The film “Hugo” made headlines Tuesday when it received 11 Oscar nominations, the most of any film this year and just squeaking ahead of silent film “The Artist” with 10.
But, for Hugo, that’s nothing new. Every incarnation of the story – of a boy who lives at a Paris train station – has been buoyed by good word of mouth since the novel by author Brian Selznick was published
Selznick's book, “The Invention of Hugo Cabret,” came out in 2007, and was adorned with an intricate cover that shows a hole that could fit a key set against a Paris skyline. In the novel, an orphan named Hugo Cabret lives inside a train station, working to keep the clocks running so the trains can depart on time. He meets a crotchety toymaker and the toymaker’s goddaughter, Isabelle, as he works to find a key that he believes could start an automaton that belonged to his father and which he thinks could contain a secret message.
The book has almost 300 illustrations for its 533 pages and was the first novel to win the Caldecott Medal, a prize given to picture books. Selznick was moved to write the story after hearing of the filmmaker Georges Méliès, who is portrayed by Ben Kingsley in the film and plays a large part in the story. As in the book, Méliès had no money in the later years of his life and ran a booth selling children’s toys in a station in Paris. He also had automata, as seen in the book.
“The Invention of Hugo Cabret” received rave reviews, with The New York Times writing, “Hugo Cabret evokes wonder… the result is a captivating work of fiction that young readers with a taste for complex plots and a touch of magic — think Harry H., not Harry P. — can love.” Reports released by independent bookstores said “Hugo Cabret” was a mainstay on their list of bestselling children’s books throughout the fall and winter, at one point coming in at the top spot on the list.
When Martin Scorsese was announced as director for the film version, the reaction of both the literary and film communities seemed to be surprised, but happy. The legendary director had never done a children’s movie before, but films such as “Raging Bull” and “Goodfellas” (among others) spoke for themselves in terms of a recommendation. What attracted more attention was the news that it would be filmed in 3-D – with the book’s intricate illustrations, it seemed like a natural fit to fans of the book and those looking forward to the movie. Actor Ben Kingsley came on board to play Méliès and Jude Law signed on for a few scenes playing Hugo’s deceased father. “Let Me In” actress Chloe Moretz was Hugo’s friend Isabelle and Asa Butterfield, who will also play the hero in a film adaptation “Ender’s Game,” as the titular Hugo.
While rated well by film critics, some have called the box office take for Hugo disappointing. As of Jan. 22, the filme has earned $55 million but reportedly had a $150 million budget. The Christian Science Monitor critic Peter Rainer gave it a B+ and wrote of the movie’s 3-D effects:
“Unlike most directors who use the visual process as a gimmick, Scorsese brings us into the imagery with an understated elegance” and said that while “the huge apparatus of Dante Ferretti’s production design, extraordinary as it is, along with the elaborate visual effects, are sometimes as much an impediment as a spur to the film’s flights of fancy,” the movie is “a mixed bag but one well worth rummaging through.”
Metacritic, a website that tallies critics’ reviews, reports the film as currently having score of 83 out of100 based on reviews from more than 40 critics.
While other movies like “The Artist” and “The Descendants” are tipped to dominate the Academy Awards on Feb. 26, “Hugo” still has received the most honors, many for the visual feel of the movie, and has been a frontrunner all awards season for Best Picture and Best Directing prizes.
Not bad for a kids’ movie.
It’s long been presumed that the League of Shadows, as it was portrayed in Batman Begins, would be returning in some form in co-writer/director Christopher Nolan’s final installment in his Caped Crusader saga, The Dark Knight Rises.
Rumors about how the dangerous organization will fit into the plot of the film have long been circulating, as has more solid, but still unconfirmed word about younger stars such as Josh Pence and Joey King portraying youthful versions of characters such as LoS head Ra’s al Ghul and his daughter, Talia.
Today, we have some additional fuel to add to that particular fire, in the form of confirmation from a longtime rumored Dark Knight Rises player that they are involved with the film – in some form, at least.
