Archive for June 9th, 2010

09
Jun
10

“Dog” Couldn’t Help This ‘Bounty Hunter’

Building a (contrived/convoluted) mystery…

Starring Gerard Butler, Jennifer Aniston, Christine Baransky, and Dorian Missick. Directed by Andy Tennant

I imagine that in Hollywood there’s a real-life IMF (Impossible Missions Force). No, they don’t quell rebellions or sneak defectors out of countries; they’re job is to take implausible ideas that make no sense whatsoever, get a half-baked script, assign A-list (sometimes B) talent to the project, flood it with money and market the hell out of it. This highly-skilled covert Studio ops group are responsible for such things as making John Wayne look like a Mongol and Charlton Heston like a Mexican, greenlighting the career of M. Night Shyamalan, letting Arnold Schwarzenegger become pregnant in a movie, convincing us that Dane Cook is funny, and making action stars (like Ewan McGregor and Gerard Butler) into romantic leads. I think a conspiracy is afoot.

The movie opens and we’re introduced to Nicole Hurley (Aniston) and Milo Boyd (Butler). Milo’s sky-blue Cutlass is on fire from the trunk. He pulls over and stops, running to the back. Opening the trunk lid Nicole is waving a flare, kicks him in the groin, and runs out into a field. Milo immediately follows chase and tackles her the the ground. We find out that they are ex-husband and wife.

Then, we’re treated to see what happened in the twenty-four hours before that occurred. Enter Milo Boyd, alcoholic bounty hunter on a job. His target: a guy in an Uncle Sam costume on stilts. What Milo doesn’t know is that he’s being tracked by Dwight (Joel Garland), son of a bookie to whom Milo is $11,000 in the red. After a chase through a building and a float accidentally being set on fire, Milo captures his man but is taken in by police as well. He’s bailed out by his friend Bobby (Missick) who tells him that he should get over the divorce from his wife and not drink his life away.

Enter journalist/reporter Nicole Hurley, the only hot female on staff for her paper. Lovelorn loser Stewart (Jason Sudeikis) had a makeout session with her once at an office Christmas party when she was four sheets to the wind and thinks that they have something. She’s late for a court hearing because of a “traffic accident” (she side-swiped a police horse). When info on the suicide of a NYPD officer calls her to a location and time, she doesn’t show up at all. A bench warrant is issued for her arrest…

Which is convenient because the warrant is for $50,000. Sid (Jeff Garlin) promises Milo $5,000 if he can arrest his ex-wife and haul her to jail, which Milo is more than happy to do. Milo contacts his ex-mother-in-law Kitty (Baranski) who tips him off to the fact that she may be at the track. He intercepts her there and tries bringing her in.

Complications arise with the fact that Jimmy, the guy she was going to meet who had info on the police suicide, is kidnapped by a police officer/thug named Earl Mahler (Peter Greene) who is trying to keep everything a secret. Earl goes after Milo and Nicole to kill them both, keeping Jimmy locked in a closet at a tattoo parlor.

A few chuckles ensue as Milo and Nicole hate each other but have to keep each other alive as they avoid Dwight and Ray (sent by Irene, the bookie), Earl Mahler, and Stewart. Needless to say, plot problems and holes abound.

Sometimes I find myself asking, “Where did this movie go wrong?” and you can see from a distance the scene or point in time that everything went south. This is a movie in which you ask yourself, “Did anything in here go right?” Maybe I’m trying to hold a romantic comedy to a certain bar, but it’s the same bar I use for everything else. A movie should have a sense of accountability, not shrug it’s shoulder and be let off with a warning because it’s a rom-com.

That being said the main problem with this film is the story and its presentation. Both suck. The story was aiming to be like “Mr. and Mrs. Smith” but lacked the cool satire or even characters (or actors) that had chemistry with one another. Getting a $50,000 bench warrant for side-swiping an NYPD horse? Isn’t that extreme? Maybe it’s because of the cost of living… In a scene where an SUV is trying to push Milo’s Cutlass off the road, the SUV flips even though a) there’s no reason for it to flip and b) the guy who is driving it can fire a weapon and drive at the same time in an enclosed space, which takes some doing. I’m just saying…

And the characters were dumb a lot of times. Milo talks a good game a good chunk of the time but he’s no Duane Chapman (and this is from a guy who isn’t a fan). On a technical level he makes some bone-headed mistakes. Nicole does her fair share, too; in one scene they’re trying to avoid being killed by the police officer/thug/assassin and she’s walking on a concrete floor with high-heeled shoes. Smart.

