Tag Archives: Samuel Goldwyn Films

Better Living Through Chemistry (2014, Geoff Moore and David Posamentier)

Given its ninety minute length and having Jane Fonda perform the comically explicit narration, it might be easy to dismiss–or just describe–Better Living Through Chemistry as a genial amusement. Certainly lead Sam Rockwell can do this role in his sleep. He's a small town pharmacist in a bad marriage (Michelle Monaghan is great as the controlling wife); his father-in-law runs his life, his teenage son is starting the awkward years, no one takes him seriously.

Except unhappily married trophy wife Olivia Wilde.

What actually makes Chemistry so different is how writers-directors Moore and Posamentier seem to have no idea what they're doing. There are all sorts of tangents the film goes on, all sorts of great little moments between Rockwell and Monaghan then later Rockwell and Harrison Holzer (as his son). It's all over the place, with the affair between Rockwell and Wilde ostensibly the foundation of the narrative.

Only it's not. It's a device to go into a series of rapid comic set pieces–as Rockwell tumbles out of control, only everything turns out to be regimented. All of these set pieces go well, thanks to Rockwell and his abilities in both physical comedy and just lovably obnoxious. There's no heavy lifting for the actors in Chemistry, except maybe Holzer, but strong, assured performances in a well-written, if unambitious picture, isn't a bad thing at all.

Nice supporting work from Norbert Leo Butz and Ken Howard rounds things off.

Chemistry is controlled and it's calculated and it pays off well.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Written and directed by Geoff Moore and David Posamentier; director of photography, Tim Suhrstedt; edited by Jonathan Alberts; music by John Nau and Andrew Feltenstein; production designer, Heidi Adams; produced by Joe Neurauter and Felipe Marino; released by Samuel Goldwyn Films.

Starring Sam Rockwell (Doug Varney), Olivia Wilde (Elizabeth Roberts), Michelle Monaghan (Kara Varney), Norbert Leo Butz (Agent Andrew Carp), Ben Schwartz (Noah), Ken Howard (Walter Bishop), Jenn Harris (Janet), Peter Jacobson (Dr. Roth), Harrison Holzer (Ethan Varney), Ray Liotta (Jack Roberts) and Jane Fonda (Jane Fonda).


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Blood: The Last Vampire (2009, Chris Nahon)

What a disaster.

It seems like it should be a good idea… wait, no, it doesn’t. The only time Blood: The Last Vampire works is when it’s a homoerotic romance between Jun Ji-hyun and Allison Miller. The film never recognizes this element, but there’s so much of it, it must have occurred to someone. Jun plays the tortured half-human, half-demon who desperately tries to attain humanity and Miller’s the girl who loves her for it. It’s no different, in the way it plays, than any vampire or werewolf or demon movie with the Romeo and Juliet thing going on.

And it works on that level.

The rest of it is a mess. The script’s awful, the cast is the finest mediocre British actors playing American I can think of (it’s like if the British produced Sci-Fi original movies).

The direction’s occasionally solid. The fight scenes are well choreographed and never too self indulgent. To work, one has to be interested in seeing Jun defeat a bunch of demons. And it does work.

Jun’s a famous (and excellent) Korean actress and Blood‘s her English-language debut. When she isn’t talking, just acting, she’s good. When she’s protective of Miller, she’s good. When they’ve got her talking, it never quite works.

There’s also the seventies setting. It’s a cool idea, but the film doesn’t really do anything with it.

And the end, when the film really could turn around with the big handholding, hug or kiss, really bombs.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Chris Nahon; screenplay by Chris Chow, based on the character created by Kamiyama Kenji and Tereda Katsuya; director of photography, Poon Hang-Sang; edited by Marco Cavé; music by Clint Mansell; production designer, Nathan Amondson; produced by William Kong and Abel Nahmias; released by Samuel Goldwyn Films.

Starring Jun Ji-hyun (Saya), Allison Miller (Alice Mckee), Liam Cunningham (Michael), JJ Feild (Luke), Koyuki (Onigen), Yasuaki Kurata (Kato Takatora), Larry Lamb (General Mckee), Andrew Pleavin (Frank Nielsen), Michael Byrne (Elder), Colin Salmon (Powell), Masiela Lusha (Sharon), Ailish O’Connor (Linda) and Constantine Gregory (Mr. Henry).


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London (2005, Hunter Richards)

Movies with lots of conversation–made up primarily of conversation–used to be rare. Then came Reservoir Dogs and Clerks. While Tarantino and Smith can still make it work, the world now has to suffer through films like London, which appears to be ninety-two minutes of bad dialogue. It’s obvious the dialogue’s going to be terrible from the opening scene, when Chris Evans has a phone conversation. Only his half of the conversation is audible, but it’s clear auteur Hunter Richards didn’t write up the other side, much less have someone talking to Evans.

