Saturday, December 18, 2010

Expendables is a Bloody Mess, But Still Entertaining

Sylvester Stallone has absolutely nothing to prove. He is a bonafide star. He created one of the most inspirational roles of all time. You could even call his Rocky the epitome of inspiration. So when he makes a film like this one, I can only close my eyes and invision his pitch to the studio...(in Stallone's voice) "Alright, so what I'm thinkin' is we're gonna get every action hero togetha from the last 10 years, and just blow s**t up." Well, it the execs went for it. And here it is, in all it's bloody splendor.

Stallone, who also wrote and directed, stars as Barney Ross. He and his group of mercenaries (Jason Statham, Jet Li, Dolph Lundgren...etal) are given a job to stop the reign of a ruthless South American dictator, General Garza. Along the way, they encounter a rogue ex-FBI agent, James Munroe, played by Eric Roberts. He too wants to stop Garza, but only at a time that is most convenient for him, and his wallet. It seems formulaic, and it is, but there was something about this movie that felt original. I just couldn't put my finger on it.

I felt conflicted on this one. On one hand, the whole story is kind of ludicris when you get right down to it. We have a group of mercenaries who operate out of an auto/tattoo shop, run by a guy named Tool (Mickey Rourke, who was one of the best parts of the film) and their job is so clandestine, that none of them have private lives, and those that do choose to ignore them. On the other hand, there's some great action sequences in the film. Just not as many as I'd hoped. Jason Statham astounds me every time I see him. His soft spoken English accent makes the manner in which he delivers his dialogue more diabolical. He his also an amazing stuntman and athlete. He's famous for performing most of his own stunts, having had extensive martial arts training prior to his acting career. He, along with Rourke, is also one of the bright spots in the film. There are some good moments between the actors, some cool (and often bloody) action sequences, and even an appearance by an action hero turned politician, but overall, as the viewer, I just felt kind of overwhelmed by trying to like the movie, but realizing that I really didn't.

For the action lover, this delivers. But if you're looking for the whole package; action, smart dialogue...etc, you'll want to look elsewhere. This was a good action movie, but nothing more substantial than that.

Inception is Original, and Amazing

It's hard not to have a new perception on one's dreams after seeing this film. Once your in a dream, your idea of what's real and what isn't is altered. When you're in a dream, you don't actually realize you're in a dream, that is, until, you wake up. At that point you realize that the world you were in was simply a creation of your subconscious mind. In our world now, we could not begin to understand what takes place in another's mind while they sleep. But in this film, written and directed by Christopher Nolan, not only is it possible, but seemingly commonplace.

In the film, Leonardo DiCaprio plays Cobb, a thief of sorts who, along with his highly skilled crew, makes a living infiltrating a person's dreams to steal valuable secrets. With the promise of being able to return home to be with his children, he reluctanty accepts one last job. But instead of extracting an idea from their subject, he's hired by Mr. Saito, a wealthy industrialist, played by Ken Watanabe, and given the task of inception, or planting an idea. Their subject is Mr. Saito's rival industrialist. After losing their initial architect, Nash, played by Lukas Hass, Cobb recruits a young protege named Ariadne, played by Ellen Page. With the rest of his crew, including Joseph Gordon-Levitt, the team embarks on a journey through the subconscious, all the while fighting Cobb's own subconscious. What we're given is a well written film with amazing affects. This film is an onion, and we as the viewer, or the cooks, have many layers to peel back and get through in order to get to the core.

This is easily one of the best films I've seen in recent years. The idea of infiltrating one's dreams is complex. So much so that the film becomes one that you have to watch again and again. Each time, you pick up more of the complex ideas. While this technology is unseen in our modern world, you still get a sense that this concept is rooted in our reality. Every one of us dreams at night. These dreams can be so vivid, in either a good or a bad way, that you're either depressed or relieved when you wake up. These would be the same feelings you would have if you'd actually been through a traumatic or wonderful experience.

Leonardo DiCaprio was perfect for this role. This is saying a lot. Until his role as reclusive billionaire Howard Hughes in 2004's "The Aviator", I can't say that I was a big fan. I often found his acting forced and unbelievable. There are even moments during "The Aviator" when those old feelings begin to creep up. However, as he's aged, his acting has softened. He is believable as a man who wants to be home to care for his family. Had the film been made ten years ago, I don't think it would have been quite as well rounded. Ellen Page's acting is notable as well. She's an amazingly accomplished actress. Many know her from her excellent, and Academy Award nominated performance as the title character in Juno, most likely the role that put her name up on the coveted "A" List. Whether she plays a quirky mother to be, or a brilliant architect, she's subtle yet believable, and most definitely likeable.

I loved this film. It was highly entertaining, complex, and yet, very simple. I would whole-heartedly recommend this film. Two thumbs way, way up!!

Sunday, December 12, 2010

"Kind Hearts" is a Disturbing, Yet Funny Film

Alec Guinness is a name that is perhaps lost on those of my generation. However, when the name "Star Wars" is uttered, everybody immediately knows what that is, it's famous characters and plot lines. Maybe they can even remember where they were when the first saw it. Alec Guinness played Luke Skywalker's jedi master and mentor Obi-Wan Kenobi in the original three films. But his film career was decades old when he played this role. He was a very accomplished actor, in fact. This film from 1949 certainly shows his versatility.

As the film opens, were are introduced to a man, Louis Mazzini, (Dennis Price) a duke who is in prison for multiple homicides. His story unfolds through flashback, as he sits in prison awaiting his impending death. Long ago, his mother belonged to the D'Ascoyne family, a very wealthy family in 19th-century England. She falls in love and elopes with a man, much to her family's dismay. She is disowned by her family, and thus, is no longer able to inherit her rightful place within the family, nor shall any of her offspring. As Mazzini grows up with only his mother, he sees over the years how this has affected both of their lives. As Louis comes into adolescence, then adulthood, he too begins to work menial jobs in order to make ends meet. Then, tragedy strikes. His mother is in an accident. He can't bare the sight of his mother's small grave site. Had she never been disowned, she would have been laid to rest in grand style with her family. He makes a vow, then and there, that he will dispose of every D'Ascoyne that stands in his way of the dukedom. Come to find out that there are eight of them. Enter Alec Guinness...again and again. He plays all eight heirs, including one woman, Lady Agatha. And so, Mazzini's horrific plan comes to fruition. He gets a job at a bank, at first as a teller, but he quickly works his way up, and becomes the personal assistant of "The Banker", who happens to be one of the heirs to the D'Ascoyne dynasty. As he befriends each of the heirs, they suddenly begin disappearing in increasingly mysterious ways.

Firstly, Guinness's portrayal, or rather, portrayals, is worth noting. This, more than any other film, shows how flexible and versatile an actor he was. As mentioned earlier, he was perhaps best known for his role in "Star Wars". However, it was a film he famously grew to lament. This manner of playing multiple roles in one film is undoubtedly difficult, and can only be done with the right actor. There are three notable actors who have done this successfully. The first is Peter Sellers, who played multiple characters in Stanley Kubrick's 1964 dark comedy "Dr. Strangelove". The next two played the same role, one who originated the role, and the other, who made a remake years later. Those would be Jerry Lewis (who originated the "Nutty Professor") and later Eddie Murphy. Lewis was known to play multiple roles in several of his films. Murphy was very impressive because his multiple characters were often in the same scene together (such as at the dinner table). But I believe it was Guinness who did it first. His characters may not have been in the same room as another, and often, each character would be in the film for only a few minutes, but he played each character as if it were the only character he played. Secondly, Dennis Price's role as Mazzini is also worth noting. Mazzini is not a murderer in the sense of Jack the Ripper, or a character in a James Patterson murder novel. He is subtle. He does not want people to know that he is the perpetrator. He plays along with everybody, believing that each member of this family has died under "mysterious circumstances". It was a shame that Price did not have a very prominent film career. This was one of the few films in which he played a very prominent role. He was later relegated to small roles in "B" films as a servant or butler. Finally, I want to briefly acknowledge the female roles in the film, those NOT played by Guinness. The first is the role of Mazzini's mother, played by Audrey Fildes. She was perhaps one of the strongest parts of the film, because, had she not been thrown aside by her family, Louis would not have had to go through with such a plan. Secondly is the role of Sibella Holland, played by Joan Greenwood. When Louis loses his mother, he is taken in by the Holland family. Louis and Sibella become close friends, and grow to love each other. But in the latter part of the film, Sibella becomes just as dastardly as Louis. Sibella, you could say, is the femme-fatale. Finally is the character of Edith D'Ascoyne, played by Valerie Hobson. After her husband's death, she starts to spend more time with Louis, not knowing that he is the very man responsible for her husband's death. Edith is perhaps the weakest, or perhaps the most naive women in the film. Nonetheless, her role is one of the most important.