This was the type of movie that a more-skilled director, like Guy Ritchie perhaps, could’ve done something with. Characters seemed to spout out lines that they didn’t feel comfortable in saying. Every time a plot point occurred I was looking for some guy on the far left or right to be pointing at a white sign that would say “This is what should be happening now.” It was so shoddily half-baked I almost expected a boom mic to fall into view at any moment. The shoot-out scene I mentioned above was so short and anti-climatic I wondered why they bothered having it at all.

A good bit of the problem (and what you really wanna know about) is the real question: do Aniston and Butler work well together? Well, “Gone With the Wind” it ain’t. Butler is a character actor and does well doing just that: portraying a character. Aniston plays Aniston playing whatever. These two worlds are like oil and water. For the first two-thirds of the film both of them barely look at another, as if they were forced to be on some blind date and a camera crew is taping them. After Aniston has a cry she’s “magically” into Butler and the rest runs fairly smoothly.

One final stake in the heart of this review is the music. The soundtrack pieces were okay and enjoyable; the incidental score seemed to “force” a feeling so much that a blind person could tell what was going on. “Are they creeping around in a dangerous place? ‘Cause that’s what the music sounds like.”

Final thoughts? I could not even recommend this over watching “Dog, the Bounty Hunter.”

My grade: C-

Chas Andrews is a freelance writer, blogger, movie critic, what-have-you. Check out his hardboiled crime tale, The Big Adios, at http://aidencobb.blogspot.com

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09
Jun
10

‘Bourne’ Dons Camo for the ‘Green Zone’

Mission Accomplished?

Starring Matt Damon, Greg Kinnear, Brendan Gleeson, Amy Ryan, Khalid Abdalla, and Yigal Naor. Directed by Paul Greengrass

Matt Damon and director Paul Greengrass team up once again for what some would call ‘Bourne 4.’ (‘The Bourne Conspiracy’ maybe?) It’s not a ‘Bourne’ film per se but if the ‘Bourne’ series and ‘The Hurt Locker’ had it a kid, this would be it. That’s not entirely a bad thing.

Damon is Roy Miller, leader of the 85th Division whose job is to search for WMD (Weapons of Mass Destruction). It’s 2003 and the U.S. has just began its war with Iraq. We’re bombing the country on a daily basis and have cut off the water and electricity, which isn’t making things any easier.

On an intensive mission into a hotspot, Damon and his company close-in on an abandoned factory to find… nothing. Returning to base he tries questioning some of the higher ups about the intel and the fact that every place his company is sent to is complete bunk; there are positively no signs that WMDs were ever there or manufactured there. The ranking Officers quickly shut him up, stating that the intel comes from a reliable source. Before heading to Al Monsour CIA official Martin Brown (Gleeson) tells him that yes, the intel is bunk and if he wants to do the right thing to give him a call.

Enter Special Intelligence official Clark Poundstone (Greg Kinnear). He’s heading up the group who plans to put an Iraqi exile in control of the Iraqi government now that Saddam has went into hiding. He’s also the guy responsible for informing the President that there were WMDs. Brown points out that in order to keep the country from going into civil war they need to put in place an Iraqi who has ties to the people, not a guy who has been in exile for 30 years. Poundstone doesn’t want to hear any of it and continues on.

Add to the mix Washington Post columnist Lawrie Dayne (Ryan). Poundstone is her source for information in regards to a character named “Magellan,” who is the one providing the intelligence on the Iraqi WMD sites. Dayne wants to speak with Magellan to confirm her stories and Poundstone claims that it’s out of his hands; Magellan is tightly locked-up. Dayne points out that as the guy overlooking Special Intelligence he should have access to Magellan; Poundstone doesn’t give an answer.

The Al Monsour site is being dug up and Miller is pissed. He knows that there’s nothing to find. When an altercation with an Iraqi named “Freddy” (Abdalla) leads him to follow a suggestion, Miller nearly comes face-to-face with the enemy: General Al Rawi (Naor), Saddam’s righ-hand man. It appears that several of the leaders of the Iraqi Army made a pledge to hold off from attacking the Americans until an agreement/contract could be made. Miller comes in on the tail-end of that deal and a firefight causes Al Rawi to go into hiding. Miller takes Freddy along as an interpreter so he can get the infamous “Jack of Clubs” (Rawi’s picture is on a deck of Iraqi leader playing cards).

