Relativity Media via Everett Collection
It's easy to compare 3 Days to Kill to Luc Besson's flagship franchise Taken. The film itself practically encourages those comparisons, what with the older man who reluctantly returns to a life of killing for the good of his daughter. The hero's quest of hunting down international criminals in a stunning foreign locale is punctuated by all of the explosions and gore your heart could desire. Neither 3 Days screenwriter Besson nor director McG are attempting to blaze a trail or reinvent a wheel. They're simply attempting to create a film that will keep you entertained for two hours, and on that front, at least, they succeed.
Stepping into the Liam Neeson role this time around is Kevin Costner as Ethan Renner, who is either an assasssin or a spy that works for either the CIA or the Secret Service (it's not really all that important in the end), forced to walk away from the job after he is diagnosed with cancer (or maybe a brain tumor). In an attempt to spend his remaining months bonding with his estranged daughter Zoey (Hailee Steinfeld), he moves to Paris to settle down. Of course, that's when Vivi (Amber Heard), a CIA agent/spy/assassin arrives, along with an experimental new drug that could extend Ethan's life, which she will happily pass along... if he takes out their two most wanted criminals within three days.
From there, the film veers wildly between graphic fight sequences, with enough chaos and destruction to equal both Taken movies, and the story of Ethan and Zoey’s growing relationship. Much of the plot is confusing and barely explained – Ethan and Vivi vaguely work for the CIA, although they're unconcerned by the devastating destruction they leave in their wake. The drug is “experimental,” but how it helps or why it’s only available through a giant purple syringe is waived away by the presence of a stack of “research.” Ethan only has three days to complete his mission, but seems to hang around Paris for a lot longer. The villains are wanted by the government for being tangentially involved with a “dirty bomb.” There's a shoehorned-in subplot about family of African immigrants squatting in Ethan's apartment. But despite the fact that so many of these elements never find a way to coalesce into a coherent whole, once the body count starts to rise and the buildings start to fall, it's easy to simply ignore all of that in favor of massive explosions.
When the film works, Ethan's job and his relationship with Zoey blend together in a way that gives 3 Days to Kill some much needed heart and humor — like when he's interrupted in torturing a target by her constant phone calls — but when it doesn’t, the transitions between Ethan taking out the criminals he's hunting and his slightly cloying bonding experience with Zoey can be jarring. As Ethan, Costner is a serviceable action hero; he growls threateningly and stares fondly at Steinfeld when the script calls for it, but for the most part, he appears to be phoning it in. Of course, for this kind of film, that’s all he really needs to do, but it means that by the time the credits roll, much of his performance is already forgotten. As Zoey, Steinfeld does her best with the material, and makes some of the more emotional scenes between herself and Costner affecting. However, even she can’t save the father-daughter plot of the film from becoming trite and stale at times, and so her scenes mostly feel like a quick breather in between the rounds of graphic violence.
Relativity Media via Everett Collection
Heard feels out-of-place as Vivi, who is introduced as the buttoned-down second-in-command to the head of the CIA, but then proceeds to spend the rest of the film speeding around Paris in sports cars, and prancing about in a wardrobe of leather, corsets, and high heels. Costner is clearly in an older-man action film, but Heard is in another film entirely, one in which she’s a sexy super spy single-handedly taking down international criminals. Despite the fact that she’s mostly there to provide exposition and to look pretty, there are moments where you almost wish that she was the focus of 3 Days to Kill instead — or, at the very least, that one of the many subplots had been dropped in favor of expanding her character.
And yet, despite all of the unanswered questions and the weird disparities in tone, 3 Days to Kill is a surprisingly entertaining film. The fact that one of the best fight sequences in the film takes place in a supermarket, while Ethan and an unnamed hitman grapple behind a deli counter, means that it's ridiculous enough to keep you engaged, but it's still able to amp up the tension when it needs to. And when you need a break from watching people come perilously close to being decapitated, there's a well-timed visual gag already lined up. It hits all of the notes required of a cheesy action film, and even though it gets far too bogged down in sentiment at times, it's still got enough heart to add a little substance to the flimsy plot.
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3 Days to Kill does exactly what it needs to, and little more. It doesn't want to make you think — in fact, it actively encourages you not to — and it doesn't try to accomplish anything that will stay with you after the credits have rolled. All 3 Days to Kill wants is to keep you amused for a few hours, with a few explosions and some mindless fun. In the end, that's sometimes that's all you really need out of a movie.
Columbia Pictures via Everett Collection
Treading water at the very surface of RoboCop, there is an idea. A dense concept, ready and willing to provide no dearth of dissection for any eager student of philosophy, psychology, political science, physics — hell, any of the Ps. To simplify the idea on hand: What separates man from machine? It's a question that is not just teased by the basic premise of José Padilha's remake of the 1987 sci-fi staple, but asked outright by many of its main characters. And then never really worried about again.