Chances are good that those reading this article already have a pretty good idea of who we’re talking about. However, if you’re attempting to avoid knowing anything too concrete about The Dark Knight Rises in advance, STOP READING NOW.
Yes, as has long been unofficially reported to be the case, Liam Neeson is in fact involved with The Dark Knight Rises. However, judging by what he recently told ShowbizSpy, the elder version of Ra’s won’t be appearing too long in the actual film (if at all):
“I can tell you nothing about ‘Dark Knight Rises’, seriously. I was on set for maybe an hour-and-a-half and the director didn’t tell me anything of what it’s about. So, I’m being very honest when I say I have no idea what’s going to happen.”
Obviously, it would be strange for Neeson to simply show up on the Dark Knight Rises set and NOT have actually filmed a short scene (or two) that flashes back to a time when the League of Shadows mastermind was still breathing, ie. either prior to and/or during the early portions of Batman Begins. So, all in all, it’s probably safe to say: Neeson’s deadly alter ego will actually pop up in the new film, at some point.
Now, the question is: how will the elder Ra’s fit into the mystery narrative of Dark Knight Rises? Could it be that he was responsible for either training and/or recruiting Bane (Tom Hardy) for a last-ditch effort to topple Gotham City – or will he merely show up during flashbacks to Bruce Wayne’s (Christian Bale) time training with the LoS?
All shall be revealed at last when The Dark Knight Rises hits U.S. theaters on July 20th, 2012.
Sandy Schaefer blogs at Screen Rant.
The Plot: From executive producer J.J. Abrams comes ALCATRAZ, a thrilling new series that follows Detective Rebecca Madsen (Sarah Jones), Dr. Diego Soto (Jorge Garcia) and Emerson Hauser (Sam Neill) as they attempt to investigate the mystifying reappearance of 302 of Alcatraz’s most notorious prisoners and guards, 50 years after they vanished.
The First Impression: Do you really have to ask? After all, where J.J. Abrams leads (See: ALIAS, LOST, FRINGE, among others) this TV Addict follows. A decision that quite frankly has been made all the easier thanks to ALCATRAZ’s ridiculously enticing concept, immensely likeable ensemble and two-hour series premiere filled with just about the requisite number of plot twists one might expect from a series that’s being billed as “From Executive Producer J.J. Abrams.” Also adding to our overall enthusiasm for this addictive new series is the escapee-of-the-week premise that should, if handled correctly, allow for viewers suffering from mythology-fatigue (See: FLASHFORWARD, THE EVENT, among others) to easily follow what’s going on in stark contrast to some of Abrams previous offerings. That said…
The Concern: Has us reminiscing back to the troubled first season of FRINGE and wondering whether the showrunner that has taken serialization to an entirely new level is even capable of crafting a show around standalone episodes. In otherwords, despite Abrams assertion during the recent Television Critics Association Press Tour that had him, alongside co-executive producer Jennifer Johnson, promise that ALCATRAZ is procedural television done right, it remains to be seen whether or not the series will be able to deliver a case-of-the-week compelling enough to attract your typical NCIS/CSI viewer while still managing to sprinkle in enough mythology for viewers who prefer the LOST-style of storytelling. Either way…
The Verdict: Has us itching to find out.
The TV Addict staff blogs at The TV Addict.
When the ambitious Mexican film “Miss Bala” made its Mexican debut last September, more than one local newspaper article questioned whether the film should have been made at all. Indeed, the latest project from director Gerardo Naranjo ("I’m Gonna Explode") is an uncomfortable and horrifying journey into the grit and brutality of the country’s cartel-fueled violence, a journey devoid of the neatly packaged shoot-‘em-up heroics typical of Hollywood’s action flicks. It’s dark stuff. But Naranjo’s unapologetically ruthless interpretation is also what makes his newest statement piece both spellbinding and provocative.
