By Rob Jefchak
When I think of Chris Helmsworth, I think of “Thor” and everything related to “Thor”: muscles, power, strength and all that other good superhero stuff. What I DO NOT think of when I think of Helmsworth is computer hackers and dealing with warring Governments and cyber terrorism that brings about “supposed” high octane chases and action like “Live Free or Die Hard” for example. Still, “Blackhat” had advertisement blasted onto every commercial imaginable and one can only hope it was out of pure desperation…one can hope. Nick Hathaway (Chris Helmsworth) has spent the last 15 years of his life behind bars. However, that all changes when a computer virus code he wrote years ago for a fellow hacker gets utilized and ignites a cyber-terrorism war between America and China. Now Nick is on the move to find the hacker responsible for this chaotic chain of events and secure a more freedom filled future.
The reason I mentioned the whole “Thor” thing is sometimes with actors; once they are put into a certain role it becomes difficult to picture them doing anything else. Now to Helmsworth’s credit, his acting in this film is easily one of its best features; I never once felt that his skills were the reason he couldn’t pull off the “hacker look”. The problem is this movie tries way too hard to be some sort of compelling, conspiracy, action/crime film and it either barely succeeds at one aspect or fails completely at another. The action in this film is practically non-existent, there’s barely any trace of anything even remotely action related and when you do get action; it’s barely on screen or visible on screen since shaky camera angles are used to the point of total overkill.
Shaky cam destroys the minds and eye sights of movie viewers everywhere, practically everyone who used to use it no longer does because of this very same reason. So I ask myself: why does an already accomplished and well established director like Michael Mann churn out such a jarring point of view throughout 90% of the movie? It might help if the rest of the movie was actually interesting to watch. The use of cyber terrorism seems to spark far grander dangers and threats than are actually true. Sure, we’ve seen how “The Interview” had its cinematic wheels stalled because of North Korea hacking our computers (and our sense of security) to pieces; but this movie just feels like it’s really reaching to make this seem like it’s a big deal.
There’s signs they are trying to make this a big deal but I don’t feel they are succeeding. Nothing feels or flows naturally, everything feels like it’s forcefully inserted or hyped up to give the illusion that you actually give a crap about what these people are doing and are talking about…and at no point did I care about either. Helmsworth is a great actor and it shows here; even while he struggles against a role that clearly doesn’t fit him in any way, shape or form. Helmsworth feels like he was only chosen for this role to make some kind of sexual tension or romantic interest spark between him and a female hacker seem plausible, except nothing in this film at all seems plausible.
Mann has a reputation of quality films with excellent storytelling, camerawork and ideally chosen actors. “Blackhat” has none of those qualities; this is like “Green Lantern” being directed by Martin Campbell: a director with recognizable talent somehow crapping out this god awful movie and making everyone wonder how his name got attached to it. 2015 just started and this is REAL early estimations here but I have a feeling “Blackhat” will be one of the year’s worst films without a doubt.
I give “Blackhat” 1 star out of 4.
While it seemed like a one shot deal at the time, “Taken” introduced the concept of Liam Neeson as an unstoppable, action bad ass super star. The film was simple enough: a man with a “particular set of skills” sets out on a blood filled rampage to return his kidnapped daughter from the scum of the Earth. Then his family was kidnapped…again in “Taken 2” and while that one lacked the luster the first one packed so effectively, it gained enough interest and finances to (for the time being) conclude the story of Brian Mills and his ass kicking antics with “Taken 3.” Does Neeson recapture the explosive taste of the first one, or is it a bitter taste reminiscent of its sour filled sequel? Well were about to find out.
Brian Mills (Liam Neeson) is finally enjoying retirement from his dangerous line of work to maintain an increasingly positive relationship with his daughter Kim (Maggie Grace) and his estranged ex-wife Lenore (Famke Janssen). However, Brian discovers Lenore’s body while visiting her and is accused of killing her by the police and the FBI. Mills escapes captivity, desperate to elude the manhunt lead by Agent Dotzler (Forest Whitaker) and discover the true identity of his wife’s killer and deliver to them his unique brand of “justice.” Like everyone else, I never thought Neeson could turn this Brian Mills character into the next John McClane after seeing the first “Taken” movie. I was worried each film was just going to have more and more people kidnapped; basically turning the aspect of being kidnapped into a running gag of sorts.
