THE MUMMY (2017) – Messy Movie Mired by Ridiculous Superhero Concept

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mummy poster

Some talented writers worked on THE MUMMY (2017).

David Koepp who co-wrote the Steven Spielberg/Tom Cruise version of THE WAR OF THE WORLDS (2005) and years ago co-wrote JURASSIC PARK (1993), and Christopher McQuarrie who co-wrote EDGE OF TOMORROW (2014) and JACK REACHER (2012), two rare instances of Tom Cruise movies that I really liked, both worked on the screenplay to THE MUMMY, as well as Dylan Kussman.

Which just goes to show you that talent alone isn’t enough to save a concept that is flat-out dumb.

With THE MUMMY, Universal has launched their “Dark Universe” series, an attempt to reimagine their monster movies of yesteryear as a sort of Marvel superhero spinoff.

This is a huge mistake.  Someone needs to shut this concept down yesterday.

The idea of re-booting these classic Universal monster movies as superhero action flicks is an insult to the original films.  If you are going to remake them, they need to be remade as horror movies, plain and simple.

THE MUMMY (2017) is a disaster from start to finish.  I can only hope that this becomes a lost film.

THE MUMMY opens— no, not in Egypt— but in England in 1127 at the burial site of a bunch of crusader knights, who among other things, brought back with them Egyptian artifacts.  Jump ahead to present day and a construction crew building a new subway system under the streets of London happens upon the burial site.

The operation is shut down when Dr. Henry Jekyll (Russell Crowe) shows up with his top secret team of agents, the Dark Universe’s answer to the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., to confiscate a key artifact, a dagger, which ties into an Egyptian Mummy named Ahmanet (Sofia Boutella) whose back story we learn about through flashbacks and a voice over narration by Dr. Jekyll.

And then we finally get to the opening credits.  Talk about a rambling disjointed way to open a movie.

Next up we finally meet our dashing hero, Nick Morton (Tom Cruise) who along with his buddy Chris (Jake Johnson) are working for Dr. Henry Jekyll in search of Egyptian treasure in— no, not in Egypt— that would make too much sense, setting a movie about an Egyptian Mummy in Egypt– but in Iraq because Ahmanet was so dangerous that she had to be buried miles away from her homeland.

Nick is joined by the beautiful Jenny Halsey (Annabelle Wallis) who also works for Dr. Jekyll, and the two of them lead the way— when they’re not playfully bickering and bantering— in returning the mummified Ahaanet back to England.

But you can’t keep a good mummy down.  Ahmanet comes back to life, and the rest of the movie it’s Tom Cruise vs. a mummy in an action-packed tale that is about as believable and compelling as a Pokemon cartoon.

There is so much wrong with THE MUMMY I don’t know where to begin.

The biggest issue of course is this whole concept of the Dark Universe, the idea that the Universal monster movies should be rebooted as a superhero franchise. This idea is a disaster, just like this movie.

For starters, the concept itself is flawed.  Monsters are monsters, they’re not comic book superheroes.  So, even before the films come out, the powers that be are fighting an uphill battle, trying to tell a story that isn’t naturally there.  Let’s re-imagine THE MUMMY as an action movie.  No, it’s a horror movie.

Secondly, this style is clearly borrowed from the Marvel movies, and as such, comes off as derivative and unoriginal, a bad combination, to be sure.

A lot of people never accepted the Brendan Fraser re-boot of THE MUMMY (1999) but I’ve always enjoyed that one, as I thought its script was a good one, even if it played more like an INDIANA JONES movie than a horror movie.  That being said, the 1999 MUMMY wasn’t devoid of horror elements, and the mummy in that film  played by Arnold Vosloo had some screen presence.  Anyway, whatever you feel about the 1999 MUMMY, I liked that one better than this movie.

And it’s interesting to note that even though Tom Cruise is playing a character described in the movie as a “young man,” he’s six years older than Brendan Fraser who played the young dashing hero in the 1999 film.

