True story “Pain & Gain” gets messy in director Bay’s hands

Three bumbling idiots get involved in crimes and find themselves in way over their heads. This can make for good comedy, but “Pain & Gain” is based upon a true story of three men who tried to claim what wasn’t theirs, and in the hands of director Michael Bay (“Armageddon,” “Bad Boys”), this is going to be one messy encounter after another.

Screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, who collaborated on the “Chronicles of Narnia” movies and “Captain America,” move into more adult content with “Pain & Gain,” adapting from a series of articles by Pete Collins chronicling the story of these crimes that took place in the mid 1990s in Florida. This is certainly a condensed version and one would have to read the Collins pieces to discern how much is true and how much was embellished for dramatic/comedic purposes.

The script employs multiple voice-overs to provide points of view of the main characters, led by Mark Wahlberg. If viewers can get over the idea of Wahlberg playing a guy named Daniel Lugo, they will be fine with his performance.

Lugo is a man who believes in the American dream and the land of opportunity. His problem is he cannot seem to maximize his opportunities by being a personal trainer. He wants more out of life, but apparently, going to DeVry Institute or taking online courses to make himself more marketable were not options he embraced. Instead, he targets one of his clients, a successful businessman named Victor Kershaw (Tony Shalhoub), who owns a sandwich shop but confides boastfully to Daniel he has other shady things going on. Thus Daniel hatches a scheme to kidnap and embezzle the man’s fortunes.

The “team” he rounds up to carry this out leaves a lot to be desired. Adrian Doorbal (Anthony Mackie) is a fellow gym employee whose use of steroids has left him with intimacy problems. Paul Doyle (Dwayne Johnson, who seems to be in everything these days while also being a Wrestlemania main-eventer) is a born-again ex-con, at times sweet, at times dangerously violent and dumb as a brick. Sorina Luminita (Bar Paly) is an immigrant from Central Asia, an actress wannabe bamboozled by Daniel into believing she is going to star in a music video, then told she is going to be a CIA operative.

The Three Stooges could not have fared any worse than these clowns, who botch an initial attempt at abduction, then have to resort to days of torture on Victor to get him to sign key documents, then goof it up on disposing of their victim. Still, after stumbling along they do get all of Victor’s assets and start living the high life.

Victor, all banged up and a victim, gets little sympathy from police, who find his story too ludicrous to be believed. Fortunately for Victor, he does get a believer in retired police detective Ed DuBois (Ed Harris), who has very little trouble gathering incriminating evidence against Lugo and his gang.

Bay and his script writers handle the material with tongue in cheek, using subtitles and frozen scenes of people in undignified situations.

The acting is what you would expect with Wahlberg’s Daniel bouncing between frustration, overconfidence, euphoric triumphs and a bloated sense of entitlement. But Dwayne Johnson almost steals the movie as Paul Doyle, an utter mess of a man trying to live a reformed life but too easily swayed and a victim to temptation.

Another scene stealer is Rebel Wilson from “Pitch Perfect” as a medical assistant at the clinic Adrian visits who falls in love with the man. Harris adds his usual cool touch as the detective who cannot believe these crooks got away with what they did, given how badly they messed up. As Harris’ DuBois says, the biggest crime these guys committed was being just plain dumb.

“Pain & Gain” is blueprint Bay, noisy, violent and brimming with humor, some of it macabre. One could almost dismiss it as being as outrageous as “Armageddon” if it were not based upon a true story.

Tom, Morgan and drones make for a post-apocalyptic adventure in ‘Oblivion’

From Jack Reacher to Jack Harper, Tom Cruise is still going strong in presenting characters who try to maintain balance in a troubled world. In “Oblivion” he is the latter Jack — Harper — and the world he lives in is a real mess.

“Oblivion” is a visual stunner and a crowd-pleaser for the most part despite enough plot holes to keep the nit-pickers busy. Cruise is in his element here as Harper, who has a bit of “Top Gun’s” Maverick in him — confident and can summon cockiness when needed.

Harper does modestly refer to himself as part of a mop-up crew on a futuristic Earth that has been rendered mostly uninhabitable — not my mankind’s carelessness but by an invasion from outer space. Yep, we have the hostile E.T. vein of the sci-fi genre.

The aliens, referred to as Scavs, delivered a blow by destroying the moon, which triggered all kinds of natural havoc. War ensued and eventually the earthlings had no choice but to set off the nukes.

