April 30, 2011

Enemy of the State - 1998

Director: Tony Scott
Writer: David Marconi
Starring: Will Smith, Gene Hackman, Jon Voight, Lisa Bonet, Regina King, Jason Lee, Jack Black, Seth Green

"Fort Meade has 18 acres of mainframe computers underground. You're talking to your wife on the phone and you use the word "bomb", "president", "Allah", any of a hundred keywords, the computer recognizes it, automatically records it, red-flags it for analysis. That was 20 years ago." After accidentally videotaping a murder committed by the NSA, Daniel Zavitz (Lee) drops the tape into the shopping bag of DC labor lawyer Robert Dean (Smith). Dean must get the tape to the proper authorities, whoever they might be, while being simultaneously discredited and pursued by NSA agents that will stop at nothing to cover up their actions.

Tony Scott's one of those poor, unfortunate souls who will always be overshadowed careerwise by a family member (in this case, his brother Ridley). However, Enemy is far more hit than miss. The actors all give great performances (even the surprising number of uncredited ones), the script moves quickly, and it's an incredibly prescient forerunner to the PATRIOT Act some years later, as well as future films covering the same themes such as Eagle Eye. Not something I regret not seeing on the big screen, but still reasonably entertaining. B+

Teen Wolf - 1985

Director: Rod Daniel
Writers: Jeph Loeb & Matthew Weisman
Starring: Michael J. Fox, James Hampton, Susan Ursitti, Jerry Levine

"You don't scare me, freak. Underneath all that hair, you're still a dork, Scott. I've handled your kind before. Your mama used to steal chickens out of the backyard until I blew her head off with a shotgun. Right, Scott?" At puberty, Scott Harold (Fox) discovers that his father's side of the family suffers from a severe hair issue--specifically, werewolfism.

This might have been a staple of the 80s teen genre film, but watching it now is all sort of disappointing. The characters are barely developed, the special effects are laughable, the metaphorical aspect is heavyhanded at best...most of all, though, no character in the film treats his condition like it's something to be feared. In fact, it's just the opposite. For lack of a better term, let's call it "Bella syndrome"--normal people treating horrible monsters with excessive compassion and reverence. The first time Scott "wolfs out" in public, he's in the middle of a basketball game. THE CROWD STARTS CHEERING. I wish I were joking. Michael J. Fox was fresh off his BTTF-inspired success when this came out, but it's just another underwhelming film that never deserved its sequel. D

April 28, 2011


Been busy with one thing and another, but the reviews will be starting up again soon, now that I've beaten single-player mode on Portal 2 and that summer movie season is upon us. Better yet, it'll be stuff you, the reader, can actually see! No film festivals for another year!

April 18, 2011

The Conspirator - 2011

Director: Robert Redford
Writer: James D. Solomon
Starring: James McAvoy, Robin Wright, Danny Huston, Tom Wilkinson, Evan Rachel Wood, Kevin Kline

"One bullet may have killed our beloved president. But not one man!" Frederick Aiken (McAvoy), former Union soldier, struggles to defend Mary Surratt (Wright), the woman who owned the boarding house in which John Wilkes Booth and his cohorts hatched the scheme to assassinate Abraham Lincoln.

Robert Redford is a Hollywood legend thanks to both his acting and directing, and he's gathered a phenomenal cast (except the miscast Justin Long, who has thankfully little screentime) to tell this little-known tale from the aftermath of the Civil War.  The script's solid (aside from a line about no one trying to kill a president before), and seems historically accurate to boot. The only complaint I have is that the movie lasts about 20-30 minutes too long. There's a rather pointless scene showing Aiken injured on the battlefield that opens the film, and some ultimately pointless legal actions at the film's end that could also have been omitted. If you're a fan of the historical drama, especially in the Civil War era, I still recommend it. B+

Super - 2011

Director: James Gunn
Writer: James Gunn
Starring: Rainn Wilson, Ellen Page, Kevin Bacon, Liv Tyler, Nathan Fillion

"Shut up, crime!" After being left by his wife (Tyler) for a rather shady individual (Bacon), Frank D'Arbo (Wilson) creates the Crimson Bolt, a powerless superhero alter-ego wielding a pipe wrench, with some help from the young Libby (Page), who leaves her comic store clerkdom in favor of being "kid" sidekick Boltie.

