Review: Knight and Day

I understand why people have grown tired of  Tom Cruise.  After all, his recent behavior has tilted more toward the batshit side of the movie star craziness scale.  But, I must confess that I like him, and, I am, in fact, rooting for him.  I am disappointed that his recent summer popcorn flick, Knight and Day, has fallen flat at the box office.  I found it to be perfectly entertaining and surprisingly exciting.

Cruise co-stars alongside Cameron Diaz as Roy Miller, a CIA operative who either has completely disengaged from reality and presents a danger to national security, or been framed by a crooked partner (Peter Saarsgard) and is the only trustworthy agent assigned to protect Simon Feck (Paul Dano), a whiz-kid scientist working for the Department of Defense.  Diaz plays June Havens, whose timing and luck pits her smack in the middle of Miller’s mission, and the two must go on the run to avoid capture.

Knight and Day is directed by James Mangold, whose previous films have largely been boring disappointments to me.  I was a little hesitant about his directing this movie, but he does a bang-up job of pacing and maintaining suspense.  Mangold stages every car chase and fight scene with more aplomb than the directors of Iron Man 2 and Prince of Persia did, and Cruise deserves credit for keeping the audience a little off balance.  His performance is just unhinged enough that the audience isn’t completely sure that Miller can be trusted.  The weak link of the film is Diaz, whose performance seems labored and unsure compared to Cruise’s comfort and ease.  If a more natural actress played opposite Cruise, perhaps Knight and Day would be a stronger box office contender.

As it is, though, I recommend this movie to anyone looking for some escapist fun this summer.

July 5, 2010 at 9:01 pm 1 comment

It’s Date Night….

I Spit on Your Grave is one of those movies that just made me feel dirty when I originally watched it.  The story of a rape survivor who seeks revenge against her attackers had plenty of gratuitous T&A for a film that supposedly was about female empowerment.  Now comes word that Anchor Bay is releasing a remake this fall, and I must admit that I’m stoked.  I really liked the remake of Last House on the Left, another grindhouse classic.  Maybe it’s because the remakes are so hyper-stylized, the casts are so pretty, and the grime is, well, not that grimy.  Plus, this version has Jeff Branson, who comes from the world of soaps!  I love it when soap actors leap to the big screen!  Anyway, I’ll be there opening day, M&M’s in hand.  Check out the trailer here.

June 26, 2010 at 1:17 pm 1 comment

Review: The A-Team

My friend Maxin once told me that sometimes you just need to let go and enjoy big, dumb movies.  And I agree with her.  How else could I have endured the preposterous Prince of Persia?  Other times, though, a movie isn’t just bad; it’s insulting.  It isn’t just a loud, mindless mix of machismo; instead it becomes emblematic of the worst kind of  movie making–the chest-thumping, “drill, baby, drill” kind of pandering that gets under your skin and festers.  And that, dear readers, sums up The A-Team, director Joe Carnahan’s 21st century reboot of the beloved 1980s television show.

The movie opens with a brief origins story as front-man Col. “Hannibal” Smith (Liam Neeson) and his partner, Lt. “Face” Peck  (Bradley Cooper), meet and join forces with the final two members of their team, B.A. Baracus (Quinton “Rampage” Jackson) and Murdock (Sharlto Copley).  Flash forward eight years, and the four men are an elite military unit stationed in Iraq.  After successfully completing a black-ops mission to recover US Treasury plates and billions of dollars in counterfeit currency from terrorists, the men find themselves framed for going rogue and killing their commanding officer (Gerald McRaney) to cover their tracks.  Left out to dry by the CIA agent who sent them on the mission (Patrick Wilson, aka the man of my dreams), Hannibal and his men are sent to prison.  Of course, they eventually escape and set on a mission to clear their names.

My problems with The A-Team go beyond mere film making contrivances.  Yes, the dialogue is so testosterone-fueled that it made me choke on my own vomit.  Yes, the loud, obnoxious chases and explosions become repetitive.  (At one point, Hannibal tells the group, “Overkill is underrated,” which I suspect director Caranhan considers a mantra.)  And, yes, the acting is (mostly) terrible.  Neeson’s cigar gnashing is unbearably over the top; Jackson makes the questionable decision to simply mimic Mr. T’s mannerisms and delivery; Copley, so good in District 9, seems uncomfortable and sports a truly horrific southern twang; and Bradley Cooper, while still hot, needs to find something other than the scoundrel shtick.

