THE HOMESMAN (2014)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 2 hours 2 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Violence, Sexual Content, some Disturbing Behavior and Nudity

Homesman poster

Directed by: Tommy Lee Jones

Written by: Tommy Lee Jones, Kieran Fitzgerald & Wesley Oliver

(based on the novel THE HOMESMAN by Glendon Swarthout)

Starring: Tommy Lee Jones, Hilary Swank, Grace Gummer, Miranda Otto, Sonja Richter, Meryl Streep, John Lithgow, James Spader, Hailee Steinfield, Tim Blake Nelson & William Fichtner

On paper, THE HOMESMAN sounds like a cinematic recipe for success. This is a dark Western with a cast full of A-list talent and an interesting premise behind it. I was quite excited to watching this promising film and that makes the lackluster end result so much more underwhelming. There are good qualities in HOMESMAN, but the film betrays its characters and wastes a solid period setting. By the time the credits roll, the whole experience feels pointless and dreary.

Homesman 1

In pioneer populated Nebraska, three women have gone insane. Mary Bee Cuddy is a spinster (woman past the typical age of marriage) with an independent attitude. She bravely volunteers to take the three crazy women to Iowa, in spite of scorn from those around her. Before Mary can begin her journey, she comes across George Briggs, a claim jumper about to be hanged. Mary frees George in exchange for his services in aiding her journey. The territory is filled with bandits, harsh elements, and Indians. George and Mary must face overwhelming odds to get these three mentally damaged women to safety…as well as themselves.

Homesman 2

Tommy Lee Jones directs, co-writes, and acts in this Western. He pulls off the role of George with a passable performance. Jones doesn’t necessarily make this character his own though. This “bad man with a good heart” type of character is a familiar stereotype. Hilary Swank is another story. She seems to be trying way too hard as Mary. When she says certain comic relief lines, they feel stiff and lifeless. However, when she tries to be deadly serious (including an over-the-top bit of sobbing), she becomes unintentionally laughable and not convincing in the slightest. James Spader is a welcomed presence, but barely has any screen time. Tim Blake Nelson also seems suited to his one-scene scumbag, but comes off as wildly cartoonish…again, eliciting unintentional laughs from a scene that should be intense. Meryl Streep, John Lithgow, and William Fichtner are forgettable as brief side characters. Meanwhile, the crazy women themselves aren’t given enough personality to resemble actual people as opposed to human cargo.

Homesman 3

In spite of all the flaws, THE HOMESMAN gets a couple of things right. The music is good, as in it feels like it belongs to a far better film. There is also attention to details of the time period that can be cool, though the overall production values resemble a made-for-TV movie. Aside from mixed acting and so-so technical work, THE HOMESMAN really drops the ball in the screenplay department. The script is based on a 1988 novel that I haven’t read, but this plot feels very disjointed and muddled. There is a character decision about halfway through that betrayed everything that was shown up until that point. There’s also a nasty streak of the story being dark merely for the sake of being dark. We already understand that the Old West was a dangerous and rough time, but this film feels the need to do things just for unnecessary shock value. This is especially notable in James Spader’s sleazy character. He’s one of the best things about this movie, but his scenes feel like they were only added for edginess and pointless violence.

Homesman 4

Westerns are a tough sell, especially in this day and age. I appreciate certain aspects about THE HOMESMAN, including a few well-executed scenes, a solid soundtrack, and two good performances. However, I can’t help but be let down by the forced bleakness (which didn’t add much to the story), an overall unfocused narrative, and poor performances that seemed as if everyone is trying too hard to sell themselves in a role as opposed to bringing an actual character to life. THE HOMESMAN is disappointing to say the least.

