Tuesday, October 9, 2012

God Bless America

Frank Murdoch suffers from migraines, has neighbors who drive him crazy, works at an uptight way-too-pc insurance company, watches way too much reality tv, has a brat daughter, a spineless ex wife and is just about to reach his overflow point on the bullshit meter. Just when he seems about to lose it, he finds out he has an inoperable brain tumor. He decides he cannot take it anymore and to take his own life. With the gun in his mouth, his eye catches a sweet sixteen-esque reality show and gets a better idea. Instead of killing himself, why not go on a killing spree first, blowing away everyone who represents the shallow, idiotic and lazy parts of American culture.

He quickly teams up with a high school student with a similarly lax view of killing and enraged opinion of the state of the populace in America. And so the Bonny and Clyde wannabe’s begin their trek across the country obliterating the Bill O’Reilly’s, the Westboro Baptist Churches and the American Idol’s of the world. How long will he last before cancer or cops take him out?
I gotta say, the premise of this movie sounds fun. Not that killing sounds fun, but I do like the idea of a cathartic comedy about a man who goes on a Falling Down style rampage on the aspects of our culture that seem to me to be poisoning the American well. At the same time, I fear the premise comes off as a bit of a one-note approach. Basically, a premise like that can only stay engaging for so long. Might have been better suited for, say, a short or for the first and second act of the film.
The biggest problem with God Bless America, however, is it’s mixed morality and message. The main character seems so annoyed by lethargy, sloth and idiocy that he’s willing to murder, yet the guy is chubby, sits at home watching mindless television all day and doesn’t have the jewels enough to stand up to anyone, not his ex-wife, not his job, not even his neighbors. In other words, how far a cry removed is he from his victims? Then there’s the fact that there are victims at all. Now, I know, this is a comedy and meant to be ridiculous, but, still, the very premise that the way to confront those you dislike is through murder sort of dilutes the message a bit, doesn’t it?
So, did I hate it? No, I actually enjoyed it quite a bit. The reason I liked it, beyond liking the idea of indulging in a bit of comedic revenge fantasy, largely lies in the fantastic performances of Joel Murray and Tara Lynne Barr. They are great, I mean, really great. They made the characters human and funny. I also like when actors who are new or relatively obscure step up to the plate and knock it out of the park. This is Barr’s one and only film credit and Joel Murray is one of those actors that you know you’ve seen in something or other but you can’t remember what it was. He’s perhaps best known as Bill Murray’s brother, which is not exactly what an actor wants as their claim to fame. Well, they both kicked ass here. So, in the end, if you want to indulge in some well acted but (unintentionally ironically) shallow revenge comedic catharsis, then this is your flick. I gotta say, I didn’t mind seeing them take out those Westboro Baptists folks, that’s for sure.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted

This time around the foursome hits the road and makes a real push to get back to New York. In the last episode (apparently) (I didn’t see it), the penguins left, promising to go to Monte Carlo, win big at the casino and come back to get them. Well, they never came back, so, the plan for the foursome is to go to Monte Carlo, find the penguins and get to New York. When they find them, the penguins have indeed won big, but getting out of town proves tougher than they thought, as the formidable animal control officer, Chantel DuBois, is bound and determined to stop them. So, how can a group of animals sneak their way out of Europe? Well, why not a traveling circus.
What to say about this one? The storytelling is lazy, the plot formulaic, the premises and their set ups are downright preposterous and many of the ethnic characters are shallow (the Russian does little more than eat borscht and the Italian cops have the big noses and exaggerated accents of stereotypes).  Yet, despite all that, I did enjoy it and was engaged. Both of my daughters also dug it. Neither of them loved it, though, and neither did I, which about sums it up. It’s fun, it has funny moments, the penguins and Sacha Cohen are great as usual and Frances McDormand’s DuBois is fun and interesting, but none of it comes off as all that original and all of it is very predictable. So, it’s fun, but nothing life changing for sure.

Friday, October 5, 2012

The Raid Redemption

The Raid Redemption tells the story of a raid gone terribly wrong. A 20-man swat team is brought in to raid a large apartment building, with the goal being to get in and get out fast and undetected. Things don’t go quite as planned when a small boy sets off the alarm in the building almost immediately after they arrive. The team didn’t expect that the crime boss, who lives on the top floor, had recruited, well, everyone who lives in the apartment building. The place is populated by either foot soldiers or tenants required to fight for their stay. Thus, the team is now tasked with making their way floor by floor, slowly and painstakingly to the top. Will they make it? Will they get their man?
This movie is really great. While it’s full of action movie clichés (there’s an old cop on the verge of retirement, a rat in the group and a rookie who has to step up and take over the leadership role and on and on), somehow it feels fresh and unique. Maybe that’s because the action is so good that it makes up for the cut and paste plot. The lead, played very well by Iko Uwais, has great chemistry with his brother in the film, also played well by Donny Alamsyah and man the choreography is good. In fact, Screen Gems just picked up the rights to do a remake, but part of the actual deal is that they also get the choreographer. That gives you a glimpse at how much ass is kicked in this flick. There are moves, fights and kills that are really powerful. Interesting stuff. So, if you’re in the mood for a movie that is simple, straight forward “say hello to my boomstick” action, then pick this one up. Don’t wait for some glossy, vapid, uninteresting remake. Be able to tell you friends, “well, it was alright, but it wasn’t as good as the original.”

Monday, October 1, 2012

Night and the City

Night and the City is a film noir drama that tells of the sharp and sudden rise and fall of hustler Harry Fabian. The film is set in London and follows Fabian as he attempts to turn the lemon that is his life into lemonade. Though it’s not explained, it appears that Fabian hasn’t always been so obsessed with success, but, whatever the cause, he is now and man is he obsessed. Day and night, all he can think about is how to ‘get on top’ and be one of the rich and powerful that he idolizes. He keeps many irons in the fire constantly and, thereby, often finds himself short on capital and overextended. In short, this makes him a very small step from living like a bum at any given moment of the day.
Suddenly he meets a wrestling legend and realizes the legend is personally training a protégée that he doesn’t want to end up in the hands of his son, who just so happens to have a strangle-hold on the wrestling scene in London. So, seeing opportunity, Fabian says he’s a promoter as well and would be happy to promote the protégée. All he needs now is the capital to perfect the scam that he’s a legit promoter and he could potentially make tons of cash off this fight. Icarus’ downfall came only when he flew too close to the sun and like Icarus, this ambitious venture may well prove to be Fabian’s downfall.
I liked this movie quite a bit. It’s noir, so the plot is a bit predictable and Richard Widmark’s performance as Fabian is a bit of a caricature, but outside of that I have very few complaints. The cinematography and production design are fantastic. The cinematography in and of vehicles was especially good and ahead of its time. This was clearly a labor of love for the director, Jules Dassin, and this can be seen in his treatment of Gregarious the Great, the wrestling legend. The ancillary characters are absolutely perfect in this movie and none better than the aged legend, his son and the two wrestlers featured. Why do their performances feel so natural? Well, part of it, I’m sure is the superb direction, but it also helps that they are from that world in real life. The aged legend is played by Stanislaus Zbyszko, a real life legendary strong man from the wrestling and vaudeville circuits of way back. The two active wrestlers are played by actual wrestlers, including one who won bronze at the Olympics. In other words, it felt legit. If you like noir and like to watch the obsessed become consumed by their obsessions, check this one out, fo sho.