Despite these faults, the biggest problem I have with The A-Team is rooted in politics.  Not the left vs. right, blue state vs. red state kind of politics, though.  The problem I have is that the four main characters, in trying to prove their innocence, destroy property and kill innocent men (members of the U.S. military, no less), with nary a hint of remorse.  Face laughingly takes command of an Army tank and begins shooting down the pilots chasing them–in other words, other Army men simply obeying orders to bring in fugitives.  Director Carnahan shoots and scores a pivotal moment in which Baracus forsakes his vows against murder with the sole intention of creating Pavolvian cheers from the audience.  Okay, I know.  Summer movies are supposed to be about shoot ’em ups and explosions.  I get that.  But why does a film that glorifies death and violence as much as The A-Team does get a PG-13 rating, while a movie like, say, The House of the Devil, which is far less violent, gets slapped with an R rating?

Maxin is right that movies should be enjoyed.  And I knew going in that I probably would not embrace this movie.  (Full disclosure:  My only reasons to see this movie were shirtless Bradley Cooper scenes, which are thankfully plenty, and Patrick Wilson.)  Still, I was tempted to walk out many times during this mess, and I want to save all of you from being subjected to its torture.  Looking for a fun summer movie?  Go see Get Him to the Greek instead.

June 19, 2010 at 7:00 pm 3 comments

Review: Prince of Persia

Damn you, Jake!  Damn you!  Why did you agree to headline this loud, overblown popcorn flick (based on a video game, no less) when you know I must watch every film in you oeuvre?  You must have been aware that your mere presence in this film would force me to be there, on the front row eating nachos, opening day?  Why did you do it?  Why?

Okay, that’s out of my system.  Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time is Disney’s latest collaboration with producer Jerry Bruckheimer to develop a summer blockbuster franchise.  Considering their first effort, The Pirates of the Caribbean, utterly and completely drove me mad, I had low expectations for PoP .  First, there are the accents.  Why does everyone speak as if they are day players on East Enders?  Granted, much of the cast actually is British, but why must my precious JG be saddled with a faux ‘Allo Govna accent that would make even Madonna cringe?  Add to the accents the fact that, despite some well-developed tans, most of the cast is Caucasian, and I spent the first 45 minutes of this movie waiting for Mickey Rooney to appear.  Eventually, though, I realized that I had given in to the movie’s dumb fun and was just enjoying PoP for what it was.

Gyllenhaal plays Dastan, an orphan boy adopted and raised by Persian King Sharaman.  Despite his noble upbringing, Dastan cannot resist such plebeian urges as fighting in martial arts matches with the locals.  His two brothers, meanwhile, are more serious.  When Dastan is framed for King Sharaman’s murder, he flees with the help of Princess Tamina (Gemma Arterton), who was captured when Dastan led an army into neighboring Alamut searching fro WMDs.  Eventually, Dastan realizes that Iraq Alamut had no WMDs, and the army really invaded Alamut to steal oil a magical dagger that controls time.  Armed only with the help of Tamina, a band of roguish gypsies, and parkour, Dastan must protect the dagger and prove his innocence.

The film is enjoyable mostly due to my JG’s irrepressible charms.  Despite his truly horrible accent, you can’t keep from rooting for him to prove his innocence, vanquish the bad guy, and get the girl.  (Well, I didn’t necessarily want that last part to happen.)  Director Mike Newell’s biggest hit to date is Four Weddings and a Funeral, so he seems like an odd choice to direct a sword and sand blockbuster.  I think this explains the poorly choreographed fight scenes and pretty amateurish Matrix-like special effects.  The dialogue, as you would imagine, is laughable.  I think that Arterton’s character should have been named Princess Exposition, which you can tell just by watching the trailer.

