Friday, December 31, 2010

BEST OF 2010

I have to catch up on some posts (being home for Xmas break can sometimes be more tasking than a work week) but before the year closes out, I wanted to get up my top 5 of 2010. Last year I did a top 10, with several ties, but this dismal year for cinema did not have more than 5 movies that I could stand behind unquestionably. Out of this massive, huge, money-driven disappointment of a year came these 5 movies that will not leave my personal pantheon of must-see films.
5. CATFISH- The movie that The Social Network led us to believe it would be, about the new reality of Facebook and online social interaction. There has been a lot of controversy as to whether this alleged documentary is actually real or not; I think that's moot. The filmmakers have crafted a compelling, relevent, and savagely human narrative that plays like I'd imagine it would in real life. There are no blindsides, no startling moments of truth, just slow, painful realizations and disillusionments; you feel the tensions, dilemmas, and disappointments of the three filmmakers more than in any 10 studio-driven dramas that came out this year. The scene where the lead bashfully reads e-mails with his former love interest while hiding under the covers was brilliant, staged or not, and hit truths that many films with similar intentions have failed to achieve. The last act tries to wrap things up a little too neatly, but overall, the film had enough of an impact to be the only doc that I truly loved this year.
4. True Grit- It's been said before, and I'll say it again; leave it to the Coen bros. to make an old John Wayne western from the '60s seem interesting and relevant. I was shocked to hear that this film was PG-13; even aside from a plethora of bloody murders and intense violence, the film has a gritty, somewhat merciless atmosphere that resembles films like Jarmusch's Dead Man more than the John Ford/John Wayne westerns. Roger Deakins once again outdoes himself (save for the climactic nighttime horse chase), lensing, simultaneously, a gorgeous, untethered landscape, and the savage, disgusting humans that attempt to rape it for sanctuary, resources, or revenge. The dialogue, drawled out by the three leads (including a thoroughly Oscar-worthy Jeff Bridges), is hilarious, depicting its 13-year old protagonist as a practical thinking word-wizard, while making buffoonish hicks out of movie stars Matt Damon and Bridges. As with Catfish, and an inumerable amount of films these days, the film wraps up too quickly, and the buildup proves more satisfying than the conclusion, but, as a whole, the film achieves more than any western in years; it is not quite as interesting and original as A Serious Man, but it ranks up there amongst the finest Coen Bros. work of the past decade.
3. Toy Story 3- How did Pixar manage to keep their Toy Story franchise fresh three entries in? They made it about US. The generation that grew up with this stuff. I was 7 when the first Toy Story came out, a perfect age to latch on to Pixar's perfect, yet-to-be topped premise of the toys that come to life when their owner leaves the room. Now in my early 20s, I completely connected with Andy's plight of reconciling his new life as a collegiate with the playing and imagination that nurtured him as a youngster. The idea of shipping my precious toys away to a retirement home for space-clearing purposes chilled me to the bone, and personifying these forgotten toys as they march on to their twilight years creates a harrowing, emotional narrative. The film is still, ostensibly, a family film, with plenty of humor, particularly from the depiction of the age-old Barbie/Ken romance (Ken's metrosexual leanings border hilariously on a more mature level of humor), albeit with a much darker, multi-layered edge. While How To Train Your Dragon, more of a kids film, was able to create unbelievabe, nearly-shockingly visceral flight and action sequences, the emotional content of Toy Story 3 makes it the true animated classic to come out of 2010.
2. The Social Network - It wasn't about Facebook. It was about the billionaire who invented it, and the fellows that got rich just by being tangentially involved. It was about a dying generation that saw the interests of the up and coming generation, and was able to capitalize on it. It was about the way our nation's "elite" talks these days, never missing a beat and trying their DAMNDEST to stay 2 steps ahead of everyone else in the conversation. It was about a culture that prioritizes status above accomplishment, and exclusivity over personal worth. It was about a young man who has the intelligence to get what he wants, but not the peace of mind to know what it is. It was about a friendship that became a partnership, thus dooming it. It was about big guys being rendered little guys, and little guys catapulting themselves into history. It was about a new business world discovering that the old generation could not play referee anymore. And it was about a country that was dying for a new way to talk online, and how it found it. But it was certainly not about Facebook.
1. Kick-Ass - For many moviegoers, this year brought a film that inspired not a shrug of familiarity, but rather a sigh of relief, knowing that the next decade of film was, actually, going to end up bringing some new stuff to the table. For some, it was Scott Pilgrim vs. The World. For others, it was Inception. For me, it was the movie about a modern day New York teen who sees no worth in his life, and, thus, takes it upon himself to stop petty crime in the streets.

I did not review the film when it first released in April simply because I was thunderstruck by what I'd seen. The scene pictured above is, easily, the best, and most visceral action scene since, perhaps, The Matrix, and it is not the lone spellbinding set piece in the film. Matthew Vaughn shows a previously unseen sense of action geography, iconography, and jet-black humor that render the film a thoroughly distinctive, memorable thrill ride. But that's not what makes the movie my favorite of the year.

What makes this film such a wonderful experience is that it feels like it was made by someone who'd seen plenty of comic book movies before. Not just read the books, but seen how they were rendered by people like Richard Donner, Tim Burton, Sam Raimi, etc. and internalized the worlds they'd visualized on screen. And it feels like this guy just had to bring all that up to date, with all of the trimmings of a contemporary superhero tale. Although it is not a universal opinion (Roger Ebert hates this movie with a passion), I am of the belief that Mr. Vaughn achieved his goal. Kick-Ass does not become a superhero because he is inherently good, or posesses some unquenchable thirst for justice; he does so because he has nothing better to do. As he says in the intro, "Among my friends, I wasn't even the funny one." He is an unremarkable, unskilled member of today's media savvy environment, where everything feels done and old and tired and totally not worth it. But you do a youtube search of "superhero" and it comes up surprisingly lacking (well, of anything worthwhile at least, except maybe the Jane's Addiction song).

Turns out it's an ugly world out there. A world where good guys not only don't always win, but are typically predestined to lose. A world where the only true threat to a millionaire mobster is a psychotically vengeful ex-cop and his highly-trained daughter. And, of course, the young angsty teen who can take any pain that his goons can dish out. I love that every character in the film is damaged and deeply frightened, from the daddy issues of Red Mist to the indifference of the extras who videotape Kick-Ass's exploits for youtube, portraying a society that doesn't really have the back of its citizens; it takes the ones with nothing to lose to make any sort of difference. The film does not pepper its film with humor, but rather portrays everything in the sort of snide, mannered way that films and TV are made with these days, only to the extreme. This is a film that actually feels that anything could happen, at least, until the last 5 minutes or so. And, even so, it contains a a highly personal, emotional core unlike anything I have ever seen in any film, let alone in a comic book film.

And for every second you give me where Aaron Johnson is merely doing his job, and not completely killing it as the lead character, I'll give you a minute where Nicolas Cage looks like he's having the most fun he's had since Adaptation. The other kids, Chloe Grace Moretz and Christopher Mintz-Plasse, are astoundingly well-rounded, Mark Strong is a fresh, human villain, and Clarke Duke provides adept comic relief. Every supporting actor, many being Brits portraying New Yorkers, is in on the joke and registers strongly.

Everything is damn near perfect. Pitch-perfect tone, action, pacing, and casting. A film that I can imagine the next generation of film to be like. And the best damned action sequence of the past decade.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Tron: Legacy (2010)

Visually dazzling, yet somewhat contrived sequel to the 1982 classic, this time focused on Kevin Flynn's son, who enters "The Grid" in search of his long-lost father. First things first: the kid sucks. The idea of replacing Jeff Bridge's Flynn with a hot, young, blonde counterpart for modern audiences is immediately misguided, and shows how willing the film is to sacrifice fidelity and integrity for appeal to young audiences; not quite to Episode 1 lengths, but still offensively. Another aspect of the film that completely falls flat is a greater symptom than just the lead: it doesn't feel like a computer world anymore. Everyone has really expressive, vibrant emotions, there is loud, emotive techno music blaring, and the games, rather than being programmed into the system, are actually there for ENTERTAINMENT, with droves of screaming fan programs elated at watching fellow "rogue" programs be "derezzed" in the gladiatorial trials they are forced into. Olivia Wilde's Quorra character, while not only being far too spritely and animated while, simultaneously, being massively turned on by the arrival of Flynn's studly son, turns out to be from an ancient race of indigenous digital beings (spoiler alert! seriously, I just did you a favor, now you won't laugh out loud in a theater full of kids or fanboys or both), completely disregarding the construct-oriented nature of the world of Tron.

BUT!!!!!











Much of the film kind of rocks the house. Like an above-average anime, the dynamic, obviously expensive visuals prove to be so spellbinding, that there are huge chunks of the film where all the flaws of the plot magically disappear, and the visual elements of Tron that have been upgraded take over in a liquid-digital cloud of sensory bliss. The games themselves, while rendered completely nonsensical in this version, are exciting, fresh, and well-orchestrated; no shaky-cams or blurry digital rendering here. There is a club scene with Michael Sheen that takes the new, techno-oriented mindset of this Tron to the umpteenth level, with blaring music, dance-like fight choreography, and Sheen dancing around, reveling in the freedom of this untethered digital landscape. I figure if they were going to make this film about THIS Tron, and not the cold, calculating, emotion-devoid version of Tron from the original, they should've gone all the way and made it an absurdly sensational audio-visual experience, like Sheen's scene proves to be. I should also mention that not only does Daft Punk make a cameo in that scene, but they provided the soundtrack for the whole film; their contribution to the film cannot be expressed enough. Where Harold Faltermeyer's Cop Out score made a boring cash grab into a watchable film, Daft's Tron:Legacy score makes what is, essentially, a feature-length effects real into an emotional, immersive experience; their Tron Theme contains more feeling and power than any individual on-screen moment in the film. The action scenes are such a perfect marriage of sight and sound that they do end up making the film noteworthy, and completely worthy of merit, money, and attention. There should be more movies like this (and less like Avatar THERE I SAID IT!!), just made with more confidence and less concern with the affections of children (*cough* The Matrix *cough* *cough*).

