Archive for September, 2010

14
Sep
10

Affleck Takes Moviegoers to ‘Town’

Hardboiled Affleck?

Starring Ben Affleck, Rebecca Hall, Jon Hamm, Jeremy Renner, Blake Lively, Pete Postlethwaite, and Chris Cooper. Written and directed by Ben Affleck. Based on the novel “Prince of Thieves” by Chuck Hogan

Gritty. Low-tech. Real. Honest. Violent. Southie crime drama. And it works.

Ben Affleck returns to the director’s chair with his second feature, “The Town.” If you haven’t seen his first, “Gone Baby Gone,” I recommend renting it. “The Town” is another crime drama set in South Boston and while it proudly follows in the footsteps of “The Departed” and “Boondock Saints,” it has its own distinction with a “whiff” of “Carlito’s Way” running through it. It all kicks off with two quotes about Charlestown: first, that it’s the capital of blue-collar crime and secondly that those who grow up there are proud of being from there, no matter how f’d up their lives become.

Doug MacRay (Affleck) is a former high school hockey star who returned to his hometown of Charlestown and decided to kick it by working in construction. And organizing armored car and bank heists. His crew includes his volatile best friend Jim Coughlin (Renner), who is like a brother to him, Desmond Eldon (Owen Burke) and getaway driver Albert Magloan (Slaine). The opening heist has them holding up a bank and taking hostage bank manager Claire Keesey (Hall). Immediately after they drop her off by the water and ditch the van, abandoning and setting it on fire in Charlestown.

Enter FBI investigators Special Agents Adam Frawley (Hamm) and Dino Ciampa (Titus Welliver). Frawley looks over any evidence left, which isn’t much and deduces that the people he’s dealing with are “not f’n around.” His only lead is with Keesey who can only repeat what little she doesn’t know. No prints, knowing when bank events were timed… he’s out for blood but with no direction to go. On a hunch he’s able to track down the crew having a cookout.

But the movie isn’t so much about what’s going on with everyone else as it is MacRay. Doug is haunted by the fact that his mother left him and his dad (Chris Cooper) when he was six. He tried breaking away from the small town but failing at hockey he returned and got sucked back in. His dad worked for Fergie the Florist (Postlethwaite) and is now doing hard time. His friend Jim’s family took him in and he even dated Jim’s sister Krista (Lively) who is a product of the area: in her twenties with a kid, drunk and strung-out on drugs. He wants to get out. He needs to get out. Just one last job…

Doug takes it upon himself to track and watch Claire to see what she knows and what she says. He finds that she’s a “yuppie” who lives in Charlestown and does volunteer work with kids. She has a good, decent. Doug finds himself falling in love with her, wanting to take her with him when he leaves Charlestown. He makes his mind up to get out but again, one last job.

The stakes are raised after a second armored car heist brings more attention to the crew who are already dressed as facially-decrepit nuns sporting assault rifles. Jim comes down on Doug for dating Claire citing that it could destroy everything they’ve built up. “Fergie” tells Doug that he can’t leave working for him because he won’t let him. Special Agent Frawley questions Claire a little more and informs her that her boyfriend Doug is a bank robber. Doug is being pulled down by the very forces he’s working to escape from. Will he make it out alive? Will Claire come with him?

From the opening action sequence of a perfectly planned bank heist to its somber end, “The Town” is a class-act thriller/noir/heist movie that makes no apologies for a “feeling” of being independent so much as it showcases good filmmaking. Following critical acclaim for directing “Gone Baby Gone” Affleck may be one of the better actor-turned-directors that exist in Hollywood. Watching the movie it feels real: car crashes don’t lead to explosions, weapons-fire doesn’t come with witty lines, and the characters and locale aren’t misunderstood –they are exactly what they are with little regret.

And maybe it’s that angle that works for this film. “Carlito’s Way,” which I mentioned earlier, seemed to inspire the vibe flowing through this film: the guy who just wants out and away from it all, who is trying to do good, to do the right thing around others who don’t want him to change for their purposes. It’s a cruel life-lesson that Doug MacRay learns but not entirely in the same way as Carlito Brigante.

Do I suggest this movie? Hell yes. Action scenes are done well and while they rush they do not feel like a “Bourne” scene. There’s enough tension to keep you on the edge of your seat every-other scene. The music works with the film. As for acting the actors seem to be at home with the characters.
Someone asked me last night what I thought of it. I would pay full price to see this movie again. It’s that good.

My grade: A

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06
Sep
10

Fake-Trailer Makes Good Movie with “Machete”

Machete improvises.