This film was very entertaining, despite the plot of the film. It goes without saying, but Guinness was the heart of the film. Without his eight distinct characters, the film would have just been another film about a mass-murderer, out to avenge his mother, and restore her name. This was an excellent film with a complex story and great acting. I'd highly recommend it.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

"Limelight" is a Touching Film

Charles Chaplin was an incredibly versatile performer. Of course, he was known for his "Little Tramp" character, but he was also a writer, producer, director, composer and a groundbreaking business mogul. He was also one of the founders on Universal studios. This 1952 film, in which he starred, wrote produced, directed and scored, is a poignant tale of two people who help each other to discover their purpose, and re-discover hope in their lives.

Chaplin plays Calvero, an aging, alcoholic comedian who has all but given up. He arrives home one day to find that his neighbor, Terry, played by Claire Bloom, has made an attempt on her own life. Calvero pulls her out of her apartment, takes her up to his and nurses her back to health. Along the way, he tells her of his life as a comedian, and she tells him of her aspirations to become a ballet dancer, and of a love lost. He works to convince her that her dream is worth pursing, and she tries to convince him that what he does still means something. Most of the film is filmed in Calvero's third story boarding house apartment, and each person's story is told through a series of flashbacks. Together, they learn of each other's past, help one another through the present, and move together into the future. Upon realizing her dream, Terry meets the man she supposedly loves, Neville, played by Chaplin's son Sydney, a composer. Neville tries to convince Terry that she loves him, but she is drawn to the older Calvero. He in turn, tries to convince her that she does not love him, but he cannot help but share her feelings.

While watching this film, one cannot help but make comparisons to Chaplin's own career. At the time this film was made, a new media in television was quickly coming on the scene, making Chaplin's profession one for the older generation. While the setting of the film is set in 1914, the story definitely mirrors the times in which it was filmed. Chaplin's portrayal is multi-layered. He's funny, as one would expect, but he's also inspiring and dramatic. Bloom's character also has many dimensions. Terry, at the onset of the film, is despondent, but while she's being cared for by Calvero, she shows a lightness. Both are shown, and she moves back and forth between the two seamlessly. There are many minor roles in the film as well, but there are a few that stand out. The first is the role of Neville. I wasn't aware that he was played by Chaplin's own son, because on screen, the two seem to have a disdain for each other. Secondly is the role of Mrs. Alsop, Calvero's and Terry's landlady, played by Marjorie Bennett. Mr. Alsop appears to have nothing but hatred for her tenants. Once Calvero begins to take care of Terry, she refers to them as "living in sin". She calls Terry "trouble" and seemingly has no qualms about rendering her homeless. However, she is easily manipulated by Calvero's charming personality. Finally, Buster Keaton plays a small role as Calvero's stage partner. Their scene together in the latter part of the film was one of the best scenes in the film. It showed how brilliant the two men were, not only separately, but together as well.

There's no doubt that Charlie Chaplin was an excellent and inventive filmmaker. Even in his later film, such as this, it's not hard to see it and be overwhelmed with a sense of awe. Having not seen his other post silent-era films, I can't make any comparisons, but if they're as good as this one, I will be seeing them soon. I highly recommend this film, not only for the Chaplin fan, but anyone who likes a film with excellent acting and dialogue.

Day and Cagney an Odd Pairing, But Yet Work Well

Doris Day has her signature song "Que Sera Sera". Cagney is known as a character actor who was typically cast in gangster roles. This film from 1955 "Love Me, or Leave Me" has a little bit of everything; music (courtesy of Day) comedy, drama and suspense. But it all works together, as all actors portray their respective roles well.

This film is a fictionalized story of 1920's jazz singer Ruth Etting. Etting begins her career as just another girl in the chorus. She has aspirations to be something more. A chance meeting with manager Martin Snyder, played by Cagney, soon changes both of their lives, but not in a favorable way. True to form, Cagney plays Snyder, a brilliant business man, albeit one with gangster tendencies and a hot temper. Snyder's obsession with his new protege culminates in a tempestuous marriage, one that he makes Etting believe she owes him, since, without him, she would still be just another chorus girl. When Etting falls for her show's piano man, Johnny, played by Cameron Mitchell, a story of a light-hearted vaudeville show with a suspenseful undertone becomes just the opposite. We eventually see Snyder's true colors shine, and Cagney's most famous persona, that of a cold hearted gangster, comes to light.

Cagney's performance is certainly worthy of his Academy Award nomination he garnered for his performance as Martin Snyder. As any other role I've seen him in, especially one in which he plays this type of character, his role as Snyder gave me chills. Not only do we see that Snyder is a man who is used to getting his way (strangely enough, so was Cagney) but we see an underlying vulnerability. Cagney played his numerous gangster roles with equal parts ruthlessness and humanity. While Snyder is ruthless, stopping at no lengths to keep his wife from leaving him, he also shows sorrow and regret for his actions. Doris Day was a seasoned actress when she made this film, with several successful films to her credit. She was certainly able to hold her own with Cagney. However, while Etting's story is certainly dramatic, I felt that Day's portrayal was slightly over dramatized. There's much to be said for subtlety. Many of Cagney's female co-stars did very well opposite him, and were able to play their roles dramatically, yet subdued. Most notably was Margaret Wycherly's role as Cagney's "Cody" Jarrett's mother,'Ma' Jarrett in "White Heat". Ma was just as ruthless as her son, and her calm demeanor made the role all the more chilling. While Day certainly went on to become famous in her own right for her music and films, I believe this role could have been played down and still been just as effective. Despite this, she performs well and is able to hold her own against Cagney's larger than life, egotistical Marty Snyder, which was undoubtedly not easy.

While this film was certainly over dramatic at times, it's certainly worthy of the praise it received, having won the Academy Award the following year for best screenplay. Cagney and Day performed well opposite each other, and the supporting actors played their roles with equal aplomb. There's is certainly something for everyone in this film. I definitely recommend it.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

"The Detective" is Gritty and Very Well Done

Frank Sinatra is a name synonymous with crooning, blue eyes and being "chairman of the board". This film from 1968 shows his blue eyes in a dark, film-noir setting. There's no crooning. What it lacks in his crooning, it makes up for in suspense, intrigue, and an excellent performance by Sinatra and other actors in the cast.

Sinatra plays Detective Joe Leland, a New York City detective. The film begins with the death of a gay man. As Joe delves into the case, questioning friends, family and lovers, he uncovers and unravels links to corruption in the City. He soon realizes that the corruption can be traced back to a source closer to him than he'd care to admit. As he begins to pull at all of the lose ends, he becomes embroiled in a conspiracy rife with sex, drugs and betrayals. All the while, he has to deal with his personal life. As the film begins, Joe and his girlfriend Karen, played by the late Lee Remick, discuss marriage. Knowing full well what Joe does for a living, she accepts. But turmoil begins to mount for the new spouses. Each has a jealous nature, and both parties are tested the further Joe delves into the case.

