Archive for the 'H-Man' Category

The Raid 2

Thursday, April 17th, 2014

*****

It sucked!It'll be on cable.I liked it.It was good!It was awesome!! (2 People gave this 5.00 out of 5)
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Bloody Amazing

The Raid 2

The H-Bomb: SWAT officer Rama (Iko Uwais), one of the few who survived the massive raid on an Indonesian drug lord’s apartment block, is recruited into an elite unit of undercover cops. His mission: to infiltrate the largest crime family in Jakarta and expose the dirty cops on its payroll. This syndicate is run by the aging kingpin, Bangun (Tio Pakusadewo), and in order get on the inside, Rama is sent to the prison where Bangun’s punk-ass son, Uco (Arifin Putra), is doing time, with the intent of befriending this mafia brat and earning his trust.

After saving Uco’s life during a prison yard riot, Rama gets the “in” that he needs, and upon his release some two years later, Uco takes Rama to introduce him to his father, who hires him on as an enforcer. From here, Rama gets more than he ever could have bargained for, as he dives headfirst into the ruthless, dog eat dog cesspool that is Jakarta’s underworld. While living the life of a gangster, Rama will have to cling onto every bit of his humanity in order to keep himself from being completely engulfed by the muck and madness that surrounds him.

That’s where I’m going to end my plot summary. Naturally, there is far more happening than I described, with all sorts of betrayals and back stabbings and mafia power plays going on, but for the sake of keeping this review spoiler free, and palatable, I’ll end it there. What I can say, having just gotten back from seeing The Raid 2, is‚Ķ holy shit, I can’t feel my brain!

Sweet freakin’ Jesus‚Ķ I don’t even remember the last time a movie did this to me. The Raid 2 didn’t simply entertain me with it’s exhilarating action, inventive fight choreography, and epic scope‚Ķ it knocked me flat on my ass, dragged me outside, and stomped the living shit out of me until I was nothing more than a sniveling little bitch lying broken and bleeding in the gutter. And I was more than happy to pay for the pleasure.

All violent hyperbole aside, there are no words in existence that can do justice to what writer/director Gareth Evans has accomplished with The Raid 2. He hasn’t simply made a sequel to The Raid: Redemption, which is itself a masterpiece of pure carnage cinema, he has taken everything that made that film so great and placed it on a much grander stage. The original Raid was essentially a 90 minute action scene with an ultra-simple story that mainly served to set up the onslaught of fist fights and gun fights that follow.

This sequel could have gotten by on simply being more of the same. It could’ve pulled a Taken 2, essentially rehashing the basic plot of the first film, with maybe a few twists and turns thrown in, and it would’ve worked, giving the audience an entertaining, albeit not-quite-as-fresh experience. But Evans isn’t interested in doing that. Instead, he gives us a movie that is certainly a sequel to The Raid, but that also stands on its own, and tells a far, far more ambitious tale.

The Raid 2 is not an action movie about cops trapped in a building full of killers. It is a gritty, operatic crime saga that rivals The Godfather in terms of its narrative expansiveness. It’s not simply a story about an undercover cop infiltrating the mob, it’s also about the power struggle between rival gangs, the power struggles within a gang, the resentful, love/hate relationships between fathers and sons, and, most crucially, loyalty amongst lowlifes.

The narrative is multi-faceted and ensemble oriented, often leaving Rama’s point of view to focus on other characters and their stories, such as the hobo hit man with the mean machete, who remains loyal to Bengun up until his brutally bitter end (if one thing is for certain, nearly every character who passes through The Raid 2 has an ugly fate in store for them). The fact that Evans was able to balance so many story threads without turning the whole thing into an overly convoluted, incoherent cluster-fuck is a testament to the caliber of filmmaker he could very well become.

