She Wants Me (2012)

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She Wants Me

A neurotic writer working on his new film gets into a tricky situation when an A-list actress shows interest in the role intended for his girlfriend.

This movie was so small, despite having a couple of formerly big name stars (Hillary Duff, Charlie Sheen, Debra Jo Rupp, Wayne Knight…), that it seems no critics felt an inclination to review it. Going by the audience reaction on Rotten Tomatoes, those critics didn’t miss much.

I found it a little more appealing than that, but not much. Fairly disjointed, often absurd. I kept hoping it could become…something. Just when I would start to think it found its footing, up would pop an over-the-top, out of place scene to knock it off.

I wouldn’t recommend going out of your way to see this one, but if it ever shows up on cable late at night, and you are bored or suffering with insomnia, go ahead and give it a viewing.


Rotten Tomatoes: Critics N/A; Audience 41%

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Seeking a Friend for the End of the World (2012)

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Seeking a Friend for the End of the World

As an asteroid nears Earth, a man finds himself alone after his wife leaves in a panic. He decides to take a road trip to reunite with his highschool sweetheart. Accompanying him is a neighbor who inadvertently puts a wrench in his plan.

Apparently, the primary activities pursued by mankind when faced with their ultimate destruction are sex and drugs. Lots of drugs. Except for Dodge Pederson (Steve Carrell), who we are to see as so schlubby and milquetoasty he drowns his troubles with codeine-laced cough syrup.

Somehow, Dodge finds himself on a road trip with Penny (Keira Knightley) in search of a lost love. Anyone familiar with road trip movies knows the odd couple will eventually fall for each other. This couple’s differences should be insurmountable (despite the whole “end of the world” thing) but there is a sweet chemistry between Knightley and Carrell that draws you in.

There are a few laughs and some fun cameos, but for the most part this movie is just…blah. It isn’t bad, but it certainly isn’t ‘good’, either.

Can’t think of anyone I would particularly recommend it to, but can’t think of anyone whom I would advise to avoid it. Guess I’ll give it a 2 1/2 because that is middle of the road – which is exactly how this film left me feeling.


Rotten Tomatoes: Critics 55%; Audience 56%

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Chernobyl Diaries (2012)

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Chernobyl Diaries

Six tourists hire an extreme tour guide who takes them to the abandoned city Pripyat, the former home to the workers of the Chernobyl nuclear reactor. During their exploration, they soon discover they are not alone.

The idea could have worked as a tense thriller or campy horror flick, if it had been properly handled. Unfortunately, the version we got is neither. The characters are cliched and flat, the ‘scares’ are of the everything-is-quiet-and-something-jumps-out-BOO variety.  It all wraps up in a predictable and unsatisfying end.

Get 1 of 5 only because of Uri, the tour guide, and zombies.

 


Rotten Tomatoes: Critics 20%; Audience 30%

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Red Dog (2011)

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Red Dog

Based on the legendary true story of the Red Dog who united a disparate local community while roaming the Australian outback in search of his long lost master.

I love that D is so open to quirky titles he finds on the shelves at Blockbuster. Longtime readers will see a pattern of small movies I had never heard of, that D brought home to “check out”, that we end up loving. Red Dog is no exception.

Unlike some animal movies that tug at your heartstrings, this one lets you know up front the ending is sad. The story begins with the discovery that somehow Red Dog has been poisoned with strychnine. In a way, that knowledge lets you off the hook a bit, but it also makes some of the following scenes that much more poignant.

As the residents of Dampier gather at the club where the veterinarian is tending to their furry friend, they share stories of how they met Red and how he impacted their lives. Confidante, matchmaker, lifesaver…Red filled many roles. He truly represents all the wonderful canine qualities that make me glad humans decided dogs should be domesticated.

In fact, though the entire cast is competent and colorful, a big part of the magic comes from the perfect casting of our hero. If you don’t fall for Red (and Koko, who plays him) you have no heart.

Familiar faces include Rachael Taylor, Josh Lucas, and Keisha Castle-Hughes (all grown up). I don’t think you could make a movie in Australia without including Bill Hunter; always good for a smile, he delivered here in a very brief appearance (sadly, his final film role).

