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THE NORMAL HEART

Julia Roberts, Mark Ruffalo, Matt Bomer, Jim Parsons and Taylor Kitsch star in the HBO movie adaptation of the Larry Kramer play The Normal Heart. Set in early 1980s New York City during the rise of HIV/AIDS, the story follows gay activist Ned Weeks (Ruffalo) as he tries desperately to raise awareness about the disease. Directed by Glee andAmerican Horror Story creator Ryan Murphy, The Normal Heart will premiere on HBO on May 25, 2014.

LONE SURVIVOR

What do you get when you have a cast consisting of Mark Wahlberg, Eric Bana, Taylor Kitsch, Ben Foster, Emile Hirsch and Alexander Ludwig? No, ladies and gents, unfortunately it’s not Magic Mike 2 (I know, it’s a damn shame). It’s Peter Berg’s Lone Survivor, based on the true events surrounding the Navy SEALs’ “Operation Red Wings”. The film is slated for release in January 2014.

SAVAGES (2012)

Oliver Stone is one of those hit-or-miss directors. Wall Street and Natural Born Killers were solid flicks made mostly palatable by the magnetic performances of their leading men (Michael Douglas and Woody Harrelson respectively). And then there were the dark days of Oliver Stone, which include the hot mess that was Alexander (a movie that to this day I am still trying to forget) and the cringe-worthy World Trade Center. After seeing clips of his latest offering, Savages, I had high hopes that Stone would churn out a film on par with Natural Born Killers and we would see a return to form for the unpredictable director.

Based on the book by Don Winslow, Savages revolves around threesome O (Blake Lively), Ben (Aaron Johnson) and Chon (Taylor Kitsch), California wild children who just want to live free and preferably not die hard, with the help of some pot, of course. Ben and Chon make a pretty good living out of the pot growing business, until their success catches the attention of one of the Mexican drug cartels headed by the imposing Elena (Salma Hayek). After politely refusing Elena’s offer to join forces, things turn vicious for Ben and Chon when O is abducted. Yes, it’s a classic tale of a damsel in distress, except in this case, think of the Prince Charmings (yes, there are two - our Princess is a free love sorta gal) as guys who would go to whatever extremes to get their O back, including burning someone alive.

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JOHN CARTER (2012)
Directed by animated film genius Andrew Stanton (Finding Nemo, Wall-E) and based on the story by Edgar Rice Burroughs, John Carter (Taylor Kitsch) is a maverick of a character who, while in search for gold, stumbles upon a cave and a medallion that transports him to Mars (or Barsoom, as it is referred to in the film) instead. On Barsoom, a whole universe opens up to him, filled with colorful creatures such as the four-armed green-tinged Tharks and cuddly green mini Jabba the Hutt-type animals that pant and sprint around like adorable pets of Earth (p.s. for the record, I am aware that the Princess of Mars series is said to be the basis of the Star Wars saga, so please don’t bombard me with insults for this reference, Burroughs fans). Carter finds himself in the middle of some sort of civil war. There are two kingdoms at war for the rule of Barsoom and caught in the crossfire is Dejah (Lynn Collins), a princess of Mars who has become sort of a sacrificial lamb to bridge the gap between the two kingdoms. Carter, who considers himself a man without a cause, is now torn between helping the people of Mars and going back to Earth.
The story is interesting and one can definitely see why it inspired a movie. There’s adventure, romance and fantasy, and a pretty impressive cast of characters to boot, from The Wire's Dominic West and Breaking Bad's Bryan Cranston to Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy's Mark Strong and Ciarán Hinds. The supposed main attraction, however, should have been Taylor Kitsch's John Carter, however in this film it was difficult to take Kitsch seriously in this role. As much as I am a fan of his from Friday Night Lights, I don’t think Kitsch was the right fit for the role of the titular hero. While he certainly looked the part of epic hero in Beastmaster garb (and boy, does he certainly have the physique for the role), it bothered me that he spoke with a very modern accent for someone who was supposed to have originated in the 1800s. I also felt that his acting was very much lacking and somewhat cheesy; another actor could have elevated the role.
Although there was some promise in the writing and there were numerous attempts to make the audience emotionally invest in the story (especially when it came to the Thark father-daughter story of Tars Tarkas and Sola), when it came to John Carter his motivations were lost on me. It didn’t help that the story starts off in a very strange manner, sort of just plunking the audience into the film right off the bat. Carter’s back story was also revealed by way of interwoven flashbacks once he is already on Mars, making it difficult to chart his character development (which unlike most films is actually present although not well-executed). The story was certainly enjoyable, but there were also aspects of it that were cringe-worthy. The romance was a bit contrived for my liking and reminded me a lot of Prince of Persia, which I actually hated with every fiber of my being but for some reason I felt John Carter was a lot more tolerable. Interestingly enough Prince of Persia grossed more at the global box office than John Carter did. Pity. I would suggest that Disney get out of the live action business were it not for that box office colossus The Avengers (whose success, let’s be honest, probably didn’t have much to do with Disney).
I did enjoy Lynn Collins as Dejah and thought she did a good job, although it was awfully distracting how orange she and everyone else in the film was. I understand this tint was some kind of trait of Barsoom’s residents (they were even referred to as “red men and women”) but I couldn’t help but chuckle at how odd they looked. I also loved the ending and thought it was both unexpected and well done. The action sequences in this film were surprisingly underwhelming, which was certainly something I wasn’t expecting. I thought the action sequences in Conan the Barbarian (the remake) were a lot better, and this is saying a lot considering that film was kind of a dud (although I personally enjoyed it).
Overall, it was an entertaining watch and I’d say if you’re a sci-fi/fantasy nut, go see it anyway. Edgar Rice Burroughs certainly held up his end of the bargain because what made the film remotely tolerable was the fact that the world was so colorful and interesting and there was some real genius in the ideas there. I really like Taylor Kitsch and I hope that the box office failure of two big budget films he’s starred in (the other being Battleship, which I thought he did a much better job in) don’t hurt him, even though it’s tough to really recover from something like this. At least he still has Oliver Stone’s Savages, which looks pretty good and could even potentially save him from doom. Andrew Stanton, on the other hand, will do fine, although I hope he doesn’t shy away from doing more live action work. I still think he’s great and look forward to Toy Story 4!

