Posted on 1/20/12 03:05 PM
It's kind of like Valhalla Rising in a car. Only the protagonist talks more, there's a love interest, a clearly defined antagonist & it's more of a thriller than in nature. So it actually isn't anything like Valhalla Rising, but it still great.
Posted on 11/24/10 04:46 AM
In the past decade, Brazil has become the world leader in crime/gangster dramas, in recent history Hollywood, Hong Kong, Japan etc. have failed to produce anything within said genre that can compare to City Of God or Carandiru as far as I'm concerned. I actually had misgivings going to this movie. I thought it was going to be a reactionary response to the aforementioned Brazilian movies that depicted the police in an overly romantic manner. Thankfully I was wrong.
In a nutshell, Elite Squad concerns 2 police force rookies that are placed in menial positions within the Rio police & the corruption to which they are exposed. The other primary character Captain Nascimento, is a commanding officer within BOPE, the elite squad of the title. BOPE is essentially the SAS or Navy Seals of the Rio police force. Captain Nascimento is also the narrator, though at first this narration actually aggravated my fears that this movie was a sort of Brazilian take on Dirty Harry. The narration brings to mind Travis Bickle in that he seems to diatribe about his disdain for criminals, crooked police & their supposedly socially conscious protectors.
As the film progresses however, the events on screen tend to undermine this notion of moral certainty, as the character & his BOPE colleagues engage in acts of extreme brutality that are depicted in an unflinching manner. The visual style works well, especially during one of the better trainig/boot camp sequences I've seen on film, that acts as a more gritty photo real counterpoint to the more stylised (but still superior) Paris Island sequences of Full Metal Jacket.
The acting in the film leaves a bit to be desired. The central characters of Neto & Andreas have a degree of depth to them, Neto is at first more happy go lucky but does an extreme (somewhat extreme) shift in tone to a more gung ho character when he joins the BOPE. Generally characters are 1 dimensional , that dimension being angry, wet liberal or corrupt.
Captain Nascimento does have a family to illustrate how work impacts on his personal life, but this arc feels a tad bit tagged on.
The character of Andreas, for me at least gives the film a more morally grey subtext than is obvious at first. He starts out as an idealist who sees the police force as a gateway to better things. He has to deal with being an outsider within his own corrupt police force & the at the college where he studies part time among the aforementioned 1 dimensional wet liberals. The tonal shift of his character, is as extreme as Neto's but in his case the films narrative supplies a suitably grave justification.
As far as I'm concerned, Tropa De Elite isn't a celebration of police brutality, if you read between the lines, it's actually about the loss of innocence & the brutalising effect needed to turn men into what are essentially soldiers.
*Edit* Since I first wrote this review I watched Johnnie To's Election movies, the line in the first paragraph about Hong Kong not producing decent gangster movies anymore is bullshit.
Posted on 10/18/10 03:56 PM
A movie I think is unfairly maligned. It has it's obvious flaws. Broad (to say the least) characters, clunky attempts to incorporate humour (the ADD kid for one) & the action when it finally does come is sloppily shot & paced.
Those major flaws aside, the film is still enjoyable & dare I say it cleverly constructed shlock. Essentially nothing of any real note happens in the first hour, but it's a compelling nothing. A lot of the performances misfire Jason Bateman's neurotic shtick doesn't really gel, but mercifully he's only on screen for a brief time, but there are also a few diamonds in the rough.
Chris Pine hams it up to a suitable degree as the leader of a trio of "redneck speedfreak Nazi" assassins. Ditto for Taraji P Henson, who channels the grit of a blaxpoitation heroine as the firebrand half of 2 woman hit team (the other half being Alicia Keys, who won't be winning any awards, but is still watchable) Ryan Reynolds manages the amazing, & actually transcends the inherent shlock of the material & manages to inject a few fleeting moments of discernible pathos into his performance.
Besides the aforementioned sloppy action scenes, the film's visual style actually does suit the fleeting shots that jump back & forth between the various strands of the plot. In spite of the general fast pace there are instances where will linger on a scene, & the contrast with the usual nippier pace does result in dramatic tension.
In summation, Smoking Aces isn't going to be troubling the AFI top ten (or 1000 to be honest) & the fact that it didn't sweep the Oscars that year was a shock to noone. On it's own terms however, as nihilistic action shlock, it works.
Posted on 7/16/10 11:21 AM
So Finally, it's here, Christopher Nolan's follow up to The Dark Knight. It's been hyped to the breaking point (which actually has been a little detrimental to the experience of actually watching the movie) but does it live up to these expectations. As far as I'm concerned it actually surpasses them. If I'm being honest I liked this movie a lot more than the Dark Knight.
