Tag Archives: Topher Grace

American Ultra (2015)

americanultra

American Ultra has surely got to be the worst — or the least — promoted film with “name stars” to be released this year. Despite a cast featuring Jesse Eisenberg, Kristen Stewart, Topher Grace, John Leguizamo, Bill Pullman, among others, I didn’t even see one trailer or poster for the film until just a couple of days before I watched it.

That’s very strange, because apart from the stars, American Ultra can also be considered a fringe superhero film, and we all know how popular that genre is these days.

And so I thought American Ultra must suck pretty bad to receive this kind of silent treatment from the studio and fans alike. In reality, it’s nowhere near bad. It’s not even bad. It’s just not as good as it should have been.

The premise goes like this: Jesse Eisenberg plays Mike, a stoner who works at a convenience store, and Kristen Stewart is Phoebe, his girlfriend. His life is blissfully banal until one night, Mike discovers that he’s basically Jason Bourne, and so begins a night of crazy mayhem as the young couple is hunted down by lethal assassins.

I know what you’re thinking — American Ultra is based on a comic book, right? I thought so too, but it’s not. It’s just a movie that feels like it is. I have a feeling the film was aiming for that Kick-Ass vibe — stylish, unexpectedly and brutally violent, somewhat tongue-in-cheek and way over the top.

However, American Ultra is just a class or two below Kick-Ass in just about every category. It doesn’t have that same exuberance, sense of fun or confidence. The action is also nowhere near as stylised. And most of all, despite being called an action-comedy, the film is surprisingly light on the comedy, with nary a laugh to be found throughout the 96-minute running time.

You might disagree, though for me it makes sense after discovering that the director of the film is Nima Nourizadeh, the Iranian-British dude who made Project X, one of my most loathed films in recent years. I just found that film stupid, obnoxious and unfunny. American Ultra is a lot better, of course, but I still feel like it was a waste of a huge opportunity because of the intriguing potential of the premise.

The performances are not the problem. Jesse Eisenberg and Kristen Stewart are fairly good in their roles, and John Leguizamo always brings some extra pizzazz to every movie. Topher Grace, however, seems like he’s trying a little too hard to be the archetypal cardboard villain. Maybe it’s way of protesting such a one-dimensional role.

On the whole, my opinion of American Ultra is lukewarm. It doesn’t quite deserve the box office failure it has experienced (barely scraping back half of its US$28 million budget), though it probably deserves its fate of becoming one of those movies that barely rings a bell in a few years.

2.75 stars out of 5

2014 Movie Blitz: Part II

The movies just keep coming, I can’t stop them. Here’s another batch of films I saw recently.

The Calling (2014)

calling

This was supposed to be good. Susan Sarandon plays a police detective living in a small Canadian town trying to track down a serial killer with illusions of religious grandeur. The supporting cast isn’t too shabby either, with the likes of Gil Bellows, Ellen Burstyn, Topher Grace and Donald Sutherland. Unfortunately, while it’s not as horrible as some critics have made it out to be, The Calling lacked real suspense, emotion and surprise, and will likely become one of those movies no one remembers in a couple of years.

I initially thought The Calling was going to be a horror in the vein of Seven, but that was expecting way too much. The film started off well, building up Sarandon’s alcoholic character as a troubled but capable detective. Gil Bellows made a good right-hand man, and Topher Grace gave the police station a much-needed spark with his presence, though both of those guys were somewhat under-utilised.

The murders were interesting for a while, but after a while you begin to realise that the story’s not nearly as clever as it wants or needs to be. After a lot of build up in the first half there was a distinct lack of tension or intrigue in the second, as the perpetrator is revealed with very little mystery or conflict. I didn’t have a problem with the story veering towards the supernatural (which most critics tend to hate), but in the end the outcome was predictable and disappointing.

Though it’s one of those films that could have been a lot better, I’m also glad that it wasn’t a lot worse, which it very well could have been.

2.75 stars out of 5

Rage (2014)

tokarev_2014

Seriously, trust those American movie producers to change what was an original and intriguing title like Tokarev to a lame and generic one like Rage. But it is what it is, and it’s still a semi-passable Taken-style movie about a former mobster who will do all that he can to find his abducted daughter — a considerable feat considering it stars none other than Nicholas “I’ll do anything” Cage.

Rage was savaged by the critics as an overly-violent, dull action thriller that belongs in Cage’s movie basement, but I personally thought it was OK. Cage has already been in one Taken rip-off, the blatantly titled Stolen, but this one’s a little different for several reasons I can’t reveal. And Cage, despite the tragic hair, is actually pretty good in it too.

The premise is intriguing — Cage, a former criminal gone straight, goes out for the evening with his lady friend (Rachel Nichols) while his teenage daughter (Aubrey Peeples) hangs out at home with her (boy)friends. A bunch of masked men come in and abduct her, setting Cage off on a rampage to track her down through his old contacts, one of whom he believes has betrayed him to his enemies. The journey takes Cage onto a path he can’t return from as we learn more about his dark past.

Rage is indeed ultra-violent, but it doesn’t have the oomph of Taken because it’s mostly just a lot of loud shooting and meanness. Rather than being a skilled badass like Liam Neeson, Cage is an angry badass, which isn’t nearly as exciting. At just 98 minutes, however, the short length does mitigate some of the dullness. The film loses steam towards the end, but I quite liked the ending because there is a tinge of morality among all the carnage.

3 stars out of 5

Sabotage (2014)

sabotage

This was supposed to be one of the big movies of the year. A post-politics Arnie back in full swing with Aussie star Sam Worthington by his side, along with a whole host of big names such as Olivia Williams, Terrence Howard, True Blood‘s Joe Manganiello, Lost‘s Harold Perrineau and Josh Holloway, Martin Donovan and Mireille Enos. It’s co-written and directed by David Ayer, best known for penning Training Day and writing and directing End of Watch.

