Posts Tagged ‘motion pictures

21
Jul
16

Phone’s Ringin’: Ghostbusters Review

ghostbustersfem

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.

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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

08
Jul
10

“Kick-Ass” and Take Names

Or was that ass-kicked?

Starring Aaron Johnson, Clark Duke, Evan Peters, Lyndsy Fonseca, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Mark Strong, Chloe Moretz, and Nicolas Cage. Directed by Matthew Vaughn. Based on the comic book by Mark Millar and John Romita, Jr.

I will say it over and over again: I’m not a huge fan of the superhero genre. For every good superhero movie (“Superman,” “Batman,” “Spider-Man”) there are the less-than-stellar attempts at bringing others to the silver screen (“Daredevil,” “Hulk”) as well as attempts to resurrect a franchise (“Superman Returns,” “The Incredible Hulk”). And let’s not forget the made-up/not so renown ones (“Blankman,” “Steele”). I’m writing this on the eve of “Iron Man 2,” which I suspect will be the popcorn blockbuster that the first entirely was and that’s fine with me.

“Kick-Ass” is based on a darker graphic novel and follows Dave Lizewski, your Peter Parker-ish high school quintessential 98+ pound weakling. He’s in love with the beautiful but impossible to have Katie Deauxma (Fonseca). His two best friends Marty (Duke) and Todd (Peters) hang out with him each day at Atomic Comics. Dave’s life is the epitome of boring and mundane: he goes to school, his dad goes to work, they eat the same brand knock-off cereal, etc. In short, blah.

Out of this stagnation comes a twisted idea: what if he became a superhero, like in the comic books? His friends dismiss it saying that it would be crazy. Unless a person happened to be like Batman or whoever else why would anyone want to do it? Again, crazy idea. But not for Dave…

Hopping on the Net he orders a green with yellow trim wetsuit and some batons. He adopts the name Kick-Ass and in the beginning he’s more the reverse: his ass gets kicked. He has no fighting skills or training or cache of money to rely on. This doesn’t deter him because he has the one thing that superheroes need: a heart. After an attempt to thwart carjackers leaves him bleeding from a stab wound, as well as getting hit by a car, he emerges from the hospital with enough metal inside him to rival Wolverine. This clinches his idea of becoming a superhero.

Enter the main bad guy, lumber supplier and drug kingpin Frank D’Amico (Strong). After a deal goes bad Kick-Ass is to blame and becomes his personal center of revenge. The kingpin’s son, Chris (Mintz-Plasse), concocts a plan to get close to Kick-Ass by becoming a superhero himself.

Kick-Ass finds allies in Hit Girl (Moretz) and Big Daddy (Cage). Big Daddy had been a cop who refused to bend to D’Amico and became framed. Sent to prison for five years his then wife OD’d on drugs but lived long enough to give birth to their daughter, Mindy. Mindy and father become reunited after he’s released whereby she becomes Hit Girl and he Big Daddy. Their mission: bring down D’Amico.

I’ll leave the story description there because let’s face it: you’ve seen the plot points before. What makes this movie differ from the rest is that it knows the source material that came before it and plays to the audience. Dave narrates the film with that “I’m telling you but you should probably already figure it out” sense of sarcasm. He knows that he doesn’t have the Batman story of revenge, or the Spider-Man story of being bitten by a radioactive spider. He knows and comes to terms with the fact that superheroes grace comic books for a reason: they are in an alternate reality. By finding his own humanity he does manage to become a superhero which is just as good.

My thoughts? I enjoyed the hell out of this movie. When Nicholson in “Batman,” exclaimed, “What this town needs is an enema,” he may as well have been talking about the superhero genre. After knowing the backstories to every-other Marvel or DC character and knowing the story arcs, we’ve become so accustomed to how the story is supposed to play out that all we can do is venture whether or not this set of characters did it well.

And these do. Kick-Ass goes from being the high school dork to superhero sensation. He befriends others trying to help the cause. He fights the bad guy and wins. And, there’s the offspring of a future nemesis.

Aside from this, “Kick-Ass” is a film I would suggest to young filmmaker wannabes/gonnabes because there are so many styles put into this film. Director Matthew Vaughn’s debut movie was “Layer Cake,” but this plays closer to “Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels,” and “Snatch,” both movies he produced with Guy Ritchie. For those who miss the sense of humor those movies had in Ritchie’s current work check this one out; you’ll find the person it came from. Whether the movie plays like Ang Lee’s “Hulk,” or like “A Scanner Darkly,” or even like a video game, it keeps you on your toes for what to expect. It may not be the greatest achievement in film but I can liken it to “Kill Bill Vol. 1” in terms of mashing together various styles.

Aaron Johnson does a great job at being the high school dork-come-superhero with heart and I expect that he’ll get a lot more work because of it. I’m not going to guess what his range is but he played the part perfectly. Nic Cage does an interesting turn as Big Daddy, a Batman wannabe down to his lookalike custom and Adam West-pregnant pausing sentences.

The real thing about this movie is Mindy/Hit Girl. She’s twelve, cusses worse than a sailor, and could out-John Woo any situation. A lethal killing machine that hasn’t even gotten to high school yet. I’ve heard friends say that this is controversial in other cities and maybe they’re talking about it here. But hey guys: it’s just a movie. Sit back, relax, and try to have fun watching it.

I wish I could recommend this to everybody but I know that tastes vary and that there will be a lot of people offended by this one. So I’ll recommend this one to those who love superhero movies, those who like them, and those who are all about satire.

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

“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

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