Friday, January 27, 2012
Walking into a film with no expectations is sometimes the best way to approach things. The month of January is usually a dead end for films, which have one or more flaws that prevented it from being released during the summer or holidays. For my first film of 2012, I was pleasantly entertained. "Man on a Ledge" is a debut film from director Asger Leth and long-time TV movie writer Pablo Fenjves. The title of the film doesn't leave a lot to the imagination, but the story surprisingly has some layers to it.
The story centers on an ex-cop, Nick (Sam Worthington), that is in prison for a crime that he claims he didn't commit. However, it takes nearly half of the film to disclose what exactly the crime was and during this time you never really care what the outcome of his decision to step out of a window and onto the ledge of the 21st floor of a Manhattan hotel. The circumstances of his decision as well as his identify are coincidently unknown to the NYPD. The plan is to prove his innocence and his retrial will be by the public on the ledge. What exactly this means is a mystery to the NYPD, but the pieces start to present themselves to the audience as Nick speaks with Detective Lydia Mercer (Elizabeth Banks), a negotiator who recently suffered a very public failure. He tells her that he was falsely convicted of his crimes, set up by a David Englander (Ed Harris), an arrogant millionaire. Without any proof Nick's brother, Joey (Jamie Bell), and his sexy girlfriend, Angie (Genesis Rodriguez), come into play as they are will steal the diamond that Nick was wrongfully accused of stealing. Conveniently, it is located across the street and the diversion Nick creates allows for the necessary time.
The performances in the film are okay if you can get past the inconsistent accents of Sam Worthington (also seen in The Debt), Jamie Bell (also seen in The Adventures of Tin Tin) and surprisingly Kyra Sedgwick who has a unique way of saying her name on camera. The threat of Nick jumping is never believable, which takes away from the likeability of the characters. During the final sequences of the heist Sam Worthington is finally in his element as an action star. Unfortunately it is too late, as I didn't feel invested in the outcome anymore. The rest of the cast were good, but I would rather see Elizabeth Banks in Our Idiot Brother (2011) and Anthony Mackie in Adjustment Bureau as their characters were very flat in this film.
For what the film is trying to accomplish, I give it credit. It is an entertaining film that absent its minor flaws will keep your attention up to the end. "Man on a Ledge" is a magic trick to get you looking in one direction, only to have a diamond appear from the other direction. The mechanisms employed by Asger Leth and Pablo F. Fenjves to deliver the twists are easily picked up and don't really surprise the audience. The ending isn't much to talk about as it almost comes as an afterthought to wrap up any loose ends, but doesn't dissuade from a 3 Quack rating.
Thursday, January 26, 2012
So often the films nominated for Oscars in the less familiar categories are ignored by the general public. These are usually the documentary and short film categories, which you have to make a lot of effort to find usually. For "The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore" William Joyce and Brandon Oldenburg offer up a unique style of animation that is reminiscent of a silent film like "The Artist" (2011).
The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore is a charming story about the curative powers of story. The story follows a young man in love with books and writing who is swept away by a tornado (similar to The Wizard of Oz). When the storm settles, everything is in black-and-white with his book void of writing. He comes across a library full of living, flying books that brings joy (and color) back into his life, and in turn, he takes care of them.
Here is the full version, so watch it while you can as they get pulled off the Internet sometimes. This is my pick for best Short Animated Film (5 Quacks)...
"Albert Nobbs" is taken from a short story written by George Moore titled "The Singular Life of Albert Nobbs". Rodrigo Garcia and Glenn Close have done an amazing job bringing the story to life with the screenplay written by Glenn Close. The film has been a project of Glenn Close for nearly 30 years as she performed the title character on stage in 1982. After several production and casting difficulties the film finally found a home with Rodrigo Garcia who Glenn Close has worked with on several projects. Rodrigo Garcia was brilliant with "In Treatment" and continues to show that his ability to transform the embattled female character.
The story of Albert Nobbs (Glenn Close) is a classical question of self-identity and love. The twist is that Albert Nobbs is a woman who seeks independence in 19th Century Dublin by posing as a man. Although this disguise is financially liberating, it leads to an isolation that leaves Nobbs emotionally unfulfilled. While working in a hotel, Albert meets Hubert Page (Janet McTeer) who has also taken to wearing men's clothing and is employed as a painter. The imprisonment that Nobbs has self-imposed appears to be liberated by Page, who becomes the ideal Nobbs has longed for. Albert's loneliness is not a result of the fact that she is dressed as a man, but that she must choose between two ideals, neither of which she can live up to: man or woman. In her search for happiness, Albert decides, on the advice of Hubert Page, to pursue a courtship with another woman. This fails miserably. Helen Dawes (Mia Wasikowska) rejects Albert because she fails to exhibit traditional male courting behaviors, yet Helen's own behavior is an artifice calculated to seduce Albert out of her money.