The premise is a good one too — a bunch of corrupt DEA agents, led by Arnie, decide to skim a little off the top of their latest drug bust. But when the money they are supposed to share goes missing and team members start getting killed off one by one in increasingly gruesome ways, it turns the survivors of the once close-knit team on each other.

I knew it was going to be gritty, violent and explosive. And it was. But it also wasn’t anywhere as good as either Training Day or End of Watch. There are plenty of problems to point to, starting from the unnecessary gruesomeness of the whole thing. Sometimes the violence works, sometimes it’s it doesn’t — here it’s just kind of pointless. The other issue I had was with all the characters, none of whom are even remotely likable. It’s hard to watch a movie like this when you think all of them are basically brutish animals and a-holes you won’t mind seeing get whacked.

I wanted to like Sabotage, but there was way too much testosterone to be shared between all the stars, leading to a lot over-the-top swearing, sexism and fake macho stuff that just turned me off the story, which didn’t turn out to be nearly as clever as you initially thought it would be. And it even has this lengthy epilogue that was completely unneeded. Good performances, especially by Arnie, I suppose, but on the whole this is a misstep for Ayer and everyone else involved.

2 stars out of 5

Winter’s Tale (2014)

winters-tale-prize-poster

What the hell is this? I don’t mind the occasional fable, but Winter’s Tale was way too unconvincing and sappy for my liking. It’s based on the 1983 novel of the same name by Mark Helprin, and tells the story of guy (Colin Farrell) who is raised by a demon (Russell Crowe) and later falls in love with a sick girl (Jessica Brown Findlay) while riding around on a flying white horse/guardian angel. So…yeah.

I kind of get that Winter’s Tale wants to be this epic, sweeping love story that transcends time and space and all that, but I found the package difficult to swallow, starting from Russell Crowe’s bizarre, indecipherable accent to the contrived love story between Farrell and Findlay, and the fact that Will Smith plays the Devil. Fantasy or not, it’s just not sensible stuff.

A film like this needed to give audiences strong, likable characters we can root for, but despite the significant 118-minute running time it felt as though not enough time was dedicated to developing them. The story has a lot of on-screen magic in it but you don’t feel any magic while watching it. The action is also stale, and the romance — though I’ve seen much worse — comes across as forced. And my god, what the heck is Russell Crowe saying?

In the end, I have no idea what this fable is trying to say. Like most flicks of this type, there’s beauty, love, the magic and there’s miracles, but none of it helped to make Winter’s Tale a fantasy I could enjoy, let alone immerse myself in. It might have worked for the book, but it didn’t come close to working for the film.

1.5 stars out of 5

Movie Review: Predators (2010)

After several years of the disappointing Alien vs Predator efforts, it’s good to finally see one of the franchises returning to its roots.  If you ignore all the films with Aliens in them, then Predators is essentially the third film of the franchise.

Excellent.  Enough of the Aliens crap.  I want to see Predators hunting and frightening the life out of humans again.

Well, Predators gives the audience exactly what they have been asking for since 1987 (the 1990 sequel was too brutal for my liking).  The premise is simple but effective — throw all the most lethal humans on the planet into a jungle and watch the Predators hunt them down.  It’s man versus the unstoppable hi-tech creature in hardcore terrain that harks back to the original when Arnie took on and defeated the first Predator.

However, gone is the bulky mass of Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.  In his place — Oscar winner Adrien Brody!

Most people, when they first hear about this new action hero, would have had the same WTF reaction as I did.  Adrien Brody?  The Pianist?

Yes, him.  As Brody said it himself in an interview — go look at the elite soldiers of today.  They all look like him.  Thin and sinewy (though few have his ridiculous nose).  None of them look like body builders.

Fair enough, but physically Arnie at least made us believe there was half a chance of survival.  Maybe the gamble with Brody paid off, maybe it didn’t.  I’m kind of sitting on the fence with this one because he is a brilliant actor and brought out so much more from his character than anyone would have thought imaginable.  But he’s still Adrien Brody (albeit a visibly more buffed one).

Anyway, Brody is not the only one.  There’s also Topher Grace (Spiderman 3), whose wimpiness makes Brody convincing (if only for a second) as a super tough, super deadly mercenary.  There’s Alice Braga (I Am Legend) as an Israeli sniper (and token female), Danny Trejo (Con Air) as a Mexican cartel enforcer (and token Latino), Mahershalalhashbaz Ali (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button) as an African RUF officer (and token black guy), Oleg Taktarov (Righteous Kill) as a Russian soldier, Louis Ozawa Changchien as a Yakuza enforcer (and token Asian) and Walter Goggins as a deathrow inmate.  Plus there is an extended cameo from another big name who seems to have put on a bit of weight lately.  It’s a mixed bag, and you can be sure that not all of them are going to make it to the end.

Director Nimrod Antal (who directed the 2007 Vacancy) clearly tried to channel the raw power, excitement and fear of the original into Predators.  It’s essentially an update of the first film with new characters, more dangers and a couple of twists (one of which is a complete dud).  It’s not without merit as there are a number of tense, action packed scenes, but the fear simply wasn’t there.  There was a feeling of inevitability about all the deaths and when they would happen, and there wasn’t even anything particularly original about any of them.

I really wanted to like Predators, but it didn’t come close to the classic original.  Still the second best Predator film though.

3 stars out of 5

[PS: SPOILER ALERT — the worst part of the whole film was when the Yakuza dude took on one of the Predators with his Samurai sword.  I expected the guy to be some master swordsman and to see some rapid sparks flying everywhere.  Instead we got to see the lamest sword fight in history.]