Will Smith and Margot Robbie are a comely pair in “Focus,” and their chemistry is pretty much all the con/heist movie has going for it, while “The Lazarus Effect” fails to drum up any after-life thrills, even with its top-notch cast. I discuss with my ScreenPicks pals…
Step 1: Don’t break out the handcuffs and blindfolds just yet. Or do, but just know “Fifty Shades of Grey” won’t really inspire you to do it.
Step 2: Keep the expectations low. By now, you probably know the basics to the “Fifty Shades” story: Naïve virgin college student Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson) meets young billionaire Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan), who’s handsome, charming… and has a penchant for whips, floggers and the such in the bedroom. Yeah, super hot (not). Ana falls for Christian despite her obvious reservations, and hopes that maybe she can bring out the loving man buried deep inside Christian. Good luck with that. If you’re willing to go along with the kind of unsexy S&M theme and just laugh at some of the ridiculous things Ana and Christian say to each other, then “Fifty Shades” isn’t all that cringe-worthy.
Step 3: As for said cringe-worthiness, give kudos to Dakota Johnson for making it less so. Honestly, I was afraid she was going to ruin the movie, based on the trailers, but she’s actually the one who saves it from being a total disaster. Apparently, Anastasia is particularly annoying in the book (so I’ve heard), but in the film, Johnson infuses the character with a lot of good-hearted spunk. Even though you have no idea why Ana would go for Christian’s stalker-y, painful sex ways, at least Johnson makes her character’s bad decisions seem almost understandable. Almost.
Step 4: Realize that all that fun Johnson is having just makes Dornan’s job much more difficult. Seriously, who would want to play this guy? He’s a total a buzz kill, brooding, oh-so-serious and clearly has issues. Would it hurt him to smile, crack a joke… even if it was in poor taste? The actor also has to spout some of the most atrocious dialogue. If Christian says, “That’s just the way I AM!” one time, he says it 100 times more. All of this is not Dornan’s fault; he does his best to bring some charisma to this jerk.
Step 5: Also realize that “Fifty Shades” came out of “Twilight” fan fiction. That’s right, a fan of the world of Bella Swan and Edward Cullen sat down and fantasized what it would be like if the vampire and his human girlfriend just had sex 24/7. In this case, said fan, E.L. James, skewed the “Twilight” fantasy and created the un-supernatural world of Anastasia and her Christian, who is almost as cold as a vampire. At one point, Christian warns Ana to stay away from him, with the ghost words “because I’m a vampire” just itching to follow. Dornan does, however, say one of the best lines of the movie when he describes himself as “fifty shades of fucked up.” Classic.
Step 6: Point some blame at director Sam Taylor-Johnson. She’s really only directed one other movie, the indie “Nowhere Boy,” so could be she doesn’t have enough experience. In trying to turn a soft-core porn novel into a R-rated movie, Johnson misses some of the sexiness in favor of highlighting the characters’ development. Booooring! Granted, the casting process to find Christian Grey was laborious. Trying to find the right Christian took a long time and fans of the book criticized the casting of Dornan, who was probably 20th on the list, because they felt he was not commanding enough to portray their beloved Christian. They might have been right because ultimately, Johnson and Dornan never really connect… and in a movie where the characters are supposed to be having a lot of sex, you need the chemistry. Let’s see if it shows up in the sequels (oh yes, there will be more “Shades.”)
Step 7: Forget “Fifty Shades” and rent “9 ½ Weeks” instead. The 1986 drama from director Adrian Lyne feels very similar to “Fifty Shades” but in all the right ways. It’s about two ADULTS (Mickey Rourke and Kim Basinger) who find themselves in a highly sexual relationship in which the controlling rich guy manipulates the woman into engaging in some erotic sex play… and she’s completely turned on by it. Trust me, “Weeks” is what “Shades” wishes it could be.
Although “Fifty Shades of Grey” is dominating the box office as expected (see my review above), I recommend seeing “Kingsman: The Secret Service” as soon as you can. The James Bond-esque actioner is a great ride, gloriously violent, stars the cool, collected and wonderful Colin Firth and Mark Strong, stars the kooky Samuel L. Jackson as the perfect villain, and gives us cutie newcomer Taron Egerton, who shows real potential. I talked about it with the ScreenPicks.com gang below…
Not a particularly stellar week for movies, I have to say. Although there is some exquisite visual eye candy in “Jupiter Ascending,” it is also truly embarrassing for everyone involved. “Seventh Son” also has its moments, specifically involving Julianne Moore as witch with relationship issues, but Jeff Bridges’ over-the-top and distracting performance nearly ruins the whole thing.
