Archive for the 'movie releases' Category



08
Dec
16

#37. Rio Bravo (1959)

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Starring John Wayne, Dean Martin, Ricky Nelson, Ward Bond, and Angie Dickinson

Directed by Howard Hawks

The Short, Short Version:

John Wayne is John T. Chance, sheriff of an old West town who, with the help of his deputy and drunken friend “Dude” (Dean Martin) locks in jail local bad guy Pat Wheeler (Bond). Unfortunately Wheeler is part of the Burdette gang which all but runs the town. While they plot Pat’s escape it’s up to Chance and the Dude along with an older, crippled deputy named Stumpy (Walter Brennan) and a young gunslinger named Colorado Ryan (Ricky Nelson) to “hold the fort” at the jail until Federal Marshals can arrive.

Why This Made the 40:

In what feels like an eon ago I had a film class called Film as Literary Art which was taught by a British guy named Tony Hawk. I can still remember how distinct his voice was. That aside, our syllabus covered the films of Howard Hawks and this made the class (as well as Wayne’s, “Hitari!”). While I only became a moderate fan of Hawks’ work I did come away with movies I greatly appreciated such as “Rio Bravo.”

I think one of the reasons I like, “Rio Bravo,” so much is that I’m a sucker for tales of redemption. I was talking with a friend of mine recently whom I let borrow films and I didn’t realize that was an underlying theme – redemption. The characters have to all redeem themselves in some way – Dude goes from being an alcoholic to sober to clean himself out and up. Colorado Ryan and Stumpy want to prove their worth. John Chance gets another chance at love. Redemption.

Also, Hawks treated “Rio Bravo” not as a Western movie but a hybrid between the morally-conscious prior films such as “High Noon,” and TV Westerns such as “Maverick,” “Lawman,” etc. It’s entertainment with action, adventure, romance, suspense, and comedy – one of those rare blended-films of the genre which makes this movie actually fun to watch. It’s a half-popcorn, half-morality tale cinematic adventure.

And it’s got Dino (Martin). What’s not great about this movie?

21
Jul
16

Phone’s Ringin’: Ghostbusters Review

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I ain’t afraid of no Class Four apparitions…

Starring Kristen Wiig, Melissa McCarthy, Kate McKinnon, Leslie Jones, and Chris Hemsworth. Directed by Paul Feig

There are three tiers to remakes. Tier One consists of the ambivalent – remakes that someone at the studio green-lit because they were cheap to do. Very few people went to see the original movie and even fewer went to see the remake (or even KNEW it was a remake). Tier Two consists of the Endeared – those remakes that quite a few people saw Round One and who may or may not go to see the remake. Did “X” actor who starred in the original show up as the cabbie/old neighbor/guy at the bar/person espousing a quote? How much did it differ from the original? Do I like it better than the other(s)? These questions surround the production of the remake whether it’s “Gone In 60 Seconds,” “Sorcerer,” “Crimson Tide,” “Conan the Barbarian,” “Total Recall,” “Judge Dredd,” etc. These are give/take movies and some prefer the remakes to the original and vice-versa. Finally, Tier Three – the Sacred. These are films which are slated for remake that the viewing public has put on a pedestal or elevated to such a height that no matter what the act of remaking the story is heresy. While I have not (presently) heard of any proposed remakes of “Green Mile” or “Shawshank Redemption” the viewing public has such a reverence for them that the jury has already decided before the trial has begun. Such is/was the case with the new “Ghostbusters” film. A collected confabulation makes us forget “Ghostbusters 2.” Or the animated series. Or Dan Akyroyd showing up in “Casper.” Or the video game. Like being delivered a gift from the top of the mountain fanboys have set the original as not the bar, but the rule with no exceptions. I am here to tell you this:

It was a fun movie. Get over it.

If you already hate the movie without seeing it there’s no way you’re going to have your opinion swayed. Here’s the rundown (*Spoilers ahead*)

Erin (Kristen Wiig) is a college professor working on achieving her tenure when the owner of a historical house (Ed Begley, Jr.) confronts her about her past. Specifically, that Erin co-wrote a book about ghosts with her then-friend/college roomie Abby (Melissa McCarthy). Peeved that Abbie broke her promise to never release the book to the public Erin pays her a visit.