This film, I feel, is a throw back to the earlier Cagney and Robinson era of film noir. That being said, this film studies subjects that would have never been explored in a film made twenty years earlier, mainly because of the censorship laws of the time. It's a dark, moody film, yet Sinatra manages to bring a lightness to it, while still being as dark and intense as the film matter. Case in point, Joe's relationship with his partner and best friend, Dave, played by veteran actor Jack Klugman. While working on this case, each man can still make jokes at the other's expense. At times they're self-effacing. Remick's portrayal as Karen Leland certainly deserves recognition as well. She can certainly hold her own opposite Sinatra. While he's dark and intense, so is she. When he's light, she comes back with an equal lightness.

As I mentioned, this is a dark, intense tale that will make the hairs on your neck stand. If you don't like the bygone era of the 1930s and 40s film noir genre, then I would not recommend this film for you. However, if you're open minded and love a good thriller, then this film will be perfect for you. As much as one can enjoy a story of murder, betrayal and corruption, I did. I would absolutely recommend it.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

"Greek" Is Funny At Times, But Disappointing Overall

Sometimes, watching a movie is like going out to dinner at a new restaurant. You spend a lot of time anticipating, waiting and hoping for a good experience. Then, the day comes. You get what it was you've been waiting for. But instead of being satisfied, you're let down. Then you pay the bill, and either you feel that the price was worth it, or you feel jilted. In this case, I didn't feel jilted by paying too much to see a movie, one which I highly anticipated. I felt satisfied that I only spent a dollar to rent it. Had I spent anymore, I would've felt cheated out of my money.

Russell Brand plays Aldous Snow, a British Rocker who, once having lived the life of relative stability and sobriety, relapses back into a life of sex, drugs and rock and roll when his long time girlfriend, Jackie, played by Rose Byrne, leaves him. Famous for his success, as well as one monumental failure, Snow goes from being the epitome of clean living to the stereotypical rock and roller. Enter Jonah Hill. He plays Aaron, a young music executive who takes on the task of going to London and getting Aldous Snow back to Los Angeles to perform at the Greek Theater for the tenth anniversary of Snow's performance at the same theater. As expected with such a charge, the odd-couple go through many strange adventures together. But instead of being funny and enjoyable, and comes across as contrived and convoluted.

This film certainly has it's moments of comedic gold. Russell Brand has made his career playing outlandish characters, such as his portrayal of Aldous Snow. But it's because his characters aren't too far removed from the man himself. Brand is a successful comedian whose honest observations of himself and his surroundings have made him a commodity on the comedy stage. Other comedic gems in the film are Sean Combs (a.k.a Puff Daddy) as record executive Sergio Roma, and Colm Meany's portrayal of Aldous Snow's father, Jonathon Snow. Combs' Sergio is so over the top, it's hard not to laugh at what comes out of his mouth, and the lengths he goes to just to save face. Meany's portrayal as Jonathon is hilarious as well. It's not hard to see that Aldous did not fall far from Jonathon's tree.

Jonah Hill has made a career for himself as well, often playing the roommate (as in "Knocked-Up") or the lovable nerd (as in "Accepted"). However, in this film, one of this first I've seen in which his character is one of the leads, his role is one that I would have probably thought a little harder about before writing it into the script. First of all, the realism in this film doesn't really exist. If I ran a music label, I don't think I would hire a scruffy, twenty something who seemingly has no drive or ambition. Also, if I were a woman, such as Aaron's love interest in the film, played by Elisabeth Moss, I would have to step back and ask myself, "Do I really see myself being with him for the long term?" Seeing these two together, playing a couple made me, as the viewer, step back as well. In reality, it would be difficult to believe that they would work as a couple. Whereas Brand, Combs and Meany are comedic gold, Hill's Aaron Green is more like comic Kryptonite.

Had I spent anymore on this film, I would have felt like having gone to an expensive restaurant and still being hungry afterwords. It certainly had it's comedic gem moments, but over all, I felt it was over-hyped and over-tauted.

"Grown Ups" Funny and Entertaining

Opera man. Wedding singer. A hockey player turned pro-golfer with anger issues. These are just a few of the portrayals of Adam Sandler's that we've seen over the years. We've also seen him come from his days on "Saturday Night Live" days, to having a successful and lucrative film career. Lately, he's made the move into more family oriented films, although most of them, you still wouldn't want to watch with a five year old. His new "family" film is one such film.

Sandler (who also co-wrote) plays Lenny Feder, a talent agent who lives a very posh lifestyle. After receiving devastating news of the death of his childhood basketball coach, played by Blake Clark, a Sandler film regular, he and his four childhood friends and fellow teammates, David Spade, Kevin James, Chris Rock and Rob Schneider, all Sandler mainstays as well, take a trip to a New England lakeside cabin to spend a few days together, and spread the ashes of their former coach and mentor. With their families in toe, the five men reunite, albeit under less than ideal circumstances. Despite the underlying reason for their reunion, hilarity and hi-jinks ensue, making for a very funny, gust busting, and tears of laughter creating experience for the viewer.

The topics in the film range from breast-feeding, ageless love, getting back to basics, and even being a vegan. Each subject is presented in signature Sandler fashion, ranging from sarcastic, touching and often just plain disgusting. But each subject is presented in such a way that works within the context of the film. The film is successful, not only because of the chemistry between the main cast of five actors, but also that with the secondary cast, mainly those playing the mens' wives and children. Each man's family life has its flaws, which is a huge part of what makes it a successful part of the film. Salma Hayek plays Roxanne Chase-Feder, the wife of Sandler's Lenny, a union that seemingly is explained only by the existence of wealth. This has, in turn, produced two spoiled children who don't know the meaning of the words tap water. James plays Eric Lamonsoff, a family man as well, but one that does not live quite as extravagantly as his friend. Chris Rock and Rob Schneider play Kurt McKenzie and Rob Hilliard. Kurt (Rock) plays the "Mr. Mom" character, one who not only caters to the needs of his children and a pregnant working wife, but also to his sassy, wise and often flatulent mother in law. Rob's family dynamic is perhaps the funniest of the film. He plays an ultra liberal hippie, if you will, who has long been infatuated with women of an earlier generation. He too, has a family, one that brings another level of hilarity to an already funny film. David Spade plays the confirmed bachelor, a role that certainly works, not only in this film, but in his other projects as well.

Another layer of the film comes from competitiveness. Colin Quinn, Tim Meadows, Steve Buschemi and Jonathan Loughran play Sandler and company's rivals, as part of the very team they beat to win the only championship of their now deceased coach, a bane of Quinn's character, Bailey. While this undoubtedly adds another layer to the onion, so to speak, I feel it serves as a detriment to the film. Quinn, most of the time, is funny, but his sarcastic comedic delivery can often be misinterpreted as prickly and unkind. For this reason, he has been typecast in many films as the jerk, rival or antagonist. In this film, while the competitive nature of the two groups gives the film some comedic moments, it also acts as an anchor.

This film is a great addition to Sandler's repertoire. It had me laughing so hard at times. There aren't many films that will do that. So for that reason alone, I highly recommend this movie. Even somebody who is not an Adam Sandler fan will find something to enjoy in this one.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Orginal Film Shows More Character Development

Something interesting happens when you compare an original film to its remake. Quite often, you'll find that some of the magic found in the original is lost in the remake. The chemistry between the cast may be lacking, or the story may be more convoluted. I've found that this is usually the case, especially now, in the days of computer animation and CGI. However, in this instance, I found the chemistry between the cast in the original and that of the cast of the remake to be comparable.