“Miss Bala” roughly translates to Miss Bullet, a cunning reference to both the main protagonist, unlikely Baja beauty queen Laura Guerrero (played by the model-turned-actress Stephanie Sigman), and the entrenched violence of the region. Subtitles spell out that cartel violence has killed more than 36,000 people since 2006. It’s telling, however, that in the short interim between the film’s production and US distribution, that tally has swelled to more than 47,000; some critics warn even that number could be too low.
The story, based loosely on the true story of disgraced former beauty queen Laura Zunega, is told through the eyes of a poor 23-year-old from Tijuana who enters the local pageant on a whim. Laura’s quiet country life is turned upside down after she witnesses the bloody murders of several discotheque patrons – including cops and a U.S. federal agent – by members of the local gang La Estrella. In the attack’s chaotic aftermath, Laura is kidnapped by gang leader Lino (played with a bestial quality by Noe Hernandez). Captivated by her beauty, Lino also shrewdly recognizes Laura’s value and uses her as a pawn in the gang’s rapidly escalating schemes before she is eventually captured and framed by the government for a host of La Estrella’s crimes.
The unrelenting tension of the film is enhanced by Naranjo’s use of long, unbroken takes – there are only 130 cuts in the entire movie – and an almost complete lack of a soundtrack. In one memorable scene, Lino drives Laura to the beach and silently rapes her in the cab of his pickup. It is an outcome sickening in its apparent inevitability. The camera pans the beach at sunrise, the drug lord’s truck a dark blot on an otherwise beautiful tableau and the crashing waves a welcome respite from the malicious silence of the night.
Written by Naranjo and Mauricio Katz, the script is a tangle of deception and double crosses that blurs the line between good guys and bad with a series of twists that emphasize the entrenched nature of corruption. The minimization of Laura’s character begins the first time we meet her, with an opening shot from behind to obscure her face. The prevalence of such shots throughout the film deprives Laura of her identity and humanity and adds to the sense of powerlessness that pervades the movie's 113 minutes as her silencing gradually becomes a metaphor for her homeland.
The question for American audiences accustomed to sexed-up cartel dramas like Stephen Soderbergh’s "Traffic," and the more recent heroics of Zoe Saldana in "Columbiana,” is why doesn’t Laura fight back? Why doesn’t she just pick up a gun and shoot her kidnapper and rapist? In a society that has robbed Laura completely of her power, repurposed her identity, and stolen away her family, perhaps the question instead should be, why would she? In the real world, having nothing left to lose is hardly the motivating factor the film industry makes it out to be.
Ultimately “Miss Bala,” like other recent Mexican films depicting the drug war, does not offer viewers much in the way of hope. Justice, for Laura, is not served. As smoke billows from the skyline early in her ordeal and gunfire crackles faintly, a white limousine rolls past, its celebrating, formally attired occupants happily waving bouquets from the skylight – a wedding procession perhaps, or a Quinceañera? Life goes on, but how many more Laura Guerreros are out there, their fates uncertain, their voices muffled by the harsh directives of men with walkie-talkies and bullets.
Miss Bala opens in the US Jan. 20 and has been nominated for an Academy Award in the Best Foreign Film category.
11:07AM: Before submitting himself to the firing squad that is a roomful of tired and cranky television critics, Fox Entertainment President Kevin Reilly announces plans for a new late night animated comedy block (Think: Adult Swim) that will air Saturdays at 11PM – 12:30AM starting in January 2013.
11:14AM: Despite going on record during the previous summer’s TCA Press Tour that the Network would be making a decision on the future (or lack thereof) of HOUSE sometime in the Fall, Reilly fesses up to failure to communicate. “To be honest with you, it’s hard to imagine the Network with HOUSE so we kind of agreed to mutually put off any decision until the first of the year and we still have yet to sit down and see where we are,” Reilly says, being sure to add for any anxious fans who may-or-may-not be reading this. “We haven’t had the big meeting yet, but we are not going to be unceremoniously handing out pink slips. If it’s the end of the run there is no way [Creator] David Shore is going to let the fans feel that it wasn’t capped off properly.”