Also of note, this whole idea of a MUMMY film being more of a dashing adventure than a horror film is not without historical precedent.  The second Universal MUMMY movie, THE MUMMY’S HAND (1940) which introduced Kharis the Mummy (played by Tom Tyler here and in subsequent movies by Lon Chaney Jr.) to movie audiences, had a quick-witted script which featured two American archeologists Steve Banning (Dick Foran) and Babe Jenson (Wallace Ford) who traded barbs and one-liners throughout.  The script, when not featuring the Mummy, was light and fun.  But it wasn’t an action movie, nor even a comedy.  It was a horror movie.

Even more out-of-place in THE MUMMY than the concept of turning a horror movie into an action movie is Tom Cruise.  With the exception of a handful of films, I am not a fan of Cruise’s movies.  I’ve been tired of his shtick of playing himself for years now, going all the way back to the 1980s.  Cruise’s presence here doesn’t do the movie any favors.  Not that it would have saved this movie, but a younger more dynamic actor would have made things a bit better.

I did enjoy Annabelle Wallis as Jenny Halsey.  In fact, hers was probably the only performance in the movie that I felt was worth watching, but the role itself was not that exciting.

Russell Crowe is forced to utter the worst lines in the movie as Dr. Jekyll.  His voice-over narration at the end of the film is so bad it sounds like an off-the-cuff ad lib about good vs. evil.  He gets to say such nonsense as “which side will win— we just don’t know.  He might be a hero.  He might be evil.”  This might be a real script.

And as the Mummy, Ahmanet, Sofia Boutella just isn’t given enough to do to have any relevant impact.  Compared to the original mummy in THE MUMMY (1932), Im-Ho-Tep, played by Boris Karloff, who had to endure mummification, resurrection, and ultimately rejection all in an effort to reclaim his one true love, Ahmanet is a villain who seems only to be obsessed with power, but even that interpretation is a stretch since her character simply isn’t developed.  Boutella was much more memorable as Jaylah in STAR TREK BEYOND (2016).

Jake Johnson is supposed to be providing comic relief as Cruise’s buddy Chris, but his character’s plight is an in-your-face rip-off of Griffin Dunne’s character from AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON (1981).  Dunne’s role was hilarious and original.  Johnson’s character here is neither.

Director Alex Kurtzman works hard on the action scenes, but they’re not enough to save this movie.

The screenplay doesn’t work either, and at the end of the day, THE MUMMY fails because the idea behind it is so very flawed.

Here’s hoping it’s lights out for the Dark Universe.

—END—

Books by Michael Arruda:

TIME FRAME,  science fiction novel by Michael Arruda.  

Ebook version:  $2.99. Available at http://www.neconebooks.com. Print version:  $18.00.  Email your order request to mjarruda33@gmail.com. Also available at Amazon.com.

IN THE SPOOKLIGHT, movie review collection by Michael Arruda.

InTheSpooklight_NewText

 Ebook version:  $4.99.  Available at http://www.neconebooks.com.  Print version:  $18.00.  Email your order request to mjarruda33@gmail.com. Also available at Amazon.com.

FOR THE LOVE OF HORROR, short story collection by Michael Arruda.  

For The Love Of Horror cover

Ebook version:  $4.99.  Available at http://www.neconebooks.com. Print version:  $18.00.  Email your order request to mjarruda33@gmail.com. Also available at Amazon.com.  

THE NICE GUYS (2016) Funny But Far-Fetched

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Nice Guys

The good news is Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling are hilarious together in THE NICE GUYS (2016), the new action comedy in which the two stars play investigators working a case in 1970s Los Angeles.

The bad news is they’re stuck in a story that is so implausible it becomes distracting.

THE NICE GUYS takes place in 1977 and opens with a spectacular car crash which kills porn actress Misty Mountains (Murielle Telio).  It’s a visually impressive scene, but just why she would be naked behind the wheel left me scratching my head.

The movie then takes the curious step of having two voice-over narrators.  That’s right.  Early on, the film is narrated by both Russel Crowe’s and Ryan Gosling’s characters.  This has the potential to be confusing, but it never becomes a problem because the film eventually drops the first person narration altogether.

Jackson Healy (Russell Crowe) gets paid to beat up bad guys.  If someone is giving you trouble, you hire Healy to take care of him.  He’s sort of Deadpool without the suit, or the quick wit.