There's no doubt that George Clooney, Brad Pitt and company have chemistry on screen. There were often news stories of practical jokes played by Clooney and Pitt, either on the cast and crew, or on each other. But I found that the chemistry between Frank Sinatra and his fellow "Rat Pack" members to be more enjoyable. Sinatra originated the role of Danny Ocean in this 1960 film "Ocean's Eleven". He plays a criminal mastermind who pieces his scattered crew back together for a heist that, to quote a line from the film, "Will not only put your kid through college, it will buy them a college." As in the Clooney-Pitt version, the crew devises a plan to rob a number of Las Vegas casinos, simultaneously. In this film, the robberies are to take place during the five casinos' simultaneous New Years' festivities. With the rest of the crew in place, including, of course, the remaining members of the "Rat Pack" (Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr, Peter Lawford and Joey Bishop) as well as secondary characters, such as Norman Fell (who would later play the curmudgeon landlord Stanley Roper in the hit sit-com "Three's Company") the plan is developed in great detail. It develops slowly, over the course of the two hour film, with the actual heist taking place in the final scenes of the film, as one would expect. But, also as expected, the film has it's share of complications, which adds a much needed complexity to the film. Without them, the film would become one dimensional and mundane.

One of the best examples of the complexities of the film lies within Lawford's character Jimmy Foster's relationship with his mother, played excellently by Ilka Chase. Jimmy is a man who lives beyond his own means. That being said, he's never far from his wealthy mother, just in case he should need to borrow a few (thousand) bucks. Their relationship is further strained when mother-dearest returns from a trip with news of her impending nuptials. The situation is even further complicated when Jimmy meets his soon to be step-father, Duke Santos, an ex-con now living a (supposedly) honest life, played by the suave Cesar Romero. Jimmy's contempt for Duke is palpable, but there's no way, short of speculation, whether or not the two actors really had this sort of animosity towards one another, or if it was all part of their respective roles. There's no doubt that these two actors, whatever their feelings toward each other off set may have been, that while on camera, they played well off of each other.

After seeing this film, I can see why the Rat-Pack was so popular. Their chemistry together was certainly dynamic. But, without question, their chemistry out of the "pack", be it alone, or with the film's second tier actors, such as Romero's Santos, and also the chemistry of the actors in the later incarnation of the film, is what made the film and the careers of all its stars so successful. I would highly recommend this film for the fan the the thrill, but also for someone who loves to get lost in a film, to feel what the characters on film may feel. It's not hard to see why this film, as well as the Clooney-Pitt franchise was so popular. See the film that started it all.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Willis and Morgan an Unusual Duo in "Cop Out"

On one hand, there's something very familiar about this movie. We've all seen the "buddy cop" movies (i.e. Lethal Weapon and Rush Hour franchises). We've all seen the story line as well. Two cops end up chasing a drug dealer, an arms dealer, or a kidnapper. What's NOT familiar about this film is the pairing of tough guy Bruce Willis and Saturday Night Live alum Tracy Morgan.

Kevin Smith (Dogma, Jay and Silent Bob) directs Willis and Morgan. They play a veteran cop "couple". After Jimmy's (Willis) valuable baseball card is stolen (his only means to pay for his only daughter's impending wedding) he and his partner Paul (Morgan) go after it's captor, Poh Boy (Guillermo Diaz) a gangster, kidnapper and murderer obsessed with sports memorabilia. With the help of a robber (Seann William Scott) who tasers Jimmy en route to selling his card, the partners embark on their case, having just been suspended from the NYPD. What starts as a mission to get back a valuable card becomes a mission to take down Poh Boy and his murderous group of thugs. Jimmy and Paul also become the keepers of Poh Boy's kidnapping victim, the beautiful Gabriela (relative newcomer Ana de la Reguera). And to top everything off, Paul suspects his wife of having an affair. He installs a "nanny-cam" which is hidden inside a teddy bear.

It's unknown to me as to how these two came to be. The two have very different styles. Jimmy (as Willis is in most of his films) is soft spoken, but forceful. Paul incites lines from the cliche and formulaic "good cop, bad cop" routines of film, much to his partner's chagrin. Bruce Willis is an actor who has the gift of a film being able to adapt to him. Much as fellow actor Christopher Walken, Willis is a one-dimensional actor. But in a good way. He only shows his range of emotion within that one dimension. Tracy Morgan is also a one dimensional actor. But unfortunately, his acting is just that. It can be so comically outrageous that he almost becomes unbearable. The most range of emotion shown by Morgan is in his scenes with the teddy bear. Somehow, the pairing works though. Willis plays the straight man to Morgan's outlandish character, but not without getting in a few one liners and zingers of his own.

As in the "Lethal Weapon" and "Rush Hour" franchises before it, this movie has an unusual partnership. And as with these films, this one, for the most part, works. It's funny, action packed, raunchy and violent. But, strangely, all of these factors work.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

"Kick-Ass" kicks some ass

Every young comic book reader has lost themselves within the colorful pages of the adventures of their favorite superhero. Personally, I don't typically read comic books, but I liken it to losing oneself in a good book, or putting oneself in the place of one's favorite action hero on the big screen. Who wouldn't like to be James Bond, or Superman? In this film, we see a different type of superhero. He may not possess the ability to stop a bullet, but, nonetheless, his "powers" are just as fantastic.

Aaron Johnson stars as Dave Lizewski, a geeky, comic book loving unnoticed high school student. He lives alone with his widowed father, and one day, becomes inspired to become a superhero, albeit one with no powers and no fathomable reason to do so. And so, his alter-ego, Kick-Ass, is born. In an attempt to end the high crime, and to end the bullying of him and his friends, Dave joins forces with three other people with superhero personas. Among them is a father and daughter team, Damon and Mindy Macready (A.K.A Big Daddy and Hit Girl), played by Nicholas Cage and Chloe Moretz, and the spoiled brat rich kid Chris D'Amico (A.K.A Red Mist) played by Chris Mintz-Plasse. The principal antagonist is, strangely enough, the father of one of the heros, Frank D'Amico, one of the largest drug kingpins in the city, played by Andy Garcia look-alike, Mark Strong. The younger D'Amico joins forces with Kick-Ass to impress his father in hopes to one day take over his empire. Along the journey of this rag tag group, Dave becomes anamored with a classmate Katie. They begin their relationship under the false pretense of him being gay. Eventually he comes clean to the woman he loves, and their relationship blossoms. In the end, his ultimate goal is to give up the superhero/vigilante life.

The bar has been set high for the comic book turned film in recent years. Most notably, we've had the Spiderman franchise, as well as the Batman films which culminated with the amazing performance by the late Heath Ledger as the caped crusader's diabolical nemesis, the Joker. This film is extremely well done, and brings together veteran actors, such as Cage, and newcomers, such as the young lady playing Cage's daughter. Moretz's performance as Hit Girl was one of the best parts of the film. The training that must have been involved with some of the stunts she performed was likely extensive. The visual affects are absolutely stunning as well. While his performance in this film was decent, I will forever see Christopher Mintz-Plasse as the nerdy loser "McLovin" in Superbad. As far as I'm concerned, no matter what role he plays, his early roles have typecast him.

This is a good, imaginative and visually stunning film. If you're looking for a family friendly film, this is NOT the one for you. Despite it's comic book persona, it's more like a graphic novel. Nonetheless, it's very entertaining, and highly recommended.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Cagney and Company Deliver Great Performances in "City for Conquest"

I have become enthralled with James Cagney films. He was a great and gifted actor, perhaps made most famous by his portrayal of gangsters. One of my favorite movies is his 1949 film "White Heat" in which he plays a psychopathic killer. In this film, made in 1940, he plays a truck driver turned boxer who eventually falls on hard times, and who tries to retain the heart of his childhood sweetheart, and help his baby brother realize and accomplish his dream.

