SURROGATES (2009)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 29 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for Intense Sequences of Violence, Disturbing Images, Language, Sexuality and a Drug-Related Scene

Directed by: Jonathan Mostow

Written by: John Brancato & Michael Ferris

(based on the graphic novel THE SURROGATES by Robert Venditti)

Starring: Bruce Willis, Radha Mitchell, Rosamund Pike, Jack Noseworthy, James Cromwell, Ving Rhames, Boris Kodjoe & Devin Ratray

SURROGATES is a sci-fi-action thriller that sounds really cool in theory and had a solid marketing campaign behind it. I remember being excited for back in Fall 2009 and then leaving the theater underwhelmed. Where does this high-concept, so-so delivery sci-fi flick go wrong? Well, it’s due to a variety of factors that I’ll be looking at. SURROGATES is not a bad movie, not at all. There are some cool qualities and decent entertainment value to be had, but not much else.

In the far distant future of 2025, society has embraced the usage of mind-operated androids, known as “surrogates.” These machines allow you to live your life without ever leaving your home. You change your appearance to suit your needs (regardless of age, race, gender or body type). You can never worry about disease again and avoid danger on a daily basis. Crime rates have plummeted an astounding 99% since the implementation of surrogates, but that changes when FBI agent Tom Greer (Bruce Willis) and his partner Jennifer Peters (Radha Mitchell) are called in to investigate the first homicide in years. Someone has built a weapon that can liquefy the brains of a user through their surrogate. Through a twist of fate, Tom survives an attack and must hunt the killer in a world where the only human on the streets is him.

SURROGATES has a concept that’s brimming with potential and seems incredibly relevant in the social media age. When people are more comfortable chatting as cartoon avatars or vicariously living through a celebrity’s live feed, then this film holds some truth. The social commentary sprinkled throughout SURROGATES is far from subtle, but it does remain interesting. This includes Tom’s wife, Maggie (Rosamund Pike), being all-out addicted to her surrogate to avoid a tragic reality. However, ideas of military use, surrogates as tools, murder being involved in surrogates and anti-surrogate protesters are all briefly glanced over in a shallow way. Even Maggie’s sad storyline seems a bit sidelined in the later proceedings.

The more interesting pieces of SURROGATE’s plot are placed in the backseat to make way for a rather clichéd murder-conspiracy thriller. The problem with this is that it’s predictable and feels formulaic. The 89-minute running also makes it seem like this movie wants to end as fast as it possibly can, character development and deeper meanings be damned. Taken as it is, SURROGATES is serviceable enough entertainment. However, there’s never any time for the viewer to adjust to a new plot twist or ponder a new clue that Greer discovers. This lazy script immediately spoonfeeds the audience everything. This is especially mind-boggling because the very premise of SURROGATES seems like it would provide food for thought.

As Tom Greer, Bruce Willis looks very bored. It’s almost like he realized how much of a missed opportunity this entire endeavor was and then proceeded to phone it in. Bored Willis is entertaining in a few ways, but it doesn’t feel like he’s putting much effort into his performance at all. Radha Mitchell is okay enough as Agent Peters, but it feels like some of her character’s scenes were deleted. At least, this is the impression I got from the inclusion of her non-surrogate moments that seem to have no rhyme or reason to exist. Rosamund Pike is solid as Greer’s grief-stricken, surrogate-addicted wife and easily gives the best performance of the cast.

James Cromwell makes a welcomed presence as the inventor of surrogates, but his screen time is limited to say the least. It’s almost like they brought Cromwell on for a single day of shooting and then quickly ushered him away from the set. Ving Rhames is entertaining in just about every film he’s starred in and that remains the case here. As anti-surrogate leader The Prophet, Rhames is allowed some room to ham it up and be menacing. Much like Cromwell’s scientist though, it feels like there’s just too little of him.