Recommended to fans of high-octane, techno-oriented visuals, Daft Punk, or, to a lesser extent, the original Tron; it's a completely remade, reimagined version of the world, but there are enough bones thrown to fanboys that you can tell the filmmakers (including Steven Lisberger, who produced this one and directed the original) were fully aware of how important a 26-year-later sequel to Tron was in certain circles...but they were also aware, and wary, of how small those intimate, geek-driven circles actually were, which is a shame.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Faster (2010)

Fun, but uneven actioner starring The Rock as a recent parolee who goes on a killing spree to avenge his dead brother. That logline is about as much plot as was divulged in the marketing for the film, and that's about all you need to know; there are other plot elements, but they're window dressing. There is an assassin who is hired to take The Rock out, who, upon realizing how determined he is in his revenge, almost decides to settle down with his fiancee, Maggie Grace. There is a cop, played, with an almost unbelievable professionalism, by Billy Bob Thorton, who is also in The Rock's pursuit, while simultaneously trying to keep his heroin habit in check for his last week before retirement (he actually states how many days he has till retirement with a straight face, talk about professionalism). And there are the random gunmen who took out his brother, who now occupy such (relatively) harmless positions as a preacher, an office worker, and a club bouncer. The violence in the movie is relentless and, at least for the first half, nearly amoral; The Rock has never been this merciless or gritty on film, and it looks good on him. The story inevitably catches up with the hyper-quick pace the title promises, and the film has its share of slow patches, but the story elements are sufficient and comically sparse, and Billy Bob's subplot provides enough pathos to keep things from getting too pointless. That being said, this is not the movie it could be, nor the movie the marketing (and the title) promise it to be; it's a near-western/revenge story more Death Wish than Death Wish 2-5, just, you know, not as good.

Slightly Recommended to action buffs and non-child fans of The Rock; I could call him Dwayne Johnson, like he wants, but, dammit, he's The Rock, and The Rock should be doing more movies with names like Faster and less with the word "Walt Disney presents..." preceding them.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Red (2010)

Paper-thin, fleetingly entertaining action-comedy about a group of retired assassins who reteam to take out a public official gunning for them. The star-power driven black comedy that the marketing materials implied is not what the actual movie ends up being; John Malkovich's paranoid ravings, a central focus of the trailers, is mostly loaded onto the tail 45 minutes of the film (during which, I must mention, second-billed Morgan Freeman is nowhere to be found). The first act, nearly dreadful in its staleness, involves Bruce Willis' retired 50 year-old assassin excitedly reentering the intrigue business, along with his pension manager (oh, please), played by Mary-Louise Parker. The dialogue is tired, the action is lame and unremarkable, and the interplay with Willis and Parker is forced, saved only by Parker's natural likability. The movie reminds me of the similarly hit-man themed Mad Dog Time, in the way that it's paced as a series of guest appearances of the spies and assassins that Willis goes to for information or assistance; among them, aside from Malkovich and Freeman, are Helen Mirren, Brian Cox, Ernest Borgnine, Richard Dreyfus, and, as a rival hit-man, Karl Urban. It is disappointing to say that only Malkovich and Cox get anything juicy to work with, especially considering how effective the idea of Dame Mirren blasting away baddies with machine guns sounds on paper. Urban is strong and imposing, but no more so than when he appeared as a similarly resourceful hitter in The Bourne Supremacy. The whole thing is an excercise in futility; while it, no doubt, helped secure B.O. (and a freaking Best Comedy or Musical Golden Globe nom!) to have these esteemed actors going on publicity tours promoting their smallish parts in the film, it set up a star-power fueled film that has way more laughs and excitement than what's on display here.

Skip it, save for completionist fans of the cast, or genuine Brian Cox fans; the romance between his Russian ambassador and Helen Mirren's ex-MI6 assassin is easily the most charming, understatedly effective aspect of the film. If you told me, prior to seeing the film, that he would steal the film from such a high-wattage cast, it would probably seem as crazy as Mickey Rourke being the truly biggest badass in The Expendables. Who can ever tell with these movies?

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Millenium Actress (2002)

Wonderfully fresh, inventive anime about an aging actress who, while being interviewed about her extraordinary life, recalls, and relives, her lifelong pursuit of a man she only met twice, and in passing. Satoshi Kan, the late creator of the similarly inventive Paprika, makes the narrative intangible and dreamlike, but in a distinctly, and surprisingly, coherent way; the actress' interviewers follow her within her flashbacks, and, sometimes, incorporate themselves into the narrative as characters in her story. This not only makes the ambitious indistinct reality of the piece easier to swallow, it creates a running comic relief, as the two thoroughly modern and bumbling interviewers are nearly always out of place and attempting to properly survey the situation. The animation is stunning, but far more traditional, and less independent of the rules of reality, than Paprika; the period scenes truly evoke the older age of Japanese cinema, which, undoubtedly, was the intention.

The story of the aging actress is touching; it is both simple and detailed, very delicate and feminine, while at the same time creating a strong, resilient survivor out of her character. Her tale is told in broad strokes, with seemingly invisible location and period changes throughout, highlighting the emotional truths over the practical ones. However, coherence is maintained through having her interviewers be just as confused as the audience, and repeatedly attempt to talk themselves through the lack of cohesion in the narrative. A sad irony of the film is that, without giving too much away, one of the actress' secrets parallels the life of Mr. Kan only a few years later; this film stands as a testament to his talent and his strength as an inventive storyteller.

Highly Recommended for fans of animation or of grand (albeit fictional) biopics a la Forrest Gump or The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. While not as groundbreaking or memorable as Paprika, this is the stronger, more touching film.

John Carpenter's Village of the Damned (1995)

Tense, effective horror film about a small town that is host to a group of like-minded, grey-haired children that terrorize the town's adults. The film's structure is unconventional, beginning with a town-wide blackout that results in almost a dozen simultaneous pregnancies, and then tracking the pregnancies until the children are frightfully articulate pre-teens (some with personal briefcases). If the silliness of the premise does not turn one off, there is much moodiness on display here; the film has a slow, frightening, apocalyptic feeling that is absent from many similar horror films. This is primarily due to the efforts of Mr. Carpenter, who throws in interesting camera set-ups and iconic set pieces whenever he gets a chance (he's clearly a fan of The Omen). While his other 1995 film, In the Mouth of Madness, revolves around a Stephen King-type character, this is the more King-like film, with small town camaraderie going up against a mysterious, foreign entity that has sprung from, literally, in this case, their very loins. The success in mood can also be attributed to the surprisingly adept cast, which includes Christopher Reeve, Kirstie Alley, Mark Hamill(!), Michael Pare, and Carpenter regular Peter Jason; Reeve, in his last role before his crippling 1995 accident, is a surprisingly strong horror protagonist, standing out as his own character, while not betraying his role as the surrogate of the audience.

Recommended to fans of scary children horror films (this is one of the better ones, due to Carpenter's ability with kid actors), or of Mr. Carpenter, himself; while this is no Halloween or The Thing, it is stronger, if more conventional, than In the Mouth of Madness, which came out merely several months after this film.

Humpday (2009)

Mumblecore comedy about two old friends who reunite and decide to film themselves making love for an art project. It is funny, but pointless. An hour and a half of the two and the wife of one of them talking about whether it's a good idea. And the end result ain't worth it. Some cute bro banter though.

Slightly recommended for mumblecore or Duplass brothers fans; Mark Duplass is a principal player here, and is the funniest of the three performers. NOT FOR HOMOPHOBES.

13 (2011)

English-language remake of the several years-old 13 Tzameti, also about a young electrician who is driven, out of desperation, to inherit a shady moneymaking venture from his late employer. The plot, as I predicted in my review of the original, is a telegraphed, more obvious version of the original; too many secrets and plot elements are revealed too early, and take some of the wind from the sails of the provocative series of events. There are also subtle changes to the plot that make the film more clean and palatable for American audiences, and less gritty and blunt. The style, although the director is the same as the original, is more saturated and dream like than the stark, black and white original. While it does not feel like a typical American suspense film, it is, predictably, a step in that direction away from the original.

What this production adds to the endeavor is its terrific cast. Although the lead is played by Sam Riley as a less extreme version of the original's protagonist, the rogue's gallery of miscreants includes Ray Winstone, Michael Shannon, Mickey Rourke, Jason Statham, Ben Gazzara, Alexander Skarsgard, and 50 Cent; a very interesting, and phenomenally appropriate, array of tough-guys. Fitty holds up surprisingly well, and Statham is strong in a different sort of role for him, but the real scene-stealers are Mickey Rourke and Michael Shannon; without giving away the plot, they both bring so much weight to their respective roles (especially Rourke) that they stand apart from the rest of the insular, almost B-movie structure.

