Thursday, February 24, 2011

Random Movie: True Grit (2010)


You might have noticed the western category is a bit barren. Personally, I don’t have a problem with westerns but I can probably count those that I’ve seen on one hand. When it was announced that the most always dependable Joel and Ethan Coen were gearing up for the remake of True Grit, I was worried that my lack of experience in the genre would detract from my enjoyment of the film.

The Coen’s True Grit is reportedly a more faithful adaptation to the Charles Portis novel than the 1969 movie baring the same name. Having not read the novel nor seen the original film (refrain from stoning me until I complete the review, please), I had no idea of whose words, smothered in thick accents and drawls, I was hearing coming from the characters, Portis’ or the Coen’s. It was entertaining nonetheless.

The main character Mattie Ross narrates the film telling of the time when she sought a lawman to hunt down her father’s murderer, Tom Chaney. Mattie has gumption beyond her fourteen years as she strong-arms a store owner out of money she feels she is due. She also has determination to hire the shrewdest marshal around, Rooster Cogburn who is also a heavy-drinking, one-eyed dubious fellow to boot. Along for the journey is LaBoeuf, a Texas Ranger also on the trail of Chaney for other misdeeds he has committed. Chaney is MIA for a large part of the movie, something possibly carried over from the source material. He is a man that is both dim-witted and ruthlessly cruel but this isn’t a cat and mouse thriller or in hot pursuit type of move.

While exacting revenge on Chaney sets up the story, this is more of a dramatic character study between three wildly different people united for a common goal. LaBoeuf and Cogburn have ill will toward the other in a sometimes professional rivalry and neither particularly care to have a young girl tagging along for the ride. With her dogged determination, Mattie though is able to keep the two men on the hunt when the trail grows cold after a deadly encounter with the gang that Chaney has taken to.

John Wayne won an Oscar for his portrayal of Cogburn in the 1969 movie. With any luck, Jeff Bridges will also get the honor for the same character. He almost literally melts away into his portrayal of the Marshal erasing any notion that you are actually watching Jeff Bridges playing a character. Cogburn is at times a hard-ass, others just a drunk ass, and still he manages to come around to the point of defending Mattie when she needs it. Matt Damon as LaBoeuf is not quite as commanding as Bridges but still turns in a very solid performance. Josh Brolin is limited on screen but he is able to turn from dim-witted to dangerous in a blink of an eye as was foretold earlier in the film.

The real show stopper though is Hailee Steinfeld as Mattie. She is not only able to hold her own against the other fairly renowned actors but also adds a bit of levity in the situation such as when she reminisces about her father taking her on coon hunts with a faint, warm smile. All of the leads and most of the lesser cast are able to successfully pull off the odd combination of rapid dialogue wrapped in leisurely Old West trappings but those that don’t only stand out that much more.

Longtime Coen Brothers collaborator Roger Deakins as DP is able to show the untamed frontier in beautiful imagery that does not feel as if it is plucked from a nature documentary. Carter Burwell also unsurprisingly provides the background music that fits perfectly whether its the plucky, old-timey sounds while in town to the sweeping symphonies while on horseback in the wild. Unlike many of the Coen’s movies, there is mostly a lack of quirky comic relief save for one or two fellows who jarringly pop up such as the odd man in the bearskin or one of Lucky Ned’s gang members who is like the Michael Winslow of that time. For it being 98% a straight-forward movie, the inclusion of those two characters baffled me.

Much buzz has been around the Coen’s latest work and this movie is a prime example of why they keep getting the big nominations time and time again. Add in the strong performances and you have a movie that is surely worth seeing.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Random Movie: Village of the Damned (1995)

In the past two decades, once prolific horror director John Carpenter has made only six features, one of which has not seen a proper release here in America. If Carpenter was still making movies as creepy and effective as Halloween or The Thing, this would be bothersome. Village of the Damned typifies Carpenter’s later entries in the genre, notably bland stories, decent-to-awful acting, and very little redeeming qualities. It was a disappointment especially coming off his far superior film the year prior, In the Mouth of Madness.

