REVIEW: “Dream House” (2012)

Don’t you hate it when you buy a new house only to find out it was the scene of some grisly murders? Such is the case with Jim Sheridan’s schizophrenic psychological thriller “Dream House” – well, kinda. This is a movie featuring loads of talent and at its core a familiar but fairly interesting story. But it’s also a movie plagued with amateurish writing and an off-the-rails ending that undermines everything the movie tries to do.

The film starts with the standard yet pretty interesting haunted house treatment. Will (Daniel Craig) has quit his job as a successful editor to spend more time with his wife Libby (Rachel Weisz) and his two daughters in their new suburban home. As always things seem lovely at first. But through several discoveries they find out that five years earlier some horrible murders had taking place in their home. Their weird-acting neighbors and the uncooperative Police Department sends Will on an investigation of his own.

It’s here that the movie offers a big twist, and then another twist, and then another twist. Now I’ve always appreciated when a movie tries to shake things up. But here it’s done in a hamfisted and clunky way. The first big reveal does offer promise although it doesn’t necessarily take things in a better direction. From there the story launches into several different directions mimicking everything from “Shutter Island” to “The Shining”. This wouldn’t be a problem except everything feels fractured and manufactured and the constant shifts in tone are jarring. It just keeps throwing things at you right up to its ludicrous and off-the-wall ending. I mean the finale is so poorly conceived, so under developed, and utterly preposterous.

A lot of what does work can be contributed to the committed performances from Craig and Weisz. While the material is all over the place the two do inject some energy and spark into the script and I enjoyed them on screen. On the flip side, the usually good Naomi Watts seems bored playing a neighbor who knows more than she’s letting on. And then you have an equally flat performance from Marton Csokas as her jerk ex-husband. He ends up having a fairly important role in the movie but he’s without a doubt the worst written character in the entire film.

“Dream House” is ambitious and it starts on a pretty good note. But all of its ambition ends up being its undoing. Yet while critics have universally panned it, there are certainly worse thrillers out there. In fact, “Dream House” is a very watchable movie and it’s easy to digest. But it’s also an easy movie to forget and unfortunately it’s plagued with too many faults to forgive. And the biggest bummer is that all of this great talent simply goes to waste.

VERDICT – 2 STARS

“SKYFALL” – 4.5 STARS

Skyfall” may be the best James Bond movie ever. Better yet, Daniel Craig may be the best James Bond ever. Now before the Bond diehards come at me with torches and pitchforks let me make something abundantly clear. I am not the biggest Bond guy. I haven’t seen even half of the Bond movies. So I certainly don’t consider myself a Bond expert. In fact I may not even qualify as a true Bond fan by some. I’m not well versed on Bond lore, the Bond girls, or the history that has surrounded this universally loved character for the last 50 years. So I don’t live under the false assumption that I’m an expert when it comes to the James Bond franchise. But I like to think that I know a good movie when I see one and “Skyfall” is a very good movie.

My Bond apathy changed in 2006 with the release of “Casino Royal”. It introduced a grittier, more grounded Bond in the form of Daniel Craig. He wasn’t as prim and polished and a sense of reality was brought to the character that I had never seen before. It was also a fantastic movie that I thoroughly enjoy. The Bond appeal grew for me in 2008 with the lesser but equally entertaining “Quantum of Solace”. And now he’s back with “Skyfall”, a 007 film that’s every bit as good as “Casino Royale” and for my money even a bit better. Sam Mendes directs the film, the 23rd installment of the franchise. Mendes tips his hat to several of the previous 007 films and has fun with many things that Bond fans should love. But he also maintains the emotional edge to Bond that has made Daniel Craig’s run so effective for me.