Prince of Persia probably will not be a blockbuster of Pirates-like proportion, but I’d take Jake over a scenery-chewing Johnny Depp any day.  The fact that I left the theatre not regretting the $7.50 and two-hours I gave to watch the movie, while faint praise, is praise nonetheless.  Considering that the slate of summer films this year leave much to be desires, you could do worse than Prince of Persia.

May 31, 2010 at 9:49 am 3 comments

“Cropsey” Gives Me The Willies


Today I watched the creepy trailer fora new documentary, Cropsey.  I’m a little concerned that the filmmakers might be exploiting the tragedy of missing children for their own Blair Witch-like quest for fame, but I will reserve judgment until seeing the movie.

May 16, 2010 at 11:13 am 1 comment

Review: Letters To Juliet

It’s hard to review a movie like Letters to Juliet.  After all, it doesn’t aspire to be high art; it’s only goal is to entertain the audience and make them swoon over young love and the beautiful Italian landscapes.  Well, Juliet succeeds on only one of those levels.  The story is pure movie magic:  Sophie, the always enjoyable Amanda Seyfried, is in Verona, Italy with her sweet, but slightly self-absorbed, fiancée Victor (Gael Garcia Bernal).  When Victor leaves Verona to attend a wine auction, Sophie stays behind.  Eventually she begins to assist a group of secretaries who spend their days answering letters written by heartbroken women to Juliet (as in Capulet).  When Sophie discovers a 50-year old letter from “Claire” that tells of her unrequited love with “Lorenzo”, she responds, only to be surprised when Claire (Vanessa Redgrave) and her grandson Charlie (Christopher Egan) arrive in Verona on a quest to find Lorenzo.  Will Claire find her long-lost love?  Will Sophie realize that her heart belongs with Charlie and not Victor?  If you have seen the trailer, you already know the answer to both questions.  If you have missed the trailer, spoiler alert:  Yes.

The biggest problem with Letters to Juliet, which is the problem with most romantic comedies, is that the only reason to root for the two lovers is force of habit.  The audience knows going into the theatre that Sophie and Charlie are meant to be together, so the writers and director aren’t compelled to present a believable couple.  From the minute the Sophie and Charlie meet, they bicker (like most rom-com couples).  He views her as a shallow and unrefined; she calls him a “prig.”  All it takes is a few montages of car rides through the Italian countryside before the two lovebirds are eating gelato and lying under the stars together.  The more interesting story lies with Claire’s search for Lorenzo, but the film treats it as a side plot, introducing an array of comically unsavory suitors.  The elegant Vanessa Redgrave deserves better, but did I really expect the director of Bride Wars to deliver it?

The rest of the cast is mostly fine, but “mostly fine” doesn’t cut it in the world of romantic comedies, which needs actors with strong chemistry to be effective.  As a travelogue for Italy, though, Letters to Juliet shines.  It would well be worth your time to catch the film at a second-run theatre or on Blu-ray just to view the beautiful Italian farmlands, vineyards, and historic cities.  Just don’t let those pesky characters with their derivative story get in your way.

May 16, 2010 at 9:24 am 6 comments

Love at First Sight: Michael Fassbender

I recently watched Inglorious Basterds again, which reminded me of how dreamy Michael Fassbender is.  He plays a small, yet pivotal, role in Basterds, but Fassbender gets plenty of screen time in Fish Tank, director Andrea Arnold’s 2009 British drama about a troubled teenager and her relationship with her mom’s new boyfriend, Connor.  From the moment he stumbles shirtless into Mia’s (Kate Jarvis) kitchen, Fassbender embodies practically any  fantasy a teenage girl or gay boy could conjure.  Sexy daddy figure?  Compassionate protector?  Roguish cad?  Check , check, and check.  It is hard to overstate how unbearably sexy he is in Fish Tank. Don’t believe me?  Check out the scene where Connor carries a sleeping Mia to her bed.  The scene is at once sweetly tender and overwhelmingly erotic.  Fish Tank doesn’t have a current DVD release date, but save it to your Netflix queue.  You can catch Fassbender this summer in Jonah Hex and next year in a remake of Jane Eyre.  Let the swooning begin.    

May 11, 2010 at 11:08 pm Leave a comment

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