Cagney plays Danny Kenny, a New York City truck driver who has grown up on the rough streets. He begins to parlay his natural fighting ability into a means to help his younger brother Eddie (played by Arthur Kennedy)with his budding music composition career. Meanwhile, he and his childhood girlfriend, Peggy, played by Ann Sheridan, have a deep love for each other. Since they were children, Peggy always loved to dance. After attending numerous dance classes, she is spotted in a local club by a professional dancer (played by Anthony Quinn). He promises her a life of fame, her name in lights, and she is quickly swept off her feet. However, she stays grounded, knowing that the man she loves is there waiting for her, and that he supports her decision to realize her dream. She, in turn, supports his decision to make money as a Welter-Weight boxer. After a particular brutal match in which Danny becomes nearly blind, Peggy leaves the fame and fortune behind to pursue her real dream, a life with Danny.

There are many stories taking place in this film, but not one that over shadows another. At the heart of the film is a love story. There's the one between Danny and Peggy, and also a brotherly love shared between Danny and Eddie. Danny becomes a fighter in the ring to help his brother fund his composing and eventually his rise to his own fame. Peggy eventually gives up a dancing career so that she may be with the man she loves. It's also a story of greed. As Danny's popularity as a fighter rises, so does the number of people in his entourage who want to make a quick buck off of Danny's talent. And finally there are splashes of a more familiar theme in Cagney movies. The gangster. Amidst the need to make money are men loaning other men money in which to make their bets. In one dramatic scene, another childhood friend of Danny's, known to his friends as "Googi", played by Elia Kazan, has become such a man. Under the false pretense of going to a club to celebrate Danny's win in the ring, Googi takes another loan shark to a deserted dock, only to dump his lifeless body into the river.

I want to acknowledge some very strong performances in the film. First and foremost is Cagney's. Whether he plays a gangster or a man experiencing the peaks and valleys of life, he's equally strong and brilliant. I can't help but to be entranced on the screen while he delivers his lines. The next role I want to speak of is Quinn's role of Murray Burns, the professional dancer who spots Peggy. His role is as close to the antagonist of the film as any. However, his character is not one that one would love to hate. One would simply despise Murray. There were a couple of scenes in the film in which Danny and Murray were in the same room, and in both scenes, Murray ends up saying something that gets him a gift from Danny, a nice fist in the jaw. It's well deserved. Quinn went on to become an excellent actor in his own right.

I enjoyed this film very much. In comparison to the aforementioned Cagney film, it's not quite of that caliber, but still excellent. I recommend it!!

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Scorsese's Latest Film is Fantastic

Martin Scorsese is easily one of my favorite filmmakers. He's made such classics as "Goodfellas" "Raging Bull" and "Gangs of New York". Many of his films, such as two of the films previously mentioned, center around mafia and/or gang activities. Finally, several of his films portray realistic, gritty and unabashed violence. While "Shutter Island" certainly has it's share of violence, it does not center around the story of mobsters or gang members. It is, however, an excellent film, full of twists, turns and surprises.

The film is set in 1954, at Shutter Island's Ashecliffe Hospital for the criminally insane. Leonardo DiCaprio plays Boston investigator Teddy Daniels. He finally gets an assignment he's been yearning for, one investigating the disappearance of a patient from the infamous hospital. He and his partner Chuck Aule, played excellently by Mark Ruffalo, arrive on the island to the seemingly cooperative head of the hospital, Dr. Cawley, played by the equally excellent Sir Ben Kingsley. Teddy and Chuck begin their shrewed investigating, examining file after file, and begin to uncover clues that lead to some very unsettling activities and practices by the staff. After being stranded on the island for days by a storm, things of Teddy and Chuck's lives begin to present themselves in such a way that keeps the viewer riveted to their seats. The excitement culminates into a series of twists that will keep the viewer watching in awe.

Typically, I'm not a fan of DiCaprio's roles. Frankly, I think, at times, he can go somewhat overboard in a role, and it comes off as forced and overacted. However, this was a much more subdued role. At times, there were moments of overacting that made me a little less impressed, but it would quickly redeem itself. Two of the many bright spots in the film were the excellent acting by Ruffalo and Kingsley. Having never seen Ruffalo in many roles, I really didn't have his other roles to which to compare this one. But his acting is not contrived, as DiCaprio is sometimes guilty of. His acting is somewhat one-dimensional, but in a good way. While Teddy has many layers of his persona that unveil themselves throughout the film, Chuck's personality helps to reel in the sometimes outlandish antics of his partner. Secondly, Kingsley's performance, while technically being one of the antagonist, is so subtle that the viewer is not led to believe that this is a bad man, but simply the head physician of a hospital for the insane. Kingsley is so good that he doesn't need to act. He can simply memorize his lines, and the rest comes naturally. He's also an actor that will lose himself in a role, as evidenced by his Oscar winning role as the title character in "Gandhi".

I thoroughly enjoyed this film. The acting, writing, and the twists and turns of the plot all made this film a nail-bitter from start to finish.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

"Robin Hood" is Wildly Entertaining

While watching this film, I sat with wonder as to when the stories we've all heard of Robin Hood, stealing from the rich and giving to the poor, would present themselves. However, in continuing the long line of recent prequel films, this new film of the legendary archer evolves so that we may better understand the inner workings of the man in the hood and his group of merry men.

Russell Crowe stars as the title character, known in the film as Robin Longstride. Along with his loyal followers, Will Scarlett, Alan-a-Dale, and their muscle, Little John, they return to England after a long battle in France, one that has cost them the life of King Richard. Upon their return, they encounter a dying man named Robin of Locksley. Locksley begs Longstride to return to his village, Nottingham, with a gift for his father, Walter. Once there, an aging Walter convinces Longstride to pose as his late son in order to save Nottingham from royal seizure by the newly crowned king of England, Richard's brother, John. While in Nottingham, he meets and falls for Locksley's widow, Marian (played by another Oscar winner, Cate Blanchett). She appears to be skeptical of his actions at first, but quickly realizes his intentions are pure. On top of that, the evil English Baron Godfrey infiltrates the King's inner circle under the moniker Earl Marshal. He begins to terrorize villages under the false pretense of collecting royal taxes. Longstride must save his new village, the woman he loves, and defeat the Baron, the French, and the evil tyranny of the crown.

The film was directed by Ridley Scott, brother of Tony Scott. Whereas Tony Scott is mostly known for his film work as director, Ridley has been behind the camera for several television shows, and served as producer to several Tony Scott directed films. His filming style is similar to that of his brother's. He employs the use of hand held cameras, which is what gives these films the jerky, choppy camera movements. The use of sound, be it the arrow of the expert archer flying through the air, or a crackling fire, adds to the poignancy of the film. Russell Crowe does an excellent job in such a seemingly large and intimidating role. Crowe is a very intense actor, bringing everything to any role he's in. Blanchett plays her role as she does others she's cast in. She comes off, firstly, as a bit cold, someone who would not give a man the time of day. As the film progresses, she begins to open up into a warm and compassionate woman. As with any other film, the supporting cast is just important as the main cast. This film is certainly no exception. All the way down the line to the young children of the village, the casting is excellent. However, I did find Oscar Isaac's portrayal of Prince, or rather, King John, to be a little over the top and sporadic. In one scene, he would be a dastardly, maniacal ruler, and in another, he would be throwing out one-liners with biting sarcasm. As with any of the Scott brothers' films, the action sequences were excellent. While they were, at times, bloody (as you would expect war to be), they add another level of drama to a film rife with many other dramatic components.

I was never bored watching this film. While some films be long and tedious, this adaptation of the classic story was never dull. I highly recommend it.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Gilliam's "Imaginarium" Suffered Tradegy, and is Better For It

Terry Gilliam is known for being a co-founder of one of the most influential comedy teams in history. His Monty Python troop was, at the time of its inception, and is now the epitome of satiric wit and dry British humor. Of late, he's been known for his visually spectacular, if not odd, style of filmmaking. His latest film, "The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus" is a story of morality, love and imagination.

