Monday, December 15, 2008

The Hunted

2003 suspense drama by one of my favorite suspense directors William Friedkin who, in movies like The Exorcist and The French Connection, has a nack for scaring the crap out of you and, yet, making it to where you can't turn away. While The Hunted isn't as good as those two, it still falls in comfortably in their family and is really stinking good. The Hunted is about a man, Aaron, (Benicio Del Toro) whose identity was erased by the army so they could train him to be an ultimate assassin and yet he'd be perpetually classified (sort of a Jason Bourne kind of thing). Well, suddenly Aaron snaps and, as an Army guy says in the film, "can't tell the sharks from the guppies anymore" and starts killing people across the Pacific Northwest. Well, guess who else lives in the Pacific Northwest, the very dude that trained him to be this ultimate assassin, L.T. (played very well by Tommy Lee Jones). So they bring in L.T. to track him down and bring him to justice. L.T. is alot like Aaron, in that he's a master at what he does and he works best when he disappears. So, L.T. heads off into the wilderness outside Portland and looks for Aaron. The FBI has been looking for Aaron for some time now and wants to know if L.T. wants provisions, backup, weapons, etc. L.T. doesn't want any of it, not even a walkie talky, he's going in with what he's wearing and he says his only instructions are "if I'm not back in two days, I'm dead." Sound awesome yet? Well, it is. This movie is hella tense and just imagine being alone in the woods looking for a guy who L.T. describes as so good that "most of the people he's killed didn't know he was even in the room with him." Del Toro plays Aaron very very well and seems to simply disappear before your eyes on more than one occasion. And Jones doesn't play his normal character made famous in The Fugitive, instead, here, he's a quirky, eccentric who totally lacks confidence in the interpersonal department. This is one of those classic action movies (almost like an Eastwood western) where the 'good guy' and the 'bad guy' aren't that much apart and seem to really understand each other and yet also understand that the situation demands that they take each other down. Great stuff. Even though Jones is getting on in age, by action movie standards, he does very well in the intense fight scenes in this movie. This is a suspenseful, emotional, lean action flick that will keep you certainly engaged and keep your gut tense. Plus it shows off my home town and some of the beauty that surrounds it. If your looking for a good 'guy movie,' this is the one.

Worth Watching

Eastern Promises

2007 crime drama by master of the tense and creepy, David Cronenberg, about a Russian family very connected to the Russian mob that everyone seems to want access to whether it's a driver looking to move up in the ranks, a woman trying to find answers about a girl who turned up dead in her hospital or a police officer trying to bring the family down. What starts this great march to the sea is when a very young girl shows up very pregnant and deceased at a London hospital and her diary seems to implicate a local Russian restaurant owner (played as a wonderful, sweet, harmless old man by way too underrated actor Armin Mueller-Stahl) as the father, and not through consensual means. The nurse from the hospital (Naomi Watts) goes looking for answers and bites off more than she can chew, including simply making contact with a driver the family calls the undertaker (played to uber-creepy perfection by Viggo Mortensen). The performances in this movie are great and those great performances mixed with fantastic sights and sounds make this movie feel like you really did wander into the wrong part of town, rather than watching a movie about the wrong part of town. Where this movie falls short is in scope. Cronenberg simply tries to do too much, and in return doesn't do anything as well as he could have. There are too many story lines going on here. If he'd trimmed it up, made some primary stories backstories and streamlined the movie a bit more overall, then this really could've been a catchy, engaging crime drama, rather than a kind of boring slice-of-life drama. That said, the performances were all really, really good and felt totally natural, including some by actors like Mueller-Stahl and French actor Vincent Cassel who go way under-noticed. Long story short, this movie is gritty, tense and a good watch, but it's nothing great.


