Kevin Carr’s Weekly Report Card: September 2, 2011

This week, Fat Guy Kevin Carr readies for a Labor Day vacation at a lake house surrounded by bloodthirsty sharks. Once dinner is over for the little beasties, he goes undercover in 1960s-era East Berlin to help a bunch of emotionally brittle Mossad agents to kidnap a Nazi war criminal. Unfortunately, all they uncover is dozens of hours of video recordings from a lost NASA moon landing. So Kevin decides to edit all of this footage together into a feature film and hock it to the Weinsteins, convincing them that it really happened… or did it?

Want to hear what Kevin has to say on the Fat Guys at the Movies podcast? Click here to listen as Jared Zimney from Movies in the Mancave joins him in the Magical Studio in the Sky to chat about the new movies of the week.

Studio: Focus Features

Rated: R for some violence and language

Starring: Helen Mirren, Sam Worthington, Jessica Chastain, Marton Csokas and Ciarán Hinds

Directed by: John Madden

What it’s about: Three Mossad agents in 1966 travel to East Berlin to track down a Nazi war criminal with the hopes of bringing him home for justice. However, things don’t go as planned, and the trio must face the consequences of their actions more than 30 years later.

What I liked: This time of year seems to be when Hollywood likes to release the grown up international spy thrillers. They did it with The American last year and won the weekend. Now, Focus Features hopes for a repeat with The Debt. The elements are all there… a good looking cast of decent-to-great actors, a dangerous setting and some twists and turns. When the spy thing is going down, it’s pretty cool. Too bad that only comprises about 15 percent of the film.

What I didn’t: I don’t know what it’s like to be a spy, in Mossad in the 1960s or today in the modern world. However, I’d like to think things are more professional than how they’re portrayed in The Debt. These agents are presented as the best of the best, the young elite who are the future of Mossad. Unfortunately, as more of the movie unfolds, they’re presented as unprofessional, emotionally brittle head cases who are just as likely to screw in the bushes as they are to excel in hand-to-hand combat.

So very little of this film is actual spy tactics, and the rest is a weepy melodrama featuring pretty, young actors who whine and cry a lot. Sure, Jessica Chastain does a decent job as the young female spy, but Sam Worthington brings the whole story to a screeching halt with his wooden, can’t-wait-for-the-Avatar-sequels acting.

I do hope no real Mossad agent sees this film, ‘cause it makes them look terrible.

Who is gonna like this movie: Someone who wants to see the Grey’s Anatomy model of drama applied to the international spy thriller.

Grade: D

Studio: Rogue

Rated: PG-13 for violence and terror, disturbing images, sexual references, partial nudity, language and thematic material

Starring: Sara Paxton, Dustin Milligan, Chris Carmack, Joel David Moore and Katharine McPhee

Directed by: David R. Ellis

What it’s about: A group of college students head out to a lake house in Louisiana for a fun weekend of water sports. However, they soon discover the lake is infested with sharks. And all of the sharks are in 3D.

What I liked: I was behind the concept of this film when I first heard about it, and I was actually somewhat interested in seeing it. Then I saw it, and aside from watching Sara Paxton in a bikini through most of the film and a fairly decent side-boob shot of Katharine McPhee, I hated the film.

Though at least you don’t have to watch Sara Paxton get raped in this movie… or to see an old woman fart in her face.

If you do find the will to check this movie out, wait for the post-credit sequence. I don’t want to give anything away, but it will melt your brain… and not in a good way.

What I didn’t: Look, I liked David R. Ellis’ sillyfest Snakes on a Plane. I’m all for self-aware horror films like Final Destination 3, the Scream series and even Eli Roth’s movies Cabin Fever and Hostel. But Shark Night was too aware, and not very funny about it.

While Ellis was in essence spoofing his own genre, his jokes fell flat on delivery, or they were buried in attempted melodrama (which I’m not fully convinced he believed was meant to be silly) that the humor never emerged. Just because someone means to be funny does not mean that it will be funny. The Farrelly Brothers proved that earlier this year with Hall Pass. So think of this as Hall Pass… with sharks… and less pooping.

Then there’s the weak-ass PG-13 rating. I thoroughly enjoyed Piranha 3D last year because Alexandre Aja understood when to wink and nod at the audience and when to deliver the gore. But I don’t think an R rating would have saved this movie. The glue just wasn’t there, and the film just doesn’t work as a comedy, horror movie or spoof (unless you love spoofs like Meet the Spartans).

Shark Night is a movie that cannot be spoiled because every moment, every beat, every plot point is so predictable that even the jump-scares are no surprise.

Who is gonna like this movie: People who thought Ellis’ The Final Destination was the greatest horror movie ever made.

Grade: F

Studio: Dimension

Rated: PG-13

Starring: Warren Christie and Lloyd Owen

Directed by: Gonzalo López-Gallego

What it’s about: This is the absolutely true made-up story about the 18th Apollo lunar mission. You know… the real fake moon landing, and the reason we never returned.

What I liked: This movie is not going to be for everyone, and I can see where many are classifying it as dull and boring. A good chunk of it is a play-by-play of a moon mission from the crew’s point of view. It’s a found-footage movie, like The Blair Witch Project, Cloverfield orParanormal Activity, so it has all the foibles that come with these.

However, I was oddly intrigued by it. Maybe because we don’t see many movies like this. Even though found footage is the new black in Hollywood, this takes a different angle. Like Leprechaun in Space, a different setting can make things just a smidge cooler.

Apollo 18 is an understated thriller, using subtle images to build atmosphere. There are not a lot of truly scary moments, but it does have a sense of eeriness that I enjoyed. It’s not heavy on the alien threat, but it’s there, and there is a mystery to unfold. Where I was rolling my eyes at every turn in Shark Night, I was pleasantly engaged in Apollo 18.

What I didn’t: Like most found-footage movies, Apollo 18 has some major pacing issues. It could have been more effective as a 50-minute non-short, non-feature. So there are moments that drag, and it becomes a bit aimless in the middle.

It’s also problematic that the leads are pretty recognizable actors, unlike those in The Blair Witch Project and Paranormal Activity (well, at least the first film). Recognizing the main astronaut as a star of a heavily advertised series on Syfy doesn’t help suspend the disbelief needed to entertain the “what if” factor.

Who is gonna like this movie: People who like found-footage movies with a slow build and a bit of nostalgia for the Apollo space program.

Grade: B-

Kevin Carr crawled from the primordial ooze in the early 1970s. He grew up watching movies to the point of irritation for his friends and was a font of useless movie knowledge until he decided to put that knowledge to good use. Now, Kevin is a nationally syndicated critic, heard on dozens of radio stations around the country, and his reviews appear in a variety of online outlets. Kevin is also a proud member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association (BFCA), the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS), and the Central Ohio Film Critics Association (COFCA).

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