the film is universally panned for how boring it is.

As a father-son drama, on the other hand, I think there are some nice moments stemming from this wish-granting subplot Travolta gets into. Consequently, I don’t think the film is as bad as it has been made out to be.

Travolta is pretty much always the same as he’s always been, though I believe the tragic death of his teenage son a few years back may have prompted him to take on this role and given his performance an added layer of emotion. Christopher Plummer is always good, but it’s Tye Sheridan who stands out by proving once again (after Mud with Mr Alright Alright McConaughey) that he has a bright future ahead of him.

It’s obviously not great, and most critics seem to disagree, but I don’t think The Forger is a bad random DVD hire.

3 stars out of 5

The Loft (2014)

loft

Every now and then you get a film like The Loft — a forgettable B-grade thriller with a roster full of recognisable names and faces. In this case we’re talking Karl Urban, James Marsden, Wentworth Miller, Eric Stonestreet and the Transformers blonde Aussie duo of Rachael Taylor and Isabelle Lucas.

It’s hard to give you an idea of what the film is about without a little detail. Basically, the loft is a sleaze-pad shared by five married friends (the above four actors plus Matthias Schoenaerts) to use for rendezvous with girlfriends, mistresses, one-night stands and so forth. Classy, I know.

But of course, something terrible happens and they have to figure out how to resolve the problem and solve a mystery while they’re at it. It’s actually a remake of a Dutch-language Belgian film from 2008 that must have done well enough to get Hollywood’s attention.

On paper it looks good. Respectable, good-looking cast, a locked room mystery of sorts with flashbacks and a whole load of twists and turns that will kind of keep you guessing. I can see the attraction of such a project.

However, The Loft has a fatal flaw: the characters are just so sleazy, so disgusting, so despicable and such degenerates that they are completely unworthy of sympathy and incapable of invoking any empathy. They’re more than just people with loose morals — some of them are genuinely sick.

As a result you’re just watching a bunch of dickheads get what they deserve and a couple of cardboard female characters act like a couple of cardboard female characters.

That said, you don’t necessarily have to like or care about he characters for a movie to work. Unfortunately, The Loft doesn’t have the requisite elements to qualify as a guilty pleasure. It’s just not satisfying enough, not intelligent enough, not campy enough and not so-bad-it’s-good enough.

Despite all this, the film passes as a watchable DVD or VOD experience owing to its star-studded cast and having just enough intrigue to not be boring. Just don’t expect too much.

2.5 stars out of 5

The Gambler

gambler

I really wanted to give The Gambler its own individual post, but sadly it doesn’t deserve it. I was naturally partial to this film given that it is the follow-up effort of Rupert Wyatt, director of Rise of the Planet of the Apes, and I desperately wanted The Gambler to be awesome.

However, while the film does have some intriguing aspects and nice moments, I can’t in good conscience proclaim it a good movie.

A remake of the 1974 film starring James Caan, The Gambler is the tale of Marky Mark Whalberg’s Jim Bennett, a literature professor with a crippling gambling addiction. He’s one of those “all or nothing” guys who never knows when to quit, and the self-destructive habit pushes him to the edge after he begins borrowing money from the wrong people (John Goodman, Michael K Williams, etc), much to the disappointment of his wealthy mother (Jessica Lange, who is excellent in her few scenes).

Wyatt infuses the film with a lot of style and a deliberate pace that results in a completely different type of experience to Apes. It’s not unentertaining and never gets dull, but there’s ultimately not enough substance to elevate it to what it could have been.

Part of the reason is that Bennett isn’t a very likable character. He’s interesting, but he’s also a complete asshole, making him hard to root for or sympathise with. Marky Mark is pretty good, so it’s not his fault.

I’m also deducting some points for the film’s depiction of a basketball game, which is so ridiculous and unrealistic that it saps much of the tension of what is supposed to be a climactic part of the film. Thankfully the gambling scenes were executed much better.

I really wanted to like The Gambler more, but unfortunately it’s just an average and somewhat forgettable remake.

2.5 stars out of 5

This Is Where I Leave You (2014)

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This Is Where I Leave You is a “light and nice” family drama film (ie, about a family, as opposed to for the family) bolstered by one of the best ensemble casts of 2014.