Recommended to fans of the original, of terse, unconventional indie thrillers, or the killer cast. While it does not usurp the in-your-face intensity of the phenomenal 13 Tzameti, there is enough going for it to recommend it alongside, but certainly not instead, the original.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Greenberg (2010)

Cute low-key character study of a mildly neurotic anti-social as he reintegrates himself into his former life in L.A. Ben Stiller is the titular Greenberg, who meets Greta Gerwig's 23 year-old oddball through his more successful, well-adjusted brother, and begins a tenuous relationship that is not easily defined. The film's first act revolves more around Gerwig's character, so we understand through and through why she would sympathize, let alone get along with someone as narcissistic and uncomfortable as Greenberg; she needs someone to take care of, and she can withstand his emotional ambiguity and random tirades, which she probably wouldn't expect anyone else to do. As Greenberg, Stiller is simultaneously grating and engaging, as he is when he's at his best, and one can thoroughly enjoy watching him without ever, for a moment, wanting to encounter him in real life. Gerwig and Jennifer Jason Leigh are good as the women who are able to deal with Greenberg's nonsense, and Rhys Ifans does terrific, uncharacteristically subtle work as his recovering-addict best friend. The backstory behind Greenberg and Ifans' character is well conceived and explored, and is among the more interesting throughlines in the film. That being said, the "love story" is surprisingly fresh, if a little too timid, in the end, and Greenberg's character arc is significant without being overbearingly exaggerated.

Recommended for fans of Noah Baumbach and his style of slow-to-mid tempo comedies, or Ben Stiller in an usually realistic role for him.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

No Such Thing (2002)

Interesting, but sprawling fable about a young journalist who, while looking for her murdered fiancee in Iceland, discovers a surly, yet inexplicably American-accented monster, and, of course, befriends him. Sarah Polley plays the lead character, an ambitious young reporter who works for power-hungry, cold-hearted cliche Helen Mirren. She convinces Mirren to let her search for her fellow reporter husband by claiming it to be a viable human interest story. She is led to a small Icelandic village where all the bumbling locals are terrified of the nearby monster. They knock her out and send her to his lair in an abandoned missle silo. And their magical, illuminating friendship begins, leading them both on a path of self-discovery that will change their lives forever.

While my tone may imply that this film is a rudimentary, cliched turd of a film, I actually liked it. The director, Hal Hartley, has a way of portraying even the most rudimentary and arbitrary of scenes in such a way that it actually feels original; that Wes Anderson way of playing familiar elements so on the nose, that they come out the other side and magically become fresh again. Things that shouldn't work, do work, such as Helen Mirren's been-there-done-that bloodthirsty media magnate, the coo-coo mad scientist with a history with the monster, and, especially, the monster, himself. Played by vet character actor Robert John Burke under pounds of excellent, inventive makeup, he is a tortured, cynical, bitterly alcoholic pile of misery, in constant pity for himself for being forced to live alongside humans for eternity; Frankenstein by way of Bukowski. If his familiar American sense of humor did not exceed Hellboy proportions, this film could've been a disaster. As is, he keeps the film imminently watchable and entertaining, even if the end result doesn't amount to very much. Hartley is too content portraying things for what they are, disregarding truckloads of potential subtext, and neglects to do anything particularly deep or subversive with the material.

Slightly Recommended for fans of Hal Hartley or the cast, which also includes Julie Christie as a sympathetic doctor. This lacks the immersive, meticulous perfection of Hartley's Henry Fool, but it contains more original and inventive touches than that films sequel, Fay Grim.

Monday, November 29, 2010

13 Tzameti (2005)

Stark, straightforward French drama about a house-painter who gets fired, and becomes complicit in his former client's illegal activities. The plot, and watching it develop, is the principal joy here; the writing feels real and terse, without giving away anything the audience cannot infer on their own. The black and white cinematography contributes to the neo-realist vibe, allowing for expressionistic and stylized compositions without sacrificing the direct honesty of the piece. The acting is very strong, and, as is common in French productions aware; everyone knows what their part and function is, and deliver their performances in simple, subtle strokes. The central figure of the house-painter is particularly well-cast, exhibiting both amorality and vulnerability in varying degrees, as many of us do regularly in day-to-day life. The worst thing the film has going against it is the impending American remake, starring Jason Statham, Mickey Rourke and Ray Winstone. The slow, deliberate plotting is decidedly un-Hollywood, and I sense that the pleasure of slowly figuring out what the hell is going on will be even more lost once the advertising, beyond the blatantly revealing logline, conveys all the key beats in the first half. Nonetheless, this original currently stands as a terrific example of contemporary French neo-realism, and a very strong, very real crime film.

Highly Recommended for terse, realistic French crime films a la Man Bites Dog. Anyone with any interest in the upcoming remake should check it out first, as, I am sure, the focus there will not be what is key here, namely the deliberate development of the plot.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

CATCH UP

Silverado (1985) - Fun, lightweight western about two outlaws struggling to amend their pasts and become goodhearted cowboy-folk. Recommended for fans of more wholesome, less Leone-esque Westerns, or for the prolific cast.

Old Dogs
(2009) - Campy, thoroughly-corporate family comedy about two heterosexual roommates/best friends who attempt to raise one of the pair's illegitimate children. Slightly Recommended for fans of epic fail star-studded disasters.

The Last Days of Frankie the Fly
(1997) - Comical indie revolving around a mafia flunky who attempts to write a legitimate movie under the guise of a mobbed up porno ring. Recommended for fans of mid- to late-90's indie gangster films or the excellent cast.

Husbands (1970) - Stark, improv-heavy drama about a very close group of three friends mourning the loss of a fourth, while dealing with their own fear of old-age, mediocrity, and death. Highly Recommended for fans of loose, 1970's style filmmaking, or the three male leads.

Star 80 (1983) - Raw, intense biopic of Playmate Dorothy Stratten, whose marriage to a skeevy showman/pimp ended up claiming her life. Highly Recommended to strong-winded fans of Hollywood biopics or Eric Roberts, at his career best as the psycho husband.

Wonder Boys (2000) - Meandering, but well-meaning drama about a Lit professor with mid-life crisis problems; pic is only slightly less telegraphed than the premise (there is, indeed, a peculiar, troubled youth in dire need of mentoring, but he ends up seduced by the prof's gay publisher). Slightly Recommended to fans of this stuff, and by this stuff I mean obvious, winter-set stories about mid-life suburban angst.

The Hill (1965) - Stark prison drama about a WWII military prison where the terrible living conditions inspire a minor rebellion that, inevitably, snowballs into revolt. Highly Recommended for fans of Sidney Lumet, Sean Connery, or Ossie Davis.

Raising Cain (1992) - Creepy, bizarre Hitchcock-esque tale of a disturbed man who kidnaps children for his psychoanalyst father to study. Recommended to fans of Brian De Palma's more outlandish work, a la Phantom of the Paradise or Body Double.

The Fountainhead (1949) - Awkward, inappropriately declarative drama about an individualist architect and his psychotically self-abusive on-again-off-again lover. Skip it, save for diehard fans of the source material, which, I am told, is butchered.

Spellbound (1945) - Unlikely, but involving Hitchcock romance that depicts a psychiatrist who falls in love with a man impersonating a doctor who he may, or may not have, murdered. Recommended for fans of Hitchcock's more star-driven, romantic pictures, or Salvador Dali, whose designs for the dream sequences are prominent enough to warrant mention.

Fall Time (1995) - Goofy, fleetingly fun heist film about three teens who attempt to fake a bank robbery, only to be foiled by real, murderous bank robbers. Slightly recommended to fans of mid-90's B-movies, or Mickey Rourke, who slithers like a snake as the villain.

Kiss Me, Deadly (1955) - Hard-boiled, surprising noir about a man who picks up a hitchhiker that involves him in a murderous conspiracy. Highly Recommended to fans of uncompromising, terse noir.

The Thin Man (1934) - Lightweight, well-written detective film about a pair of socialites/private investigators who are pulled out of retirement for one last mystery. Highly Recommended for couples and fans of witty, quick-paced old Hollywood banter.

Wolf (1994) - Initially interesting, but finally faltering pseudo-monster film about a publisher who, after being bitten by a werewolf, becomes reinvigorated regarding his career and personal life. Skip it, save for diehard fans of the cast or the attempted 1990's Universal Monster renaissance.

My First Mister (2001) - Well-meaning, but shallow film about a May-December pair of misfits who find friendship, before the December side ruins the second half of the film by falling victim not to his own insecurities, but leukemia. Skip It, save for diehard fans of the cast.

AND

Catfish (2010) - Involving, provocative documentary about an unlikely connection between a young dance choreographer and his pre-teen pen-pal. Recommended to fans of low-key human dramas.

The Social Network (2010) - Wonderfully written and acted biopic of Facebook founders Mark Zuckerburg and Eduardo Saverin, whose friendship drove and nearly sank their legendary creation. Highly Recommended.