The supporting cast is brilliant with Brendan Gleeson as the Doctor standing out in a performance strikingly similar to "The Guard" (2011) as a man that enjoys life a bit too much with the women, food and alcohol. Mia Wasikowska continues to impress, but can she step away from a period piece like "Jane Eyre" (2011) and be a youth like she was with "The Kids are All Right" (2010). Jonathan Rhys Meyers is practically a cameo as the extravagant nobleman Viscount Yarrell who has his own secrets that he can only indulge in the privacy of the hotel. Antonia Campbell-Hughes as a maid has an interesting way to stand out on the screen with her powerful eyes. Her role is very minor, but she is one to watch in the future. However, of all the supporting performances it is Janet McTeer that steals every scene she is in. The audience reaction when she exposes herself to Nobbs was brilliant.
The story of a person suppressing themselves to fit into society has been done before with "Brokeback Mountain". However, the classical approach to the story is treated more delicately with Albert Nobbs. The performances from Glenn Close and Janet McTeer were brilliant and very deserving of an award nomination for lead and supporting, respectively. I would like to see a nomination for best film as this is yet another 5 Quack film for the year.
In yet another example of the MPPA ratings being misguided this film received an R rating and absolutely doesn't deserve it.
Monday, January 23, 2012
The film is based on a script from Will Reiser, who was diagnosed with cancer and shares his personal experience in this emotional story of a nice guy who is diagnosed with cancer and the roller coaster of emotions and experiences that he must go through. "50/50" is directed by Jonathan Levine, who's most recent film was "The Wackness" (2008), showed the balance between comedy and a serious dramatic topic. With any movie that involves the topic of cancer, or any other terminal illness, having that balance with comedy is extremely important. Too much comedy and the topic isn't taken seriously enough, and too little comedy results in a dry heartless film that feels like it will never end. The balance allows for the audience to connect with the characters, which is something that Will Reiser and Jonathan Levine have successfully provided us with "50/50".
The story follows Adam (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), a young man coping with a cancer diagnosis. Fortunately, he doesn't have to go through the battle alone as he has his best friend, Kyle, played by Seth Rogen and an over-bearing mother played by Anjelica Huston. The cast is sparked by Anna Kendrick and Bryce Dallas Howard. However, it might be the performance from Philip Baker Hall as a fellow cancer patient that helps provide the most comfort to Adam.
Comparisons to "Funny People" (2009), but is more similar to "Love and Other Drugs" (2010) and "Philadelphia" (1993). The reason I make that indifference is because of how the story focuses on the emotions of the individual battling the illness as compared to how it impacts those around you. Additionally, the connection made with the main character is much stronger and believable in these other films as compared to Adam Sandler from "Funny People" who is a jerk through most of the movie. I very much enjoyed "Funny People", but these other films are much better.
Seth Rogen is hilarious in this role. Any film involving Seth Rogen seems to require the use of smoking weed. However, it is finally included for a proper reason as medicinal marijuana. The conversation between Adam, Kyle and two of Adam's older cancer friends is one of the best scenes in the movie second only to a scene near the end of the film with Joseph Gordon-Levitt behind the wheel of a car. The emotion that is portrayed in this film is so very powerful that it resonates with many of us that have gone through the battles of cancer with a loved one.
I could see this film receiving some attention for the screenplay and possibly Joseph Gordon-Levitt getting an acting nomination; however I would doubt he would win for it. I hope everyone marks their calendar for this film in September and if you don't cry than you may not have a heart. For me it is a 5 Quack film.
(screening date 5/17/11, release date 9/30/11, location AMC Mazza Gallerie)
Diablo Cody hit such a high with her debut film "Juno" (2007) and had the sophomore slump with "Jennifer's Body" (2009), but finally with "Young Adult" we see the return of the sharply tongued writing styles that drew so many fans to her in the beginning. Even teaming up with Jason Reitman, director from "Juno", sounds like a smart way to recover from the sophomore slump. Unfortunately, this film was already made this year with "Bad Teacher" and the main character in the film doesn't have any grand revelation that changes her outlook.