Christopher Plummer stars in the title role. He is the leader of a traveling troop who offers people the option of stepping into the "Imaginarium", a world that is powered by his mind, and offers it's inhabitants two choices, absolute happiness, or certain doom. Dr. Parnassus is cursed with a dark secret. He claims to be over a thousand years old. Years ago, he made a deal with the devil, known as Mr. Nick, and he is now immortal. But there's a catch. He begs Mr. Nick to give him his youth, so he may father a child. Once the good doctor becomes a father, his child, upon his or her sixteenth birthday, becomes the property of Mr. Nick. The doctor's young daughter, Valentina (played excellently by the stunning Lily Cole) is nearing her sixteenth birthday, and the doctor, who has been dreading this decision for years, realizes that Mr. Nick cannot pass up a bet. He decides to bet the devil that whoever collects five souls will take Valentina and claim her as their own. Along their journey, with a midget named Percy (played by Verne "Mini-Me" Troyer) and Dr. Parnassus' assistant Anton, they discover Tony (played by the late Heath Ledger), who has had an attempt on his life by the Russian mob. Tony joins the traveling group, and falls in love with the beautiful Valentina. But in his jealousy, Anton vows to uncover Tony's past and win back Valentina.

Typically, Gilliam's films are not that appealing to me. As I began watching this film, I had the same feeling. But what makes this film different is the casting. As everybody may know, Heath Ledger met his untimely death while filming this movie, prompting Gilliam to fill his role. Ledger was absolutely a gifted actor who was well deserving of his posthumous Oscar win as the diabolical Joker in the latest Batman film. This film is set in the present day. During the parts of the film in the present day, the role of Tony is played by Ledger. As he enters the imaginarium, scenes which were filmed after Ledger's death, his role is filled by three equally gifted actors (in order of appearance), Johnny Depp, Jude Law and Colin Farrell. This added a whole other layer to an already multi layered and complex film. While it may have not been the filmmakers' original vision, it made it all the more interesting to see the transition between imagination and reality. Each actor played his respective role differently, yet effectively, despite being the same character. Depp plays Tony very lightly, with his signature brand of off-beat comedy. Law is slightly more diabolical, perhaps tapping into more of Tony's past. And Farrell represents Tony as he's falling in love with young Valentina. His performance is a combination of the two former, yet his own is heartfelt.

I highly enjoyed this film. Despite being marred by a tragic death of a incredibly gifted actor, the filmmakers and actors perservered and each turned in excellent performances. Gilliam is a great director with a unique vision. This film is not for the young kids. There are some disturbing images, but for the older kids, I highly recommend it.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

"Good Night and Good Luck" is an Excellent Example of Story Telling and Acting

In the 1950s, there was a air of paranoia running rampant through America, caused by the people's fear of Communism. To make matters worse, Joseph McCarthy, a senator from Wisconsin rose to fame by perpetuating this fear. Upon his induction to the Senate in 1946, he introduced a list of 205 supposed Communist sympathizers, many of whom weren't actually part of the Communist party. The practice of "McCarthy-ism" is using personal threats as a type of character assassination, which is exactly what he did. Many of the people whom he claimed to be Communists were not, hence their personal and professional relationships were ruined.

At the same time as the famous McCarthy hearings, Edward R. Murrow, a broadcast journalist, and his producer, Fred Friendly made it their mission to exploit McCarthy and put a stop to his detrimental practice, whatever the cost was to their personal and professional reputations.

David Straithairn stars as Murrow, whose portrayal is excellent, well deserving of his Oscar nomination. George Clooney, who also directed and co-wrote, plays Friendly. The film also sports an excellent supporting cast, including, Tate Donovan, Jeff Daniels, Robert Downey Jr, and Frank Langella (who later was nominated for portraying another controversial political figure, President Richard Nixon).

Clooney is not only an excellent actor, he's an amazing director and filmmaker. The film is shot in black and white, very appropo for the era portrayed in the film. He often puts himself in small roles in his films, i.e., "Confessions of a Dangerous Mind." The best part of the film is Straithairn's portrayal of Murrow. His performance is such that, as you watch it, you believe that he is the legendary journalist. However, he doesn't have a large scale of emotion. In fact, he can be, at times, monotone. But it's not boring, as you would expect it to be. He doesn't have to be euphoric in one scene, then melancholy in the next. Straithairn has very expressive eyes, and they portray what he's feeling when his words may not. This role was certainly made for him, and he's mesmorizing in it.

I highly recommend this film for anybody who enjoys a historical drama, or anyone who just likes a great film.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

"Logan's Run" is Wildly Inventive for it's Time

Imagine living in a post holocaust world where you are free to enjoy all the pleasures it offers. You don't have to worry about the sun or the rain, as your community is protected over head by a dome. However, there is a catch to living in such a place. You have implanted, in the palm of your hand, a life crystal. Once you reach the age of thirty, your life crystal blinks red, and for the reason of simply controlling the population and scarcity of resources, your life is over. Your death is witnessed by everyone in the city in a ceremony known only as "Carousel." If you so choose, you can run. As a runner, you risk being hunted by the "Sandmen" who's sole purpose is to track down runners and kill them. Made in 1976, directed by Michael Anderson, and written by the two authors of the novel by the same name, "Logan's Run" is a story of adventure, romance, betrayal, and is full of amazing special effects for the time.

Michael York stars as the title character. He is a sandman who, upon finding a symbol which controls the city's computer system, is given a special mission to find "Sanctuary" a city outside the dome where it's inhabitants have fled to avoid death. He is to pose as a runner, find Sanctuary and enact his duties as a sandman. However, in order to achieve this, four years are added to his life crystal, increasing his age to thirty. Now truly on the run, he and a beautiful young sidekick, known as Jessica-six, and with other sandmen on their tail, they escape from the dome and into an outside world. What they find there is very foreign to them, so naturally they have many questions. They end up in the ravaged city of Washington D.C, where they find an old holocaust survivor, who's only other interaction is to several feline friends. The three then begin their journey back, as part of a promise to the old man, who wants assurance that he's not the last man on earth.

There were many things that I enjoyed about this movie. The first were the special affects. Most people would consider them hokey and out of date by today's standards, which they are, but they were amazing for a film made in the early to mid years of the 1970s. Secondly, the story of a futuristic world is intriguing. This movie was made years after the first incarnation of "Star Trek" was seen. As in "Star Trek" this movie brought viewers into a futuristic world that fascinated and astounded them. It was different and cutting edge. This movie also garnered an Academy award for best special affects, which was very much deserved. Finally, the writing itself was excellent. York played a hit man of sorts. But he was a hit man with a conscience. All of the actors in the film played their roles with expertise.

Some comparable films have their moments of droll dialogue that may be superfluous to the main story line, thus making them hard to watch. This was certainly not one of them. I highly recommend this film to sci-fi and action fans alike.

Friday, April 9, 2010

"Bonnie and Clyde" is well acted, sloppily written

"Bonnie and Clyde" stars Warren Beatty, Faye Dunaway and Gene Hackman, and is directed my Arthur Penn, one of the most visionary directors of the 1960s. With Penn's excellent pedigree, I was expecting more of this 1967 Oscar winning film. However, for me, it fell short.

