Covo’s take on “Mama”:
Argentine director Andy Muschietti packs this film with great old-fashioned thrills and scares and builds a decidedly Hitchcock-style, suspense-filled story. The film is gripping from the opening scenes in front of a suburban house and an edge-of-your-seat car ride through twisty roads in a snow storm to the very creepy close.
According to the studio’s notes, Guillermo del Toro presents this supernatural thriller of the haunting tale of two little girls, Victoria (Megan Charpentier) and her younger sister Lilly (Isabelle Nélisse), who disappear into the woods the day their mother is murdered.
Fast forward five years later and the girls are rescued from an abandoned house in the woods and start a new life with their Uncle Lucas (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) and his girlfriend, Annabel (Jessica Chastain). While the girls are little and poorly adjusted, they somehow managed to survive alone, so someone must have watched over them during those five years – and strange things start happening to the new family..
Muschietti gets extra credit for working so well with the children, whose performances are absolutely flawless. Not once do they step out of character - they are completely believable from beginning to end. And the demands of the roles they play are high -- from scampering about like crazy spiders to singing a spooky lullaby; these two are truly amazing actors.
Chastain puts in another remarkable performance as Annabel, a bass-playing rocker who turns domestic for the girls and her boyfriend.
This is one movie star –yes, she is that good – who won’t be typecast. With this film, there is no question about her ability to portray diverse characters – and to do so very, very well.
Of course, the movie comes with proper credentials when filmmaker Guillermo del Toro stands behind it as the producer. The genius behind “Pan’s Labyrinth” saw the short film made by Muschietti and his sister Barbara Muschietti and was pleased to produce Andy Muschietti’s very first feature film. Del Toro introduces the short film “Mama” (check YouTube), explaining why he was compelled to produce a feature length version.
“The short is what caught my attention to Andy Muschietti and Barbara, his sister and producing partner and co-writer because the short was essentially one of the scariest little scenes I’ve ever seen. It was also incredibly well-made …you’re gonna see the craftsmanship, the ingenuity and the horror that made me want to come in and produce the feature version of “Mama,” he said. Indeed, the full-length feature is just as good, if not better than the short. If you like scary films without all the gore, this is a perfect fit. Go ahead and splurge -- I strongly recommend this well-crafted film.
“Mama” opens nationwide Jan. 18, 2013 – the film is rated PG- 13 and runs about an hour and 40 minutes.
Ayotte’s take on “Broken City”:
“Broken City” had so much promise but ultimately failed to bring something new and fresh to the crime/thriller genre of moviemaking. The plot lacks originality and the characters are hardly developed and shallow.
This movie proves that Russell Crowe plus Mark Wahlberg does not equal a hit movie.
Wahlberg brings nothing new to his character. It’s basically a version of his Chris Farraday (“Contraband,” “2012”) or Bob Lee Swagger (“Shooter,” 2007) -- the characters just have a different accent. Crowe was not impressive either but his performance as the corrupt Mayor Hostetler of New York City was convincing but only slightly crazier than the normal corrupt movie politician.
Catherine Zeta-Jones was a plus as Crowe’s hopeless wife and is the key to the entire twist. At 43, Zeta-Jones is still all that and a bag of chips.
The story begins with New York City cop Billy Taggart (Wahlberg) who is accused of murder. However, he beat the charges and walks.
His freedom comes cheap at first but eventually catches up to him when an old friend comes calling. That friend is surprisingly Mayor Hostetler (Crowe) who hires him as a private investigator to follow his cheating wife (Zeta-Jones).
For $50,000, Taggart takes the job and gets the mayor the information he was looking to find.
Soon after Taggart hands over the evidence the entire story unravels, finally, one hour and fifteen minutes into the film. 109 minutes was just too long of a running time not to bring anything new to the audience. The slow pace of the movie beats you into submission and finally the ending is revealed.
So, what is good about the film? Well, the acting is what you’d expect for the most part, the cinematography features some of NYC’s landmarks and Alona Tal was a pleasant addition to the cast. Tal has pretty much done exclusively TV to this point in her career but “Broken City” could be a good start to her movie career. Kyle Chandler (“Zero Dark Thirty,” “Argo”) and Natalie Martinez (“CSI: NY,” “End of Watch”) were also good. Overall I can’t give my blessing to spend your money to see this film. I suspect even the diehard Wahlberg and Crowe fans might be disappointed. This movie is best served on the couch at home – after a nice dinner.
“Broken City” opens nationwide Jan. 18, 2013 – the film is rated R.
Covo’s take on “The Last Stand”:
This is the season’s shoot-em-up flick with slick car chases. The delivery and pace are a little slow, but the comic relief from Johnny Knoxville and the very cool car chase through a corn field are worth a visit to the theater.
“The Last Stand” was written by Andrew Knauer and directed by Kim Ji-woon. Arnold Schwarzenegger plays Sheriff Owens, a retired Los Angeles cop who settles down in a small town where the biggest action is a good chat in the diner. This is Schwarzenegger’s first leading role since the third “Terminator” in 2003. It turns out Schwarzenegger is indeed “back” and fights with the panache of his youth – but perhaps just a little slower. During the film someone asks “How are you sheriff?” and without missing a beat, he replies “old.”
According to the studio notes, Sheriff Owens resigned himself to fighting what little crime takes place in a fictional sleepy border town after leaving his LAPD post. Meanwhile, the most notorious, wanted drug kingpin in the hemisphere escapes from the FBI and hurtles toward the border at 200 mph in a crazy cool Corvette with a hostage and a fierce army of gang members. If he makes through Owen’s little town – the bad guy wins. At first reluctant, Owens ultimately accepts responsibility for the face-off.
Fighting the villains with a group of deputies that includes Mike Figuerola (Luis Guzman), Lewis Dinkum (Johnny Knoxville) and the town drunk, Frank Martinez (Rodrigo Santoro), the film is somewhat predictable but punctuated with lots of belly laughs. Santoro (“300”, “There be Dragons”) gives the movie a touch of humanity as his character transforms from the town’s good-for-nothing to someone who can rise to any occasion.
There are enough explosions and bullets flying to keep any action adventure fan happy – and a certain charming chemistry between Sheriff Owens (Schwarzenegger) and his deputies (Knoxville, Santoro and Guzman). If nothing else, it’s a great warm-up to Schwarzenegger’s recently announced Terminator FIVE.
“The Last Stand” opens nationwide Jan. 18, 2013 – the film is rated R mostly for the violence and runs 107 minutes.