The film takes place in the small California town of Midwich, population 2000 (or so the quaint sign says at the beginning). It is not long however that the population tally starts fluctuating as the entire town is struck by an unexplainable mass black-out for six hours. Shortly after the blackout occurs, all of the women of childbearing age become pregnant, some even without the corresponding act of coitus. This is not only worrisome to the residents but also to the town’s doctor Alan (Christopher Reeve) as his wife is one of the newly knocked up. With the help of a fancy government doctor Susan Verner (Kirstie Alley), nine children are delivered at exactly the same time who all grow up with the same creepy eyes, platinum hair, and drab clothing. Oh, and the children can read minds and force others to hurt themselves if they feel threatened.

Based on the 1957 novel The Midwich Cuckoos as well as the 1960 movie of the same name, Village has an abundance of potentially creepy aspects to it that do not actually go anywhere. The concept is neat enough and there are some unsettling moments that play well like when little toddler Mara wills her mother to jump off a cliff. But even with an increasing number of “accidents” as the children come into contact with more people, the town is mostly oblivious of the danger or even willing to question the existence of the near-identical group of kids. It isn’t until the final act of the movie that the children become the overt aggressors and that plays well as they stand motionless in the middle of a street while a woman sets herself on fire or a gaggle of police and military gun each other down.

Imagine The Happening (it’s painful, I know) with children instead of trees and that is almost exactly what we get here right up to the sometimes cringe-worthy acting. Reeve and Alley are decent enough but mostly they both look bored. Mark Hamill plays a Catholic priest with some of the most ridiculously over-the-top dialogue ever (WE NEED FINGERPAINTS!). The rest of the cast is very broad but I cannot place too much fault with them as the story gives no one else an opportunity to stand out. Much like the children, all the adults of the town are cookie-cutter Caucasian Catholics that I kept getting confused with other similar-looking cast members. Was it the redneck, bearded dad that drives his truck into an oddly placed gas tank or was it the scholarly, bearded dad? I don’t remember but it doesn’t really matter.

Its clear that this isn’t Carpenter’s best film but it isn’t his worst either. That frustratingly makes it such an unmemorable proposition to watch that you begin to wish for some truly hammy performances or goofy lines to at least make it stand out.

Who the Hell Asked for a Bodyguard Remake?

I think we all get that the fat cat film producers are either plum out of ideas or unwilling to take a chance on anything new. That is the reason we have about a dozen sequels, prequels, sidequels, and whatever else coming out this summer.

But who in the hell thinks a remake of Kevin Coster’s The Bodyguard is a good idea? Based on my hazy recollection from fifteen years ago or so the film itself isn’t necessarily bad albeit a little cheesy and overly-romanticized for my tastes. But is this such a high concept that it warrants a remake?

Hell, what is to stop Warner Brothers from taking the same concept, casting Usher and Lady GaGa, and calling it Absurdity: The Movie? People complain all the time that recent movies are blatant rip-offs of previous films (most recently The Roommate = SWF). I guess film studios are now going to acknowledge that something is a remake (you know, because any similarities are then intentional). Sadly, I’m sure that this will be a surefire hit just like the original was almost twenty years ago.

But I wonder, where are all the movie goers demanding to see something they haven’t already seen before? Oh, they’re probably seeing that Justin Bieber “movie.”

 Deadline Hollywood: Warner Bros Remakes ‘The Bodyguard’

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Random Movie: 127 Hours (2010)

Written by: Digger

The problem with basing a movie on something that actually happened is that most people are going to know how it ends. While most movies based on historical wars or other large scale events can get around this by focusing on unknown facets or personal stories of people who played minor roles in the grand scheme of things, how do you put any surprises in the story about one guy who had to amputate his own arm? Interestingly enough, director Danny Boyle found a way. Literally all I knew going in to 127 Hours is that a climber gets trapped by a rock and has to cut off an appendage to escape his eventual death. Strangely, this foreknowledge actually made the anticipation and the emotion of the film’s imminent climax all the more intense, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

