October 28, 2010

RED - 2010

Director: Robert Schwentke
Writers: Jon & Eric Hoeber
Starring: Bruce Willis, John Malkovich, Morgan Freeman, Helen Mirren, Karl Urban

When a team of assassins appears under cover of night at the home of ex-CIA assassin Frank Moses (Willis), he does the only thing he can do: fight back, and proceed to get his old team back together, as they may also be under siege from this mysterious threat.
Earlier this year, filmgoers were treated to The Losers, another over-the-top graphic novel-based action/comedy, which (in my opinion) failed miserably. Going into the theater for this, I was ready for RED to take up that mantle as a shining example of what could have been. Unfortunately, this one falls short too, although it's nowhere near as bad as Losers. While quick to establish a premise, the movie spends nearly half its duration merely getting its four protagonists united. There also seemed to be a bit of a lack of character development. Now, I understand that they're all supposed to be ex-CIA, and at one point Willis's character's 99% redacted personnel file is shown, but knowing why the characters are the way they are and how they got there is an important part of any good script. Bruce Willis can kick just as much ass as he did in the first Die Hard, Helen Mirren is stellar as the long-range weapons master, and John Malkovich is a laugh and a half as the paranoid-because-the-govenment-gave-him-LSD-for-11-years guy. I wouldn't say it's a film you need to see in theaters, but definitely give it a chance when the DVD hits shelves. C

October 16, 2010

The Hudsucker Proxy - 1994

Directors: Joel & Ethan Coen
Writers: Joel & Ethan Coen and Sami Raimi
Starring: Tim Robbins, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Paul Newman

"I just got hired today. You know, entry level. But I got big ideas." Before their mainstream breakout with 1996's Fargo, the Coen brothers made the screwball comedy The Hudsucker Proxy, a paean to many films of the 1930s and 1940s, in which Norville Barnes (Robbins) is quickly promoted from the mail room of Hudsucker Industries by chairman of the board Sidney J. Mussburger (Newman) as part of a scheme to keep "any slob in a smelly tee-shirt" from buying shares in the company after founder and CEO Waring Hudsucker jumps to his death from the 45th floor.

The Big Lebowski may have a great cult following, and the Coens' serious work as of late has Oscar nods aplenty, but I'm calling this my favorite film they've made to date. The snappy dialogue moves quickly enough to amaze yet still be made out, characters are well developed, and we're never left wondering "why." Roger Deakins's cinematography and Carter Burwell's score compliment the Coens' style beautifully as always. I'm hard pressed to find a single weak point in this movie, aside from a brief foray into the impossible near the end. This is a goal for any comedic filmmaker to strive for. A

October 15, 2010

Sky High - 2005

Director: Mike Mitchell
Writers: Paul Hernandez, Bob Schooley, & Mark McKorkle
Starring: Michael Angarano, Danielle Panabaker, Kurt Russell, Kelly Preston, Steven Strait, Mary Elizabeth Winstead

"You look at them and see the defenders of the world. All I see is my dad wearing tights." Will Stronghold (Angarano) is the son of the world's two greatest superheroes: Jetstream (Preston) and the Commander (Russell). The only problem: he's heading off to Sky High, the training school for heroes and sidekicks, with no powers of his own. Unbeknownst to them all, an evil plot is being hatched to take down the school, and superherodom as we know it.

This movie was terrible. The costumes are tacky, the special effects budget was nowhere near what it needed to be, and the plot is wildly predictable, not to mention a plothole vital to the climax that you could drive a truck through. The acting's decent, but there just isn't a lot for the actors to go on. There are some nice nods to legitimate superhero media like the Wonder Woman TV show (Lynda Carter and Cloris Leachman have small roles) and Spider-man (a line of dialogue about how quickly some people get powers), but that's ruined by more blatant references, like Carter's character virtually confessing to be Wonder Woman, on top of spinning to activate her power. They also depict X-ray vision with red beams a la heat vision, which any superhero film worth its salt should know better than to do. Also: this (minor spoiler). HERO LIGHTING ONLY WORKS WHEN IT DOESN'T LOOK UNNATURAL. Oh, and how this film got away with having a redheaded girl with control over plants without getting sued by DC is beyond me, if Lynda Carter wasn't allowed to wear gold bracelets. I put this film on par with Ghost Rider and Schumacher's contributions to the Batman franchise. D

Buried - 2010

Director: Rodrigo Cortés
Writer: Chris Sparling
Starring: Ryan Reynolds
"My name is Paul Conroy, I'm a truck driver in Iraq, and I need help." Cortés makes his English-language feature debute with this thriller about Paul Conroy (Reynolds), a private contractor sent to Iraq to deliver supplies, whose convoy is ambushed while on a routine drive. The film opens with Conroy gaining consciousness in a coffin scarcely large enough to contain him, along with a lighter and a cell phone. His initial attempts to reach the outside world prove unsuccessful, his captors are demanding an unreasonable ransom of $5 million, and saying that finding a single coffin buried in the Iraqi desert is a difficult undertaking is a gross understatement.

