Thanks to a slow start and faithfulness to the navel-gazing source material, Stephenie Meyer and the film adaptations of her Twilight series became a whipping boy for self-respecting moviegoers. It's too bad — anyone who turned their noses at the later entries of the mega-succesful franchise missed some of the craziest camp since John Waters. That gave us hope when it came to the first non-Twilight Meyer adaptation: The Host, a romantic twist on Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Hope is quickly dashed only minutes into the latest from director Andrew Niccols (GATTACA, In Time), as The Host struggles with the same on-the-nose, emotional dizziness that plagued the pre-Breaking Dawn movies in the vampire saga.
Actually, it might be worse.
Whereas Twilight relied on dead-eyed gazing to convey the courtship between Bella and Edward, The Host actively works to externalize the inner monologue, spending most of the movie inside the head of its split-personality main character. Melanie (Saoirse Ronan) was a regular Southern belle before Earth was invaded by a parasitic race of aliens known as "Souls." The planet is quickly taken over by the amoeba-like critters, who inhabit the bodies of humans in hopes of correcting their imperfect tendencies. No luck, though — when Melanie is eventually captured by "Seekers," a jumpsuit-wearing police force who help new arrivals find host bodies and crack down on the rebellious few without aliens in their skulls, she goes down fighting. A Soul known as "Wanderer" is placed inside of her, but against all odds, Melanie's consciousness remains.
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The two get off to a bumpy start, but before too long, Melanie has Wanderer empathizing with the human Resistance. She also feels guilty for taking over her host's life, and decides to right the wrong by trekking out into the desert to reunite Melanie with the ones she loves. Like his past films, Niccols intricately builds the world of The Host. As Melanie and Wanderer hit the road like a Jekkyl and Hyde version of Thelma & Louise, we get a taste for the new Earth designed by the Souls. It's basically communism: everything is shared, everything is free, and everyone lives in harmony (minus the pesky humans who refuse to share their headspace with a glowing amoeba from outer space). The world of the Souls is perfect, and Wanderer's awakening to the idea that even utopias have their downsides is an intriguing arc.
But as Niccols and Meyer are both familiar with, a well-constructed setting and concept only goes so far. Ronan is an actress with broad range (see: Hanna) and elegant delivery. Here, her subtle work is bogged down by grating voiceover and a demand to react like a deer in headlights. The two personalities spend most of the film bickering at one another, Ronan's rage-filled Southern twang blaring over her wide-eyed, observational approach to Wanderer. When they arrive at the desert cave retreat of the Resistance, The Host's voiceover problem reaches crippling levels. Turns out, Melanie had a boyfriend, Jared (Max Irons), before being captured by Seekers. He's hanging with her uncle Jeb (William Hurt) in the caves, and less than enthused by Melanie's extraterrestrial companion. Wanderer — renamed "Wanda" to fit in with the normals — is chastised by Melanie for even speaking to Jared, so she retreats into the arms of Ian (Jake Abel). Yes, when Earth is overrun with alien beings and the last of the human race struggles to stay hidden from Seekers, there is still room for a romantic quadrangle... between two interchangeable hunks, an alien impersonating a human, and a disconnected voice.
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The movie is littered with missed opportunities, seemingly uninterested in diving into the character-driven side of the elaborate science fiction ideas it is built upon. Hurt does an impressive job turning the leader of the Resistance into a broken down survivor of the massacre, but his willingness to accept Wanderer into his society is just lazy storytelling. Likewise, the Seekers have their own conflicted figurehead: Diane Kruger's nameless hunter. Unlike her Soul coworkers, she has a thirst for human blood. She wants to wipe them out instead of aid them. It's a lively twist that's only addressed two-thirds into the movie, after Kruger has spent most of her screentime driving a shiny sports car and scanning mouton vistas with her bright blue Seeker eyes.
