Sunday, November 04, 2007

Whole Buncha Reviews

Indeed, I have been slacking in my move reviewing duties. I have seen so many films lately, and I haven't been able to sit down and collect my thoughts about them, and then share them with you, my unsuspecting public. In order of how I saw them.

Shoot 'Em Up

I can think of one person I know that I would call my good friend who wouldn't enjoy this movie. Only one person. For the rest of us, we have Shoot 'Em Up, which is one of the most entertaining films I've seen all year. On par with Hot Fuzz, even. And just as violent. But, you know, violence as entertainment.

The plot is simple. There's a man, and he's Clive Owen. He's leisurely eating a carrot when a pregnant woman rushes past him, quickly followed by gun toting henchmen. Clive Owen, being the badass that he is, decides to help save the woman. He does this by engaging in ridonkulously staged action sequences. The woman dies, but only after she gives birth (where Owen shoots the umbilical cord off). Owen must now take the baby, who is hunted by Paul Giamatti and his ruthless henchmen for silly reasons that don't matter. His adventures are marked by even MORE ridiculous action scenes that get better and better as the movie progresses. Oh, they also involve uber-hot Monica Bellucci as a hooker who specializes in lactating fantasies. There is a love scene, marked with a lot of gun violence.

Like I say, this could be the most amazing action movie ever made. It really needs to be seen to be believed. I doubt any action movie will ever live up to the imagination put into these scenes. Right from the get go, this movie is off like a hot and stays that way for 90 action packed, fun filled (if slightly nihilistic) minutes. Tough to go wrong with Shoot Em Up.

Brothers Solomon

Will Arnett is the funniest man alive. There is no debating that. He can be in anything that's undeserving of his talent, like RV for example, and he'll still be the best thing in int. Brothers Solomon is no exception. It's an extremely hit-and-miss affair, but it's a lot funnier than anyone will ever give it the credit it to be.

Will Arnett and Will Forte play the titular brothers, home schooled idiots who have a brilliant idea of making a child so that their father (Lee Majors) will wake up out of his coma. What follows is pretty much Dumb and Dumber if it went into "R" territory. A lot of jokes made about the brothers' stupidity, and it works, mostly. It's a very dry humor, very quiet and subtle (Bill Hader's cameo is a work of Dadaist brilliance), and not for everyone. There are big, broad gross out set ups that sort of work, but it's the quieter stuff that works best. And Arnett is a genius. (Forte is fast approaching that, though).

This movie is worth checking out on video, and is infinitely funnier than that Chuck and Larry movie.

3:10 To Yuma

This was a pretty badass movie. How badass is it? A fuckin' horse explodes in it! FUCK YEAH!!!

Russell Crowe plays the captured bandit. Christian Bale leads a group of men (including grizzled Peter Fonda and Alan "Wash" Tudyk from Serenity) taking Crowe back to the train. A lot of macho posturing ensues. Testosterone oozes off the screen. Then something happens in the end that's really obnoxious. Almost enough to throw my whole perception of the movie away. And Ben Foster was pretty creepy, and effective, and he's totally gay for Russell Crowe.

Of course anyone who looks that good amongst all that dirt and blood and gun smoke, I'd imagine many people are gay for Russell Crowe. But when a movie is this manly, you can't deny how awesome it is. Good times all around.

(He was in Cinderella Man, with Russell Crowe. You do the math)

Resident Evil: Extinction

Man was this movie a wasted opportunity. It has a slightly good premise, and it should be the Day of the Dead of the Resident Evil series. Instead, we get this.

Milla Jovavich returns as Alice, the survivor of the T-Virus. Or something. It's not really very clear, even if you've seen the other two movies. Anyway, the T-Virus has gotten out across the world, and most of the planet is full of undead. Zombies, if you will. Alice, and a small handful of survivors (including Oded Fehr and Mike Epps from the second film, and Ali Larter, who is just... just awful in this movie) have a caravan and try to find hope and salvation across vast wastelands. After an attack from mutated birds (which is actually kind of a neat scene, but still pretty dumb) the survivors encounter Las Vegas.

