Brick Mansions (2014)

Brick MansionsReleased: April 25, 2014. Directed by: Camille Delamarre. Starring: Paul Walker, David Belle, RZA. Runtime: 90 min.

If you see Brick Mansions, remove logic from your list of expectations. You might be giving this film a chance for its action. Hopefully the poster doesn’t convince you to see this, because it’s kind-of awful. Instead of putting the poster on a side of a building, the poster is literally a picture of the three actors on a side of a f!#king building! That’s insanity!

You might also be giving this a chance to watch Paul Walker in his final, fully completed film. He’s adequate in his role – silly at times, particularly when he’s warring with co-star David Belle over who gets to take a stolen van; or when he’s unconvincingly saying “Back off. Back off.” The writing is partly to blame, too. He’s getting stronger as an actor, being tolerable and convincing as his character – and only poor once or twice in a film. It’s a shame that we won’t ever be able to see him be truly and consistently great. He does take to the stunt-work of parkour like a champ and his training shines through, in what is easily his most physically demanding role to date. This film surely does not do for parkour what The Raid: Redemption did for the Indonesian martial arts style of pencak silat. That’s a blurb that would probably suit the original District B13, upon which this, an American remake, is based. Now that the Raid is being mentioned, this is sort-of like a dumb version of it, just with a lot less blood because its PG-13 rating holds it back.

Anyway, David Belle’s involvement helps the action film, because he’s considered the founding father of parkour, an instinctive acrobatic style where you can jump off of any surface or object. It’s also really helpful for being untouchable and kicking someone’s ass in a fight. It’s awesome to watch these guys jump around like grasshoppers over people, from building to building and wall to wall. The action is just great, if repetitive – but this is where this film succeeds the most. The first scene where David Belle is prominently featured is a phenomenal action sequence. First-time director Camille Delamarre directs the action well, but he uses slow motion to a fault. The over-utilization of it somehow gives the film a sort-of visual flair in the likes of Gareth Evans’ style, director of The Raid and The Raid 2. Delamarre isn’t nearly as successful directing the dialogue exchanges, because it’s all a bit silly – but that is screenwriter Luc Besson’s fault.

The silliness is found in lack of logic and in the dialogue of the villainous Tremaine (RZA). He says things like “Tremaine ain’t anxious, he causes anxious,” and “C’est la vie!” which shows us that this connoisseur knows French. (It means “That’s life” in French, by the way.) His motivations don’t seem clear, and he’s generic – but he explains at one point that he’s a “politician,” but it must be assumed that he’s speaking of being a politics of all things drugs. He takes a nuclear bomb that can blow up a whole town, if it’s 5 miles in diameter. RZA seems to be a good artist and great composer (most notably for Kill Bill Volume 1), but based on his work in this film, his acting ability is lacking; but he can’t be the greatest actor in a role like this.

He’s usally silly, never intimidating and over-the-top with his violence; like shooting someone because they don’t have any good ideas, or shooting a television when his henchmen are playing a video game, because why the hell not, right? It seems to me that the writers try to write him mildly intelligent dialogue, but it’s so damn stupid. The attempt to make him seem like a smart, complex mastermind fails miserably. They make the guy all fancy; he’s always cooking, and the set design for his office gives him a nice red table and expensive chairs under a red light. He looks like criminal royalty. It’s a character who wouldn’t work for anyone, let alone RZA, who’s never quite believable. Remember him trying to convincingly portray a blind kung fu master in G.I. Joe: Retaliation? Oh dear, I won’t even go started on that. 

Paul Walker’s character of Damien, an undercover cop, has a bone to pick with him because his father was killed in a drug raid. That’s his motivation to take the baddie down when the Mayor asks him to go in to the rundown Brick Mansions to disarm the nuclear weapon. Brick Mansions is a walled-off section of 2018 Detroit (a fictional present day Detroit would work to the same effect because four years is not a jarring difference in time) that was designed to keep the rampant crime of Detroit in one small area. Hospitals, police stations and schools are shut down in this sector of Detroit. Damien teams up with Lino, the same character (named Leito) David Belle portrayed in the original French film called District B13 upon which this is based. He’s okay, and it’s a fine role for him to be introduced to the North American public. He does give off an impression that he’s trying hard to hide his accent – which is distracting. He does a better American accent than Gerard Butler, but I’m curious as to why everyone knows the character is French. He sounds pretty American to me. It’s just a little funny.