This film is incredible. It's probably the most intense, thrilling movie I've seen all year, and maybe since I've started seriously watching movies. Buried is, if nothing else, a tour de force for Reynolds, but it has to be; he's virtually the sole living thing you see for 90 minutes (the first seven of which are completely sans dialogue as he discerns and comes to terms with his location as best he can). Along with the acting, cinematography makes this film a double-header. Aside from a few overhead shots, the camera is always inside the coffin, heightening the sense of claustrophobia. The only way to further get inside Conroy's head would be to shoot it all in POV, which probably wouldn't have worked as well. The above screenshot is the brightest the movie gets, with most of the duration wavering between total darkness and shots like this. The script is very well written, despite a plothole or two (which any movie can have if you pick it apart enough), and some arguably unnecessary suspension of disbelief regarding the effect of a Zippo lighter on a limited air supply. I was initially wary that ex-Van Wilder put in such a limited space might not be worth my time and money, but my fears were completely unfounded. A+
Note: I saw the film with my girlfriend, who had a diametrically opposed opinion about it. Most of her complaints stemmed from either overuse of the lighter and lack of proactivity on Conroy's part regarding his situation. Saying any more would spoil it, but I'd really like to hear what you all think about this one. Please see it if you can.

October 10, 2010

The Fifth Element - 1997

Director: Luc Besson
Writers: Luc Besson & Robert Mark Kamen
Starring: Bruce Willis, Milla Jovovich, Ian Holm, Gary Oldman

"Leeloo Dallas multipass." A mysterious alien race shows up, interrupting an archaeological discovery on Earth in 1914, explaining that "the stones are not safe" on Earth due to the coming war, and in 300 years when "a great evil" comes, the aliens will return with the stones. Cut to 2214, and ex-military-man-turned-cab-driver Korben Dallas (Willis) having the good fortune to be dropped in on by the mysterious Leeloo (Jovovich), who asks to be taken to priest Vito Cornelius (Holm). It turns out the woman has a connection to the stones destined to save the universe from aforementioned great evil. The three are pursued by the evil Zorg (Oldman), intent on taking the stones for his own nefarious purposes.

This is, very nearly, the best action sci-fi film I've ever seen. (The best dramatic sci-fi film is, of course, Moon.) The plot is a great twist on a classic motif of mythology, and the visuals of Besson's future world are richly detailed. Few excel more than Willis at being a normal guy who hides his badassery, and Oldman with that pseudo-Southern accent is possibly my favorite movie villain of all time. Then, out of nowhere, this happens:
Chris Tucker plays a radio DJ named Ruby Rhod, who in about 30 seconds of screentime, eclipses Superbad's Fogell/McLovin as the most annoying character ever captured on film. He serves no purpose to the plot whatsoever, and we don't even get the pleasure of seeing him die. Rhod was the overdone piece of meat in an otherwise gourmet meal. A

Easy A - 2010

Director: Will Gluck
Writer: Bert V. Royal
Starring: Emma Stone, Amanda Bynes, Thomas Haden Church, Patricia Clarkson, Lisa Kudrow, Malcolm McDowell, Stanley Tucci

"The rumors of my promiscuity have been greatly exaggerated." A sort of reverse take on The Scarlet Letter, Easy A follows the exploits of Olive (Stone) as she has a series of fictitious sexual escapades for the social benefit of both the gentlemen involved and herself. However, the rumor mill inevitably spirals out of control, and Olive ends up with quite a bit more than she hoped for.

This movie was a lot better than I was expecting it to be, and had a lot of good things going for it. The script is surprisingly well written considering most entries in the genre, and Stone plays a powerful, eloquent, intelligent, and admirable female lead, far too few of which exist in film. Stone along with Tucci and Clarkson make for one of the most believable and enjoyable to watch family dynamics in recent years. Church hasn't had a role this good since Sideways, and even Kudrow is far more tolerable than her usual Phoebe-from-Friends roles. The high point of the film (which comes after a slam against an Alamo Drafthouse-type theater) is a monologue bemoaning the lack of John Hughes moments in the average modern teenager's life, something instantly identifiable for the current generation, especially one familiar with the works of the late Mr. Hughes (as everyone should be). Unfortunately, the film's far from perfect. Malcolm McDowell, having made a career on playing evil men, was horribly miscast as a high school principal in the film; it's painful to see main droog Alex from A Clockwork Orange doling out detentions. There's also an incredible sharp, sudden shift in tone from comedy to drama about halfway through the film. As I've said, the worst thing a movie can do is suffer from tonal identity crisis. While it's better than a great deal of the tripe that's come out this year, it won't make my top ten. B