SURROGATES is like the feature-length version of an okay TWILIGHT ZONE episode. The effects and production values look good, as they should with an 80-million-dollar price tag attached to them. Intricacies in this android-filled world are briefly touched upon and then fast forgotten, while there is one decent deeper subplot in this film. The action is fun and the half-assed thriller script is entertaining for what it is. If this is on cable or you’re out of film choices, then I’d say give SURROGATES a watch. It’s an 89-minute time killer that will keep your attention, but leave you wondering how much better this might have been with a smarter screenplay behind it. Overall, SURROGATES is okay…when it could have been great.

Grade: B-

DIE ANOTHER DAY (2002)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 2 hours 13 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for Action Violence and Sexuality

DieADay poster

Directed by: Lee Tamahori

Written by: Neal Purvis & Robert Wade

Starring: Pierce Brosnan, Halle Berry, Toby Stephens, Rosamund Pike, Rick Yune, Judi Dench, Will Yun Lee, Kenneth Tsang & John Cleese

The twentieth movie in the Bond franchise and eleventh in my 007 retrospective, DIE ANOTHER DAY marked the end of the Pierce Brosnan’s stint as the iconic secret agent. In the grander scheme of thing, it also technically serves as the conclusion of the original series and caused its studio to reboot the franchise. In other words, DIE ANOTHER DAY has a pretty bad reputation for wrecking James Bond to the point where the series needed to be remade. So, is this a colossal failure? Is DIE ANOTHER DAY the BATMAN & ROBIN of Bond? I wouldn’t go that far, because there are a couple of things I like about this “final” Bond movie. That being said, this is still pretty bad.

DIE ANOTHER DAY, Pierce Brosnan, 2002, (c) MGM/courtesy Everett Collection

James Bond’s latest mission has taken into dangerous North Korean territory. When his cover is blown, Bond is taken captive and suspended as an MI6 agent. Through a few cunning decisions and sheer dumb luck, Bond escapes and tries to track down a crazed terrorist from his past. This will require Bond partnering up with catsuit-wearing NSA agent Jinx. The two spies are forced to face off against a terrorist with diamond-acne and a super-weapon-wielding entrepreneur.

MCDDIAN EC020

Let me address the good stuff first. I really enjoyed the prologue in North Korea. The action may be bombastic, but there’s a sense of excitement that reminded me of GOLDENEYE‘s opening. It also set up this story with a ton of potential…and then everything goes down hill as soon as the opening titles roll. The problems begin in the titular song of the credits, which doesn’t sound like it even belongs in a Bond film. This just sounded like a random pop song that was thrown in at the last-minute. As the minutes tick forward from that point on, DIE ANOTHER DAY wastes away its potential on pointless scenes, a bored Brosnan, and a screenplay that’s riddled with plot holes. The story feels too clichéd and over-the-top, even for a Bond film (which can typically be far-fetched, but fun). Besides the opening sequence, the only other moment that sticks out for good reason is a fencing scene between Bond and the main villain. As cool as that sequence is, it only raises further plot holes once a few convenient (and stupid) revelations occur during the final third.

DieADay 3

Brosnan seems past his point of caring to be Bond. His performance in this film is even more apathetic than his purely-for-the-paycheck effort in WORLD IS NOT ENOUGH. As far as villains go, only one performance stands out and I won’t give that cast member’s identity away for fear of spoilers. However, I appreciated this person’s contribution to the film and wish that their character served as the main villain instead of a mere plot device. Halle Berry headlines the film with Brosnan and doesn’t really feel like a Bond girl at all. Instead, it almost feels like CATWOMAN got crossed with a crappy Bond flick. Speaking of which, DIE ANOTHER DAY is on the same level as CATWOMAN’s special effects. We get some shockingly crappy visuals. These include cartoony electricity (courtesy of the main villain’s super suit), Flash Animation quality lasers (that don’t blend well with a fight scene), a Syfy-level melting ice palace, and a rubbery surfing Bond aided by a fake-as-hell parachute.