We have principal parties on both sides of the ethical quandary that would place the security of our crime-ridden cities in the hands of automatons. Samuel L. Jackson plays a spitfire Bill O'Reilly who wonders why America hasn't lined its streets with high-efficiency officer droids. Zach Grenier, as a moralistic senator, gobbles his way through an opposition to the Pro-boCop movement. We hear lecture after lecture from pundits, politicians, business moguls (a money-hungry Michael Keaton heads the nefarious OmniCorp...) and scientists (...while his top doc Gary Oldman questions the nature of his assignments while poking at patients' brains and spouting diatribes about "free will"), all working their hardest to lay thematic groundwork. Each character insists that we're watching a movie about the distinction between human and artificial intelligence. That even with an active brain, no robot can understand what it means to have a heart. But when Prof. Oldman tempers his hysterical squawking and Samuel L. Hannity rolls his closing credits, we don't see these ideas taking life.
In earnest, the struggle of rehabilitated police officer Alex Murphy (Joel Kinnaman) — nearly killed in the line of duty and turned thereafter into OmniCorp's prototype RoboCop — doesn't seem to enlist any of the questions that his aggravated peers have been asking. Murphy is transformed not just physically, but mentally — robbed of his decision-making ability and depleted of emotional brain chemicals — effectively losing himself in the process. But the journey we see take hold of Murphy is not one to reclaim his soul, although the movie touts it as such. It's really just one to become a better robot.
Columbia Pictures via Everett Collection
Meanwhile, RoboCop lays down its motives, and hard: Murphy's wife and son (Abbie Cornish and a puckish young John Paul Ruttan) lament the loss of Alex, condemning his dehumanization at the hands of Raymond Sellars' (Keaton) capitalistic experiments, and sobbing out some torrential pathos so you know just how deep this company is digging. Weaselly stooges (Jay Baruchel, Jennifer Ehle, and Jackie Earl Haley) line the OmniCorp roster with comical wickedness. Overseas, killer combat bots take down peaceful villages, unable to work empathetic judgment into their decision to destroy all deemed as "threats." And at the top, figures of power and money like Sellars and Pat Novak (Jackson) speak the loudest and harshest, literally justifying their agenda with a call for all naysayers to "stop whining." Clearly, RoboCop has something to say.
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And when it's devoted to its outrage, RoboCop is terrifically charming. The buzzing political world is just a tiny step closer to ridiculous than our own; the pitch meetings at OmniCorp are fun enough to provoke a ditching of all the material outside of the company walls. And one particular reference to The Wizard of Oz shows that the movie isn't above having fun with its admittedly silly premise. But it loses its magic when it steps away from goofy gimmicks and satirical monologues and heads back into the story. We don't see enough of Murphy grappling with the complicated balance between his conflicting organic and synthetic selves. In fact, we don't see enough "story" in Murphy at all. First, he's a dad and a cop. Then, he's a RoboCop. But can he also be a RoboDad? With all of its ranting and raving about the question, the film doesn't seem to concerned with actually figuring out the answer.
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Lions Gate via Everett Collection
When we last left our heroes, they had conquered all opponents in the 74th Annual Hunger Games, returned home to their newly refurbished living quarters in District 12, and fallen haplessly to the cannibalism of PTSD. And now we're back! Hitching our wagons once again to laconic Katniss Everdeen and her sweet-natured, just-for-the-camera boyfriend Peeta Mellark as they gear up for a second go at the Capitol's killing fields.
But hold your horses — there's a good hour and a half before we step back into the arena. However, the time spent with Katniss and Peeta before the announcement that they'll be competing again for the ceremonial Quarter Quell does not drag. In fact, it's got some of the film franchise's most interesting commentary about celebrity, reality television, and the media so far, well outweighing the merit of The Hunger Games' satire on the subject matter by having Katniss struggle with her responsibilities as Panem's idol. Does she abide by the command of status quo, delighting in the public's applause for her and keeping them complacently saturated with her smiles and curtsies? Or does Katniss hold three fingers high in opposition to the machine into which she has been thrown? It's a quarrel that the real Jennifer Lawrence would handle with a castigation of the media and a joke about sandwiches, or something... but her stakes are, admittedly, much lower. Harvey Weinstein isn't threatening to kill her secret boyfriend.
Through this chapter, Katniss also grapples with a more personal warfare: her devotion to Gale (despite her inability to commit to the idea of love) and her family, her complicated, moralistic affection for Peeta, her remorse over losing Rue, and her agonizing desire to flee the eye of the public and the Capitol. Oftentimes, Katniss' depression and guilty conscience transcends the bounds of sappy. Her soap opera scenes with a soot-covered Gale really push the limits, saved if only by the undeniable grace and charisma of star Lawrence at every step along the way of this film. So it's sappy, but never too sappy.