October 2, 2010

The Other Guys - 2010

Director: Adam McKay
Writers: Adam McKay & Chris Henchy
Starring: Will Ferrell, Mark Wahlberg, Steve Coogan, Michael Keaton, Eva Mendes

When two hero cops are suddenly out of commission, a couple of desk jockeys (Ferrell & Wahlberg) attempt to step up, racing around New York City in a little red Prius and eventually uncovering a massive financial plot bigger than anyone expected from the two of them.

I really wanted to give this movie a chance, but I felt like walking out on it time and time again. The leads don't belong in action roles; I'd rather have seen a film about the hero cops (Dwayne Johnson and Samuel L. Jackson)--it's a shame that them JUMPING OFF A 20 STORY BUILDING starts the plot. And that's the first of many problems with the story, which also includes Wahlberg accidentally shooting Derek Jeter and a flashback of Ferrell as a college student becoming a pimp (I wish I were joking). I didn't so much as crack a smile, much less laugh, so a comedy this is not.

Some background on this project which adds to the pain: Ferrell and Wahlberg originally were wanted to be the leads in Cop Out, but they wanted too much money, so they essentially left to make their own movie. Adam McKay has a gratuitous mention of both Jaws and the Star Wars franchise, an obvious slap in the face to Kevin Smith. Try to at least have a little class when making your films, if you can't produce something legitimately entertaining. F

October 1, 2010

The Social Network - 2010

Director: David Fincher
Writer: Aaron Sorkin
Starring: Jesse Eisenberg, Andrew Garfield, Armie Hammer, Justin Timberlake, Rooney Mara

"A guy who makes a nice chair doesn't owe money to everyone who's ever made a chair." The latest work from the man who brought us Fight Club and Curious Case of Benjamin Button depicts the founding of everyone's favorite social networking site by Mark Zuckerberg (Eisenberg), as well as the lawsuits brought upon him by former best friend Eduardo Saverin (Garfield) and Harvard rivals Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss (Hammer & Hammer).

"Oh, no," they said. "No one could EVER make a movie about Facebook," they said. "The trailer's overdramatic and some of the facts are exaggerated," they said. With full confidence, I can say this: THEY WERE WRONG. This was my most anticipated film of 2010, and it didn't disappoint in the least. Sorkin's script makes this a film not merely about Facebook, but things like greed, betrayal, friendship, and determination, and Fincher's direction allows his dialogue to properly shine, instead of such lines as "I was drunk, and angry, and blogging," falling flat and sounding ridiculous. The script's structured very well, alternating between the depositions and an in media res depiction of the events in question. Also, Fincher's choice of using mostly up-and-coming actors enhances the need of the main characters to prove their self-worth. Rooney Mara (cast as the female lead in Fincher's Girl with the Dragon Tattoo remake) doesn't get much screentime, but certainly makes the most of what she has, even despite her "The Internet is written in ink" line. Andrew Garfield (Peter Parker in Marc Webb's Spider-Man reboot) also continues to impress from his role in last year's Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus; his American accent is flawless, and he does a great job portraying the scorned-yet-concerned friend. Armie Hammer (Harrison Bergeron in the short film 2081 and the almost-Batman) excels in his dual role as the Winklevoss twins, getting some of the best lines in the film ("I'm 6'5", 220 pounds, and there are two of me"). Justin Timberlake is also nigh-flawless as Napster founder Sean Parker; his performance made me entirely forget that he ever went onstage for screaming teenage girls and sang songs like "Tearin' Up My Heart." And naturally, Jesse Eisenberg is spot-on; despite the occasional light-hearted moment, I can see him using this role as a stepping-stone to more serious fare than his past work. Audio in the club and party scenes was wholly immersive, shaking the walls of the theater and obscuring some dialogue (but in a way that works). The final scene (which I have already spoiled for one person too many) is incredibly humanizing, which is very hard to do for a character that the film spends a good deal of time besmirching. It's something remarkably identifiable for anyone remotely familiar with the workings of the site. I personally ended up on Zuckerberg's side, thinking the lawsuits against him were excessive and unnecessary. This is the film of the year and needs to be seen YESTERDAY. A+
And on an MPAA-related front, this PG-13 film was allowed two non-sexual uses of the F-word, as well as a smattering of lesser profanity. Progress is a wonderful thing.