The story is pretty simple, and fits perfectly in the R-rated comedy genre focusing on Mavis Gary (Charlize Theron), a young adult (YA) fiction writer, who has returned to her small-town Minnesota home, looking to rekindle a romance with her ex-boyfriend Buddy Slade (Patrick Wilson), who is now married with a child to Beth Slade (Elizabeth Reaser). Mavis Gary is clearly delusional and thinks of herself as a character in her YA books where everything will work out perfectly in the end. Whether it is the textual chemistry or the physical attention that she desires she clearly has a lot of problems and it is difficult for her to be happy. The story is leading her to an explosive encounter with Beth Slade and the rest of the town as witness to her breakdown.
The performances in the film are not the best. Charlize Theron in all her beauty is interesting to watch as her character is constantly covering up her beauty with make-up, manicures and pedicures to hide the depressed and bitter person she is on the inside. She believes that what is on the outside is important and not the beauty on the inside. Having to portray a character that is so easy to despise as the psychotic prom queen bitch, it is difficult to win an audience with, and she does a terrific job with what she has to work with, but ultimately I just didn't care about her in the end. Patrick Wilson was good in "Insidious", but is forgettable in this performance. It is almost as if he was trying to dumb down, or simplify, his character and doesn't comes across as being genuine.
The performance from Patton Oswalt as Matt Freehauf is probably the best of the film, as the guy that was picked on (and brutally attacked) in school that has grown up. His character was the victim of a hate crime in high school after being beat with a crowbar crushing his legs and genitals. Unfortunately, it was later considered not to be a hate crime when everyone realized he wasn't gay. He makes Mos Eisley Star Wars juice, re-purposes childhood toys in the style of "RobotChicken", and for the greater part of the film he is the voice of reason telling Mavis that she is delusional.
For a film that is about a person that is stuck in the past, and not able to move beyond their high school glory days the soundtrack is critical in executing that time capsule feeling. The soundtrack might be the best part of the film and I wish I had a "Mad Love Buddy" mixtape with 1990s-created alt-rock cuts. The soundtrack includes the Replacements, the Lemonheads, Dinosaur Jr., Teenage Fanclub ("The Concept" is arguably the theme of the film, played several times), Cracker, 4 Non Blondes and Veruca Salt. I am hoping that the studio, or a fan, will produce some band t-shirts for Nipple Confusion.
With the writer, director and actor's invovled in the film I wanted to like this more, but it falls in the middle of the road with just 3 Quacks. There is clever writing, but that can only take you so far when you have characters that you just don't really care about. So make a trip to Ken-Taco-Hut and wait for this film on DVD.
I didn't have any great expectations going into this film, but with a cast that includes Danny McBride, Nick Swardson and Aziz Ansari it gave me some hopes for something funny. Even the one tone Jesse Eisenberg gave me a little hope. Part of why I was apprehensive is that Ruben Fleischer who also directed Zombie Land (2009). The story may borrow from an Erie, PA pizza delivery man who was killed by a bomb after he robbed a bank.
The movie plot follows Nick (Jesse Eisenberg), a pizza delivery slacker, who lives with his friend Chet (Aziz Ansari), a teacher with an awesome laser pointer. The first 15 minutes puts you in the car with Nick on a delivery as he has 30 minutes or else the pizza is free. On the last delivery of the night, Nick gets jumped by Dwayne (Danny McBride) and Travis (Nick Swardson) who strap a bomb to Nick's chest, and give him ten hours to rob a bank and bring the money back to them so that they can hire an assassin (Michael Pena) to kill Dwayne's father so that Dwayne can receive the inheritance and open a tanning salon as a front for a whore house.
The film is easily compared to Pineapple Express (2008), as the action packed buddy comedy that is reminiscent of Beverly Hills Cop (1984). I am a big fan of Danny McBride ("East Bound and Down") and Aziz Ansari ("Parks and Recreation") who can be vulgar and off the wall in their comedy. Both are over-the-top and along with the writing make for a hilarious film. There were clever references to Facebook and a funny rant by Aziz Ansari on the pricing of Netflix.
I was very entertained by the film and while the film has its drawbacks it never takes itself seriously. The film will be very quotable for you and your friends. For all of these reasons I give it 3 Quacks and a strong recommendation. In the end, it can still be debated how the Erie, PA story impacted the writing of the film, but you will have to watch the film yourself to see if the ending is the same.