Holland March (Ryan Gosling) is a down-on-his-luck private investigator.  He’s hired by Misty Mountains’ grandmother because the elderly woman swears she saw her granddaughter alive after the supposed car accident.

March’s search leads him to a girl named Amelia (Margaret Qualley), a girl who also just happened to hire Healy to get March off her trail.  So, Healy delivers the girl’s message by beating up March.  However, soon after, a pair of thugs attack Healy demanding information on the whereabouts of Amelia.

Believing Amelia to be in danger, and also a bit miffed at the thugs who messed up his apartment, Healy returns to March and hires him to continue his search for Amelia, and of  course the two men end up working together to solve this complicated yet not very captivating mystery.

While parts of this movie are indeed very funny, and while Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling work well together, the story leaves a lot to be desired.  And that’s because the screenplay by Shane Black, who directed, and Anthony Bagarozzi, is pretty much just an excuse to have Crowe and Gosling play off one other.

The story is so convoluted it’s ridiculous.  There’s all this hullabaloo over a porn movie, which is difficult to imagine, and there’s the whole tie-in with Amelia’s mother, district attorney Judith Kuttner (Kim Basinger) which is even more unbelievable and contrived. With a better script, this one could have been really good.

And while Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling are both very good here, neither one of them are at the top of their games in this one.  I enjoyed Crowe more in NOAH (2014) and even as Jor-El in MAN OF STEEL (2013).  Likewise, I enjoyed Gosling more in THE BIG SHORT (2015).  There wasn’t anything wrong with either actors’ performance here, but neither one did much of anything I hadn’t seen them do before.

Plus, it looked like they were self-aware of how much fun they were having as actors, as opposed to being those two characters.  They didn’t seem all that nervous, even when their lives were in danger.  Worse, several times Gosling’s character’s teen daughter is put in life threatening situations, and yet he never even seems to break a sweat over it.  There was something very cartoonish and phony about this movie.

Young Angourie Rice plays Gosling’s 13 year-old daughter Holly, and she’s Disneyesque in her cuteness.  Of course, the running joke throughout is that she’s wise beyond her years, and so we get to hear her spout off adult language and be put in adult situations, like watching a porn movie  at a porn party featuring plenty of nude women, and she always seems to be in position to have her dad’s back and get him out of trouble.

However, for some reason, as good as Rice was in this role, these scenes never quite worked for me.  I think it’s because Gosling didn’t act like he was her dad.  As I said, he barely seemed concerned whenever her life was in danger.  Sure, he goes through the motions of trying to protect his daughter, but the emotions just weren’t there.

At one point in the movie he laments that society has gotten so bad his daughter doesn’t have a chance at a good life, yet he doesn’t bat an eye when she’s  in a firefight with the bad guys.  At times, Crowe’s character seems more concerned about her.  Of course, Gosling’s character has a drinking problem, and so he’s not going to be much of a father while drunk, but somehow it doesn’t seem to stop him from being a good private investigator.

The rest of the cast is blah, even with some veterans of the field.  Kim Basinger does very little as Amelia’s powerful district attorney mom, who may or may not be a part of a conspiracy.  Gil Gerard has a small bit as Detroit Auto Industry big wig, and Keith David, who I will forever remember as Childs in John Carpenter’s THE THING (1982), plays one of the thugs who’s after Amelia.

The direction by Shane Black runs hot and cold.  For the most part, the humorous scenes work. The scenes of physical comedy are handled especially well.  That being said, THE NICE GUYS is one of those movies where nearly all the gags were shown in the film’s trailers. I really wish the art of making film trailers would change.  Too many trailers give away too much.  While I still laughed during THE NICE GUYS, I had seen nearly every gag already.

I also thought director Black made some odd choices.  The opening sequence with the car crash that kills Misty Mountains was weird.  There was something very dreamlike about it.  We see a boy looking through a nudie magazine, and as he sees a centerfold of Misty Mountains, a car crashes through his house.  He runs to the car and finds a bloodied Misty Mountains behind the wheel, and she’s naked.  I thought the kid was dreaming.  Yet, no, this really happened.

There were several moments in the movie where I questioned whether what I was watching was real or not, as I kept waiting for some punch line which never came.  In fact, there is one scene that is a dream sequence.  I almost expected this entire movie to be a dream, since its plot was so ridiculous.

