Showing posts with label Ann Rule. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Ann Rule. Show all posts

Friday, August 28, 2015

"American Ultra" and The Week in Reviews

[I review the new movie "American Ultra" and DVDs "Taken 3" and "Big Hero 6." The Book of the Week is Ann Rule's "The I-5 Killer."  I also bring you up to date on "My 1001 Movies I Must See Before I Die Project" with Luis Bunuel's "The Exterminating Angel."]

American Ultra

Jesse Eisenberg plays a CIA field operative who is so deeply under cover he doesn't even know he's a CIA agent.

Mike (Eisenberg) is a stoner and a total screw-up.  He works the night shift at a convenience store and lives with his long-suffering girlfriend, Phoebe (Kristen Stewart).  Mike has issues.  He can't leave the town they live in (Liman, West Virginia) because he has a panic attack whenever he tries to  leave, and he screws up so much, I started to think that Phoebe was Mother Teresa.  What can she possibly see in this guy?

However, enter CIA agent Lassiter (Connie Britton) and we discover that Mike is no ordinary screw-up stoner.  No, he is actually a CIA agent screw-up stoner who was part of an experiment to create super agents.  When the program was deemed too dangerous, it was called off and Mike was "de-activated" and now remembers none of his life before coming to this small town. But when Lassiter finds out that Mike has been targeted for extinction (he was her pet project), she finds him and reactivates him. So when CIA killers come looking for him at his convenience store (and they keep coming no matter where he goes), his early fighting skills and programming start coming back to him, and he doesn't understand any of it.

Mike says to Phoebe: Something very weird is happening to me: I keep killing people! There's a chance I may be... a robot!

It was at this moment that I realized this movie was a comedy.  A very dark and bloody one, but a comedy nevertheless.

Eisenberg continues to play against type as he did in the recently reviews "Night Moves" and show what a versatile actor he has become.  Likewise, Kristen Stewart continues to show she is an actress of substance as she did in "Clouds of Sils Maria."  Those Twilight movies did not do her acting cred any justice so it's good to see her starting to mature as an actress.  I think she actually smiled in this movie too. Eisenberg and Stewart have real chemistry here (they were together before in "Adventureland" in 2009). Connie Britton moves away from her starring stint in TV's "Nashville," to good advantage on the big screen.

John Leguizamo has a funny cameo as Rose, Mike's drug-dealing, conspiracy theory spouting friend and Topher Grace makes for a dapper bad guy.

Written by Max Landis and directed by Nima Nourizadeh, who directed "Project X," this film is original, exciting and fun.

Rosy the Reviewer says...Quentin Tarrantino meets "The Terminator."

You Might Have Missed
(And Some You Will Be Glad You Did)

Taken 3 (2014)

Bryan Mills (Liam Neeson) returns, this time accused of a murder he didn't commit.

The movie has one of those cold openings where Russian mobsters kidnap a guy and make him open a safe because his boss owes them money.  It's not pretty. This kind of opening is designed to show us just how badass these bad guys are and the biggest badass is Malankov (San Spruell), who of course will show up later to vex our hero.

Roll opening credits.

Bryan shows up at his daughter's apartment to present her with a giant stuffed panda for her birthday.  He is no longer married to Lenore (Famke Janssen), but he invites her to dinner to celebrate their daughter's birthday.  She declines but later shows up at his apartment to complain about her current marriage and to let Bryan know she wishes she was back with him.  Bryan wishes it too.  However, Lenore's husband, Stuart (Dougray Scott) doesn't and he later visits Bryan to tell him to please stay away from Lenore.

The next day Lenore asks to see Bryan for breakfast and bagels and when he returns to his apartment with bagels, finds Lenore dead in his bed.  Not good.  The cops are there almost immediately and assume Bryan is the killer, which Bryan also realizes is not good and he had better get the hell out of Dodge.

So goes the rest of the movie as Bryan uses his immense talents to wiggle out of every sticky situation to try to prove his innocence and find Lenore's real killer as per the earlier films in this franchise, "Taken (2008)" and "Taken 2 (2012)"

The tag line for this third installment of the "Taken" series is "It ends here," and all I can say is "Thank the Lord!"