The direction is obnoxious. Fast forward editing, lots of jump cuts. The direction of the actors isn’t much better. I mean, Jessica Biel’s performance is shockingly bad, which isn’t indicative of Richards’s abilities. But he manages to get a charisma-free performance out of Jason Statham, which–previously–I would have said was impossible (I’m ignoring Crank to make the point). Evans is blah. His character is supposed to be unemotional and distant and the baseball cap doesn’t help.

Long-time casting director Bonnie Timmermann is one of London‘s many producers (most of the others either have no previous credits or direct-to-video nonsense) and I’m assuming she had a lot to do with it getting made. In the late 1990s, when people made these kinds of knockoffs, they were low budget and somewhat–from the production sense–interesting. London is likely low budget, but it’s glossy and visually incompetent, not interesting.

I should be mad at myself for even trying to watch it… but I really thought it was about a bunch of Americans living in London and that sounded, if not good, at least passable. But this intolerable drivel… I mean, Richards is so bad, I’m surprised he isn’t popular.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Written and directed by Hunter Richards; director of photography, Jo Willems; edited by Tracey Wadmore-Smith; music by The Crystal Method; production designer, Erin Smith; produced by Ash Shah, Paul Davis Miller and Bonnie Timmerman; released by Destination Films and Samuel Goldwyn Films.

Starring Chris Evans (Syd), Jessica Biel (London), Jason Statham (Bateman), Isla Fisher (Rebecca), Joy Bryant (Mallory), Kelli Garner (Maya) and Dane Cook (George).


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Rise: Blood Hunter (2007, Sebastian Gutierrez)

How did the producers of Rise: Blood Hunter ever get cinematography superstar John Toll to shoot this movie? Piles of money, I assume. Probably the same piles of money they used to get Michael Chiklis to play a toned-down version of Vic Mackey. I was thinking, as Chiklis was confronting vampire slash vampire killer Lucy Liu, it played a lot like a TV show–not a bad TV show, maybe a Showtime pilot or something reasonable–except for the cinematography. John Toll is shooting Sam Raimi’s “for foreign markets” garbage. Amazing.

Rise is actually a pretty harmless, personality-free affair. The direction is not kinetic action, which I was expecting (and even hoping for after Liu went through bad guy after bad guy with no variation), but it’s as competent as a… Showtime show. The writing is really goofy. It kept reminding me of Count Yorga, but without the acknowledgment of its goofiness. It’s sad when a silly movie is unable to accept itself and really embrace the possibilities.

One big problem is the vampire set-up. They can go out in the daytime, they sleep in beds, they drink liquor, they don’t fly, they don’t have fangs, they aren’t stronger than normal people… they’re really boring. The lack of anything interesting is what makes Rise, an otherwise pedestrian effort, so unique. It’s like everyone showed up and made a movie, but no one cared what was going on. I’ve never seen a film with a writer slash director (would he qualify as an auteur?) so disinterested in his own film. Characters and subplots fall off all over–and it’s not an eight-three minute movie or a seventy-eight. It runs ninety-eight, which is perfectly respectable.

Some of the casting is good. I don’t know if I’m being unfair to Chiklis, but I doubt it. A goatee appears and disappears and he strokes it when he thinks–working on a case he’s not supposed to be working on. I couldn’t help thinking they cast him just because he already knew the right way to hold a gun from his “Shield” training, so they wouldn’t have to pay anyone else. Elden Henson–who I’d forgotten about–shows up for a few scenes and he’s good. Mako’s kind of funny. Holt McCallany, omnipresent in the 1990s, pops in for a bit. Carla Gugino is in it for a few scenes and is terrible. As the lead (her name isn’t Rise, which makes the title a little obnoxious–I think they were trying to convince people it was from a comic book so they’d go see it), Lucy Liu is fine. When she’s the reporter for the weekly, trying to get stories, she’s good. As the tortured vampire killer, she’s okay. The role’s stupid. It’s not so much badly written as just… dumb. Gutierrez is a hack.

There are some blood effects and Nick Lachey and Marilyn Manson both have cameos, suggesting someone involved in the film was either desperate to get it some attention or he or she has a definite range of friends (they aren’t in the same scene together, unfortunately).

I think the film got a theatrical release. Ah, it was limited. It’s probably in Raimi’s contract all his crap gets theatrical releases of some kind.

Robert Forster has a cameo at the beginning. It’s funny and he’s good in it. Maybe they should have hired a better writer and eighty-sixed the vampire malarky and had the cast make an engaging newspaper picture instead.

Terrible music, can’t forget about that noise. Does a real disservice to Toll’s lightning to have that lousy music play over it.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Written and directed by Sebastian Gutierrez; director of photography, John Toll; edited by Lisa Bromwell and Robb Sullivan; music by Nathan Barr; production designer, Jerry Fleming; produced by Greg Shapiro and Carsten H.W. Lorenz; released by Samuel Goldwyn Films.

Starring Lucy Liu (Sadie), Michael Chiklis (Rawlins), Carla Gugino (Eve), James D’Arcy (Bishop), Mako (Poe), Holt McCallany (Rourke), Elden Henson (Taylor) and Robert Forster (Lloyd).


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