Movie Review: “Life After Beth”

Starring
Dane DeHaan, Aubrey Plaza, John C. Reilly, Molly Shannon, Cheryl Hines, Paul Reiser, Matthew Gray Gubler
Director
Jeff Baena

It’s incredible to think that in the short 10 years since the release of “Shaun of the Dead,” the zombie comedy has practically become its own subgenre, even spawning several “rom-zom-coms” (romantic zombie comedies, a term coined during the marketing for that film) in the process. But while Edgar Wright’s 2004 debut was a blisteringly funny homage to zombie movies, there’s yet to be another film that even comes close to matching its genre-bending wit and sense of fun. Which brings me to “Life After Beth,” the latest rom-zom-com to try and fail at duplicating that success. Surprisingly dull and unfunny for the talent involved, “Life After Beth” is a dead-on-arrival comedy that’s just as much in need of some brains as its title character.

Dane DeHaan stars as Zach, a gloomy teenager mourning the death of his girlfriend, Beth Slocum (Aubrey Plaza), after she was killed by a snakebite while hiking alone in the woods. Depressed and seeking comfort from Beth’s parents (John C. Reilly and Molly Shannon), Zach is offended when the couple suddenly cuts him off without so much as an explanation. So when Zach goes to their house looking for answers, he’s shocked to discover that Beth is very much alive, although without any memory of the past few days. While they’re not exactly sure how it happened (the possibility of a Jesus-like resurrection is debated), the Slocums are just happy to have their daughter back, and they’re willing to let Zach continue to see her if he promises to keep Beth’s return from the grave a secret. But as Zach attempts to rekindle their relationship, he can’t shake the feeling that something isn’t right with her.

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Movie Review: “The November Man”

Starring
Pierce Brosnan, Olga Kurylenko, Luke Bracey, Will Patton, Bill Smitrovich
Director
Roger Donaldson

Think of “The November Man” as “Mission: Impossible” with extreme prejudice. Ethan Hunt wouldn’t kill anyone that he didn’t absolutely have to kill, but Pierce Brosnan’s ex-CIA spook Peter Devereaux lives by no such code. If anything, he’s a “Do as I say, not as I do” kind of guy, which would normally make someone an antihero, but we’re talking about Pierce Brosnan here. He doesn’t know how to do antihero: even as he steals booze and downs it like it’s his last night on Earth, he’s just too damn likeable. Ultimately, this works in the movie’s favor, as Brosnan’s presence excuses a fair amount of shortcomings. The end result is boilerplate, but entertaining, just twisty enough to keep the audience guessing.

The movie opens in 2008 with Devereaux showing the ropes to new recruit David Mason (Luke Bracey) on a mission. Mason doesn’t follow Devereaux’s instructions to the letter, and though the two accomplish their mission, a civilian dies in the process. Fast forward five years, and a now-retired Devereaux is roped in by former colleague John Hanley (Bill Smitrovich) to help extract a CIA contact who has valuable intel on Russian general and soon-to-be president Arkady Federov (Lazar Ristovski). The extraction is botched on a number of levels, but Devereaux is able to get the name of the person the contact is protecting. Devereaux discovers that the mystery person is a refugee, and contacts a local shelter to ask for help. Shelter employee Alice (Olga Kurylenko) doesn’t have any answers, but Devereaux knows that her life is now in danger and that if he doesn’t protect her, she will be dead by sunset. In a second, Devereaux inherits three tasks: find the mystery girl, protect Alice, and continue to play cat and mouse with Mason, who’s clearly out to prove himself to his former mentor.

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Movie Review: “Starred Up”

Starring
Jack O’Connell, Ben Mendelsohn, Rupert Friend, Peter Ferdinando, Sam Spruell
Director
David Mackenzie

Anyone that watches movies for a living must constantly keep their finger on the pulse of what’s happening in cinema, but it’s easy for one to slip through the cracks, which is why it’s so exhilarating when a small indie like “Starred Up” comes out of nowhere and knocks you flat on your ass. Penned by first-time screenwriter Jonathan Asser, who spent time working as a therapist within the British prison system, the film is scary in just how realistic it feels at times. From the cell block politics, to the crooked authorities supposedly in charge of keeping the peace, “Starred Up” doesn’t pull any punches in its tough and gritty depiction of prison life.

The movie’s title refers to the act of transferring a young offender from a juvenile detention center to an adult penitentiary prematurely, and in the case of 19-year-old Eric Love (Jack O’Connell), he’s been relocated two years early due to the frequency and severity of his violent outbursts. When his volatile temper quickly earns him enemies among both the guards and fellow inmates, Eric is approached by a volunteer psychotherapist (Rupert Friend) about attending his anger management class, which he believes will provide hope to the young man that he can someday function normally in society. But while his estranged father Neville (Ben Mendelsohn), who also happens to be doing time in the same prison, encourages him to accept the free help, his constant meddling causes Eric to wonder whether he’s actually there to protect him or contribute to the abuse.

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Blu Tuesday: The Walking Dead, Sons of Anarchy and More

Every Tuesday, I review the newest Blu-ray releases and let you know whether they’re worth buying, renting or skipping, along with a breakdown of the included extras. If you see something you like, click on the cover art to purchase the Blu-ray from Amazon, and be sure to share each week’s column on Facebook and Twitter with your friends.