There is indeed far more plot and far more characters in The Raid 2, which could put off fans of the first film, who loved it for its bare-bones scenario and non-stop action. But fear not, for even though there is a much larger story being told in this 150 minute long film (not a one of those minutes is wasted), the action itself is jacked up several notches. How can that be possible, given how insane the first Raid was? Well, remember The Crazy 88 scene from Kill Bill? Imagine a movie with about ten of those scenes, in which each successive confrontation upstages the one that came before, and that might give you some idea as to the pulverizing mayhem contained within this movie.

Think of any sick way in which you could violently take a person’s life, and odds are there’s some depiction of it in here. Shooting, stabbing, slicing, dicing, hacking, chopping, beating, bludgeoning, burning, strangling‚Ķ these are not just random verbs I’m throwing at you, these are all the various methods in which the lovely people in this film are dispatched. Life is fucking cheap in The Raid 2. Human beings are basically pigs waiting to be slaughtered, and man, do they get slaughtered. It’s not just the extreme violence that makes the movie what it is, it’s how it’s depicted.

The fight sequences are among the most visceral and imaginatively staged that I have ever seen. In fact, there are no fights in this movie, there are battles. And none of these battles are treated as throwaway skirmishes. Every single one is a major set piece. Be it the beat down in the bathroom stall, or the royal rumble in the prison yard, or the Hammer Girl knocking skulls on the subway train, they are all so ferocious, I could practically feel the punches, and the kicks, and the bones snapping. Take the insane choreography by Yayan Ruhian and star Uwais, and combine it with the stunning cinematography by Matt Flannery and Dimas Imam Subhono, and what we get is ultra-violence turned into an art form. A beautiful, crimson tinted art form.

Hot damn, this flick is fan-fucking-tastic! It whooped my fat ass up, down, and sideways, and when it was all done, I was utterly and completely exhausted‚Ķ in the best way possible. This is hands down one of the very best action movies I have seen in years. Probably one of the best I’ve ever seen in my life‚Ķ and I do not say that lightly. As a martial arts/gangster film, it is a masterpiece and a game changer. I don’t like to oversell a movie unless I think the film can measure up, and in the case of The Raid 2, it measures the fuck up. It is bloody amazing, bloody brilliant, and just plain bloody.

~@TheHManTweeteth

 

Oldboy

Tuesday, April 8th, 2014

**½

It sucked!It'll be on cable.I liked it.It was good!It was awesome!! (1 People gave this 2.00 out of 5)
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Old Hat

Oldboy

The H-Bomb: Yuppie, alcoholic douche bag Joe Doucette (Josh Brolin) gets royally hammered after blowing a big business deal on the night of his daughter’s third birthday. He awakens from his drunken stupor to find himself inside a strange hotel room. After discovering that there is no phone, no window, and the only door is locked up tight, Joe realizes that he’s being held prisoner in this room. Day in and day out, Joe remains locked in the room, with only the television and a creepy portrait of a grinning bellhop to keep him company. His meals, usually dumplings from a Chinese restaurant and a bottle of liquor, are shoved through the slot in the door three times a day, but his attempts to speak with whoever is delivering the food are fruitless.

He finds out, via the television, that his ex-wife has been murdered, and that he has been framed for the crime. It’s then that he figures out, as if it wasn’t obvious before, that there’s some kind of plot against him. But who would do this to him, and why? After writing down a list of all the people he may have pissed off in the past, he realizes that there are countless possibilities. He’s wronged more than a few people in his life, and any one of them could be the one behind all this.

Sadly, Joe can’t do any more to narrow down the list of suspects from inside the room, and he’s not going anywhere for a long, long time. 20 years to be exact. For 20 goddamn years Joe is locked in that room. In that time, he manages to give up drinking and get himself into fighting shape, in case the day that he’s able to take revenge ever comes. Then, after all that time, he’s finally set free. But, whoever held him prisoner is hardly done with him, as he soon receives a call from his former captor, some bloke with a British accent, telling him that he has kidnapped his now adult daughter, and if he ever wants to see her again, he has only a few days to come and find them.