The story is concerned with a group of criminals that are capable of entering the sub conscious via an individuals dreams. This is to gain access to information for the sake of corporate espionage, a process known as extraction. When one of these extractions goes wrong, the team are made an offer by their previous intended victim. He wants them to enter the subconscious of a business rival to implant an idea, a process known as inception. I won't go into the plot anymore lest I give away too much. But basically in short, the premise is highly original & the plotting of the film is incredibly engaging.
Though the premise is original, the actual content of the film is similar in spirit to a heist movie. There's scenes pertaining to recruitment of a collection of disparate characters & planning etc. There's also a good deal of action set pieces so the film works as a traditional movie going experience as well as working on a more cerebral level.
The movies visuals are very striking with grand sprawling shots of Urban landscapes like Tokyo & Mombassa coupled with more claustrophobic action shots in & around narrow African streets that never descend into Green Zone style shaky cam (though I've got nothing against that when it's used in moderation).The beautiful traditional photography is really complimented by the movies effects. The surreal dreamscape imagery feels like an extension of the natural environments. Nolan even manages to incorporate a considerable amount of slow motion into the film, which in theory sounds like the most clichéd cinematic technique imaginable, but in practice works in this context.
The cast is uniformly excellent, though no one jumps out as remarkable which in this instance, the cast being a relatively sizable ensemble, is probably the best praise I could give. If I had to choose standouts, in my opinion at least, I'd say Ken Watanabe who in spite of clearly not speaking English as a first language still exudes palpable charisma, Cillian Murphy, one of the most underrated actors working today (who's fallen off the Hollywood map in recent years), who plays it subtle for the most part, but manages to add an extra layer of pathos to he films conclusion & Tom Berenger, who hasn't been in a theatrical release since 2002 apparently (but we'll seeing more of him if this is anything to go on) who takes what could easily have been a 1 dimensional aggressive caricature & gives the character an underlying depth. But as I said the cast as a whole worked perfectly.
If you're wondering why I didn't give this movie the perfect 100%, well simply, as great as I think it is, it's not quite perfect. I did have issues with the climax & how an aspect of the plot was resolved that didn't make sense, at least by my understanding of the rules of how the dream worlds of the film actually work. This plot point felt like it had been glossed over.
But beyond my own nitpicking, Inception is most definitely a film of the highest quality. It's the best movie I've seen in the cinema so far this year (& I haven't spotted anything on the horizon that could outdo it frankly). Christopher Nolan has struck gold again. See this movie & pay full price for your ticket, this kind of quality deserves to be a blockbuster.
Posted on 7/07/10 09:26 AM
Wow, I know you're supposed to turn your brain off when you watch these types of movies but sweet lord Tango & Cash is so ham-fisted. It's saved from getting a zero by the ludicrous opening scene which involves Tango (Stallone) stopping an 18 wheeler with a tiny police issue .38 revolver. Beyond that it commits the action cinema No No of being crushingly dull. Barring a brief chase involving Kurt Russell & a hitman & the awful finale, there are no action setpieces to speak of. I know it's going for a Lethal Weapon style mismatched buddy comedy but that requires at least a modicum of character development. As a sidenote, the underscore of this movie, even by horrible 80s synth standards, is actually unpleasant to listen to. Basically avoid this movie, if you catch the opening scene on television, watch it, then change the channel immediately. Beyond that Tango & Cash has no redeeming qualities, it's not even possible to appreciate the movie as kitsch. Just avoid at all costs.
Posted on 4/29/10 04:09 PM
Are you looking for a deeply engrossing narrative with rich character & a script hat delves deep in the complex issues that effect your very world view.? No? Excellent, then you're probably in the right frame of mind for Shoot em up. A movie that I can only describe as action packed gun porn.
The plot involves a loner tough & hooker with a heart protecting a new born baby from shadowy gun men. But for all intents & purposes the plot in this gun porn is like the plot in actual porn, filling. Something to fill the gap between the action sequences. To be fair, there are some good one liners & there's even a message (but it's possibly the most retarded one possible in this context).
The action scenes are retarded in the best possible way. Clive Owen mows down a veritable assembly line of nameless goons in increasingly creative ways. There's shootout car chases, shootout skydives, shoot out's at playgrounds, shootouts in the public toilet, puppet guns (seriously) there's even a shootout at a gun factory. It isn't just guns, people are killed with carrots on 2 separate occasions. Basically it's big dumb fun.
