Saturday, January 29, 2011

RED, While Somewhat Fomulaic, is Funny, Action Packed.

We have nearly been inundated with action comedies over the years. The "Lethal Weapon" "Die Hard" and "Beverly Hills Cop" franchises, among others, helped join what were once two seperate genres into one that has become one of the most prolific in recent years. In an earlier entry, I spoke of the film "The Expendables" which brought together many of our action heroes of the last two decades. This film is similar, in that it brings together many top stars. But that's where the similarity ends. The stars in this film, while some are known for their roles in action films, others are not. So, this film would seemingly come off as ridiculous. One may ask themselves why an actress such as Helen Mirren (who won an Oscar for her portrayal of Queen Elizabeth) would play a former assassin. But she does here, quite well.

Bruce Willis, who IS known for his role in one of the best action franchises of all time "Die Hard" plays Frank Moses, a former CIA black-ops agent who is now living a quiet suburban life. The highlight of his days are speaking to a young pension case worker, Sarah, played by the gorgeous Mary Louise Parker. Sarah and Frank don't know each other from adam. But they soon discover that while Frank's life is boring and consists of speaking to a lovely young woman, the highlight of Sarah's life is the reading of her romance novels. Finding that they have their dreary mondaine lives in common, the grow to admire each other. That's soon to change. Frank's past catches up with him, and he's forced back into service, only to find himself and Sarah caught up in a conspiracy. In order to save their lives, Frank must re-unite with his old black ops team, which include Helen Mirren, the incomparable Morgan Freeman and John Malkovich, each of whom have been classified RED, Retired and Extremely Dangerous. What ensues is a mixture of typical action comedy fare, and entertainment and originality stemming from the actors' portrayals.

Bruce Willis is an actor, much like Christopher Walken, in that his acting style is nearly the same in every film. He has a very monotone, stony delivery with the occasional emotional outburst that will sometimes catch the viewer off guard. This is not a bad thing. It's just his style, and it works well. He doesn't have to be emotionally over the top. His monotonous tone will convey any emotion. He has a very expressive face, and that's where the variety his acting takes place. His tone doesn't have to change. His eyes will say what his voice does not. Another actor in the film, John Malkovich, is notorious for playing quirky, off beat characters. Perhaps the man himself is just a little quirky. But he's one of my favorite actors because of it. In this film, he plays a crazy, paranoid weapons expert who has typical bouts of paranoia, saying that "they" are after him, and "they're" spying on him from the satellites in space. You almost get the feeling that perhaps Malkovich has the same ideas. His characterization is fitting of the man.

The story itself seems familiar. A retired agent is all of the sudden sprung back into action because of his past. It sounds like an episode of "24". But, bringing together a group of actors who you would not normally see in a film such as this is what makes this film refreshing and original. You would believe that this group would have worked together in the past, and will continue to work together. This can be credited to the versatility of the actors themselves. Normally, you would not see a group of actors with such varied backgrounds, but they all work together, and they look like they've been doing so for years.

Overall, I enjoyed this film. Only occasionally did I feel that it wasn't worth my time. But it wasn't enough to turn me off of it completely. It was a good cast, decent script, and passable acting. I'd recommend it for those who are looking to be entertained. I definitely was.

Story of Facebook is Excellent, Worthy of It's Praise

It's amazing how quickly something comes about, and how quickly we all take it for granted. Facebook seems as common now as McDonalds, or Google. Only twenty short years ago, the Internet was a foreign concept. These days, Google and Facebook are common verbs in our vernacular. Phrases such as "Google it", or "Facebohok me" are commonplace. What began as a drunken tirade in a Harvard dorm room in 2003 has become a billion dollar internet monopoly, and giving it's founder, Mark Zuckerberg the title of youngest billionaire in the world. David Fincher, best known for directing films such as "Fight Club" and "Zodiac" expertly directs this young cast.

Zuckerberg, as he's portrayed (excellently by Jesse Eisenberg) in the film, was a genius, a fact of which he was well aware. He seemed to be bored in his classes. At the onset of the film, he and his girlfriend Erica are sitting in a campus coffeeshop. Erica tells Mark that she no longer wants to be in a relationship with him. Zuckerberg, heart broken, returns to his dorm room and begins to exact his revenge. He furiously begins to write programming and posts unflattering pictures and comments of his ex-girlfriend. With the help of his roommate, Eduardo, played by Andrew Garfield, this initial programming eventually becomes an international phenomenon. But, with his success, he ironically becomes somewhat of a social piriah. His fellow Harvard students and rivals, twins Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss, both played by Armie Hammer, appeal to the president on the university that this "code" was actually their idea, and that they'd been ripped off by Zuckerberg. This eventually leads to litigation, not only by the Winklevoss brothers, but by Eduardo as well. The story moves back and forth between the trial that took place recently, and the use of flashback. While Zuckerberg made enemies in the process, he also gained allies, namely investor and troubled co-founder of Napster, Sean Parker, played by Justin Timberlake, who seems to have come into his own as an actor, and not just a former boybander.

If I were to change anything about the film, it would have been the constant moving between past and present. While it was certainly effective in telling the story, I felt that a telling of the story, and leading up to the litigation and ensuing trial would have been just as equally effective. However, in the way it was presented, it was almost as if you were watching two seperate stories on a split screen. In this way, the viewer doesn't feel as though they'd have to go back in the film to understand what it is they are watching now. Each point that is made in the courtroom is explained in the telling of the story through flashback.