There’s a Richard Nixon joke/gag that I thought was as odd as it was unfunny.

The ending is as flat as endings can be.  I listened to Kim Basinger’s speech about Detroit and I felt like James Franco scratching his head and saying, “Wha—aat???”  And the film just sort of ends, with a lame attempt at setting up a sequel.

Black does capture the mood and look of the 1970s, and the soundtrack features lots of late 70s disco tunes.

THE NICE GUYS is a mixed bag.  It’ll make you laugh, sure, but its far-fetched plot doesn’t do it any favors.

—END—

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

YOUR MOVIE LISTS: MOVIES SCORED BY JAMES HORNER

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Oscar-winning composer James Horner

Oscar-winning composer James Horner

YOUR MOVIE LISTS:  Movies Scored by James Horner

By

Michael Arruda

Oscar-winning composer James Horner has died.   Horner passed away tragically on June 22, 2015, the victim of a small plane crash.  He was 61.

Horner composed music for countless movies over the years, many of them in the horror and science fiction genre.  According to IMDB, Horner composed scores for 156 movies beginning in 1978.  He won two Oscars, both for TITANIC(1997), as he won for Best Original Score and Best Original Song, “My Heart Will Go On.”

We remember Horner today with a look at the movies he scored.  It’s a partial list, with the genre films listed in bold.

THE WATCHER (1978) – James Horner’s first movie score.

THE LADY IN RED (1979) – Gangster film about John Dillinger starring Robert Conrad as Dillinger and Pamela Sue Martin as the Lady in Red.  Horner actually scored this film before THE WATCHER, but THE WATCHER was released first.

HUMANOIDS FROM THE DEEP (1980) – classic low-budget 1980s horror movie starring Doug McClure in a tale about mutated sea monsters who kill men and rape women.  This is the first movie scored by Horner that I ever saw.

BATTLE BEYOND THE STARS (1980) – STAR WARS wannabe/clone/ripoff starring Richard Thomas, Robert Vaughn, George Peppard, John Saxon, and Sybil Danning.

THE HAND (1981) – Horror movie about a severed hand that comes back to life and goes on a murder spree.  Starring Michael Caine.  With a screenplay by Oliver Stone!

WOLFEN (1981) – Stylish horror movie starring Albert Finney about Native American wolf spirits.  Based on the Whitley Strieber novel.

DEADLY BLESSING (1981) – Wes Craven horror film starring Sharon Stone.

STAR TREK II:  THE WRATH OF KHAN (1982) – Probably my favorite James Horner score.  It’s certainly the film where I first noticed his music.  The music he wrote for the space battle scenes between Kirk and Khan are particularly effective, in this superior STAR TREK film, the second and arguably the best in the series.star_trek_ii_the_wrath_of_khan poster

48 HRS (1982) –Action/comedy by writer/director Walter Hill was Eddie Murphy’s feature film debut.  Co-starring Nick Nolte.

SOMETHING WICKED THIS WAY COMES (1983) – Very stylish horror/fantasy based on the Ray Bradbury novel.  Bradbury also wrote the screenplay.  Starring Jason Robards and Jonathan Pryce.  Not as effective or chilling as it should have been, perhaps because it was a Walt Disney release.

KRULL (1983) – science fiction fantasy by director Peter Yates.

BRAINSTORM (1983) – Science fiction thriller directed by Douglas Trumbull and starring Christopher Walken and Natalie Wood.  Wood’s final movie.

STAR TREK III:  THE SEARCH FOR SPOCK (1984) – The third film in the STAR TREK movie series, directed by Leonard Nimoy, about the search for the reborn Spock after his death at the end of STAR TREK II:  THE WRATH OF KHAN.  Not bad, but not nearly as good as it predecessor.

COMMANDO (1985) – Arnold Schwarzenegger actioner is a guilty pleasure.  Contains some of Arnold’s best movie lines.

ALIENS (1986) – Probably my second favorite James Horner music score in this ambitious, entertaining sequel by writer/director James Cameron.  With Sigourney Weaver, Michael Biehn, Lance Henriksen, a conniving Paul Reiser, a whiny Bill Paxton, and an army of vicious aliens.