11:17AM: Continuing this session’s somewhat alarming theme of a complete and utter lack of answers comes Reilly’s take on the future of TERRA NOVA. First the good news: Fox made money, the show looked fantastic and all evidence points to the show really resonated with the family audience. Bad News: Despite an immensely likeable cast and some fantastic ideas, Reilly did admit to the show “creatively hunting” throughout much of the first season. In short: Due to production needs, a decision will be made on the show’s future within the next month.
11:20AM: Reilly continues to be immensely happy with the performance of THE X FACTOR. Unfortunately for embattled host Steve Jones, he was slightly less than enthusiastic about his future job stability, only going to far as say, “It’s a much harder job than meets the eye, and whether Steve’s the guy or not, there will be some tweaks to the show.”
11:22AM: Still reeling over the ambiguity of HOUSE’s future, well this news probably won’t be of much help. The time for a HOUSE spin-off has come and gone. “We talked about a spin-off over the past few seasons but David [Creator David Shore] just never creatively found something that excited him,” says Reilly, adding, “[Editor's Note: Unlike NBC!] We’re not in that desperate place where we need to try and keep that the show going and we definitely don’t want some watered down version of the show.”
11:23AM: Is there such a thing as too much reality TV? Short Answer: “No!” Long Answer: Although he expects ratings for AMERICAN IDOL to be slightly down this season due to the fact that it’s going on an 11 year show, audiences remain passionate. Reilly sights the recent fan reaction to SO YOU THINK YOU CAN DANCE’s format change, “I think all of our competition shows will be here for quite some time.”
11:28AM: Bad news for all seven fans of ALLEN GREGORY, It’s over. “We had a great experience with [creator] Jonah Hill, we’re in business with him, but animation is particularly challenging,” admits Reilly, who goes on to call the future of BOB’s BURGERS very promising.
11:33AM: Duh of the Day: Fox is not in the business of losing money! Which could potentially spell doom for the future of FRINGE. For while Reilly loves the show, calling it “a point of pride” for him and applauding it for “vastly improving our Friday night,” it’s an expensive show. “The hesitation in my voice is that it’s an expensive show and we lose a lot of money,” says Reilly, who goes on to say that discussions with Producing partner Warner Bros Television have yet to really heat up. “Please don’t start the letter-writing campaign. I can’t take it.”
11:37AM: Remember last fall when the internet all but imploded on itself when word leaked out with regards to a GLEE spin-off? Well you can forget it, because according to Reilly, the GLEE kids aren’t going anywhere “There will not be a GLEE spinoff but those characters will graduate,” promises Reilly. “It has led to a very cool idea that Ryan [Murphy] and the guys [writing staff] have come up with for next season that will be set up in the Spring batch of episodes. I think it’s going to really give us something cool to dig into next season.”
11:38AM: Fan(s) of I HATE MY TEENAGE DAUGHTER (Beuller? Beuller?) will be pleased to discover that Reilly plans on airing all six or seven remaining episodes. What’s more, he’s determined to get back in the business of multi-camera comedies pointing to CBS as evidence that audiences want to see them. “I know some of them are excruciatingly bad, but audiences clearly want to watch comedy again and I want to feed that.”
The TV Addict staff blogs at The TV Addict.
A big question mark lingers above the head of Sony’s upcoming comic book franchise revamping, The Amazing Spider-Man. Fans seem to either love or be very wary of the idea of a fresh start to the Peter Parker story; unlike many of the other reboots/remakes on the horizon, the Webslinger’s tale is especially familiar to moviegoers, seeing how it only unfolded onscreen (in live-action form) for the first time back in 2002.
