Film Review: Replicas (dir by Jeffrey Nachmanoff)


Don’t even ask me to explain what’s going on in Replicas, a sci-fi film that was released way back in January to terrible reviews and non-existent box office.

Admittedly, this film has a plot and you can kind of follow it if you force yourself to.  And really, it’s not that unusual of a plot.  It’s another one of those things where a scientist is shocked to discover that his top secret research is actually being funded by the military and everyone in the audience is supposed to be like, “OH MY GOD!  NO!  NOT THE MILITARY!”  As you can probably guess from the title, the film is also about clones.  Have you ever noticed that bad sci-fi films always seem to involve cloning?

It’s not so much that the plot can’t be followed as that the film’s storyline just feels oddly underdeveloped.  Watching Replicas, you get the feeling that the filmmakers got bored with the plot and just decided to go ahead and make the movie, without thinking everything through.  As a result, the film touches on all of the ethical and philosophical issues that come along with cloning people but that’s all it does.  Instead of actually exploring any of those issues or trying to come up with an original spin on the story, Replicas just mechanically moves from one scene to another.

Keanu Reeves plays William Foster, a scientist who, along with his longtime friend and partner, Ed Whittle (Thomas Middleditch of Silicon Valley fame), has figured out a way to transfer a dead person’s mind into a robot’s body, hence bringing the person kind of back to life.  A big evil corporation has set up a lab in Puerto Rico for Foster and Whittle to do their research.  The problem is that every time that they put a dead soldier’s mind into an android body, the dead soldier gets pissed off and destroys the body.  Evil Mr. Jones (John Ortiz) demands that they figure out a way to keep the dead soldier from getting mad.  Somehow, it doesn’t occur to Foster or Whittle that Jones wants them to put the soldier’s mind in the android’s body so that the android can then be used as a weapon of war.

(Also, if you want to use androids as soldiers, why not just do some sort of remote control thing like they do with drones?  Seriously, I don’t think Jones has thought his evil scheme through.  The less complicated the better.)

Anyway, Foster and his wife, Mona (Alice Eve), and his three children decides to spend the weekend camping and things don’t go well.  In fact, they go so badly that Foster ends up crashing the SUV and his entire family ends up dead.  Not to worry though!  Foster’s a scientist and he knows how to create clones.  So, he’ll just clone his family.  Of course, to do that, he’ll have to pretend that they’re all still alive and, because he only has room for three clones, he’ll have to pretend like his fourth child never existed.

Does Foster succeed?  Well, the movie is called Replicas.  What’s weird is that it’s obvious that Foster’s going to succeed but the movie still spends an entire hour with Foster and Whittle trying to figure out how to bring the clones to life.  I understand the movie wanted to at least pretend like there was a chance that Foster might not be able to do it but, again, the movie is called Replicas.

Anyway, Foster does eventually resurrect his family but then he discovers that Jones is actually a bad guy and soon, Foster and the Replicas are fleeing for their lives.  It really doesn’t add up too much because the film doesn’t bother to really explore any of the issues that it brings up.  Potentially big moments — like Foster deleting his youngest daughter’s existence — happen but are never really explored.  You keep waiting for some sort of twist — like the clones turning on their creator or Foster discovering that he’s a clone himself — and it never happens.  Instead, the film turns into a rather standard if not very exciting sci-fi action film.

To give credit where credit is due, Keanu Reeves does appear to be taking the film seriously and he has a few scenes that suggest that the film would have been improved if it had played up the idea of Foster being a mad scientist.  The rest of the cast seems to be either bored or miscast but Reeves does try to bring some heart to the film.  Otherwise, Replicas is pretty forgettable.

Trailer: John Wick 3


Hi, everyone!

I have a theory about movies, specifically about the people who go to see the movies.  My theory is that audiences really like to watch Keanu Reeves kill people.

I think a lot of that has to do with the fact that Keanu seems to be pretty centered in real life.  He’s one of the few celebs about whom you never seem to hear anything negative.  Whenever Keanu’s in the news, he’s either volunteering at a homeless shelter or he’s in the park feeding ducks.  You never hear about Keanu acting obnoxious and pulling a star trip on anyone.  He seems to be at peace with both the world and his place in it.  While all the other celebs are on twitter being grumpy, Keanu seems like he should be hanging out on a ranch and having a beer with Kurt Russell and Jeff Bridges.