The film follows the novel ‘Between a Rock and a Hard Place’ written by Aron Ralston, the mountaineer who survived the film’s central event in 2003. So that would make this the third time Ralston has experienced it, each time from a slightly different perspective. The film opens with a strange triptych of cycling images, most of which feature crowds of people moving through time-lapse photography. Soon, we focus in on Aron, played by James Franco, preparing for his weekend excursion in the darkness of night. The cinematography meticulously shows us just about everything Aron is taking with him, as well as a few items he leaves behind. After packing, and ignoring a phone call from his mother, Ralston drives out into the desert to Utah’s isolated Canyonlands National Park. Saturday begins with some mountain biking across the arid and rocky landscape as Ralston videotapes himself with a small digital camcorder. After a few hours, Aron leaves his bike behind and heads down a series of large rocks on foot, and runs into a pair of amateur hikers, who also happen to be cute girls and lost. Aron approaches Kristi (Kate Mara) and Megan (Amber Tamblyn) and offers to guide them through the canyon. He takes them through a narrow pass, informs them of the name of the canyon (Blue John Canyon) as well as it’s history as a hiding place for Butch Cassidy, and eventually leads them to a a large, underground pool. The group spends some time swimming and goofing off before parting ways. The girls invite Aron to a party later and give him some vague directions and tell him to look for a giant inflatable Scooby Doo to find the party.

After responding that he might go to the party, Aron heads off on his own, climbing through the canyon. While trying to lower himself down from the opening of the canyon, he puts his weight on a round rock that is a little larger than a beach ball and seems securely wedged into the surrounding formation. The rock gives way and tumbles down, along with Aron, to almost the bottom of the small canyon. Aron manages to catch himself, but the rock he accidentally pulled loose wedges itself between the narrow canyon walls and traps his right hand in the process. From this point on, we get to see an amazing series of events, all in one place and with a single actor holding up the entire story. One of the images from this film that will always stick with me is right after Aron is trapped and the initial freak out where he is smashing his shoulder into the boulder to try and shimmy it loose. Once he realizes that he is stuck, Aron begins to scream for help, calling for the two women with whom he had just been hiking. The camera looks down on Aron from above, and he throws his head back to yell. When he does, the view begins to lift out of the canyon, getting farther and farther away from him until the audience could no longer hear his cries, and all we could see was the vast and empty Utah landscape. This really hammered home a sense of isolation and hopelessness in a way that only a movie can. The real meat of the film consists of Aron’s efforts to free himself, keep track of his supplies and resources, wade through his thoughts memories that fade in and out between hallucinations, and even accept his inevitable fate, going so far as to carve his name, birth date, and death date into the canyon wall beside him and leave a far well message to his family via his digital camcorder. After the compressed six days, Aron does eventually find a way to liberate himself (and it is a traumatic series of images and sounds to absorb) but the best part of this film is Aron’s emotional journey between getting trapped and freeing himself, and Danny Boyle and James Franco do a brilliant job of bringing that struggle to life.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Mini Scum: The Chase (1994)


Writer/director Adam Rifkin tackled classic OJ elements with The Chase starring Charlie Sheen and Kristy Swanson. Sheen plays an convicted felon who happens to be innocent and Swanson is his unwilling victim in pursuit by almost every cop in southern California. The majority of the movie takes place inside the car but the growing relationship between the two leads, the television crew with the pursuing officers (including Henry Rollins), and the pervasive punk-rock music keep things moving nicely. For good measure there is some stinging commentary on the vapidness of the media but a fun ride is in store regardless.