While the basic crux of Spidey’s origin remains intact in Amazing Spider-Man, there are numerous new plot and character elements being incorporated, which were absent from director Sam Raimi’s original Spider-Man movie. But will those new ingredients help to produce a tasty, yet somewhat unfamiliar dish – or are they just window dressings being added on to create the illusion that this flick is more than just an unimaginative rehash?
The cast and crew of Amazing Spider-Man have (naturally) been keen to emphasize that the film will bring something genuinely new to the table, be it in the form of vastly different takes on certain characters – or just a tone that’s more “realistic” and less reminiscent of a live-action Saturday morning cartoon, a la Raimi’s Spider-Man trilogy.
Case in point: Amazing Spider-Man stars Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone, along with producers Avi Arad and Matthew Tolmach, recently attended a Tokyo-based press conference, to promote the film. While there, they dropped some interesting new tidbits of information concerning the differences between this new flick and the previous Spider-Man movies.
Arad had the following to say, with regards to certain character dynamics in The Amazing Spider-Man:
“In our movie, [Andrew Garfield as Peter Parker] finds his true love. Gwen Stacy [Emma Stone] was always the true love of Peter Parker… We found a very, very good story about what makes a human being. About what sets their destiny.
“… We introduce our villain, Dr. Connors [Rhys Ifans], and in the great tradition of Marvel, Dr. Connors is going to be connected to Peter Parker and, in our case even more interesting, to Gwen Stacy. Right there, the challenge of having to deal with a villain who is a mentor and the only one who you can look at and say, ‘So what really happened to my dad?’ That’s a very hard person to fight.”
The subplot concerning Peter Parker’s parents, which Arad is referencing here, is one of the more significant aspects absent from the Raimi films, but which is being added to the mix in Amazing Spider-Man. In fact, that narrative thread is connected directly to the flick’s tagline about how it features “The Untold Story” of Mr. Parker.
Following the screening of new Amazing Spider-Man footage for the Japanese press, Garfield also added the following bit of information, concerning both the overall design of the film – and the physical (rather than emotional) nature of Peter’s journey:
“As you can see, a lot of the stunts are practical and grounded in reality. That was something that Marc [Webb], the director, really wanted to make sure happened in this movie to set it apart from previous ones… I would exhaust myself every day and get into near-death experiences every hour on the hour.
“… I collaborated with [the stunt team] not only on the big stunt set-pieces but also on what happens to Peter’s body when he gets bitten. What happens to his DNA and how that effects the way he moves and the way he interacts with objects. The idea that he has spider DNA running in his system. What that will do to his sense of space. What that will do to the sensitivity of his skin. To have an opportunity to play in that forum with creative and talented people was a real opportunity and gift.”
Most people will likely recall that Raimi’s first Spidey movie brought the newfound arachnid abilities of a young Peter Parker (as played by Tobey Maguire) to life in fairly stylized form. It remains to be seen just how different and down-to-earth Spidey’s acrobatic maneuvers and enhanced senses will be in Amazing Spider-Man, by comparison. The choice to have Garfield’s version of Mr. Parker use artificial web-shooters, rather than possess the organic ones which Maguire’s had, should certainly help, in that respect.
For more about Amazing Spider-Man, including information about Stone’s iteration of Gwen Stacy, check out this video recording of the full 50-minute long ASM conference.
Sandy Schaefer blogs at Screen Rant.
Lionsgate is taking what could be dubbed “the Harry Potter approach,” when it comes to the studio’s own adaptation of a best-selling young adult book series, The Hunger Games – namely, recruit highly-respected acting talent for the film’s adult supporting roles and also get some big names working behind the camera.
Word began circulating in 2011 that the studio was planning to do likewise with the Hunger Games sequel, Catching Fire, with Simon Beaufoy as a possibility to handle screenwriting duties. Now, the Oscar-winning writer responsible for Slumdog Milionaire is confirmed to work on the next installment in the futuristic trilogy.