Due Date (2010) - Profane, edgy road comedy about an angry expectant father and the deluded man-baby he is forced to hitch a ride with. Highly Recommended for fans of Robert Downey, Jr., Zack Galifinakis, or Todd Philips, who has achieved a career-best here.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 (2010) - The finest of the series (thus far) involves Harry, Ron, and Hermione hiding in the wilderness and hunting down the key to vanquishing arch-nemesis Voldemort. Highly Recommended to anyone who has watched any of these films with any sense of enjoyment.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Cornered (1945)

Exciting and well-constructed, this post-war noir tells of an Air Force pilot who, after the war, learns that his wife was executed by war criminals, and travels the globe seeking revenge. As it turns out, the mastermind of the plot is hiding out in Buenos Aires, so the stalwart, but ostensibly shell-shocked protagonist investigates the local aristocracy to find out who is hiding, or who may be, the man he's after. The idea that our lead character is confused due to his wartime trauma (in close-ups that remind one of Ted Striker in Airplane!) adds a lot of mileage to the proceedings, as the details, coincidences, and red herrings that pile up confuse and overwhelm him just as they do the viewer; it gives him a deep shade of character that distinguishes him from similarly driven, vengeful leads in the genre. The focus here, as in the Big Heat, is on revenge, not love or money, making the whole thing a very heated endeavor; I prefer the relentless, uncompromising pace here to the sprawling, patchwork structure of Casablanca, which shares similarities with this film. The side characters are an eclectic and interesting noir line-up, and provide ample support and intrigue throughout. The style is very expressionistic and bleak, implying a sort of post-war cynicism that gives the film haunting, unsettling overtones.

Highly Recommended to fans of revenge thrillers or noir. This is a near-forgotten gem that deserves more acclaim than many of the alleged classics of the genre I have encountered.

Panic (2000)

Low-key hitman mid-life crisis film about an assassin who tenuously begins relationships with therapy and a young, volatile bisexual. This is not a huge budget film, but the actors make the dialogue and relationships sing; William H. Macy and Donald Sutherland, as the hitman and his gangster father, have a pitch-perfect dynamic, and the better parts of the film are concerned with their strained relationship, and Macy's repressed conscience. The therapy sessions, with John Ritter as the befuddled shrink, are not as provocative as similar setups in Grosse Point Blank or The Sopranos, but they have an effortless charm due to Macy's deadpan delivery and Ritter's constant discomfort toward his role as a sort-of accomplice to murder. Macy's home life, with Tracy Ullman as his wife and their grade school son, is well-presented as average, but warm, and several scenes with Macy relating to his son at his bedside achieve a surprising amount of poignance. However, the central love story, with a tick-filled, neurotic performance by Neve Campbell as a flighty 23-year old who is attracted to Macy, falls flat, is devoid of logic or chemistry, and does not have the maturity and oddball tone of the rest of the film; their banter is the kind of juvenile narcissism the rest of the dialogue would acknowledge only in jest. Luckily, the film is not as dependent on the romance angle as I worried it might have been, and the other relationships in the film are well-defined and presented enough that they balance out the missteps with Campbell's character.

Recommended for fans of Macy, Sutherland, or of similar hitman dramedies like Jerry & Tom or Analyze This. I remember this one premiering on cable (Cinemax I think) back in the day; while I see how this got swept under the rug in lieu of Analyze This and The Sopranos, it is breezy, yet distinctive enough to be worth seeking out.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Jane Eyre (1944)

Literary, but well-staged adaptation of Charlotte Bronte's classic novel about an abused, but subservient girl who searches for comfort and love in 1840's england. The sprawling narrative opens with Jane as a young girl in the house of her aunt, who abuses her in favor of her own gluttonous, pampered son. Hoping for a change, she is eventually transferred to a institution for young girls, where she becomes friends with Helen, played by a young Elizabeth Taylor. However, they are regularly abused, and, following a night of punishment in the rain, Helen dies of pneumonia, leaving Jane alone and miserable once more. She grows up, and finds employment as a governess for the rich, blustery, and secretive Mr. Rochester, and finds a joy in life through Rochester's little girl, Adele. Then Jane and Rochester find love, despite their difference in class, background, etc. This is a handsome production, with grand sets and production design to complement the classic nature of the novel, but the plotline is too fractured and disconnected to make for a satisfying narrative throughline; we are given much insight as to what has happened to Jane over the course of her life, but it mostly serves as backstory to explain Jane's resistance toward comfort with Rochester and his household. Once the film gets Jane to Rochester's mansion, and Orson Welles finally makes his top-billed appearance as Mr. Rochester, the pace picks up, and the fairly traditional love story between the two is allowed to take full focus. While there is not very much, even in this stretch of the story, that is particularly fresh or enlightening to those who haven't read Bronte's novel, the performances (particularly by Welles...I know, shocker) and the grandiose presentation strike a consistent chord until the lukewarm, but thoroughly satisfactory ending. The first 45 minutes or so present a strong backstory for the titular character, but they bring the films pace to a snail's crawl in service of fidelity to the source material; aside from Taylor's shockingly mature presence, even at this young age, there is little here that is engaging beyond a technical level.

Slightly Recommended for fans of the novel or similarly handsome, grand Victorian-era romances. The performances and production were what kept my attention here, but I could say the same thing about Citizen Kane, a film that's three years younger, yet trumps this in every way possible.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Valley Girl (1983)

Energetic, breezy '80s teen romance about two L.A. high schoolers, one a Hollywood rebel, the other a prospective prom queen from the San Fernando Valley, who fall in love despite their social backgrounds. The focus is on the titular valley girl, Julie (Deborah Foreman), as she and her friends giggle, dance, and shop their way through life in their insular, and totally super popular, clique. She decides she's sick of her "hunk" boyfriend, and dumps him, leaving room for Nicolas Cage's wild Randy to instantly fall in love with her at a party. They tiptoe around their mutual attraction for a little bit, before beginning a tenuous, but warm and passionate romance. They both have clear, distinct personalities outside of their relationship, but when they are together, they are rendered shy, open, and endearing; it is in these simple, innocent, nearly-wordless passages between them that the film truly clicks. They are helped by an ever-present soundtrack filled with early-'80s New Wave that, alongside the films heavy visual aesthetic of neons and flashing lights, gives the film a distinctive flavor despite its tired Romeo and Juliet structure. Another huge benefit of the film is the cast. While Deborah Foreman is not the most interesting or mature lead (to her credit, the role certainly has something to do with that), the rest of the players are pitch-perfect, and create a complete portrait of the environment of the film. Nicolas Cage is not as manic here as one would expect, and, with unglamorous facial features long-since remedied by surgery, is a sympathetic and likable romantic lead. Frederic Forrest, as Julie's former-hippie father, is absolutely hilarious, and unconventional; neither a louse nor a blowhard, he questions his own bizarre parenting methods while consistently making sure that his little girl is as happy as a bird, despite his misgivings. Elizabeth Daily and Michael Bowen are both memorable as one of Julie's ditzy friends and her brutish ex, respectively, who have a terrific, realistic scene together where they drunkenly and absent-mindedly cavort at a party. And the rest of the film is peppered with small roles that are given enough attention and character that they are just as memorable as the central love story.

Highly Recommended for fans of '80s teen movies or girly films a la Clueless (although this is infinitely more mature and endearing). This is a film that is confident, and insightful, in its presentation of young love, and has many qualities that make it one of the truly enjoyable teen movies of the era.

Desperate (1947)

Decent, fun noir about a truck heist gone wrong that renders the innocent driver a runaway patsy. The driver is a spitting image of innocence, and does everything he can to stop a group of gangsters from hijacking the cargo of his truck once he is aware of the heist. The police get involved, sending one of them to jail, who just so happens to be the brother of the leader of this mob. He's played by Raymond Burr, as a big Burry badass who uses his chubby cheeks and eyes to stare down people in a very Paul Sorvino kinda way; his heavy is one of the highlights of the film. Burr demands that the driver turn himself in for all of the crimes his brother's accused of, but he manages to escape and leave town with his wife. He gets framed for the robbery, and spends the rest of the film on the run with the police and Burr tracking him down. The dialogue, lighting, and costuming are done in a very strong, high-noir style; the dialogue in particular is a delight, with plenty of great gangster witticisms scattered throughout. But the protagonist, a goody two-shoes who never once is even moderately swayed by temptation, is not a typical noir lead. He is motivated primarily out of concern for his wife and a desire for justice, but ends up being just as scared and desperate (*gasp*!) as a common criminal due to unfortunate circumstances. His unflappable good nature makes him a relatively uninteresting protagonist, but there is plenty of humor in just how unbelievably Boy Scouty he manages to act.

Recommended for noir buffs. This isn't one of the more interesting or original noirs I've ever seen, but it is a strong entry in the genre, and has a lively, evocative style.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Mistress (1992)

Funny, pointed satire of Hollywood involving the efforts of two huckster screenwriters and a producer to make a film that, as it turns out, is just an excuse for the money-men to put their mistresses on camera. Robert Wuhl is the writer of a years-old melodrama revolving around the suicide of an artist unwilling to compromise (gotta love the foreshadowing) who gets a call from desperate producer Martin Landau and his young spec screenwriter saying that they believe they can get financing for the picture. The rest of the film involves Wuhl and Co. pitching the script to various financiers, who each have their own nitpicks with the script, with the commonality that they all want their girlfriends to appear in the picture in a sizable role. Every compromise Wuhl makes to his beloved script is another compromise of his integrity; this film is noteworthy for making the writer, normally portrayed as a beleaguered, passionate artist or a hack, into a confused, aimless narcissist tired of defending a script that only he loves in lieu of making a compromised, but released picture. The directorial style is fairly barebones, letting the play-like dialogue and monologues take full focus, which works here only because of the acting talent involved; the prospective money-men include Robert DeNiro, Danny Aiello, and Eli Wallach, all of whom kill their respective performances, particularly DeNiro's Hollywood hotshot. Wuhl, and, especially, Landau, are both terrifically desperate and pathetic, as is Jean Smart as Aiello's aging stewardess mistress and Sheryl Lee Ralph as the proposed lead actress for the film. The script, co-written by Under Siege and Cannibal Women in the Avocado Jungle of Death scribe J.F. Lawton, is not quite as nihilistic as similar showbiz comedies The Player or Swimming With Sharks, but it definitely portrays Hollywood as a soulless vacuum where all integrity must be checked at the door for any sort of tangible, monetary success.

