Chernobyl Diaries

This is a movie that had been viewed weeks ago, but I just haven't had the strength to review it.

Told in a way that wants to be "found footage-like" but instead comes off as a low budget affair, we find ourselves with a bunch of American tourists (Chris, Natalie and Amanda) who are visiting Europe and Chris' brother, Paul. The three are on their way to Moscow where Chris plans to propose to Natalie. Paul, being the adventurous local he is, takes them to Yuri: a Ukranian local who specializes in extreme tourism. Paul has set up with Yuri a tour of the Chernobyl Power Plant and its local community. Before they leave, they are joined by backpacking couple: Michael and Zoe.

Once there, the group is in awe at the desolate area and take pictures. Yuri announces that they need to leave by dark. Yuri's van has been damaged, leaving the entire group stuck in the (supposedly) abandoned Chernobyl town. One by one, each character is attacked by... something. What is said something? Pretty dumb, is what it is.

I mentioned that this review has been sitting on the shelf for a while and that is because this movie couldn't move me to create a full review for it. We have our obvious group of victims... I mean characters and a vague semblance of "something" going on, but like a lot of this movie, it is very muddled.

What was good, if anything, you may ask? Personally, I thought the character of Yuri was pretty entertaining. Yuri is a former special forces mercenary who knows more than he leads on. Unfortunately, (or fortunately for him) his screen time is limited and we don't really know what he is hiding. Overall, he seems like a good guy, yet if he knows what is revealed in the film, why would he return?

Also, much has been made about the location shoot for this film. It appears that at least portions of this film were shot on location in and around the Chernobyl Power Plant. This provides a great mood and a real sense of being there. Unfortunately, after a while, all we see are grey walls and gates and that gets tiresome to look at. I would recommend skimming through this film just to see some of the locations that are offered in this film.

The bad outweighs the good by a hefty margin. I'm not going to list through all the problems as I don't have the time or the energy, but there are a few issues I want to address. The first belongs to the shooting style of the film. The film is shot as handheld and very shaky, yet none of the characters are using a camera. I don't understand the reason for shooting the film where it is supposed to feel like a "found footage" film, yet no one is filming.

Also, the ending to the film was so muddled that I had no idea what was happening. The film devolves into a standard chase film before we enter an ending where it feels like the filmmakers did not know how to end the film. We are not really given an explanation for what has happened and then the film ends on a lame twist followed by the credits. I did not even bother with the alternate ending on the DVD, but to me it feels like that the filmmakers never knew how to end the film and just decided to end it and wash their hands of this mess.

This movie belongs in the lesser quality of "found footage" films. A good location is the only thing this film offers, and that is not enough to just see it.




Ah, Jesus. Oliver Stone is back.

And I don't mean back as in: "The master has returned!" I mean that more as "Oliver Stone made another movie. Son of a bitch." I guess on the bright side, this is not the watered down PG-13 Oliver Stone that filled theaters throughout the first decade of the 2000's. Unfortunately, making a film R-rated is not a return to glory for Oliver Stone.

Told to us through annoying and on-the-nose narration by main character Ophelia "O" Sage, (Blake Lively) we find that O lives with two guys from very different backgrounds. Chon (Taylor Kitsch) is a former Navy SEAL who has smuggled marijuana seeds from Afghanistan and has partnered with much more relaxed Ben (Aaron Johnson) to produce a lucrative marijuana business. O is in love with both of them for different reasons and all three live what is shown to be a normal life.

Ben and Chon meet with a powerful Mexican drug cartel about becoming partners in the marijuana business. Ben and Chon refuse the offer and decide to give up their business and bring O with them to Indonesia. Before that can happen, though, the cartel's enforcer Lado, (Benicio Del Toro) on orders from the cartel's leader Elena (Salma Hayek) kidnaps O in retaliation for their refusal.

After consulting with DEA Agent Dennis, (John Travolta) who likes to play all sides, Ben and Chon decide to retaliate against Lado, Elena and the members of their cartel. The rest of the film plays out by showing both sides of this equation: Ben and Chon trying to get O back and Elena, Lado and O and their situation.

There was not much to enjoy about this film. John Travolta and his few minutes are very over the top and I was glad he was in the film only sporadically. Ben and Chon and their rescue attempt of O never sucked me in as I wanted, mainly because I did not care one bit about their story.

The only story and characters that generated any interest from me were Salma Hayek and Benicio Del Toro. I think my interest for the character of Elena mainly came about as Salma Hayek rarely gets a chance to play a main villain like she does here. Far more interesting is Benicio Del Toro's Lado. He provides menace and some dark humor and creates an interesting character. I would have rather had Ben, Chon and O's story just go away and focus on the Lado character as I'm sure this would have made for a much more interesting film.