The Wrap is reporting that Beaufoy has begun penning the script for Catching Fire, under the guiding hand of Hunger Games director Gary Ross, who is set to helm the sequel. It’s a situation somewhat similar to that of the latter film, where another acclaimed script writer (in the form of Shattered Glass scribe Billy Ray) penned an early draft, with input from Ross; there, however, the bulk of the final shooting script reportedly ended up being written by Ross, with original Hunger Games novelist Suzanne Collins contributing to the process.
Without getting too deep into spoiler territory: Catching Fire begins in the immediate aftermath of the 74th annual Hunger Games ceremony in the first film, which leaves the dystopian nation of Panem in a state of social upheaval and inspires the dominating Capitol government to tighten its steely grip on the general population, in the hopes of regaining control – even as whispers of rebellion start to spread like (what else?) fire amongst its subjects, all thanks to the actions of District 12 “tributes” Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) and Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson).
Ross’ Hunger Games movie adaptation won’t actually hit theaters for another two months (from the time of writing this) but it’s a highly-anticipated title that should do solid business at the box office. Matter of fact, it’s been said that the film need only gross $100 million in the U.S. in order for Lionsgate to properly justify keeping the franchise alive, from a financial perspective. In other words, studio heads are wise to begin work on Catching Fire now, so they can strike while the iron’s hot (pun not intended).
Much like other upcoming blockbuster titles that deal with themes about revolution or feature plot points concerning mass uprisings (ex. The Dark Knight Rises) both The Hunger Games and Catching Fire will have the benefit of timeliness on their side, in addition to the popularity of Collins’ source material. However, similar to how The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is generally the most well-liked installment in Stieg Larsson’s Millennium trilogy, the first novel in Collins’ Hunger Games series tends to be ranked higher than its sequels; so, that could affect interest in the franchise, as a whole.
That said: Catching Fire could mark one of the rare occasions where a sequel is just as good or better than its predecessor – thanks to the combination of Beaufoy’s reliable screenwriting prowess (see: The Full Monty, Slumdog Millionaire, 127 Hours) and Ross holding the directorial reigns again. As always, we shall have to wait and see…
Sandy Schaefer blogs at Screen Rant.
Returning for a third explosive season, FX’s razor-sharp series JUSTIFIED is back with more gunfights, brawls, and rampant crime in Harlan, Kentucky. Raylan Givens (Timothy Olyphant) may be a U.S. Marshal, but his life is cursed to be a crime-magnet. No matter what the situation or how many guns might be involved, Raylan walks straight in and astoundingly usually walks right back out. But in the second season finale, Raylan’s good luck ran out and he took a bullet in a shoot-out with Mags Bennett’s (Margo Martindale) crew. Also in that bloody finale, Raylan was not the only unlucky one as Ava Crowder (Joelle Carter) was shot point-blank by Mags’ son Dickie (Jeremy Davies), and Raylan’s aunt Helen (Linda Gehringer) was caught in the cross-fire as well. Crime is a bit incestuous with the Bennetts, Crowders, Givens and other clans looking to preserve their way of life — their god-given right to pursue the almighty dollar by any means necessary.
JUSTIFIED is not just a series about U.S. Marshals pursuing federal fugitives or protecting federal witnesses. It is about the Kentucky feuds dating back to the beginning of U.S. history. Walking the fine-line between upholding the law that his federal badge affords and rooting out the evil infesting Harlan County, Raylan tends to shoot first and ask questions later. In his defense, if he doesn’t, he’ll be the one six-feet under — as no one talks without taking a bullet first.