(screening date 7/25/11, release date 8/12/11, location Regal Gallery Place 14)
"The Help" is a compelling story about courage and civil rights from the best selling novel written by Kathryn Stockett about a southern society girl, Skeeter (Emma Stone), in Mississippi during the 1960s, who is determined to become a writer when she decides to interview the black women who have spent their lives taking care of prominent southern families. The film is director Tate Taylor's sophomore directorial work following the "Pretty Ugly People" (2008) that he wrote and directed, which received mixed reviews. With "The Help" he has the backing of a powerful novel to work with that he follows closely to retain the beauty of the story.
The film shows how the bond between the black maids and the children they take care of is stronger than even with their mother's who are more concerned with their social position than with the responsibilities of being a mother. This was beautifully shown by Aibileen (Viola Davis) where she tells the child that she cares for "you is kind, you is smart, you is important"; and continues throughout as she provides comfort at times of ignorance from the mother. The same passion is shown by Constantine (Cicely Tyson) who helped raise Skeeter into the independent and compassionate woman that Emma Stone portrays. The courage and compassion that Skeeter demonstrates by approaching a difficult civil rights issue that is being lead by her childhood friend Hilly (Bryce Dallas Howard) is the catalyst for Aibileen to find the strength that she has lost.
The book that Skeeter writes is the black maids perspective comprised of stories from Aibileen as well as Minny (Octavia Spencer) who shows Celia Foote (Jessica Chastain) how important Crisco is and the most memorable story about "Two Slice Hilly". Fair warning to stay away from any pie your friends/enemies make you. However, the book wouldn't be complete without her own story about her relationship with Constantine and her mother Charlotte (Allison Janney) who is battling cancer.
There are a few scene stealers in the cast as well including the hilarious Leslie Jordan as the news paper boss for Skeeter that gives her a job and who is convinced that someday they will learn that smoking is bad for you. Not to be outdone is the always impressive Sissy Spacek as the mother to Hilly who is approaching a time in her life where she is becoming forgetful and rather than being assisted by her daughter she find comfort from Minny. She might be forgetful, but she will always remember two things (but you have to watch the movie to find out what those two things are).
Many of my friends spoke highly of the novel, and the film is even more successful than I had imagined. The performances carry the film along with the well written story from Kathryn Stockett. The most amazing performance comes from Viola Davis. I was critical of the Best Supporting Actress nomination Viola Davis received for her performance "Doubt" (2008), however she shines in this film in a more substantial role. Not only is she deserving of a best supporting actress nomination, but is quite possibly the leading contender. I give this film 4 Quacks.
Finally the comedy event of the summer has let itself be known. I know many had high hopes for "Hangover 2" and even "Bridesmaids" surprised people for being better than anticipated, but "Horrible Bosses" delivers where the others couldn't by being original (or at least more original than the others). The film is about three friends who for lack of a better word have "horrible" bosses and conspire to murder their bosses after realizing that they are standing in the way of their happiness.
With a cast that includes Jason Bateman, Charlie Day, Jason Sudeikis, and their respective horrible bosses Kevin Spacey, Jennifer Aniston, and Colin Ferrell the question can be asked "how could this movie not be awesome?". Jamie Foxx is the "consultant" to the revenge seeking employees attempting to guide them on their mission. Julie Bowen plays the sexy wife to Kevin Spacey. It is almost a battle between her and Jennifer Aniston as to who is more slutty in the film. Both might have the men saying that they "would like to bend over and show all 50 states". Okay that phrase may miss you now, but after watching the film you will be quoting it for sure.
What makes the bosses evil, crazy, psycho, people is what contributes to the laughter in the movie. Kevin Spacey is a high finance President that is a control freak reminiscent of "Office Space" (1999) telling Jason Bateman that he has to work weekends and gives him a hard time when he arrives at work at 6:02am for being 2 minutes late. Jennifer Aniston plays a dentist that sexually manipulates her dental assistant, Charlie Day, who may or may not be a registered sex offender. Colin Ferrell is the coked up son of Donald Sutherland that could care less about the family business and just wants to party.
There are some that may not know who Charlie Day is, but for those that have been following his sordid love affair with the waitress on "Always Sunny in Philadelphia" this film is perfect. The writing is simple and rotates between the three wanna-be criminals as we see just how horrible these bosses are. By the time the scheme gets put into operation you cannot help but want to support the idea, even if it is only hypothetical. The story never drags and there isn't some underlying romance like "Bridesmaids" used, resulting in a shorter film that is a perfect comedy that will keep people interested.