Which brings me to Oliver Stone. This film feels like he is forcing himself to try and replicate what made him a sought after director in the first place. He tackles a controversial subject, throws a bunch of extremes and uses various filmmaking techniques that resemble a low rent copycat of Natural Born Killers. What it comes down to, is that Oliver Stone does not seem to have his heart in this film. All of this film feels like he is forcing himself to make something that his heart isn't into.

This entire film just never feels like anyone, maybe except for Benicio Del Toro has their heart into this film. Oliver Stone made a film that is a pale imitation of many of his earlier films.




Robert Zemeckis decides that not every film needs motion capture and 3-D to make something worth going to the cinema for.

After twelve years away from making live-action films, Robert Zemeckis returns with a low budget, (for Zemeckis) low concept drama that is safe for audiences and for his return to the director's chair.

Denzel Washington plays William "Whip" Whittaker, an airline pilot who is an alcoholic and drug addict. How do we know this? Whip opens the film in a hotel room with flight attendant Katerina Marquez (Nadine Velazquez) after having a night of drunken sex. Whip needs to finish off his beer, take a hit of marijuana and a line of cocaine to get himself going.

Whip is responsible for a short flight from Orlando, Florida to Atlanta, Georgia. During the flight, Whip makes sure to have himself a bottle of orange juice mixed with multiple bottles of vodka. Upon descent into Atlanta, the plane suffers a terminal problem and appears doomed. Whip, being the amazing pilot he is, performs an aerial maneuver to try and save the plane and eventually crashes the plane into a field, killing six out of 102 persons on the flight.

Whip is then informed by Charlie Anderson, (Bruce Greenwood) head of the pilot's union, that an investigation is being conducted into the crash. High powered attorney Hugh Lang (Don Cheadle) is brought in Whip and Charlie to assist when the toxicology report on Whip comes back to reveal that he had drugs and alcohol in his system when the plane went down.

During this time, Whip and recovering drug addict Nicole Maggen (Kelly Reilly) form a connection and spend time together at Whip's father's home. Nicole is trying to straighten her life out while she watches Whip try to handle the investigation and try to cope with his alcoholism. Will she stay and ride this out with him or will Whip's continued behavior be too much for her? This really isn't a hard film to figure out.

It may seem like I am coming down hard on this film, and I am, but this is not a bad film by any means. This is a film based solely on performances and nothing else. Robert Zemeckis directs this film with no major flaws, though the plane crash in Cast Away was better, in my opinion.

Denzel Washington takes this role and runs with it. His performance, and most everyone's performance in this film is very solid. Don Cheadle has the most bland role as a man with no strings attached to this situation and tries to do his job the best he can. Denzel has a decent shot at an Oscar nomination and it would be deserving. I have seen better performances this year already, see my review of The Master, but a nomination would certainly be deserving.

The true standout for me was by James Badge Dale. I have never been a fan of JBD, especially in 24 or The Departed, but he steals the one scene he is in. JBD plays a man who has cancer and knows the end is near. He shares a scene with Whip and Nicole and provides the scene with warmth and humor. It is a shame we don't see him again as he completely stole his sole scene.

As stated, Robert Zemeckis and writer John Gatins provide us with a very safe film. This certainly earns it's R-rating, but Zemeckis and Denzel never push the film or Whip into too much of a dark area. This film provides a really good performance for Denzel and a safe return for Robert Zemeckis.

And it's nice to see a film directed by Robert Zemeckis where the characters have eyes that seem alive!



Wreck-It Ralph

What would a holiday movie season be without a Disney film over-running the cinema?

This year's offering is aimed towards the video game crowd. Wreck-It Ralph (John C. Reilly) is an 80's arcade villain in the video game "Fix-It Felix, Jr." The plot of "Fix-It Felix, Jr." involves Ralph destroying an apartment building while Felix (Jack McBrayer) attempts to fix Ralph's destruction. After doing this for thirty years, Ralph dreams of shedding his villain persona and wanting to embrace the idea of being a hero.

Ralph decides to leave the "Fix-It Felix, Jr." game and enters into another game in an attempt to obtain a medal to prove he is a hero. Ralph enters the game "Hero's Duty", a Halo-style shooter game and is able to retrieve the medal he has pined over for so long. In his attempt to return to the "Fix-It Felix, Jr." game, he winds up in kart-racing game "Sugar Rush".

Once in "Sugar Rush", Ralph loses his medal to Vanellope von Schweetz (Sarah Silverman) who uses the medal to enter the main kart race of the game. The ruler of "Sugar Rush", King Candy, (Alan Tudyk) considers her a glitch in the game and disallows her entry into the kart race. Vanellope is crushed, but Ralph decides to help her learn to drive so that she can win the kart race and Ralph can get his medal returned to him.

During this time, Felix teams up with the lead character from "Hero's Duty", Sergeant Tamora Jean Calhoun (Jane Lynch) to find Ralph and to stop a massive bug invasion that could possibly destroy all of "Sugar Rush" and all the arcade games.