After a prisoner Miller took hostage is taken from him, Miller goes to Brown who helps him devise a plan to get to a guy who can help him get to Rawi. They both believe that Rawi in control of Iraq will help bring peace. Dayne meets Miller and agrees with him that the WMD site info is complete B.S. and she makes mention of Magellan? Who is he? Poundstone finds out that Miller took a notebook from the prisoner he took and gave it to the CIA. That notebook contains the information on Al Rawi safehouses. It’s only a matter of time before Rawi is killed and if Miller’s going to save him, he’s going to have to act quickly.

This film is a spy film/political thriller with Army people. Damon isn’t so much ‘Bourne’ as he is a guy who actually cares and says, “Hey, what a minute! What’s going on here?” He’s not as smart as Bourne but he’s smart and agile enough, which are qualities he needs if being The Guy Who Gets Into a Conspiracy Against Those Higher Than His Paygrade. You know the scenario: guy finds something wrong. The Powers That Be try ignoring him at first but he gets under someone’s skin and people around him are killed left and right while the hunt is on for him, and he’s trying to get the piece of evidence that will blow the lid off everything.

This formula works for the film and provides interesting parameters. That is, the ones around him can’t really be killed because they all work for the same organization. Aside from that, it’s an action-adventure conspiracy movie that will have you guessing what will happen until the end.

And that may not work for a lot of people. I’m a fan of the “thinking movie,” and for those wanting emotional attachment to characters, you’re not going to find it here. The characters work but aren’t too deep because they are serving the story which acts as a fiction “What if this is the reason behind the war in Iraq?” I repeat: it’s fictional. Those wanting the hard, intensive grittiness of “The Hurt Locker” won’t find it here; no one stops to assess the damage done.

Gleeson is interesting as a CIA official and pulls off a non-descript accent fairly well. Kinnear works as the Special Intelligence official who leads us into the war but he could have been a little more evil. Amy Ryan is limited to being a third-wheel in it all, but works. And Damon has solidified his ability to be a “thinking” action star.

As I said, I liked it. Some films you walk out and while you like them, they’re popcorn; digest and move on. I would seriously consider seeing this film a second time because it’s more about the story being told than the sum of the characters in it. And yes, Greengrass breaks out the Shaky-Cam but after a while it becomes acceptable because there is a hint of truth to the story going on. A hint. Again, it’s a fictional “What If?” scenario that doesn’t stop until you know what happened and while not the hard-hitting piece that “Hurt Locker” or ones like it are, it doesn’t make it any less entertaining.

My grade: B+

Chas Andrews is a freelance writer, blogger, movie critic, what-have-you. Check out his hardboiled crime tale, The Big Adios, at http://aidencobb.blogspot.com

09
Jun
10

“Alice in Wonderland’s” Queen Trumps the Mad Hatter

Parable or allegory?

Starring Mia Wasikowska, Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter, Anne Hathaway, and Crispin Glover. Directed by Tim Burton. Based on the books “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” and “Through the Looking Glass” by Lewis Carroll.

NOTE: I watched this in Disney Digital 3-D.

I’ve never been a big “Alice in Wonderland” fan. I know the gist of the story: girl follows a white rabbit into a hole and enters a strange land inhabited by the translucent Cheshire Cat, the insane Mad Hatter, befuddled twins Tweedledee and Tweedledum, March Hare, blue hookah-smoking Absolem the caterpillar, and the Queen of Hearts with the signature phrase: “Off with their heads!” That’s as much as I remember.

As of late there has been a lot of discussion about Alice’s adventures and whether or not it was really kid story material. Granted the initial novel was written over a hundred years ago, and yes times have changed, but what was the story about? The current consensus is that it’s a weird tale of a girl running into even weirder characters, moving from event to event. Tim Burton saw this challenge and decided to give his own spin and story structure to Carroll’s famous characters.

When this tale begins, Alice is four years old and confesses to her father that she’s been having a weird dream filled with these various characters. Her father reassures her that even though she may be mad/bonkers/off of her head, some of the best are a little mad.

It’s now fifteen years later and Alice’s father has recently passed. Alice (Wasikowska) is now nineteen years of age and being taken by her mother (unknowingly) to an engagement party. Hamish Ascot (Leo Bill) is a red-headed Lord with digestive problems who plans to propose to Alice. Everyone at the party knows that he plans on asking for her hand in marriage at the gazebo. Hamish has title and money and in interest of those times, Alice would be a fool not to accept. Her only other option is to wait and end up like her Aunt Imogene (Frances de la Tour), a woman physically in account but mentally in her own world, forever waiting for her prince to come. Standing at the gazebo, Hamish on his knees proposing, Alice is emotionally overwhelmed and runs away, chasing after the white rabbit and falling into a hole.

