Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Law Abiding Citizen

The latest film from F. Gary Gray, who has a great track record with "Set it Off", "The Negotiator", "The Italian Job", stars Jamie Foxx and Gerard Butler in a cat and mouse game of a man fighting a system he sees as corrupt and in need of a lesson.

Jamie Foxx plays a fast-rising Philly prosecutor with goals of being a DA and possibly mayor and intent on maintaining a high conviction rate. Gerard Butler is a brilliant gadget-man/inventor whos wife and daughter are killed during a home invasion. Nick (Jamie Foxx) cuts a deal with one of the criminals in order to secure a conviction. This move creates the very interesting story of what happens when one man fights back in order to prove his point. The most interesting part is trying to figure out who to root for and wondering if Clyde (Gerard Butler) is an ordinary citizen or actually a psychopath who will stop at nothing to right a wrong. At what point does torture and murder cross the line into becoming a serial killer?

Although the movie relies on some very gruesome and ingenious ways to dispose of many involved in the deal that let the killer go free, it does stay in the gray for most of the movie and makes you question yourself and ask if you would do the same thing. There is great sub-text about citizens rights, torture, the death penalty and the justice system that keep the story from bogging down.

The token ending, where we see our prosecutor realize the folly of his ways and attend his daughters recital, was laughable. Aside from that, I thought it was a well directed effort and a movie that will keep you thinking after the credits roll.


Sunday, February 21, 2010

The Wolfman

Let me start by saying I’m a sucker for so many aspects of this movie going in, that I’m not sure I should even be reviewing it. First, this movie stars some actors I really enjoy, like Benecio del Toro, Hugo Weaving, Anthony Hopkins, and Emily Blunt. Then note it’s a re-envisioning of a classic horror movie, aimed, I’m sure, at those weirdo’s out there like me who are both horror geeks and movie history geeks. Add the fact that it’s as much a gore flick as a thriller, with blood and guts galore and more than moon’s worth of severed appendages. Then you can toss in the fact that it’s oddly directed by Joe Johnston whose previous work is mostly in family classics like Honey, I Shrunk the Kids and The Rocketeer and you have me certainly interested (no matter what the reviews say).

The Wolfman tells the story of a mysterious American actor named Lawrence who is suddenly called back to his family estate in a small English town. He was sent away to live with his American aunt as a very small boy and has never returned. Now, he arrives because of news that his brother is missing. Soon after arriving he discovers his brother is not only dead but that his brother was horribly mauled. The townsfolk believe it was a bear that gypsies recently brought to town, but Lawrence suspects the answer might be hidden in his family’s dark secrets.

This leads him, nonetheless, to the gypsies with questions about curses. This turns out to be a terrible move as he realizes the killer is a werewolf and he knows this because he was bitten and now too is a werewolf. But Lawrence sees it for the curse it is and seeks to find out how to stop it. This movie is not great and at times quite a bit campy, but I still thought it was a lot of fun and was certainly engaging. They rely WAY too much on the haunted house trick of scaring you by jumping out at you or creating a sudden loud noise. That said, the production design is excellent, as the movie feels very in line with the gothic Victorian English motif of so many classic horror flicks. And while there wasn’t exactly much asked of the actors, I liked the performances of each of them. All in all, it’s not exactly a movie that’s going to change your life, but (hell, like Honey, I Shrunk the Kids) you’re probably going to enjoy watching it. See it if you’re looking for a good scare and a decent movie, though you may want to catch it at a matinee or second run theater.


The Four of the Apocalypse

Famed Italian horror director Lucio Fulci had two distinct periods of success in the moviemaking industry that were, unfortunately, followed each by periods of terrible films. Between the first and second waves of greatness, he decided to make a little money doing westerns, which were enourmously popular and profitable in Europe of the early 70’s. He made three spaghetti westerns and this was the second of the two, which was made in 1974. I like Fulci, and I love spaghetti westerns, but I have always skipped Fulci’s westerns because they are so generally seen as cinematic junk food. After watching what most agree is his best of the three, I wish I would’ve skipped it again.

This movie is not typical spaghetti western, outside of the fact that it was shot in Spain with Italian actors but the story takes place in Utah, and is more like a typical late 60’s/early 70’s movie. They do drugs and the filmmaker shoots it through trippy lenses. They ride through the fields to kitchy pop songs about riding through the fields. Though set a century ago, they uses phrases like “dude,” “man,” and “don’t try to jive me daddy.” The writing sucks and the performances are caricatures. Put it all together and it’s nothing but a flick you’d see late at night on some non-mainstream cable channel. Go see a Fulci movie, just don’t go see this one.