Grade: C-

3 DAYS TO KILL (2014)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 57 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for Intense Sequences of Violence and Action, some Sensuality and Language

3DK poster

Directed by: McG

Written by: Adi Hasak & Luc Besson

Starring: Kevin Costner, Hailee Steinfeld, Amber Heard, Connie Nielsen, Richard Sammel, Eriq Ebouaney & Tomas Lemarquis

Luc Besson is certainly an interesting guy in the film industry. He’s directed some great films in the past (e.g. LEON: THE PROFESSIONAL), but also had a hand in writing ridiculously entertaining action flicks (e.g. TAKEN, TRANSPORTER, LOCKOUT, etc). Some were more successful than others box-office wise and others received less than warm reception from critics. 3 DAYS TO KILL is one of his latest projects. Thus far, it has been doing a decent enough job at the box office and is being panned by most major critics. Instead of Besson taking the director’s chair on this film, McG takes the helm and surprisingly delivers a competent and cool romp. This far from the best action movie that will come out this year (personally, I’m holding out for THE RAID 2) and it has some problems, but 3 DAYS TO KILL is big, dumb fun that delivers what you’d expect from a movie like this.

MCDTHDA EC106

Ethan Renner is a loose-cannon CIA agent who doesn’t play by the rules. After a mission gone awry, he’s diagnosed with cancer and has three months left to live. So Ethan returns to Paris to get his last affairs in order and spend the remaining days making up for lost time with his distant family. Being an awkward as both a bad husband and father, Ethan finds that catching up with his daughter and wife is more difficult than he was anticipating. Then he meets Vivi, another CIA assassin, who offers him an experimental drug to cure his cancer. The catch is that he has to work on a top-secret mission to take down an arms dealer known simply as The Wolf, all while juggling his hormonal teenage daughter and the disapproving looks of his wife. Wacky hijinks ensue that include lots of gunshots, explosions, car chases, and daddy time with his daughter.

MCDTHDA EC119

I never really saw Kevin Costner as an action hero. He was good in ROBIN HOOD: PRINCE OF THIEVES and intimidating in MR. BROOKS, but I have never imagined him as a gun-totting badass (I have yet to see THE BODYGUARD though). Costner is surprisingly well cast here as Ethan. I bought into this middle-aged man shooting bad guys, taking names, and planting explosives. Although the film sports a PG-13 rating (which can be seen as a kiss of death for blood in an action movie, see LOCKOUT for further proof), 3 DAYS TO KILL didn’t need lots of crazy gore flying everywhere. This is more of a James Bond/Jason Bourne type of adrenaline ride, so that description should give you an idea if this is up your alley.

?????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????

Hailee Steinfield (recently seen in ENDER’S GAME) does a good job as Ethan’s teenage daughter and doesn’t come off as too cliché (though there are a few sappy montages and typical teenager behavior seen in many other movies). Connie Nelson (the femme fatale in THE ICE HARVEST), despite getting top billing, disappears for a good portion of the story. In the film’s defense, she isn’t really needed much other for a familiar trope we’ve seen in many other stories. You may notice a trend in this review thus far. I keep comparing 3 DAYS TO KILL to other films. This is appropriate enough, because 3 DAYS TO KILL is just an entertaining mash-up of good pieces of other movies. In its own weird way, this is a bit of a Frankenstein’s monster of a PG-13 action film. Normally, I would consider this a bad thing, but there’s such a good entertainment factor to this one. It’s not laugh at how stupid the film is, but laugh along with the film. This is a Luc Besson project and he always injects a self-aware sense of the movie knowing it’s a movie! In this case, it might be the cure for cancer and dealing with the homeless squatters in his apartment or Ethan juggling his dysfunctional family life with his CIA mission. This film never takes itself seriously and focuses on being a fun time at the movie theater.

MCDTHDA EC117

On the other side of the coin, Amber Heard is horribly miscast as Vivi. She still looks like a young 20-something and doesn’t come off as remotely convincing. I know I’ve been saying that this movie is ridiculous and makes it clear that it’s just a goofy action flick, but I just couldn’t buy Heard’s CIA assassin or her sexual advances towards Costner (who looks old enough to be her grandpa). The finale is predictable beyond measure, but the same can be said about the rest of the film. This is a good turn-you-brain-off and enjoy the mindless violence (albeit nearly bloodless PG-13 rated mayhem) film. The never-ending sense of humor keeps things very watchable and enjoyable, which was a much welcomed part of the film. I genuinely laughed a lot and a couple of running gags kept cracking me up every single time they popped up.