After getting past the “cake makes you bigger, potion makes you smalle” debacle, Alice enters Wonderland and finds a weird wasteland that unfolds. She’s escorted by the chubby, dimwitted twins Tweedledee and Tweedledum (voiced by Matt Lucas) and the White Rabbit (voiced by Michael Sheen) to Absolem, a blue caterpillar smoking a hookah. The White Rabbit swears that she’s the correct Alice and Absolem replies that she’s not quite Alice yet. The Oraculum,” a scroll detailing the chronological history of all events regarding Alice, is produced and Alice is foretold to be the one who will save Underland by slaying the Jabberwocky, the Red Queen’s dragon.

Meanwhile, we meet the Red Queen (Helena Bonham Carter), a small tyrant with a giant, heart-shaped head of red that has a moat filled with the heads of the beheaded including her husband, the former King. The Knave (Crispin Glover) is her right-hand man. He’s incredibly tall with a scar across his face and a heart-shaped eye patch that changes from black to red. After retrieving the Oraculum, he commissions a bloodhound named Bayard (voiced by Timothy Spall) to find Alice. Alice must evade the Knave and slay the Jabberwocky, along the way befriending the Mad Hatter (Depp), March Hare (voiced by Paul Whitehouse), and Mallymkun the Dormouse (voiced by Barbara Windsor). She must also get the Vorpal Sword and conquer the dragon, Jabberwocky.

But the real question is: does it live up to the hype?

If not for the fact that this is based on books whose characters have permeated pop culture history (“White Rabbit” by Jefferson Airplane, anyone), probably not. If not for the fact that Johnny Depp is in it, probably not. If not for the fact that Tim Burton directed it, probably not. If one were to take out any of these three crucial elements, the film would’ve suffered. All three, and no one would have bothered to go see it.

Which brings me to say that as it lays, “Alice in Wonderland” is a good movie. Not great, but good enough. There’s a solid structure to the story going on which plays as either a parable or an allegory; you be the judge. The characters Alice meets in Underland are abstract caricatures of those back in the real world and just like the real world, Underland is forcing Alice to grow up; no more living life on her own terms of what she does or doesn’t want to do.

As noted in the title, the Queen of Hearts (Helena Bonham Carter) really sets this movie moreso than Depp. Depp is an interestingly complex Mad Hatter, sure enough, but this film really rests on the tyranny of the Queen of Hearts and in that department, Carter delivers. The Queen is more of a brat than a bitch per se which makes sense in Alice’s world.

On a filmmaking level this movie probably harkens more to “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.” There is a level of kid-friendliness to it, mixed with Burton’s grasp of visual desolation, but underneath it all is a heroine who needs to come to bat in order to save the world/grow up. On a visual level it’s not “Avatar” nor is it meant to be, but Burton does a well-enough job mixing live action green-screen technology and CG characters.

One problem I had with the film was The White Queen (Hathaway). Imagine if Arwen from “Lord of the Rings” danced around prim and proper and was shot with a creme-colored filter. I have heard that the White Queen was supposed to be as mad as the Red Queen but not show it, and that’s acceptable, but the character just didn’t work for me; she seemed to belong more to Middle Earth.

The other problem I had with the film was in the final act, and there are two: first, the Mad Hatter is supposed to do a dance better than anyone else. He does a funky jig (infused with some hip hop music) that just looks too goofy for any seriousness. Then again, I might be taking it too seriously. The second problem is that attention is diverted from Alice trying to slay the dragon to the battle between the White and Red Queen’s armies. This was unneeded, seeing as the movie was about Alice learning to grow up and take responsibility as opposed to two sides waiting eternally for some prophetic day when both will battle for sole control of wherever.

One final note: my favorite character was the Cheshire Cat (voiced by Stephen Fry). Great, cool character that was well done.

TRIVIA: Christopher Lee does the voice of the Jabberwocky. And for those who didn’t know, Lewis Carroll wrote that, too.

My grade: B

Chas Andrews is a freelance writer, blogger, movie critic, what-have-you. Check out his hardboiled crime tale, The Big Adios, at http://aidencobb.blogspot.com