Recommended for fans of Hollywood-centric comedies a la The Player or The Last Shot, or the stellar cast. I wasn't expecting much of a film with DeNiro, Aiello, and Landau from '92 that I had never heard of, but this one is indeed worth seeking out if the setup tickles your fancy.

Scarface (1932)

The Howard Hawks-directed, Howard Hughes-produced precursor to the '83 Depalma-Stone-Pacino remake about a gangster rising up in the contraband distribution rackets, this time selling Prohibition-era hooch. Allegedly based on Al Capone, whose cut-up face inspired the title, Paul Muni plays Tony Camonte as a crude, morally indifferent, ambitious tough guy whose balls of steel are actually a form of self-destruction; he is less of an inebriated slave to his impulses as Pacino was, and more of a hollow, aimless shell of a man who seeks to prove himself through terror and violence, rather than respect. The incestuous relationship with the sister is here, as well as the attraction to the boss' lady (who, surprisingly, comes off as more appealing and less plain stuffy and hard-to-get as Pfeiffer). Steven Bauer's Manolo is George Raft's Guino, and his, along with Muni, is the strongest performance in the film; constantly flipping his coin and silently backing up Camonte, Guino proves to be more like a real tough-guy, the spitting image of unflappable, unreactionary cool. The pace of the film is where it surprised me the most; about half the running time of its epic remake, this picture is relentless, opening up with Camonte doing his first hit and continuing with almost non-stop, shocking (even for today) violence, punctuated by scenes of Muni's snakey, amoral gangster usurping his superiors. The ending, while a cliche, is a prime example of noir iconography, and is expertly (and in very modern fashion) performed by Muni.

Highly Recommended to fans of noir, '30s gangster pictures, or, of course, Pacino's Scarface. I have not seen any of Hughes' other productions, but of Hawk's work, I have seen Rio Bravo and The Big Sleep, both more popular and heralded films than Scarface, and both more bloated and self-satisfied pictures; the level of slime here along with a general trailblazing violent energy distinguish, and contemporize, this film far more than those more famous works.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

The Fourth Kind (2009)

Terrifically haunting thriller that combines archive-style footage with reenacted material to tell the story of an Alaskan town with a high amount of missing people. Milla Jovovich, Will Patton, and especially Elias Koteas are very effective in their respective roles, and the film maintains an extremely tense tone throughout. Ruining any more would compromise the slow, horrific pace of the film.

Highly Recommended for fans of intelligent, tense horror films.

Machete (2010)

Appropriately crazy and over-the-top feature-length adaptation of the fake trailer (that's gotta be a first) revolving around a racist-killin' MexiCAN who gets framed, and, naturally, must seek revenge. The style of this Robert Rodriguez (co-written, co-produced, and co-directed) flick is strongly evocative of B-grade '90s action pictures, and not in the most obvious, corny ways; Rodriguez wants this to be able to play as a straight, gung-ho, fuck yeah Mexican action picture as well as a subversive nod to the conventions of the genre. The action is absurd, but horrifically comic, and it pleases the audience as well; the audience I saw it with hooted and hollered throughout. The cast is, mostly, a delight: aside from the badass Danny Trejo as the titular Machete, you have a mix of modern day eye candy (Michelle Rodriguez, Jessica Alba, and Lindsay Lohan) and older, '80s era stars (Jeff Fahey, Robert DeNiro, Don Johnson, and Steven Seagal) hamming it up and having a blast. Unfortunately, much of the script revolves around Alba's boring-sauce INS agent, and her scenes drag down the momentum of the film, but the rest of the cast (save for Lohan) picks up her pace, especially Seagal, who makes his first major villain turn a fresh, original turn from him (and it shows he has a sense of humor, which is nice). The stronger emphasis on humor here is what differentiates this from the recent action-flick homage, The Expendables, and it's also what makes this film a more memorable experience altogether.

Highly Recommended for fans of high action and/or the more harder-edged output of Robert Rodruiguez (i.e. Desperado, From Dusk Till Dawn). The best thing I can say about this movie is that every shot that I remember from the trailer ended up the film, and I definitely didn't think that shit was possible; I once again think to myself that Rodriguez may be one of the smartest men in show-business right now.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The Crazies (2010)

Okay, but unneccessary remake of George Romero's classic '70s horror film about a town that experiences dementia en masse, and the containment crew sent in to eradicate them. Instead of painting a portrait of the whole town, this remake focuses almost purely on a group of four survivors, including Timothy Olyphant as the town Sheriff, Radha Mitchell as his pregnant wife, and Danielle Panabaker as a fragile high schooler. The tension is thus more subjective and personal, and less of a display of a multitude of terrifying situations as the first one was; this makes it more palatable for modern mainstream audiences, but robs the film of the originals ruthless distinction. The interplay between the survivors is above average for a horror movie, and the arc between Olyphant and his deputy actually proves kind of touching, but in the end, the movie is best when its showing the creepy ways in which the townspeople go coo coo. Breck Eisner knows what he's doing, as proven with this and Sahara, I just hope he gets a truly distinctive, original script to match his confidence and chops.

Slightly Recommended for diehard fans of the original or this modern wave of horror remakes. This is solid, but pretty unremarkable.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Piranha 3D (2010)

Filled to the brim with gore and nudity, this is a horror film that knows its audience, and wholeheartedly respects and indulges what they are there to see. The plot is Jaws, straight-up: a lakeside community discovers killer piranha in their waters the same week as the yearly town-driving spring break. Elizabeth Shue is Roy Scheider (complete with an homage to the shot where he sees the dead boy), Adam Scott is Richard Dreyfus (who, himself, cameos in the intro), and Ving Rhames ends up as Quint, in more ways than one. The protagonist is Shue's teenage son, who gets involved with a Girls Gone Wild-type video crew to win over a prospective girlfriend; this is all stock horror filler material, but it actually proves entertaining, due in no small part to the crude presentation of the crew (including Jerry O'Connell and Paul Scheer) as lecherous, near-psychotic perverts. But the best appearance in the film belongs to Christopher Lloyd, explaining the impossibility of these ancient fish appearing in the lake with 1.21 jigawatts of his trademark energetic delivery; the filmmakers confidently set up a sequel where he may get a larger role, and that is definitely a motivator to follow this franchise. The fish carnage is bountiful and wonderfully over-the-top, but the films tight budget shows in some fuzzy, shaky gore shots. The films greatest achievement is its simultaneous self-awareness and genuine horror tension; the laughs and scares come at an equal ratio, making for a fun, breezy horror film that nails, as the critics have said, the mood that films like Snakes on a Plane have been shooting for for years.

Highly Recommended for horror buffs, or anyone else who loves gore or boobies or Christopher Lloyd (basically everyone, right?).

The Power of One (1990)

Lovely, but overly literary saga of a young English boy growing up amongst racist Afrikaners and natives in South Africa. The film starts out with its protaganist as around 7 years old, both on-screen and in narration, and then moves on about half an hour in to him at around 14-15, and then again later to a young Steven Dorff; this sprawling, ambitious storytelling is disconnecting, and stretches ones patience by the time Mr. Dorff attempts to command the picture. The other big marquee name here is Morgan Freeman, and his presence, along with that of Armin Mueller-Stahl, adds a lot of class to the proceedings, but it's limited to the first half of the film, which is actually fairly captivating. It is when the protagonist begins to settle into his role as a community leader that the film begins to grow repetitive, predictable, and stale. However, the locations and cinematography are fantastic, and the action, including some boxing scenes, is well-directed and shot.

Slightly Recommended to fans of lush African tales or the novel it is based on. It is more confident and self-assured than John G. Avildsen's earlier ciassics, The Karate Kid and Rocky, but nowhere near as cohesive and fun.

Monday, August 23, 2010

G.I. Joe: The Movie (1987)

Right off the bat, this is infinitely superior to both the recent G.I. Joe: Rise of the Cobra AND the original animated Transformer's film; while those films are bogged down by lame, pointless plots, this film is pretty much wall-to-wall Joe vs. Cobra action, which is precisely and exactly what I want from a Joe movie. The framework involves the age-old battle between the Joes, the "Real American Heroes" (circa 1987), and the terrorist baddies the Cobras, as they are both pit against a third faction with even greater hardware than they possess. Meanwhile, the Joes train a new, younger generation of warriors (and toys) to beef up their chances against these new reptilian creatures. There are maybe 10 lines of dialogue not of the "GET HIM!" or "GO JOE!" variety, and they are trademark corny G.I. Joe; no middle-of-the-road tepid sincerity from Channing Tatum here (although Don Johnson is an excellent loose cannon recruit). The action here is definitely the name of the game here, and it is relentless, with huge battles involving fantastic vehicles, weapons, and creatures that have earned, in my eyes, multiple viewings just to capture all the glorious detail; a.k.a. FUCK AVATAR (seriously though, there is similar imagery in some of the action scenes, and this pulls it off with greater sincerity, originality, and aplomb). The visuals are of a significantly higher budget and care than the TV series, and allow for a minimalistic, thoroughly action-driven experience.