While still nowhere near on par with the power of the first film, “Taken 3” serves as another sufficient action vehicle for Neeson and focuses more on his character’s “skills” than continually rescuing someone. In a way, the action here is toned down to make room for a more mystery-esque plot. Similar to Neeson’s last film “A walk among the tombstones” or Harrison Ford’s “The Fugitive”, the action takes a slight back seat to the plot of the film. Though it took a while to get its stride going, the story slowly became more interesting and complicated; far more than I expected though don’t mistake that as me saying this is “Inception” level plot twists here.
This is a straight up action film; even with the little added intrigue of a more complicated plot, one should not treat or expect this movie as anything but a typical action flick (something I never thought Neeson would be known for). However, like all his roles prior; Neeson never kets his performance suffer or sag simply because the focus is ass kicking and blowing up cars. Neeson gives his character a gritty edge that never falters; even if the film itself in question is faulty. He always gives 110% and this is no exception, you can really feel his intensity and gravitas as he barrels through thugs, cops and obstacles with the same grizzly strength Neeson has recently become known for.
With the exception of Whitaker, everyone else in the film doesn’t really stick around long enough to warrant any worthy performance discussions. These movies have always been about Neeson and its Neeson alone that reminds us why he is the star of the show. If there is one unavoidable flaw in “Taken 3” it’s sadly with the very thing this franchise has been known for: action. The camerawork with the action scenes is atrocious, it’s so jittery and shaky that you feel like you’re on a tilt-a-whirl and it’s putting a strain on both your eyes and your head. Overall, “Taken 3” is no grand finale to a noteworthy trilogy but it is still an adequate action thrill ride. The camera angles make you want to vomit with confusion and the story is still more of the same from the past 2 films. But Neeson always makes it worth it, the story gets creative at times and I didn’t leave the theater unsatisfied so I’d call that a win.
I give “Taken 3” 2 and a ½ stars out of 4.
By Rob Jefchak
The Judge- Downey and Duvall
The Judge review
By Rob Jefchak
In my experience with court room dramas, audiences tend to get the wrong impression about what a real court room case is actually like; since movies tend to over dramatize the experience to the point that the outcome becomes a crystal clear (almost cartoonish) cliché. So when I come across a compelling, emotionally turbulent court room film like “The Judge”; imagine my welcomed surprise when I find a movie that cuts right to the heart of the REAL emotional center piece and it’s actually NOT the case itself. People make stories real, correction; REAL people make stories real and everything about this estranged father/son court room conflict is about as real as it gets.
Hank Palmer (Robert Downey Jr.) is a smart assed lawyer who is in top of his field but at rock bottom when it comes to having decent relationship with his family. Things get further complicated when Palmer’s brother Glen (Vincent D’Onofrio) calls him and says their mother just died. Hank arrives and is forced to deal with his unfeeling father; Judge Joseph Palmer (Robert Duvall) who is dealing with a murder 1 charge after a late night drive left a man dead. Now Hank must defend his disconnected father and try to save both their careers and futures as father and son.
Normally these kinds of films don’t grab my interest but a good cast can pull you into any story no matter how much reluctance you have built up. The idea of Downey and Duvall stuck as this cold-as-ice; frosty faced son and father relationship is what really sucked me into seeing this movie in the first place. To have a film focus on the dynamics of this estranged relationship requires two great actors who can not only hold their own against each other, but also to devolve into losing their minds and their cools to the point they want to kill each other convincingly on screen. This relationship is the heart and soul of this film and their destructive dysfunctions are the making of true cinematic chemistry.
Once these two were on screen together; you didn’t even need to have them say anything, you could already feel the tension and conflict that brewed between these two men. I admired the film for not pulling back any punches and continuously throwing more gauntlets down for Downey and Duvall to tackle; each one more intense and painful than the last. I genuinely felt the suffering that was being experienced, like you really didn’t know how hard things were going to get or if there was ever going to be any kind of silver lining for the case, for the relationship or either characters individually.
