Tuesday, December 10, 2013


I will freely admit that I am a Jason Statham fan. I’ve seen nearly all his films (even the direct to video ones) regardless of the quality. Yeah, most are poop. Some are decent. Rarely do I find one that is absolutely rad (Death Race, Safe, Transporter 2, Snatch). His newest endeavor, Homefront, falls into the middle category.

Retired DEA agent Phil Broker (Jason Statham) moves to a rural Louisiana town with his young daughter (Izabela Vidovic) for some peace and quiet. Due to a series of misunderstandings he becomes the target of a deranged meth cook (James Franco) who has alerted a few of the criminals Broker put away to his current location.
Let me get this out of the way first, Statham can actually act. He proved it with his outstanding performances in The Bank Job and Safe and he continues to show off that he has what it takes to play serous roles instead of just generic action oriented ones. I really liked him in Homefront despite the fact that at the twenty minute mark he seemed to give up on his American accent and reverted back to his usual British brogue. And of course when it comes time to whoop some ass he always delivers. His chemistry with Izabela Vidovic, who plays his daughter Maddy, is tops and I totally believed that they were father and daughter. If he can continue to hone his dramatic skills I can someday see him moving away from action films and into some more dramatic fare.

I also liked James Franco’s very low key performance as meth cook Gator. I usually cannot stand the guy (except in 127 Hours, Pineapple Express and This is the End), and I was expecting him to go completely bat shit crazy over the top with this part. Surprisingly he did the exact opposite in giving Gator a sort of slow burn intensity that really came off as creepy and frightening since you never knew what angle he was going to come from. You could see the gears turning in his head, and I thought that was pretty cool and made him out to be a very scary and unpredictable villain.
The rest of the cast is so-so. I have never liked Kate Bosworth (IMO she is the absolute worst Lois Lane EVER in Superman Returns) and apparently neither do casting agents. I haven’t seen her in anything of note for years (ever see The Warrior’s Way?), and for her to turn up in as a redneck meth addict in a Statham movie pretty much shows how desperate for a part she really was. She looks like a meth head, but didn’t convince me she was one. Winona Ryder pretty much slums it here and collects a paycheck as Gator’s on/off girlfriend. Her eyes looked like they were going to pop out of her head most of the time, so maybe she went method for this part. All I know is that she stunk. Clancy Brown looks bored as the town sheriff and the rest of the townsfolk do as well. I did enjoy Omar Benson Miller as Teedo. He’s naturalistic and I actually gave a shit about his character when the shit went down in the end.

The script by none other than Sylvester Stallone (based on a book by Chuck Logan) is decent. It has all the right ingredients for a good action drama and delivers on all the promises it makes early on. My problem is that I don’t like films where it’s about stupid and ignorant people doing stupid and ignorant things for its entire length. The redneck characters are annoying and completely unlikable even after they sort of change their attitudes toward the main character. Sure Gator remains a douchehammer for the whole film, but most of the others are supposed to come off as bound by some immature and outdated sense of family pride that really rode my nerves. If I was supposed to come to like these asshats by the end of the movie I have to say that it was a failed mission. Completely.
Director Gary Fleder (Kiss the Girls, Impostor, Don’t Say a Word, Runaway Jury) keeps things on the DL for the most part. It’s a low key film without any flash or crazy camera tricks. It’s as straightforward as they come and I assume he didn’t want this to turn into a parody as he made it. If it even remotely went into cheese territory it would lose the audience completely and I was happy that he went in that direction. He also keeps the action (when there is any) in wide shots so we can see what’s going on. He isn’t completely successful with his actors, but at least they didn’t suck. They were just underwhelming.

One aspect I really enjoyed was that we are shown the effect the actions the parents have on their children. We get a good sense that the inciting incident, Maddy being bullied in the schoolyard and fighting back, was taken a bit too seriously and leads to some horrible events of retaliation that not only effects Maddy when people come to kill her and her father, but the boy who initially bullied her as well when his family shows their complete disdain for any form of human decency. The shot of the bully listening to his meth head mother arguing with Gator on their front porch and realizing that all of this drama and violence was caused by his one moment of acting like an asshole on the playground makes for my favorite moment of the film.
In the end Homefront is a decent flick. It has what you expect from a Statham film (martial arts/action) and what you expect from something Stallone has written (‘Murica!). It doesn’t’ mix all that well in some cases, but you could definitely do a lot worse than this entertaining waste of 90 minutes. I recommend it, but only if you have a very high tolerance for f-bombs. I swear, there were at least three dropped every minute.