This is a film that is all built on your love for current and nostalgic video games. The commercials and trailers lead me to believe that this would be a film that incorporated lots of classic and new video game characters into a large scale video game adventure. As this is true, especially in the first act, the middle portion of this film falls into the usual pitfalls of a Disney film.

Once Ralph ends up in "Sugar Rush", the film becomes a lot more predictable. At first, Ralph and Vanellope are mortal enemies, not seeing eye to eye on anything. Once the main plot kicks in, they go from enemies, to friends, to enemies and friends again in very predictable fashion. I know this is a Disney film and that certain points would be hit, this film feels very safe and predictable in the middle portion of the film.

What initially starts out as a film that takes us into this video game world, then becomes almost sweeter than the world that "Sugar Rush" is based off of. Once the third act kicks in, the film becomes a bit more entertaining than the act that had proceeded it.

All of the voice acting provides a solid job, John C. Reilly and Jane Lynch especially. Jack McBrayer is decent, if forgettable as the very average hero, Felix. Sarah Silverman, who I find somewhat funny in her stand-up, comes off as annoying as the edgy Vanellope.

The design of the video games and the worlds they inhabit is very impressive. The colors and details are very solid and the way the characters meet and move about the worlds is imaginative. The world of "Hero's Duty" was a hilarious riff on "Halo" and the sequence of Ralph in this world was a comedic highlight for me.

This is a solid, if unspectacular addition to the Disney filmography. Highlighted by a very strong first act and a solid third act, this is a mild recommendation. This would be a higher recommendation if the middle of the portion of the film was more entertaining and had a less predictable factor. As it is, kids and lovers of all things video games will really love this film. As I am not the biggest video game fan, maybe some of this film missed for me. My mild recommendation though, comes from the storyline more so than the video game nods itself.

As it is, this is Disney and you know right away what type of film you are walking into.



The Bay

I know I have been away a lot lately. I have had a lot of personal things come up in the last couple of weeks that took priority over the blog site. I failed on the 31 In 31, I know and I have been lacking in film reviews. For all that, I apologize. Hopefully soon things for me will return to some semblance of normalcy, and I will do my best to keep the reviews coming.

Enough about me, though. I am here with a new review!

Today brings the film, Chicken Shit... wait, I mean it's called The Bay. Barry Levinson, a director who is very, VERY hit and miss with me decides his career has reached its lowest and thrown his hat into the cliched "found footage" genre.

Taking place in the fictional town or Claridge, Maryland on July 4, 2009, mutated isopods from a large chicken processing plant (hence the Chicken Shit mentioning) begin infecting fish and the local residents. As the day progresses: locals, doctors and the CDC attempt to find out the cause of these mutated isopods and a way to stop the outbreak.

The film is told from the present day, 2012, by news reporter Donna Thompson (Kether Donohue) who was in Claridge on that fateful day to document the 4th of July festivities. She continuously pops up and speaks with an unseen person asking her questions. She states that all the footage from that day was suppressed, but is now available and shown to the audience.

What follows are various forms of video documentation from TV cameras, surveillance, police dash cams and more. We see various stories regarding locals who are becoming infected and making their way to the hospital. A doctor at the hospital, when not working on the infected, speaks on SKYPE chat with the CDC in an attempt to find out what is causing this infection. During the day, we also follow Donna and her cameraman around as they go from documenting the joyful festival to the many corpses that fill the town by day's end.

Barry Levinson does an adequate job of showing multiple points of view and keeping the storytelling very streamlined. The plot is very straightforward regarding the initial findings of what is causing the infection to the very final moments. As this is supposedly shot as a "found footage" film, the occasional usage of a musical score to showcase the type of emotion for the scene does not seem to fit. Especially if the film is structured as a composition of what occurred that day by Donna.

Beyond the musical score, which I feel there should have been none, another quibble I have is regarding character motivations. This is typical when it comes to this type of film, but why not drop the camera and help? Besides that, there is a subplot involving a family on a boat that is on their way to Claridge. Once they arrive on the island and assess the scene, why would they continue onward instead of staying on the boat? I know we are in the third act and the story can't just be spent hiding in a boat, but it just doesn't ring true.

Along with the family on the boat, one character appears to be infected by getting blood on them and then using water to try and rinse the blood off. It feels like we are going to be waiting for something to happen with that, but this character never gets infected and their story continues onward without any further mention.

Which then leads me to the end. As someone near and dear to me likes to mention, this film feels like it suffers from a Deus ex machina. We do not see a resolution to the infection, but we are told what happens. The way it is delivered feels like they had no way to end the film and just decided to come up with the one in the final film.

This is a mixed bag of a film, but on the whole, I did enjoy it more than not. Besides a third act that seems to wrap up everything too quick in a neat little package, this is a solid "found footage" film that utilizes a more grounded suspense style to it instead of cheap shocks and over the top gore.

And for Barry Levinson, this is better than Sphere. So, you know, there's that.