Starring Danny Trejo, Jessica Alba, Jeff Fahey, Steven Segal, Michelle Rodriguez, Cheech Marin, Don Johnson, Lindsay Lohan, and Robert DeNiro. Directed by Robert Rodriguez and and Ethan Maniquis

The cult fans asked and Rodriguez delivered. “Machete” is excessively violent, bloody, sexy… in other words: it’s exactly what you think it is from the get-go to the final frame. Since the return of the exploitation flick with “Black Snake Moan” and following with “Grindhouse” (or “Planet Terror” and “Death Proof”) “Machete” delivers exactly what’s required by hardcore “grindhouse” aficionados: all the “digitally added” crackles, scratched frames, and enough blood, gore, sex, and violence to make make audiences miss the good ole days of the drive-in slasher.

For those of you reading who don’t know, “Machete” was originally conceived as a “fake trailer” for the combined “Grindhouse” movie (“Planet Terror” and “Death Proof”). If you haven’t watched it search YouTube or rent “Planet Terror” on DVD. The movie’s story pretty much follows everything you see in the trailer.

“Machete” (Trejo) is a Federale which, in terms of the film, is loosely defined as “CIA, FBI, DEA, and military all wrapped-up in one big, badass burrito.” They’re the Mexican police. Going against orders Machete and his partner crash into a building with their car and Machete lays to waste a few baddies (decapitation, shooting them) before being subverted by a naked woman. Knifed through the chest by his own blade Machete’s forced to watch as ex-Federale-turned-criminal kingpin Torrez (Segal) murders his wife and daughter before his eyes.

Fast-forward three years. Machete is lone day laborer walking the streets of a border town. He gets money doing what he can when he can but staying off the radar. He confides in Luz (Michelle Rodriguez), a taco vendor who, as underground revolutionary “She,” runs The Network which sneaks illegals into the States and helps them find jobs. Luz is constantly under the watchful eye of Special Agent Sartana (Alba), a Federal agent who finds herself conflicted with the fact that she returns her own people over the border.

And therein is the underlying problem: what to do about the illegal immigrants coming into the United States. If pro-conservative Texas Senator McLaughlin (DeNiro) has his druthers, they’re sent packing back to the homeland. McLaughlin works closely with border sheriff/vigilante Lt. Stillman (Don Johnson with white porkchop sideburns) and shoots down any illegals that make it into the U.S. His staunch opposition of illegal immigration has him sliding downward in the political race.

Enter personal aide Booth (Fahey). On a whim he picks out “anonymous day laborer” Machete and pays him $150k for a job: shoot the Senator. Or he’ll be killed. Machete takes the job but is shot during the process and led into the underground Network. Machete’s face and profile are soon broadcast by the media and he’s forced into hiding.

Politics make strange bedfellows and Booth is no stranger to that. He setup Machete to shoot the Senator so the Senator’s approval rating for re-election will skyrocket, and it does. He’s also under the command of Torrez who recognizes who Machete is. The Hitman Osiris Amanpour (Tom Savini) is called in to dispatch of Machete but instead kills Padr (Marin). The stakes are raised, the Mexican laborers are outraged, and there’s a call for blood and vengeance. Will Machete answer?

The movie itself is cartoonish, excessive, trashy, with cornball humor and dialog but mostly it’s fun. It’s what “The A-Team” and “The Expendables” should’ve been, especially “Expendables.” No person in the movie let’s on that they know they’re in the movie -it plays one straight note for the entire length of the picture. You, the viewer, have to decide if that’s a note you want to see carried.

I was surprised to see a lot of the cast of the film. Don Johnson as the head of a group of vigilantes ate his part up and seemed to be having a good time making the film. I think Steven Segal got the joke of it all and played on that. Most surprising, in my opinion, was the inclusion of Lindsay Lohan. The movie has her playing as a “druggie” living under the roof of her affluent dad (Fahey). She only cares about her “exposure” and being streamed over the Internet. Her character probably doesn’t stray too far from her own personal one.

Is this one you should watch? If you’re a guy there’s enough language, violence, and nudity to go around. Lindsay Lohan and Jessica Alba wind up naked (how’d Rodriguez do that?) One-liners, shit blowing up, over-the-top action… if it’s not the greatest B-movie ever made, it’s damn near close.

From the seedy beginning to the “Good, Bad, and Ugly”-inspired opening to the coup de grace final showdown, “Machete” doesn’t stop nor does it disappoint. Favorite line: “Machete don’t text.”

My grade: B