Contraband/Chronicle (2012) Review

Both of these reviews are long overdue and I honestly forgot about both of them so I just decided to combine them into two mini-reviews.

Contraband
Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Kate Beckinsale, Ben Foster, Giovanni Ribisi, J.K Simmons
Directed by: Baltasar Kormakur 
Rated: R

Here’s a movie that is such major wasted opportunity, the fact that it’s the remake of a foreign film is even more depressing. Mark Wahlberg stars as Chris Farraday, reformed criminal and family man who used to be the world’s best smuggler. Once his young brother-in-law blows a job for the ridiculously cajun-accented Tim Briggs (Giovanni Ribisi) he must perform one last job. (Cue eye roll) I’ll give Wahlberg the benefit of the doubt and defend him as an actor because when he wants to be, he’s charming, likable, and a believable badass, but in movies like Contraband, his character is as flimsy as a sheet of cardboard. His character might as well be named Mark Wahlberg.  The movie is so A to B you know exactly what’s going to happen at the end in Act 1, which leaves the rest of the film devoid of tension and suspense. Wahlberg’s character is so good at what he does and so infallible that I never doubted that everything would work out for one second, even at the end of the film everything works out and Wahlberg walks away unscathed with all his problems solved, no repercussions and coming out ahead even richer than before without even knowing it. Must be nice. Even when there’s a shocking moment involving what might be a lead character’s death, it turns out they are actually perfectly fine. ugh. The movie is so afraid to not please it’s audience it takes no risks and tidies everything in a nice little bow and then bakes a cake on top it. Even the movie ends on the song “Boom Boom Boom Boom.” The film is a remake of the icelandic film “Reykjavik-Rotterdam” starring the director of Contraband. Maybe on a smaller scale with unknown actors the story flourishes but with a bigger budget, and well-known actors the story is just running through the motions. Even with a cast of extremely talented character actors like Foster, Ribisi, J.K. Simmons, Lukas Haas, and Diego Luna, it’s sad to see their teaming up led to something so mediocre and unoriginal. My biggest complaints? I seemed to be the only audience member to recognize a Jackson Pollock painting in the film, and Central America should really get some good sporting goods stores because those duct-tape face masks must be a pain-in-the ass to remove.

Rating: 4/10

Chronicle
Starring: Dane DeHaan, Alex Russell, Michael B. Jordan
Directed by: Josh Trank
Rated: PG-13

It was just a matter of time before the found-footage genre broke away from horror films and tackled other sub-genres.  The superhero genre only seemed like a logical choice. An original superhero story mixed with the found footage aspect by using the excuse that kids document everything is a legitimate reason that works for a majority of the time. Cleverly dissecting superhero and modern teenage archetypes is a testament to Max Landis’ Large scale story told on a smaller budgeted scale. The use of practical effects, the simplistic storyline, and the likability of the three relatively unknown leads is what really pumps the heart of this film. DeHaan as the outcast Andrew and Jordan as the ultra-popular Steve are standouts and actually create a believable friendship between the three leads, making it feel realistic from the discovering of their superpowers to their inevitable downfall. The characters gain telepathic abilities that give reason for the camera floating around at different angles along side them but my biggest question was why? Obviously the film is footage recorded from a digital video camera so you can get away with creative low-budget CGI, but I thought the story was compelling enough on it’s own then always wonder the reasoning for a camera recording an intimate conversation. The last action set-piece is vicersal and clever but becomes too contrived in trying to discover different ways of having footage recorded from obscene angles. Smaller intimate moments like when the three friends pull pranks telepathically and when Dane’s character pulls a spider apart with his mind is when the movie has it’s brightest moments. I enjoyed Chronicle way more than I should have and surprisingly really enjoyed the three leads and where the story went, and serves as an interesting experiment, but please: No sequels, although I wouldn’t have minded a longer cut of the Jessie J – Price Tag singalong.