In fact, Catching Fire is a masterpiece of pushing limits as far as they'll extend before the point of diminishing returns. Director Francis Lawrence maintains an ambiance that lends to emotional investment but never imposes too much realism as to drip into territories of grit. All of Catching Fire lives in a dreamlike state, a stark contrast to Hunger Games' guttural, grimacing quality that robbed it of the life force Suzanne Collins pumped into her first novel.
Once we get to the thunderdome, our engines are effectively revved for the "fun part." Katniss, Peeta, and their array of allies and enemies traverse a nightmare course that seems perfectly suited for a videogame spin-off. At this point, we've spent just enough time with the secondary characters to grow a bit fond of them — deliberately obnoxious Finnick, jarringly provocative Johanna, offbeat geeks Beedee and Wiress — but not quite enough to dissolve the mystery surrounding any of them or their true intentions (which become more and more enigmatic as the film progresses). We only need adhere to Katniss and Peeta once tossed in the pit of doom that is the 75th Hunger Games arena, but finding real characters in the other tributes makes for a far more fun round of extreme manhunt.
But Catching Fire doesn't vie for anything particularly grand. It entertains and engages, having fun with and anchoring weight to its characters and circumstances, but stays within the expected confines of what a Hunger Games movie can be. It's a good one, but without shooting for succinctly interesting or surprising work with Katniss and her relationships or taking a stab at anything but the obvious in terms of sending up the militant tyrannical autocracy, it never even closes in on the possibility of being a great one.
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It is hard to think of a movie with a more impeccable pedigree than Body of Lies (Warner Bros), set for wide release this Friday. Three-time Academy Award nominee Ridley Scott re-teams with Oscar winner Russell Crowe for the fourth time in the film adaptation of the David Ignatius bestselling novel adapted for the screen by William Monahan, the Oscar winning screenwriter of The Departed. Add to the mix Leonardo DiCaprio, with 3 Oscar nominations of his own, and you have a project with exceedingly bright commercial and artistic prospects.
My regular sources tell me that industry tracking is softer-than-expected for this one, and reviews, as of Wednesday night, are a bit mixed (63 percent Fresh on Rotten Tomatoes), but I will still put my money on Body of Lies to win the weekend. Four of Scott’s last seven films have topped $100M domestic--Gladiator ($187.7M cume), Hannibal ($165M cume), Black Hawk Down ($108.6M cume) and last year’s American Gangster starring Crowe ($130.1M cume). When Sir Ridley has missed of late, it has been with modern day character pieces like A Good Year starring Russell Crowe ($7.5M cume) and Matchstick Men ($36.9M cume) and his stab second stab at a “sword and sandals” epic Kingdom of Heaven ($47.3M cume). The fact is that Scott is the best when it comes to smart, adult action films.
The undertow working against Body of Lies is that audiences seem deterred by any movie related to the war on terror. Critical disasters on the subject like Lions For Lambs ($15M cume) and Rendition ($9.7M cume) have failed, and even very good films like In the Valley of Elah ($6.7M cume) and The Kingdom ($47.4M cume) deserved better box office results. DiCaprio is 10 years Russell Crowe’s junior, and with recent quality hits like The Departed ($132.3M cume) and The Aviator ($102.6M cume) on his resume along with his Oscar nominated turn in Blood Diamond ($57.3M cume), he brings some much needed youth appeal. I am projecting a possible $16M-$19M for this one, and if you pin me down, I will say $17.5M.
Last week’s winner, Beverly Hills Chihuahua (Disney) will essentially have the family audience to itself again this week. The live action, talking dog comedy with Latino flavor is hitting “the sweet spot” with audiences attracting Under 25’s, Moms and pre-teens, and its weekend dip will be limited to something in the 45 percent range. That would give Chihuahua a very strong $16.6M second weekend.
The Express (Universal), the story of Ernie Davis, the first African American to win the Heisman Trophy, is tracking decently enough. Harlem-born, Brooklyn-raised former Amherst College football player-turned-actor Rob Brown plays the former Syracuse Orangemen star and sports movie veteran Dennis Quaid plays his coach Ben Schwartzwaider. Early reviews are coming in very strong with a score of 83 percent Fresh as of Wednesday night.
Football movies generally open in the mid-teens in the late summer and fall. 2006’s Mark Wahlberg vehicle Invincible scored $17M in its first three days, while Dwayne Johnson’s Gridiron Gang managed a $14.4M opening a few weeks later. It does not appear that The Express has enough traction to match the $20M+ openings for 2000’s Remember the Titans or 2004’s Friday Night Lights. I am pegging this biopic for a possible $14.1M.