We find Abby as part McCarthy schtick/part-Akyroyd and Ramis. She knows the science and believes in what she’s doing. Her cohort in crime in Jillian (McKinnon) is equal parts Akyroyd, Ramis, and Jeff Goldblum; she’s the engineering geek counterpart. Erin mentions the haunted historic house and all three are well on their way to experiencing their first ghost. After Erin’s professional reputation is destroyed via YouTube the three decide to form a ghost-searching alliance making their office in the floor above a Chinese restaurant (they couldn’t afford the firehouse). Along the way they hire on secretary/clerk Kevin (Hemsworth) and MTA worker Patty (Jones) who “knows New York.” Meanwhile, a hotel deskhop named Rowan (Neil Casey) is using Abby and Erin’s research to create a vortex of malevolent spirits to enslave the Big Apple.

Love it or hate it is the simplicity of the story. There are no real sub-stories; no love interests, no ulterior motives. What I enjoyed about the movie was that, as one reviewer put it, “it’s everything a blockbuster movie should be,” and that is completely true. Nevermind the seemingly thin plot; it’s about having fun at the movies and this movie, above others I have seen this year (with the exception of “Deadpool”) was the most fun I’ve had watching a movie in a while. The scene where the “Ghostbusters” go full action-movie slaying of ghosts is well warranted and worth it. In fact, McKinnon’s comically ambiguous character (and trust me, she’s pretty damn ambiguous) nearly steals the show. Nearly. Props go to Chris Hemsworth (aka Thor, Captain Kirk’s dad, etc.) who takes the stereotypical “dumb guy” seen in every-other female led film and plays it to the hilt; his interview scene alone is one of the funniest comedic interchanges I’ve ever watched. Doing this may allow more roles to open for him pending downtime from the Marvel movies. Wiig does a good enough job, McCarthy has toned-down her McCarthyism, and Leslie Jones doesn’t do too bad.

The main issue that plagues this movie, aside from the vitriol of purist fanboys, is the stigma “Ghostbusters” has attached to it. Had this been labeled anything else it would be the go-to movie of the summer. Sure, they do a few nods to the original but treat it with respect. Other than that the movie is cut-and-dried and as lean as possible which isn’t necessarily bad. Do I feel that this movie will have cinematic gravitas; ergo, that future generations will look at this film and raise it to the same pedestal as the original? No, but the sequel never hit that level either. And what of the fact that it may lead to more female-led remakes of other properties? Well, “Dracula” eventually had a black/African-American version called “Blacula.” “Barb Wire” was basically a remake of “Casablanca.” The Wayans Brothers even did their full-length remake of a Warner Brothers cartoon. Get over it; get a life.

Lastly, I will mention the spoiler of spoilers – yes, most of the cast from the original (sans Rick Moranis) make cameos ranging from a bust in a hallway to a noted parapsychologist trying to debunk their work, a cab driver, a hotel desk clerk, a funeral home owner and a mentoring scientist. I’ll let you figure out who is who.

My grade: C+/B-. It’s fun for the whole family.

30
Nov
15

Terminator: Genisys Is More Than a Land of Confusion

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Starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, Emelia Clarke, Jason Clarke, Jai Courtney, and J.K. Simmons. Directed by Alan Taylor

Gotta go back in time…

Having spent years growing up watching science fiction TV shows and movies I know most of the tropes and sub-genres: time-travel, aliens, special “powers,” body swapping, shrinking/supersizing people/animals, and the Fear of the Computer Overlords (among others). Time-travel and fear of technology have been the cornerstone of the “Terminator” franchise since the release of the first film in 1985. Everyone in my generation knows the story by heart: a restaurant waitress is unmercifully tracked down in (then) modern-day Los Angeles by a cyborg sent from the future to kill her, thus ceasing the human resistance. Her savior is a soldier by the name Kyle Reese sent from the future to protect and save her from the killing machine so she can give birth to the leader of the Resistance, one John Connor.