It’s not as if Joe needed the extra motivation, but nevertheless, the clock is ticking, and he’ll need to go digging deeply into his own past to try and figure out who the hell his sadistic tormentor is, and what he might have done to this person to make them go to such extreme lengths to exact their revenge.

I can’t really go on a tirade against Hollywood remakes of foreign films, as there have been some that I’ve genuinely enjoyed. Sure, there’s been shit like The Vanishing, or Swept Away, or any Asian horror remake that isn’t The Ring, but there have been some honest to God good ones, like The Departed and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Spike Lee’s “re-imagining” of Oldboy, based on Park Chan-Wook’s brutally awesome South Korean thriller of the same name, falls somewhere in the middle. It’s not good, nor is it bad, it just‚Ķ is.

In a way, this is a tremendous letdown, as any movie with a premise as brilliantly bizarre as Oldboy’s, shouldn’t be merely okay. It either should be really fucking good, or really fucking bad. But to be so utterly forgettable, and to leave me the viewer feeling so completely indifferent to it, is much worse. Even if it had been terrible, I at least wouldn’t be shrugging it off without so much as a second thought. But as it stands, the only reason I’m paying it any thought at all, is so that I may review it for you, dear readers.

The pedigree of this Oldboy remake certainly isn’t the kind one would associate with mediocrity. I’m not exactly a fan of Spike Lee, however, I often do find his films provocative, if nothing else. Not so much the case with this one. Curiously branded “A Spike Lee Film” instead of the usual “A Spike Lee Joint,” this is a telling sign that Lee simply had no passion for this project. The vibrancy typically found in one of his “joints” is almost entirely absent, and despite some slick cinematography and a handful of interesting shots, there is next to no energy in the picture. Nothing in the story, not the ticking clock element, or even the stomach churning final twist, has any sense of urgency, and Lee’s rather limp recreation of the famous hallway hammer fight is but a shadow of the one from the original film.

It really is apparent that Lee’s heart just wasn’t in this at all, that it was merely a payday for him, and nothing more. Which is a crying shame, because it seemed to me like his leading man, Brolin, actually gave a shit. At first coming off as a hilariously buffoonish drunk, then transforming into a half-crazed, vengeance minded badass, he is tough, tense, and simply terrific here. His tussle with some punk ass football players has that oomph that the rest of the movie’s violence lacks, and the wince inducing scene where he takes a box cutter to Samuel L. Jackson’s throat would be a classic, if only it were in a better, and even halfway memorable, film. Brolin is definitely a forceful presence on screen, and he could’ve carried this movie, it’s just that Mark Protosevich’s screenplay never gave us a reason to care about his slime ball character.

Oh, but did I mention that Samuel L. Jackson is in this? Well, he is, but it’s of little consequence, because despite sporting a goofy ass mohawk, his role as a heavy is ultimately ineffectual‚Ķ and I didn’t think it was possible for SLJ to be ineffectual, but the movie found a way. Another disappointing turn comes from Sharlto Copley, who was so tremendously nasty as the bad guy in Elysium, but as the underwritten villain of this flick, he doesn’t even rise to the level of mildly creepy. Elizabeth Olsen, as a sympathetic nurse, has a few nice moments with Brolin, and a rather showy sex scene, but ultimately, she doesn’t register much, either. Damn, that’s three excellent actors that Lee managed to completely waste‚Ķ how does he do it?

In a way, this whole movie is a complete waste. A waste of time, money, and effort, for both the filmmakers and the audience. Again, not because it’s a bad movie, but because it’s such a painfully average one. It really does boggle the mind how Spike Lee was able to take something as gruesomely audacious as the original Oldboy, drain away all the potency, and leave us with a film this shockingly bland. He has remained largely faithful to the original’s story, and he didn’t neuter it in order to make it PG-13 friendly, but it completely lacks the outlandish punch that made its Korean counterpart so memorable. As far as remakes go, it’s perfectly watchable, thanks mainly to Josh Brolin doing his damnedest, but given the source material, this could’ve, and should’ve, been so much more.