It’s based on the novel of the same name by Jonathan Tropper and is directed by Shawn Levy, best known for the Night at the Museum films, Date Night and The Internship. This one is better than all those films because of its depth and cast, but the overall feel is somewhat similar — some humour, a dash of gentle drama, and a sugary vibe that takes the heaviness off its life lessons.

Jason Bateman plays Judd Altman, who returns to his hometown following a death in the family and amid person turmoil in his life. There he is reunited with his three siblings (Tina Fey, Corey Stoll and Adam Driver) and their liberal mother (Jane Fonda), and the film follows their lives over the next few days as they deal with their personal issues and relationships.

Rounding out the amazing cast are names like Rose Byrne, Dax Shepherd, Timothy Oliphant, Connie Britton, Kathryn Hahn and Abigail Spencer.

They laugh, they cry, they fight and they reflect on life, pondering what could have been and where they are heading. Everyone is at a different stage in life and has problems and regrets they must face.

It is, however, nothing like August: Osage County, another recent family drama with a huge cast. That was heavy stuff and full of emotionally-draining drama; this is much mellower and aims for sweet poignancy and sentimental reflection. Some moments work, very well even, while others feel like it’s trying too hard.

The result is a mixed bag. It’s not my type of film, to be honest, but the cast is so spectacular that you can’t help be drawn in. Each actor plays to their strengths when it comes to the comedy, and you can see their respective personalities shining through. The humour is light but it’s funny enough for the most part, and the drama is sufficiently engaging though ultimately fails to offer anything new. It’s unfortunate, because it’s a waste of the massive pool of talent squeezed into the film.

This Is Where I Leave You is not bad, but it’s certainly nothing special. I quite liked it despite feeling underwhelmed by its failure to come close to reaching its full potential.

3.5 stars out of 5

2014 Movie Blitz: Part VI

Kill the Messenger (2014)

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Surprised this one didn’t get more burn.

This is the true story of Gary Webb, played by the brilliant Jeremy Renner, a journalist who uncovers the CIA’s role in importing crack cocaine into the US to secretly fund the Nicaraguan contra rebels. OK, so maybe the CIA didn’t import the drugs themselves, but they acquiesced in stopping it and they knew that it was going mostly to impoverished black communities. That’s pretty huge news, right? But for whatever reason the story, much like this film, slipped under the radar.

The film had a big cast too that included the likes of Ray Liotta, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Paz Vega, Oliver Platt, Andy Garcia, Michael Sheen and Robert Patrick. It’s hard hitting, gripping and gritty, and though it might not be the most exciting film, it certainly kept me entertained and emotionally invested in Webb’s plight.

Renner is sensational in this, proving once again that he can be believable no matter what kind of character he plays. Webb is a complex character and Renner brings out his fear, frustration and anger in perfect abundance. The moral of the story, as always, is to not mess with the US government because they will mess you up tenfold in return.

3.75 stars out of 5

The Best of Me (2014)

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Ever since The Notebook, his debut novel, Nicholas Sparks has been trying to recreate the magic with clones of his most beloved work. The Best of Me is his latest attempt, and frankly, it stinks.

Perhaps that’s too strong of a word, but I feel like if you’ve seen one Nicholas Sparks movie you’ve seen it all. This one, in particular, embraces the formula to the letter. An innocent romance between young star-crossed lovers, who end up being separated for some painful reason. Years later, they reunited by chance and rekindle the passion, lamenting how things could have been, before finishing with a bittersweet ending that aims to be both tragic and moving. If you haven’t noticed, that description matches both The Notebook and The Best of Me.

James Marsden, who played the third wheel the girl dumps in The Notebook gets an opportunity to redeem himself as the male lead this time, while Michelle Monaghan earns her paycheck as the rich girl who falls for the poor boy. The film also utilises flashbacks, in which the younger characters are played by Aussie Luke Bracey and Liana Liberato, respectively. One problem with this arrangement is that James Marsden (41) looks a little too young and Luke Bracey a little too old (25) for them to be versions of the same character 21 years apart, though the bigger issue is that the two actors look absolutely nothing alike! Seriously, they might as well have gotten Samuel L Jackson to play the older version because the resemblance is zero.

