Mini Reviews: Escape From Tomorrow, Haunter, 2 Guns, Thor: The Dark World and More!

thor2_posterThor: The Dark World – Following THE AVENGERS, my excitement for new Marvel movies has both grown and lessened. I can’t wait to get more of the adventures of my favorite characters (Iron Man and Captain American) but I also never really cared if I saw more Thor adventures. I don’t hate the character, in fact I actually gave the first THOR a pretty favorable ranking. In retrospect I would probably scale down my review of the first film having tried to rewatch it and barely be able to get halfway through before losing interest.

It didn’t bode well for my viewing of THOR: THE DARK WORLD, but I did my best to view the sequel with virgin eyes- pure and unburdened by my preconceptions of what to expect from the experience. The result being that I again didn’t hate the film, but it did nothing to make me second guess my thoughts on seeing more Thor sequels in the future.

Frankly if not for Tom Hiddleston as Loki, I’m not real sure if I’d have committed to watching the sequel at all. That of course is not entirely fair because Chris Hemsworth actually makes a pretty great Thor and he does a great job at bringing some of the comedic aspects of the character to life. Beyond the funny moments though I don’t particularly find almost anything else about THOR: THE DARK WORLD at all interesting or exacting.

Natalie Portman and Hemsworth I suppose do have some of the chemistry I liked from the first film, but to a lesser extent this time around. The villain didn’t really do it for me and the action while improved a bit from the first film still just doesn’t quite measure up to anything from THE AVENGERS.

It might be unfair to compare this stand alone hero feature to the ensemble, but it is what it is. THOR: THE DARK WORLD isn’t all doom and gloom, it has some great humor and decent action. It does however lack any real characterization that I can really latch onto and the central villain is weak at best. My indifference towards this particular sequel does not dampen my excitement for other Marvel properties venturing down the sequel path, but does almost completely extinguish any lingering flame I had for any additional Thor adventures.

Rating: C

escapetomorrow_posterEscape From Tomorrow – This is a real bummer- I was really hoping to report back here and be able to say I’ve witnessed a modern cult classic. Sadly, if this does indeed become a cult hit I will be greatly disappointed in the crowds that think this is worth that kind of tag. Maybe that was my downfall from the start- that I expected so much from this film based on early reports and 20 minutes in I was sincerely questioning my life choices.

ESCAPE FROM TOMORROW is about a middle aged father, Jon, who is on his last day if vacation at Disneyworld. Before the family if four head out to the park he gets bad news over the phone that he’s lost his job and neglects to inform his wife. While walking around the park Jon is infatuated with a pair of incredibly young gals and spends most of the day following them around, but he also begins hallucinating impossible images while on rides. That’s pretty well it before we get into some last act bizarre twists and turns that make little to no sense.

This is a gimmick movie to me and little else. It was filmed at Disneyworld without permission, featuring actual footage of the park, people in it, employees in their Disney character costumes and isn’t all that flattering of the park in general. The overall effect is about as exciting as watching your friend’s home video footage of their vacation wit a few off kilter effects and bizarre moments thrown in- mind you I’m talking about a friend that you probably don’t even like that much.

Minus a few cool shots near the beginning of the film when Jon first starts hallucinating this is a bore through and through. As the film “builds” to a finale the goal seems to simply be weird for the sole purpose of being weird and any message that anyone wants to extract from this I feel is someone trying entirely to hard to make an intensely mediocre film way better than it actually is. ESCAPE FROM TOMORROW is something I wish I had escaped from yesterday.

Rating: D-

haunter_posterHaunter – Director Vincenzo Natali has a knack for sci-fi weirdness, but it couldn’t help but get excited for a full on dip into something a little simpler- a ghost story. I should have known that even Natali wouldn’t take the easy road and settle for all the normal bump-in-the-night terrors and instead tries his hand at something a little different with HAUNTER.

Abigail Breslin stars as Lisa who appears to be your typical teenage girl, but she isn’t. She is living the exact same day over and over and over and she is the only one that seems to notice. Her problem being that she’s a ghost trapped by the power of an entity that threatens her current existence if she continues to push back and attempt to make contact with the living souls of the house she haunts.

Breslin has never really had a movie rest almost entirely on her shoulders before and while she’s not always up for the task she is strong in her role. The entity that has her character trapped is played by Steven McHattie and he is undeniably creepy in his role- to the point I was begging for more of his snake-like presence.

The film is not overly scary nor does it strike any emotional chords with Breslin’s storyline, but there are plenty of creepy moments and interesting twists and turns to keep things moving. Natali’s style as a director suites the film perfectly and instantly gives the film a cold yet inviting feeling for the viewer to get pulled into the story.