I have been asked if this film has any nudity. The screening version that I saw did not have any nudity, but Jennifer Aniston filmed a version of one of the film's scenes entirely topless and exposed, which is something new for her. Quack back with an update on whether or not that version of the scene was used in the film or if she still just had a lab coat on.
This film is the closest thing to a 4 Quack comedy that I have seen in a while. Nothing special really being done, but solid performances and a tighter script make it worth seeing. Horrible Bosses is an updated version of Office Space that will keep you laughing. Stick around during the credits for deleted scenes.
"Rise of the Planet of the Apes" is the origin story set in present day San Francisco, where man's own experiments with genetic engineering to find a cure of Alzheimer's disease lead to the development of intelligence in apes and the onset of a war for supremacy. The film is a prequel to one of the first sci-fi movie franchises that began with the 1968 original. I have never sat down and watched the original with Charlton Heston and Roddy McDowell, but I am somewhat familiar with the story.
The performances in the film from James Franco, John Lithgow and Freida Pinto are all flat and forgettable. This is easily done by the attention that was given to creating the primates lead by Andy Serkis as their leader Caesar. Andy Serkis is easily the best at his craft of motion-capture performance. His previous work in this technique for Gollum (Lord of the Rings) and "King Kong" (2005) received great recognition and his performance as Ceasar is amazing. The way he brings to life the emotion and humanity of Caesar with just the facial expressions and body movements is brilliant. It is clear that with Andy Serkis providing the performance that "Caesar is home".
The film finds a way to fall into the genre of prison films where Caeasar is ripped from his home for a crime that he didn't understand. In prison he is confronted with the challenges of the alpha male and the conditions of his evil handlers. Caesar becomes the leader through consultation of his consigliore played by a circus orangutan that also knows how to communicate through sign language and tells Caesar that the apes are stupid. This is the catalyst that Caesar needs to advance his plot for freedom.
I like James Franco, but something about him trying to explain science just makes me cringe. Unlike the performance from Richard Jenkins as an elderly man with Alzheimer's in "Friends with Benefits", the attempt from John Lithgow falls awkwardly flat. Another less than stellar performance comes from Tom Felton, who most people know as Draco Malfoy from the Harry Potter series. He tries so hard to act through his British accent, but it sneaks through a bit more than it should.
Put aside the ethical/moral issues of the film and enjoy a summer blockbuster for what it is supposed to be. There are some nice compliments to the previous films where Caesar is playing with a model of the Statue of Liberty and the throw-back line "get your stinking paws off me, you damned dirty ape". The film establishes the foundation for future sequels with news footage of a lost space ship, and a mutated virus. You might want to stick around a few minutes into the credits for a bonus scene. This is another 3 Quack film and fun for those with a craving for buttered popcorn and a large fountain soda.
Raymond Carver (1938-1988) is considered one of the most important American writers of the late 20th century and also a major force in the revitalization of the short story in the 1980s. He shared the same belief that Edgar Allen Poe wrote in an essay that anything worth reading should be able to be read in a single sitting. His writings were reflective of his personal experiences and offer a minimalist view on society as compared to the flamboyant writings of his contemporaries. Many of his stories hit on the themes of alcohol abuse and family struggles. "Everything Must Go" is an independent film based on the short story "Why Don't You Dance" adapted by first time writer/director Dan Rush.
The film expands upon the short story; starting with Nick (Will Ferrell) getting fired by his younger boss (Glenn Howerton) to start what is going to be the worst day of his life. He comes home to find that his wife has put all of his belongings on the front lawn with barely an explanation. As the story evolves we learn that Nick has issues with alcohol dependency, which have lead him to this situation. Unwilling to accept the reality of the situation he decides to live on his front lawn much in the way that the short story finds him. He encounters a young boy, Kenny (Christopher Jordan Wallace), who he eventually decides to employ to assist in what becomes an unusual yard sale. Along the way Kenny becomes his only friend and helps him realize what he needs to do. Other neighbors take notice and offer varying levels of support in his situation. His new neighbor (Rebecca Hall) offers a female perspective, while another (Stephen Root) supports in a more unconventional way. His only other friend is detective Frank (Michael Peña) who was his sponsor and has his own reasons for staying away from Nick as he deals with this situation.
Will Ferrell can be a polarizing actor with his comedy with some feeling his style of comedy is stupid, childish, or over-the-top; but others see the method that he is working with that allows him to act in a way that is more natural than others. Whether it be Buddy the Elf or George Bush he brings the characters to life in a unique way. In the film "Everything Must Go" he steps outside of his comfort zone with a more dramatic performance with just enough humor to keep the film moving. This isn't Will Ferrell's first departure from his comfort zone, as he did well with "Stranger Than Fiction" (2006) receiving a Gold Globe nomination. Personally, I feel that Will Ferrell and other comedians should do more movies like this to show that they are not just the funny guy. Robin Williams and Adam Sandler take risks with performances like this and I respect the risks they take.