~@TheHManTweeteth

 

Rob the Mob

Saturday, April 5th, 2014

***

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You steal from them, they never stop looking for you.

Rob the Mob

The H-Bomb: Small time hood Tommy (Michael Pitt) is released from the joint after doing an 18 month stretch for armed robbery and returns to the Bronx with his girlfriend, Rosie (Nina Arianda), who finds him a job working the phones at a collection agency. Tommy soon grows bored with his straight gig and starts playing hooky from work to go sit in on the trial of famed gangster, John Gotti. While listening to some stoolie testify about their social clubs, particularly the part where he mentions that no one carries a gun in a social club, Tommy gets an idea.

See, Tommy has always had a chip on his shoulder when it comes to mobsters, mainly for the way they used to bully and harass his father, and since this collection agency job just isn’t cutting it, money-wise, he comes up with an insane scheme to stick up a mafia social club. After figuring out how to work an Uzi, he somehow procured, Tommy recruits an understandably reluctant Rosie as his getaway driver, and he’s off to stick it to the mob‚Ķby sticking up the mob.

His first heist goes off without a hitch, aside from his Uzi constantly going off accidentally, and Tommy is completely taken aback by how much money he brought in, and by how freaking easy it was. Rightly emboldened, he decides to do it again, and again, growing more confident, and less cautious, with each score. Not only is Tommy royally embarrassing the mob with these scores, he has, by chance, come into possession of a list, a list that could shake up the mobsters’ power structure and land many of them in the slammer.

While all this is fun and games for Tommy and Rosie, who have been branded a modern Bonnie and Clyde in the press, this young and relatively dumb couple has unwittingly given the mob a reason far more serious than retribution to take them out…survival.

Based on the real life exploits of Thomas and Rosemarie Uva, who conducted their robbing spree back in ’92, Rob the Mob approaches its potentially dark subject matter in a somewhat lighthearted fashion. I wouldn’t call it a mob comedy, a’la Get Shorty or Analyze This, however, director Raymond De Felitta does bring a naturalistic sense of humor to the proceedings, particularly when Tommy, who has to be the clumsiest stick up man ever, bumbles his way through the robberies. The mobsters’ incredulous, deer-in-headlights reaction to being held up, and the humiliating act that Tommy forces them to perform at the end of one of the heists, are genuinely laugh out loud funny.

At first, the mildly humorous tone set against a gritty, gloomy NYC backdrop struck me as odd, but as the picture wore on, I was won over by the so-absurd-it-has-to-be-true story as well as by the likable, engaging performances of the two leads. Pitt is an actor I’ve liked ever since I first saw him in The Dreamers some ten years ago, and even though I didn’t initially buy him as a street tough kid from the Bronx, he did grow on me. As Tommy’s better half, Rosie, Arianda is a revelation. She is irresistibly feisty and ballsy, and her chemistry with Pitt is organic and genuine. They do make quite the larcenistic couple. Is larcenistic even a word? Fuck it, it is now.

As good as Pitt and Arianda are, they are backed up by a colorful supporting cast that is, for the most part, first rate. The standouts for me include Griffin Dunne as Tommy and Rosie’s unnaturally cheerful boss at the collection agency, Frank Whaley as a shifty federal agent who sells information to the press, and Michael Rispoli as the utterly bewildered mob enforcer pursuing our Bonnie and Clyde wannabes. Best of all is Andy Garcia, who brings a grace and a grandfatherly charm, along with a subtle sense of menace, to the role of underworld kingpin, Big Al. Yeah, I know the character is responsible for many off camera deeds that would make him a monster, but the gentle, understated touch Garcia gives him makes the guy strangely sympathetic.