THE NAME OF THE ROSE (1986) – Well-made period piece thriller with Sean Connery as William of Baskerville, a monk investigating a series of murders.  Featuring a young Christian Slater.

RED HEAT (1988) –Arnold Schwarzenegger teams with James Belushi in this buddy action flick by director Walter Hill.

FIELD OF DREAMS (1989) – If you build it, they will come.  Iconic baseball movie starring Kevin Costner, Amy Madigan, Ray Liotta, and James Earl Jones.

GLORY (1989) – Civil war drama starring Matthew Broderick, Denzel Washington, and Morgan Freeman.

ANOTHER 48 HRS (1990) – Forgettable sequel with Eddie Murphy and Nick Nolte, once more directed by Walter Hill.

THE ROCKETEER (1991) – Amiable adventure yarn set during World War II about a secret jetpack, the young man who uses it, and the Nazis spy who wants it.  Timothy Dalton makes a nice baddie.

PATRIOT GAMES (1992) – Harrison Ford takes over as CIA analyst Jack Ryan in this Tom Clancy tale.

CLEAR AND PRESENT DANGER (1994) – Ford returns as Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan.

BRAVEHEART (1995) – Mel Gibson steals the show as Scottish rebel William Wallace.  Gibson also directed.

APOLLO 13 (1995) – Superior movie by director Ron Howard about the ill-fated Apollo 13 moon mission, based on the book by Jim Lovell.  Phenomenal cast includes Tom Hanks, Bill Paxton, Kevin Bacon, Gary Sinise, and Ed Harris.  Another memorable score by James Horner, one of my favorites.

RANSOM (1996) – Action thriller starring Mel Gibson about a father who takes the law into his own hands after his son was kidnapped.  The sort of movie Liam Neeson would have starred in if this had been made ten years later.

THE DEVIL’S OWN (1997) – muddled thriller starring Harrison Ford and Brad Pitt.  Pitt’s not who he seems, and Ford finds out.

TITANIC (1997) –  The biggie, the iconic James Cameron movie starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet.  Horner won two Oscars for this movie, for original score and for best song.

DEEP IMPACT (1998) – science fiction disaster film about a meteor about to wipe out Earth stars Robert Duvall, Tea Leoni, Elijah Wood, and Morgan Freeman as the President of the United States.

THE MASK OF ZORRO (1998) –Antonio Banderas and Anthony Hopkins in this so-so tale of Zorro.

MIGHTY JOE YOUNG (1998) – Disney remake of the classic giant ape movie features topnotch special effects by make-up wizard Rick Baker.  Starring Charlize Theron and Bill Paxton.

THE PERFECT STORM (2000) – Nonfiction sea tale starring George Clooney and Mark Wahlberg.

A BEAUTIFUL MIND (2001) – Russell Crowe steals the show as brilliant mathematician John Nash, directed by Ron Howard.  Co-starring Jennifer Connelly and Ed Harris

THE FORGOTTEN (2004) –Decent horror movie starring Julianne Moore about false memories and sinister enemies.

FLIGHTPLAN (2005) – thriller with Jodie Foster dealing with bad guys on a plane.

THE LEGEND OF ZORRO (2005) – Antonio Banderas returns as Zorro.

AVATAR (2009) – James Cameron classic that put 3D movies back on the map.  Superior film with yet another memorable James Horner score.  With Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldana, and Sigourney Weaver.

THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN (2012) – Inferior Spider-Man reboot, made way too soon after the Tobey Maguire series which only ended five years earlier.   Andrew Garfield as Spidey— meh.

James Horner wrote the music for so many of the movies I’ve watched over my lifetime.  Often writing scores for multiple films per year, Horner provided music for more movies than are listed here, as again, this is just a partial list.

Sadly, his life was cut short while he was still very active in his career.  His musical talents will be greatly missed.

James Horner.  August 14, 1953 – June 22, 2015.  Age – 61.

Thanks for reading.

—Michael

YOUR MOVIES LISTS: RUSSELL CROWE

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Russell Crowe as Maximus in GLADIATOR (2000)

Russell Crowe as Maximus in GLADIATOR (2000)

YOUR MOVIE LISTS: Russell Crowe

By Michael Arruda

Last week I unleashed THE HORROR JAR, lists of odds and ends about horror movies. Today I present YOUR MOVIE LISTS, lists of odds and ends about non-horror movies.

