Thursday, September 30, 2010

My Tops of 2010 - September

THE KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT finally was watched and matched the praise given to it.

THE TOWN seems to grew on me. I was blown away by the film when I saw it in theaters. But, unlike the infamous reaction to THE EXPENDABLES, it still stayed with me. Each day I thought about it, the more I enjoyed it.

KICK ASS still survives along with THE SECRET OF KELLS! Some much for that independent wave.

The next three months will be interesting to follow as not many of the films being released have peaked my interest at all.

Best Films

1. Toy Story 3

2. The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo

3. Inception

4. The Kids Are All Right

5. Scott Pilgrim vs. The World

6. The Town

7. The Secret of Kells

8. The Crazies

9. Kick-Ass

Worst Films

1. The Last Airbender

2. Knight and Day

3. A Nightmare on Elm Street

Friday, September 17, 2010

The Town - Review

Ben Affleck has experienced a creative rebirth lately with his new interest in directing efforts and supporting character roles. Returning to Boston after his directorial debut GONE BABY GONE, THE TOWN is Affleck's new complete headliner, a showcase of him as an actor and auteur. Directing, co-writing, and the main actor of the film, Affleck could have faltered heavily but instead made a compelling crime thriller that basks with great performances but generic plotting.

Ben Affleck is Doug MacRay. Affleck, unlike his previous star attractions, does a reasonable job blending into the fabric of reality instead of a distraction. Doug is the mastermind of a robbing crew from Boston's pariah neighbor Charlestown. Their latest bank job results in an unwanted hostage of one of the employees, played expertly by Rebecca Hall. Choosing to hover over her after letting her go to stave off a possible execution, Doug falls for the battered but still optimistic woman. The crimes and the melodrama then follow the usual straight path as archetypes show up in line such as the last job, angry best friend, ruthless police, and the easy to manipulate mole.

Though a harsh statement on the story, the fault largely seems to lie on the film being an adaptation of a crime boiler book by Chuck Hogan. Affleck and his co-writers build beyond a simple skeleton with exceptional acting performances, thrilling action scenes, and a very surprisingly use of humor and heart. Characters behave rationally and normal compared to those showcased in Michael Mann's films. Unlike Mann, who implements no control or restraint in the acting, Affleck does to a great degree thanks in part to his acting background. Though he tries to reach Mann's excellent level of urban action, Affleck's direction seems to do better with suspense and subtle clues. This is easily seen in a scene when an unplanned meeting of three characters is greatly hampered not just by an entrance of one of them but by his tattoo.

While the main actors' abilities is substantial, it is the supporting players that greatly make the film a display of acting talent. Jeremy Renner takes the role of Doug's best bud Jem but treats the character's anger as small tremors for a bigger earthquake. He enhances the brotherly love emotions his character has for Doug more often. Jem wants to protect Doug and shape a perfect family but the rebukes and scorn given to him combined with his fatalistic viewpoint eats him inside. Jon Hamm's role as FBI agent is a plethora of cynicism and human acid. Hamm rips up the scenery in a low tone as his vicious ego-driven agent hunts after Doug's crew. His sadist glances sees men as creatures to be punished thoroughly and women as pawns to be constantly abused. In a stunning breakthrough performance, Blake Lively redeems any hatred I have had for her previous work as Jem's criminal sister. With only five scenes but an important role, Lively pulls out an extra amount of grittiness and sadness to the picture. Chris Cooper and Pete Postlethwaite also do well in smaller roles.

Though I said Affleck builds up from the generic crime structure, some elements are quite embarrassing to behold. A sequence where Affleck treats his insomnia with bare shirted exercises and a trip to a community meeting is pretentious and seems to be included as a make-up excuse for Charlestown's portrayal. Still, the entertaining direction and acting performances do well in trying to gloss over these judgment errors. THE TOWN is one of the better crime films recently released, even, in my opinion, better than THE DEPARTED and its spirited father HEAT. It has a high overall quality in all of its departments despite some glaring flaws. Like Doug's crew on a job, the planning isn't perfect but flexibility can save their lives.


Sunday, September 5, 2010

Machete - Review

After the dismal results received by THE EXPENDABLES, Robert Rodriguez assembles a far more enjoyable action film with many stars that are actually given characterization. Though it has some of its own misjudgments, MACHETE is a highly violent entertainment ride with a straight face and a winking eye.

MACHETE started off as the opening fake trailer of the now cult theater event GRINDHOUSE. All of the trailer footage seemingly is included within this expansion. Even if it doesn't match up exactly, such as the odd placement of Cheech Marin in one moment, it is still a good running joke to see everything implemented. The only exception is his machete jacket, which only appears in the film's poster art. I thought he was going to bust it out in the coda or more importantly the big finale but instead the film ends in a confusing near pretentious mess.