Rating: 7/10

Underworld: Awakening (2012) Review

 

Underworld: Awakening
Starring: Kate Beckinsale, Stephen Rea, Theo James, Michael Ealy, India Eisley
Directed by: Mans Marlind, Bjorn Stein
Rated: R 

I guess it’s the sign of a successful horror franchise when you are going into fourth and fifth sequels. Once a genre film becomes a hit why is it so necessary to produce mass sequels/prequels etc. A good, original, studio-backed horror concept is far in between so it saddens me to see those type of films become gutted and sucked dry for mass profit then quality cinema.

Underworld was an original entry into the horror/action genre that before Twilight took an original concept and added a Romeo and Juliet twist to a story about Vampires and Werewolves. Of course, after the initial success came so do the sequels. Where as the first film was light on action and tried to shoehorn multiple stories and vampire/werewolf backstory, the second was all-out action, the third went the prequel route and was a lot of medieval backstory. Now we arrive years later at the fourth sequel and where do we stand?

Underworld: Awakening is a cash-in pure and simple. The series would have been fine at three movies. I enjoyed all three at a mindless level but I really didn’t toss and turn at night wondering what happened to Selene and Michael. However I’m not gonna complain at an opportunity to see Kate Beckinsale in a tight leather jumpsuit. The movie picks up after the second movie where the humans discover the existence of vampires and werewolves and commence a “purge” of eradicating all of them. Years later the humans have successfully almost eliminated nearly all of vampires and werewolves and Selene wakes up from cryogenic freezing to find twelve years have gone back, Michael is missing, and a little girl has escaped the same lab as her. Dun, dun, dunnnnn.

The movie moves at a crisp hour and a half, and wastes no time with backstory, side characters, or subplots. It’s the Selene show pure and simple. Kate Beckinsale has now become the equivalent of Milla Jovovich in the Resident Evil films. Which is not necessarily a bad thing, but how much more acting range can you show when you are known for firing two handguns in tight leather. Beckinsale is completely serviceable in the role and is the anchor for the franchise. Scott Speedman who is known for playing Michael is for whatever reason MIA and replaced with a horrible stand-in and his existence is made awkward the entire film and ends up leaving the film open for another unnecessary cash-in. You can’t complain that the film is boring because it is mainly action set-pieces that are all well-done including a car chase involving werewolves chasing a speeding car and a nice ending fight sequence in a parking garage. In IMAX and 3D the movie is fine but doesn’t really benefit from having either or. Some shots are nicely choreographed to include 3D shots but I wasn’t wowed enough to recommend the 3D and think the film will hold up perfectly well in 2D. The story is done by newcomers Mans Marlind and Bjorn Stein and drench the film in traditional blue tint and bring a pretty stylized film that feels pretty identical to the previous installments.

Kate Beckinsale is the only actress to return to the franchise. Scott Speedman as I mentioned is MIA and great character actors like Bill Nighy, Michael Sheen, and Tony Curran are all dead so new blood (no pun intended) is brought in. The great character actor Stephen Rea is brought in as the main villain Dr. Jacob Lane and does an admirable job but he’s no Bill Nighy. Other new characters include Michael Ealy in a throwaway role as Detective Sebastian, and Theo James as David who actually is a very good sidekick to Selene’s character and personally made me prefer a potential love-story between them. India Eisley is a newcomer as Eve and does a great job as a child actor in a horror film and actually somewhat resembles Kate Beckinsale‘s character. It is a nice touch to add a human element to the franchise that previously never featured humans or police officers. Although I felt like more could have been done with the government purging of vampires/werewolves and their conflict, instead of focusing on Selene’s mission which never really leads anywhere or adds nothing new to the franchise overall besides adding new characters. Ultimately this film feels like a good half of a story including the vampire purge, the super-giant werewolves, Selene’s kid, and some decent action sequences, but more fills like filler to the story than actual progression. A bigger budget, closure to the Selene/Michael storyline, and more with the human/vampire conflict, this film could have been the kickstart to the more or less lifeless franchise. As it is, it’s just a first half to an unfinished storyline, but I guess as long as Beckinsale is still willing to kick ass in leather, my ass will be in a theater seat. If they don’t continue the franchise, there’s always a new Resident Evil film coming out this year.

RATING: 5/10