JOHN CARTER (2012)

Directed by animated film genius Andrew Stanton (Finding Nemo, Wall-E) and based on the story by Edgar Rice Burroughs, John Carter (Taylor Kitsch) is a maverick of a character who, while in search for gold, stumbles upon a cave and a medallion that transports him to Mars (or Barsoom, as it is referred to in the film) instead. On Barsoom, a whole universe opens up to him, filled with colorful creatures such as the four-armed green-tinged Tharks and cuddly green mini Jabba the Hutt-type animals that pant and sprint around like adorable pets of Earth (p.s. for the record, I am aware that the Princess of Mars series is said to be the basis of the Star Wars saga, so please don’t bombard me with insults for this reference, Burroughs fans). Carter finds himself in the middle of some sort of civil war. There are two kingdoms at war for the rule of Barsoom and caught in the crossfire is Dejah (Lynn Collins), a princess of Mars who has become sort of a sacrificial lamb to bridge the gap between the two kingdoms. Carter, who considers himself a man without a cause, is now torn between helping the people of Mars and going back to Earth.

The story is interesting and one can definitely see why it inspired a movie. There’s adventure, romance and fantasy, and a pretty impressive cast of characters to boot, from The Wire's Dominic West and Breaking Bad's Bryan Cranston to Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy's Mark Strong and Ciarán Hinds. The supposed main attraction, however, should have been Taylor Kitsch's John Carter, however in this film it was difficult to take Kitsch seriously in this role. As much as I am a fan of his from Friday Night Lights, I don’t think Kitsch was the right fit for the role of the titular hero. While he certainly looked the part of epic hero in Beastmaster garb (and boy, does he certainly have the physique for the role), it bothered me that he spoke with a very modern accent for someone who was supposed to have originated in the 1800s. I also felt that his acting was very much lacking and somewhat cheesy; another actor could have elevated the role.

Although there was some promise in the writing and there were numerous attempts to make the audience emotionally invest in the story (especially when it came to the Thark father-daughter story of Tars Tarkas and Sola), when it came to John Carter his motivations were lost on me. It didn’t help that the story starts off in a very strange manner, sort of just plunking the audience into the film right off the bat. Carter’s back story was also revealed by way of interwoven flashbacks once he is already on Mars, making it difficult to chart his character development (which unlike most films is actually present although not well-executed). The story was certainly enjoyable, but there were also aspects of it that were cringe-worthy. The romance was a bit contrived for my liking and reminded me a lot of Prince of Persia, which I actually hated with every fiber of my being but for some reason I felt John Carter was a lot more tolerable. Interestingly enough Prince of Persia grossed more at the global box office than John Carter did. Pity. I would suggest that Disney get out of the live action business were it not for that box office colossus The Avengers (whose success, let’s be honest, probably didn’t have much to do with Disney).

I did enjoy Lynn Collins as Dejah and thought she did a good job, although it was awfully distracting how orange she and everyone else in the film was. I understand this tint was some kind of trait of Barsoom’s residents (they were even referred to as “red men and women”) but I couldn’t help but chuckle at how odd they looked. I also loved the ending and thought it was both unexpected and well done. The action sequences in this film were surprisingly underwhelming, which was certainly something I wasn’t expecting. I thought the action sequences in Conan the Barbarian (the remake) were a lot better, and this is saying a lot considering that film was kind of a dud (although I personally enjoyed it).