Out of all the supporting players, the only one who didn’t work for me was Ray Romano, who just sticks out like a sore thumb as the journalist covering Tommy and Rosie’s misadventures. I don’t know if it’s his TV persona, or just that the script didn’t give him much of a character to work with, but I found his presence here distracting. Another problem the film has is the ending, which I’ll try not to spoil. It’s an extremely over-the-top, romanticized, bullshit ending that the movie really did not earn. That’s all I can say about that, though if you know how things ended for Tommy and Rosie in real life (God bless Google), then you might know what I’m getting at.

All things considered, Rob the Mob is a modestly entertaining flick based on a peculiar true life incident. It’s far from life changing, and in six months time I’ll barely remember anything about it, but it is worthwhile for anyone interested in a crime caper that’s most definitely off the beaten path.

 

 

Sabotage

Saturday, March 29th, 2014

**½

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“Who dropped ass?”

Sabotage

The H-Bomb:¬† Arnold Schwarzenegger is Breacher, the cigar chomping, Austrian accented leader of an elite, paramilitary squad of DEA agents, the members of which boast such charming monikers as Pyro, Monster, and Tripod.¬† After a successful raid on a cartel safe house, Breacher and his team stash away ten million dollars in drug money that they intend to keep for themselves.¬† Trouble is, when they come back to retrieve the cash, it’s gone.

The DEA, wanting to know what happened to that money, vigorously investigates the squad for six months to no avail, because the team is just so tight (like a family, we’re told), that they would never, ever rat each other out.¬† So, the investigation is dropped, and the team is placed back on active duty.¬† But, before Breacher and his boys (and one girl) can go kicking down doors again, they face a much bigger problem:¬† Members of the squad are being picked off one by one, in ways that are very gory, gruesome, and grotesque.

Female homicide detective Caroline (Olivia Williams) is assigned to the case, and at first she and Breacher both think that it’s the cartel looking for their money.¬† However, as they continue to dig, and members of Breacher’s squad continue to drop like flies, they find that it might not be the cartel looking for their loot, after all, that the real killers might be a little closer to home.¬† In the interest of not dropping spoilers, I shall end the synopsis there.

In recent years, director David Ayer has proven himself to be a filmmaker worth paying attention to.¬† He wrote the screenplay for Training Day, which in my humble estimation is a modern classic, and of the films he’s directed, I consider Street Kings sadly under-rated and End of Watch one of the best films of 2012.¬† The typical David Ayer police protagonist exists in that murky, morally grey area, where one is neither entirely good or entirely bad, and in that regard, the cops who populate Sabotage are no different.

Here, as in Ayer’s past films, the characters face situations in which there are no good, or right, decisions available to them, and everyone is susceptible to corruption.¬† The grittiness, and the graphic, no-holds-barred violence of his prior movies are very much on hand, as there’s a character in one scene who is literally turned inside out.¬† On the surface, Sabotage seems to get everything right, yet somehow, it ultimately turns out to be a strangely unsatisfying film.

It’s not bad, per se, as there is plenty of bloody, hard hitting action and strong performances from the talented ensemble (yes, even from Schwarzenegger), but the movie itself just isn’t particularly entertaining.¬† I was never bored at any point, nor was I particularly interested.¬† The problem is that the characters, all of them, were so utterly off putting, that once they’re being brutally dispatched, I just never really cared.

In Training Day, we had Ethan Hawke as the one cop who was able to keep his head above the shit, so we the audience could latch onto him and identify with him.¬† Sabotage never gives us such a character.¬† Every single cop from Arnold’s team, including Arnold, is a thuggish slime ball, and I couldn’t invest in them, or give the slightest shit what happened to them.¬† I assume we were supposed to identify with Williams’ no nonsense detective, who is the audience surrogate, but she herself isn’t particularly interesting, or sympathetic, or anyone I would willingly spend time with.

The lack of a true “hero” in Sabotage ties into the film’s other main problem, its identity crisis.¬† It strives to be a gritty cop drama, as well as an Arnold Schwarzenegger action fest, and it comes off as an uneasy blend of the two.¬† It aims to be both credible and incredible, realistic and larger-than-life, and it simply doesn’t work.¬† It has all of the bangs and booms of an Arnie flick, but none of the fun.¬† Adding even more to the movie’s laundry list of issues, are Ayer’s attempts to experiment with cross-cutting, in-scene flashbacks, which were just downright discombobulating.