Before I go into detail about how this movie leaves the original two without a kiss, “thank you,” or Vaseline, let’s talk about time-travel. It’s difficult to get it right, even in the movies. The best example anyone can give would be the foreshadowed, “Back to the Future.” What if you went back in time, met your parents, and bungled them getting together? Also, how does one return to their present time in a DeLorean? “BTTF” looked at time as a singular string that you could remove yourself from and return to. “Back to the Future II” expanded on time-travel but changed aspects of time-travel to include alternate timelines (which is a subject for another day). Essentially, most movies of this type or trope bank on time itself being a single ribbon that only gets changed, not sprouting multiple other ribbons. Peppered down through the list are such films as “Millennium,” “TimeCop,” “Time Lapse,” “The Time Machine,” “Somewhere in Time,” “Predestination,” “Safety Not Guaranteed,” “Star Trek IV: the Voyage Home,” “Galaxy Quest,” “Time After Time…” I literally could go on about them. In each case there is at least one question that, if asked, would unravel the logic of the movie in one fell swoop. For instance: in “Back to the Future” Marty’s parents abstaining from being together nearly wipes out him, his brother and sister. However in “Back to the Future II” Biff steals the DeLorean and goes back to 1955 to give his younger self Gray’s Sports Almanac, which leads to 1985 being ruled by Biff, but the 2015 Biff left from does not change around Marty, Jennifer, or Doc. Heavy. “Terminator: Genisys” is no exception.

Spoilers ahead. You’ve been warned.

Okay, I’ve only watched the movie once so if it sounds confusing to you it’s even moreso when you watch the film. It’s the future and Resistance is fighting back against the SkyNet computer-controlled landscape. Humans are kept in pens like animals as the machines rule. Upon finding out plans for a new threat the Resistance is able to send back one soldier, Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney), to protect Sarah Connor from being terminated.

Got it? This is where the stories diverge.

After SkyNet sends back a T-100 resistance soldier Kyle Reese (Jason Clarke) jumps in to follow it back to 1984. Before leaving John Connor is compromised by a new type of Terminator. Upon arriving in 1984 Reese finds that his mission has now been changed: SkyNet sent back a Terminator to kill Sarah (Emelia Clarke) when she was 9 years old in 1973 and was saved by a reprogrammed T-800 (Schwarzenegger, reprising his role). Note: no mention of this occurs elsewhere in the movie. It’s now been 11 years since that has happened and she knows of the storyline and is waiting for Reese to show, which he does. Unbeknownst to them ANOTHER Terminator, a T-1000, was sent to kill Kyle Reese, Sarah Connor, and any other person or thing that would help the original storyline come true. Meanwhile, the T-100 Ah-nuld is walking around the Griffith Observatory naked and is confronted by T-800 Ah-nuld. A fight ensues and the T-100 is killed. One down…

Reese is saved by Sarah and the T-800. She quickly relays to him that the timeline has now been changed. She’s closer to the “T2” Linda Hamilton Sarah Connor than original waitress-turned- commando Hamilton. I guess training from the age of 9-forward to be a Resistance fighter IS a certain kind of Boot Camp… Sarah doesn’t want to tell Kyle they have to “get it on” in order for John Connor to be the leader of the Resistance and holds out most of the movie from letting him know. But that’s not important right now – they have to get to 2017. Reese has been having dreams that run on an alternate timeline and he’s being sent a message: destroy Genisys. Realizing it was a giant, time-sucking, all-encompassing software package across multiple platforms and used by desktops, tablets, and smartphones that would become sentient (sound familiar to anything?) they must know follow Reese’s pieces of dreams and be sent to 2017 San Francisco.

Arriving naked on a highway overpass in the middle of the night they are taken to the hospital and into custody where Detective O’Brien (Simmons) regales about meeting them in 1984. The T-800 is hunting them down only to be preceded by John Connor who went back to 2014. Why? Right as Reese was leaving a “new” Terminator grabbed Connor before wiping out the rest of the Resistance. The Machines were able to change John on a molecular level making him as much human as machine, but to do their bidding and what better way to do this than sending him back in time to a point where the technology was developing enough to create new Machines, etc. Now T-800 (“Pops”), Sarah, and Reese must not only save 2017, but the rest of the world.

Make sense? Maybe on paper but not really. “Genisys” is 1/3 nostalgia and 2/3 confusion. This “re-purposing” of the “Terminator” franchise is an exercise in futility. My “Bullshit!” meter went off so constantly that I just gave up trying to enjoy the film and waited for the ending to be played out. And what did we (as an audience) learn? Yes, you can save the day and tomorrow may be brighter but eventually the machines will kill us all. Hasn’t that been the moral of every one of the films?

