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.

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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—

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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—

 

 

BODY OF LIES decent thriller from Ridley Scott – Blu-ray Review

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Body of LIes poster

Blu-ray/DVD Review:  BODY OF LIES (2008)

by

Michael Arruda

 

I caught up with BODY OF LIES (2008) on Blu-Ray the other day, Ridley Scott’s thriller from 2008 about terrorism in the Middle East.  It stars Leonardo DiCaprio and Russell Crowe, and while both actors do a fine job, DiCaprio in particular, it’s Mark Strong who steals the show as the head of Jordanian intelligence.

 Roger Ferris (Leonardo DiCaprio) is a young CIA operative working in the Middle East trying to locate the mastermind behind a series of terrorist bombings.  His superior officer, Ed Hoffman (Russell Crowe) works behind the scenes back in the States and the two are in constant contact via cell phone. 

 Hoffman hooks Ferris up with the head of Jordanian security, Hani (Mark Strong) in their efforts to track down the terrorist.  Hani tells Ferris he’s happy to work with him, but under one condition:  “don’t ever lie to me.”  You know right off the bat that this is going to be a problem.

 At Hoffman’s urging, Ferris does lie to Hani, and once Hani finds out, he tells Ferris he no longer will work with him, nor will he be responsible for his safety.  As if he doesn’t have enough on his plate, Ferris finds time to befriend a young nurse Aisha (Golshifteh Farahani), and the two become romantically involved, giving Ferris’ enemies a card they can play against him.

Ferris and Hoffman devise a new plan to catch the elusive terrorist, but things don’t go as expected, and Ferris suddenly finds himself in a predicament in which there seems to be no escape. 

 BODY OF LIES is a decent thriller, but don’t expect anything as intense as the Kathryn Bigelow films THE HURT LOCKER (2008) or ZERO DARK THIRTY (2012).   It’s based on the novel by David Ignatius, and it plays more like a fictional tale than a true to life espionage account.  This isn’t necessarily the fault of the screenplay by William Monahan, which includes realistic and captivating dialogue, and likable characters, but of the story itself, a tale of elaborate plots that seem more at home in a movie than in real life.  Monahan also wrote the screenplay for THE DEPARTED (2006), a film that was actually darker than this movie.

 Although Ridley Scott does a fine job at the helm, for a thriller, the film isn’t all that suspenseful.  The most suspense the film generates comes at the end, when DiCaprio’s Ferris finds himself in the hands of the enemy, and when they start the video cameras rolling, you know exactly what they have in mind for the young CIA agent.  It’s nail biting time, and then some.  But before this, the film, while generally engrossing and entertaining, is not exactly all that intense.

 That being said, you can’t blame Leonardo DiCaprio, because he brings his usual intensity to the role of CIA agent Roger Ferris, and it’s a very similar performance though not as good as his work in THE DEPARTED (2006) and BLOOD DIAMOND (2006), two of my favorite DiCaprio roles. 

DiCaprio also shows off his softer side here, as his scenes with nurse Aisha are warm and enjoyable.  He and Golshifteh Farahani share a nice chemistry together.

And then there’s Russell Crowe. 

 It’s funny about Russell Crowe’s performance here.  He portrays Ed Hoffman as a veteran operative whose best days are behind him.  He works behind the scenes, from the safety of his own home most of the time, communicating to his agent Ferris by constantly talking into his headset while performing mundane duties, like taking his children to soccer practice and grocery shopping.

 He’s supposed to be a man who has let himself go, and the funny thing is, in recent films, that’s how Crowe has appeared.  No longer the beast of a man who was Maximus in GLADIATOR (2000), Crowe has been a rather overweight assassin in THE MAN WITH THE IRON FISTS (2012) and a rather ineffective Javert in LES MISERABLES (2012).  Life imitating art?

 But the two best performances in BODY OF LIES both come from supporting players.  First, in my favorite performance of the movie, it’s Mark Strong as Hani, the head of Jordanian intelligence.  Strong is one of those actors who looks different in nearly every movie he’s in, and who manages to deliver compelling performances in these films, and his work here in BODY OF LIES is no exception. 

 Strong originates from Britain, but in BODY OF LIES he seems at ease and natural portraying a Jordanian.  If you didn’t know his background, you’d never guess that he wasn’t from Jordan.  Likewise, in his performance as the villainous Frank D’Amico in KICK-ASS (2010), probably my favorite Strong performance, you’d never know he wasn’t from New York City.  Strong has appeared in SHERLOCK HOLMES (2009), GREEN LANTERN (2011), JOHN CARTER (2012) and most recently in ZERO DARK THIRTY (2012).

 As Hani, Strong is suave, confident, and ruthless.  It’s a great performance.

 The other memorable performance in BODY OF LIES belongs to Golshifteh Farahani as Aisha, Ferris’ love interest.  Farahani comes off as genuine and sincere, and she’s a breath of fresh air compared to the deceit which permeates the rest of the characters in this story.  She also projects a heartfelt sensuality not often found in female movie characters.  I absolutely bought the notion that she had feelings for Ferris and that she didn’t have ulterior motives or felt for him because she was turned on by a sense of adventure or daring.  She just genuinely seemed attracted to the guy.  Refreshing.

 BODY OF LIES didn’t blow me away, either with its story or its acting performances, didn’t have me on the edge of my seat, with the exception of the sequence where Ferris is captured by the terrorists, and this comes late in the game, but for its 128 minute running time, it held my interest and succeeded in making its point that our actions the past decade in the Middle East, for right or wrong, are a body of lies.

 —END—