Fans looking for the same thing will probably love it — explains why they keep rolling these movies out — but for me this film was just so much saccharine fluff. You can clearly see the plot points it’s trying to hit along the way, including the contrived ending you could see coming a mile away, and if you don’t buy into the characters there’s not much of a chance you’ll feel anything for them. There was one good scene between Monaghan and the actor who plays her douchey husband, Sebastian Arcelus, when they’re at the dinner table and you can see why their marriage isn’t working out, but apart from that The Best of Me won’t bring out the best of anyone who watches it.

1.75 stars out of 5

The Woman in Black 2: Angel of Death (2014)

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I can’t remember much about The Woman in Black except that Daniel Radcliffe is in it and that the film was surprisingly good and scary. The sequel, Angel of Death, on the other hand, is bland and boring.

There is a connection between the two films — being the haunted house — but they have a different cast and different directors and screenwriters. Susan Hill, who wrote the book the first film was adapted from, helped with coming up with the story, but if I didn’t know that I would have thought she simply sold the rights in return for an easy paycheck.

Angel of Death follows a boarding school teacher (Phoebe Fox) and a bunch of students forced to evacuate their boarding school during World War II. Of course, then end up at the Eel Marsh House where the Woman in Black resides. Spooky stuff starts to happen, and there’s a mystery behind the haunting that needs to be figured out. All fairly standard horror tropes.

The best thing the film has going for it is the creepy atmosphere of the house and the fact that children are involved (also scary), though the narrative progresses slowly and there are too many lulls in between the attempts at scares, which aren’t really scary with the exception of a couple of well-timed moments. On the whole, this is a straight-to-DVD-quality horror sequel fans of the original will likely be disappointed with.

2 stars out of 5

If I Stay (2014)

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Chloe Moretz is growing up quickly, and this is a bold choice for her to venture into supernatural teen romantic drama territory (which I argue is even bolder than her young prostitute stint in Denzel’s The Equalizer). If I Stay, based on the novel of the same name by Gayle Forman, tells the story of a teenage cellist named Mia who falls into a coma following a devastating car accident with her family. The twist is that Mia’s soul is still hanging around outside her body, kind of in a limbo state, and she must decide whether she wants to move on to the afterlife or stay to be with her rock band musician boyfriend (Jamie Blackley).

It’s not a terrible film, but If I Stay didn’t do much for me. The narrative jumps around, with a few scenes in the present and plenty of flashbacks that trace the progress of the romance, which came across as fairly stereotypical and without anything fresh to offer. There was a heavy focus on music, given that they are both musicians and all, but I didn’t care much for either of their musical tastes. I thought its central conceit — the whole should I stay or should I go thing — was interesting, though the execution felt like it was trying to milk tears from audiences as opposed to letting the moving drama speak  for itself. Some parts worked, while others came across as clear attempts at manipulation.

Chloe Moretz, who is very good as usual, tries really hard to make it work. Unfortunately, while I can see how some viewers would fall in love with this movie, for me, If I Stay is a film that fails to fulfill the potential of its premise.

2.5 stars out of 5

Movie Review: Walk of Shame (2014)

walk of shame

The nicest thing I can say about Walk of Shame, the new Steven Brill comedy starring Elizabeth Banks, is that there’s nothing about it that makes me loath the film with a vengeance. The same can’t be said about Brill’s last directorial effort, which is the appallingly toxic iBabe segment in the venom-inducing Movie 43 from last year. The worst crime Walk of Shame is guilty of is being criminally unfunny, and I suppose that’s an improvement.

Elizabeth Banks, who got into great shape to fit into the snug yellow outfit she dons for the majority of the film, is Meghan Miles, a news anchor and a “good girl”, the safe option in a safe relationship. A series of unfortunate events befall her, and a dispirited Meghan goes out on a wild night with her girlfriends, only to wake up in the bed of sexy stranger Gordon (James Marsden). The rest of the film is all about Meghan running into one outrageous situation after another as she tries to make her way to the news station so she can cash in on a new job opportunity. 