The film starts with a jaw-dropping opening chase sequence that uses cars, motorcycles, trains, and cranes. It moves through market streets, on rooftops, through tunnels, and finally on a huge bridge where Bond is inadvertently shot off of a speeding train by a fellow agent at M’s command. Believed dead, Bond goes off the grid and submerges himself in a life of anonymity and alcohol. Now the movie never gives a satisfying reason as to why Bond became a closed off boozer. We get a few hints of it later but it seemed pretty drastic and off-the-wall. But we wouldn’t have a Bond movie if 007 wasn’t spoiling evil plots with his well-pressed suits and assorted gadgetry. He makes his return after MI6 is devastated by terrorist attack with M seeming to be the main target. Judi Dench returns to the role that she first played in 1995’s “GoldenEye”. This time she’s not only a terrorist’s target but she’s facing heavy political pressure concerning her handling of MI6. As with each of her other performances in the series, Dench is marvelous and here we get to see a different side of her and her relationship to 007.

The big baddie this time is none other than Javier Bardem. He plays Raoul Silva, a psycho former MI6 agent with a rather large grudge against M. Bardem is deliciously villainous and once he makes his appearance the movie’s intensity amps up. Unfortunately he doesn’t show up until well into the film. Now that’s not a knock on the first part of the movie. But I wanted more of Bardem and I couldn’t help but feel that they could have built up the character and his motivations more in the early parts of the movie. Some of the movie’s best moments feature Bardem. There is a tense first meeting between Bond and Silva that you can’t take your eyes off of. There’s also a fantastic “Silence of the Lambs” styled exchange between Silva and M that sets the table for what’s to come later in the movie. It’s one of my favorite exchanges in cinema this year.

Another new addition to the cast is Ralph Fiennes. He places an ex-military man and current government intelligence official who regulates MI6. Fiennes is rock solid, as you would expect. Albert Finney also has a fun role as an old family friend of Bond’s and Ben Whishaw steals several scenes as Q, the gadget granting quartermaster. All the performances are good and this is probably the best overall cast in a Bond movie yet. They are helped by a crisp, intelligent, and perfectly paced script that pulls absolutely everything out of these characters. And the screenplay knows how to be respectful of the franchise while also having fun with it as well. There are several good laughs but for the most part this is the same serious, no-nonsense Bond that we got in the last two films and I’m thankful for that.

There are several other things that worked incredibly well that I could mention, most notably Roger Deakins brilliant camera work, the wonderful editing by Stuart and Kate Baird, and Thomas Newman’s perfect score. But not everything worked that well. The Bond girls have become almost as popular as 007 himself. But with the exception of the unconventional M, these Bond girls are bland and for the most part forgettable. Now Naomie Harris is fine as a fellow MI6 field agent who holds her own with 007. She has some really good scenes when working in the field, but she also has a couple of almost obligatory flirt scenes with Bond that didn’t work as well for me. Then you have Bérénice Marlohe who certainly looks the part but disappears almost as soon as she arrives. Also, I know Bond is a ladies man. But there are a couple of scenes featuring out-of-the-blue “romance” that are thrown in just because its expected from the character. Never mind that they clash with the tone and pacing of the story. Both are scenes that were poorly conceived and I could have done without them.

While these few flaws may keep “Skyfall” from being a perfect movie, they don’t stop it from being great movie. More importantly, the Daniel Craig era of 007 movies has won me over to the point that I’m anxiously awaiting the next installment. There has been a lot of internet buzz lately over who may be the next 007. But for my money Craig has earned the position for as long as he’s willing to take it. And as long as the studio is willing to surround him with a fine supporting cast, intelligent writers, and sharp directors, the possibilities are endless for this iconic character. One thing is for certain, I’m now officially a Bond fan and “Skyfall” only cemented that. Bring on oo7 #24!

HOLLYWOOD WRITER’S BLOCK? SEQUELS, REBOOTS, & REMAKES

If there is one constant in the modern-day movie industry, it’s the steady barrage of motion picture sequels, reboots, and remakes that bombard theaters each year. For a while now it’s seemed as if the sheer number of sequels, reboots, and remakes has steadily grown from year to year. Just look at 2011. The year featured reboots such as “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” and “X-Men: First Class”. We also got several pointless remakes like “Footloose”, “Fright Night”, “The Smurfs”, and “Arthur”. And of course, the year was loaded with sequels from popular “franchises” such as Harry Potter, The Transformers, Twilight, and Pirates of the Caribbean; animated films like “Cars 2”, “Kung Fu Panda 2”, and “Happy Feet Two”; and a host of other stuff ranging from “Spy Kids” to “Scream 4” to “Hangover 2”.