In short, real world Keanu seems to have reached a state of perfect zen.  So, it’s kind of fun to watch him tear through these action movies, battling either computer viruses or international mobsters.  The man who once known as Neo is now best known as John Wick.  When we first met John Wick, he won our hearts by avenging a dog.  Judging by the just released trailer of John Wick 3, he’s still a friend to animals.

He’s also still got people looking to kill him, of course.  Judging from the trailer, John Wick 3 looks like it will be an action spectacular.  You have to wonder about the mercenaries and killers who keep getting sent after Wick.  I imagine that, when they find out what they’re expected to do, a lot of them quit on the spot.  No one can kill John Wick.

And if you need proof, just check out the trailer below!

Here’s The Trailer for Keanu Reeves in Siberia!


The action film career of Keanu Reeves continues this July with Siberia!

In this one, Keanu’s a diamond trader whose partner disappears in Russia.  Keanu hops on an airplane so he can investigate.  I’m going to guess that it will all somehow involve the Russian mafia because almost everything does nowadays.

Personally, I think they missed an opportunity when they didn’t call this one, “John Wick in Siberia.”

I also think that someone needs to team Keanu and Liam Neeson up for an action film.  Speaking of Liam, did you remember to see The Commuter earlier this year?  It was surprisingly good.

Anyway, here’s the trailer for Siberia!

A Movie A Day #239: Act of Vengeance (1986, directed by John Mackenzie)


Act of Vengeance is an uncompromising look at union corruption and how it hurts the workers while benefitting the bosses.

The year is 1969 and the United Mine Workers of America is one of the biggest and most powerful labor unions in the country.  The UMWA was founded to protect the rights of miners but the current union president, Tony Boyle (Wilford Brimley), is more concerned with enriching himself and consolidating his own power.  Despised by the workers that he represents, Boyle has managed to stay in power through fixed elections and his own fearsome reputation.  When 80 West Virginia miners are killed in an accident, Boyle defends the owners.  That is the last straw for Jock Yablonski (Charlies Bronson), a lifelong miner and proud union man.  Yablonski runs against Boyle for the UMWA presidency and, when the election is stolen from him, Yablonski challenges the results.

Boyle’s solution?  Working through one of his supporters (played by Hoyt Axton), Boyle hires three assassins (Robert Schenkkan, Maury Chaykin, and a young Keanu Reeves) and orders them to kill not only Yablonski but his entire family too.

With a name like Act of Vengeance and a star like Charles Bronson, it would be understandable to assume that this is another Cannon action film where Bronson gets vengeance by blowing away the bad guys.  That’s not the case, though.  Made for HBO, Act of Vengeance is based on a true story of union corruption and murder.  There is violence but very little of it comes from Bronson.  Instead, this is a well-made docudrama about what happens when workers are betrayed by the very people who are supposed to be looking out for them.

Bronson grew up working in the mines and he never forgot the poverty of his youth.  He knew men like the men depicted in this movie and Bronson gives one of his most naturalistic performances as Yablonski.  Brimley is at his gruffest as Boyle and the performances of the actors playing the three hapless but deadly assassins also feel authentic.  Ellen Burstyn and Ellen Barkin are also well-cast as, respectively, Yablonski’s wife and the wife of the main assassin.

The Things You Find On Netflix: To The Bone (dir by Marti Noxon)


Way back in January, when I first heard about To The Bone, I had high hopes for it.

After all, To The Bone was the directorial debut of Marti Noxon, who is well-known both for her work on Buffy the Vampire Slayer and for co-creating Unreal.  To The Bone was reportedly based on Noxon’s own struggle with an eating disorder and it was said to feature an outstanding lead performance from Lily Collins as an artist struggling with anorexia.  Even the casting of Keanu Reeves as a doctor sounded intriguing.

And, to me, it didn’t matter that To The Bone got mixed reviews at Sundance.  Who would seriously expect critics, especially male critics, to understand a movie about body issues and eating disorders?  When I heard that To The Bone had been purchased by Netflix, I did sigh a little.  Far too often, Netflix is where good films end up getting lost in a sea of mediocre offering.  But then again, perhaps To The Bone was exactly the type of intimate character study that would actually benefit from being viewed on a small screen.  After all, it’s not a film about a bunch of space lizard attacking the great wall of China.  It’s a film about a young woman struggling with an eating disorder.

When Netflix finally released To The Bone back in July, I was excited.

Then I actually watched the movie.