As the third season opens, Raylan is on desk-duty recuperating, and a very disgruntled Boyd Crowder (Walton Goggins) reminds Raylan that he failed to honor his promise to hand over Dickie Bennett, the man who brazenly shot Ava — Boyd’s girl; and Boyd aims to settle the score. But life never stands still while the feuds are erupting; new in town is a hired-hand who specializes in quick draw with a pistol and an ice pick. Also arriving to fill the void left behind by Mags’ suicide last season, the northern crime bosses have sent their best man to set up a new operation to keep the pipeline of pills flowing between Miami and Chicago. In no time, the new crime boss Quarles (fantastically portrayed by Neal McDonough) positions himself to face off with Boyd Crowder for control over crime in Harlan County. One line that Quarles says echoes throughout the season is, “Know me now?” He only looks like a squeaky clean business man in a suit; but one should never turn their back on a snake in a suit.
Throw into the mix, Dickie Bennett whose mission in life is to reclaim his family’s fortune and preserve the family criminal enterprise, Boyd Crowder who has a similar mission with the one caveat that he wants Dickie’s head on a platter, and the usual suspects of Boyd’s errant kinsmen of Devil (Kevin Rankin), Dewey Crowe (Damon Herriman), and Johnny Crowder (David Meunier) and there is only one thing for certain: all hell is about to break loose.
With the news of Winona’s pregnancy at the end of last season, Raylan’s got a lot on his mind. The last thing he needs to do is mediate or squash another blood-feud brewing to a boiling point. But with everyone sniffing around for Mags Bennett’s fortune and hoping to secure Harlan County as the base of their criminal enterprise, Raylan’s desire to sit back and start a family is going to back-burnered.
Tiffany Vogt blogs at The TV Addict.
Everything about Contraband can best be summed up in the word “average.” There’s nothing too great about this B-movie action/heist flick, but nothing too terrible about it, either. While it is overly ambitious in some respects, it ultimately lands in that middle ground of mindless (and instantly forgettable) genre entertainment, despite its shortcomings.
Mark Wahlberg channels his usual soft-spoken tough guy screen persona as Chris Farraday, a former master smuggler who has settled down into a law-abiding life as a working dad and loving husband to his gorgeous wife, Kate (Kate Beckinsale). When Kate’s little brother Andy (Caleb Landry Jones) is forced to dump a shipment of cocaine during a high-stakes smuggling run, he lands himself, Chris, and Kate on the hook of local thug Tim Briggs (Giovanni Ribisi).
Chris’ attempt to negotiate with Briggs is…less than successful, leaving him just two weeks to get back into the smuggling game and come up with the money owed to Briggs.With help from his best buddy Sebastian (Ben Foster), Chris rounds up a small crew of deckhands to help him pull off a scheme involving counterfeit bills waiting to be smuggled out of Panama. Of course things don’t go as planned, and there are a few of the standard heist film twists and double-crosses that leave Chris and Co. in tight spots and facing long odds.
For a glorified B-movie, Contraband has an impressive lineup of actors. Foster and Ribisi are accomplished character acting talents, and their respective characters are definite standouts (especially Ribisi’s high-pitched drawling thug). Caleb Landry Jones and Luke Haas are both young actors gaining notice, though they’re mostly window dressing here; Kate Beckinsale, on the other hand, is almost too hot to be convincing as the blue-collar Mrs. of a seasoned criminal. At this point most people know whether they like Mark Wahlberg’s bad boy persona or not, and he’s definitely playing to type in this film. Other familiar faces like J.K. Simmons (Spider-Man), Diego Luna (Y Tu Mama Tambien) and Sons of Anarchy star William Lucking all pop up here and there for some brief (but welcome) bit roles.
Contraband is, in fact, the American remake of the Icelandic film Reykjavik-Rotterdam, and while I haven’t seen that film to know for sure, the script for this American version (adapted by Aaron Guzikowski) tries to do too much with some of the subplots and supporting characters – which would’ve been more of a pronounced distraction if director Baltasar Kormakur (who produced the Icelandic version) and his team of editors hadn’t cut them down to size.
The first act of Contraband is awkwardly clipped – almost as if Kormakur had shot longer scenes but had to truncate them to keep things moving (a choice I wholeheartedly support). The main narrative unfolds at a nice pace without dragging too much – though, as stated, the moments of subplot development later in the film are often cumbersome, disjointed, and never feel effective or necessary.