The film tells the true story of Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker, two people from different worlds who are brought together during the depression era of the late 1920s. As the film opens, Clyde is newly released from prison, a life that is all too familiar to him. I believe that his intentions are noble. He's only trying to make times easier for himself during hard economic times. It's the way that he goes about it that is questionable, to say the least. While passing through a small town in the mid-west, he attempts to steal a car. During his attempted heist, a small town waitress named Bonnie is watching him through her bedroom window. What ensues is Bonnie is swept off her feet by Clyde's charm (something that paralleled Beatty's own notorious personal, some would say womanizing life of the time) and the promise of excitement away from her droll, sleepy town and life. So begins a life of excitement and unpredictability. This eventually leads to small bank robberies. While their crimes may not be grandiose by any means, it adds the unpredictability that both crave. On the run, they use their ill-gotten gains for hotels, groceries, and gas for the various cars that they steal, seemingly in conjunction with every robbery. As the film progresses, the duo turns into a trio with the addition of a small town gas attendant named C.W., and finally into a quintent with the addition of Clyde's brother Buck (Gene Hackman) and his wife Blanche, the daughter of a preacher. When robbery turns into murder after a botched get away, and ensuing outings cause the death of Buck and blinding of Blanche, the law is hot on Bonnie and Clyde's trail. This adaptation of the true story of Bonnie and Clyde may be one of the more personal, brutally honest, not to mention violent adaptations of their story ever made.

As I was watching this film, I couldn't help but make comparisons to one of my new favorite films, James Cagney's 1949 "White Heat". In this film, the women (Virginia Mayo and Margaret Wycherley as Cagney's wife and mother, respectively) were strong willed, and I got the feeling that they could take care of themselves, and hold their own against their male counterparts. While Bonnie did her share of brutal slayings, she had her moments of absolute helplessness. Blanche was probably my least favorite characters in the film. Bonnie characterized her as a shrill angry shrew of a woman, something that I would certainly agree with. I couldn't help feeling that with every scene, I got stuck in a loop of deja-vu. Each scene began with a robbery, a moment of euphoria, then there would be the inevitable depression, and finally, nearly getting caught by the law close on their heels.

I went into this film with high expectations, only to finish disappointed. While the acting in the film was excellent (ironically the only Oscar win for an actor in the film went to Estelle Parsons, who played Blanche), the writing could have been more substantial. Instead, each scene was seemingly duplicated from its predecessor, only having slight details changed. This was a good film, not great.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

"White Heat" is a Masterful Gangster Film

As you stand at the local video store, staring at the pleathora of old and new films, do you ever pick up a film, read the back of the case, and then decide to rent it? How many times have you come away sorely disappointed? When I found this film, I was skeptical. I had never seen a James Cagney film. I'd heard of his masterful work in the crime dramas of the 1930s and 40s, and then his academy award winning role as George M. Cohan in 1942's "Yankee Doodle Dandy", ironically, a huge departure from his most famous persona. 1949's "White Heat" is an excellent story of a group of gangsters who are looking for the ultimate pay off.

In the film, Cagney plays Arthur "Cody" Jarrett, a sadistic psychopathic gang leader who suffers from blinding headaches and an Oedipus complex. In order to escape the death penalty for a killing spree on a train robbery, he confesses to another crime in another state which happened simultaneously. While in prison, he comes up with a plan to rob a chemical plant on pay day. He also escapes attempts on his life by someone who was once one of his closest allies, one of his fellow gangsters working with a man on the inside. When he gets news that his beloved mother has been killed, he vows to break out of prison and kill her killer and take with him his closest friend in prison, who is, unknowingly to Jarrett, undercover police detective Hank Fallon. Fallon has been sent in to infiltrate Jarrett's gang, gain his trust, and bring an end to Jarrett's massive crime and killing spree. Along with Cagney, many great actors contribute to the film, including Virginia Mayo as Jarrett's wife Verna, Margaret Wycherly as "Ma" Jarrett and Edmond O'Brien as his closest friend in prison, Vic Pardo, aka Hank Fallon.

Along with Cagney's spine-tinglingly diabolical performance, the two women playing his wife and mother are equally strong willed, something rarely seen in films of the time. I've noticed some films that have won critical acclaim, while excellent, suffer from too much acting. By this, I mean that the actors try so hard to play their part well, that when it viewed by the public, it comes off as unbelievable and contrived. As I said earlier, I had never fully seen a Cagney film before, but in this film, his portrayal of Jarrett comes off as very natural. He plays a terrible man, but, as cliche as it is to say, he's a gangster that you love to hate.

If you want to see a gangster film, look up Cagney. I'm sure that our modern day gangster films took a page from Cagney's films. Just from seeing this one film out of the many crime-drama films he made, Cagney was the epitome of an actor portraying a gangster. This is, to put it simply, a brilliant film.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

"Law Abiding Citizen" Does Not Disappoint

If you love a great, nail-biting film, "Law Abiding Citizen" is an excellent choice. Directed by F. Gary Gray, and starring Academy Award winning actor Jamie Foxx and Gerard Butler, it's a story of corruption and revenge.

Jamie Foxx plays cocky Philadelphia prosecutor Nick Rice. The film spans a period of ten years. As the film opens, Nick is spending time with his pregnant wife. Cut to a nice house in the suburbs. A loving father (Gerard Butler) is in his basement with his young daughter. He plays Clyde Shelton, a brilliant inventor who has made millions of dollars on his inventions and patents. He is a loving father and husband, who, as he and his family are settling in for the night, are victims of a brutal random act of violence. Within a matter of minutes, Clyde's life is turned upside down. Both his wife and young daughter are killed, and he's left alive. The two men who have committed these horrific crimes are eventually arrested. As a young prosecutor, Rice is given this case, and, thanks to his corroboration, one of the men are condemned to die (the wrong one, as it turns out) and the other, the one who actually committed the atrocities, is set free on a plea bargain. It's now ten years later, and Clyde has spent years plotting to get justice for the death of his family. A series of events ensue, and Clyde catches up with the man who committed the crime. Needless to say, it does not end well. Clyde goes to jail, but takes out hits on everyone involved in freedom of his family's murder. Rice is brought on to prosecute him, but ends up doing a vengeful man's errands. If he refuses, Clyde systematically kills everyone, one by one, involved in the decade long case.

On one hand, this film is somewhat predictable. I can only imagine how watching someone you love, especially a child and a wife become victims of somebody's act of random violence. If the film had ended with Clyde going to jail because of his vengeance, then I would say that it would be a VERY predictable film. The thing that sets this film apart is that he exacts his crimes while he's locked away. As with any other thriller novel or film, this film has peaks and valleys. During the lulls in the film (and there are several) I found my mind wandering to other things, but all of the sudden, it was yanked back into the film by a surprising, and often brutal twist. Foxx's role as the prosecutor, and ultimately the hero, is a safe role for him. His Oscar winning role as 1950s rock and roll legend Ray Charles was exceptional, as was his role as a cab driver with an unusual fare in "Collateral Damage". Gerard Butler shines in his role as Clyde. Lately, he's been in the romantic comedy "The Ugly Truth" and as King Leonidas in "300". But this was the first film that I've seen him in which his performance has given me goosebumps. I think one of the true measures of a good actor is how they portray the antagonist. Granted, Clyde did not start out as the antagonist, but various events in his life has led him to it. And the manners in which he carries out his various plans are truly maniacal.

You will be entertained, horrified, and at times, bored. But in the end, you will not be disappointed.

Friday, February 12, 2010

"Zombieland" is a Pleasant Surprise

Typically, I'm not a fan of the horror genre. In fact, I usually avoid it like a plague. However, this was one film that was highly tauted. Having seen many previews, I was intrigued. Still, I approached the film with caution. I was highly entertained by Simon Pegg in 2004's zombie spoof "Shaun of the Dead". Although its follow-up, "Hot Fuzz" was not of the same genre, it brought back the same cast and director, and kept much of the same dry British humor. In "Zombieland", directed by relative film newcomer Ruben Fleischer, I found the humor to be similar to these two films.