Kicking things off is a list of notable Russell Crowe movies. With the release of Crowe’s latest movie NOAH (2014) in theaters this weekend, here is a partial list of some prior Russell Crowe films:

L.A. CONFIDENTIAL (1997) – Kevin Spacey and Kim Basinger were the big names in this one when it came out in 1997, but it was Russell Crowe who generated all the buzz. The first time I saw Russell Crowe in a movie.

GLADIATOR (2000) – The biggie. The film that pretty much made Crowe a household name. His performance as Maximus is one of his best. Great supporting work by Oliver Reed, in what would be his final role.

A BEAUTIFUL MIND (2001) – Crowe delivers a top-notch performance as John Nash in Ron Howard’s Oscar Winner for Best Picture. Crowe was nominated for Best Actor but lost out to Denzel Washington in TRAINING DAY.

MASTER AND COMMANDER: THE FAR SIDE OF THE WORLD (2003) – Crowe plays Captain Jack Aubrey in this rousing high seas adventure based upon the novels by Patrick O’Brian.

CINDERELLA MAN (2005) – Crowe again teams with director Ron Howard, once more with outstanding results, in this bio pic of boxer Jim Braddock.

3:10 TO YUMA (2007)- Crowe’s outlaw squares off against Christian Bale’s rancher in this exciting western which might be my favorite Russell Crowe movie. It’s certainly my favorite Russell Crowe performance. Ben Foster also delivers an exceptional supporting performance as Crowe’s psychotic right hand man Charlie Prince.

BODY OF LIES (2008) – Crowe plays a CIA agent who gives his operative on the ground (Leonardo Di Caprio) in the Middle East the runaround in this Ridley Scott directed thriller. The first time I was less than impressed with a Russell Crowe performance.

THE NEXT THREE DAYS (2010) – Crowe plays John Brennan who takes the law into his own hands to prove that his wife Lara (Elizabeth Banks) is innocent of a murder charge— but is she? A convoluted plot knocks this one down a few notches.

THE MAN WITH THE IRON FISTS (2012) – RZA’s stylish actioner lacks substance making this one a misfire. Crowe plays an assassin named Jack Knife. Crowe appears overweight and out of shape here.

LES MISERABLES (2012) – Crowe plays Javert opposite Hugh Jackman’s Jean Valjean in this film adaptation of the stage musical, which is based on the novel by Victor Hugo. Crowe’s singing grates throughout, but when he’s not singing he’s very good as the policeman who won’t quit.

BROKEN CITY (2013) – Crowe is a crooked mayor who tangles with an ex-cop played by Mark Wahlberg in this mediocre thriller. For me, the fifth straight underwhelming Russell Crowe film.

MAN OF STEEL (2013) – Crowe breaks out of his slump by playing Superman’s father Jor-El. His performance is one of the best parts of this mixed bag of a superhero movie.

NOAH (2014) – Crowe plays Noah in this retelling of the famous Bible story, which emphasizes action and melodrama. Crowe really shines here as the man who builds an ark and against all odds saves humankind from God’s wrath.

And that brings us up to date.

Thanks for reading!

—Michael

SECOND LOOK: LES MISERABLES (2012)

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les-mis-posterSECOND LOOK:  LES MISERABLES (2012)

By Michael Arruda

 

 

I was pretty tough on LES MISERABLES (2013) when I reviewed it last year for this blog.  I think my title was, LES MISFIRE?

 

To be fair, I didn’t dislike LES MISERABLES when I saw it in the theater.  I simply was disappointed it wasn’t better, and I think it came across in my review that I wasn’t all that crazy about it. 

 

Anyway, I saw it again recently on DVD, and I have to say, I did enjoy it better the second time around.

 

While my biggest criticisms remain the same- that the film seemed to lack a soul, that it came off as completely gloomy and dark with the theme of redemption noticeably absent, and that the pacing seemed off, in that things moved too quickly without natural breaks in between scenes and songs, I did appreciate more about the film the second time around.  I even found Russell Crowe’s singing somewhat more tolerable.