To The Bone actually gets off to a pretty good start.  The first 20 minutes or so are dedicated to establishing who Ellie (Lily Collins) is.  She’s 20 years old.  She’s smart.  She’s sarcastic.  She’s an artist.  She’s a college dropout who apparently used to have a very popular tumblr that dealt with being thin.  She’s also anorexic and, from the first minute that we see her, Ellie looks like she’s on the verge of death.  (To the film’s credit, it makes clear that there is a huge difference between being naturally thin and being anorexic.  That’s a distinction that is far too often overlooked.)  We meet Ellie’s dysfunctional family: her frustrated stepmother (Carrie Preston), the father who often can’t be bothered, and the half-sister (Liana Liberato) who both loves and resents her.  The relationship between the two sisters is especially well-handled.  Even if it takes a while to get used to Keanu Reeves playing a compassionate but tough-talking doctor, the film still works during his first few scenes.

Then, Ellie joins Reeves’s inpatient program and moved into a house with six other patients and this is where the film started to annoy me.  Ellie is such a well-drawn and well-acted character that it makes it all the more obvious that the rest of the patients are not.  Instead, the rest of the patients are all easily identifiable types.  As soon as they show up on screen, you know everything about them and you know exactly what is going to happen to each and every one of them.  From the minute that Ellie reluctantly steps into that house, To The Bone starts to feel less like an honest look at anorexia and more like a well-meaning and predictable PSA.  One of the patients is pregnant and always talk about how worried she is that her eating disorder is going to lead to her losing the baby.  Can you guess what happens?

And then there’s Luke (Alex Sharp).  Luke is the ballet dancer who is recovering from a knee injury.  As soon as I saw that Luke was the only male in the house, I knew that he was destined to eventually declare his love for Ellie.  But my problem with Luke has less to do with his predictable character arc and more to do with just how annoying a character he is.  Luke is relentlessly upbeat.  Luke constantly tells corny jokes.  Luke just will not stop talking!  When Luke leaves a room, he starts singing a song called Sugar Blues.  When Luke reenters a room, he is still singing Sugar Blues.  SHUT UP, LUKE!

(Whenever Ellie would visit Luke in his room, I would find myself distracted by the posters on his wall.  The majority of them said “Jazz Festival” and featured some saxophone clipart.  As strange as it may sound, it really started to annoy me that there was no date or location listed.  Why would you go through all the trouble of making — or buying, for that matter — a poster for a jazz festival and then not bother to include a date or a location?  That may sound like a minor thing but, as I watched the film, that inauthentic poster came to represent everything that felt inauthentic about Luke as a character.)

I guess the main problem with To The Bone is that it never succeeds in convincing us that the inpatient program is actually going to do any good for Ellie.  It’s not for lack of trying.  However, the scenes in the house are too overwrought and predictably scripted.  There’s a scene where Reeves takes the patients on a field trip and it’s supposed to be inspiring but it doesn’t work because, as a first-time director, Noxon doesn’t trust her material enough to allow us to draw our own conclusions.  Instead, she beats us over the head with her message.  For To The Bone to work, it needed a director like Andrea Arnold, someone who specializes in a naturalistic performances and who is willing to embrace ambiguity and take the time to let a scene play out.  Noxon makes the mistake of not trusting her audience to draw the right conclusion and, as a result, To The Bone goes from being an intriguing character study to being the cinematic equivalent of the last 15 minutes of an episode of Intervention.

Though it all, Lily Collins continues to give a good performance.  Even when she’s forced to deliver some unfortunate dialogue, she’s the best thing about To The Bone.  Unfortunately, the rest of this movie just collapses around her.

Jazz Festival

 

Playing Catch-Up: The Neon Demon (dir by Nicholas Winding Refn)


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What to say about The Neon Demon?

See, this is a film that you have to be careful about discussing.  From the moment that it premiered at Cannes last year, The Neon Demon was the love-it-or-hate-it film of 2016.

Those of us that loved The Neon Demon really, really loved it.

And those that hated it — well, let’s just say that they really, really hated it.  They complained that The Neon Demon was exploitive.  They found the subject matter to be sordid.  They accused the movie of being both pretentious and ultimately pointless.  The plot made no sense, they complained.  The film was overlong and featured about a handful of false endings.  It almost seemed as if Nicholas Winding Refn was taunting anyone who expected him to make a typical melodrama about life in Hollywood.