Mini Scum: The Chase (1994)

Writer/director Adam Rifkin tackled classic OJ elements with The Chase starring Charlie Sheen and Kristy Swanson. Sheen plays an convicted felon who happens to be innocent and Swanson is his unwilling victim in pursuit by almost every cop in southern California. The majority of the movie takes place inside the car but the growing relationship between the two leads, the television crew with the pursuing officers (including Henry Rollins), and the pervasive punk-rock music keep things moving nicely. For good measure there is some stinging commentary on the vapidness of the media but a fun ride is in store regardless.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Random Movie: Salt (2010)


In the genesis of most action movies, I can’t figure developing the plot matters much (other than The Expendables). It seems that most action oriented movies are just big, explosive set pieces tied around a loose narrative fiber holding things together. At least though we have an idea of why our action star is running around jumping onto cars and getting into gunfights whether it is for revenge or to save a life or whatever. Salt makes no pretense that it is an action movie first and foremost, even though that means that we are watching action for the hell of it with no idea of why.

The titular character, Evelyn Salt, is a relatively normal CIA agent until one day a Russian defector walks into her office and names Salt as a deep-cover Russian spy. Salt quickly dismisses the notion but her superiors are seemingly convinced after the proclamation by the former Soviet thug with little other evidence against her. Salt runs in an effort to find her husband but then changes course to head to NYC, possibly with the intent to kill the visiting Russian president.

At the very least, everything is fast moving here as after a brief prologue and maybe ten minutes in the present day, Salt is on the run from the CIA. But other than her quick rebuttal that the Russian is lying, we really get no other information about Salt and her intentions. Is she really a Russian spy, pissed because her cover was blown? Is she an innocent woman who sets out to clear her name and save her husband? Did she double cross the Russians and is now set out to stop the attack? Who knows. The movie doesn’t bother explaining things until the final ten minutes or so.

In the meantime though, we do get the goods that a decent action thriller can deliver, namely in double crosses, car chases, and gun fights. The best way to classify Salt is as a Jason Bourne movie, only starring Angelina Jolie and with no where near the twisty narrative. It is not often do you see an action film starring a beautiful woman as the lead and fortunately Jolie takes on the standard action movie staples quite comfortably. She has a tough and determined persona so the events that occur are not laughable as if a lesser actress had taken the role. I’m not trying to be sexist but imagine Kathryn Heigl as an highly trained and deadly CIA agent and you’ll get my point.

Liev Schrieber and Chiwetel Ejiofor as the lead agents assigned to take Salt down are decent enough but their characters are laughably derivative of any authoritative figure from these types of movies (even though the movie has barely paused to contemplate Salt’s guilt or innocence). The casting could have been done better however as a certain actor’s presence tips the hand of the final act reveal. I won’t give spoilers but needless to say, it isn’t hard to guess Salt’s endgame about halfway into the movie. At least that is if we were trusted with the reason for Salt’s activities but whatever.

Director Phillip Noyce off of Kurt Wimmer‘s script takes the standard political/action thriller mold and reverses it. Whereas Noyce’s Clear and Present Danger (a favorite of mine) is a movie about the political game of chicken with some action sprinkled in, Salt is the opposite of that. There are political motivations but those aspects are never really fleshed out and instead just act as the backbone of the movie (as much as there is). But that’s not important to the enjoyment of the film as the non-stop sequences are almost good enough to forget any shortcomings the script might have. As the polar opposite of The Expendables, Salt whittles down the pesky exposition and character moments to the point that they might as well have not included any. But it is incredibly entertaining all the same even if you don’t know if you’re rooting on an enemy to the United States or not.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Random Movie: Bleading Lady (2011)

Written by: PBF

Bleading Lady (or Star Vehicle, apparently) is the latest film by Ryan Nicholson, of Gutterballs and Hanger “fame.” It arrives on DVD March 29th, courtesy of Breaking Glass Pictures. This film is much less gory and offensive as Hanger and takes a sort of “straight” approach. What results is a rather mixed bag of things.

Don Cardini (Dan Ellis) is a movie set driver who transports cast and crew to and from set. He is currently working on a film that stars his favorite scream queen Riversa Red (Sindy Faranguna). Don and the director of the film, Luke (Nathan Durec) do not like each other, mainly because Don is a deidcated horror fan and has a distaste for rip off films, which he believes Luke is making. He especially does not like this as Riversa is in it, and he has a thing for her. When Don learns that Riversa has a bit of a stalker problem, he sort of employs himself as her personal assistant. Don shows Riversa a copy of a script that he wrote, which she likes. Luke takes offense to this, and as Don hurls insults at him, he begins to detest Don even more. What erupts is a bit of a competition for Riversa’s attention, which turns violent and deadly after Don is fired.