That was last year. Just take a look at what we have already seen and what we can expect for the rest of 2012. It’s still early in the movie year and we’ve already seen remakes like “21 Jump Street” and “The Three Stooges” and a host of sequels such as “Journey 2”, “Wrath of the Titans”, “Underworld Awakening”, and “Ghost Rider”. To add to it, this year we have already seen  3-D re-releases of three movies: “Star Wars: Episode 1”, “Beauty and the Beast”, and “Titanic”. Here’s just a sample of what’s still coming out this year:

  • “Men in Black III” (sequel)
  • “Piranha 3DD” (sequel – I guess)
  • “Madagascar 3” (sequel)
  • “G.I. Joe: Retaliation (sequel/reboot)
  • “The Amazing Spider-Man” (reboot)
  • “Ice Age: Continental Drift” (sequel)
  • “The Dark Knight Rises” (sequel)
  • “Step Up: Revolution” (…….sigh…..)
  • “The Bourne Legacy” (sequel)
  • “Total Recall” (remake)
  • “The Expendables 2” (sequel)
  • “Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 2” (sequel)
  • “Resident Evil: Retribution (sequel)
  • “Paranormal Activity 4” (sequel…kinda)
  • “Red Dawn” (remake)
  • “Skyfall” (sequel)

There are several more that you can expect to see in 2012 but you get the point. It seems that sequels and remakes aren’t a big thing these days. They’ve become commonplace. Now let it be known that there are some movies on the list that I am really excited about seeing. It’s also true that some sequels are incredible movies. It’s also worth noting that THE TOP 9 GROSSING MOVIES of 2011 were sequels which shows that there is an audience for them. So it certainly isn’t a question of bad financial decisions and it’s certainly not unreasonable to make movies that will sell tickets. But it begs the question, is there a shortage of originality and creativity in Hollywood?

I can remember when a movie sequel was a pretty big deal. You didn’t see many of them and when you did it usually drew a lot of attention. That’s certainly not the case today. And Hollywood’s sudden affection for remaking 80’s movies and TV shows has led to more head-scratching results than memorable films. I guess in a way that’s my biggest concern. Just how many of today’s sequels, reboots, and remakes are really good, memorable films? How many will stay with us for the rest of our lives. How many are just easy money grabs that have little to no lasting impact? I tend to think more of them are utterly forgettable than true movie treasures.

But as I mentioned, not every sequel, reboot, or remake is bad. Christopher Nolan’s “The Dark Knight” not only rose above the superhero genre but it was an incredible movie. This year’s “The Dark Knight Rises” is my most anticipated movie of the year. And there are still many good quality filmmakers that are making great original movies for us to enjoy each year. Add in independent films and foreign cinema and there are several outlets to discover good movies. But so much of Hollywood’s efforts and resources are going into treading the same water that I can’t help but wonder, is the struggling industry desperate for dollars at the theater or does Hollywood have a bad case of writer’s block that only seems to be getting worse?

REVIEW: “The Adventures of Tintin” (2011)

Steven Spielberg and Peter Jackson’s “The Adventures of Tintin” has been in the works for close to 30 years. Spielberg first purchased the rights in 1983 but the main filming didn’t actually begin until 2009. Jackson produced and Spielberg directed this animated motion capture film based on the immensely popular comic book series from Belgian artist Herge. While the Tintin character is most popular in Europe, Spielberg and Jackson hope the broader exposure will result in a least two more films. There’s certainly nothing in “The Adventures of Tintin” that should discourage a sequel. But there’s also several things in the film that keep it from being as good as it could have been.

In many ways “The Adventures of Tintin” is an old-fashioned adventure with a shiny modern coat of paint. It’s a classic style, simple and straightforward adventure yarn that at times feels like an Indiana Jones treasure hunt picture. But it’s the cutting-edge motion capture and CGI animation that instantly catches your eye. The character’s gorgeous three-dimensional renderings are incredibly realistic but with just a touch of cartoony style. The animation also features an incredible level of detail. It’s seen in everything from the various around-the-world locations to the fantastic period recreation. “Tintin” is a visual treat and there’s no doubt you’ll enjoy the steady barrage of eye candy found throughout the film.