Sunday, December 14, 2008

Step Brothers

2008 comedy directed by Adam McKay and written by McKay and Will Ferrell, the same comedy team behind countless SNL sketches, Anchorman and Talladega Nights. This one is about two medical professionals who hit it off and soon learn that they both have a 40-something son whose still living at home. This couple soon falls in love, marries and moves in together. Now, I'm going to lay a little test on you at this point, because that's really about all you need to know about the story and premise. Here's my test: there's a scene where the dad makes a treehouse for the boys and fills it with Penthouse magazine b/c he knows they like it. Now, did that make you crack up? I mean, really laugh hard? Or did it, like me, make you mildly smile but pretty much forget about it two seconds later. Well, I use that as a test, b/c that's really a snapshot of the movie. It doesn't really matter what happens in the movie b/c really it's just one moderately funny joke played over and over. I asked at one point, "what could the director say during this scene, except, alright John and Will, now, act like your seven and react to whatever happens like a seven-year-old." And it's funny, b/c they're not seven, right? Well, there you have it folks, that's the whole movie. I'm not saying it's never funny. All I'm saying is that one can only see so many shticky moments like this and keep laughing. After an hour or so, I just really didn't care anymore and wasn't doing any laughing. Maybe I just don't have the type of sense of humor that's amused by premise-alone or maybe this movie just falls short b/c all it has going for it is it's premise.

Saturday Afternoon

Four Christmases

Yeah, that's right, I saw it. Look, my wife's nine months pregnant and she wanted to see it, what am I supposed to say, huh? That said, Four Christmases is a 2008 comedy by, up until now, documentary filmmaker Seth Gordon. He's done funny doc's for several years now and made the leap into features with this flick. You see, when one makes a documentary they simply film as much as possible in an attempt to capture on screen what they see in their subject. That had to be the approach here. What I mean is, the best parts of this movie are those where the actors are let loose and the camera seems only to capture these comedic masters doing their thing. You don't go to this movie for the conflict, the drama, the story, the cinematography or even the message. Everything that I just mentioned is totally predictable and there's really nothing new here. The reason it's watchable is because of the moments you get now and then where people like Vince Vaughn and Robert Duvall are given a second to be hilarious. Even Mary Steenburgen is funny. In a way, this approach of mostly mundane moments peppered with funny moments feels realistic to the holiday experience. This movie is going to a relative's house that you don't see outside of the holidays and grinning and making it through the night, only to come home mostly bored but with some good stories about moments now and then where this or that crazy relative made you laugh. In other words, overall it's not worth it, but when it's funny it really is funny. Plus it's a sweet message and christmasy and blah blah blah. I say, if you want a good Christmas flick see other things like Home Alone, Meet Me In St Louis or Love Actually and skip this one.

Saturday Afternoon

Monday, December 1, 2008

We Own the Night

2007 crime drama starring Mark Wahlberg and Joaquin Phoenix and written/directed James Gray whose only other flick in the last 14 years was The Yards, a crime drama starring Mark Wahlberg and Joaquin Phoenix. Gray also has a romantic comedy coming out in February starring an actor named Joaquin Phoenix. Wait, is anyone else detecting a pattern here? Anyway, jokes aside, We Own the Night is a rough, gripping movie about family. It starts with a father and his two sons, who are pretty much all that's left of their family, as the mom is now deceased and no one else is ever even mentioned. The father is a police chief and one of the sons (Wahlberg) is a police captain. Phoenix, however, is a manager at a bar/nightclub and lives a life that's pretty simple and hedonistic. His life doesn't have the drama that his father/brother's do and they resent him for it. All of a sudden stuff hits the fan and the already fragile family they have going on becomes even more threatened. You see a regular at Phoenix's club has put a hit out on his brother AND father and an assassin has shot Wahlberg. The only reason Phoenix's character is ok is that he's changed his name and no one even knows who his father or brother is. So he has a chance, he can go on living his life and not worry about them, or he can (as my father used to say) rally the troops and take up his family's fight. Problem is, his family's fight is the fight of the police, and that means he basically has to abandon his life/lifestyle. So will he forsake himself for the sake of the family or will he continue on and turn his back on them in the biggest way he could? That's basically the movie. All three of the leads (which includes a great turn by Robert Duvall), and Eva Mendes, are great and truly exude the weight of such a heavy situation. And man is it heavy. This film has a tone and a tension that reminded me of suspense greats like Seven and Psycho and there are times in this movie (like a scene in a secret drug lab) that truly had my gut in a knot. It's definitely dark but the message is good and if you're looking for something that straddles that line well, this is the movie for you. If that's not your bag, then you may wanna skip it.

S'good/Worth Watching