 

I love the stage musical LES MISERABLES, and I suppose any film version wouldn’t be able to match the spectacle of how it plays on the stage.  This film version by director Tom Hooper didn’t even seem to try.  It dove right into a brutal realism that somehow didn’t work as well as it should have.  I mean, both Hugh Jackman and Anne Hathaway looked phenomenal in their misery, but this gritty heavy realism came off as too dark for the bulk of the movie and detracted from the musical numbers.  It’s a case where Jean Valjean and Fantine looked so beaten and emaciated that it was difficult at times to suspend disbelief and accept them breaking into song.  The realism also made for some harsh musical numbers. 

 

I still thoroughly enjoyed Hugh Jackman’s portrayal of Jean Valjean, and Anne Hathaway as Fantine.  Both their acting performances and singing voices were amazing.  Russell Crowe, on the other hand, was a different story.  I found his voice grating when I saw the movie the first time.  I found it slightly less harsh this time around.  I also enjoyed Crowe’s performance as Javert better the second time around and found him to be a much more dominant character than when I saw it the first time. 

 

I still was not wowed by Amanda Seyfried as Cosette, which still surprises me, since usually I enjoy her a lot.  And although his singing voice was among the best in the movie, Eddie Redmayne didn’t blow me out of the water as Marius either.

 

And the pacing of the film definitely slows down during the third act.

 

Yet, the film looked just as amazing on DVD as it did on the big screen.  Not much was lost in terms of picture quality.

 

Parts of the story also worked better for me the second time.  The blockade sequence near the end I thought fell flat on the big screen.  I found it more compelling this time around.  I remember growing restless in the theater at this point in the movie, and this wasn’t a problem in the comfort of my living room.  The chase storyline between Jean Valjean and Javert also played better at home, perhaps because of the intimacy of the smaller screen.

 

So, is LES MISERABLES worth your time on DVD? 

 

Well, it certainly provides grand entertainment, and it does a pretty nice job bringing the musical to life.  It remains to be seen whether or not making it darker, grittier, and more depressing than the stage musical was a good idea.  I wasn’t nuts about this interpretation, mostly because the sense of hope found throughout the musical seems to be lost here.  But this wasn’t enough to ruin the movie for me.

 

And with Hugh Jackman and Anne Hathaway leading the way, and Russell Crowe doing the same, especially when he’s not singing, the cast also excels. While I do have a problem with the dark take this movie has on the story, I have to admit that I appreciated its dramatic elements better the second time around.

 

LES MISERABLES, the 2012 movie version, in spite of its flaws, is still an engaging musical and certainly worth a look.

 

—END—

 

 

BROKEN CITY (2013) Needs Some Fixing

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Broken City posterBlu-Ray Review:  BROKEN CITY (2013)

By

Michael Arruda

 

 

There’s more that needs fixing here than just a city.

 

BROKEN CITY (2013), now available on Blu-Ray, is a thriller about an ex-cop Billy Taggart (Mark Wahlberg) who gets tangled up with an unscrupulous big city mayor Nicholas Hostetler (Russell Crowe), and as a result finds himself embroiled in political intrigue and murder. 

 

The movie opens as Taggart shoots and kills a suspected murderer and rapist, and then is found innocent of the crime because both the mayor and the Commissioner of Police Carl Fairbanks (Jeffrey Wright) suppress video evidence which would have proven Taggart’s guilt. In order to cover his political butt, Mayor Hostetler tells Taggart that the price he has to pay for his “innocence” is that he must leave the police force.

 

Seven years later, Taggart is working as a private detective.  Business is not very good, and his secretary Katy (Alona Tal) spends most her time trying to track down former clients who still owe them money.

 

Out of the blue, Mayor Hostetler contacts Taggart and offers him a job.  He tells Taggart that he suspects his wife Cathleen (Catherine Zeta-Jones) is having an affair, and he wants Taggart to prove it.  Taggart desperately needs the money, and so he takes the case.

 

Of course, being the unsavory character that he is, Mayor Hostetler has ulterior motives, and Taggart soon finds himself in way over his head.

 

BROKEN CITY is almost saved by the strong performances of its two leads, Mark Wahlberg and Russell Crowe, but is ultimately done in by a weak script that just can’t seem to hold its story of political intrigue and murder together.  The bottom line is it’s just not very believable.