I mentioned that “Tintin” is simple and straightforward and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. But I did have a few issues with the story. The movie starts with Tintin purchasing a model ship from a vender at an outdoor market. There is practically no introduction whatsoever and it seems like the movie expects you to already be familiar with the character. As someone unfamiliar with Tintin, all I learned is that he’s a journalist and adventurer and his best friend is his white dog Snowy. After buying the ship Tintin is immediately approached by two individuals who try to take it off of his hands. This leads to the discovery that the model ship may hold a clue to the whereabouts of a lost treasure. Upon seeing this, Tintin and Snowy head off on a globe-trotting adventure to find the treasure before a shady character named Sakharine does.

From there the movie launches into a frantic and almost hyperactive action romp. The film seems to move from one elaborate cinematic set piece to another, each filled with that signature well-choreographed Spielbergian action. There’s also just enough story to keep everything interesting. But I did feel the movie start to lag in the middle especially during a long series of flashback scenes intended to tell the history behind the treasure and it’s connection to two of the characters. Speaking of characters, Tintin teams up with Captain Haddock, a drunk who loses control of his ship to Sakharine. While Haddock has a few funny moments he’s also borderline annoying at times especially when he goes off on one of his ramblings. There are also a couple of instances where his attempts at humor seem to clash with the tone of the movie. While the movie hits a few speed bumps in the middle, it quickly picks back up on its way to a wide open ending that clearly points to a sequel.

Overall “The Adventures of Tintin” is a fun time that the entire family can enjoy together. From the start, the movie jumps right into the adventure but don’t expect much of an introduction to Tintin or even any character development to speak of. And while the story is about as basic as you can get, it really only stumbles in a few places. But it’s the movie’s presentation that is the most impressive. The film looks amazing and features some of the most eye-popping CGI and visually stunning action sequences. The John Williams score doesn’t hurt either. When it comes down to it, “The Adventures of Tintin” is like several of Spielberg’s other pictures – light on story but heavy on appearance. It’s not a perfect movie but there is still plenty to latch onto and once you get onboard it’s easy to stay with it all the way.

VERDICT – 3.5 STARS

Top 10 Most Anticipated Films of 2012

TOP 10 MOST ANTICIPATED FILMS OF 2012

2011 gave us some memorable movies but overall it wasn’t the best year for film lovers. But fear not, 2012 seems to have a fantastic lineup of potentially great films. The year’s lineup is loaded with big-budget sequels, action-packed ensembles, trilogy finales, historical dramas, and much more. Here are my Top 10 Most Anticipated Films of 2012:

#10 – “THE BOURNE LEGACY”

The fourth installment of the popular Bourne series brings with it some major changes. Tony Gilroy directs but the biggest draw for me is the addition of Jeremy Renner in the lead role. Renner plays Aaron Cross and is joined by fellow cast members Rachel Weisz, Edward Norton, Albert Finney, Scott Glenn, and Oscar Isaac. I’m a huge Renner fan and if anyone can capture the intensity of a Jason Bourne styled character, it will be him.

#9 – “THE GREAT GATSBY”

There have been several adaptations of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby”. 2012’s big screen version brings a strong cast including Leonardo DiCaprio, Carey Mulligan, Joel Edgerton, and Tobey Maquire. It’s set for a December 25th release which often times indicates that the film is aimed at awards season. Here’s hoping that this classic story gets a classic treatment in 2012.

#8 – “DJANGO UNCHAINED”

Speaking of stellar casts, how can you not be excited about a film that features the talents of Jaime Fox, Leonardo DiCaprio, Christoph Waltz, Samuel L. Jackson, Kurt Russell, Sacha Baron Cohen, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and Don Johnson? Quentin Tarantino writes and directs this film described as a spaghetti western but I’m sure with a Tarantino twist. With Tarantino you never know what to expect but it’s always new, fresh, and unlike anything you have seen before.