 Those of you with weak stomachs, leave this review now. This is probably the most violent film I've ever seen, and that's including The Passion of the Christ. Having said that, I loved it beginning to end. While the film does go to some very dark places, it's thoroughly entertaining both in spite and because of it. The last thing you want to do is dismiss it as "Kick-Ass with a middle-aged guy." Wilson did a great job in his serious scenes, and hopefully he can use some of them to leave his Office-related image behind. Page also went great against type; Libby is no Juno/Bliss type, to the point of being outright crazy at certain points. Nathan Fillion has far too little screentime, playing a Christian public access channel superhero with flowing locks...need I say more? Also, for only $2 million, the gunplay and explosions are done superbly. In Super, you have a well-acted, well-written story with a subtle/ambiguous moral that's overall not easily forgotten. I give it an A (again, with the violence caveat).

Meek's Cutoff - 2011

Director: Kelly Reichardt
Writer: Jonathan Raymond
Starring: Bruce Greenwood, Michelle Williams, Paul Dano

Three families are led through the perils of the Oregon Trail by a mysterious guide (Greenwood).

I love Dano and Williams as actors, but this movie is a failure in almost every aspect. The film's half shot in excessive darkness (as well as half without dialogue), and I could honestly only tell you two things that happen in the movie, it's that devoid of plot, opting instead for the same wagon wide shots again and again. The people in my party all fell asleep while watching. Repeatedly. The characters are never properly established or developed, so you never really care about anyone, especially the Native American whose dialogue is never subtitled, so neither the audience nor other characters ever understand him. Saying that the ending was open and ambiguous is an understatement; it's worse than No Country for Old Men in this aspect, since Meek says "It's time to do X," in reference to another character, and then the credits roll just as the latter character is about to do...something. Playing the computer game is a more rewarding and entertaining experience. F

April 8, 2011

Hanna - 2011

Director: Joe Wright
Writers: David Farr & Seth Lochhead
Starring: Saoirse Ronan, Eric Bana, Cate Blanchett, Jason Flemyng, Olivia Williams

"Sometimes, children can be bad people too." Hanna (Ronan), has been raised as an assassin by her ex-CIA father Erik (Bana). On the day she finally feels ready, Hanna flicks a switch to send out a signal to Marisa Wiegler (Blanchett), the agent responsible for her father's exile, and finally exact her revenge.

I'll be the first to decry popular opinion and state my opposition to Atonement, although that was mostly based on some third act script issues, as it's a great film technically (oh my god that tracking shot of Dunkirk); The Soloist meant a great deal more to me. Hanna...falls somewhere between the two. Ronan's proving to be one of the great up-and-coming talents in the business, and Bana's agent character utilizes his great force and physicality (I still can't believe he ever played Bruce Banner). Blanchett, normally at the top of her game, has a very sloppy Southern accent, and I personally expect better from an Oscar winner. However, the action scenes are spectacular (which is what the movie's about, in the end), the Chemical Brothers' score works really well, and there are some very funny fish-out-of-water moments stemming from Hanna's father not educating her on some social graces, as well as an amazing scene showing how easily overwhelmed someone who's barely heard of electricity can get when they encounter a room with lights, fans, a phone, and a TV for the first time. The big flaw with the movie, though, was the major plot point: I didn't feel like it was ever made wholly clear why Blanchett's character had to die. This guy and his daughter have literally vanished off the CIA's radar into the Great White North (Scandinavia somewhere, I think). They could rejoin society anytime they want with new identities, and she'd be none the wiser! Trip the signal, then run as fast as you can far, far away. You'd be home free...right? B

April 7, 2011

Win Win - 2011

Director: Thomas McCarthy
Writer: Thomas McCarthy
Starring: Paul Giamatti, Amy Ryan, Alex Shaffer, Burt Young, Bobby Cannavale, Jeffrey Tambor, Melanie Lynskey

After becoming a guardian for one of his clients with early-onset dementia, lawyer/high school wrestling coach Mike Flaherty (Giamatti) must also deal with the client's teenage grandson Kyle (Shaffer) when he appears on his grandfather's doorstep out of the blue. Things only get worse for Flaherty and his family when the boy's until-now missing, drug-addicted mother (Lynskey) shows up, suddenly wanting an active role in the life of her father and her son.