There are moments that impress. Niccols briefly opens up the scope of the movie by throwing in an adeptly shot car chase. The designs of the Resistance's hideout and the Seeker technology are all precise and culled from logic. An intricate mirror system that directs sunlight down to an underground field of wheat — brilliant! But in the end, The Host is like its central character: a vacant husk, completely bewildered inside and out, with the faint sound of a good idea trying to scream its way through. Niccols and Meyer's team up isn't a terrible movie, it's a meandering one. The Souls might be right to invade us — we could use a bit of direction.
What do you think? Tell Matt Patches directly on Twitter @misterpatches and read more of his reviews on Rotten Tomatoes!
[Photo Credit: Open Roads Films]
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Produced by Judd Apatow and co-written by Apatow’s BFF Seth Rogen Drillbit is a little bit My Bodyguard a little bit Freaks and Geeks. The story focuses on three geeky high school freshman--Ryan (Troy Gentile) Wade (Nate Hartley) and Emmet (David Dorfman)--who become primary target practice for the campus bully Filkins (Alex Frost). Enter Drillbit Taylor (Wilson) a homeless Army deserter who answers the boys’ ad for a bodyguard mainly because he wants to rip them off. During the course of the movie however Drillbit teaches the boys how to stick up for themselves and grows to care about them especially after he pretends to be a substitute teacher at their school--you know to “watch” over them. It’s a cool gig for the drifter since he gets free coffee a new girlfriend (Leslie Mann as a horny English teacher) and newfound respect. Eventually everything goes to hell in a hand basket as they are wont to do but at least everyone walks away learning some valuable life lessons. We should say “Awww ” but thankfully the script keeps the gag reflex to a minimum. While Wilson may be phoning it in a little as Drillbit--a likeable rascal who’s a cross between a Dupree and a Wedding Crasher--his certain charismatic style is undeniable on screen. You can’t help but like him in whatever he does even if the film he is in pales by comparison. Not to say the rest of Drillbit’s cast isn’t supporting Wilson as best they can. The unlucky geek squad is full of fresh faces with newcomers Gentile and Hartley capturing their inner nerd with a passion. Many will also recognize Dorfman as the spooky kid from the Ring series now a pipsqueak-y teen. Frost (Elephant) has the crazy eyes of a psychotic teenager bent on humiliation and destruction of those who stand in his way. Realistic? Perhaps not but he makes a decent villain. Mann is handed the smallest part possible but makes her presence known. Her mini-seduction scene with Wilson in the teacher’s lounge is definitely one of the film’s better moments. Still this is Wilson’s movie and frankly he can do better. Seth Rogen must have had a hell of a time in high school--he can’t quit writing about it. On Judd Apatow’s first effort TV’s Freaks and Geeks Rogen played a high school freak while last summer’s Superbad which he co-wrote with former high school bud Evan Goldberg took high school geekdom to a whole new level. Now he and Apatow team up on another I’m-a-geek-in-high-school-but-stay-true-to-myself effort hiring director Steven Brill to helm the proceedings who brings his own level of expertise having directed such comedy favorites as Without a Paddle and Little Nicky. Drillbit does have its hilarious moments--a montage of hiring a bodyguard stands out (including the cameo from the original My Bodyguard Adam Baldwin)--but overall it just isn’t as fresh and different as other Apatow/Rogen collaborations. They seem to have forgotten how not to rehash past experiences--or past movies. There's also the fact that Drillbit is PG; by surpressing the colorful language it may have hindered their creativity. Either way the current comedy kings miss the mark this time around.