MCDTHDA EC115

The acting is good enough, with the exception of an unconvincing Amber Heard. The violence is silly PG-13 level fun. Kevin Costner does a good job being a badass assassin (of all things) and the film is thoroughly entertaining. It’s far from Luc Besson’s best work (LEON still holds that position and probably will for a long time to come), but it just might be McG’s best effort (for what that’s worth, I still need to re-watch TERMINATOR: SALVATION to make that a definite statement). Those who want a ridiculous and fun action film, would do well to check out 3 DAYS TO KILL. It’s a good watch. I’m surprised that I enjoyed it as much as I did and it might just surprise you too.

Grade: B-

ENDER’S GAME (2013)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 54 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for some Violence, Sci-Fi Action and Thematic Material

Ender poster

Directed by: Gavin Hood

Written by: Gavin Hood

(based on the novel ENDER’S GAME by Orson Scott Card)

Starring: Asa Butterfield, Harrison Ford, Hailee Steinfield, Abigail Breslin, Ben Kingsley, Viola Davis, Aramis Knight & Suraj Partha

There are specifically two books I remembering reading in Junior High. One of them was the Cirque Du Freak series and the other was Ender’s Game. My memory of the novel itself is hazy at best, so I am judging the film based purely on its merits as a cinematic endeavor and not as an adaptation of a revered classic science-fiction novel. It’s been a long road for ENDER’S GAME to reach the screen. I remember hearing about this project for years with various names attached to direct. Finally, at long last, the film has been released and I can say that it was worth every second of anticipation. This is one of the best pieces of science fiction in a long time.

Ender 1

The setting is a futuristic world where Earth has already been attacked by an attempted invasion by an insect species of alien. Luckily, the humans won, but not without extreme damage taken and thousands of lives lost. Ender Wiggin is a third, a child that never should have been born, and enlisted in a military training program that is preparing for a second war with the bug-like extraterrestrials. After passing numerous tests, Ender is sent up to a boot camp in the stars. There he is trained to wage war through a series of battle games against his peers. He also deals with the frequent bullying from egotistical brats who hate Ender for all of his potential greatness. The war is brewing and Ender must complete a series of simulations that will determine if he can be the greatest commander of all-time.

Ender 2

It may be science fiction, but first and foremost, ENDER’S GAME focuses on characters and the dynamic between them. This would mean nothing if the performances were wooden or the characters dull. Neither is the case. The cast is made up of fantastic talent, both young and old. Harrison Ford and Ben Kingsley are veteran actors, but actually play second fiddle to the more than capable young people (who are real teenagers, instead of 20-somethings pretending to be teenagers).

Ender 3

Asa Butterfield takes center stage as Ender Wiggin and displays the complex character. Butterfield was amazing to watch in HUGO and he’s equally amazing here. Abigail Breslin (LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE and THE CALL) is a secondary character as Ender’s sister and isn’t given a whole lot to do in terms of the story. She makes the most of what she has though. The other real stars of the film are Hailee Steinfield (TRUE GRIT) and Aramis Knight as Ender’s only two real friends aboard the interstellar military school.

Ender 4

The look of the insects is left in the dark for most of the film and this gives a particular scene that much more power. In fact, the entire movie is powerful and very emotional, especially in the finale. The drama of the school environment adds to the realization that this is a human-driven science fiction tale and not one driven by big special effects, elaborate technology or sinister aliens (though all of which have their part in this story). ENDER’S GAME continues an age-old tradition of delivering a message through a futuristic tale, but it doesn’t lessen any of the impact of power of the film! This is one to be remembered!

Grade: A+

Blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