Courtesy of Fox Searchlight, the next great indie dramedy is upon us, and its name is Win Win. Also thanks to that wonderful distributor, I got to see this film before it came out anywhere in our area. Giamatti proves his worth as an actor once again, offering up an unforgettable performance as one of those troubled protagonists you almost find yourself rooting against. Amy Ryan, who many would recognize from Ben Affleck's directorial debut Gone Baby Gone, is a great match for Giamatti, and the two share a great onscreen chemistry. Most of the script's comedic moments (which are nothing short of hilarious) are brought to life through Tambor and Cannavale as Giamatti's business parter/co-coach and divorced best friend, respectively. However, the true gem in this movie is Alex Shaffer. This was the first time he'd ever been put in front of a camera professionally, and he's not just one of the most realistic teen performances I've ever seen. This guy's going to be the Jennifer Lawrence of 2011--comes out of nowhere, but ends up being very in demand in no time at all. My only complaint with this movie? Not getting a free T-shirt at the showing. A+

April 4, 2011

Bronson - 2009

Director: Nicolas Winding Refn
Writers: Nicolas Winding Refn & Brock Norman Brock
Starring: Tom Hardy

"How would you feel, waking up in the morning without a window? My window is a steel grid, I 'ave to put my lips against that steel grid and suck in air, that's my morning... 'cause I got no air in my cell. I have to eat, sleep and crap in that room twenty-three hours of a twenty-four hour day. You tell me, what human being deserves that? Apart from the stinking paedophile or a child killer. I don't deserve that, I done nothing on this planet to deserve that." In 1974, a hot-headed 19 year old named Michael Peterson (Hardy) decided he wanted to make a name for himself and so, with a homemade sawn-off shotgun and a head full of dreams he attempted to rob a post office. Swiftly apprehended and originally sentenced to 7 years in jail, Peterson has subsequently been behind bars for 34 years, 30 of which have been spent in solitary confinement. During that time, Michael Petersen, the boy, faded away and 'Charles Bronson," his superstar alter ego, took center stage.

As great as his role in Inception was, it wasn't anywhere close to demonstrating the range that Tom Hardy is capable of. The man can be vicious and scary one moment and hilarious the next, and sometimes both simultaneously. I'd say more, but the film already succeeds solely on merit of Hardy's performance, so to say any more would be superfluous. I wish I had seen this sooner, and the minimal concern I had for his portrayal of Bane in The Dark Knight Rises is utterly gone. A+

April 3, 2011

Source Code - 2011

Director: Duncan Jones
Writer: Ben Ripley
Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Vera Farmiga, Michelle Monaghan

"What would you do if you knew you only had a few minutes to live?" Imagine waking up on a commuter train to Chicago, with no knowledge of how you got there or why you aren't with your division in Afghanistan, and the only person who seems to know you thinks you're someone else. Such is the experience of Captain Colter Stevens (Gyllenhaal), who is tasked by Captain Colleen Goodwin (Farmiga) with the daunting quest of preventing a bombing of a commuter train bound for Chicago, which has among its passengers a woman named Christina (Monaghan). After a few unsuccessful attempts, Goodwin reveals to Stevens that the attack on the train is unpreventable, and his actual goal is saving the lives of 2 million or so Chicagoans who may die in a second attack by the same bomber. Yet another fly in the ointment: the Source Code program only allows Stevens to interfere in events in a burst of eight minutes at a time.

I know it's early in the year, but this is the first serious contender (okay, maybe Rango too) for my top ten of 2011. While Jones's first film Moon proved his mettle in the low-budget, self-written, dramatic side of sci-fi, Source Code is the flip side of that coin in nearly every way. It's a huge action set piece, this time with Ben Ripley's stellar script (with a personal touch of Jones here and there), and Gyllenhaal is the perfect choice for the film's male lead, running the emotional gamut of miserable to comedic and plenty of stops between the two. Monaghan is really given more credit in the film's marketing than she deserves; her character's just sort of there for Gyllenhaal to play off of. Farmiga, who many will remember from her Oscar-nominated role in Up in the Air, is the female star once again deserving of true praise, this time pulling off a struggle between what her station demands of her and what she feels is morally right. Above all else, however, the film's strong suit is (much like Buried) triumphing due to, rather than in spite of, its self-imposed limitation. Keeping the same eight minutes interesting over and over again isn't someone every filmmaker could accomplish, but between the dual visions of Ripley and Jones, Source Code pulls it off in spades. I'm a couple films behind (shame on me), but I'm glad I started back with such a strong cinematic feat. A+