I break it down with fellow movie cohorts Phil Wallace, Adam Spunberg and Scott Youngbauer in our weekly ScreenPicks.com podcast… listen in!
Step 1: Suspend your disbelief… at least if you want to make it through “Project Almanac.” While it’s true many movies ask us to look past any inaccuracies, it’s particularly true for time-travel movies that also incorporate the found-footage theme.
Step 2: Realize “Project Almanac” isn’t rocket science… oh wait, maybe it is a little. The story centers on a group of nerdy teenagers who find plans to build a time machine, figure it out, put it to good use and film every single second of it. Like typical teenagers, their wish list in time traveling include acing school exams, exacting revenge on mean girls, winning the lottery, attending Lollapalooza, and getting the girl of your dreams. They also eventually realize that sneaky problem about time travel: If you change events in any way in the past, it could have long-lasting and dangerous consequences in the present day.
Step 3: Don’t look for any standout performances. The standard practice with these documentary-style films is to cast relative unknowns. “Chronicle” lucked out with the creepy Dane DeHaan, and “Project X” had cutie Thomas Mann and hilarious Oliver Cooper, but the kids in “Almanac” aren’t going to be offered huge roles after this film. Jonny Weston plays the almost-too-good-looking-to-be-a-nerd David, the leader of the pack who is desperate to attend MIT and secretly loves the school’s hot chick, played blandly by Sofia Black-D’Elia. David’s best friends are equally geeky, but, as portrayed by Sam Lerner and Allen Evangelista, don’t provide any kind of real comic relief. The last member of the group is David’s sister, Kathy, whose sole purpose is being the cameraperson.
Step 4: Ask yourself: Is the found-footage technique clever and inventive… or has it just become annoying? After the huge success of “The Blair Witch Project,” the idea of telling a story through the lens of a camera held by one or more of the characters became the new it thing to do. Some of these movies have worked really well, primarily in the horror genre, such as “Paranormal Activity” and “[Rec].” As mentioned before, “Chronicle” and “Project X” are also great examples, but like anything, Hollywood has used it to excess. Unfortunately for “Almanac,” the jerky camerawork doesn’t serve the story as well, and the explanations for why there’s a camera around at all times (“Gee Kathy, do you have to film everything?”) seem unrealistic. But then again, I did say you have to suspend disbelief.
Step 5: If you decide to stick it out, just relax and have fun with “Project Almanac.” There are enough thrilling moments and teenage angst to make it watchable.
Step 1: Know that movies opening in January tend to be less than stellar – except if the film is a leftover from last-minute Oscar contenders that were released in theaters for about a week in December. Releasing in January is a studio’s way of minimally investing in a movie. “Boy Next Door” falls into this category but it’s also simply crapTASTIC!
Step 2: Expect pretty much what you expect. Seriously, the “Boy” trailer says it all: older woman seduced by way younger (but legal) guy who turns out to be a menacing psychopath. Jennifer Lopez plays said older woman, Claire, a high-school English teacher trying to bounce back after her husband cheated on her. Ryan Guzman plays said 19-year-old psychopath, Noah, who at first impresses Claire by quoting Homer’s “The Illiad,” seduces her big time, and after their super hot one-night stand, obsesses over her in the most dangerous way. You’ve got the stereotypical side characters: the estranged husband (John Corbett), who poses a threat to Noah; Claire’s teenaged son (Ian Nelson), who Noah befriends and tries to turn against his dad; and the meddlesome BFF (Kristin Chenoweth), who you just know has to be disposable.
Step 3: Recognize some key casting choices. Plainly speaking, there is some major eye candy, and with a movie like this that totally counts. This is a nice re-introduction to always-hot Lopez, who hasn’t graced the big screen in two years. Then there’s hunky Guzman, who is all abs and smoky seductive looks and, who, well, clearly knows what he’s doing under the sheets. Any warm-blooded woman out there could completely understand why lonely Claire would go to bed with him, plus Lopez and Guzman’s sexual chemistry is palpable. Wow. Claire, of course, quickly comes to her senses, but even when Noah starts going off the rails, one wonders if she just pretended for awhile to be into it, sleep with him a few more times (hey, a girl’s got needs), things might have gone smoother.