2.5 out of 5

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

As I’ve started many, many times before in past reviews – I do not bring baggage with me when I see a film based on a novel, comic book or video game that I like. If I want the book, I’ll read the damned book. I want the movie to work on its own without needing to have prior knowledge of the property as well as being the best movie that it can possibly be. Anyone that feels the need to constantly compare the original property to the film version should just stay home and shut up. But that’s just me.

So here we are with the sequel to The Hunger Games, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire. Yes, I have read the book and enjoyed it to an extent. I did feel it was the weakest book in the series because, to be completely honest, it’s simply a rehash of the first novel with some minor tweaks to the formula. Not surprisingly I feel the movie follows suit.
Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) and Peeta (Josh Hutcherson), victors of the 74th Hunger Games, are under the impression that they are out of harm’s way. That turns out to not be the case when tributes for the 75th Hunger Games, known as the Quarter Quell, will be drawn from past winners. As talk of a rebellion begins to spread throughout the Districts Katniss and Peeta must once again fight for their lives.

I will admit, new series director Francis Lawrence (Constantine, I Am Legend) does a much better job of bringing the world described by Susanne Collins to life than previous director Gary Ross. Gone is the annoying shaky/floaty cam nonsense and the shots now linger a little longer to allow the audience to soak in all the details. His sense of style is also a better fit, especially during the action scenes which are much more logically shot and edited so that they make sense.
Acting is quite stellar across the board. Of course Jennifer Lawrence is phenomenal as Katniss. She is turning into one of the premiere actors of her generation and she makes this character insanely likable even though she isn’t written that way. Josh Hutcherson is also great as Peeta, giving his character a slow burn romance angle that you can always see bubbling beneath the surface. As always Liam Hemsworth gets the short end of the stick yet again as Gale. His character is barely in the film, but he definitely makes his presence known. The same goes for Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks and especially Lenny Kravitz as Cinna. His big scene at the halfway point broke my heart as much as it did when I read it over a year ago.

The newcomers to the thespian fold are all extremely well cast. I especially liked Jenna Malone as the fiery Johanna and Philip Seymour Hoffman as Plutarch Havensbee. Sam Clafin’s Finnick Odair didn’t quite work for me since I never bought into his shtick. It was nice to see some familiar faces in the tributes, such as Daniel Bernhardt (The Matrix Reloaded, Mortal Kombat: Conquest) and Alan Ritchson (Blue Mountain State).
The story is also paced more evenly thanks to screenwriters Simon Beaufoy and Michael Arndt. It never gets too boring during the dramatic moments and never goes over the top during the action beats. The problem isn’t with anything they did. They actually managed to stay extremely close to the book which will make the eyes of the fans roll back as they blow their collective loads. The problem is with the source material.

Like I said earlier, this flick (and the book before it) is a simple retread of the original and nothing more. Another movie, another Hunger Games and regardless of who is involved in it this time and the circumstances surrounding it the fact remains that it’s yet another Hunger Games. Been there, done that. Nothing new could have been thought up by Collins for her follow-up? I would have preferred to see the beginnings of the rebellion from the point of view of Katniss living her life of pseudo-luxury in District 12 while dealing with the repercussions of her big lie than another Hunger Games. But no, the story goes the easy route and repeats itself.
And to make matters worse the film is set up in a similar style to The Matrix Reloaded in that it’s set up as the middle film in a trilogy in the same way. Even the final shot is exactly the same. And the film just ends. We get a big revelation and BAM! End credits. Lame. I want some fucking closure, not another cliffhanger! It’s a practice that Hollywood has been employing for a number of years now to set up franchises, but we all know there is yet another book to be adapted so the need for a cliffhanger is completely unnecessary.

In the end I was as let down by this movie as I was the book. I’m not comparing, I’m just stating a fact. I’m not saying the movie is a disaster or anything. I’m just saying that it could have been much more than a rehash of itself, and that is more disappointing to me than any other aspect of the film. Not that any of those other aspects are actually complaint worthy. In fact this is a better made movie than the first by leaps and bounds. The story is just missing something...


3 out of 5