Now mind you, the preview made me think the whole movie would take place in this desert wasteland Vegas. Zombie shoot outs in casinos, and maybe even a nice topical jab at the consumerist culture and over indulgence of Las Vegas. But no. The movie spends ten minutes there having a nifty little action sequence where it's really difficult to figure out what the hell is going on, then moves on to some boring crap. And then it has an incomprehensible ending that could be cool, but is just pants. This move was disappointing, and pretty dumb.

The Kingdom

I remember this movie kicking a fair amount of ass, even though it plays like CSI: Afghanistan. The last twenty to thirty minutes are pretty intense. Almost on par with a sequence out of Bourne. (Almost, but up there.) The only thing is, I'm getting tired of the shaky cam. The you-are-there intensity of the every movie like this.

Director Peter Berg gets very good performances from his cast. Jamie Foxx plays the leader of an FBI investigation squad sent into Saudi Arabia to investigate the bombing of a baseball game on an American-owned base. Jennifer Garner, Chris Cooper and Jason Bateman make up the rest of the team sent overseas. Thankfully, Bateman retains his smartass persona of late that brings much needed tension relief to the actions. There are also two local cops, played by Ashraf Barhom and Ali Suliman, who are far and away the best characters in the whole movie. I could have watched an entire film about the two of them and be just as pleased.

(ok, so it's not from The Kingdom, my hard drive is getting full of pictures. But this picture features Bateman AND director Peter Berg in another movie. It's as good as it's gonna get. At least it's not another Shoot Em Up picture, right?)
As it stands, instead we get a procedural story of tracking down the bombers. Jeremy Piven shows up for no apparent reason and does a variation of his character from Entourage. The film gets a little too jingoistic, almost to the point where I could have stood up and chanted "U-S-A!", and I feel with a certain degree of confidence that the characters would join along with me. (Despite them being fictional, and moving pictures filmed months before viewing). Still, it's a good film, and the ending is solid enough to make me forget my minor quibbles.

And Jennifer Garner is still damn hot, and totally believable with a machine gun in hand.

Michael Clayton

Movies don't get more solid than this. It's pretty much a perfect movie, much the same way as L.A. Confidential is. The performances are all top notch, the direction is tight, the writing crackles, the look of the film is gorgeous, the music fits perfectly. In a word: Solid.

George Clooney plays the titular character, a "fixer" at a corporate law firm in New York City. He is a very flawed character, in debt from a failed restaurant, desperately trying to make a connection with his son, junkie for a brother, gambling problem, etc. A lawyer at his firm (Tom WIlkinson), at a deposition that's been going on for six years, goes crazy, strips naked and runs around claiming he knows "the truth". This makes a lot of people nervous, specifically Tilda Swinton, key defense attorney for the sinister company behind things. Everyone is at the top of their game and reveals layers upon layers, something missing from most films.

There are scenes in this movie of haunting beauty and frightening efficiency. There's a scene where a character is murdered, and the way the scene is executed is more terrifying than anything conceived of in Hostel, Saw, and/or their sequels. (That's not to say Michael Clayton delves into torture porn. Far from it. I'm merely pointing out the realism and true life horror implications).

Michael Clayton is one of the best movies of this or any year.

Eastern Promises
There's a scene in Eastern Promises that everyone who reviews it has to discuss, so I'm bringing it front and center. It's a knife fight. In a bathhouse. With a naked Viggo Mortensen, covered in Russian gang tattoos. It's a brutal fight, and it allows you to see how vulnerable Viggo is while getting slashed by some thugs. It also lets you see his wang, which disturbs me, but different strokes for different folks I guess.

Eastern Promises is David Cronenberg's first film since A History of Violence, which was also a violent look at a world that involves Viggo Mortensen. This time around, the story takes place in London, where Naomi Watts plays a night nurse at a hospital. A Russian immigrant woman strolls in, bleeding, and gives birth before dying. Watts finds the girl's diary, which is written in Russian. She is unable to read Russian (despite having Russian family), and turns to a local restaurant owner (Armin Mueller-Stahl) to translate the book. This leads her deeper and deeper into the criminal underworld she does not belong in. Viggo plays Nikolai, a driver for the Russian mobsters, who finds himself trying to help Watts on her quest.