The film tried to catch on at various festivals in 2010 and 2011, but never had a wide release. After watching the film, I wish it did as I can recommend this 3 Quack film to everyone. As a fan of all things that Quack, I noticed that University of Oregon offensive lineman, Tyler Johnstone, who grew up in the Phoenix, Arizona area is in the film. I am sure that unlike his character he doesn't hate slurpees though. Go Ducks!!!
Thursday, January 19, 2012
I would like to start by thanking the Tuskegee Airmen. My grandfather flew in the B-17 bombers in Italy the same time you were there and I am certain that you brought him home to my grandmother.
George Lucas has been pushing "Red Tails" to anyone that will listen, however to anyone that has been paying attention to his filmography realize that if it wasn't for the Star Wars and Indian Jones franchise, that he has been forgettable. I appreciate that he wants to honor the Tuskegee Airmen, but this wasn't the best attempt. If this was a comic book film the studio would be starting on a reboot. Unfortunately, with as passionate as George Lucas on the topic, the script created by John Ridley and Aaron McGruder is formulaic and lacks the complexity needed to properly show the appreciation that the Tuskegee Airmen deserve. There were just too many side stories that director Anthony Hemingway lacked the control over. The introduction, jump cuts, and overall appearance of the film had an amateur feel to it that it is difficult to take the film serious. The expectation of a George Lucas film is that the Industrial Light & Magic team will deliver a visually impressive film, but even this expectation falls flat during the airborne dogfight sequences.
The main story is one that everyone should know, which is about the 332nd squadron of African-American pilots in the Tuskegee training program during WWII who are stationed in Italy. The squadron is lead by Marty “Easy” Julian (Nate Parker) who uses alcohol to cope with the stress of the war. The rest of his squadron include the rule-breaking Joe “Lightning” Little (David Oyelowo); the religious Ray “Junior" or "Ray Gun” Gannon (Tristan Wilds) who prays to Black Jesus; , Andrew “Smoky” Salem (Ne-Yo), Samuel “Joker” George (Elijah Kelley) and Maurice “Bumps” Wilson (Michael B. Jordan). The sides stories of alcohol abuse and foreign romance don't contribute to the character development and overshadow the more important aspect of a soldier captured behind enemy lines and death.
In an attempt to sell more tickets, Cuba Gooding Jr. and Terrence Howard receive top billing as superiors Maj. Emanuelle Stance and Col. A.J. Bullard, respectively. Unfortunately, their performances are more like caricatures with Cuba Gooding Jr. smokes a pipe and trying to look serious; and Terrence Howard cracking his voice while he gives tough-love advice and taking the political stand to the Pentagon.
One final nitpick would be that with the majority of dialogue occurring while the actors back is to the camera; or with their faces covered by masks the result is the appearance of an audio track that feels dubbed.
I wanted to like this film more, but it really falls short of expectations and the level of respect the Tuskegee Airemen deserve. A 2 Quack rating is probably too generous, but I cannot turn my back on the film entirely. For anyone who would like to see how to properly treat the subject, the 1995 Emmy-winning HBO film "The Tuskegee Airman" (which co-starred Cuba Gooding, Jr.) is highly recommended.
Wednesday, January 18, 2012
Steven Soderbergh has a strong reputation in film making, which allows for him to make a movie like "Haywire". He can simply pick up the phone and ask his friends to show up, which allows for him to attract a talented cast to support the unknown star of the film, Gina Carano.
The story begins with freelance covert operative Mallory (Gina Carano) entering a diner and is soon confronted by Aaron (Channing Tatum) who is there to take her into custody. Their past is yet unknown, but after the first of many impressive fight scenes she escapes with one of the customers in the diner. It isn't entirely clear why she kidnaps Scott (Michael Angarano who was also in "Red State"), but she starts telling her story to him anyways as they start out on a road trip.
The majority of the film is told as a flash back telling the events that lead up to the confrontation in the diner. After a mission to rescue a hostage in Barcelona with Aaron, Mallory is quickly dispatched on another mission to Dublin to work with Paul (Michael Fassbender who was also in "Shame", "X-Men: First Class" and "Jane Eyre" recently). When the operation goes awry and Mallory finds she has been double crossed, she needs to use all of her skills, tricks and abilities to escape an international manhunt, make it back to the United States, protect her family, and exact revenge on those that have betrayed her.