The first one was pretty good.  Liam's daughter was "taken" and he had to find her before it was too late.  Out of that one came the famous lines,

 "I don't know who you are. I don't know what you want. If you are looking for ransom, I can tell you I don't have money. But what I do have are a very particular set of skills, skills I have acquired over a very long career. Skills that make me a nightmare for people like you. If you let my daughter go now, that'll be the end of it. I will not look for you, I will not pursue you. But if you don't, I will look for you, I will find you, and I will kill you,"

delivered as only Liam could in his deep Irish brogue.  Good stuff.

Then "Taken 2" came along and, OK, you know how I feel about sequels.  This time his wife was taken and the whole thing seemed familiar.  Hey, isn't this just like the first one?

But now, in "Taken 3" no one is even "taken."  It's Liam being framed for his wife's murder and his being chased all over the place.  Of course that doesn't mean he is not going to turn things around and STILL hunt those bad guys down and kill them.

Luc Besson is back as the screenwriter (along with some others), but I think he should give this character a rest.

The music is melodramatic and this entire affair is cartoonish.  I'm not sure how Liam could keep a straight face.  And even Forest Whitaker as the cop trying to find our Bryan can't save this thing.

Liam Neesan has admitted he does these movies because they pay him too much to turn them down, but, Liam...listen to me.  I love you madly because you are a nice big handsome man who is a good actor.  Pleeeez, no more of these or you will ruin any acting cred you have and I will no longer love you madly.

NOTE: I had decided that I was only going to review movies that I could recommend, hoping that I would turn you on to some films you might not have put in your queue at Netflix or watched On Demand or however you get your DVDs.  I am going against that vow here because this movie has a relatively high profile and you might just want to grab it off the shelf.  DON'T!

I decided that you needed to be warned.

Rosy the Reviewer says...This movie is terrible!

Big Hero 6 (2014)

An unlikely group form a super-hero team.

Hiro is a robotics genius in a futuristic San Fransokyo (what if Japanese immigrants rebuilt San Francisco after the earthquake and named it San Fransokyo?)  He and his brother, Tadashi, are being raised by their Aunt Cass, because their parents died when Hiro was three.  Hiro spends his time participating in illegal robot fights and getting into trouble.

When Hiro's brother invents a robotic nurse, Baymax, at his school, Hiro decides he wants to get into his brother's "nerd school" and invents "microbots," swarms of tiny robots than can create anything you think.  This is how it works:  if you can think it, the microbots can become it. Need a giant gun?  The microbots can become one. Need a tank?  Think it and the microbots can become it.  When Hiro shows his invention to  Callaghan, the head of the school, Callaghan is impressed and lets Hiro enroll.

Meanwhile Alastair Krei, owner of Krei Tech, hears about the microbots and wants to buy the invention but Callaghan warns Hiro that Krei is a questionable sort, so Hiro says no, staying at the school instead. But when the school catches on fire, Tadashi and Callahan are killed.

Depressed, Hiro activates Baymax and together they discover that someone has been manufacturing microbots.  When they find them being manufactured in an abandoned warehouse, they are attacked by a man wearing a mask.  Hiro and Baymax team up with Tadashi's friends, GoGo, Honey, Wasabi and Fred, to form a superhero group to find out who has stolen Hiro's superbots invention and why.

You have your stock characters:  the feisty girl, the scared guy, the clueless hippie and the smart girl but Baymax is the fun part of this film.  He is like a giant sweet and very loyal marshmallow. 

Writers Jordan Roberts, Daniel Gerson and Robert L. Baird have adapted a Marvel comic into a screenplay that lives up to the high standard we have come to expect from Disney and it has a moral, which is also very Disney: using teamwork, you can think your way out of the problem.

This is Disney's 54th animated feature and based on Marvel Comics superheros of the same name, their first action hero themed film.  It also won an Academy Award for Best Animated Feature Film in 2014.

Rosy the Reviewer says...if you like the "Iron Man" films, you will like this.  Personally, I liked this one better!

***My 1001 Movies I Must See Before I Die Project***

295 to go!

The Exterminating Angel (1962)

Guests at a dinner party find that they are unable to leave.
Upper class guests arrive at a dinner party at Senor Nobile's (Enrique Rambal) mansion following an opera.  After dinner they retire to the drawing room, where after listening to a piano sonata by Blanca (Patricia de Morelos), one of the guests.  After the music, instead of leaving the men remove their jackets and ties and everyone settles down to go to sleep. 

