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THE BOOK OF ELI

Studio: Warner Bros.

Rated: R for some brutal violence and language

Starring: Denzel Washington, Mila Kunis, Gary Oldman, Malcolm McDowell and Michael Gambon

Directed by: The Hughes Brothers

What it’s about: Thirty years after an apocalyptic war, a lone man walks west with a book that holds the hope for the survival of mankind. When he stumbles into a decadent town, the man in charge wants the book for himself to help control the population.

What I liked: I’ve seen more than my fair share of science fiction post-apocalyptic action movies, and for the most part, The Book of Eli fits this bill. The fight scenes are the best part of the movie, happening with a ferocious (albeit ludicrous) pace. They are violent and bloody, even if a good amount of the blood is computer generated.

There’s also a fine cast with some pretty good acting going on. You can always count on Denzel Washington to deliver a good performance, and it doesn’t hurt to have Gary Oldman bringing up the rear as the corrupt ruler of the town. Sure, you’ve got Mila Kunis in the mix, but we can forgive the film for that.

What I didn’t: Even though this movie is good-intentioned, it’s an absolute mess on the writing front. I don’t want to drop any spoilers, so I’ll do my best to tip-toe around this house of cards that passes for a plot.

The premise is really shaky. A man walking west for thirty years? It just doesn’t make sense. Oh, you’ll find tons of religious significance in parts like this, but they come off as forced and annoying. And all the focus on the hot commodity of fresh water is just distracting. This makes the movie come off as Waterworld without the water.

The first 2/3 of this movie isn’t bad. But there’s a moment in the film which, like the jazz club scene in Spider-Man 3 or the rose garden scene from the first Transformers, sends it into bat-shit crazy territory. The movie suddenly becomes a comedy, then a jarring homage to Children of Men with more explosions. From this point on, the movie collapses upon itself.

There are people in the audience who will find the twists and “surprises” to be amazing. I found them silly, and upon reflection were nothing more than cheating the audience. Finally, this movie has the longest ending committed to film in a long time. I’m talking Return of the King long. I couldn’t get out of the theater fast enough when all was finally wrapped up.

Who is gonna like this movie: Moviegoers who are okay with bat-shit crazy.

Grade: C-

THE SPY NEXT DOOR

Studio: Lionsgate

Rated: PG for sequences of action violence and some mild rude humor.

Starring: Jackie Chan, Amber Valletta, Madeline Carroll, Will Shadley and Alina Foley

Directed by: Brian Levant

What it’s about: The Pacifier with Jackie Chan in glasses.

What I liked: I’ve been criticized many times before as someone who is too soft on kids’ movies. Well, here’s where I prove you all wrong. But first, some good points to the film.

With any Jackie Chan movie, you can find some fun acrobatic martial arts moves. The slapstick is laid on thick, which bodes well for the family audience. Plus, there was a couple good shots of bad guys getting racked in the nuts, which made my kids laugh more than once.

Oh, and at least this was more tolerable than The Karate Kid trailer we saw before it. That’s gonna be a big, fat turd, I can tell already.

What I didn’t: This whole formula of taking a big-time action star and making them a babysitter is just getting old. First Arnold in Kindergarten Cop, then Vin Diesel in the aforementioned The Pacifier. Now, Jackie Chan gets his shot. And I’m sad to say that Chan is the worst actor of the bunch. It’s like his English has gotten worse over the past fifteen years. You can barely understand what he says.

But it’s not Jackie Chan who is the problem with this movie. It’s the script and the characters. The kids are brats, falling quickly into cliches of the troubled teen, the nerdy son and the hyperactive (and creepy as hell) younger sister. The kids give line reads that are almost embarrassing.

The villains in the film are cut from whisper-thin cardboard and seem more at home in a film like The Cat from Outer Space rather than a modern film. Yeah, your kids are gonna like it, but you could better spend your 92 minutes taking a nap.

Who is gonna like this movie: Die-hard Jackie Chan fans and kids.

Grade: D

THE LOVELY BONES [Previously published on December 11, 2009]

Studio: DreamWorks

Rated: PG-13 for mature thematic material involving disturbing violent content and images, and some language.

Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Rachel Weisz, Susan Sarandon, Stanley Tucci and Saoirse Ronan

Directed by: Peter Jackson

What it’s about: Back in the 70s, fourteen-year-old Susie Salmon (Saoirse Ronan) is murdered by a man in her neighborhood. The event tears her family apart, with her mother retreating emotionally and her father obsessing about finding the killer. Meanwhile, in “the in-between,” Susie finds herself in limbo, trying to let go of her former life while trying to communicate with her family and help them solve her murder.

What I liked: There is a beauty to this film that works on several levels. Rather than being a crime thriller, it’s a movie about letting go, and it definitely makes its points about that. Not only does Susie have to let go of her time on Earth, but her family has to let go of her memory to a degree. As a parent, this kind of film can really hit close to home.

The Lovely Bones is very well acted, and the in-between scenes are quite inspired. In particular, Stanley Tucci brings a very disturbing performance as Susie’s killer, and the film manages to get inside his head. Also bringing a good performance is Susan Sarandon as Susie’s lush grandmother who comes to help the family out in their time of need.

What I didn’t: Okay, this isn’t as long and drawn out as King Kong or the Lord of the Rings movies, but Peter Jackson is still a glutton for his own art on the screen. The movie runs a bit too long with scenes breathing more than they need to, resulting in a running time north of two hours. And don’t get me started on his unnecessary cameo that makes M. Night Shyamalan look humble in his desire to put himself in his movies.

I realize that there were some serious challenges in bringing the movie to life, and Jackson does a good job conveying the abstract elements of the film. However, it just doesn’t always click. Having not read the book, I think I figured out what was going on, but I was left confused by how knowledge seemed to pass from Susie to her family.

Who is gonna like this movie: Fans of the book who won’t mind some changes.

Grade: B-


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