The cast are good, Clive Owen does the wisecracking bad ass thing well (his role reminded me of his character in Sin City (sans the iffy American accent)). Monica Bellucci lays on the melodrama incredibly thick (once again not a bad thing) & looks great, it's hard to believe she's pushing 50. Paul Giamatti is, in my opinion, the standout, you can tell he knows the movie is schlock, & he just hams it up to the extreme. The rest of the supporting cast... Who am I kiddin? Everyone else serves as cannon fodder for the action goodness. Basically nobody's getting an Oscar but they all work well with the material.
There are down sides. The filler plot can stretch on a bit too long & you start to get antsy waiting for someone to get shot (or stabbed with a carrot). I'm not saying the dialogue is terrible, as previously stated there are some good one liners, but it's not the movies strong suit. Also for a film that aiming for our most base instincts that features Monica Bellucci, it could've used more nudity (Yeah!!! I Said it!!!) & explosions. The other big black mark is the aforementioned colossally retarded "message" (which might have been included as a joke (it certainly isn't presented that way)) that just causes the movie to fall a little in my estimation.
All & all, Shoot em up is quality retardtainment . If you liked Smoking Aces this should be right up your alley.
Posted on 4/27/10 04:01 PM
I'd like to just begin by saying I was no fan of A History of Violence. I thought it was an overhyped overly lauded disappointment. It was touted as this great treatise on the nature of violence but all I saw was a poorly scripted mess with a promising premise that devolves into painful stupidity, robotic performances, clunky dialogue & over the top violent set pieces that brought to mind an 80's action movie & just (to me at least) gave the film an air on unintentional humour that had me chuckling at the most inopportune moments (the bit where Tom Stall admonishes his son for being violent by slapping him, that whole exchange, just get's me everytime).
There might be an overlying message about violence in there but it's just too well hidden by an awful film. Though don't take my word for it the general consensus is that A History Of Violence is a masterpiece.
You may be asking yourself why I'm talking about a different film. My reasoning is two fold. Now that I've laid out why I disliked A History of Violence, I don't have to give it a review (snap!!) & ruin my recent trend toward positivity. The other reason, that movie weighed heavily on my mind before I watched Eastern Promises. For the longest time, I couldn't bring myself to watch this movie because of the actor/director pairing of David Cronenberg & Viggo Mortensen.
Don't get me wrong I like a lot of Cronenbergs stuff (Dead Zone, the criminally underrated Spider starring Ralph Fiennes) & Mortensen was/is Aragorn as well as Lalin & Lucifer. But the taint (huh huh "taint") of A History of violence, it poisoned them to me as a combo.
So eventually I bit the bullet, & decided to watch Eastern Promises & within a few minutes of the opening (in my estimation at least) the firm of Cronenberg/Mortensen was completely forgiven.
Eastern Promises is about the inner workings of Russian Organised Crime. But it's also about a midwife (played by a slightly wonkily accented Naomi Watts) & her investigation of the circumstances of a young Russian teenager that dies in childbirth in her ward. She finds a diary which leads her to a Russian club owned by the seemingly lovely old man Semyon (played by Armin Mueller-Stahl). She also encounters his loutish son Kirill (played by the tres excellent Vincent Cassell) & his driver/bodyguard/"undertaker" Nikolai (played by the Viggo Mortensen). They're embroiled in their own mess that relates back to murder of a fellow mobster. These distinct plot threads begin to embroil as the film progresses.
As a whole the story is well constructed. You'll engage with & want to know how everything will resolve itself. The story does start to lose it's way a little before the end with character's deviating from their established persona in a way I didn't find convincing. There's also a twist, that becomes apparent a little too early in the run time. Violence is used sparingly with only the occasion flash, which it turns gives those moments a greater degree of impact.
The performances from the leads are all good. In spite of her aforementioned wonky accent Naomi Watts is well suited to her role. Armin Mueller-Stahl gives equal doses of grandfatherly warmth & subtle menace with just occasional flashes of extreme emotion. Mortensen imbues his character with the right seemingly laissez faire tone but also shows an ability for physicality when required. In my opinion the man that steals the film is Vincent Cassel, he manages to display a ferocious (but obviously) overcompensating bravado. He also properly illustrates the love hate dynamic that exists between his character & the character of Nikolai while Mortensen imbues his character with an obviously protective feeling towards Kirill that is also tinged with a degree of disdain.
Another element I think is worthy of praise is that in spite of the fact that none of the supposed Russian mobsters is actually Russian, none of them sounds like a cartoon Russian stereotype.