Lino and Damien are the only characters you’ll care about because they have clear motivations that, while generic, are mildly well-written. One character you won’t care about is one called Rayzah (awful f@!king name) who is largely the sex appeal of the film. Her distinct, over-the-top attraction to Lino’s ex-girlfriend Lola (Catalina Denis) makes the film have an out-of-place perversion about it. The poor writing of the film is its biggest flaw; it’s usually unintentionally hilarious. At least, most of it until a very bothersome finale. 

The logic is just not sound, maybe because of seriously stupid henchmen. Even though one henchman says that Damien and Lino’s life is worth more than any of theirs, all of the henchmen do not shy away from aiming to kill them anyway! How does that make sense? There’s another occasion which I won’t spoil, but this scene, like the other mentioned one, all happens for the sake of guns being shot. 

It might sound like I’m giving this film a hard time. This is not something I hate, because it’s not well-written by Luc Besson; but damn, it’s entertaining. Even when the action isn’t happening, you might be laughing your ass off because the dialogue is so dang silly. If you can get past the silliness of it all, this is a fun time at the movies – and it’ll make a great rental for a dumb movie that you just want to pop in the Blu-Ray player and sit back and have a drink and a lot of laughs with your buddies. (If you can’t get past silliness in a film, just avoid this like the plague.) This is hilarious in the most unintentional ways, and will make a great dumb-movie double feature with 3 Days to Kill. I’m not sure if Dumb Easy Watching was Luc Besson’s intention but eh, “C’est la vie!” 

Score58/100

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Box Office Predictions: March 7-9

While “The Lego Movie” is still going strong, this weekend is seeing a release of some straight competition for it: “Mr. Peabody and Sherman.” It’s an animated time travel family comedy that looks like fun. Similar films open at $38.1 million, and I think this has potential to hit around there, probably not pass $40 million because of the competition from “LEGO” (now at about $213 million domestically), but hit around there nonetheless. My prediction is $35.3 million.

The other new release this weekend is “300: Rise of an Empire,” the sequel to 2007’s smash hit that opened on the same weekend to the sound of $70 million. People love their war movies, but I wonder if people won’t dig this as much without the direction of Zack Snyder. This was supposed to be released in August of last year but was postponed to this weekend, so hopefully it’s worth the wait. (I really hope it’s good because I love the poster and it’d look awesome on my wall.) Similar films open at $32 million, a little less than half of 300‘s opening weekend. With the difference of seven years between this and the first film, it’s been able to muster quite the fanbase (it stands at a 7.8 on IMDb from over 450 thousand ratings), but this won’t have nearly as great as an opening weekend. An opening of $44.7 million sounds more likely.

Here’s how I see the Top 10:

1. 300: Rise of an Empire$44.7 million
2. Mr. Peabody and Sherman$35.3 million
3. Non-Stop$15.68 million
4. The Lego Movie$15.621 million
5. Son of God$14.081 million (review coming in the a.m.)
6. The Monuments Men$3.211 million
7. Frozen$3.094 million
8. RoboCop $2.254 million
9. 3 Days to Kill$2.252 million
10. Pompeii $2.001 million

3 Days to Kill (2014)

3 days to killReleased: February 21, 2014. Directed by: McG. Starring: Kevin Costner, Hailee Steinfeld, Amber Heard. Runtime: 113 min.

French writer and producer (sometimes director) Luc Besson is back at it again writing the story and co-writing the screenplay (with Adi Hasak) for “3 Days to Kill.” Music video director turned filmmaker McG takes over directing duties; tackling a bunch of genres in once that sometimes works, and sometimes doesn’t. It’s part-actioner, part-drama, and part-comedy – and wow, that’s just too many genres at once for some directors. McG produces some great TV shows (“Supernatural,” “Nikita”) but the films he’s directed are usually only okay for me (I’ve only seen three of his – the two “Charlie’s Angels” flicks and “This Means War”); and his newest movie is fun and good for what it is: a generic actioner.

