It's one of the wackiest movie rollercoaster stories of the decade. The Grace Kelly biopic "Grace of Monaco", starring Nicole Kidman as the Academy Award-winning movie star who became royalty when she married Monaco's Prince Rainier (Tim Roth), was originally supposed to open in November 2013 as a prime Awards Season contender. One of Director Olivier Dahan's previous works, "La Vie en Rose" (2007), earned Marion Cotillard a Best Actress Oscar. But the studio behind "Grace", The Weinstein Company, felt the film needed more time to be completed, deciding to push it back to a Spring 2014 release. Interestingly, Vanity Fair magazine still spotlighted Kidman and the movie in their December 2013 issue.
Normally when a film is taken out of Awards Season that's not a good sign. But that January TWC was able to secure "Grace" as the opening night selection at the Cannes Film Festival, an incredibly prestigious honor. However, the spotlight proved to be rather harsh, as "Grace" was booed by the crowd and reviews posted online were nothing short of disastrous - many describing it as unintentionally funny, campy, and/or just plain awful. Based on that reaction, Harvey Weinstein shelved all plans for a US release.
So when news broke in April that Lifetime was set to air "Grace of Monaco" in May, the entertainment industry was aghast. More critics reviewed (and universally trashed) it. The TV ratings were never announced.
But just when everyone thought this was the last anyone would ever hear of "Grace of Monaco", the film, shockingly, received a 2015 Emmy nomination for Outstanding TV Movie. I had it on my DVR for months, not sure if I'd ever get around to watching it. But the nomination convinced me that I had to watch it. And this week I did.
And you know what? It's as bad as advertised. The story is really dull, the editing is rough, the score out of place, loud and distracting, and even though Roger Ashton-Griffiths is only in a few scenes as Alfred Hitchcock, his performance brings down the entire cast. Kidman does sparkle in some appropriate moments, and while her pivotal closing speech is strong, we didn't need the ultra close-ups of her face.
And yet, I would love to see "Grace of Monaco" win the Emmy on Sunday September 20. Online reaction (which was hysterical when the nomination was announced) would be priceless. I'm expecting host Andy Samberg to make at least one reference to the Princess story turned nightmare in his opening monologue and maybe keep it as a running joke all night.
“No Escape” sounds like the title of a direct-to-DVD (or, these days, direct-to-VOD) movie. But The Weinstein Company thought they could make a little bit of money at the end of an action-packed Summer by releasing it in theaters. But there’s “no escaping” the fact that this thriller belongs in a discount bin at Walmart and not your local multiplex.
Owen Wilson is known for playing the goofball or sidekick in comedies - not a heroic action star. In “No Escape”, he’s inventor and businessman Jack Dwyer, who’s just taken a job with an international corporation that supplies clean water to 3rd world countries. So he’s moving his family - wife Annie (Lake Bell from “Million Dollar Arm”) and two young daughters - to Southeast Asia.
But to say his timing is bad would be a gross understatement: On the first day in their new country, the Prime Minister is assassinated and a revolution begins. The coup escalates quickly, and the violence travels directly to the Dwyers’ hotel. So Jack is forced to act fast - and take some wild chances - in order to survive this horrific nightmare and get his family to safety.
Pierce Brosnan has a 007-style supporting role and he does add some lighter touches to the very serious tone. This film doesn’t just depict one of the worst possible circumstances parents could ever face - but places you right in the middle of it, early on, making you feel like you’re in just as much danger as the Dwyers. But there is such as thing as “too much of a bad thing”…and once Jack is forced to throw his daughters from one rooftop to another (shown in ridiculous slow-motion), “No Escape” begins its decent into the land of unbelievability.
It’s always tough to buy-into movies, especially fictional ones - in which a family or small group of people are at the center of their own apocalypse and, somehow, they’re the only ones to stay alive. There are literally hundreds of people, just like the Dwyers, graphically slaughtered in this film, and yet this husband and wife, dragging two little kids along, are able to survive deadly situations, time and time again. Wilson and Bell do their best, but it’s all pretty far-fetched.