The other odd thing about the film is that it doesn’t really offer a whole lot of any one element: for an action film, there’s very little action (basically one shootout/chase sequence), and for a heist film, it’s not particularly inventive or clever in its twists and surprises (most of them you can see coming way in advanced). The plot is pretty much a standard point A to point B to point C progression, while we watch Wahlberg and his blue-collar cohorts breeze through the complicated process of international smuggling with such ease that it’s hard to suspend your disbelief for too long. Look for plot holes with any kind of critical eye and you will find many.
However, for all its mediocrity, most of the audience interested in Contraband will likely be satisfied with what the film delivers: Mark Wahlberg looking tough, acting tough, and delivering choice one-liners like “You think you’re the only guy with a gun?” or “I’m coming for you!” And even though some of the subplots wedged into the second and third acts venture into darker and more serious dramatic territory, thankfully they aren’t so much of a drag as to keep the film from ending on a fun (if not entirely plausible) note.
All things considered, if you enjoy seeing modern action stars like Wahlberg or Jason Statham in pulpy B-movie flicks, then Contraband will be a suitable distraction. Those with more discerning action movie palates should probably wait to catch this one on home video or basic cable.
Kofi Outlaw blogs at Screen Rant.
Hot on the heels of a demonic monster opening weekend at the box office (to the tune of $34.5 million) for The Devil Inside, the film’s writer/director (William Brent Bell) and co-writer (Matthew Peterman) are already preparing to shoot another, currently untitled, “found footage” style horror film.
It’s no surprise to hear that the pair is moving fast, especially considering that most box office experts are expecting a major drop-off for The Devil Inside in the coming week – due to negative word of mouth and the unenthusiastic response of the critical community (read our review of The Devil Inside). However, regardless of the film’s reception, it managed to do big bucks on a $1 million budget – making the pair an attractive prospect for Hollywood executives.
According to The Hollywood Reporter, CEO of Sierra/Affinity, Nick Meyer had no problem touting the pair’s accomplishments – even if The Devil Inside legacy is still up in the air:
“From day one, we have been huge fans of this filmmaking team and the way they have crafted a unique movie-going experience with The Devil Inside. These are filmmakers we know and trust and they bring an original voice and style to our next project that will once again introduce audiences to a new expectaiton of what one can define as a genre film.”
Bell and Peterman will, as mentioned, write the film together with Bell once again pulling double-duties as director. The film is set for financing through Sierra/Affinity and the Incentive Filmed Entertainment Fund with Peterman as well as Steven Schneider (Paranormal Activity, Insidious) and Morris Paulson (The Devil Inside) producing – and Bell, Peterman, and Paulson’s company, Prototype, handling production. The film is set to start work in Romania this April – though no storylines or potential cast members have been revealed at this point.
Admittedly, this new project was just announced but it’s hard not to be somewhat suspicious given the lack of concrete details, and Schneider’s annualizing of the Paranormal Activity series - not to mention The Devil Inside cliffhanger and decent box office profit. Is it a possibility that, despite Meyer’s claims that the new film will set “a new expectaiton of what one can define as a genre film,” that the new film could be the no-brainer Devil Inside sequel?
Of course, with all the uncertainty around whether or not audiences would be receptive to a Devil Inside 2, there’s always the possibility that the pair is actually preparing a different “found footage” genre experience – hopefully with a better ending this round. A Deadline report indicates that the new Bell/Peterman film will “bring a similar filmmaking style to another classic horror mythology” – though, with so few details to go on, it’s possible that the movie’s producers are merely trying to muddy the waters a bit and keep people from speculating that the new film is actually just another installment in Hollywood’s next big annualized cash grab. We’ll likely know more next month – as Sierra/Affinity is expected to sell the project to potential foreign buyers at the European Film Market in Berlin.
Ben Kendrick blogs at Screen Rant.