The other notable performances in the film come from Ewan McGregor ("Beginners") as the backbone and handler to the covert missions; along with Antonio Banderas and Michael Douglas as two parts of the business side to the missions that are looking to clean things up for themselves. You don't really know who you can trust, but you know none of them are up to anything good.
The film didn't seem to flow as well as it possibly should have, but finds an impressive way to hold your attention. The lack of proper character development, and an overly simplified script, leads one to not care for the lead character. Which is a shame given the performance that Gina Carano delivers in her debut. Certainly seeing a woman getting hit by a guy is difficult to watch, but one of the lines in the film says it all "thinking of her as a woman would be a mistake". The fighting and chase sequences are very well done, but as a complete film it is lacking a real punch to grab the audience.
The moment in the film that got the largest reaction from the audience was actually laughter during the car chase scene, which I don't want to spoil for anyone (comment with your reaction). The ending was too convenient and easy for Mallory, which leaves the audience wanting more. Everything was moving in different directions, but she conveniently appeared where each of her targets was comfortably living.
I am struggling between two ratings for this film, but after some time to absorb what I saw I think that it is a 2 Quack film. I give Gina Carano a lot of credit for her debut performance. She performed extremely well and shouldn't be judged for a script that was lacking and hand-cuffed her at times.
Monday, January 16, 2012
Roman Polanski's latest film is based on the play "Le Dieu du Carnage" ("God of Carnage") written by French playwright Yasmina Reza in 2006. The play won the 2009 Tony Award as well as each member of the original cast being nominated for their performances with Marcia Gay Harden winning for her performance as Penelope. The rest of the Broadway original cast included Jeff Daniels (Alan), Hope Davis (Nancy), and James Gandolfini (Michael). The decision to re-cast was made by Roman Polanski, but the stage feel remained the same as you can easily see that the film is based on a play with the set being strictly confined to the apartment.
With the appearance of a simple story, what develops is like pealing an onion with each layer demonstrating raw humanity in a way. The story is like a roller coaster that just keeps going and going. The film begins with a distant image of young boys in a schoolyard when suddenly one strikes the other with a stick; and then we are brought into the subsequent conversation between the young boy's parents. The parents begin with a civil conversation, but devolve to taking pot shots at each other.
Similar to the all-star cast that the play enjoyed, the film stars Jodie Foster (Penelope), John C. Reilly (Michael), Kate Winslet (Nancy), and Christoph Waltz (Alan). As each parent deconstructs the children's behavior, blaming the other for the abusive outcome of the situation, the parents regress into brutal children themselves. Michael begins agreeable and eventually explodes as you watch Penelope slowly begin to have a breakdown. Each of the parents bounces from one extreme to another, adding friction between the others with every conversation, ultimately taking sides with the most unlikely of the group only to antagonize the others. It is interesting to see how alcohol and cell phones play a part in being a catalyst to the adult's regression.
With such an amazing cast to complement the brilliant play and guidance from one of the best film makers of a generation, it is no wonder that "Carnage" is a 5 Quack film. I could easily see the entire cast receiving nominations for the performances. The difficult part would be deciding if they were in a leading role or a supporting role. The film is beyond funny, and grabs you from the beginning. It should appeal to all adults with, or without, children.
PS: if you stumble across this review and you have seen the play, please provide comments as to how the two performances compared.
"The Guard" is the first major film from young writer/director John Michael McDonagh. The style of the film was very similar to "In Bruge", another film from Brendan Gleeson in how the cinematography is so very captivating and inviting that it almost serves as a travel log to entice the audience to visit Western Island. This is likely not a coincidence as "In Bruge" was written/directed by John Michael McDonagh's brother Martin.
"The Guard" is a fun and lighthearted crime thriller about an unorthodox Irish policeman, Sergeant Boyle (Brendan Gleeson), with a confrontational personality who is teamed up with an uptight FBI agent, Wendell Everett (Don Cheadle), to investigate an international drug-smuggling ring lead by Clive (Mark Strong) and Francis (Liam Cunningham). The banter between Sergeant Boyle and Wendell Everett, which can be seen in the trailer below, is one of the best parts of the film. The two of them really carried the film in a way reminiscent of other buddy cop films. The best being the explanation that racism is part of the Irish culture and trying to understand if it is skiing or swimming that black people cannot do. The innocence in the performance from Brendan Gleeson makes the relationship between the two characters more believable.