DieADay 4

DIE ANOTHER DAY came out on the 20th anniversary of DR. NO. Throughout this twentieth Bond flick, there are little nods to the other movies (e.g. the shoe-knife in FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE, the rocket-pack from THUNDERBALL, etc.). All these little cameos only served to remind me how badly this final Brosnan entry screwed the pooch. The original Bond series survived decades of directors, actors, and varying levels of effects. However, none of that could endure after DIE ANOTHER DAY sent everything plummeting into such a rut that a reboot not only became preferable, but transformed into a damn necessity. The original Bond series ended with a whimper as opposed going out with a glorious bang…

Grade: D

My Top 10 Films of 2014

List by Derrick Carter

2014 has been a solid year for cinema. As with every film critic (freelance or professional), there comes a time of decision-making as to what the best movies of the year were. This list is all opinion based (like my reviews) and I can understand why people might not (and probably won’t) completely agree with every choice. In deciding how to rank my top 10 of the year, I noticed there was an equal amount of independent/foreign fare and big studio hits. This was unintentional, but is a nice detail that highlights how balanced this year really was for cinema all around.

Before I get into my actual list, it bears mentioning that I have not seen/reviewed every single film from this year (I plan on covering FOXCATCHER, INHERENT VICE, and AMERICAN SNIPER eventually). I’m only one man after all, so my selections come from the films that I’ve watched and reviewed this year. That all being said and without further ado, here are my 10 favorite films from 2014!

Honorable Mentions: BOUND BY FLESH, UNDER THE SKIN, CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER, FURY, THE HOBBIT: THE BATTLE OF THE FIVE ARMIES, HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON 2, and A MOST WANTED MAN

MCDBIBA EC023

10. BIG BAD WOLVES: I wasn’t terribly impressed with Aharon Keshales’s and Navot Papushado’s directorial debut, RABIES. BIG BAD WOLVES serves as a drastic improvement. At first, the story seems relatively simple. However, the diabolical screenplay toys with the viewer in injecting a pitch-black sense of humor that works wonderfully and a dark tone that isn’t the slightest bit funny. Things aren’t as simple as they originally appear and a haunting conclusion ensures that this film will stick with you. I originally saw/reviewed it in January and it has held up on multiple viewings throughout the year. If you’re up for a disturbing tour-de-force of horror that defies expectations, BIG BAD WOLVES should be on your radar!

MCDLEMO EC039

9. THE LEGO MOVIE: On New Year’s Day, I was chatting with a friend about how much I thought THE LEGO MOVIE was going to suck. This concept seemed doomed from the beginning and I was reluctantly dragged to the theater at the urging of my younger siblings. In all of 2014, I have never been so happy that I was so wrong about a film! Blending meta-elements, rapid fire jokes, and a hilarious storyline, THE LEGO MOVIE is 2014’s biggest surprise! The animation (which appears to combine stop-motion and computer graphics) is stellar. Tons of jokes are present so that it takes multiple viewings to catch every little piece (pun intended) that the movie has to offer. LEGO MOVIE is not only the best family film of 2014, everything about it is awesome!

MCDXMDA FE029

8. X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST: The X-MEN movies have a good vs. bad ratio of 5 to 2. Those are fantastic odds for any blockbuster series. DAYS OF FUTURE PAST delivered the best entry in the mutant saga to date. This much-anticipated comic book storyline was fantastically brought to life by returning director Bryan Singer. In lesser hands, FUTURE PAST could have become a standard blockbuster with the gimmick of time travel used to combine both casts of the franchise. Instead, this film was a delight to sit through for myself and many film goers this past summer. Easily the best comic book film since Christopher Nolan graced the silver screen with his take on Batman. Definitely count me in for APOCALYPSE in 2016!

NIGHTCRAWLER, Jake Gyllenhaal, 2014. ph: Chuck Zlotnick/©Open Road Films/Courtesy Everett Collection

7. NIGHTCRAWLER: Scarier than any true horror film that I saw in all of 2014, NIGHTCRAWLER is a truly disturbing movie. Disappearing completely into the main character of Lou, Jake Gyllenhaal delivers an award-worthy performance that creeped me out to the point where I was wriggling in my seat as he manipulated everyone around him. In a sense, Lou is a vampire sucking the moral decency out of everyone he comes across. As a dark, disturbing, and unflinching masterwork, NIGHTCRAWLER serves as cinematic nightmare that I can’t wait to revisit in the near future.

DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES, Andy Serkis, 2014. ph: David James/TM and ©Copyright Twentieth

6. DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES: This was the summer blockbuster that delivered on every possible level. It had grand action and amazing effects (those monkeys look so real), but also incorporated them into a smart story and complicated characters. While RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES was a huge surprise for everyone, DAWN has cemented itself as my personal favorite APE movie. DAWN blended spectacle and a fantastic plot so perfectly that it makes me shake with anticipation for the newest upcoming APES film (Summer 2016). Having seen RISE and DAWN, I’m more than prepared to bow down to our future primate overlords. This movie rocked!

MCDRAID EC042

5. THE RAID 2: I watched the original RAID at its Sundance premiere and thought it was an impressive action flick, but a tad overrated in the end. This exhilarating sequel pulls out all the stops to one up the original in every possible way. While APES blended spectacle with an intelligent story, RAID 2 blends an intense gangster thriller with mind-blowing action scenes. I was exhausted by the end of this film and that’s the biggest compliment I can give any action movie. Each fight scene has its own unique spin so none of them blended into one another. A few that stick out in my mind are a prison yard fight, one of the most intense/realistic car chases that I’ve ever seen, and a stunning confrontation between two highly skilled, deadly men. Those are just a few of the phenomenal sequences that this epic-length modern action classic has to offer. It plays like THE DEPARTED had a baby with a Bruce Lee movie. It’s friggin’ nuts and I loved every second of it!

MCDWHIP EC005

4. WHIPLASH: How do you turn a protégé story about a young man trying to be a successful drummer into a nail-bitingly thriller? Apparently, you get Damien Chazelle to write and direct it. Though he is a young newcomer, Chazelle struck gold in this fantastic and deep drama. I didn’t like Miles Teller before watching this movie and now appreciate that he has some serious acting chops on him. J.K. Simmons, usually a side character or background actor, is given room to be the most intimidating antagonist that I saw in a film all year. He plays a conductor, but Simmons is downright scary as hell and entertaining to watch at the same time. Well shot, well written, well acted, and all around well constructed, WHIPLASH is a masterpiece!

MCDGRBU FS040

3. THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL: The evening that I spent watching this magical film was an enchanting experience. Evoking a sense of classic comedies and a fairy tale color palette, Wes Anderson’s GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL sucked me into its oddball world from the first frame. Ralph Fiennes’s Gustave H. and Adrien Brody’s villain had me breaking into hysterical laughter throughout this whole film. Besides the humor, there’s a unique sweetness to BUDAPEST as well as a compelling storyline (background happenings reward repeat viewings). GRAND BUDAPEST is sincere in its story, humor, honest emotions, and ridiculous nature. Cinematic heaven!

GONE GIRL, from left: Ben Affleck, Rosamund Pike, 2014. ph: Merrick Morton/TM & copyright ©20th

2. GONE GIRL: Going into 2014, there was one film that I was highly anticipating. That was David Fincher’s adaptation of the best-selling mystery, GONE GIRL. The novel is acclaimed, for good reason, of having a nasty sleight of hand that trips up the reader’s preconceived notions. Fincher masterfully transfers that level of Hitchcockian suspense onto the screen in this deeply disturbing and haunting thriller. I didn’t spoil anything in my review and I won’t spoil anything here either. If anyone does try to give away the plot, slap them in the face before they can give away any detail. Though it’s really your fault for having not seen this film yet. Go see it! Seriously! It’s the smartest, entirely compelling and most intense thriller that I’ve seen all year. Once you’ve seen GONE GIRL, you’ll know why everyone is raving about it so much.