As they say; you’ll laugh, you’ll cry. You’ll also enjoy the ride – and you may want to go find yourself an Australian Kelpie to love. Great small movie for young and old.


Rotten Tomatoes: Critics 81%; Audience 82%

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Atlas Shrugged Part II (2012)

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Atlas Shrugged Part II

With the global economy on the brink of collapse, Dagny Taggart discovers what might be the answer to a mounting energy crisis and races against the clock to prevent the motor of the World from being stopped for good.

Who Is John Galt?As I said when I reviewed 2016: When it comes to political movies of the Right, you can generally tell if they hit their mark by the critics’ reaction. The “independent” critics show their true colors by panning the movie for making points with which they disagree, not the quality of the film itself. So it is with the Atlas Shrugged trilogy; both installments released so far have been panned by the film critics, most of whom out themselves by criticizing the “message” rather than the movie. Both installments have rated highly among the audience, however, perhaps also more for the message than the movie.

On that front, Part II does a much better job with the message. It is a cleaner, smoother, more entertaining movie. Though in some ways it suffers by comparison.

Before I bore you with my nit-picks over casting, I should share what is good here.

  • The story is better, and could stand on it’s own even without Part I to set the stage.
  • The higher budget is definitely in evidence (though some effects are still…iffy).
  • The flow is smoother, allowing Rand’s speeches to seem a part of the narrative, rather than a narrative of their own.
  • The cliffhanger is more intriguing, leaving me wanting to see what happens next
  • The message is tailored more to our current world; whereas Part I gave us a mysterious distant-future-sometime* with cities in ruin, Part II could be happening next year. (Yes, that makes for a continuity issue)

Because it was a better movie, and I will recommend it to the same people in my circle, Atlas Shrugged: Part II gets 4 1/2 on the WOM Scale.


And now, casting. My impression leaving the theater: Stronger movie, weaker cast.

I was disappointed when I initially heard they had reworked the entire cast. I tried to brush it off, hoping that with the increased budget they were bringing in more seasoned actors. Unfortunately, in almost every case, the replacement actor makes a diminished impression. This is most apparent when it comes to Dagny Taggart, our heroine, and Lillian Rearden, the conniving wife of our hero.

Taylor Schilling may have been simply a passable Dagny, but she was at least passably likeable – and relatable. Samantha Mathis is … not. Her Dagny is drawn and rough, conveying every emotion as some odd variation of a pouting grimace. I realize Dagny has the weight of the world on her shoulders, but portraying her as unflinchingly sullen denies us glimpsing the fire & light inside her. I found I was less invested in her and the fight she was waging.

I’m guessing they may have been unable to bring Rebecca Wisocky back as Lillian Rearden; I can think of no other reason to forgo one of the brightest spots from Part I. Wisocky brought a gleeful edge to Mrs Reardon that Kim Rhodes lacks (and let’s face it, a little humor is welcome in a Rand tale).

Grant Bowler was a much better Hank Rearden if only because he was less of a caricature version than his replacement. Our new Hank, Jason Beghe, would have been fine if cast originally. However, as a new edition, his delivery seems just a bit like a gravelly voiced impersonation – and the chemistry between Dagny & Hank is just not there.

The new Eddie Willers, Richard T. Jones, was a positive move. As much as I enjoyed Edi Gathegi in Part I, this Eddie is much more commanding – and more convincingly protective.

The other casting changes mostly created issues with continuity, making it even more difficult to keep track of the plethora of characters.

Please, producers, if you plan on presenting a story in “III” parts, do your best to secure the same talent each time. It makes it so much easier on your audience

* The DVD says “The year is 2016”, but it felt much more distant


Rotten Tomatoes: Critics 0%; Audience 84%


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Red Lights (2012)

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Red Lights

Psychologist Margaret Matheson and her assistant study paranormal activity, which leads them to investigate a world-renowned psychic who has resurfaced years after his toughest critic mysteriously passed away.