Step 4: End a stalker thriller like this in a spectacularly cheesy way. One of those climactic moments that has the audience literally cheering for all the gore. Even though its predictable, “Boy” doesn’t really try to do anything more than what it sets up, and it might just gain a cult following who’ll play a drinking game, taking a shot every time Lopez yells, “Noah, no!”
Step 1: Look at the date of the last Movie Kit entry and ask, “Holy crap, it’s been almost three years since I posted anything? What have I been doing?”
Step 2: Say to yourself that writing entertainment news all day long hampers brainpower to write fun, movie stuff. Kardashians, I curse you!
Step 3: Realize that’s just an excuse.
Step 4: Just write, dammit! And so it begins… again.
I’m a regularly contributor on Picktainment.com, joining in on a weekly movie review podcast. It’s a perfect way for me to keep my hand in it and I love talking with Picktainment’s top honcho, Phil Wallace, along with other movie aficionados. Here’s my conversation about the big, dumb fun action flick Battleship and The Dictator, Sacha Baron Cohen’s take on a scripted comedy; it doesn’t really work for me.
Step 1: Watch too many plot plots. You know you’re in for some kind of visual treat when you see a Tim Burton/Johnny Depp collaboration, and Dark Shadows doesn’t disappoint. Yet, it is hindered by an abundance of storylines and a lack of cohesiveness.
Step 2: Listen to a Barnabas’ tale. Based on the TV series, which aired from 1966 to 1971, Dark Shadows follows the screwed-up lives of the Collins family. Once a thriving fishery empire in Collinsport, Maine, the family is now — in 1972 — nearly in ruin, put there by a rival company owned by the conniving witch Angelique Bouchard (Eva Green). You see, Angelique cursed the Collins family two centuries ago when her love for young heir Barnabas Collins (Johnny Depp) was rejected, turning Barnabas into a vampire, killing his fiancée and locking him in a coffin, seemingly forever. Not so. Barnabas is unexpectedly freed and returns to his ancestral home to restore his family to its previous glory. But a few things stand in his way: the customs of 1972, some members of his extended family and Angelique, of course.
Step 3: Meet the Collins family. There’s actually a lot more that goes on in Dark Shadows, which ultimately becomes its downfall. As uber-fans of the original TV series, its clear Depp and Burton did not want to leave anything out. In the series, a governess named Victoria Winters comes to the Collins’ mansion and is soon drawn into the family’s dysfunctional behavior. In the film, Victoria (Bella Heathcote) is the reincarnation of Barnabas’ former one true love, so naturally the vampire is smitten once again. There’s also matriarch Elizabeth Collins Stoddard (Michelle Pfeiffer), teenage rebel Carolyn (Chloe Grace Mertz), family psychiatrist Dr. Julia Hoffman (Helena Bonham Carter) and others.
Step 4: Watch Depp do it… again. Most of the performances are spot-on, especially Depp, who once again wears a wacky wig and sells the hell out of the thing. The actor is extremely charismatic as Barnabas and delivers all the best lines, particularly when he is being the fish out of water. If anyone else played the part, Dark Shadows would have truly sucked. Get it? Like a vampire? I digress. Heathcote has those giant, soulful eyes Burton loves in his young ingénues, while the stunning Pfeiffer portrays the stiff Elizabeth with an innate coolness. Bonham Carter plays Dr. Hoffman as a lush desperate to stay young, and Mertz is great as the petulant teen. Only Green, best known as James Bond’s love in Casino Royale, comes off too much as Angelique, lacking in any real chemistry with Depp’s Barnabas.
Step 5: Cut it. The gothic setting also fits right into Burton’s sensibilities, and the director paints another wonderfully weird and otherworldly milieu, with rocky coastlines, overcast skies and overgrown vegetation. The Collins’ home is the best part, full of cobwebby nooks and crannies, giant misplaced wooden statues, secret passageways and the like. If you are a fan of Burton’s films, you should feel right at home. No, the real fault lies in the script, which may have read well on paper – and pleased its rabid Dark Shadow followers — but it seriously needed major cuts in the editing room. As a Depp/Burton collaboration, it ranks kind of low.