In an interview John Michael McDonagh claimed that the script was written in 13 days, which could explain why with the exception of Sergeant Gerry Boyle, none have substance or depth. The secondary stories involving Gabriela McBride (Katarina Cas) as the surviving spouse of Garda Aidan McBride (Rory Keenan) was lacking the proper development. The same can be said about the inclusion of the Sergeant Boyle's mother (Fionnula Flanagan), which is only intended to show that the Sergeant Boyle has a softer side.
I wish that the drug smuggling group was reduced to just one individual, which would have allowed for Mark Strong to carry his part of the villain role further. He plays the villain well as was seen in "Green Lantern" as well as his raw acting skill from "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy". He had a busy year, and we can only hope that 2012 will continue to shine for him.
The film isn't going to blow you away with any illusion of a great script, but for a fun film with solid actors that make up for what the script lacks it is worth seeing. Taking a little time to adjust to the thick accents will make for a DVD viewing to be more appreciated. This is every bit a 4 Quack film as any other this year and is worth finding on a DVD this weekend.
Thursday, January 12, 2012
"In the Land of Blood and Honey" is the writing and directorial debut for Angelina Jolie. The title of the film comes from the Turkish translation for the geographical area of the Balkans, Europe, which is where Bosnia and Herzegovina is located. In Turkish "Bal" means "honey" and "Kan" means "blood". The attention to detail by Angelina Jolie didn't stop with just the title as she chose Dean Semler as the director of photography, which contributes to the amazing visual and sweeping landscapes that give the film its backbone.
The film is set during the Bosnian War, where Danijel (Goran Kostic), a soldier fighting for the Serbs, re-encounters Ajla (Zana Marjanovic), a Bosnian who's now a prisoner in the war camp he is in charge of. The film doesn't shy away from the war crimes that took place including the brutal sexual assaults of the women in addition to the mass murders. The story is almost a reverse version of Shakespeare's "Romeo and Juliet" with the forbidden relationship at the center of the story. Danijel is the son of General Nebojsa (Rade Serbedzija) who commands him to end the relationship. Danijel struggles with the harsh realities of the war while trying to please his father and a woman that caught his attention before the war began. The story spans the three year duration of the war and shows the lengths both sides of the war would take.
The leading performances from Goran Kostic and Zana Marjanovic are brilliant. The chemistry they shared was realistic and the difficult positions both are put in through the story comes through with the emotions that each demonstrate in their face. The performance from Rade Serbedzija was equally impressive in a supporting role and quickly reminded me of how easily he steals the screen in other films like "X-Men: First Class" and "Snatch". Like so many of the others in the cast, Rade Serbedzija is from Yugoslavia and contributes to the realistic emotion of the film in a way that couldn't be delivered by actors from other countries.
The popular acceptance of the film will likely be diminished by the use of sub-titles, however I hope that I can encourage people to see the film. With so few cinematic representations of the Bosnian War, it is important to remember the people impacted by the events. I would like to thank Angelina Jolie for taking on such a difficult task and with her first attempt she honestly hit a home run and exceeded many of my expectations. This film is very deserving of a foreign language nomination and a 5 Quack rating.
Wednesday, January 4, 2012
"A Better Life" is a film that I stumbled across on an airplane. Having seen so many films this year, I was actually surprised that the airplane had something that I hadn't seen yet (for the record the return flight did have "No Strings Attached"). "A Better Life" premiered at some festivals, but didn't make a big run in the theaters. Chris Weitz directed the film and shows that he is much more than the comedies and children films that he is usually connected with.
The story is about Carlos (Demián Bichir), a single father who is an illegal immigrant and a gardener in East L.A. struggling to give a better life to his son, Luis (José Julián). Luis is a teen that has his own difficulties that he is battling with between the path that his friends are pushing him towards and the respectable family that his aunt and father want for him. The story has been done before, but the inclusion of the immigrant father makes for an interesting dynamic that contributes to the misunderstandings between Carlos and Luis. However, with all the challenges of raising a son it is clear that he is willing to do whatever it takes to give his son the opportunities he never had. This leads Carlos to buying a truck to start his own business and earn more money.
Even with a simple and predictable script, the film was refreshing to see the real life struggles as compared to the unfulfilled Hollywood dramatization of what life is usually represented as in film. The performance from Demián Bichir was powerful and deserving of a best actor nomination. The film should be considered among the best foreign language films as well and receives a 4 Quack rating.