Eastern Promises, isn't perfect. The way the story begins to lose the run of itself a little before the end keeps it from that but is still a film that I would heartily recommend
Posted on 4/26/10 03:08 PM
I went into Waltz With Bashir with high expectations. I'd heard so much about how it was a powerful anti war film but also visually stunning. For once, these high expectations were most definitely exceeded. This movie more than justifies the accolades & acclaim that it has received.
The film is partially a documentary following filmmaker Ari Folman as he tries to reconstruct his experiences during the Lebanon war of 1982. Of particular interest to him is the Sabra & Shatila massacre which he was present at but he has no memory of, save for a vague dream about walking out of the ocean.
Rather than doing a simple documentary consisting of talking head interviews & archive footage Folman decided to use animation to tell his story. This adds an extra depth to his vision & alllows Folman to seemlessly incorporate a depiction of dreamscapes into the narrative. Seeing as dreams are such an essential element of his motivation this hugely original approach just fits the material perfectly.
The tone of the film deviates between a lighter more humourous one where the madness of war is explored to a more sombre mood when the horrors are illustrated & when dealing with how war impacts on the men that carry it out. This balance is struck pitch perfectly. There are never any scenes, shots or visuals that seem inappropriate. The device of changing from animation to live action in the concluding scenes makes for some powerful images.
From a purely technical standpoint the film looks stunning. It has a cell shaded comic book feel. The animation in turn isn't always the most fluid feeling more like cells from a comic that are just barely moving & other times during more high tempo scenes the animation is wonderfully dynamic & rivals the best Disney or Studio Ghibli material. Once again this actually varies depending on the intended tone of the scene but just always seems to work. This may sound clichéd but there were actually instances when I was literally transfixed by what I was seeing on screen.
The film's soundtrack is also worthy of utmost praise. It combines period pop & rock tracks, classical pieces & original compositions in a way that always complements the visuals perfectly.
In closing Waltz With Bashir is a definite must see. It's one of the most powerful anti war films I've ever seen but it isn't weighed down by any overt political leanings instead choosing to explore human factors & how war is felt on a personal level. For anyone that has an appreciation of film in terms of aesthetics & as a means of engagement of the mind this a film tailor made for you.
Posted on 4/22/10 04:40 PM
La Haine (or Hate for you non Francophones out there) is a very important piece of cinema. It was so important it was actually screened for the then French government as a sort of information to get them up to speed about the strife at the heart of French society & the tensions that existed between the police & France's minority communities (as a sidenote Chuck Norris' reactionary action suckfest Delta Force (rated R for Retarded) was screened for the US senate during the 80's, read into that what you will (though to their credit most of them apparently left before the end)).
Did the movie change anything?? Short answer...nope. France still suffers bouts of rioting in it's poorest estates/projects to this day. Is La Haine a powerful snapshot of an urban environment in upheaval? You'd better believe it.
In the simplest terms the story of la Haine revolves around a day in the lives of 3 friends in a rundown housing scheme. The day in question follows a night of severe rioting caused by an instance of police brutality against a young Arab man. The day is marked by varoious misadventures from a barbecue on the roof being broken up by the police to a bathroom argument being interrupted by a dwarf telling a story about the importance of shitting that involves a trip to a Siberian gulag. It's an interesting journey to follow. They even get to see how the other half lives in Paris city centre. In spite of it's reputation as a message movie, The tone of the film is predominantly generally jovial with flashes of emotional depth petered throughout.
The three friends are Arab Saïd (Saïd Taghmaoui) African Hubert (Hubert Koundé) & Jew
Vinz (Vincent Cassel) (I don't know where those character names came from). Vinz is the wannabe gangster, who quotes Taxi driver into a mirror & dreams of getting revenge on the police. Said is more happy go lucky, he doesn't see the point of the riots & is instead more interested in making some money & girls. Hubert is the cool one. He's realised the futility of the cycle of crime & violence & wishes to leave his life behind.
All 3 leads do wonderful work in their particular roles. Cassel's portrayal of Vinz is full of bravado but he also conveys the insecurity at the characters heart. Saïd strikes the balance between a wisecracking streetwise persona that hides a child like innocence. Taghmaoui can convey a genuine sense of hurt in instances when his character is disrespected. Hubert is the most subtle character. His expression is often a blank one, but that work in the context of this character, someone who's become exasperated at his situation & simply tolerates life. When the time comes for more emotionally heavy material, all 3 of these actors are just as skilled as they are with the more comedic stuff. The dynamic that exists between the trio feels like a real friendship, they banter, they bicker, they bullshit. When a narrative is so reliant on a group of friends this genuine feeling of friendship is incredibly important.