Ethan Renner (Kevin Costner) is a dying Secret Service agent who’s given three to six months to live because of a disease that starts out with a bad cough. When he learns of his fate, he decides to reconnect his estranged wife Christine (Connie Nielsen) daughter Zoey (Hailee Steinfeld). When he goes to Paris to visit them, he has to promise his wife that he’s done working for the Secret Service. He promises, but just his luck – a CIA operative named Vivi (Amber Heard) tasks him with taking down a notorious criminal called the Wolf (sadly, not the Wolf of Wall Street). He’s only given three days to take down the criminal for some reason that doesn’t get explained that well. My suspicion is that they just needed a title. If you blink at the beginning when they explain the criminal’s crimes, you’ll forget why he’s being hunted. If Ethan is able to kill Wolf within three days, he’s given the chance to receive an experimental drug that could save his life. On top of that, he’s trying to reconnect with his daughter. Since he didn’t call before going to visit them, the wife is going away for business. He has to act as a babysitter for the time being.

Film Review 3 Days To KillAs you can tell, it’s a lot for McG to juggle. With this film, I think he expresses that he is perfectly competent to direct actioners, some big laughs and even some decent drama – but put it all in a blender and shove it into one film, it ends up being a decently fun, but tonally uneven actioner. There’s enough action to entertain fans of Besson’s work, and it’s at least better than “Taken 2.” It’s going to entertain action fans outside of his fanbase, too; and we should all just be thankful that he resists the urge to put Zoey into mortal danger and get kidnapped. The action is a bit generic, but I’ll admit, I say that about a lot of action movies! It’s just difficult for an action film to be not generic these days, because components of this plot feels like it’s been done in “Crank.” The editing is dizzying and too quick during some of the action scenes, but otherwise decent in the dramatic sequences. When Ethan is dizzy because of his disease, the cinematography is shaky and has that drug-induced haze about it (if you know what I mean) – so that’s fine because that’s the point. These temporary dazes happen at climactic times all too convenient for the villains.

The reason why this is tonally uneven is because it goes from one scene where he is in his bathroom using the PG-13 version of torture (ripping tape from a man’s armpit, ouch!) on a suspect that could lead him to the Wolf, and he’s called to visit his daughter’s school because she got in a fight.There are a lot of scenes like that, where you can tell an action scene is on the way by the score; but it gets interrupted by a call from the daughter. Is the film trying to express that children are annoying little shits, and that parenting is difficult? It seems like it. Regardless of the tonal shifts, I think this is a fun movie with some good laughs. Costner and Steinfeld share a few good scenes that show the struggles of reconnecting, and when there’s sweetness – it’s much more pleasant than the daughter being sour towards her father. The two stars share a great chemistry, and they elevate their respective characters to a finer level. Costner’s chemistry with Connie Nielson is just fine; there’s a much bigger focus on the father-daughter relationship. The film expresses how much of an impact being in the Secret Service can have on one’s relationships; because one has to put their needs in front of their own by keeping them out of danger. More on Costner: It’s nice that he’s staying busy in action movies, already being in two in 2014 thus far. This one as the secret agent doing the killings; the first one, “Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit” as the recruiter/mentor – giving people the intelligence to do their jobs well.

3 DaysAmber Heard takes on that role here, always sporting a different hairstyle in each scene. Either she was going through from serious identity issues herself while filming, or she’s just trying to stay way undercover. She gives off a dark and mysterious vibe, where many won’t be able to tell if she’s a protagonist or an antagonist throughout. She’s decent, but she’s probably present for the sex appeal. She gives Ethan his orders, but the fact why he must kill this guy within three days is so bloody forgettable, that it just squanders some have high-stakes intensity it might have had.

Heard’s character shows up at random times to check in, but there’s a lot of other random crap going on in this flick. Ethan has an obsession with this purple bike he intended to give to Zoey as a present, where McG feels the need to present a montage of Ethan riding it home. One other main, and random sub-plot concerns a family of squatters in Ethan’s apartment. They’ve made themselves comfortable, and it seems that they’ve been occupying his apartment for a few months, probably more. Ethan’s relationship with the squatters might be to portray his humanity – but his love for his wife and daughter does that enough; so it’s rather redundant. I learn that squatting is an issue in Paris, so it is an accurate portrayal – but with the already crowded plot, Luc Besson’s socio-economical comment (making more people aware of it) in the film is another thing that feels out of place.

Score58/100