So now the Earth is mostly a wasteland. Almost all humans have been evacuated to a monstrous space station called Tet, where they wait for transportation to the Saturn moon Titan. In the meantime, whatever resources left on Earth are been gathered by huge machines while drones patrol the planet, scoping out supposed Scavs who still think a war is going on.

Harper resides in a nice facility in the clouds with his “teammate” Victoria (Andrea Riseborough). They live, eat and sleep together, and by day Victoria monitors Jack as he cruises around in an aircraft that appears to be a hybrid — part helicopter, part jet. He tracks down drones that have crashed and repairs them. Victoria spends time communicating with Sally (Melissa Leo), who is in charge up in the Tet, supervising with a smile and Southern accent.

With their mission almost done, Jack and Victoria soon will be en route to Titan.

For whatever reasons, the memories of Jack and Victoria have been erased but Jack has a recurring dream wherein he is in the observation platform of the Empire State Building and having some kind of sweet encounter with a young woman (Olga Kurylenko), Also, Jack does not share Victoria’s enthusiasm for leaving Earth. On his missions he likes to go off the grid and find solace in a lakeside oasis — a rundown home but peaceful — listening to 1960s rock on vinyl records.

It is during one of these breaks that he witnesses a space craft plummeting to Earth as if shot down. He goes to the crash scene and finds the crew members actually are in a hibernated state in pods, and one of the people looks like the woman of his dreams.

The drones, seemingly confused, attack the scene but Jack manages to rescue the woman and take her back to his station. She turns out to be Julia and insists they go back to the crash scene and get the flight recorder. It is during this mission that Jack and Julia are captured by supposed Scavs.

The Scavs actually are surviving humans living pretty much underground and led by Beech (Morgan Freeman), who tells Jack things are not what they seem and seeks Jack’s assistance in setting things right. He even sets Jack free to see for himself what is really going on.

Once Jack goes into investigative mode, things start clearing up in his mind.

Director and co-writer Joseph Kosinski chose his shooting locations well, presenting several different conditions of Earth from barren lands to majestic snow-capped mountains to lush, thick vegetation. But best of all, he and his production crew created wonderful drones that almost have personalities and a surface structure that makes them look very serious about their business — almost scowling, with unblinking eyes.

Cruise’s Jack Harper meshes well with the ladies. While he sometimes grows wistful about Earth and a possible rejuvenation of the planet, Riseborough’s Victoria remains focused on the mission, keeping him on track. After hours she lowers her guard and becomes a cool life partner. Kurylenko’s Julia has to unfold slowly as the mystery woman who unlocks a lot of secrets.

“Oblivion” falls short of being a classic science-fiction movie, as it recycles a lot of features from earlier films. But it is Cruise at his best, surrounded by a small but capable cast. You can’t go wrong when you have Morgan Freeman also in the show.

Monsterpalooza offers Halloween in April

For fans of horror and science-fiction movies, music and art, conventions offer year-round opportunities to get out and party down with fellow enthusiasts. The semi-annual Monsterpalooza convened again the second weekend of April at the Marriott in Burbank, and among the featured attractions were events focusing on such movie classics as “King Kong,” “Ultraman,” “2001 A Space Odyssey,” “Jaws,” “The Monster Squad” and “Night of the Living Dead.”

Per usual, the main convention floor consisted of more than 100 tables catered to many tastes with masks, life-size sculptures, T-shirts and jewelry, books, magazines, makeup artists, sketches and paintings, buttons, videos and DVDs and soundtrack CDs.

For the movie fans, the neighboring building featured a rich array of movie stars. A Friday night presentation focused on the ladies of “Night of the Living Dead,” the low-budget George Romero-directed 1968 zombie movie now considered a classic. On hand were Judith O’Dea (Barbra), Judith Ridley (Judy) and Kyra Schon (the youngest victim Karen Cooper who comes back to life to brutally murder her mother). The three stars returned Saturday to sign autographs and talk to fans. O’Dea said that despite the grisly story being filmed, the production mostly was fun, with the trappings of a sparse budget. “When you can hear crickets inside the house, you know we had sound problems,” she said.

Representing “Jaws” were Susan Backlinie, who played the doomed Chrissie, her death in the opening moments of the movie likely one of the most notorious and unsettling scenes in horror cinema; and Jeffrey Kramer, who played Deputy Hendricks and also appeared in a small role as a dentist in “Halloween II.” Also present was Donna Wilkes, who was the most terrified of the young boating teens stalked by the killer shark in “Jaws 2.”