Highly Recommended to fans of the G.I. Joe cartoon (and for the Stephen Sommers version, for that matter) and action-oriented '80s cartoons such as Fire and Ice or Heavy Metal; while this is not nearly as mature as those films, it delivers on the spectacle element so thoroughly that it earns being mentioned alongside them.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

New York, New York (1977)

Overblown, but handsome musical by Martin Scorcese about two post-war lovebirds trying to make it in the music business, one as a musician, the other a singer, while struggling to maintain their own tumultuous relationship. The films first half-hour is the best, with the slow romantic build up between Robert DeNiro's criminally arrogant saxophonist, Jimmy, and Liza Minelli's guarded USO crooner, Francine. Once their career's begin to soar and the film begins to find its groove, the suspense is kind of deflated; we know these two have problems, and they hooked up despite them, so watching them bend and squirm at each other's mercies (particularly DeNiro, whose nearly sociopathic character is the most magnetic in the film) becomes pretty tasking by the end of the 160 minute running time. The music, mostly big band and jazz, is great, as are the period elements of the piece; the sets, costumes, and hairstyles are all very evocative of a dreamy, blissful vision of post-war America. Scorcese's framing is inventive and lively, and is only restricted by the repetitive quality of the film's script; the greatest success of the film is that, due to Scorcese and DeNiro, the inherently destructive and anti-social Jimmy ends up coming off as likable. Minelli is, surprisingly, stronger off-stage than on; she has an endearing, haunting openness in her acting that does not come through in her comfortable, exuberant stage performances.

Recommended for fans of Scorcese or DeNiro (all 4 of you out there) and really glitzy, old-school musicals with an edge; I'm really thinking of Pennies from Heaven, which this film roughly equals in quality. This is not the bane on Scorcese's filmography that I was let to believe, but rather an interesting experiment (far superior and more inventive than his worst work) that gives DeNiro yet another opportunity to display his mastery of acting for the screen.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Tetro (2009)

Lovely, but unremarkable effort from Francis Ford Coppola about two brothers who reconnect in Buenos Aires. There are echoes of Rumble Fish in both the black and white visuals and the vague plot, with the younger brother escaping the shadow of his older brother while the older brother distances himself from their father. Vincent Gallo is the titular Tetro, the disillusioned, emotionally wounded older brother, and his soft-spoken, airy demeanor recalls Mickey Rourke's Motorcycle Boy; his unique acting style actually seems quite appropriate here, as Tetro is mostly an indecipherable, obtuse character. The other characters in the film are well played, but a little more stock: his Hispanic girlfriend is maternal and caring, while the younger brother is naiive and sexually awkward. The film, even more so than Rumble Fish, lives and dies on its gorgeous visuals. Coppola creates frames here that are among the most distinctive in his career, without his trademark high-budget ambitions. He uses color only in flashback, a device I have not seen before, but wholeheartedly embrace as a stylistic choice. And the use of his environment is lovely, with Buenos Aires seeming like a magical, unexploited location suitable for this story. But nothing ever happens in the story that is truly fresh or original, and while there are revelations and a narrative throughline, it is not a shred as captivating as the greatest of Coppola's earlier works.

Slightly Recommended to fans of Coppola's more indie-minded work a la Rumble Fish and Vincent Gallo. I got more than I expected, but based on what I'd heard, I expected nothing.

The Expendables (2010)

A blast from the past, a traditional, big-guns hard-rock action film about a group of mercenaries who take on a heroin-dealing dictator and his ex-FBI backer. The group itself is remarkable, but nothing mindblowing: the three principal players are Sylvester Stallone (who wrote and directed this shindig), Jason Statham, and Jet Li, along with Terry Crewes and Randy Coutour for backup. They are all competent action leads, and make lasting impressions despite their underwritten roles. But the real shockers here are the fringe players: Arnold Schwarzenegger as the head of a rival mercenary team, Bruce Willis as their CIA-agent backer, Mickey Rourke as an ex-Expendable named tool, Eric Roberts as the slimey ex-fed villain, and Dolph Lundgren as a steroid-junkie lackey. These guys walk away with the film, particularly Lundgren, whose hulking presence and weathered face makes him more threatening and imposing than ever, and Rourke, who masterfully delivers a monologue about neglecting to save a suicidal woman that actually achieves an emotional high point in this film, where clearly, no one gives a shit about, how you say, emotions? The action is well-shot and staged, especially the no-holds-barred invasion at the very end; this film is paced like the 1980 film Dogs of War, with a three act structure that involves an unrelated opening mission, a long reconnaissance period, and a final, all-out battle. The main flaw in the film is an abundance of treasures in the cast; individual stories tend not to be as interesting as the cast members that remain offscreen for the big plot developments. Seeing Arnie on screen, in particular, makes you dream of an ending where he drops in, machine gun in hand, saying something like "I'm the party pooper!" But alas, he remains a governor, and his role is unfortunately truncated, if still plenty noteworthy.

Highly Recommended for fans of 80s era actioners such as Dogs of War, Commando, or Delta Force. The leads all get shortchanged here, so seeing it for one of them could prove unrewarding, but the ensemble is phenomenal for action junkies. I prefer this to Rambo III and IV (it may be on par with II but it ain't no First Blood), and I definitely expect great things from any potential sequels (hopefully with GUNNAR!).

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Scott Pilgrim vs. The World (2010)

Hipster trash about an unemployed 22 year old who falls in love with a girl who, he discovers, has seven evil ex-boyfriends who will fight him to the death for her honor. Michael Cera is poorly cast in this film; right off the bat, we discover Scott has a 17 year old girlfriend (they "held hands for a sec, but she got uncomfortable") that he is using to get over his own ex, but who is completely in love with him and his shitty garage rock band. He leads her along and drops her when the real love story of the film (with the girl with the psycho exes), making him kind of an ineffectual asshole before the film has even gotten going. If he had been played by someone with a little more range or edge, it would be easier to dismiss his transgression as post-relationship trauma, but his apparent awareness and lack of sincerity make him fairly unlikable right from the get go. The love interest, Ramona Flowers, is also quite worthless, never exhibiting any qualities that would be worth fighting anyone for, let alone crazy psycho powerful superhero exes; as he fights for her, she continually dismisses and ignores him, making one wonder why Scott is as willing as he is to fight for a girl who may or may not care about him. The whole emotional core of the movie is empty and stupid, which is a real shame because Edgar Wright actually scores major aesthetic points here with his filmmaking methods.

There is narrative text throughout, random video game elements relating to the story, and crazy, larger-than-life, Stephen Chow-esque battle sequences. It is all really cool stuff you can stuff in a trailer, but when in the context of this film, it is loud, hollow, and pointless. The characters are not amicable enough for the audience to root for them, and the emotional situations are plodding and uninteresting. The leads, and Cera's rock band posse of friends, are contrived and unlikable, and are basically hodgepodges of other characters from other movies (the freckled angsty drummer is a third name away from being Mary Stuart Masterson in Some Kind of Wonderful). The only actors who come out of this film looking good are Chris Evans, Brandon Routh (as two of the more heinous, infamous exes), and, surprisingly, Kieran Culkin as Scott's snarky gay roommate, who shares his bed with Scott AND whatever conquests he brings home, much to Scott's chagrin; it is a huge detriment to the film that Culkin, the most likable character, does not throw down at any point to back up his best friend. However, the moments where the fights actually break out are typically fun and exciting, particularly the ones with the two aforementioned actors (Routh has a killer sense of timing and delivery, and Evans has the funniest moments in the film with his over-the-top movie star routine). And it was definitely cool to see a bad guy burst into coins after being defeated just like a goombah in Mario, until, like most of the interesting concepts in the film, it is repeated at face value (but NEVER explored) to the point that noone is allowed to oversee how friggin COOL the film is trying to be (and it's not.)

Slightly Recommended to hipsters and video game junkies. This is Edgar Wright's first film that is not a masterpiece (Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz will still get play on my TV for many years). Once again this year, I find myself dismissing a film with one constant, unswaying mantra repeating in my head: "KICK ASS WAS BETTER!"

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Grown-Ups (2010)

Exactly what it looks like. Proceed at your own risk.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Cabin Fever 2: Spring Fever (2008)

An alright, but deeply flawed sequel to Eli Roth's dastardly original that keeps a high school prom full of people in an infected area. The intro, like the one in Hostel Part II, fills in the details as to the fate of the previous films protaganist (let's just say Rider Strong does not deserve really top billing), and then we meet our real protagonist, a high schooler with a crush on his lifelong friend and a Clark Duke acting-and-looking sidekick, who is admittedly a fairly funny character. The evil water that capped the kids in the first one is bottled and shipped out to a local high school about to have its senior prom (don't drink the punch!!). It's not the freshest material I've ever seen, but director Ti West, following up his phenomenal House of the Devil, turns this for-hire gig into a showcase for some hilarious visuals and surprisingly straight moments; it's never achieves the same level of utter claustrophobic terror the first one did, but it is significantly better than your average DTV horror sequel (the From Dusk Till Dawn ones remain the best). One of the better choices in the film was to give the deputy character, played by Giuseppe Andrews, more of a presence throughout, and he has several terrific hick-humor scenes with some hilarious people (including Mark Borchardt!). It's really the abrupt, and terribly out of place, ending that sinks the movie; I believe Ti West was fired at some point for some reason, and it shows in the way the film quickly wraps things up and then has a pointless epilogue that seems to just be there to kill time. It hurts, because up until that point the film was in the makings to be a fairly legit sequel, taking the original's set up into a fresh direction, instead of basically a really cool Masters of Horror episode (which I think Ti West is more than capable of). I am definitely still very impressed by his handling of tension and gore, and his next film, with more creative control, will hopefully be more sure of itself and original.