Shutter Island

I can’t tell you much about this 2010 drama by Martin Scorsese because the less you know, the more you’re likely to enjoy the movie. What I can tell you is this, in 1954 a deputy US Marshall named Teddy Daniels believes a prison off the coast of Massachusetts for the mentally ill may not be what it seems. He believes the facility is being used as to test the bounds of brainwashing in a Nazi-esque barbarian fashion. As he was one of the GI’s who liberated Dachau, he doesn’t take to kindly to this occurring on American soil. He finds a partner and an excuse to get on the island to do some snooping and “blow the lid off” the secret.

The problem for Teddy is that nothing appears to be as it seems and the more he discovers the more confusing it gets. No one seems to trust each other and even the two Marshals begin suspecting each other. Is it true or are things not so bad or are the partners simply losing it or are things actually worse than even Teddy imagined? Well, you’ll have to watch the movie to find out.

This movie is odd, confusing, dark, stylized, and aspects of it, most notably the score, seem almost jarringly out of sync with the rest, but none of these statements is a criticism. In fact, it seems Scorsese wants the audience to be driven a little crazy too, so that by the end you, the viewer, is in a state of unease, questioning what you’re seeing and hearing. I bring up the score because it is very odd and seems turned up too loud, like a boat horn. But it works. In fact, just about all of it works. It’s clear that Scorsese wanted to turn up the darkness meter on this one in every decision he made, not just the score. He enlisted Robert Richardson to do the cinematography, a cinematographer famous for movies like Kill Bill and Inglourious Basterds. And he hired Laeta Kalogridis as the screenwriter, who’s currently working on other projects called things like Demonkeeper and Darksiders and who previously wrote the quite freaky Russian horror flick Night Watch. The production designer’s the guy that did Sweeney Todd and Interview with a Vampire. Hell, even the warden is played by the guy who played Buffalo Bill in Silence of the Lambs. You get my point. This is a tense, dark, brooding sort of picture that will leave you in a pretty heavy place. If that’s the sort of thing you’re looking for, then look no further. Everyone does a great job in this and the quality comes through.



1997 Canadian horror flick that tells the story of a group of people who suddenly find themselves in a bare 14x14 room with six doors. One door leads to another 14x14 room, while the others all lead to horrible demises. They must find a way out, figure out the system, before they run out of air, die of hunger or loose it and kill each other. All three possibilities seem to become more and more likely the longer the movie progresses. And their biggest problem is that they have no idea if there even is a system or a way out.

I gotta say, I didn’t love this movie. The acting is pretty second rate and the story doesn’t really go anywhere. While the methods of death are creative, what happens in the room otherwise is all pretty conventional. The people have pasts they don’t want to disclose, they begin to question whether or not there’s a way out, they fight amongst each other, one of them may be a mole, etc. In other words, all the stuff happens that you’d expect to happen in a movie like this. In other words, it wasn’t awful, but it’s not all that good either. A definite Saturday afternoon sort of movie.


High Tension

This 2003 French horror flick tells the story of a fateful night in the French countryside for Alex’s family. Alex asked her friend Marie, a fellow law student, to join her at her family’s country home for some exam cramming. Problem is, soon after arriving, a razor-wielding psycho arrives as well. Dude is crazy and seems to want nothing more than to kill them all in as horrific ways as possible. Like any other such slasher flick at a remote locale, the goal of the one or two that haven’t been killed is to get away to safety.

This movie is awesome. It’s scary as hell. It’s shot well, acted well, and progresses in a very tense way. Start to finish, it never seems to let up and, even though the filmmakers rely quite a bit on convention, they do it well enough to keep it engaging. Be forewarned, though, while it’s scary as hell, it’s also violent as hell. It’s a true ripper flick, I’m talking decapitations folks. If you like movies that are certain to frighten the crap outta ya and highly likely to scar you emotionally, then check this movie out, because, like I said, this movie is awesome.


Friday, February 19, 2010

The Garbage Pail Kids Movie

There’s really nothing for me to say about this movie. It’s truly awful. Want to hear the premise? The premise that got this picture greenlit and funded? So, here’s how they describe the premise of their movie, “Typical teen Dodger gets the surprise of his life when he uncovers a repulsive gang of alien kids and they help him fight a bunch of bullies.” Yep, that’s it.