And I always find it distasteful, manipulative and desperate when a screenplay (this one is written by the film’s director John Erick Dowdle and his brother Drew) has to rely on young children being put in extremely dangerous situations in order to draw emotion out of an audience.
“No Escape” also has some rough editing and shaky story elements in certain spots. And while it does do a good job of convincing you to maybe put-off that planned vacation to Southeast Asia, it never feels gripping or genuinely suspenseful.
On The Official LCJ Report Card, “No Escape” gets a C-.
"The End of the Tour" is an immersive true-story drama starring two actors who give two of the year's finest performances. For five days back in 1996, Rolling Stone writer David Lipsky (played by Oscar-nominee Jesse Eisenberg) travelled with and interviewed prolific, 34-year-old author David Foster Wallace (played by potential Oscar-nominee Jason Segel) as he made his final stops on the promotional tour for his latest book, the 1,079-page, critically praised novel Infinite Jest.
As Lipsky discovers early on, Rolling Stone hadn't done an author profile in the last 10 years, and he needed to prove to his boss that Wallace was someone worth doing a piece on. Fourteen years later, Lipsky would publish the book this film is based on - Although of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself: A Road Trip with David Foster Wallace. Many of the scenes with Eisenberg and Segel take place inside the rental car Lipsky gets for the trip, as he asks Wallace about a variety of topics of his life, including his love of writing, substance abuse issues, and the price that comes with success and fame. But the focus here is also on Lipsky, who is a struggling author and sees Wallace's life as something to strive for - at least for awhile.
From the first minute they meet, you are completely engrossed in this relationship. Much like in "Frost/Nixon", there's a fascinating dynamic taking place between interviewer and interviewee that we have a front row seat for. And it constantly changes throughout the five days, with the tables getting turned and stakes being raised, leaving you always wondering how far both men will go and how much about themselves they will reveal. And Lipsky's tape recorder becomes a third and very critical character in this relationship, used by both players at times to their advantage.
This is Eisenberg's best work since "The Social Network". Joan Cusack has a small, but memorable role as Wallace's book tour escort. As for Segel, this performance should earn him plenty of Awards Season attention in the Best Supporting Actor category. While his character is the focus of the interview and he has the more showcase role, this is really Lipsky's story. So, just as J.K. Simmons' domination of "Whiplash" last year was a Supporting role, so too, is Segel's work. And it's just as much of a powerhouse. He displays Wallace's pain, joy, humor and sadness through both words and actions. The dialogue between these two characters, the philosophies they share, reveal their loneliness and insecurities. Wallace's beliefs on world's obsession with television and the media are incredibly on target (and even more meaningful 20 years later). They make the scenes in which he's glued to the movie screen and hotel TV even more profound.
Writers, journalists and storytellers at all levels will relate to and embrace everything "The End of the Tour" stands for. Director James Ponsoldt ("The Spectacular Now") and writer Donald Marguiles (this is his feature film screenwriting debut) condense a typical relationship arc of two people over a lifetime into just a handful of days, but the complexities of this film will stay with you for a long time.
On The Official LCJ Report Card, "The End of the Tour" gets an A.
"Hitman: Agent 47" is a reboot (of sorts) in a film franchise that started, and should've ended, with 2007's bomb "Hitman" starring Timothy Olyphant. Both of these movies are based on the popular video game series that's been around for 15 years. While video games, especially the shoot-em-up variety, are typically have extremely thin storylines, it seems the script for "Hitman: Agent 47" was likely written in about 15 minutes.