As a legendary Coast Guard Rescue Swimmer Ben Randall (Kevin Costner) was all heart and no regret. But it all comes undone in the span of one night when he goes out to the menacing seas with his crew to make a rescue and he is the sole survivor. Following that fateful night he’s ordered to teach at “A” School--a demotion for a man of his stature and seniority--an elite training program that helps turn the best recruits into the best Rescue Swimmers. Randall teaches the cocky students the only way he knows how and his tough tough love is initially met with skepticism by his fellow trainers who think of him as a has-been. But one student in particular Jake Fischer (Ashton Kutcher) catches his eye and draws his ire. Fischer is cocky hotheaded and highly skilled--just the right pedigree to make a great Rescue Swimmer and a lot like Randall was at his age. Randall rides him extra-hard while Fischer only hopes to one day be in the same boat as his mentor. Be careful what you wish for Jake! Costner's always been an acquired taste--sometimes a downright noxious one on first bite--but there's no denying he slides right in here. Roles that feature him as the aging provider of wisdom are now his true calling and the sooner he accepts it the better. And even still Costner gets to flex his action muscle a bit. As for Kutcher the only thing he shares in common with Costner is the last two letters of his last name--as actors these guys are each other’s antitheses! And in a weird way they strike a nice chemistry because of it one that is borderline exciting to watch. As a standalone actor in The Guardian Kutcher is a bit misplaced and seems to know it. He nails the physicality of the role but while the character's attitude and brashness befit Kutcher the peak dramatic scenes with Costner leave something to be desired. A pleasantly surprising turn from relative unknown Melissa Sagemiller (The Clearing) as Kutcher's girl toy and reliable supporting performances from Sela Ward and Neal McDonough round out the cast. Director Andrew Davis' proximity to his career peak The Fugitive cannot be measured in time: He's a lot further away from the mega-hit than a mere 13 years. But in Hollywood if you have a Fugitive under your belt you'll never run out of chances to replicate it. That's the current juncture for Davis--one last shot at Fugitive glory...till his next last shot. It's hard to say what The Guardian will do at the box office but Davis' stodgy direction doesn't necessarily help its chances. The movie can be boiled down to awful pacing: the first and last 15 minutes are high-octane action and everything in between is low-octane Top Gun (the non-action scenes!). That blame belongs to Davis and writer Ron L. Brinkerhoff. But only Davis can shoulder the other flaws such as a single scene of dubious camerawork--filmed to look like handheld-montage style completely deviating from the movie's context--and the special effects during the somewhat cheesy action sequences which may remind you of a theme-park tour during which you learn how they filmed a boat scene...in the '80s!
Elderly Ptolemy (Anthony Hopkins) who once served under the great Alexander (Colin Farrell) narrates the life story of the man the myth the legend--the son of the ambitious King Philip (Val Kilmer) who surpassed his father at every level and charged into the farthest reaches of the world. From early childhood in Macedonia we see where Alexander gets his drive--mostly from his vengeful snake-lovin' mother Olympias (Angelina Jolie) who urges her son to take charge as well from his tutor Aristotle (Christopher Plummer). Even in the taming of his unbreakable horse Bucephalas at 10 years old Alexander's destiny is evident. The heart of the film lies in Persia which Alexander conquers in one of the most studied military battles of all time. Alexander spends a great deal of time there--taking in the culture claiming its riches and marrying a Bactrian princess Roxane (Rosario Dawson)--much to the chagrin of his Macedonian generals who are stuck in this foreign land with their king. Despite this success Alexander grows restless and turns his attention to the rest of the world including the unexplored regions of India. With his army stretched thin and his Macedonian troops longing for home Alexander presses them one campaign too far. Succumbing to a mysterious illness at age 33 Alexander dies never quite finding what he so desperately searched for.
Although some may scoff at casting the Irish actor in the lead Farrell does an admirable job playing the tortured hero blond wig and all. He exudes plenty of wide-eyed fury and intensity as Alexander the warrior balanced by the controlled calculation of a hyper-effective military commander although he isn't nearly as effective as the idealistic pre-world-conqueror Alexander as he is spiraling down into the haunted angst-ridden Alexander at the end of his obsessive crusade. Casting Jolie as Olympias is a stroke of genius. Sure Jolie can play a smart and beautiful woman in her sleep but her beauty is surpassed only by the power she imbues as Alexander's bitter yet loving mother; she's as hypnotic as the snakes she carries around. Kilmer relishes his role as Alexander's father Philip in all of his grotesque wine-soaked glory. Powerful driven and battle-scarred Kilmer's Philip knows precisely what he wants and matches Jolie's quiet intensity with the raw aggressive masculinity of a warrior king who is far more comfortable in his armor than a toga. In the supporting roles Hopkins is great as always this time in the thankless role of the narrator while Dawson plays Roxane with a ferocity that is as mesmerizing as it is terrifying. Standout Jared Leto also turns in a concentrated performance as Hephaestion Alexander's long-time companion boyhood friend and the person who loves Alexander the best. (And we do mean love.)