Overall, it was an entertaining watch and I’d say if you’re a sci-fi/fantasy nut, go see it anyway. Edgar Rice Burroughs certainly held up his end of the bargain because what made the film remotely tolerable was the fact that the world was so colorful and interesting and there was some real genius in the ideas there. I really like Taylor Kitsch and I hope that the box office failure of two big budget films he’s starred in (the other being Battleship, which I thought he did a much better job in) don’t hurt him, even though it’s tough to really recover from something like this. At least he still has Oliver Stone’s Savages, which looks pretty good and could even potentially save him from doom. Andrew Stanton, on the other hand, will do fine, although I hope he doesn’t shy away from doing more live action work. I still think he’s great and look forward to Toy Story 4!

BATTLESHIP (2012)
A friend asked me to go with him to see Battleship tonight. He convinced me that it was going to be so awful that it would end up being awesome. I had a free movie ticket so I figured, why the heck not. I’m a big fan of Peter Berg’s, I think Taylor Kitsch is a hottie, Viking god Alexander Skarsgard was going to be in it along with Liam Neeson, and I loved the board game. I figured, if I went in with clear eyes and a full heart, this movie couldn’t lose, right? Well, when you go in with colossally low expectations, you end up having a pretty good time. Battleship was actually pretty decent, and I think were it not for its weak trailer, it probably would have fared better at the box office. If I were to sum it up, Battleship is part Top Gun (yes, I am aware that this is air force vs the navy and it’s a crime to compare them but it’s more of a reference to the similarity between Tom Cruise’s Maverick and Taylor Kitsch’s Alex Hopper) part Transformers.  
It’s a shame that movies these days live or die by their trailers, especially with an ailing economy that results in more people waiting movies out until they go on DVD. Whoever whipped up the trailer for Battleship needs to sit down and evaluate his or her life choices. Not only did they splice together perhaps the least impressive parts of the film, the trailer made the movie out to be about mindless action where random shit blows up. In fact, the movie spent a good chunk of time developing the characters of the story. Taylor Kitsch plays Alex Hopper, a clever but unmotivated twentysomething who spends most of his days drinking and sleeping and being a nuisance for his much more disciplined boy scout of an older brother, Stone Hopper (the most awesome name ever, I might add), played by Alexander Skarsgard. After another fuck-up involving a chicken burrito, a beautiful blonde and the police, Stone has had enough of Alex’s antics and gives him an ultimatum: join big bro at the Navy or face the consequences. Fast forward to a few months and Alex is a lieutenant in the Navy, but he’s still as stubborn, hot-tempered and prone to rash decisions as before. During some naval exercises, aliens decide to invade the planet and Alex finds himself in charge of a naval destroyer going head to head with these unfriendly visitors. Chaos ensues and Alex has to man up to save, well, the Earth. 
I thought it was a really smart move to devote a good chunk of time to building up Taylor Kitsch’s character. He’s a charming guy and incredibly easy on the eyes, and I don’t know why the heck he’s had such bad luck with movies lately. First, with that godawful excuse for a movie X-Men Origins: Wolverine, and then just zero good marketing for John Carter (whose trailer was also poorly done). I mean, the guy can’t catch a break, and he’s not even remotely the worst actor in Hollywood right now. The guy has potential, and it’s such a shame that people don’t give him a chance. I thought he was awesome in Friday Night Lights and I think he has what it takes to be a lead actor, which Battleship certainly proves. If only this movie was released before John Carter, I think it would have helped the latter out a bit more.
One of the criticisms I’ve encountered about the film (one I, too, shared prior to seeing it) was that it didn’t seem to have anything to do with the board game Battleship, which if anyone recalls, had nothing to do with alien invasions of any sort. However, upon seeing the film I really liked the way they incorporated the board game into the story. It was unexpected, not literal, but it was certainly obvious enough to fans of the board game. Besides, would anyone even want a literal interpretation of the board game? 

While there were certainly some plot holes that were unresolved, and there wasn’t enough explanation or back story about the aliens that ended up invading, I thought the story played out well, although the climax could have used a little bit more drama and suspense. Overall I thought the film was funny, entertaining and had some interesting characters. Rihanna was cool in it (I loved when she said “Mahalo, motherfucker” even though it didn’t exactly make sense in the context of what was going on haha), and Jesse Plemons as per usual was his adorable self. Yes, it’s cheesy, it had some lulzy moments, but overall I thought it was a lot of fun. I think it was only slightly less entertaining than the first Transformers film, and that’s saying a lot. I really hope people give this movie a chance and see it before they make conclusions about it. It’s not amazing or anything but it’s certainly not as horrible as people have been saying. Like with Snow White and the Huntsman, a viewer’s expectations really influence how enjoyable a movie can be. I think it’s unreasonable to expect a movie like this to be epic or profound. Sure, the science is pretty ridiculous and the Big Bad has some serious flaws, but when you have a movie based on a board game is it not reasonable to suspend one’s disbelief for a few hours? It’s a solid enough popcorn movie with likable characters that makes the Navy look pretty badass.