I didn't find the acting of the young cast pretentious in anyway. Often, I've noticed, in a film consisting of young up and comers, a good story can be overshadowed by inexperience of either the actor or the director, who try to do too much. This can often ruin a film for me. This was my fear with this film, but any apprehension I had was relieved and I was able to enjoy this film.

This story of an internet phenomenon that many of us now take for granted was well written, acted and portrayed. It is predicted to do well this awards season, and rightly so.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

"Salt" is Action-Packed, Entertaining

Nobody will accuse Angelina Jolie of being in excellent films as of late. She is certainly famous, or infamous, for her philanthropy, marriage and family, and certain attributes. Her acting has been proven, certainly by her Academy Award winning role in "Girl, Interrupted", and then a turn in the action saga "Lara Croft: Tombraider". This latest film is not spectacular by any means, but it's entertaining.

Jolie plays the titular character Evelyn Salt, an agent for the Central Intelligence Agency. When they capture a Russian defector, she is brought in to interrogate him. But she is given some startling news in the process. She is accused of being a Russian spy, a sleeper spy. In any event, she could be re-activated, and her elaborate "cover" life left behind. So begins a raucous action packed film. Salt goes on the run, proclaiming her innocence. There are certainly the usual plot twists along the way. Friends become enemies. The good guy turns out to be the villian, and so on. This certainly wasn't an original story, but it was entertaining nonetheless.

You know, just by watching any of Jolie's films, that she puts herself whole-heartedly into a role. She's a very intense actress. Her facial expressions alone are that of an actress who commits to a role with everything she has. When one watches an action sequence in the film, one would believe that she is really causing a car to crash, not just on a stage in front of a green screen. This same intensity can often back fire though. Sometimes you will see an actor or actress, one that is perhaps less seasoned that Jolie, put themselves into a role with every fiber of their being. But often that intensity is unwarrented. Nobody should have a look on their face of wanting to rip apart the next person who walks through the door if they're merely cooking a meal. While Jolie, at times, can be guilty of a mis-placed aggression, she is understandably intense in this one.

Another actor in the film that I enjoyed was Liev Schreiber, who begins the film playing Jolie's fellow agent, Ted Winter. He has a very commanding prescence, but at the same time, he can be funny without trying. As you're watching the film, you'd almost be like, "Wait...was that a JOKE??" His delivery is deadpan and dry. Aside from the sprinkling of comedy that seems ubiquitous in every action film, his skills as an actor in an action film are very good as well.

Never let it be said that this film will go down in history with some of the action genre's greatest films like the "Indiana Jones" films. It won't. But it was entertaining enough. It didn't recycle old stale story lines typical of several action films. The acting wasn't great, but we didn't expect it to be. This was a good, entertaining action film.

"Sound of Music" Sing Along Very Entertaining

It's an interesting experience. When watching a classic film such as "The Sound of Music", have you ever found yourself thinking about somebody else in another part of the world doing the same thing at the same time? Or have you ever thought that telling somebody of a film like this one will elicit a confused response, as if they have no clue what you're talking about? Not only are there people out there who enjoy this film as I do, but there are people who have gone to lengths to put on events such as this one.

When I arrived with my family and friends to the Fifth Avenue theater in downtown Seattle, I had no idea what to expect. Once we showed our tickets at the door, we were given a plastic bag with various items in it, including, a swatch of fabric, two double-sided cards, a small noisemaker, and a twig of Edelweiss. Now I was really scared, intrigued, excited...there were some mixed emotions going through me. But once we were in the theater, everything was made clear. We began our night with a costume contest. This being our first sing along experience, we went dressed as ourselves. But once there, one almost felt like dropping to their knees in prayer in the presense of so many nuns. Those who dressed up came in everything from the obvious nun or lederhosen, to the more obscure marinettes. Two ladies even came as "the solution to the problem that is Maria" (remember the song "How do you Solve a Problem Like Maria"?)After the costume contest had finished and the winner crowned (a man dressed as a goat herder), our emcee, clad in lederhosen, took the stage to prepare us for the ensuing insanity. We were taken through the meaning of the various items in our bag. We were also told that we were encouraged to comment during the movie. How cool is that? How many times have you gone to a movie, and had to bite your tongue out of fear that you'd be asked to leave? Well, comment we did. We booed. We cheered. We even barked (Rolf...Rolf...grrr...Rolf, Rolf). We sang along to "Do-Re-Mi" complete with hand gestures. It was as if we were in the audience at a taping of "The Jerry Springer" show, except what we were watching was decidedly less trashy.

Finally, in that scene where Maria and Captain Von Trapp profess their love for one another, the fireworks began...literally. The noisemakers that were given to us were to use at the first moment that they kissed on screen, perhaps to represent the electricity of such a moment. However, they were somewhat abused. Everytime something was merely suggested, a look exchanged, or even so much as a romantic subtext mentioned, a "POP" could be heard in one corner of the theater.

When we left the theater, we left with a feeling of accomplishment. We had just helped the Von Trapp family escape the Nazis. Any doubt of young children not being able to sit still through the nearly three hour film was put to rest. This was one of the best times I've had seeing a movie in recent years. No doubt, a very memorable experience, and one that I would do again.