BIRDMAN OR (THE UNEXPECTED VIRTUE OF IGNORANCE), (aka BIRDMAN), Michael Keaton, on set, 2014. /TM

1. BIRDMAN or (THE UNEXPECTED VIRTUE OF IGNORANCE): What do I even say about this film? When I saw the trailer for BIRDMAN, I felt iffy on it. This looked to be a quirky comedy that could potentially be good, but might rely far too much on the gimmick of having a washed-up former superhero actor playing a washed-up former superhero actor. Nevertheless, I walked into the movie theater hoping for a good flick. In less than 10 minutes, I was under the film’s spell. This wasn’t just good or funny, this was fantastic and amazing. Telling the story in a stylistic choice that appears to be caught in one take (through various hidden cuts) and containing some of the best performances that this entire year had to offer, BIRDMAN is an extraordinary piece of cinema. I’ve bad-mouthed Michael Keaton for a couple of crappy movies he did earlier this year, but his performance really is something to behold in this film! There’s never been anything quite like BIRDMAN before and there’s never going to be anything quite like it again. BIRDMAN is perfection!

2014 was a solid year and produced a lot of phenomenal films. I hope 2015 is even better!

GONE GIRL (2014)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 2 hours 29 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for a Scene of Bloody Violence, some Strong Sexual Content/Nudity, and Language

GoneGirl poster

Directed by: David Fincher

Written by: Gillian Flynn

(based on the novel GONE GIRL by Gillian Flynn)

Starring: Ben Affleck, Rosamund Pike, Neil Patrick Harris, Tyler Perry, Carrie Coon, Kim Dickens, Patrick Fugit, Casey Wilson & Missi Pyle

Since 2014 began, I was looking forward to GONE GIRL. This was one of the most anticipated films that I’d been waiting all year to see and I’m so glad to say that it didn’t disappoint. David Fincher is one of  the best directors working today and continues to excel at telling dark stories with this diabolical thriller. It should be said right out of the gate that GONE GIRL is probably not the most ideal first date movie. The film is a complex piece of work that covers a variety of timely topics in a twisted story about a marriage gone very wrong.

GoneGirl 1

On the morning of their fifth anniversary, Nick Dunne comes home from visiting his sister to find that his wife, Amy, has disappeared. There are signs of a struggle and the police are called. Though Nick is cooperating with the police and putting on the appearance of a good guy, there seems to be something off about him. It’s not too long before its revealed to the viewer that the situation isn’t quite as clear-cut as it seems. It would be sugar-coating things to say that Nick and Amy’s marriage was dysfunctional. Events arise, things get more complicated, and if anyone dares try to spoil this movie for you, punch them in the face!

GoneGirl 2

David Fincher has previously turned well-known novels into A+-worthy films (FIGHT CLUB, THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATOO). It’s no easy feat, but Fincher does it yet again with GONE GIRL. Besides the man’s knack for directing awesome movies, it probably helps that the author of this source material has penned the screenplay for this adaptation. She knows precisely how the characters should behave and in what way certain plot developments should be given to the audience. The less said about the story itself, the better. You’ll be captivated if you go in knowing the general gist of the plot, but nothing else…unless you’re a fan of the book and then you’ll love it as well. GONE GIRL is a thriller that never goes in the direction you expect it to.

GoneGirl 3

Every actor in every single role (no matter how minor or large) nails their part perfectly. Ben Affleck (as questionable a Batman as he may wind up being) encapsulates Nick Dunne as a mysterious puzzle that the audience is dared to solve before the end credits roll. Rosamund Pike as Amy (seen in flashbacks) gets across the nervous wreck that this woman becomes due to many different problems caused by their crumbling relationship and the effects of a bad economy on a marriage before her ultimate disappearance. Neil Patrick Harris is suitably creepy as Amy’s ex-boyfriend/possible suspect. Of all people, Tyler Perry knocks it out of the park as a lawyer! Missi Pyle puts on her best Nancy Grace impression as a cable news host. Finally, there’s the relatively new Carrie Coon as Nick’s concerned twin sister. She was an unfamiliar face who put in a convincing performance and garners a lot of emotion from the viewer in her direction.