All things considered, Sabotage is quite the disappointment.¬† It’s not a terrible film, as some critics have asserted, as the violent gunplay is effective (fans of blood spatter will get their money’s worth), and the chase sequence towards the end is one wickedly destructive spectacle.¬† Also, as mentioned earlier, Arnold is good in this movie.¬† Unlike in The Last Stand, where he lumbered about like an aging, arthritic Frankenstein, here he looked very credible running and gunning, and he actually came off as a little scary at times.¬† He’s not going to bag an Oscar the way Denzel Washington did for Training Day, but his performance is commendably solid.

Unfortunately, Schwarzenegger’s stellar turn is not enough to recommend Sabotage, at least not enough to recommend going to see it in theaters.¬† This rather grim and surprisingly unpleasant shoot ’em up might make a decent rental for a rainy weekend, but for right now, I’d strongly suggest checking out End of Watch on Netflix, instead.

 

Bethlehem

Sunday, March 23rd, 2014

****

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The never-ending cycle…

Bethlehem

The H-Bomb:¬† 17-year-old Sanfur (Shadi Mar’i) is a Palestinian living in the ancient city of Bethlehem whose older brother, Ibrahim (Slmnham), is a wanted terrorist responsible for a deadly bombing in Jerusalem.¬† Sanfur has been living in his brother’s shadow his entire life, and he’s been constantly trying to prove his manhood by pulling such stunts as wearing a flak vest and having his friends shoot him with an AK-47.¬† As Sanfur grows older, he gets the attention of Al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades leader, Badawi (Hitham Omari), who is currently in a power struggle with the Palestinian Authority, and who sees real potential in the young man.

However, there is something about Sanfur that neither Badawi, or Ibrahim, or anyone else in his family or circle of friends know‚Ķ that he is an informant for the Israelis.¬† Recruited at the age of fifteen, he regularly feeds information to Israeli Intelligence Agent, Razi (Tsahi Halevi), who has bonded with him, earned his trust, and has become more of a big brother to him than his actual brother.¬† What Razi hasn’t told Sanfur, is that the man he is currently hunting is Ibrahim, and that he is closing in on him very quickly.

If Ibrahim is eliminated, the Al-Aqsa Brigades, as well as Sanfur, will surely want retribution.  What if Sanfur discovers that Razi is indeed tracking his brother, and what if Badawi, or some other member of Al-Aqsa, finds out that Sanfur is collaborating with the Israelis?  It seems inevitable that the poor lad will be forced into a lose-lose position as his double life starts to catch up to him.

Israel-Palestine, Palestine-Israel‚Ķ what a lovely little cluster-fuck.¬† The fact that this conflict has been going on for the better part of seven decades now, and shows no signs of stopping at any point in the foreseeable future, makes pretty much any movie brave enough to tackle this topic timely.¬† But what makes a film like Bethlehem relevant is that, unlike Steven Spielberg’s excellent Munich, it was made by people who have actually lived this conflict.¬† Making his feature film debut, Israeli director Yuval Adler, and his co-screenwriter, Arab reporter Ali Waked, imbue the film with the kind of authenticity that can only come from first hand experience.

While merely a political thriller on the surface, Bethlehem ultimately tells an all-too-human tale about a young man born into a situation where the prospects for his future are rather bleak, and who is constantly being manipulated by everyone around him.  By his father, who constantly reminds him what a disappointment he is next to his brother, by Badawi, who aims to make Sanfur a protege and, ultimately, a martyr, and by Razi, who does genuinely care for Sanfur, but demands that he betray his people.

