Mel Gibson has returned to acting after a seven year leave of absence, for better or worse, depending on your perspective. “Edge of Darkness” is the material that hooked Gibson out of his semi-retirement, a remake of a momentous BBC miniseries from 1985, directed once again by Martin Campbell (“Casino Royale”). Originally a six-hour engine of suspense and political intrigue, “Edge of Darkness” has been shaved down to a mere two hours of entertainment. It’s an uneasy translation, and while there’s an undeniably perverse pleasure in watching Gibson mow down baddies once again, the film as a whole doesn’t form a narrative convincing enough to support such action cinema luxuries.
The comic relief is provided by Dax Shepard, Jon Heder, and Will Arnett; there’s a punchline where a needle is literally scratched off a record; a character exclaims “My bad!” after a piece of destructive slapstick; the screenplay makes absolutely no sense; and Danny DeVito plays a horny sausage salesman. See, this is what happens when Hollywood gives a romantic comedy to the director of “Daredevil,” “Ghost Rider,” and “Simon Birch.”
Nick Nolte the actor is a celebrated professional with an eccentric, semi-enviable list of credits to his name, revealing a passion for the art form and willingness to surprise. Nick Nolte the man is a walking contradiction; he’s a soul on a life’s quest to find emotional truth in his profession, yet buries his feeling under layers of chemical excess and a pathological need to lie to the press. There’s no one better to tell the story of Nick Nolte than the actor himself, who takes center stage in this undeniably hypnotic but eventually aimless documentary.
Paintball is a fascinating game, permitting average domesticated folk an opportunity to immerse themselves in a world of heated combat and precise military strategy, with the only possible downside being a few welts and stained clothing. “Paintball” is a low-budget thriller that twists purist enthusiasm for the sport in a rather macabre way, attaching life or death stakes to a pastime often associated with genial weekend warrior escapism.
Those mouth-watering highlights of “Julie & Julia” aside, French cuisine doesn’t hold quite the same twirl of utensil-dancing romanticism for me as it does the general public. The food retains outstanding craftsmanship and thrilling exotic flavors, but rarely, if ever, have I been in a position where I bust out a touchdown dance when the prospect of visiting a French restaurant is brought up. While hardly an exclusive Parisian hideaway shooing away Americans, the prospect of lunch at Epcot’s Les Chefs de France was somewhat daunting. However, for the purposes of high adventure, reservations were made, hunger was locked in, and personal prejudices were cast aside.
1978’s “Ice Castles” was a minor hit, but it struck a particular chord with teenage audiences, who ate up the treacly figure skating melodrama. The picture is a distant memory now, which leaves a sizable opportunity for a remake; something soft and sentimental to appeal to a whole new generation of young romantics. Stripped of its apple-cheeked Midwestern identity, grainy cinematography, and amusing histrionics, “Ice Castles” doesn’t make much of an impression the second time around. Forgoing nostalgia to play shamelessly to the Radio Disney generation, the upgrade is a gawky misfire, criminally monotonous from start to finish.
“The Boys Are Back” had every possible invitation to fully submerge itself in the comforting folds of teeth-grinding melodrama. A story of parental misconduct, the picture is swarming with opportunities for grandstanding performances, domestic tragedy, and teary acts of forgiveness. Thank heavens for writer Allan Cubitt and director Scott Hicks, for they attack the material with an aim toward emotional realism, for better and for worse. A convincing drama helped along by a refreshingly vulnerable turn from star Clive Owen, “The Boys Are Back” shows unexpected resolve to approach the central conflict with sincerity, and that small effort takes something with the potential for dispiriting routine and makes it a truly responsive motion picture.
Director Jonathan Mostow has never offended me as a filmgoer. His pictures have been routinely well-constructed and visually interesting (“Terminator 3,” “U-571,” “Breakdown”), even in the face of underwhelming plots and misguided performances. “Surrogates” is undoubtedly a misfire for the filmmaker, but it’s an interesting failure, peppered with a few memorable sequences and an appropriate, timely message highlighting the acceleration of social disconnect. While ambitious, the rhythm is off on this limping picture, with hints of severe studio interference derailing the movie from the moment it starts.
Coming just a week after the holy roll of “The Book of Eli” is “Legion,” a film decidedly more literal about its heavenly intentions, pitting angels versus humans in a war for the future of civilization. Sounds pretty cool, right? Well, “Legion” is quite the opposite; it’s a labored, darkly photographed, cringingly acted hodgepodge of fanciful geek-bait genre ideas and hideous connect-the-dots scripting. Who knew the end of the world could be such a screaming bore.
I’ve attempted to be kind to Dwayne Johnson in the past, trying to find some mythical sense of upside to dreck like “The Rundown,” “Doom,” and “The Game Plan.” Well, the honeymoon is officially over if “Tooth Fairy” is any indication of Johnson’s career ambition. Though I suppose it’s harmless in the long run, “Tooth Fairy” is profoundly unfunny and infuriatingly conventional, forgettable the very minute it commences. I’ve always hoped Johnson would find a proper footing in Hollywood, but if he’s going to waste his affability on nonsense nosepicker entertainment, there’s little motive to remain interested in his future cinematic activities.
“Extraordinary Measures” is the inaugural motion picture for CBS Films, which is an apt studio home, considering the feature plays much like a broad television production, with a soft trickling of sentimentality and a structure that pauses for commercial breaks. It’s a frivolous disease-of-the-week picture, but sufficiently intriguing, even taking on a startling perspective in the war of do-gooder science vs. vampiric pharmaceutical industry profit.
It has been said that Charles Darwin was the man who killed God. “Creation” is not a picture that reloads the gun, sharpens the nails, or freshens the noose; it’s a sensitive portrait of a controversial figure, meant to strip away over a century of accusation and condemnation, returning Darwin’s essence back to its original home of trembling doubt. It’s a film open for easy dismissal, but “Creation” is not an anti-religion screed, only an intimate drama of a man who found himself at a crossroads between the answers of science and the comfort of faith. There’s no show of teeth, no hateful agenda. “Creation” returns Charles Darwin to his humble origins in the vessel of art-house cinema, allowing the cast and crew to interpret the man through careful thematic consideration and often compelling domestic drama.
If there’s anything tremendously positive to write about “The Last Station,” it would be how the picture casts an interesting light on celebrated author Leo Tolstoy and the wrath of his final years, in which he morphed into a deity to some of his more ardent Russian followers. It’s a convincing portrait of intelligence assuming a greater purpose, though it’s trapped in an uneven feature film that starts with a bang and ends with whimper. “The Last Station” deserves accolades for its unusual subject matter, but consistency is a problem for director Michael Hoffman, who’s trying to balance a year in the life of a literary legend, but only encourages indifference.
Just a handful of movies to fear, cheer, and remain exhaustively befuddled by for the upcoming year. In 3-D!!!*
* Does not contain 3-D