The film is not terrible. It has most of the elements of terrible film, but Nicholson makes the terrible, tolerable. Most of the acting is repulsive, but Ellis is oddly fascinating. He has horrible line delivery and yet gives a convincing and not even over the top performance as a deranged lunatic that slowly unravels further into his psychosis. The story is very interesting and the way it unfolds it capable of holding interest throughout (the 76 minute runtime helps). There is even a slight twist ending which is quite pleasant unlike another twist ending employing dickhead’s films.

Make no mistake, this is low budget, but it is not too ambitious for that budget and pulls off a very watchable film. Nicholson is clearly a horror film fan and knows what entertains, and makes best use of resources to deliver films that will satisfy true genre fans. So piss off, casual movie goer!

Bleading Lady successfully blends dark comedy with decent horror and its straightforward approach works well. The funniest part of the film is after we watch a small chunk of mostly non violent, exposition dispensing scenes, over a black screen we hear a voice over by Don saying he knows the audience is asking where the killing is in this picture, and we are promptly shown a violent death. Nicholson is stylistic, and has talent, and hopefully someone will throw him bigger bags of money so that he can gain some more exposure.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Random Movie: Half Moon (2011)

Written by: PBF

***THIS REVIEW PROBABLY CONTAINS A SPOILER***

Half Moon will arrive on DVD on March 1st via Breaking Glass Pictures. It is writer/director Jason Toler’s take on the werewolf story. There are quite a bit of issues with the film, but it is impressive nonetheless.

Rose (award winning adult star Tori Black) is a hooker who like most hookers, is under strict and violent management by a pimp, and needs to make some cash. While working the streets, Rose and her fellow hooker friend Tammi are talking. Tammi tells Rose that tonight is “payday” as one of regulars will call her and he usually pays quite well and normally does not even want to have sex. Tammi asks Rose to hold her purse while she takes a piss, and ends up getting arrested. This happens to occur at the exact time that her regular, Jacob (Marek Matousek) calls her. Rose answers and needing money and knowing Tammi will be unable to make it, pretends that she is Tammi and meets Jacob at his hotel. What starts off as an awkward dinner between hooker and John, moves to quite bizarre and deadly before night’s end.

Honestly, this movie shoots itself in the foot. It has pretty terrible ensemble acting, a lot of nudity and it reeks of low budget ($100,000) all right away. An impatient viewer will become irritated and turn the film off. However, as the movie goes on, and specifically while contained in the hotel room, the film becomes very interesting and pulls you in. Tori Black in her first “legitimate” role struggles early on, as if it is more difficult for her to deliver lines instead of sex sounds, but slowly gets tolerable. Marek Matousek is actually quite good for the entire film.

The concept of the film is intriguing. Not by any means your normal werewolf story. However, the execution sort of fails. There is a large chunk of film (and ironically where some of the best acting occurs) where it is nothing more than Jacob explaining his “condition,” Rose hurling possible plot holes that the viewer may come up with and then Jacob defending them. However, this scene is largely dominated by Jacob, and thus it is not only tolerable, but quite interesting. The best way to describe this film is, “What if David Mamet wrote a werewolf picture, but with not as clever dialogue?” It relies almost entirely on (pretty much half crap/half decent) dialogue, but it has a fairly short runtime, and as mentioned before progresses from bad to good, so while uneven, it does redeem itself a bit.

It does sort of disappoint in the special effects department at the end, but, up to that point, there was nothing spectacular going on, so while it is laugh inducing, it is not insulting to the rest of the film.

Definitely interesting story and fairly decent performances. Perhaps a bit of a darker tone (in both lighting and mood) would have given it a bit more “ooh What is going to happen?” instead of the, “When is something going to happen?” feel to it, but it is not a bad start for a filmmaker by any means.