Praise for Emilia Clarke in wanting to channel her inner “T2” Hamilton. She had a tough job to “reconstruct” and the only other person I see who could’ve came close would be an actress like Michelle Rodriguez. Jason Clarke as Kyle Reese is less intense and more stupefied and has little chemistry with Emilia. Jai Courtney is great as a more fully-realized John Connor and is the fifth actor to portray him. And Ah-nuld is… Arnold. He was having fun and cashing a check.

If you were reading into what I said above then here’s that point where “Terminator: Genisys” can be unraveled: if the machines had just sent the T-100 back for the first time, which was then followed by Kyle Reese being sent back (both to 1984), AND the new Terminator just took control of John Connor as Reese was out the door… when was the T-1000 sent to 1984? Or the Terminator sent to kill Sarah Connor in 1973? Or when did the Resistance get a T-800 reprogrammed to kill the T-100 sent back to 1973? Or when did… I’ll stop. You get the point.

My grade: a head-scratching WTF. Or, D. Recommendation: not really but if you want, Redbox/Netflix/cable watch it.

 

12
Oct
10

Will You Logoff for ‘Social Network’?

If only logging on to Facebook was this compelling…

Starring Jesse Eisenberg, Andrew Garfield, Rooney Mara, Armie Hammer, Max Minghella, Rashida Jones and Justin Timberlake. Directed by David Fincher. Based on the book “The Accidental Billionaires” by Ben Mezrich

If this review is read in the far future… you know, the one with the flying cars, jetpacks, and teleportation devices just like “Star Trek,” I wonder how we’ll look back at applications such as Twitter and the current ultimate networking platform, Facebook. Will we look upon these days and reminisce about wasting time on Mafia Wars or Farmville just as others wax laconic about Tetris and Mine Sweeper? Will Facebook concede its crown just as MySpace did? How archaic will “tagging” photos or creating groups like We Graduated High School So Why Are You Still Living In It? seem passe? To lean on the cliché only time will tell and who knows? Maybe I’ll get a chuckle out of reading this review.

At first the choice to helm a movie about culture current technological fad may seem odd. David Fincher. The guy who directed “Seven,” “The Game,” “Fight Club,” “Panic Room,” “Zodiac,” and “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.” If you look at his resume he’s the perfect candidate for the job: the man knows his technology. He’s Robert Zemeckis with a socio-political message wrapped in the veneer of a mystery. The conspiracy inside “The Game” showed that anyone and anything could be reached and turned against someone. “Fight Club” used technology not only for effects but to emphasize its effects on masculinity. Jodie Foster found herself trapped inside a high-security box fighting for her survival in “Panic Room.” In “Zodiac” Fincher used technology to recreate the San Fran area in the Seventies as well as aging Brad Pitt backwards in “Benjamin Button.” And now the spotlight is shown on our electronic fascination with “Social Network.”

Mark Zuckerberg (Eisenberg) is a computer student at Harvard. With a certain nebbish nature he talks a mile-a-minute on a timeline the solely exists inside his head which makes him difficult to deal with or relate to. Any moment he shares with someone appears spent before he even starts it. One night his girlfriend Erica Albright (Mara) breaks up with him because she can’t stand him anymore. Pissed-off and drunk he returns to his dorm room and blogs about his ex-girlfriend, complaining about the size of her breasts and comparing her with farm animals. With the help of his best friend/roommate Eduardo Saverin (Mazzello) he creates a program which takes all the pictures of the women on Harvard and makes a “Hot or Not” website where people can vote as pictures of women are pitted against others. Within four hours the website gets over 22,000 hits and shuts down the Harvard server.

The Harvard review board brings Zuckerberg up on Code of Conduct charges to which he seemingly doesn’t care. The guy is technologically smarter than every person in the room and has no qualms about letting them know. He’s put on academic probation and left to his own devices. Upon hearing of this in the student newspaper Zuckerberg is confronted by Divya Narendra (Minghella) and the Winklevoss Twins Cameron and Tyler (Armie Hammer, technically playing both roles) who found out about his website and want him to help create a student dating website for them. What’s in it for him? Re-establishing his Harvard “image.” From this Zuckerberg begins stirring an idea around in his head…

“Relationship status.” That’s the key ingredient Zuckerberg and Eduardo need to create their website, thefacebook. Within moments Zuckerberg finishes the programming and sits back. And waits.