Katia (Hannah Ware), who has some telepathic tricks in her noggin, finds-out from a mysterious man named John Smith (played by "Star Trek"'s Zachary Quinto) that a genetically-engineered hitman, who has a human body but few human emotions, is out to kill her. His name is Agent 47 (the other 46 names were apparently taken). He's played by Rupert Friend, who has a slight resemblance to "Pirates of the Caribbean" star Orlando Bloom (which, of course, has nothing to do with the plot of this film, but that's what happens when one's mind wanders when the film one is watching is so completely uninteresting).
Soon the plot becomes a search for Katia's dad, complete with the typical advanced technology mumbo-jumbo. The dialogue is so boring that ALL of the characters may as well have been genetically-altered non-humans (maybe they are?) As for the performances, Quinto is overdramatic, stiff and stingy - basically Spock in a nice suit. And all this time I thought he was acting in the two "Star Trek" films. This may be how Quinto plays all his roles. Friend's major responsibilites are fast driving and shooting people. For some reason his accent becomes noticably more American halfway through the movie.
There are some uninteltnionally hilarious moments during the goofy, slow-motion-filled action scenes, complete with corny one-liners. I must say there are some creative ways that people are killed in "Hitman: Agent 47" (clearly inspired by the game). And the body count is massive. In fact, 31 people die on screen even before the opening "Hitman" title appears, about five minutes in.
Mindless, ridiculous, but certainly not painless to watch, this is the worst pure action film of Summer 2015. On The Official LCJ Report Card, "Hitman: Agent 47" gets a D.
“American Ultra” is the latest in a long line of movies which suffers from the “Pulp Fiction” syndrome: the attempt to mix quirky characters, sarcastic comedy and very graphic violence into one wild, cinematic experience. No one’s been able to successfully pull it off since Tarantino over 20-years ago (including Tarantino himself). The result this time is an absolute mess.
Jesse Eisenberg stars as Mike. He works at a small town convenience store and has a longtime girlfriend Phoebe (played by Kristen Stewart). They were supposed to go to on vacation to Hawaii, where Mike was finally going to propose. But that gets put on hold when Mike has one of his violent panic attacks just before getting on the plane.
A few nights later back at the store, a mysterious woman enters and warns Mike that he is in serious danger. A few minutes later he notices two men messing with his car in the parking lot, and suddenly, he has the strength and abilities to not only beat them up but actually kill them. Mike has no idea how or why this happened, but the CIA does. Turns-out Mike was once an experimental agent, and now he needs to be eliminated. If only someone at Lionsgate felt the same way about this film before it made it to theaters.
“American Ultra” is one of the most unfocused and discombobulated films in recent memory. The plot never makes complete sense, with holes in common sense and logic everywhere. The concept of an ex-agent, now in the real world, becoming a target is so unoriginal that for it to work there has to be a unique spin - and here there is not. The “stoner” element, pushed in the ads and the trailers, doesn’t even apply in the actual movie.
The acting is so ridiculous I don’t know where to begin. There’s no chemistry between Stewart and Eisenberg, whose Mike - a combination of dumb, naïve, and high - just doesn’t work. And the two are laughable together in the “dramatic” moments. Connie Britton (from TV’s “Nashville”) is miscast as Mike’s former CIA boss. John Leguizamo is completely unfunny as Mike’s drug dealer. The Emmy-winning co-star of “Veep”, Tony Hale, adds nothing as a goofy agent. But worst of all are Topher Grace, who plays the weird and wacky CIA operations head - and Walton Goggins (“Justified”), as “Agent Laugher”. They give two of the most embarrassing on-screen performances in recent years.
And then there’s the style: One minute “Ultra” tries to be cute and clever with Mike’s “Space Ape” comic book drawings - seconds later he’s slicing someone’s head off with a dust pan. Shocking? A little. Effective in helping make this a quality film? No. In fact nothing here works. Even the only “twist”, which is hardly unique, comes way too early and has no impact.
I didn’t like a single scene or element in this entire film. Just another example of a studio burying a bomb at the end of August. On The Official LCJ Report Card, “American Ultra” gets an F.