I always admired Downey for being such an unfathomably likeable wise ass and after seeing him remain merged with “Iron Man’s” Tony Stark for so long, I forgot how powerfully deep he can be when he wants to. Downey remains sharp as a tack but reveals a deeper side to him in this film that I found truly enjoyable as the film progressed. I also truly enjoyed the supporting cast; D’Onofrio and Billy Bob Thornton pull much more impactful weight than I expected. One problem that keeps popping up now and then is the lack of closure with Downey’s character. The main story is resolved but there are still numerous personal qualms and quarrels that still remain unsettled with Downey’s character; like they are left hanging and remain hanging as the credits roll.
I dislike the lingering uncertainties because there was really no reason to leave them like that; a few more lines of dialog or subtle hints could have done wonders. Overall, “The Judge” is a strikingly powerful film that utilizes Duvall and Downey’s talents to their utmost potential. The relationship and conflicts feel real and thoroughly well developed; you can truly invest in these characters and their problems without anything feeling too cheesy or too Hollywood. A few problems left unchecked don’t severely diminish this drama’s depths, it’s still a very good film with an even greater cast that never once fail to capture your attention.
I give “The Judge” 3 stars out of 4.
Tusk Movie Review
By Rob Jefchak
Kevin Smith is a comedy genius, even those who find his dirty sense of humor tasteless can admit to that fact. However lately he has been dabbling in darker movie materials by making horror films: his first outing in horror was “Red State” and now we have his second outing (and strangest film far) with “Tusk.” With a film as strange and unfamiliar as this one, compared to Smith’s previous work; I couldn’t begin to imagine what I was in store for. The film follows Wallace Brighton (Justin Long), an obnoxious podcaster who makes a living out of making laughs off other people’s misery and flies off to Canada in order to get a new story for his podcast audience. Unfortunately the story literally dies and Wallace is left with nothing.
Until Wallace comes across a flyer for a seasoned ocean traveler named Howard Howe (Michael Parks) who wants to share his long life of adventures with anyone interested to hear them. Wallace meets up with Howard only to be drugged and found captured by the strange old man who wishes to surgically alter Wallace into becoming a walrus and now Wallace’s girlfriend (Genesis Rodriguez) and best friend (Haley Joel Osment) are desperately trying to find Wallace before he loses his life and his humanity. Believe it or not, the concept from this film spins off from a weird true life story about a man offering room and board for free provided the tenant wears a walrus costume while he/she stays there.
It’s a very unusual and funny anecdote that certainly makes for good conversation fodder. However, “Tusk”; despite its best efforts to BE funny never truly succeeds and instead just turns into a dark, twisted, mangled mess of nausea and nightmares that even the strongest of stomachs cannot properly digest. Everything about this film screams pet project: this is a personal dream project that only can be accomplished once the director is at a point where he/she is famous enough that they can do whatever they want and still not lose their careers. Much like Zack Snyder’s bizarrely trippy flop “Sucker Punch”, “Tusk” is a movie that only Kevin Smith understands…and after seeing the film I’d also wager he’s the only one would WANT to see it too.
The film’s use of comedy is embarrassingly awkward and feels completely out of place and out of sync with the rest of the film’s narrative; or maybe it’s just out of sync because the gruesome horror elements of Wallace’s “transformation” is so revolting that no amount of chuckles can laugh off the intensity of the “big reveal.” The film isn’t even so much as gory (like say the “Saw” movies) as it is just disturbing and it only gets weirder and worse as the film progresses. It’s a shame because everyone in this movie are GREAT actors to watch, Justin Long pulls off the jerk motif amazingly well and his beginning scenes with the stunning performance of Parks were some of the best parts of the movie. There were great uses of deep music, intense camera close ups and brilliant dialog that all could have been used for a less puke inducing film.
I get the creativity Smith wants to express here and I totally admire his dedication to a truly original idea and bringing it to life for all to see. But every step leading up to the “change” is about all the good you are going to get. This is a film not meant for people, Smith seems to be the only one who wanted this idea to exist on camera and after seeing it; I really wish it hadn’t existed or at the very least I regret actually paying to see it. You don’t want to see this movie, any curiosity or morbid mood craving you might have will trick and trap you into seeing the film and immediately regretting it afterwards. Nothing about this ends well and it’s a shame because every actor, writer and director involved has done AMAZING things in the past…this isn’t one of them. I hate to tell people what to do so I will say this instead: Please Kevin Smith…go back to comedies, I don’t think we can survive another “Tusk” or “Red State” even if you can.
I give “Tusk” 1 star and a half out of 4.