It's a down and dirty movie that goes to a lot of uncomfortable places. It's not for everyone, especially those offended by violence. And naked violence, for that matter. (I mentioned the fight scene, right? Have you heard about it?) It is a Cronenberg movie, after all. But it's still a very solid character piece. There is one scene early in the film, though, between Watts and her family, that is a very bad scene. It's poorly acted, terribly shot, and all around awful. It almost made me hate the movie. But once you get past that one scene, the movie opens up and becomes instantly watchable. Well worth checking this one out if you can stomach the violent content. (Naked knife fight. There, it's been said.)

Into The Wild

As a director, I have not been too wild about Sean Penn movies. They meander too much, and don't care much about plot. The acting is usually far too over the top, and method, and it's just distracting. Somehow, Into The Wild manages to totally avoid all the trappings of his previous films, and delivers a powerful true story of a young man escaping from the world around him.

Emile Hirsch plays Christopher McCandless, who in 1990, after graduating from college, takes out all his savings and gives it to charity. He then begins to wander across this great land, meeting all sorts of different people in his ultimate goal of living by himself in Alaska. McCandless has read far too much Thoreau, and believes that man should live on his own, in the wilderness, with nothing but his thoughts, far away from a consumerist culture. The frightening part is that, as the movie plays, you start to believe that he might actually have a good point.

Hirsch does a tremendous job as McCandless, carrying the film for the most part on his own. A lot of time is spent showing what happens to Chris in Alaska, on his own with no human interaction. He gets you to believe in his ethos and methods and view this plan as not an act of madness or rebellion, but as a choice that all humans should be able to make instead of fitting into the preconceived notions that most of us might be born into. And he's captivating as hell.

Along his journey he meets many different characters, including Catherine Keener as an old hippie, Vince Vaughn as a nice guy who teaches McCandless how to thresh wheat. But the standout of all is Hal Holbrook, who eventually becomes a bit of a surrogate parent in a time when McCandless needs it. Holbrook's performance is heartbreaking and genuine, and provides a great counter to Hirsch, as he might be the only person to dissuade Chris from his ultimate goal of living alone in Alaska.

The film is gorgeously photographed, all on real locations (the bus used in the film is the actual bus that McCandless stayed in for the last leg of his journey. There are some beautiful songs contributed by Eddie Vedder. And the two and half hour running time flies by. It should be noted, though, that the film is utterly depressing at the end. It's fantastic, and Penn's best film by a long shot, but man does it ever bum you out. (It's based on a true story, and you can probably guess what happens in the end if you don't already, but since it's been 15 years since the events that transpired, and 11 years since the book the film was based on was published, I feel that nothing is given away.)

30 Days of Night

Aww, man. This was supposed to be the kick ass movie I waited for. I even posted that link with that amazing scene from the movie. The scene where Mark Boone Jr. goes buckwild on a bunch of vampires with a snow cutting machine. It was hardcore and super badass. And there were about three other things in the movie that were on par with that terrific display. The rest was just severely disappointing.

It has a solid enough premise. Vampires attack a small town in Alaska that is submerged in thirty days of darkness. Seriously, that's a damn fine premise. Endless night and a buffet of slightly deranged, snow bound folks. But the movie doesn't do much with the premise. The vampires look amazing, their design is fantastic, and much more animalistic than any previous incarnations of the vampire I've seen on film previously. And Danny Huston OWNS as the lead vampire. (His "No God" scene has been oft-quoted in my apartment). But after their initial attack on the first night (which is the other thing I thought was the Lincoln in this movie), nothing much happens during the following twenty-nine days.