Like a “viral web hit” people begin logging on and joining up. The duo don’t know what they have on their hands. Mark wants to keep it free and expand the technology while Eduardo wants to monetize it so it can begin paying for itself. Steadily the amount of members increase as they broaden who can join (because you need an “.edu” address to be a member) to other colleges. It even goes overseas. Meanwhile the guys with the prestigious rowing club try pursuing litigation saying that Zuckerberg stole their idea.

Enter Sean Parker (Timberlake). He created Napster and sat in the middle of multiple lawsuits while living the party lifestyle. Sean has ideas and against Eduardo’s better judgment has sway on Mark. He convinces Mark to move out to California so they can take “thefacebook” global because Sean has contacts. He’s setting up meetings. He’s getting Zuckerberg networked. Meanwhile, Eduardo is back in New York running around, seemingly hopelessly, trying to get funding for the website.

And therein lies what the movie is about: more than Facebook, more than money, it’s about the destruction of a friendship. It’s about two men who shared a vision in the beginning only for each to find out who the other was too late. Eduardo is sold on the idea and wants to keep a certain amount of control on it while Mark wants to play “Civilization” with social networking. Piece by piece Eduardo is sold out by Mark and Sean finally ending up suing Mark.

And Mark has no initial worries about the place he’s found himself in: the middle of two lawsuits. One is against the person who used to be his best friend while the other is against the brothers who hired him to do their website. Mark can be labeled “cold and indifferent” without pause or difficulty. That’s as deep as he goes…

Fincher weaves the tale back and forth between Mark’s and Eduardo’s testimonies as well as those of the Winklevoss. It’s an intriguing tale. It’s compelling. Think “Aviator” for computer nerds. While you may not get a full view on who Zuckerberg really is the actions speak for themselves. One of the best lines to illustrate this arrives at the very end when Rishad Jones says, “You’re not an asshole, but you’re trying so hard to be.” Apropos.

The question that comes to mind: is this the TRUE story of the founding of Facebook? I haven’t read the book and therefore cannot say. It’s a movie so I’m sure a good chunk is embellished but I also believe that several events did occur; I just can’t say which ones. But more importantly: what does Zuckerberg think of all this?

I did enjoy the movie overall. If it were any director other than Fincher I may have decided against seeing it but Fincher is one of the better storytellers of my generation. The guy can make the bland provocative. Aside from the technological aspect Fincher called up industrial rock artist Trent Reznor and had him do the soundtrack (Fincher had done several Nine Inch Nails videos) and the result works. While Eisenberg, Timberlake, and Garfield give good performances of their characters since I have not really seen their real-life versions I can’t speak to how accurate they were.

My grade: B+

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

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

26
Jul
10

Does ‘Inception’ Make Nolan the New Morpheus

A heist movie of the subconscious.

Starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Joesph Gordon-Levitt, Marion Cotillard, Ellen Page, Ken Watanabe, Cillian Murphy, Tom Berenger, and Michael Caine. Directed by Christopher Nolan

A heist movie. A psychological thriller. One-hundred percent Christopher Nolan.

I’m going to be as unbiased as I can possibly be in reviewing this one. I’ve been a fan of Nolan’s work since “Memento,” (having watched it in theaters at least three times) and count him as one of the best current filmmakers, if not one of the best of all time. He is the psychological storytelling of Alfred Hitchcock mixed with the technical side of Ridley Scott.

What is “Inception?” That’s been the big question on everyone’s minds as the trailers haven’t shown or given away much. The truth is: they can’t. Explaining this film in under five minutes is like saying “Memento” is about a guy with memory problems or “The Prestige” is about two magicians trying to outdo the other. Yes, both quips are technically correct but lack the gravitas of what the films are truly about.

Leo DiCaprio is Dom Cobb, a man living on the edge of heightened paranoia and concern. What he does isn’t exactly legal -breaking into the thoughts and dreams of other individuals to steal their secrets- all the meanwhile trying to evade the Cobalt Group (for a job that apparently went wrong) and U.S. authorities for skipping country because of a misunderstanding in the regards to the death of his wife Mal (Cotillard). He’s caught between running from reality and the sadomasochism of his dream world where he returns repeatedly to the memories of being with his wife, their times together, her death, etc.