HAUNTER is definitely not your typical ghost story, but it does take it’s unique premise into some familiar territory. Between Breslin and McHattie the performances are more than adequate and Natali’s style surrounds them with plenty of visually pleasing haunted house nooks and crannies. HAUNTER could definitely use a bit more shocks and screams, but it is still a pretty great little ghost movie for anyone tired of PARANORMAL ACTIVITY sequels.

Rating: B+

2guns_poster2 Guns – Going into a movie with zero expectations does wonders with one’s enjoyment. In the case of 2 GUNS it raised what I assumed would but a complete waste of time Hollywood action sludge piece into an immensely entertaining little action comedy.

The film stars Denzel Washington as a cop and Mark Wahlberg as a military man both undercover working a sting against a crime syndicate and eventual come into each other’s crosshairs. When they are forced to work together in order to claw their way out of the deep water they’ve found themselves in the results are often hilarious and tons of fun to watch.

I expected absolutely nothing out of this as just a last minute rental hoping for some brainless entertainment. I got exactly that as I’d never argue a case for this being a spectacular action film or a laugh a minute comedy, but the mix works far better than I ever would have guessed it would when I forced myself to pick it up.

2 GUNS was more than just a pleasant surprise and serves as some pretty faced paced laughs and thrills that does overstay the good will it built for itself during the first two thirds of the film. Washington and Wahlberg have great chemistry and I would be completely open and eager to see a franchise built around their characters.

Rating: B+

todolist_posterThe To-Do List – I really like Aubrey Plaza and it is refreshing to see her in a starring role. I enjoyed her part in SAFETY NOT GUARENTEED, but that felt much more like an ensemble film than a starring vehicle for her. THE TO-DO LIST doesn’t quite take full advantage of what I like about her, but it’s still an adequate piece of comedy entertainment- end glowing recommendation.

Plaza plays a high school senior looking forward to college when she attends a graduation party and gets the warm fuzzies for a good looking guy- a feeling she’s never quite had before. She makes it a summer goal to get more sexually experienced so that she can lose her virginity to the school stud before she goes off for college.

Not much to say about this one, for a raunchy teen comedy this is pretty light on the raunch, but does deliver some pretty decent laughs. Sure there are a lot of sex related jokes and some gross out moments, but nothing you probably haven’t seen in several other R rated teen comedies. Plaza is funny enough to carry the film to the end, but not quite as great as I’d come to expect from her in the past.

THE TO-DO LIST is perfectly acceptable entertainment if you’ve got a couple hours to spare and have watched almost every other highly rated comedy out there. This is just a few steps down from being great, but there’s no shame in being simply okay if you’ve got time to kill. I might be slightly underselling the film if to just color your expectations, but going in not expecting much might make the film more enjoyable for some. THE TO-DO LIST is a raunchy teen comedy that tramples familiar ground, but does it with almost the right amount of flair.

Rating: B-

cptphillips_posterCaptain Phillips – Tom Hanks has turned in his fair share of good performances over the years. However, after CAPTAIN PHILLIPS I couldn’t help but be reminded on his accent in CATCH ME IF YOU CAN, which for whatever reason kind of threw me for a loop when it first came to gathering my thoughts on this tense little ride.

Taken from real life events as a crew of Somali pirates take over an American cargo ship. Hanks plays the titular character, the ships captain who does everything he can to prepare his crew for the inevitable hijacking including surrendering himself as a hostage to save his crew.

Movies based on true events are always a little iffy for me, since it’s usually very easy to tell if the filmmakers are being forcefully manipulative with emotional situations. The same can be said for CAPTAIN PHILLIPS, but most in the last few scenes. In spite of the emotional manipulation though, the power of the scenes cannot be understated as the tension ramps up to almost unbearable heights- especially anyone unfamiliar with how it ends.

Hanks indeed puts in a tour de force performance, one that I’m not sure I can call my favorite of the year, but powerful nonetheless. It’s often hard to distinguish what has been taken without liberties from the real life events so the overall impact when the credits roll is only slightly suspect since the film is so tense that truth or fiction it’s a roller coaster of a film.

CAPTAIN PHILLIPS is a true events thriller sure to keep you on the edge of your seat even if you question what is purely true about the story as a whole. Regardless of ones knowledge of this story it is a film experience that brings the tension in heavy doses and barely gives the audience time to breath until the very end.

Rating: B+

escapeplan_posterEscape Plan – Ugh. That’s really the only words I had to describe what I’d seen when this film ended. It’s not overly terrible by any means, but there is absolutely nothing memorable about it. ESCAPE PLAN essentially seems like exactly that- a couple of aging actors looking for any escape from fading into obscurity.

The film is about a professional prison escape artist, played by Sylvester Stallone, who is set up and placed into a facility that’s been designed based on his own experiences to be inescapable. Inside he meets a high profile convict, played by the Governator, who agrees to help him find an escape but only if he can tag along.