There is generally room for an R-rated horror flick at this time of year, and Sony’s Quarantine fits the bill. A rare strain of rabies in a confined apartment building with lots of shaky camera work and plenty of screaming courtesy of Exorcism of Emily Rose star Jennifer Carpenter, and you probably have a decent, little low budget hit. This one could scare up $11.5M or so and a possible fourth-place finish.
The strong-holding Shia LaBeouf thriller Eagle Eye (Dreamworks/Paramount) is likely to spend another week in the top five. The DJ Caruso-directed blockbuster may bank as much as $10M more, staying on target for something north of $90M domestic. That would mean just a 45 percent drop from its strong 2nd weekend.
The lushly-appointed Saul Bibb period costume drama The Duchess (Paramount Vantage) starring Keira Knightley and Ralph Fiennes is poised for a nice expansion to about 1,100 playdates. With strong reviews and a heap of female appeal, this look at 18th-century fame may grab close to $6M.
The other wide release is the Walden Media and Playtone co-production of City of Ember being distributed by Fox. The Playtone name means that Tom Hanks is the producer, but this one will not necessarily appear near the top of his resume. There is a lot of talent in the cast including Oscar nominees Bill Murray, Saoirse Ronan (Atonement) and Marianne Jean-Baptiste (Secrets & Lies) and Oscar winners Tim Robbins and Martin Landau (Ed Wood), but the movie has been barely screened for critics (if at all). This fantastical family film is unlikely to crack $5M and probably has a ceiling of $3.5M.
FINAL PREDICTIONS FOR THE WEEKEND OF OCTOBER 10
1. NEW – Body of Lies (Warner Bros) - $17.5M
2. Beverly Hills Chihuahua (Disney) - $16.6M
3. NEW – The Express (Universal) - $14.1M
4. NEW – Quarantine (Sony) - $11.5M
5. Eagle Eye (Dreamworks/Paramount) - $10M
6. Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist (Sony) - $6.1M
7. The Duchess (Paramount Vantage) - $5.9M
8. Nights in Rodanthe (Warner Bros) - $3.9M
9. NEW – City of Ember (Fox) - $3.5M
10. Appaloosa (Warner Bros) - $3M
*Religulous (Lionsgate) - $2.1M
*Fireproof (IDP Films/Samuel Goldwyn) - $2M
*American Carol (Vivendi) - $1.75M
*Flash of Genius (Universal) - $1.3M
January 11, 2002 7:28am EST
When the mutilated corpses of women and children begin appearing across the French countryside the Royal Court sends Knight Gregoire de Fronsac (Samuel le Bihan) a renowned scientist to find and capture the wolf they believe is responsible for the vicious killings. With the help of his blood brother Mani (Mark Dacascos) a Mohawk Indian from Canada skilled in spiritual shaman techniques de Fronsac sets out to hunt the beast down. The two men leave Paris to stay at the country home of the Marquis d'Apcher whose grandson Thomas serves as their guide but are met with a strangely chilly reception from the locals. During the course of their investigation de Fronsac falls in love with Marianne de Morangias (Emilie Duquenne) the daughter of an extremely influential family in the region. But de Fronsac finds out the locals and Marianne's family are hiding a sinister secret and soon discovers that this beast is far more dangerous than any wolf or myth.
Samuel le Bihan (Total Western) is perfect as Gregoire de Fronsac. His portrayal of the character doesn't come across as pompous or superior but as an experienced worldly scientist driven by a sense of curiosity and interest. His brother Mani is played by Mark Dacascos (The Island of Dr. Moreau) and though he doesn't say much throughout the film because of the language barrier he uses physical means to express his character's wisdom and spirituality. As de Fronsac's love interest Emilie Duquenne (Rosetta) with her pale skin and flushed cheeks portrays Marianne as an intelligent and headstrong woman who doesn't put up with games and deceit. Her one-armed brother is played by Vincent Cassel (Jeanne D'Arc) who has this eerie way of portraying the character's ambivalence. There is always the underlying impression that something is not right with him but it is impossible to pin down what exactly it is.
Brotherhood of the Wolf is the subtitled version of the French film Le Pacte des Loups which was released in France in January of 2001. The director Christophe Gans (Crying Freedom) creates an elaborate period piece with the tension and gore of a fantasy horror film. The story of the Beast of Gevaudan alone is mesmerizing but Gans takes suspense to a whole new level by never actually revealing the beast to the viewer until the very end of the picture. But it is the carnage the beast leaves behind and the terror it strikes in people that instills fear and anxiety rather than special effects (the actual animatronic beast which was created by Jim Henson's Creature Shop is not all that spectacular). The film also contains many stunning fight scenes involving Mani choreographed by Philipe Kwok (Tomorrow Never Dies). The film however is bit on the long side at 140 minutes and a few story lines are definitely expendable.