The “forward chronology” of the movie starts in what appears to be a dream -Saito (Watanabe) is holding something secret and Cobb and the gang have to extract his secret. Easier said than done. Cobb is able to retrieve the secret but not before Mal, the thorn inside his dream world, causes problems for him. Cobb then returns to an apartment where his team and Saito are at and Saito is not impressed until he finds that they’re in yet another dream. Cobb and Arthur (Gordon-Levitt) try getting out of Tokyo but not before Saito proposes a job: he wants the heir of an electrical conglomerate Robert Fischer, Jr. (Murphy) to disband the company en whole.

Therein lies the challenge: not extraction, but the inception of an idea. To make the guy whose head you’re inside BELIEVE that he came up with the idea himself. Arthur contends that it’s just not possible but Cobb believes, on the border of knowing, that it CAN be done. And the prize? Saito is powerful enough to get Cobb waived through immigration so he can see his children James and Phillipa again who are staying with his in-laws.

Speaking of which, he travels to Paris to meet with his father-in-law Miles (Caine) who taught him everything he knows about controlling dreams except for the heist business. Dom pleads for help for the quintessential “one last job”: he needs an architect, someone who can help design a dream world. He’s introduced to Ariadne (Page), who gets interested/addicted to the idea of building dream worlds on a larger scale and joins the team.

Rounding out the rest of the crew is the “chemist” Yusuf (Dileep Rao), the information/research/impersonator Eames (Tom Hardy), and “tourist” Saito. The chemist has a drug that will prolong the dream state, Eames does covert intel on the guy, and Saito is just there to watch it happen (or help make it happen). They conceive the idea of a three-layer dream to get into Fischer’s head and give him the idea that his father (Pete Postelthwaite) doesn’t want him following in his shoes and should disband the entire company. When Fischer’s father passes they have the perfect window of opprotunity – ten hours – to pull it off. Mission: Psychological is on…

But not without a few snags. Remember Mal? When everyone is dreaming there’s a shared state of consciousness and she often appears at inopportune moments causing a debilitating state for Dom. If that’s not enough Fischer has military “projections” (filler people in the dream world). Seems that bit of intel escaped Eames. Trouble comes in threes and after Saito is shot time is shortened and the stakes run high. Will Dom and company be able to plant the idea in the guy’s head? Will they even get to that point? Will Mal screw everything up? Will Cobb see his children again? Will any of them survive? And so forth.

I loved the movie. It begins like a dream – you don’t know where it really begins or why – and it ends on a note that makes you question all that you just watched. It’s smart, the cinematography (especially for the hallway fight scene) is great, and it’s one-hundred percent story. The camera becomes an invisible person of sorts and you’re strapped into your chair for the ride.

Some critics have hailed “Inception” as Nolan’s magnum opus. Roger Ebert cited that Nolan had been working on the script/story for ten years. I’m in agreement. Film students watching Nolan’s work could cite many of the themes in this movie are carried over from previous ones: the guy so in love with his wife that he cannot forget her (“Memento”), a father dying and his son having to come to terms not only with the death but of becoming heir to a giant corporation (“Batman Begins”), a man who will grow old and probably die alone (“Insomnia”) and being reunited with children (“The Prestige”). “Inception” takes all of these, and maybe a few more, and rolls them into one cinematic pill to swallow.

Nolan once talked about “Memento” saying that as the life of Leonard Shelby unraveled, so did his conscience while he was making the film. It makes you ask how you remember what you remember. “Inception” asks not only about memories but of the stuff we make up, whether it’s to set us free or imprison, and how do we deal with what’s going on. Dreams are more than our escape.

Not only did Nolan take some of his best tricks and throw them in, but his cast and crew are some he’s worked with before. Ken Watanabe was in “Batman Begins,” Cillian Murphy was in both, and Michael Caine has been in every Nolan film since “Batman Begins.”

Will the movie payoff in the long run? I would like to say yes but it’s a hard sell: a heist movie/ psychological thriller. It’s more intellectual than, say, “Inside Man.” The beginning is a bit slow and detached but once you’re into the movie you’re with every frame until the very end. As for the end itself there is no clear answer as to what really happens, but I have my theories.

My grade: A

If you’re interested in hardboiled thriller, check out the blog story “The Big Adios” at:

http://aidencobb.blogspot.com