In the film, Jesse Eisenberg plays "Columbus" a somewhat eccentric, paranoid young man who is trying to get home to Columbus, Ohio to see his estranged parents. Along the way, he meets Woody Harrelson's "Tallahasse". He turns out to be somewhat of a zombie head hunter who wants to get revenge for the death of somebody close to him. The two men form a strange friendship based on a mutual hatred of a world-wide pandemic which has turned everyone into flesh eating zombies. One thing that brings the two men together, besides survival, is their strange habits and yearnings. While Columbus lives by a list of rules, and has a rather embarassing medical problem, Tallahasse only wants one thing; a Twinkie. This certainly makes for a hilarious series of events. During one of their shopping/zombie killing sprees, they encounter a two-woman sister con team whose only goal is to get to a supposedly zombie-free amusement park in California, one that they both visited when they were younger. The four of them then bond an equally strange friendship.

As I mentioned, I was skeptical. Films like this one don't usually intrigue me. But there was something about this one that piqued my curiosity. One thing that drew me to this film was Woody Harrelson. We've seen him in off the wall comedic films such as the bowling comedy "Kingpin" and in dramatic films, such as his Academy Award-nominated role as bigger than life magazine editor Larry Flynt in "The People vs. Larry Flynt". Secondly, I was intrigued by the dry comedic wit. Harrelson is great at delivering his comedic lines with a dead-pan expression, which almost makes his lines exponentially funnier.

If you are a zombie skeptic, see this movie. It's not so much a story about zombies, but a story of four friends who have a singular goal; survival. It's a story of survival of the fittest, opposites attract, and so on. This is an excellent, well-made film, and one that will be added to my personal collection soon.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Clint Eastwood has played many different roles. He started out in westerns, arguably his most famous role in this genre being his role of Inspector Harry Callahan in 1971's "Dirty Harry". He's done comedic roles, such as his role as astronaut Frank Corvin in 2000's "Space Cowboys", a film in which he both starred and directed. He's even done a musical, 1969's "Paint Your Wagon". Of late, he has been known more for his work behind the camera. He has been at the helm of some very excellent award winning films, such as "Million Dollar Baby" and "Mystic River". He has also directed several great actors to academy award wins, Morgan Freeman and Hilary Swank for their roles in "Million Dollar Baby" and Sean Penn and Tim Robbins for their roles in "Mystic River". His latest film, "Invictus", is a story about an apartheid ravaged South Africa in the early 1990s. More so, it's a story about South Africa's rugby team and their quest to win the sport's highest honor. Along the way, they gain the support of many, but most prominently, the country's president, Nelson Mandela.

Morgan Freeman plays the role of Mandela, with stunning accuracy. It's no wonder that Eastwood often calls upon him. Matt Damon plays the role of rugby captain Francois Pienaar, who takes a team that is, at first, thought of as a joke, to eventually becoming a serious contender for the prestigious world cup. Mandela, having just been released after serving nearly thirty years in prison, befriends the young rugby captain, and while attending to his commitments as president, he also becomes committed to the team and their cause. Francois and president Mandela, in a poignant scene in the film share a spot of tea. They share conversation and talk politics. Eventually, the conversation turns more inspiring, more specifically, the president asks Francois how he has inspired his team. His answer is simple. Music. After their meeting, Mandela writes down an inspiring poem entitled "Invictus". Later in the film, we discover that this poem was Mandela's inspiration while he spent all those years in a prison cell, one barely long enough to stand in with outstreched arms.

While the acting, directing and cinematography were excellent, the story seemed a little lacking. Like many sports themed films, this film is inspiring, undoubtedly, the underlying feature of this film. The scenery in and around South Africa is gorgeous. Eastwood certainly has a talented eye. Some of the dialogue gets lost among the thick language and accents of the South African actors. Naturally, the actors were excellent. As I mentioned earlier, Freeman's role as Mandela was excellent. He's an actor who does not merely impersonate his subjects. He becomes completely entrenched with them. Matt Damon is excellent as well. He speaks seemlessly with a South African accent. However, I can't get past Damon's role as the young Bean Town thug in "Good Will Hunting". He's an excellent actor, no doubt about that, but because of his roles in that film and "The Departed", I couldn't quite wrap my head around Damon being cast in this role.

This was a good film, and while most of it was enjoyable, there was definitely a feeling of disappointment. I can't help but get caught up in the hype of some films. This was no exception. The film was highly tauted and praised. Don't expect to go into this film and watch greatness. It was a good film, not great.

Name Your Link

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Quentin Tarantino's newest film, "Inglorious Basterds" is a film for those who love to read. Much of the film is either in French or German with English subtitles. We were introduced to Tarantino in 1992 with "Reservoir Dogs", and then followed that film's success with an Academy Award win in 1994 with the extraordinary "Pulp Fiction". Different directors are known for their different styles of filmmaking. Tarantino often applies the use of chapters, which breaks the film into its different scenes and stories. Some people may argue that this style robs the film of any flow or continuity, but I think that it does the opposite. This way, the person watching the film doesn't get too settled on one story of a multiple story film, much like reading a multi-layered mystery novel. In the end, the filmmaker (or author) can take those multiple story lines and tie them up neatly into one. Sometimes, this is not done as effectively as the director intends. This is not the case with this film, as Tarantino has proven several times, he is a master filmmaker with a unique vision.

In the film, Brad Pitt stars as Lieutenant Aldo Raine, an American soldier who leads a special team through World War two era France, known as "The Basterds". They all have one task; striking fear into the hearts of Hitler's Third Reich by systematically killing and brutally scalping Nazis. The film progresses through France and Germany with Tarantino's signature use of brutal, sometimes cartoon-ish violence. However, much of the violence in this film is inferred. We'll hear a gunshot in the background, but the camera will be focused on a large crowd or a closed door. Many films can be derailed by their lack of intelligent dialogue. One thing that can be said for Tarantino's films is, while they may contain violence and lascivious language, they also contain intelligent dialogue. Some people may find these films dull, as most of Tarantino's films are dominated by dialogue, with only splashes of action. This often leads to an action filled climax. But more importantly, the excellent dialogue is paramount to these films' success.

Much of the time, a film is made successful by, not only employing a stellar main cast, but also choosing an excellent supporting cast. Any of Tarantino's films, but especially this one, is certainly no exception. The first supporting player is played by Diane Kruger. She plays Bridget von Hammersmark, a German born actress who has been recruited by the Americans has a spy. Her fame as an actress makes her transition between drinking buddy of the Third Reich and American spy seemless. She's gorgeous, but at the same time, she's just one of the guys that could easily drink anyone under the table. Secondly, in the beginning of the film, we are introduced to our other two supporting characters. The first, played by Austrian actor Christoph Waltz, is a colnel in Hitler's Third Reich. He is responsible for traveling around the country, interviewing the men of the households, and ultimately, making sure that they are not housing Jewish refugees from capture and almost certain death. There has been a lot of buzz around Waltz's performance as Col. Hans Landa. Many people are predicting an Academy Award for supporting actor. If I could vote, I would certainly give him my vote. His portrayal was eerie, diabolical and hilarious all at once. Finally, we are introduced to one of our Jewish refugees, a young French girl, Shosanna, who narrowly escapes death when, during one of Col. Landa's visits, she and her family are discovered. Her entire family is killed. Years later, Shosanna, played by French actress Melanie Laurent, is running a movie theater in Paris which has recently been passed down to her by a recently deceased Aunt. Upon being discovered again by Col. Landa, she hatches a plot with her assistant to lure Hitler himself and his top men into the theater, only to lock them in and set the theater ablaze, no doubt to get revenge for the brutal slaying of her family years earlier. Laurent could be a contender for the Academy Award as well. Her performance was excellent.

While moving slow at times, this film over all was vintage Tarantino. Excellent writing and character development were highlights. I did not expect so many subtitles in the film, but that was easily ignored, and I was able to enjoy this film. It's certainly worthy to add to any collection.

Inglourious Basterds (2-Disc Special Edition with Soundtrack CD)