Slightly Recommended to fans of the original and predictable, but fun horror films; this is not as good as Feast, a somewhat similar film I've reviewed recently, or the original, but it has enough original touches and over-the-top gore visuals to make it fairly fun for horror buffs.

Watching the Detectives (2007)

An airless, poorly conceived romantic comedy with decent performances about a geeky video store clerk who falls in love with a spontaneous, free-spirited (read: crazy) new client. Cillian Murphy actually does an admirable job making a likable, relatively normal guy out of a poorly written character, downplaying his creepiness and naiveté for a more beaten, "whatever"-type attitude. He is obsessed with film, and constantly interrupts his life for viewings and references, much to the chagrin of everyone outside of his immediate friends circle (who are, admittedly, pretty funny, if self-consciously quirky). Lucy Liu comes along as the crazy person who knows nothing about movies, but knows enough to attempt to get Murphy out of his shell by enacting high-tension, movie-like scenarios. The fact that this is, ostensibly, a romantic comedy, spending much of its time focused on the relationship between these two, sinks the film, for it is not believable for a second that Murphy's character would put up with Liu's shenanigans as long as he does; his character was not written as bored or desperate enough to be willing to jump through this many hoops for any reason, let alone for someone he's just met. Liu's casting makes the film tolerable, though, for she infuses just enough energy and know-how to avoid, until the end, looking completely psychotic and illogical. However, the ending defines the film too concretely as a light-weight rom-com (spoiler!), and the laughs do not come quick and heavy enough to hide the lack of genuine substance. That being said, this was written and directed by Paul Soter, a member of Broken Lizard (Super Troopers, Slammin' Salmon), so everyone gets at least a few cute gags in, including several Lizard members in cameos (including Soter). I was just hoping for more out of his solo debut, and he does not have the writing chops to create a fresh, substantive original script, nor the directorial knowhow to elevate a script to watchable status, despite a penchant for casting (that is common for the Lizards...Brian Cox remains the scene-stealer in Super Troopers).

Skip it. There are better movies like this (The Science of Sleep, and, although it's radically different in tone, Cyper, also with Liu), and this is, unfortunately, not nearly as funny as a Broken Lizard film. But Soter's a hell of a sweet guy, with visibly good intentions, and I'm glad he got to make his own movie.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

The Other Guys (2010)

A hilarious, yet imperfect comedy that involves two sidekicks of New York's number one crime-fighting cop duo, and their attempt to gain respect of their own. Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg play the titular Other Guys, a nebbish "forensic accountant," and a loudmouth, pent up hot-shot demoted for shooting someone famous and beloved (a stupid gag that I won't ruin just in case I'm just being a curmudgeon). The Main Guys (who deserved a better shake than they got in this film) are played by The Rock and Samuel L. Jackson, two dudes who definitely know how to play over-the-top action heroes, and they are true to form here in their tragically brief appearance. The plot takes Ferrell and Wahlberg to a jewel heist that was, perhaps, faked to cover up a bigger, more substantive corporate crime. The fact that the film actually has a plot separates it from Mckay's earlier buddy comedies, and it definitely gives the film a life of its own beyond the typical improvised banter and random sight gags; however, it also gives the film a bit of a cap on the humor, as the film cannot derail from logic as severely as Anchorman and Step Brothers repeatedly did. This definitely hinders Wahlberg's character, clearly a riff on "psychos" such as Mel Gibson's Riggs, or pretty much any character who ended up having to be told "He ain't worth it, man" by his partner as he held a gun to a criminal; he runs around the film, screaming about needing to fly like a peacock (in reference to their case) without a smidgen of comedic understanding or timing. Which is a shame, because Ferrell, once again, after Step Brothers, proves he has way more comedic tricks up his sleeve than he likes to let on; his seemingly benign daff hints at his past, which ends up being a priceless slow reveal, and his continual references to his wife, Eva Mendes, as his "plain," "cute, but definitely not hot," "ball and chain." Speaking of Mendes, she's terrific in the film, showing way more chutzpah and comedic range than I believe anyone expected of her (although I liked her in Stuck On You). Damon Wayans, Jr. (I miss his old man on screen) and Rob Riggle play other other guys, an unnecessary, yet mildly amusing equivalent of The Andy's in Hot Fuzz (an infinitely superior film in almost every facet, by the way) who compete with the titular boys to one-up The Rock and Samuel L. While Steve Coogan and Ray Stevenson are also strong in their straight-man roles, the real honorable mention in the supporting cast is Michael Keaton. He turns in, for the first time in years, a thoroughly comic, goofy performance, and the biggest compliment I can give the film is that I had no clue how much I missed this side of Keaton until I saw it delivered in spades here; he is simultaneously subtle and over-the-top in ways that are matched only by Ferrell, who I now suspect may have been influenced by the Beetlejuice star in his work. The action in the film is surprisingly effective, particularly in a two-fisted office shootout set to The White Stripes' "Icky Thump", but still comes shy of the third act extravaganza of the similarly themed Hot Fuzz.

Recommended for fans of over-the-top PG-13 action comedies a la Hot Shots, or Mckay and Ferrell's previous films. For me, this ranks below Anchorman and Step Brothers, but probably on par with Talladega Nights; while it does not have that film's penchant for random insanity, it does have a stronger sense of character and story that would make the film much stronger, had Mark Wahlberg been such a desperate, overeager dud. Dirk Diggler was a fluke, everyone, it's okay, we'll always have his 5 goofy minutes or so in The Departed AND I Heart Huckabees if you can stand the existential jargon.

SubUrbia (1996)

A haunting, truly fascinating portrayal of suburban stagnancy that depicts a night outside a convenience store where several 20ish slackers languish in boredom. Giovanni Ribisi is ostensibly the lead, a wannabe writer living in his parents garage who spends most of his time articulating his self-admittedly suburban angst to his friends and his artist girlfriend, who wants him to move to New York with her to kickstart her art career. His other friends include an alcoholic Air Force veteran, a doofy hedonist (played to perfection by Steve Zahn), and a helpless nurse's aid. This film was arguably director Richard Linklater's follow-up to Dazed and Confused, with many structural and stylistic similarities; it has a crucially specific soundtrack (by Sonic Youth), a focus on spontaneous and, perhaps, ugly sex, and a piecemeal structure that follows several characters through a slightly eventful night in their mundane lives. However, where the films completely differ is tone, and that is where writer Eric Bogosian truly leaves his unmistakable mark; these slackers are not likable, nostalgia-tinged teenagers, but rather angry, lost, repressed, modern young adults who believe, more and more, that they will never find a place for themselves in the universe...or at least, not one that they'll particularly like. The Air Force vet, played by Nicky Katt in the best performance I've seen from him, is a former high school football star who joined the Force to get out of his hometown, only to wind up back home a burned out, cynical drunk, who only remembers his glory days when reminded by the football junkie liquor store clerk. The nurse's aid seems, right off the bat, like an angelic, pure soul, but she is repeatedly abused and forgotten by everyone around her. And Steve Zahn's doofus is a far cry from Ron Slater, and is an amoral, sexist pig who only gets away with his scumminess through his innocent class clown routine. Ribisi, also turning in career-best work, serves as a doppelganger for Bogosian, tearing apart his environment while, in turn, becoming a self-admitted slave to it; he cannot escape his fear that any self-worth that he could, potentially have is futile in the world that surrounds him. The humor is inherent, but bleak, and the series of events that occur manages to continually defy cliche and expectations. There is a more stage-like scope than Linklater's other films (save for maybe Tape, which never leaves the motel room), but the nuanced, organic staging and performances show his mark on the film. And Sonic Youth's score is wonderfully implemented, never calling attention to itself but accenting the film's tone perfectly.

Highly Recommended to pretty much all suburbanites, who I feel can universally relate to this movie in some way, and fans of Bogosian, Linklater's more intimate work a la Tape or Dazed and Confused, or the terrific cast, which also includes Parker Posey as a Bel-Air rich girl who finds the yokels in the film fascinating (she's great).

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Crazy Heart (2009)

Strong, impeccably acted Southern drama about a broken, alcoholic country star and his relationship with a young reporter. Jeff Bridges earned his Oscar playing the lead, Bad Blake, as he drinks, smokes, and mumbles his way through his ramshackle life in search of something worthwhile, which he finds in Maggie Gyllenhaal's sweet young single mom. Their involvement, while bordering on unbelievable, plays organically and without much contrivance, and the film, like The Wrestler, understands that when people are broken, many restrictions one would set on their potential romantic entanglements would become moot (this point could've been more clear if the character was older, but she's a good enough actress to pull it off). Colin Farrell, Robert Duvall, and Paul Herman, as friends/coworkers of Blake, turn in wonderful work, and their chemistry with Bridges creates a portrait of Blake's life that extends before and after the chronology of the film (with more screen time, I believe Farrell's work in the film could have been as seminal for his career as Bridges'). The narrative is relatively traditional, with surprising touches, but nothing groundbreaking. The film functions more efficiently as a character piece, and in that sense, it is a great success; because of Bridges' effortless likability, we can watch Blake fuck up time and time again and still root for him to persevere. The music that is both played and heard in the film is pretty sweet, especially for country music (of which I am not a fan).