“The Walking Dead: The Complete Fourth Season”

WHAT: Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) and Co. continue to struggle for survival as they face a whole new set of challenges, including a deadly virus and the vengeful return of the Governor. But when the group is forced to flee the safety of the prison, the survivors get separated from one another and head for a sanctuary called Terminus.

WHY: The fourth season of “The Walking Dead” may be plagued by many of the same problems as previous years, but while its tendency to let plotlines drag on for too long causes the show to grind to a halt at times, the renewed focus on keeping the story moving even when its characters aren’t plays a huge part in its success. Though the first half of the season is bogged down by the silly virus storyline, the Governor’s return (from the pair of episodes detailing his whereabouts, to his eventual assault on the prison) serves as the impetus to the much stronger second half. It was a pretty gutsy move on the part of the writers to split up the group dynamic that makes the series so compelling, but it’s probably the best thing they could have done, because it’s refreshing to spend certain episodes focused on a handful of characters. Not only does it allow for more character development, but it gives some of the more peripheral characters their chance to shine. That may result in less thrills, but Season Four seems to have finally struck the perfect balance between zombie action and human drama, and although audiences love the former, there aren’t many shows that do drama better than “The Walking Dead.”

EXTRAS: In addition to cast and crew audio commentaries on four episodes, the Blu-ray set includes “Inside ‘The Walking Dead’” and “The Making of ‘The Walking Dead’” featurettes for each episode, some deleted scenes and additional featurettes on the parallels between the comic book and TV series, visual effects and more.

FINAL VERDICT: BUY

“Sons of Anarchy: Season Six”

WHAT: Just as Jax (Charlie Hunnam) is beginning to legitimatize the motorcycle club’s business ventures, SAMCRO is targeted by a tough-as-nails district attorney (CCH Pounder) when the weapon used in a school shooting is traced back to them. Meanwhile, Clay (Ron Perlman) attempts to save his skin by striking a deal with the Irish, and Gemma (Katey Sagal) and Tara (Maggie Siff) butt heads once again.

WHY: Why: Ask any “Sons of Anarchy” fan what their least favorite season is and many will probably list the oft-criticized third season (AKA the Ireland one). But while the series has had enough crazy plotlines over the years to justify why some might view the show as nothing more than a male soap opera, it’s always backed them up with great characters and writing. That is, until Season Six, when it finally became too ridiculous for its own good. Though the biker drama’s penultimate season has plenty of things worth celebrating (including a larger role for Mark Boone Junior and excellent guest stars like CCH Pounder, Donal Logue and Walton Goggins), a lot of the conflict this time around seems to be less about driving the narrative than shocking the audience, none more so than the death of Maggie Siff’s Tara. While fans have been waiting to see Clay’s demise for years (and rightfully so), Tara’s murder-by-carving-fork comes across more like a desperate attempt at a cool cliffhanger than a fitting end to her season-long arc. Tara was destined to die, but not like this, and the treatment of that character is just one of the reasons why this season is the most disappointing to date.

EXTRAS: The Blu-ray release includes cast and crew commentaries on the season premiere and finale, deleted scenes, a gag reel, character goodbyes and all three episodes of the post-show specials “Anarchy Afterword.”

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

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Movie Review: “Sin City: A Dame to Kill For”

Starring
Mickey Rourke, Jessica Alba, Josh Brolin, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Eva Green, Rosario Dawson, Bruce Willis, Powers Boothe, Dennis Haysbert, Jamie King
Directors
Robert Rodriguez & Frank Miller

Frank Miller and Robert Rodriguez bring the long-awaited “Sin City” sequel to audiences after nearly a decade’s absence. Unfortunately, “Sin City: A Dame to Kill For” proves that no matter how many clouds and thunder you put on a screen, it’s hard to catch lightning in a bottle a second time. The characters are engaging, the over-the-top violence is there in spades, but the magic that made fans scream for a sequel is somewhere between the pages of the graphic novel and the cutting room floor.

Everyone’s favorite jawline with muscles, Marv (Mickey Rourke), is back in full noir fashion. The film opens with him awakening to no memory of the cool trenchcoat he’s wearing and the not-so-cool injuries that came with it. Before he can put things together, he witnesses a guy being set afire by a bunch of frat boys. He teaches them a lesson that they’ll never forget in this world or the next. Just as in 2005’s “Sin City,” Marv is willing to nearly kill himself to bring people to justice. Although seemingly indestructible, he racks up scars by the dozens. Of course, with the six inches of prosthetics Rourke wears on his face, it starts to grow on you.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt joins the cast as the unstoppable gambler, Johnny. Levitt is continuing to fuel an argument as being one of the most versatile young actors in Hollywood. Expect this performance to only add to that. As the slick-talking Johnny, it’s easy to believe that he can do no wrong. He’s a suited force of nature, emptying slot machines almost without pulling the handle. But Johnny boy has his eyes on the sinister Senator Roark (Powers Boothe), and as bad guys go, Roark takes the cake and smashes you in the face with it. He doesn’t suffer fools or losing lightly and quickly shows Johnny why he’s feared by almost everyone with a pulse. Another guy on the wrong end of Roark is Dwight (Josh Brolin), a private investigator who uses his fists to get to the bottom of a case, especially when it’s involving a damsel in distress. And this particular damsel is the titular dame to die for: Ava Ford (Eva Green).

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