All of that is true but, honestly, what were these people expecting?  As a result of the success of Drive, many people have made the mistake of thinking that Nicholas Winding Refn is a mainstream director.  He’s not.  Refn is a provocateur.  He is a director who often dares his audience to walk away.  In The Neon Demon, each false ending challenges the audience’s assumption about how a story — any story — should end.  Some people, I’m sure, would complain that Refn is all style and no substance.  However, The Neon Demon is about a world where one’s worth is determined by their style.  Style is substance.  The world of The Neon Demon may be empty but the film is not.

For all the debate about the film’s deeper themes (or lack of them), The Neon Demon‘s story is a fairly simple and deliberately familiar one.  A teenage runaway comes to Hollywood, finds some success as a model, and discovers that the world of show business is not as romantic as she may have initially believed.  When we first see Jesse (Elle Fanning), she’s posing for her boyfriend and she’s pretending to be dead.  Death, beauty, and sex go hand-in-hand in The Neon Demon.

Jesse’s an interesting character, one who constantly challenges our assumptions.  At first, Jesse seems like a typical innocent.  She’s a virgin who is so introverted that she can barely carry on a conversation.  She lives in a cheap apartment, under the menacing gaze of her sleazy landlord (Keanu Reeves, having fun playing his skeezy character).  She has a boyfriend and on their dates, she tells him about how she’s always dreamed of being a star.  It’s only as the film progresses that you start to realize how little you actually know about Jesse.  That she’s a runway is implied early on.  We never learn what led to her running away.  In fact, we learn next to nothing about who she was before she appeared in Los Angeles.

In Los Angeles, Jesse is everything that the fashion industry values.  She’s beautiful and, even more importantly, she’s young.  We watch as Jesse goes to a casting call and we’re struck by the blank-look on her face.  We wonder if there’s anything going on underneath the surface.  Jesse has hallucinations, seeing a shining triangle and kissing her own reflection.  Someone asks her what it’s like to be desired.  She replies, “It’s everything.”

Jesse befriends Ruby (Jena Malone), a makeup artist who lives in a gigantic mansion, overlooking an empty swimming pool.  When Ruby isn’t working in the fashion industry, she works at a morgue, applying makeup to corpses and occasionally engaging in necrophilia.  She makes the dead beautiful so that they can be buried looking their best.  Again, beauty and death are intertwined throughout The Neon Demon.

Ruby has two other friends, Gigi (Bella Heathcote) and Sarah (Abbey Lee).  They’re both models, struggling to maintain their careers even as younger models, like Jesse, continue to flood into Los Angeles.  Gigi has had so much cosmetic surgery that none of her original features remain.  Gigi is neurotic and fearful.  Sarah, on the other hand, is confident and sarcastic.  When asked what she did the last time another model screwed her out of a job, Sarah calmly replies, “I ate her.”

Sarah isn’t necessarily joking either.  Without giving too much away, The Neon Demon features, among other things, a character eating an eyeball that another character has just thrown up.  Not surprisingly for a Refn film, there’s a lot of blood in The Neon Demon.  It’s a film that opens with fake blood and ends with very real blood.

Combining the visual sense of Dario Argento with the thematic concerns of Jean Rollin, The Neon Demon is a triumph of pure style.  The visuals are so strong that it’s impossible to look away, even when the film’s themes are deliberately obscure.  The Neon Demon is a surreal journey into the dark side of Hollywood, a mixture of ennui, alienation, decadence, and sacrifice.  It may not always make sense but it’s always fascinating to watch.

Personally, I think The Neon Demon would make a great double feature with La La Land.  Two triumphs of style, two very different views of Los Angeles.

John Wick: Chapter 2 Cordially Invites All to A Party In Rome


In 2015, a little film from Lionsgate came out during that time between the summer blockbuster and the awards seasons. It’s sort of the time of the cinematic year when a film is not good enough to be a blockbuster and not enough pedigree to be seen as awards-worthy.

This film was John Wick and it starred Keanu Reeves. It was also directed by two filmmakers more well-known for choreographing fights and action scenes than a full feature film.

John Wick had the last laugh as it surpassed everyone’s expectations to become one of the best action films of recent memory. It helped resurrect Keanu Reeves as a bonafide action star once again.

At this year’s New York Comic-Con the first teaser trailer for the second chapter of the John Wick story dropped to the howling delights of all attending.

We still have to wait until 2017 for John Wick: Chapter 2, but until then let’s stare in awe at John Wick doing what he does best.