Highly Recommended for Jeff Bridges fans or country music buffs. I don't think this is a better Bridges performance than The Dude, but it is still a fairly masterful portrayal.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Operation: Endgame (2010)

Half funny, fresh comedy, half hackneyed, thrown together DTV dreck centering around two cooperating groups of assassins turned on each other by their superiors. The whole fucking film takes place in their underground HQ, and the cheapness of the production does not do it any favors; this is one project that would have benefited from a big-budget, Get Smart-esque treatment. The action scenes are well-executed, but clearly contained and shortchanged. And the central love story, between a fresh new recruit and his former flame, now a Mata Hari named Temptress (the codenames in this movie are broad and pointless), is indicative of the half-assed emotional manipulation typical of z-grade productions. Which is a shame, because the cast here is actually very talented, and very game. Comedy pros like Jeffery Tambor, Michael Hitchcock, Bob Odenkirk, Adam Scott, and Zach Galifinakis (in a shorter-than-advertised role) tone their respective schticks down a bit while decidedly non-comic actors such as Ving Rhames, Emilie De Ravin, and Ellen Barkin have a blast with their over-the-top characters. But the saving grace of this movie, and one that does not allow me to regret watching the film for one second, is Rob Cordry. As the raging alcoholic head of one of the agencies (a gun-shaped flask is permanently stapled to his hand), Cordry provides further evidence (along with Harold and Kumar 2) that he was born to play this type of role, cussing, drinking, and fighting with the same zeal and dedication he brought to the much bigger-budgeted Hot Tub Time Machine earlier this year. I was skeptical of his career in film, but his performance here, which basically holds the movie up on his shoulders (until he croaks oh snap *SPOILER* then the movie goes pretty much into unwatchable territory) makes me think he could sustain a leading man gig for the entirety of a running time; I may have to seek out that paintball flick I saw him on the cover of years ago (Blackballed I believe it's called...probably ass).

Slightly Recommended for fans of ramshackle DTV comedy and the terrific cast. This is definitely best seen (and, honestly, possibly made for) on a late night, uncut Comedy Central broadcast, or in a double feature with Harold and Kumar: Escape from Guantanamo Bay (which was supposed to be DTV, but proved to be just too damn good).

Monday, August 2, 2010

Black Moon Rising (1986)

Fairly cool '80s-style heist movie about the theft and recovery of a turbo-powered, hydrogen-fueled supercar. Tommy Lee Jones is Sam Quint ("the one man they didn't count on," says the trailer), a thief specializing in corporate espionage who stashes key info in the supercar, which is promptly swiped by Linda Hamilton's expert hijacker. The rest of the film involves Quint's attempt to steal the car back from Hamilton's boss, the typically sleazy Robert Vaughn, along with Quint and Hamilton's forced romance ("We have a lot in common...we're both thieves," says Quint...ugh). The script was co-written by '80s film demigod* John Carpenter, and there is some very efficient gadgetry, pacing, and dialogue here; although he didn't direct, it does not feel like his original draft was rewritten into oblivion. Also, Tommy Lee Jones, in one of his earliest leading man roles, somewhat resembles, in voice and appearance, Mr. Carpenter, and definitely embodies the tough, intelligent lead of this film better than any of the more obvious mid-80s action stars; with another lead delivering his cold, calculating dialogue, this film could easily be an unwatchable bore. Hamilton suffers from a poorly-written role (honestly, their love story is really lame), but remains a very vibrant, organic presence, and holds her own when riding shotgun and capping fools while Quint races the supercar. The rest of the supporting cast is serviceable, with Keenan Wynn and William Sanderson (one of whom gets a terrific death scene) making the most lasting impressions. The film is shot and styled like a contemporary '80s action film, but many of the action scenes have more energy in their conception than their execution. That being said, the heist itself proves to be a satisfying and exciting conclusion, and Jones character is magnetic enough to care about his fate.

Recommended for '80s style action junkies (Ferrarri's and neon lighting abound) and fans of Tommy Lee Jones. Jones deserved an A-list career long before he won his Fugitive Oscar, and this film offers ample proof of that with Jones' grizzled, but charming badass.

*I only use such loving praise when someone writes, directs, and SCORES movies SUCH AS Big Trouble in Little China, The Thing, Escape from New York, The Fog, Prince of Darkness, and They Live, let alone ALL OF THEM

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Armored (2009)

Decent, well-paced thriller about a group of guards for an armored car service that decides to fake a hijacking and make off with their bounty themselves. Colombus Short is the protaganist, an Iraq vet with a troublesome little brother in his custody and an imminent bank foreclosure on his house; as soon as we know there is a heist, we know he will go along begrudgingly but end up being the voice of reason (this isn't the most original flick in the world). The rest of his crew is loaded with heavies, including Matt Dillon as his godfather and mentor, Laurence Fishburne, Jean Reno, and Skeet Ulrich. Once the heist gets going, the characters are basically reduced to archetypes, but Ulrich, surprisingly, comes closest to creating a 3-dimensional, realistic character (Short, as always, comes off as earnest but trying too hard). Nimrod Antal, who had a decent hit this summer with Predators, shoots the hell out of a bare-bones thriller script, and keeps the action moving at all times; the locations, staging, and editing do plenty to maintain the tension and keep the focus on the action and the conflict. Even the acting comes off better than it should (especially Milo Ventimiglia, who actually proves endearing and not annoying, for once), given the dialogue, and Fred Ward, in his couple of scenes, comes out of this thing looking like a badass because of a few key decisions made toward the presentation of his character.

Slightly Recommended for fans of heist or standoff films. This is not some lost classic, but it is good enough to justify the successful career that Antal will, hopefully, have in the future.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

The Wicker Man (1973)

Fuck that admittedly glorious montage of the silliest scenes of Nicolas Cage's remake; this is the real deal, an old school British film along the lines of Straw Dogs and, oddly enough, Hot Fuzz with a great tone and terrific genre performances from Edward Woodward and Christopher Lee.

Highly Recommended for fans of edgy, offbeat, surreal '70s cinema.

P.S. This movie's kind of a musical. Still on board? You should be.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Extreme Prejuidice (1987)

Fun, exciting Walter Hill actioner set in Texas about the elongated rivalry between a Texas Ranger and his boyhood friend, now a cocaine kingpin in Mexico. Nick Nolte and Powers Boothe are the Ranger and the kingpin, respectively, and they have been fighting over Maria Conchita Alonso since before they acquired their legally-opposing occupations. Their story is the A-plot; there is also Michael Ironside and his ex-military crew, including William Forsythe and Clancy Brown, working against Boothe as well, albeit in a more covert manner. Eventually, inevitably, the two plots converge into an explosive finale in Mexico. The addition of the ex-military unit subplot adds a lot of dimension to the proceedings, although the good ol' boy rivalry between Nolte and Boothe is a delight. The parallel plots successfully create the idea that multiple things are actually concurrently going on, which elevates this above your typical forgotten 80's actioner. Aside from the action, which Walter Hill expectedly executes exceptionally well (especially the Wild Bunch-influenced finale), the badass supporting cast also makes this film stand-out. Aside from the three terrific, slow-burn leads, Nolte, Boothe, and Ironside, Forsythe, Brown, Alonso, and especially Rip Torn as Nolte's superior turn in memorable, appropriately archetypal action character work.

Recommended for fans of Texan (or southern) '80s action flicks, the leads, or Walter Hill; like many of his other films, this is, ostensibly, a classic western tale, but the addition of the ex-military unit subplot (and the cast) keeps this from feeling like any sort of retread, and makes it a compelling AND exciting dust-covered guy flick.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

The Losers (2010)

Cute, but no A-Team. Too many similarities to judge them on their own merits, and this is definitely the weaker, blander, less energetic film. That being said, Chris Evans, Idris Elba, and especially Jason Patric turn in very fun performances, and there are enough fun character and action beats to warrant a casual viewing.

Slightly Recommended for action and/or spy-team movie junkies, but only after The A-Team.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Inception (2010)

Unconventional, intelligent heist thriller about a team of "extractors," thieves that specialize in psychically removing information from unconscious, dreaming minds. The less that is known about this film, the better, for one of the great joys of the film is watching the various pieces of the patchwork plot come together; this is more Memento than The Dark Knight. The cast is terrific, with special mention going to Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Tom Hardy for their badass psychic operators. The visuals of the dream-worlds, ranging from bending cityscapes to gravity-void hallways, are masterful, although, surprisingly, not taken to the lengths I would have hoped; it feels like Nolan expected this to have a lower budget, and only wrote in more ambitious set-pieces once he started to have Cameron-like credibility at WB. Regardless of its intricate plotting and ambitious thematic content, the film is ostensibly a crowd-pleaser, using the oft-used elements of the heist and the "one last job" to keep the audience on a familiar level while challenging them at every possible corner. The crowd I saw it with walked out with a very resounding "what the fuck" reaction among them; after the obvious and contrived horseshit that's come out this year, I was very grateful to be one of them.

Highly Recommended for fans of Christopher Nolan and/or intelligent heist or sci-fi films. Among the titles that come to mind with this one are eXistenZ, Strange Days, and the Matrix; not a shabby list to be included in, by any means.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Predators (2010)

I'm not going to spend too much time on this one. If you have seen the originals (or original), this is a must-see, a throwback to a more stripped down, more primal action film with more brains than the 80s allowed. My girlfriend (admittedly not a sci-fi geek) actually said that she would have preferred it if it remained only about the characters and the "aliens," as she put it, never showed up. That's about the biggest praise I can heap on the film. Oh, and one scene involving the lone Japanese character and a predator is easily the most badass thing I've seen this summer; I'm waiting for The Expendables to beat it.

Highly Recommended for action or sci-fi junkies and fans of the originals. Adrian Brody deserves mention to; he ain't no scrawny li'l bitch no more, and the moments where his character shows how straight-up EVIL he was in his life before the narrative are among the best in the film.