#7 – “PROMETHEUS”

If you enjoyed the “Alien” pictures (particularly the first two), then you have to be excited about Ridley Scott’s “Prometheus”. While it’s said to definitely be connected to the “Alien” movies, “Prometheus” is essentially its own story and as a Ridley Scott fan, I can’t wait to see what he has in store for us. Michael Fassbender, Noomi Rapace, Guy Pearce, and Charlize Theron only make the prospects sweeter. The teaser trailer looks moody, mysterious, and downright creepy. I can’t wait.

#6 – “THE AVENGERS”

I’m a long time comic book reader and super-hero fan so Marvel’s “The Avengers” certainly is on my radar. I’ve had loads of fun with the movies focused on the individual heroes and now we get them all together in what could be a really, really good film or a cluttered mess. I’m optimistic especially considering that Marvel has had this in the works well before the individual films were made. That bigger vision could equal one fun summer popcorn flick. Downey, Jr., Evans, Johansson, Hiddleston, Ruffalo, Jackson, Hemsworth, and Renner provide plenty of acting muscle to pull this thing off.

#5 – “THE HOBBIT”

2012 also gives us the first part of Peter Jackson’s “The Hobbit”. As a huge fan of what he did with “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy, I have full confidence that he will give us another exciting experience in Middle-Earth. Many actors reprise their roles including Ian McKellen, Hugo Weaving, Orlando Bloom, Elijah Wood, Cate Blanchett, and Andy Serkis. I fully expect this to be another rousing visual accomplishment and Jackson’s familiarity with the material will be evident. Set for a December release, what a way to end the year!

#4 – “SKYFALL”

I have never been the biggest James Bond fan but that all changed when Daniel Craig took over the role in “Casino Royale”. “Skyfall” is Craig’s third film as 007 and the first since 2008. Adding to the excitement is the casting of Javier Bardem as Bond’s main antagonist. Craig’s Bond has passed over the overtly cheesy dialogue and suave sophistication and replaced it with a tougher, grittier Bond that’s more grounded in reality. I’ve loved his first two films and can’t wait for “Skyfall“.

#3 – “THE WETTEST COUNTY”

The Wettest County” is a film that excites me on the sheer strength of its cast and it’s depression-era setting. It instantly makes my list just for starring personal favorites of mine Tom Hardy, Guy Pearce, and Gary Oldman plus 2011 breakout actress Jessica Chastain. Australian John Hillcoat, also known for 2009’s “The Road”, directs the Nick Cave screenplay. This film has flown under most people’s radar but I see it as loaded with potential and featuring some brilliant talent. “The Wettest County” hits select theaters in August.

#2 – “LINCOLN”

Some have mentioned having “Spielberg Fatigue” but I can’t say that fits me. But to be honest Steven Spielberg isn’t the reason I’m excited about 2012’s “Lincoln”. Daniel Day-Lewis is one of the most gifted actors in film and his last work in 2007’s “There Will Be Blood” was one of the single best performances I have ever seen. Needless to say I can’t wait to see him portray Abraham Lincoln. A fantastic supporting cast has been placed around him featuring Sally Field, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Tommy Lee Jones, David Strathairn, John Hawkes, Hal Holbrook, and more. If Spielberg keeps himself under control, this could turn out to be a true motion picture classic.

#1 – “THE DARK KNIGHT RISES”

Christopher Nolan has made super-hero movies into more than just summer popcorn pictures. His brilliant “The Dark Knight” wasn’t just a comic book movie. It was a dark and complex film featuring perfect direction, great performances, and impeccable sound and visuals. Nolan’s trilogy comes to an end with “The Dark Knight Rises” and everything points to this being another amazing picture. Joining the cast for the final installment are Tom Hardy, Anne Hathaway, Marion Cotillard, and Joseph Gordon-Levitt. Returning is Gary Oldman, Michael Caine, and Morgan Freeman. Nolan is one of the top directors in Hollywood and there is no reason to think he’s not going to finish his Batman run with a phenomenal final chapter.

Agree or disagree? Maybe there’s a movie you’re looking forward to seeing that didn’t make my list. Leave your comments below and share what you think of the 2012 movie releases.