Alexander is Oliver Stone at his best. An Alexander nut for most of his life the director gives us a film that--even in its loooong three-hour form--continuously holds your attention especially its intense and bloody battle scenes. I mean honestly once you've fought against an elephant in armor the plain old sword-and-shield skirmishes pale in comparison. Alexander also possesses a great breadth of visuals: Alexandria's peace Pella's tension Babylon's opulence and India's richness. Yet as wonderful as the landscapes are it's personal interactions and internal politics that drive the story--and of course Stone's penchant for conspiracy theories as he more than insinuates Alexander was poisoned by his enemies rather than dying of an "unknown" illness. But a problem still remains: Alexander's life was so huge and he did so much that it's almost impossible to encapsulate it effectively into one film. Stone instead has to focus on what he thinks is the most important namely Alexander's renowned conquests while allowing the pressure cooker in which the young conqueror grew up--the triangle of mother father and son--come through in the decisions he makes later in life. For those few of us who have studied Alexander Stone has made this film especially for us. If you haven't spent any time reading Arrian and the other histories this excellent film might just inspire you to do so.
Is anything more frightening than realizing that a desperate and hackneyed sequel to a desperate and hackneyed parody required the work of seven writers? Yes seven writers including brothers Shawn and Marlon Wayans. Perhaps one group of writers divided their time poking fun at the latest pop culture phenomenons while the other group concocted new and disgusting ways to drench their cast in vomit urine excretion and semen. The result: a tired tasteless and uninspired send-up of The Exorcist and The Haunting complete with jibes at Nike's new Stomp-inspired basketball commercials and the Florida presidential election fiasco. Our heroes-plus some fresh meat--spend the night in the haunted Hell House as part of an experiment conducted by mad professor Tim Curry. Naturally they find themselves tormented by the ghost of the house. Cue sexual humiliations mutilations and giant wedgies.
So the sequel ignores the fact that some of its cast members perished or were implicated in the first film's murders. Were you expecting a semblance of logic to permeate the proceedings? Anna Faris as the virginal Cindy; Marlon Wayans as pothead Shorty; Shawn Wayans as the closeted gay Ray; and Regina Hall as the pushy Brenda return. They are joined by Tori Spelling wasted as a coed obsessed with her ghostly host; Curry hammy as the professor willing to sacrifice his students; David Cross hysterical as Curry's wheelchair-bound assistant whose self-reliance causes more problems than necessary; and Chris Elliott a hoot as the mansion's caretaker whose withered left hand generates more laughs than almost all the script's woeful cracks at satirizing its intended targets. All prove game especially Faris who finds herself up to her neck in all kinds of nasty goo in the name of comedy.
If only director Keenen Ivory Wayans made an effort to be funny rather than just shocking. He seems intent on making the sequel so much more outrageous than his first film that he forgets to make us laugh for the right reasons. The chuckles mask the slight disgust at seeing Faris dripping in semen or Shawn Wayans sodomizing a demonic clown (but the sight of Cross fellating himself is an amusing way to emphasize his character's doggedness). Wayans' attempts at parodying What Lies Beneath and Hannibal flounder but he does a fine job sending up John Woo's dove-filled climax to Mission: Impossible 2. There's nothing more lazy than tearing into The Exorcist--it's 28 years old!--and it's sad to see James Woods demean himself as a priest with a taste for little girls. Woods stepped in for Marlon Brando whose poor health cost him a reported $2 million but saved him his dignity.