It’s not like Stallone and Schwarzenegger don’t have projects to keep them busy- I’m constantly seeing news story after news story about movies they are planning on doing next. However, this film particularly feels like nothing more than a cheap ploy to try and cash in on audiences feeling nostalgic and wanting to see a couple of throwback action stars hamming it up together- and that they do.

Cliche action beat after cliche action one liner the two bumble their way to one of the most ridiculous finales I’ve seen in an action film this year. Not only is it ridiculous, but it’s actually extremely boring- the whole film, not just the finale. Add in a slew of one dimensional characters and a worthless villain that I couldn’t care less if he got what was coming to him and you’ve got an action thriller that barely deserves to be aired on late night cable for desperate insomniacs- although it might serve to help them get a good night’s rest.

ESCAPE PLAN is dull, boring and full of really dumb characters. It’s not fun, it’s not exciting, it’s not memorable and it’s most certainly not worth your time. It’s possible I’m being too hard on it, but in the time that’s passed since I watched the film I can barely remember one thing I found remotely enjoyable about it- so my advice is to stay away from this one.

Rating: D-

carrie_posterCarrie – This generation of audiences are to blame for the endless wave of mediocre remakes and you can chalk up yet another. The original CARRIE was frightening enough for me when I was a kid that I specifically avoided watching it again and it’s not because I was hoping they’d make it in super high def with new actors. Nowadays kids see that a movie was made in the 70’s and they don’t have the updated neural software compatible to view it. The word “classic” is meaningless in this MTV generation.

The updated version of CARRIE stars Chloe Moretz as the titular character- a strange girl with an even stranger mother and keeps to herself. The other kids in school just don’t understand her so in turn they ridicule her and when one particular popular girl takes a joke too far the consequences spark a series of events that spell even darker and more violent reactions.

Moretz is maybe this redo’s only saving grace- outside Julianne Moore’s dead eyed and crazed performance. Other than those two this film suffers from problem most remakes nowadays suffer from- it’s not different enough to justify its existence. Even Moretz as good as she is has been miscast. She plays the role perfectly, but she’s not nearly as unsightly to make her treatment in the film believable. The film wants you to believe that she’s a target for all this unwanted attention, but truth be told that aside from just being antisocial there’s nothing really unusual about her.

The ending is plagued with terrible CGI , but the chaos that takes place is easily the most excitement I had through the course of the film- and even it was only marginal. The other problem with the finale is that at that point I didn’t care at all what happened to these incredibly annoying characters. It may be the intention to wish for Carrie’s ultimate revenge, but even the vengeance she’s owed doesn’t always feel organic.

The CARRIE remake is just the latest in a slew of unnecessary remakes. From beginning to end there is almost no attempt to make this iteration stand out from the original. Instead a sequence of badly done CGI chaos takes over and effectively deadens any impact Moretz and Moore had given the film with their performances. It’s not an unwatchable film, but the new CARRIE still can’t justify it’s need to exist.

Rating: C+

frankensteinsarmy_posterFrankenstein’s Army – If someone tells me to check out a found footage period piece set in World War II that also happens to be a creature feature- how could I possible resist. FRAKENSTEIN’S ARMY delivers on every single one of those previous descriptors, but somehow still manages to be dull, tedious and ultimately disappointing. It’s a shame too because there is without a doubt a creative bunch of minds that put work into this.

The film follows a group of soldiers waltzing around the German countryside and happen to stumble across an underground lab. As they explore the area they find the lab houses the deranged mind of a scientist that is using parts of living and dead soldiers to reanimate them into elaborate unstoppable super soldiers.

Aside from some obvious technical errors that are evident in the first half it unfolds rather slowly. A slow build works if it serves to make me care about the characters, but this film makes me care about no one. The characters are almost impossible to keep track of, or the ones I didn’t remember I just kind of wanted to see them be bait for the awesome creatures/robots that start wrecking shop in the finale. Eventually, when Dr. Frankenstein shows up his mumbling and shouting is so ridiculous and laughable that in the end I was completely disconnected from the film and could no longer even have fun with it.

That’s not to say some FRANKENSTEIN’S ARMY isn’t fun, but the camera is so shaky that during the cool moments you simply can’t make enough out to know exactly what it is you’re seeing. The monsters in the last act are so cool that I wanted to see more of them than just the quick shaky moments there were which in the end left me feeling frustrated when I wanted to be enthralled.

FRANKENSTEIN’S ARMY is a tremendous idea, with some tremendously talented and creative minds behind it. It’s just a shame that those same minds executed their idea in kind of a half hearted way. The found footage element really makes this film suffer especially in the finale when the film’s best element falls prey to the standard found footage flaws. FRANKENSTEIN’S ARMY still displays a lot of creative potential for those involved, it just kind of sucks that the creativity is mostly obscured by lackluster found footage woes.

Rating: C


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