Adler seamlessly weaves these humanistic elements in with the intrigue, giving the events that unfold a real emotional impact.¬† We’re made to care about Sanfur, we’re made to care about Razi.¬† Not as Israelis or Palestinians, but as people.¬† Even the terrorist leader, Badawi, while never coming off as sympathetic (at least not to me), does come off as a man who truly believes in his cause, and that what he is doing is right and necessary, instead of simply being a dastardly evil doer who does evil things because that’s what dastardly evil doers do.

The actors, all of whom are amateurs, also bring a strong sense of realism to their characters.¬† That these are first time actors is surprising, particularly in the case of Halevi and Mar’i, who deliver layered performances conveying the inner struggles of the two protagonists; Halevi is commanding as the man who has to balance the duties of defending his country with the father-like responsibility he feels for Sanfur, with whom he has clearly grown more attached to than he should have, and the young Mar’i, who does an exceptional job of showing the torn loyalties he feels.

Amateur actors displaying such a level of complexity is quite impressive.¬† Although, perhaps their level of complexity shouldn’t be so surprising, since, again, these are people who have lived in this unenviable situation their entire lives, on both sides of the divide.¬† Perhaps it all comes naturally to them, as that old saying goes, they aren’t acting so much as they’re simply being.¬† Either way, color me impressed.

With a gritty, rough-around-the-edges look to the cinematography that adds to its overall believability, Bethlehem sets its two protagonists down a destructive path of no return that can only end tragically for both of them.¬† It’s with this intimate human tragedy that the film, with sober-eyed clarity, encapsulates the larger tragedy of the entire Israeli-Palestinian conflict.¬† Exciting and moving in equal parts, Bethlehem is an exceedingly smart, riveting thriller that doesn’t possess all the answers, but that does ask all the right questions.

 

Adore

Saturday, March 15th, 2014

*

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The year’s most hilarious drama.

Adore

The H-Bomb:¬† I was thinking to myself just the other day, it’s been a while since I’ve seen a good Art House Fail.¬† Films the likes of Passion Play or Jim Jarmusch’s The Limits of Control.¬† Movies that try to be edgy and provocative, that try to convey some kind of deeper meaning or significance, but that just end up falling flat on their pompous, pretentious, highfalutin faces.¬† After giving Adore a go on Netflix, I can now say that I have indeed found such a film.

The English language debut of Luxembourg-born director, Anne Fontaine, adapting the book The Grandmothers by Doris Lessing, Adore tells the rather lurid tale of Lil (Naomi Watts) and Roz (Robin Wright), best friends who grew up together in a small Australian coastal town, and have been pretty much inseparable since childhood.¬† Now in their early forties, Lil is a widow, Roz has a husband (Ben Mendelsohn) who is always away on business, and both women have young adult sons, who are themselves best of friends.¬† Lil’s lad is Ian (Xavier Samuels), and Roz’s is Tom (James Frecheville).

Lil and Roz spend most of their free time, which they seem to have a lot of, sipping wine and sunbathing on the beach, while their sons go surfing.¬† More specifically, Lil and Roz like to gaze out at their well cut sons as they surf, with Roz commenting at one point, “They’re almost ethereal‚Ķ like a couple of gods.”¬† And if you think that’s creepy, you ain’t heard nothing yet.¬† One night, after a little too much wine, Ian starts putting the moves to Roz, and the two of them end up spending the night together, dancing the horizontal mambo.

Tom finds out that Ian is boinking his mother, and is none too happy about it.¬† So, in order to get even‚Ķ you guessed it, Tom goes to Ian’s mum, Lil, and they themselves start doing the bedroom bang-bang.¬† When Lil and Roz see each other again, each one knowing about the other’s indiscretion, they both agree, in a moment of temporary sanity, that what they are doing with each other’s sons is just sick and wrong in every conceivable way, and they should probably just stop.