This movie is terrible. It’s not funny. It’s not scary. It’s not engaging in anyway. I love campy crap, but this is isn’t camp, it’s nothing. Let me put it this way, Rod Ameteau directed this movie and had been directing films for decades before this one. This flick was his last, he would live for decades longer and never direct another project. Telling, no? I liked it when it came out, but watching it now when I’m not 8 makes me wish I’d left it in memoryland. If you want some fun camp from the 80’s, email me and I’ll recommend quite a few that don’t involve this one.


Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Lacombe Lucien

Lucien is a sociopath. And I mean that. A sociopath is defined as, among other things, a person who has a grandiose sense of self, a lack of shame, guilt or remorse and an ongoing disregard for the rights of others. Lucien is a sociopath who has an insatiable ego and could give a rat’s ass about anything or anyone he meets. So who does a young man such as this join up with in late-1930’s France? Oh, not the resistance, but the Gestapo. Promise Lucien power and toss some booze and guns his way and you’ve got him hooked. And once in, man he can be scary. An older man in one scene tells him what to do, so Lucien simply informs the man he doesn’t like being told what to do and, without even knowing the man’s name or why he’s in the office, chains him up, puts duct tape over his mouth, draws a mouth on the duct tape in lipstick and opens a straight razor, only to be abruptly interrupted.

After joining the Gestapo, Lucien begins making frequent trips to a particular Jewish family who is allowed to live under the radar because the do the Gestapo’s tailoring. This sort of place is perfect for Lucien because he waltzes in holding all the cards. Though they are much older, he hits on the daughter, eats the food and just generally degrades them. The daughter’s name is France and, beyond being beautiful, talented, smart and artistic, she is frustratingly infatuated with Lucien. She finds him utterly repulsive but can’t seem to pull her gaze away from him. The first second she seems him she can’t seem to stop staring. It’s as though she knows that he goes against all that she is; yet she can’t help but be magnetized to his power and confidence. In other words, she wants to hate him, she ought to hate him, but somehow she can’t stop wanting him.

Are you catching the morality tale Louis Malle is telling in this 1974 French classic? ‘France’ is suddenly confronted with a Nazi at her doorstep and, try as she might, she ultimately can’t turn away from him. Malle is pointing a stern finger at his homeland and, not surprisingly, this movie was very controversial when it came out. It’s a fantastic piece that is shot well, performed well and written insanely well. The production is so detailed and natural that it’s truly amazing. If you’re looking for a flick that will get you thinking and keep you thinking, this is one you should pick up, especially if you tend to geek out about World War II.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

What Doesn't Kill You

Brian Goodman has been a South Boston thug all his life. He’s the kind of guy who feels more at home holding someone up at gunpoint than he does spending time with his wife and kids. He runs poker games, pulls heists and, eventually, gets wholeheartedly hooked on cocaine. His life is falling apart and seems to reach it’s lowest low when he is shot three times when stumbling his way home from a bar only to be busted by the police during a TV truck heist just a couple days later. He spends the next five years in prison thinking about his life. He happens to be in there with his best friend/fellow thug and his crime boss, so it’s not like he’s spending those years in thoughtful meditation about the honest life on the outside. Instead he’s given a chance to really think about his life, both sides of the coin, and once those five years are up he has a choice to make: stay sober and become an honest family man or go back to the school of hard living.

This is a true story and the movie is actually written, produced and directed by Brian himself. This can sometimes lead to a movie with good intentions but not enough good execution. This isn’t that. This movie feels effortless and straight from the heart. Just about every moment feels very genuine and natural. The writing is good, the story is engaging and the performances are really great. I think this is my favorite Ethan Hawke (the best friend) performance of all time; he truly seems like a scumbag many of us have met before. This movie had practically zero boxoffice presence, so seek it out, find it, rent it and enjoy it. It flew under the radar and really shouldn’t have. See it.


Monday, February 1, 2010

On a Clear Day

This 2005 Scottish film tells the story of a major decision and accomplishment in Frank’s life. Frank is man who was recently fired from a job at which he worked for 36 years. He’s devastated and lost. His ship has lost it’s rudder. He decides to conquer his demons by conquering the French Channel. Problem is, he’s not all that fit and is in his 50’s. But nothing will stop Frank’s quest to force the slate clean by achieving the seemingly impossible.

It’s an alright movie. The story is nice and it’s good to watch an inspiring flick now and then. Some of the performances are pretty shallow and the movie, overall, lacked the tightness of a well-directed flick, with some scenes that went unnecessarily long and others that were really just redundant. In the end the movie did too much and too little and it made it mediocre where it could’ve been darn good. I liked Peter Mullen and both Brenda Blethyn and Billy Boyd were pretty good. There were some good inspiration moments now and then too, but in the end it just wasn’t all that great.