Josh Hartnett seems pretty bored as he tries to lead a group of survivors who are stuck in various locations for several days at a time, like an attic or a general store. No mention whatsoever is made of the mental anguish and hunger pains associated with staying hidden for so long. The only indication that any time has passed at all, in fact, is a little title card. And some facial hair on Hartnett. That's it. What are the vampires doing all this time? Why are they attacking the house next door, but never come into the house the survivors are hiding in? If they did, why isn't that scene in the movie? Why are they introducing characters that have no point other than to become vamp fodder? And why is Ben Foster pretty much playing the same character he's played in three movies this year already?

All these questions lead up to a very unsatisfying trip to the movie theater. And it's a shame because this movie could have kicked unholy amounts of butt. Alas, this is what we get. Maybe there will be 30 More Days of Night.

(Note, the movie is based on a comic I have never read. I've seen art, and the film replicates that rather well, but the rest of the movie is just plain weak.)

Gone Baby Gone

Ben Affleck steps behind the camera and delivers a taut and satisfying first feature film. He stays behind the camera and lets his brother Casey Affleck do all the heavy acting lifting, but luckily Casey's up for the challenge.

Casey plays Patrick Kenzie, a Boston area private investigator, who is brought on to the case of a missing 4 year old girl. The police don't like Kenzie snooping around, but locals of the Boston neighborhood the girl was taken from don't talk much to the cops. What follows is a lurid and strange path leading to the ultimate fate of the girl. (Which I dare not spoil).

Affleck (the Ben variety) stays away from flashy camera moves, and instead paints a realistic portrait of modern Boston neighborhoods, sometimes casting locals in major parts. He has a real sense of geography and culture of the town. (Obviously being that he grew up there.) He also manages to get outstanding performances all around from his cast, including Ed Harris, Michelle Monaghan, Morgan Freeman, John Ashton (from Midnight Run!), and most of all, from Amy Ryan, as the mother of the abducted girl.

Gone Baby Gone is based on a book by Dennis Lehane, who also brought us the source material for Mystic River. This is a much better film than Mystic River, as the performances seem more natural and the writing is far better. (For all you Mystic River lovers out there I have one word for you: Vampires. Try to defeat my logic). The film is not without flaws, but it is definitely time well spent. And the ending raises a lot of questions for post-film discussion.

Jane Austen Book Club

Yeah, that's right. I willingly allowed myself to view a movie called the Jane Austen Book Club. And you know something? It's not half bad. Not at all. It's the cinematic equivalent to macaroni and cheese and a sweater on a cool fall's eve. It's comforting.

The Jane Austen Book Club follows the lives of six characters who are all drawn to the works of Jane Austen, for a myriad of reasons. Each of the characters then begin to experience similar situations in their lives to the Austen novel they've chosen to lead for discussion. How these threads entwine is rather delightful, even if you have a feeling you know what's going to happen before the opening credits have finished rolling.

There are many actors here, doing decent work. Kathy Baker is fantastic as the free spirited ring leader of the group. Maria Bello is just plain hot. Amy Brenneman and Jimmy Smits are very good in their roles. Emily Blunt, from The Devil Wears Prada, turns in a great performance as an unhappily married French teacher who's never been to France, and she does a great American accent, to boot! But the character I liked best was Grigg (Hugh Dancy). Maria Bello asks him to join the group as a nice distraction for recently divorced Brenneman. Grigg has never read Jane Austen, and only agrees because he is attracted to Bello. I like him because he's the character I can identify with the best. He's a sci-fi nerd who's never read a word of Austen, but is completely charming and never gets the girl. Maybe I related a little too much to him.

The movie has some problems, most of which I concluded were due to the source material. While certain things translate well on the page, the screen can be a bit more difficult. Although, I must say it is rather nice to see a movie where characters are all reading. When was the last time you saw that?

It's not the most masculine film (in fact, I had to watch 300 twice afterwards just to reclaim my masculinity, then I cried as I viewed the Spartan's abs, then looked at my own.) But it's a fine film, full of nice performances and wit all around. I liked this movie a lot, and I'm not that ashamed to admit it.

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