It’s a fairly typical comedy premise where nothing seems to go right for the protagonist, and all efforts to resolve the situation only lead to more misunderstanding and mayhem.

In this case, the central gag is that Meghan is repeatedly mistaken for a prostitute, which gets her involved with both the police and gangster drug dealers. It doesn’t sound like a hopeless idea, but I kid you not when I say there was not a single laugh to be found in the entire 95-minute film. Not a tee-hee, not a chuckle, and nary a smile. (OK, so the introductory sequence with real-life news blooper footage WAS funny, but that’s just collected from YouTube, so you can’t give the movie credit for that.)

The jokes are either obvious, typical or stereotypical. I don’t want to say misogynistic because that is a term that gets thrown around too liberally these days, but much of the humour in Walk of Shame is definitely sexist and racist. That’s something I don’t usually mind if the film is actually funny. When it’s not witty or funny, however, it’s just pathetic, and that’s what this movie ultimately is.

And I haven’t even mentioned how incoherent the plot is and how little sense any of it makes. It’s really hard to get into a film — any film — when its central premise is that flimsy. There were about a million ways Meghan could have resolved the situation, but of course she keeps choosing the most moronic, implausible option just so she could extend her misery, and ostensibly, ours.

Elizabeth Banks tries her hardest but can’t even come close to salvaging this disaster. I doubt even Meryl Streep could have. Is Banks a likable protagonist? I dunno. She certainly is a stupid one and not really worthy of our sympathy. 

As for James Marsden, the poor guy still can’t catch a break. I don’t get it. He’s a good-looking guy and not without charisma or acting ability, and yet he seems to always get the worst roles. He was the guy Rachel McAdams ditched without reservation in The Notebook. He was the guy who turned Cyclops, the leader of the X-Men, into an afterthought. Even when he gets a leading role, such as in the remake of Straw Dogs, the film never gets any traction. And the romantic comedy roles he gets appear to be those Paul Rudd would not touch with a 10-foot pole. I last saw him in The Butler as JFK, and we all know what happened to him. Poor bastard.

As bad as it is, Walk of Shame is at least not one of those films that left me spewing vitriolic profanities by the end if it. It’s just one of those really unfunny romantic comedies you wonder what possessed the studio to make and will forget a couple of days after watching it. In this case, that’s a good thing.

1.5 stars out of 5

Movie Review: The Box (2009)

The Box is one of those films that’s likely to polarise viewers – either love the intriguing premise and go wherever the film takes you, or hate it for being a confusing mess.  That said, I found myself somewhere in the middle.  I was intrigued by it all but was not overly impressed.

Directed by Richard Kelly (who also co-wrote the script), best known for his cult masterpiece Donnie Darko, The Box deals with a fascinating idea.  Press a button and you’ll get one million dollars (1976 money), tax free – but someone in the world, someone you don’t know, will die.  It’s based on a 1970s short story by Richard Matheson called “Button, Button”, which got badly butchered by the Twilight Zone in the 80s (Matheson apparently hated the changes they made to it).

Sure, people in the world die all the time, but you’ll have to live with knowing that it was your greedy decision that directly led to that person’s death.  Would you do it?

Well, that’s what James Marsden (underrated Mr Cyclops) and Cameron Diaz (her face still looks weird to me) have to deal with in The Box.

Full credit to Kelly for infusing that Donnie Darko weirdness into The Box.  For starters, it has by far the most WTF moments since Mulholland Drive (coincidentally released the same year as DD).  You just never know where the film is heading, why people are doing the things they do or acting the way they are.  Is it an elaborate prank?  Is it a government experiment?  Is it even happening?  Am I crazy?

Of course, don’t expect any definitive answers to all your questions by the end of the film.  Usually, movies of this kind fizzle when they run out of places to go, but The Box manages to handle the final resolution pretty well, much better than I had expected.

That said, The Box didn’t blow me away or anything.  It’s good, but a notch below DD in terms of enjoyment, and nowhere near as memorable.

The Box is far from perfect, but I liked it.

3.5 stars out of 5!

[PS: I picked the poster with James Marsden in it – there is another version where it’s just Cameron Diaz’s weird face]