GoneGirl 4

Besides the phenomenal story and the great acting, GONE GIRL also has a sense of unease that lasts from the opening until the closing credits have begun to roll. The ending almost plays out longer than it should (in the same sense that GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO stretched its final minutes out), but it ultimately winds up paying off in spades. The final shot of the film is a haunting one that leaves you with a whole lot to ponder long after you’ve left the theater. This is an intelligent, compelling, intense piece of cinema that holds as a true product of our time too (there are plenty of news cases that resemble the one that this movie covers).

GoneGirl 5

There’s not a doubt in my mind that GONE GIRL will wind up on my top 10 films of 2014. It might even be my favorite movie of the year. I’m going that far because the film is that phenomenal. It’s a thriller that I’ll revisit over and over again for a variety of reasons. There’s not a bad thing I can say about GONE GIRL and to dive into specifics would give away too many details about the plot. Just know this is a thriller that does precisely what it should (thrills you) and leaves you with a whole lot to think about afterwards.

Grade: A+

THE WORLD’S END (2013)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 49 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Pervasive Language including Sexual References

Worlds End poster

Directed by: Edgar Wright

Written by: Simon Pegg & Edgar Wright

Starring: Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Eddie Marsan, Martin Freeman, Paddy Considine, Rosamund Pike & Pierce Brosnan

Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg, and Nick Frost all burst onto the spotlight in America with their zombie comedy SHAUN OF THE DEAD. Three years later, they returned with an equally hilarious and brilliant (maybe even a tad more so) action comedy HOT FUZZ. It’s been six years and the long awaited arrival of these three capping off their trilogy of spoof-comedies has arrived with a sci-fi romp titled THE WORLD’S END. This third and final entry in the “Cornetto” trilogy is also the movie that packs the most punch.

Worlds End 1

In 1990, Gary King and his four friends set off to conquer the Golden Mile, a series of twelve pubs in one night. Though they didn’t quite make it to the end, Gary still considers it to be the best time of his life. Now a middle-aged alcoholic, Gary gathers his mates together for a reunion to return to their hometown and conquer the Golden Mile again, once and for all. All of the friends are a little reluctant to come though, especially Andie (Gary’s former best mate). As the five adults catch up, it appears that something is wrong with their hometown. Most of the population has been replaced by robots and the group (including another acquaintance of theirs) must work together to survive the night. But more importantly, will they finally make it the last bar (aptly named The World’s End).

Worlds End 2

THE WORLD’S END works as a comedy, a science-fiction film, and a drama about friendships that last, as well as reminiscing on the past. In fact, the first 30-40 minutes of THE WORLD’S END play out without a bit of science-fiction or robots to be found. This is far from a detriment to the film, as it allows us time to watch these characters interact, laugh at Gary’s constant blundering and idiocy, as well as feel for them (both the frustrated companions and the tragic figure that Gary is).

Worlds End 3

By the time, the first robots are made apparent, I had almost forgotten that this was a sci-fi comedy, because I was buying it so well as just a plain comedy with dramatic elements. Once the action starts though, it rarely lets up. Seeing as this is an Edgar Wright film, it never takes the road we expect it to. The two regulars, Pegg and Frost, deliver their best roles to date as two former friends who have had a falling out for a major reason that’s revealed as the movie goes along. Meanwhile, Martin Freeman and Paddy Considine (who have both appeared in Wright’s former films in side parts) are given a lot to do here. Eddie Marsan shines in this comedy too, which is particularly impressive when you consider his filmography contains a whole lot of serious roles.

Worlds End 4

THE WORLD’S END also concludes on a bittersweet and wholly satisfying note that took a lot of guts to go through with. In fact, I didn’t know how I felt about the ending as I walked out of the theater, but the more I think about it, the more I love it. This is a comedy with damn near every attribute you could want a film (of any kind) to have. It’s funny, touching, entertaining, and leaves you thinking about it for a long while after. Not only is THE WORLD’S END the best comedy in years, it’s also one of the best movies of 2013! So gather your mates, maybe get a drink or two, and prepare to be annihilated in the best way possible!

Grade: A+

Blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