Tom Noonan, so chilling as the serial killer Francis Dollarhyde in Michael Mann’s “Manhunter” — the first filmed version of the Thomas Harris novel “Red Dragon” — was low key and gracious in accepting praise for his performance, a layered role of a man who methodically stalks and plots his next murder of a family while cultivating a relationship with a blind co-worker (played by Joan Allen).

Keir Dullea and Gary Lockwood from “2001” had numerous visitors to their table, allowing them a warmup for their Sunday presentation in the theater of “2001: Memories of H.A.L. and Stanley (Kubrick).”

Martin Landau had on hand photos of his many roles over the years dating back pre-“Mission Impossible” to “The Twilight Zone” and earlier. Naturally he also offered stills from his Academy Awarding-winning performance as Bela Lugosi in “Ed Wood.”

Denise Crosby provided crossover talent, having starred as Security Office Tasha Yar in the television series “Star Trek — The Next Generation” and as Rachel Creed in Stephen King’s “Pet Sematary.”

Also taking time to meet and greet fans were Linnea Quigley, Angie Everhart, Eric and Eliza Roberts, Eugene Clark, who somehow managed to add charm to a zombie as Big Daddy in “Land of the Dead,” Virginia Madsen, Stephen Macht, who paused in his autographing duties to reinforce the poster above his table with duct tape, Mary Ellen Trainor, and veteran actor Richard Herd, who stood up and announced that if anybody was willing to make  a Starbucks run, he would appreciate it.

By far the biggest draw was Linda Blair, so memorable as the demon-possessed Regan in “The Exorcist.” Fans were willing to stand in line for up to an hour to meet her and get an autograph.

Judging by the crowded conditions most of the day Saturday, Monsterpalooza continues to be a success, and naturally, the weekend of Oct. 11-13 has been reserved for the 2013 Halloween version of Monsterpalooza.

Linda Blair’s passion

In addition to meeting fans and signing autographs, Linda Blair was promoting a special event. “The Exorcist” will be screened May 13 at the Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, with the proceeds going to the The Linda Blair WorldHeart Foundation (LBWF). The nonprofit organization is dedicated to the rescue and care of all dogs with the goal of finding new homes for these abandoned and sometimes abused animals.

The organization recently purchased a 2.5-acre piece of property north of Los Angeles, and in addition to providing homes and care to dogs, the organization addresses issues as dog fighting, breed bans and overpopulation.

Doors will open at  8 p.m. on May 13 and feature raffles and prizes. Blair will appear for a Q&A starting at  9 p.m., followed by the screening at 10 p.m.

For information on the event and LBWF, visit

A life-size sculpture depicts Kay Lawrence, played by Julia Adams in the 1954 classic “Creature from the Black Lagoon.” Adams herself was on hand to sign autographs.



Another life-size figure is Jack Torrance, armed and primed to go crazy in “The Shining.”

Judith O’Dea, who played the doomed Barbra in “Night of the Living Dead,” poses for a photo with a fan.

Watch “Trance” and try to figure out what’s going on

“Trance” is one of those mind-bending movies with so many twists and turns and scenes that can be interpreted in different ways. It can be a lot of fun for those who enjoy postmortem discussions as to what really happened, but frustrating to those who prefer nice, tidy endings.

Trying to analyze this movie without tripping up on too many spoilers is a challenge, but here goes.

The plot centers around a well-planned and brazen robbery of a valuable painting in London during an auction, and although it appears to come off hitch-free, the painting disappears.

There are three main characters in this caper-gone-awry. Simon (James McAvoy) is an employee of the auction firm and a gambling addict who has racked up so much debt he is willing to be the inside man on the art robbery. Franck (Vincent Cassel) is the leader of the robbery gang, not too happy his seemingly flawless plan ends up with him holding an empty frame missing the painting.

Elizabeth (Rosario Dawson) is a hypnotherapist brought in to help Simon overcome amnesia from a knock in the head so he can reveal the whereabouts of the painting.

The script, written by Joe Aherne and John Hodge, starts tripping up the viewers with vague revelations and associations and possible hidden motives that require an attention to every detail. Simon seems like a man in over his head, truly baffled at what happened. But is he? Franck seems ruthless and impatient yet appears to become more of an endorser of Elizabeth’s slow, methodical methods of unlocking Simon’s shutdown memories.

Elizabeth is the most baffling of all. Was she drawn into this by chance, or was she in on it from the beginning? Her allegiances seem firm yet hints keep popping up that she has her own agenda.