 

I enjoyed Mark Wahlberg a lot as Billy Taggart.  It’s a typical role for Wahlberg, as he’s a blue collar law enforcement officer, a recovering alcoholic, and a genuine nice guy, as long as you look the other way when he takes the law into his own hands.  While I liked his performance in 2 GUNS (2013) a bit more than this one, he’s reached the point where he’s almost always enjoyable.

 

I was also impressed with Russell Crowe as Mayor Hostetler. After back to back subpar performances in THE MAN WITH THE IRON FISTS (2012) and LES MISERABLES (2012), Crowe has immediately turned things around with impressive performances in MAN OF STEEL (2013) as Superman’s father Jor-El, and in this movie.  Crowe is credible as the cut-throat mayor who’s not above committing crimes to save his political skin.  He makes a nice nasty villain in this one, and he’s deliciously icy in the role. 

 

The rest of the cast runs hot and cold. 

 

Catherine Zeta-Jones is okay as Hostetler’s wife Cathleen, in what turns out to be a thankless role.  Jeffrey Wright seems to be stuck with a permanent scowl on his face as the police commissioner Carl Fairbanks.  Wright was much more impressive and memorable as Felix Leiter in the Daniel Craig James Bond flicks CASINO ROYALE (2006) and QUANTUM OF SOLACE (2008).

 

Barry Pepper is oddly cast as Jack Valliant, the man who’s running against Hostetler in a fierce mayoral campaign.  Pepper looks more like a drug pusher than a politician.  Kyle Chandler plays Valliant’s campaign manager Paul Andrews, and Griffin Dunne is wasted in a nothing role as Sam Lancaster, a man with deep pockets who contributes to Hostetler’s campaign.

 

Only Alona Tal stands out as Taggart’s secretary Katy.  It’s a nice performance by Tal, and other than Wahlberg and Crowe, she gives the best performance in the movie.  Her Katy is a vibrant character, and I had a hard time taking my eyes off her when she was onscreen.

 

Natalie Martinez is acceptable as Taggart’s actress girlfriend Natalie Barrow, whose 16 year-old sister happened to be the victim of the rapist/murderer that Taggart killed in the film’s opening.

 

But in spite of the decent acting, BROKEN CITY gets bogged down in a story that never convinced me that it was real.  The screenplay by Brian Tucker fails to include a credible threat.  We know that Crowe’s Mayor Hostetler is a dirty politician, capable of criminal activities, but the shady deal he’s involved with, the political hot potato that he must break the law for in order to get re-elected, is hardly intriguing.  It involves some shady real estate deals that frankly not even Lex Luthor would get that excited about.

 

And then there’s the plot with Hostetler’s wife and her extramarital affair.  The mayor hires Taggart to prove that she’s sleeping with another man, and you can tell from the outset that Hostetler is not a man to be trusted, and so you suspect that he’s up to something else.  When this proves to be true, you’re hardly surprised.

 

When Taggart finally catches onto the game Hostetler is playing at his expense, he fights back and attempts to coerce the mayor into backing off, at which time Hostetler reveals his hand and shows Taggart the evidence he has against him in the murder charge from seven years earlier, in effect thwarting Taggart’s efforts.  Taggart seems genuinely surprised by this revelation.  Considering that Hostetler told Taggart at the beginning of the movie that he had this evidence in his possession, I found it difficult to believe that a street wise former cop like Taggart would have forgotten this vital piece of information.

 

BROKEN CITY was directed by Allen Hughes, who along with his brother Albert, also directed THE BOOK OF ELI (2010) starring Denzel Washington, and the Johnny Depp horror movie FROM  HELL (2001).  Both those films had a bit more bite than this one, but in terms of style, I liked BROKEN CITY more than THE BOOK OF ELI.    BROKEN CITY is a polished looking thriller, with enough dark scenes of its broken metropolis to satisfy the film noir viewer.

 

While BROKEN CITY isn’t bad, and if you like Mark Wahlberg and Russell Crowe, you could do a lot worse, at the end of the day, it’s not much more than a standard by the numbers thriller because quite simply it never goes for broke.

 

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