I know D picked this off the shelf because of the stellar cast; Robert De Niro and Sigourney Weaver (generally reliable in everything they do), Cillian Murphy (I’ve been a fan since 28 Days Later…), Toby Jones (you may not recognize the name, but you’ll know his face), and the adorable Elizabeth Olsen (Younger sister of the Olsen twins, cuter, better actress. She’s been making a splash lately. That’s her->)

The Seattle Times seems to appreciate that cast, too:

Weaver is forbiddingly grim and focused as Matheson, and Murphy is the personification of haunted unease as her colleague. De Niro, in one of his most effective performances in years, is at once diabolical and silken in manner as Silver. His character may be blind, but he gives the impression of being able to see into the souls of his adversaries.

I was not blown away by De Niro’s performance but, considering some of the roles he has tackled lately, it may well be “one of his most effective performances in years

There has been a glut of movies celebrating paranormal activity recently, whether to scare us or enlighten us. What sets this film apart is the skeptical focus it puts on psychics and faith healers, pulling back the curtain on their “gifts”.

Perhaps this viewpoint held extra intrigue for me, a longtime fan of The Amazing Randi and his skeptics shows. As much as I enjoy as good magician, and prefer not to know their tricks, I appreciate being reminded that it doesn’t hurt to maintain a healthy skepticism in life.

I wish they had given us a bit more along that line but, once they set the debunking premise, I suppose we didn’t need more. They also give us enough of Simon Silver to know he is creepy, and could be dangerous – at least to our heroes. Though the reason for the ‘danger’ is merely glossed over.

One of the highlights early in the movie is Eugenio Mira doing an over-the-top, cabaret impression of Robert De Niro in a flashback scene of the young Simon Silver. It’s as if director Rodrigo Cortés wanted to give us a bit of fun so found a nightclub impressionist and turned him loose. I found it an amusing nod to his star’s stature.

Red Lights manages to entertain and hold your attention to nearly the end, when it all goes horribly wrong.

The ending, alas, erases much of what was good in the movie. In attempting to pull off a clever twist, they expose the flaws & weakness in the story. To steal a quote, “The only way to pull a rabbit out of a hat is to put it there first.

Spoilers may be in the rest of my review, so don’t scroll if you don’t want to know…


Rotten Tomatoes: Critics 29%; Audience 36%




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The Snowtown Murders (2011)

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The Snowtown Murders

Based on true events, 16 year-old Jamie falls in with his mother’s new boyfriend and his crowd of self-appointed neighborhood watchmen, a relationship that leads to a spree of torture and murder.

Daniel Henshall
Yet another based-on-a-true-story horror flick. Hard to believe, but the actual events are even more horrific* than this movie reveals. What the movie reveals is graphic enough – and difficult to watch.

The movie is slow, especially compared to the standard American thriller. The pace dulls the sense of growing menace a bit, but the cast does a fair job keeping us on edge.

Particularly good is Daniel Henshall as John Bunting. We meet him as an amiable suitor to young Jamie’s mother, and he seems a welcome, stable addition to the family. Bunting presents as a caring protector, though we see his darkness simmering just below the surface. His emerging psychopathy is chillingly portrayed by this talented actor.

If this were a work of fiction, I would have criticized it for having a “lazy script”, merely throwing in bits of blood & gore to shock the audience. Knowing the true story, however, I find I am grateful for the director’s restraint in merely showing bits of blood & gore to convey what was much, much greater horror.

This is not an enjoyable film. It is not one I would ever watch again. From a critical standpoint, however, it was well done and accomplished what a movie should – it told the story. It also left me especially disturbed in the knowledge that Bunting was able to infect those around him with his evil; ultimately 6 people were directly involved in the murders and many more knew but didn’t report them. One violent psychopath is scary, a pack of them is terrifying. Whether they were charmed by him into participation, or intimidated into it, I don’t know – either way, my skin will be crawling at the thought for a long time.

In my circle, this isn’t the type of story that is well received, so only 2 on the scale. You can see by the Rotten Tomatoes numbers below how well reviewed it was by critics & audience alike.

* The documentary on YouTube was made prior to the release of many sealed documents. Therefore, it is possible some info made it into the movie that was not referenced in the documentary.


Rotten Tomatoes: Critics 86%; Audience 70%

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