BATTLESHIP (2012)

A friend asked me to go with him to see Battleship tonight. He convinced me that it was going to be so awful that it would end up being awesome. I had a free movie ticket so I figured, why the heck not. I’m a big fan of Peter Berg’s, I think Taylor Kitsch is a hottie, Viking god Alexander Skarsgard was going to be in it along with Liam Neeson, and I loved the board game. I figured, if I went in with clear eyes and a full heart, this movie couldn’t lose, right? Well, when you go in with colossally low expectations, you end up having a pretty good time. Battleship was actually pretty decent, and I think were it not for its weak trailer, it probably would have fared better at the box office. If I were to sum it up, Battleship is part Top Gun (yes, I am aware that this is air force vs the navy and it’s a crime to compare them but it’s more of a reference to the similarity between Tom Cruise’s Maverick and Taylor Kitsch’s Alex Hopper) part Transformers.  

It’s a shame that movies these days live or die by their trailers, especially with an ailing economy that results in more people waiting movies out until they go on DVD. Whoever whipped up the trailer for Battleship needs to sit down and evaluate his or her life choices. Not only did they splice together perhaps the least impressive parts of the film, the trailer made the movie out to be about mindless action where random shit blows up. In fact, the movie spent a good chunk of time developing the characters of the story. Taylor Kitsch plays Alex Hopper, a clever but unmotivated twentysomething who spends most of his days drinking and sleeping and being a nuisance for his much more disciplined boy scout of an older brother, Stone Hopper (the most awesome name ever, I might add), played by Alexander Skarsgard. After another fuck-up involving a chicken burrito, a beautiful blonde and the police, Stone has had enough of Alex’s antics and gives him an ultimatum: join big bro at the Navy or face the consequences. Fast forward to a few months and Alex is a lieutenant in the Navy, but he’s still as stubborn, hot-tempered and prone to rash decisions as before. During some naval exercises, aliens decide to invade the planet and Alex finds himself in charge of a naval destroyer going head to head with these unfriendly visitors. Chaos ensues and Alex has to man up to save, well, the Earth. 

I thought it was a really smart move to devote a good chunk of time to building up Taylor Kitsch’s character. He’s a charming guy and incredibly easy on the eyes, and I don’t know why the heck he’s had such bad luck with movies lately. First, with that godawful excuse for a movie X-Men Origins: Wolverine, and then just zero good marketing for John Carter (whose trailer was also poorly done). I mean, the guy can’t catch a break, and he’s not even remotely the worst actor in Hollywood right now. The guy has potential, and it’s such a shame that people don’t give him a chance. I thought he was awesome in Friday Night Lights and I think he has what it takes to be a lead actor, which Battleship certainly proves. If only this movie was released before John Carter, I think it would have helped the latter out a bit more.

One of the criticisms I’ve encountered about the film (one I, too, shared prior to seeing it) was that it didn’t seem to have anything to do with the board game Battleship, which if anyone recalls, had nothing to do with alien invasions of any sort. However, upon seeing the film I really liked the way they incorporated the board game into the story. It was unexpected, not literal, but it was certainly obvious enough to fans of the board game. Besides, would anyone even want a literal interpretation of the board game? 

While there were certainly some plot holes that were unresolved, and there wasn’t enough explanation or back story about the aliens that ended up invading, I thought the story played out well, although the climax could have used a little bit more drama and suspense. Overall I thought the film was funny, entertaining and had some interesting characters. Rihanna was cool in it (I loved when she said “Mahalo, motherfucker” even though it didn’t exactly make sense in the context of what was going on haha), and Jesse Plemons as per usual was his adorable self. Yes, it’s cheesy, it had some lulzy moments, but overall I thought it was a lot of fun. I think it was only slightly less entertaining than the first Transformers film, and that’s saying a lot. I really hope people give this movie a chance and see it before they make conclusions about it. It’s not amazing or anything but it’s certainly not as horrible as people have been saying. Like with Snow White and the Huntsman, a viewer’s expectations really influence how enjoyable a movie can be. I think it’s unreasonable to expect a movie like this to be epic or profound. Sure, the science is pretty ridiculous and the Big Bad has some serious flaws, but when you have a movie based on a board game is it not reasonable to suspend one’s disbelief for a few hours? It’s a solid enough popcorn movie with likable characters that makes the Navy look pretty badass.