The film looks amazing. It's filmed in black & white & for some reason that just works here. There are a number of spectacular visuals over the course of the film from a dolly shot that rises up to look down over the tower blocks to another poster worthy static shot of the three main characters framed against the grand old buildings of central Paris. There's a good balance between scenes that are heavily stylised & more mundane moments that are captured in a more naturalistic fashion.
The film has been compared to Spike Lee, but I personally don't think that's fair. It's not as heavy handed in it's approach as a lot of his work. The film even makes note of the fact that not all police are bad (there's even a sympathetic cop character who didn't fell shoehorned in), but then kind of muddies the message by having the protagonists run in to cops that would've fitted in well with the Gestapo. Fortunately the scenes with the really bad cops are so powerful & hard to watch the film is actually better for their inclusion.
La Haine, isn't perfect. There's a running gag with a cow that I didn't really get. It felt a bit pointlessly surreal & like something that would be included in a parody of arthouse cinema. But as a whole Mathieu Kassovitz crafted something of the utmost quality. The film is a social commentary but not oppressively so. It's got humour & pathos. It'll make you feel for characters that (lets be honest) if you encountered in reality you'd probably cross the street to avoid. There are even philosophical motifs to ponder.
Yes Indeed, there is almost nothing to hate in la Haine (I apologise profusely for the rubbishness of that last line).
Posted on 4/21/10 03:22 PM
Grosse Point Blank is an unusual movie. It's predominantly a comedy with moments throughout that make me laugh (unlike most comedies that I always feel begin to peter out going into the final act). It features John Cusack, who normally I'm not a huge fan of, but in the context of this movie is great. It features a hip soundtrack, which in a lot of cases means you're in for a horribly smug that's all too self aware & in love with how smart it is. Don't get me wrong, this is a smart movie but not in an achingly knowing to the point of irritation way.
As I said I'm not a huge fan of John Cusack, he tends to be in (at least in my experience) Teen/rom coms that I tend to avoid like the plague. Of course I do like Say Anything & the character he plays in that movie is channeled in his performance here. Martin Blank is a hitman who's beginning to lose his enthusiasm for his chosen profession. He agrees to take one last job in his home city which just happens to coincide with his 10 year high school reunion. This will bring him into contact his high school sweetheart whom he abandoned on prom night.
Further complicating things is an offer from a fellow assassin who wishes to form a guild/union. This offer is (of course) of the join or die variety. So essentially Martin Blank has to navigate the social niceties of getting reacquainted with former classmates ("what has he been doing for the past ten years?") while all the while dodging bullets.
In my opinion a comedy film more than any other genre is dependent on 2 essential elements. Script & performances. This movie has a very sharp script managing to balance snappy dialogue & moments of physical & visual comedy with some high octane John Woo(though not as stylised) style action. The humour has a suitably dark tone.
The performances are good all around, John Cusack, gives his character a jittery quality that makes you feel as though this is a character that's just a little paranoid & always aware of his surroundings. Off setting this is the natural charm he exudes in his interactions with other characters. This charm is tinged with a memorised quality that underlies that the character is something of a sociopath & said charm at least in some instances is learned behaviour. Minnie Driver, who plays Debbie the literal girl of Martin Blanks dreams, also nails her character. Her portrayal manages to balance a cool distance with a underlying vulnerability & hesitation fearing she will be hurt again. There's a great chemistry between the 2 leads.
The rest of the supporting cast is top notch (in spite of limited screen time for most of them). Jeremy Piven manages to display the energy he would put into Ari Gold, in his performance as Martin's abandoned best friend Paul. The character feels needy & has a genuine sense of hurt about him. Dan Ackroyd, hams it up (to an appropriate degree) as Grocer a rival assassin. Joan Cusack, delivers a great performance as Martin's folksy yet foul mouthed Secretary/Personal Assistant. Alan Arkin, Mitchell Ryan, Hank Azaria, the class mates at the reunion. There are too many great performances to name them all. I'd give special praise to world class kickboxer Benny "the Jet" Urquidez (who was probably just hired for his ability in action scenes) manages to provide one of my favourite comedic moments when his assassin Felix LaPoubelle goes "undercover" at the reunion (they're his only lines but I really like the gag).
Grosse Point Blank isn't perfect. There are issues with pacing & some of the cuts seem clunky. Also some of the former classmates look a smidge too old to be at a ten year reunion. But as I said scripting & performance trump everything else in comedy so these faults don't take too much away from the film as a whole.
This movie is a tonne of fun & even has a bit of 80's nostalgia (if you're into that sort of thing). It's definitely one of the comedies of the 90's & (in my opinion) of all time.