Machete, as played by the nadir of badasses Danny Trejo, is a former Mexican cop turned into an illegal day laborer in Texas. Spurned and burned by his country and his enemies, he takes a job by a sleazy gruff businessman (Jeff Fahey) to assassinate a senator up for re-election. Instead of killing him, he is framed by another sniper planned by Fahey and goes on the run. Teaming up with two independent beautiful women (Michelle Rodriguez and Jessica Alba), Machete brings down the big heat on his former contractor and his connections. The connections of course lead back to the senator, played by Robert De Niro, and also some former enemies of Machete.

While there is a great pleasure to behold bountiful violence and black comedy, Rodriguez oddly changes the tone unexpectedly. One minute, you are with glee at seeing Machete use a certain body organ as a rope in an awesome stunt and the next minute you are given a straight debate on illegal immigration. Rodriguez has done this odd change-up before with bringing in social politics into his films, such as PLANET TERROR, but never this much sewed into the fabric. The viewer is nearly bombarded with fake political ads and constant close-ups on other illegal immigrants. Even when some of the issues do work, as with how businesses are the main force to make elected officials enact laws, they become so convoluted to follow and understand. The film has four main villains, only one of whom is actually later killed by Machete sadly, and the tangling between them help lead to the dissatisfaction of the climax.

But that is not to say that the film is a total verbal speech to viewers. The staged action and graphic violence is a true joy. The film has a great prologue where all the cliches are sended up but with new ideas put to use. You get a car impaling, limb dissections, fire-fights with severed hands on the trigger, a 360 degree multiple decapitation, and unnecessary nudity. You do get some more great moments of exploitation later, such as the as mentioned organ rope, but it does disappear a bit. The finale felt like an insult, as the blood becomes more cg-ed, the direction is badly blocked, and the carnage is nil.

Acting is usually a strong suit of Rodriguez in his adult themed films and it still is. Trejo is still a badass persona with fantastic one-liners and immense swagger. Michelle Rodriguez does well again playing her usual trope and Alba continues her stigma of only being able to act in Robert Rodriguez films. The supporting heavies are good with special mentions going out to Don Johnson as an under-used deranged border officer and a fat Steven Seagal as a Mexican drugpin. The only down-note is Lindsay Lohan who brings an entertainment black hole in her scenes. She is given a lame subplot, but her very dismal acting flat-lines any drama and will enrage any fans of MS. 45 in one of her later appearances. The music and score is great, though that is a plus and a given with Rodriguez.

MACHETE is simply a wonder even without seeing it. You can't really think of any film released to theaters to be headlined by Danny Trejo. Once you enter in its world, you will have some much needed escape but the political issues may sour the experience. Still, Rodriguez continues to showcase the power of grindhouse entertainment and do it with justice and commitment.


Thursday, September 2, 2010

The Crazies - Review

Timothy Olyphant goes into another middle American character role in the remake of George Romero's still underrated gem THE CRAZIES. Unlike the recent horrible horror wave of remakes, director Breck Eisner and the screenwriters create a more bleak and despairing touch to the source material with some nice new ideas. However, unlike the original which switched constantly between a small pack of citizens and the heads of military and science operations, this film stays only on the true Americans, painting the military as unknown creatures that hide behind black SUV's, global satellites, and gas masks. The political criticism is annexed off to simply make a menacing world of confusion and despair.

Olyphant plays the sheriff of a small town in Iowa, who is forced to kill one of the residents before a possible massacre can happen during a baseball game. The bizarre mentality and health of the resident is seemingly spreading and seen on others who enact horrible violence or display lack of thought and emotion. After discovering several hidden clues and a giant one in the local water supply, the sheriff is swept off along with everyone else by the military for deportation or containment from a deadly virus. Fearing for the lives of his friends and his wife, who was mistakenly taken away to be contained, Olyphant breaks them out and tries to escape with them out of the reach of the weapons-free army and the infected townspeople.

The cast is generally well done, with everyone hitting the marks necessary. Olyphant is fitting again in his usual human hero archetype but the film is often stolen by Joe Anderson, who plays the deputy. The constant ambiguity of his character is the best tension the film has and Anderson showcases it to perfection. Cinematography and sound design also get a special mention, which both bring striking emotional moments to some scenes, such as the car wash scene.

There are only a few errors in judgment to the picture; the sheriff's wife, played by Radha Mitchell, is characterized as a strong woman willing to sacrifice herself for a friend at first but by the end, she is given several scenes of being simply another woman in peril. The CG-ed global satellite imagery also ruins the mystery by giving dumbfounded viewers an easy explanation to the events. A las, these don't take away too much from this great re-imaging of Romero's original. In fact, it can be argued that this film is actually better and more engrossing to watch.