When they awake in the morning, they all realize they can't leave.  Though nothing physically is stopping them from leaving, psychologically none of them are able to leave the room.  Conversely, for some strange reason, after preparing dinner the night before, all of the servants except one were compelled to leave. As time goes by and all of the food and water start to run out and the guests realize they are stuck together in this room for who knows how long, these so-called upper class people start to become hostile, hysterical and animal-like.
Likened to Sartre's "No Exit," where we discover the characters are in hell, here we don't know why they can't leave.
Spanish auteur Luis Bunuel ("Un Chien Andelou," which is de rigeur in any history of film class, "The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie," "That Obscure Object of Desire"), a leader in avante-garde surrealism, made this film at the end of his 18 years in Mexico.  Here he explores class conflict, religion, politics and morality.

Bunuel is recognized as one of the great movie directors of all time.  He made films in Spain, France and Mexico in practically every movie genre and his work spanned from the 1920's to the 1970's. Six of his films are included in "Sight and Sound's" 2012 critics' poll of the top 250 films of all time.

Woody Allen alluded to this film in "Midnight in Paris" when Gil (Owen Wilson) meets Bunuel (Adrien de Van) and suggests a story to the young Bunuel about guests who arrive for a dinner party and can’t leave. Buñuel asks, "But why can’t they leave? I don’t understand." After Gil leaves, Buñuel is still muttering to himself, "...What's holding them in the room?..."  A very Woody moment.
Why it's a Must See:  "One of Bunuel's most celebrated Mexican films, [this film] appears to wear its political satire lightly, but beneath the banter, the diretor's sardonic hand delivers one of its most powerful blows.  This group represents the hypocrites who believe they have raised themselves above the morass of the lower classes and beyond whatever judgment should be passed on them for their deeds. They are the Spanish elite, the supporters of Franco, whose duplicity Bunuel despised."
---"1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die"

This film is considered by Mexican film critics as the 16th best film of the Mexican cinema and one of the best 1000 films by the New York Times.
Rosy the Reviewer says...a strange but delicious skewering of the upper classes that is not to be missed!


***Book of the Week***

The I-5 Killer by Ann Rule (1984)

Randall Woodfield looked like the boy-next-door but he was anything but.  Trolling up and down 800 miles of Highway 5, he managed to kill 44 women.

Woodfield was an unlikely killer.  He was a good student and star athlete.  He was drafted to play for the Green Bay Packers and chosen by Playgirl Magazine as a centerfold candidate.  So why did he choose to rape and kill?

Ann Rule reigned as one of our best true crime writers until her recent death at the age of 83.  She was writing right up until the end, her last book "Lying in Wait" was published in 2014. 

She wrote 36 books in the course of her 30-year career as a true crime writer, mostly about crimes in the Pacific Northwest, where she also lived.  This one was only her 3rd book, written right before one of her most famous books, "The Stranger Beside Me (1986)," her true story of sitting beside Ted Bundy at a Seattle suicide prevention hotline, unaware that he was a serial killer. That book brought her fame along with "Small Sacrifices (1987)," the story of Diane Downs who tried to kill her children and "Green River, Running Red (2004)," the story of the Green River Killer in Washington State.

Though this book is an early example of her work, her later style is already apparent.  She wrote her books with meticulous care for detail, making you care about the victims and the law enforcement personnel who tried to solve the murders.  This was particularly apparent in "Green River, Running Red," where serial killer Gary Ridgway targeted prostitutes, hoping no one would miss them and no one would care.  Rule created portraits of the young women that did make you care.

In "Small Sacrifices," Rule told the story of Diane Downs who shot her three children and pretended she and her children had been shot by a man trying to carjack her car. One child died and the other two were seriously hurt, but were finally able to testify against their mother.  Diane was in love with a married man and she thought if she got rid of her children, he would marry her.  Rule wrote such a compelling tale of this terrible deed that it was made into a TV movie starring Farrah Fawcett and Ryan O'Neal.  It was this book that turned me into a true crime fan and no one wrote true crime quite like Ann Rule.

Rosy the Reviewer says...this one is for those of you who have read Rule's other books. If you haven't read Rule before start with "Small Sacrifices" or "Green River, Running Red," when she was at the top of her game.  Rest in peace, Ann Rule.  You were the Queen of Crime Writers and you will be missed.


Thanks for Reading!

That's it for this week.

See you Tuesday for

"Why Movies Matter"


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