“Trance” is directed by Danny Boyle, who has given viewers some excellent work in “Trainspotting,” “Slumdog Millionaire,” “127 Hours” and “28 Days Later.” As he so adeptly proved in “Slumdog Millionaire,” he can present a character who, as the layers are pulled away, is more and knows more than originally believed.

With so many plot angles and character revelations, “Trance” leaves itself open to intense scrutiny, ripe to be picked apart. That might have been the objective of Boyle and company, guaranteeing the movie, while not a mass-market release, may endure as it triggers debate in the social media world  — with some participants embracing  the “it’s all just a dream” motif — and invites repeated viewings.

“Evil Dead” is by design a grim gorefest

Some horror movies have a few funny moments tossed in, silly or laced with dark humor, to relieve the tension. Others just hammer the audience with relentless terror and gore, opting to keep the nastiness flowing uninterrupted.

The new “Evil Dead” is one of the latter. This was intentional, according to director and co-writer Fede Alvarez and others involved in the movie who were featured in pre-release interviews.Sam Raimi, who directed the original “Evil Dead” in 1981 — now considered a classic by horror movie fans — and Bruce Campbell, who played Ash in the original, becoming his signature role, served as producers for this remake and everybody attached to the project stressed it is a remake, not a prequel or sequel — no characters are tied in any way to Ash.

Notice is served. Those who prefer their horror without any extra baggage of light-hearted moments should find this “Evil Dead” fulfilling their basic expectations.

The back-story is grim. Mia (Jane Levy) is a drug addict, who accompanied by two friends, Olivia (Jessica Lucas), a nurse, and Eric (Lou Taylor Pucci), goes to an old family cabin in the woods — always a ripe location for unpleasant things — for a weekend of cold-turkey drying out. Also joining the group is Mia’s brother David (Shiloh Fernandez) and his girlfriend Natalie (Elizabeth Blackmore).

The character development centers around the chilly reception David receives as Mia and particularly Eric still simmer with resentment that David moved away in pursuit of a job, leaving Mia to deal with their mother’s mental demise. David, trying to nullify his guilt, is determined to stick with Mia now as she tries to get her life back on track. David is so out of touch he is shocked to learn from Eric and Olivia that Mia has tried this cold-turkey effort before and has overdosed once.

That’s about all the information on the characters the viewers get. Natalie mostly stands around  on the periphery and might as well be wearing a placard stating: Sole purpose is to die horrendously.

The rundown cabin seems an unlikely place for a rehab project, and when it is discovered that a bunch of slain cats are strung up in the basement, which also looks like a venue for some sort of dark and bloody ritual, common sense would dictate the five young people clear out of the place and find a nice motel.

But stupidity among the doomed characters is a fixture of horror movies, so they stay. Then Eric comes across an old book, wrapped in skin and barb wire, and he commits the Really Dumb Act That Unleashes All Kinds of Nastiness. He clips away the wire, rips open the skin and starts thumbing through the book despite a written warning inside not to continue.

This is where the fun begins as Eric inadvertently releases some force, enabling “Evil Dead” finally to shift into high gear.

Olivia has warned David that once Mia is in the throes of withdrawal, she will do and say anything to get David to take her home. Mia does manage to sneak to one of the cars and drive away, but of course there is something in the woods. She crashes the car and has a nightmarish encounter, the details of which cannot be revealed here.

Rescued by her friends and taken back to the cabin, Mia now appears to be totally out of touch with reality, and David dismisses her claims that something awful has made its way to the cabin.

“Evil Dead” hits its high points as the projectile vomiting and bloodletting ensue and Mia develops a complexion problem and starts babbling and playing mind games like someone possessed. A lot of sharp objects are put into play and impalings, stabbings and slicings lead to messiness and in some cases disembowelment. With only five characters in the cabin, the body count stays low, but the number of injuries sails into the stratosphere.

To no surprise, “Evil Dead,” co-written with Alvarez by Rodo Sayagues and Diablo Cody (“Juno,” “Jennifer’s Body”), found its audience, with a $26 million first-week take at the box office, exceeding its budgeted cost by $12 million. As with the remakes of “Halloween” and “Nightmare on Elm Street,” this “Evil Dead” no doubt will trigger comparisons to the iconic original. The makers of this latest “Dead” hope that it also will be embraced by a new generation of horror fans.

FAREWELL: To Roger Ebert, who made movie reviews an art form. You will be missed.