But, before logic can get too strong a foothold, they both say the hell with decency, the heart desires what the heart desires, and they allow this utterly freakish, inter-family fuck fest to go on.¬† Who else wants to puke?¬† Anyway, two years go by, and the arrangement hasn’t changed, except that Roz is now divorced from her absentee husband, which means she is free to bang Ian without having to hide it at all.¬† Tom, meanwhile, is an aspiring theatre director who gets a job offer in Sydney.¬† That leaves Lil all alone with no boy toy to play with… poor her.

Unfortunately for Lil, things are about to get even worse.¬† While in Sydney, Tom has met a girl.¬† A girl he really likes and starts courting, and before anyone knows it, they’re engaged to be married.¬† How will this effect Tom’s relationship with Lil?¬† Or Ian’s relationship with Roz?¬† Will the mothers do what they should have done two years ago and end these twisted affairs once and for all?¬† Or will they try to undermine Tom’s new relationship?¬† If you’re really curious as to where it all goes from here, then I must inquire‚Ķ what is your fucking damage?

Mein Gott‚Ķ does this fart house film fail, or does this fart house film fail!¬† Equal parts creepy, melodramatic, and downright disgusting, Adore presents such an icky and warped premise that it plays so sincerely, that the only possible outcome is unintentional comedy.¬† For roughly the first half hour or so, it unfolds like a well photographed, but rather languid indie drama.¬† Then the “story” starts to set in‚Ķ and the laughter begins.¬† For me, the shift occurs when Roz questions Tom about his initial fling with Lil, and he answers, “I did with her what Ian did with you!”¬† To which she responds by slapping him across the face.

It was at that point, that I burst out laughing.¬† It was purely an uncontrollable, knee-jerk reaction.¬† It took me a few moments to even realize that I was doing it.¬† I know that that wasn’t the filmmaker’s intended reaction.¬† I know I was supposed to find it oh so compelling and disturbing (and at that, it does sort of succeed), but I found it simply hilarious.¬† I knew then that what I was in for was perhaps the single most laugh-out-loud funny drama this side of The Room.¬† Once I realized this, my mood brightened.¬† Don’t get me wrong, Adore is one stinking, steaming pile of shit‚Ķ but at times, it’s a highly amusing one‚Ķ albeit entirely by accident.

Sadly for Adore, it doesn’t keep the laughs coming at a constant pace the way Tommy Wiseau did, and it ultimately turns into a boring, monotonous slog of a film with absolutely no interesting conflict, or effective dramatic tension, or anything else that would normally hold an audience’s attention.¬† I guess Fontaine and screenwriter Christopher Hampton believed that a couple of MILFs shagging each other’s hunky sons would be enough‚Ķ they were mistaken.¬† When this under-cooked soap opera finally does reach its would be climax in the last reel, it has no emotional impact whatsoever.

Watts and Wright are two fine actresses, two of our finest, really, and they do try their very best, but with characters this shallow, in a script this flat, there was really nothing they could do.¬† You’d think that characters who are this royally fucked in the head would have some substance that they could latch onto, but there isn’t and they can’t.¬† The fact that neither one of them had a shred of chemistry with their respective lovers only helped in maintaining my complete lack of interest.

Long and short of it, when Adore didn’t have me pissing myself with its laughably overblown earnestness, it had me bored to bloody tears with its sense of repetition and dramatic inertia.¬† I’m sure everyone who signed on to this project thought that they were making a subversive, provocative piece of cinema that would really push the envelop‚Ķ yeah, well, the makers of Showgirls thought they were doing the same.¬† If you’re in the mood for some unintended chuckles, then by all means, give it a look and have a good laugh.¬† Otherwise, this perverse, avant-garde misfire isn’t worthy of your time nor your attention.

 

300: Rise of an Empire

Friday, March 7th, 2014

****

It sucked!It'll be on cable.I liked it.It was good!It was awesome!! (2 People gave this 4.50 out of 5)
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“We chose to die on our feet, than live on our knees.”

300 Rise of an Empire

The H-Bomb:¬† While Leonidas and his 300 Spartans wage war against the God-King Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro) and his army, Greek General Themistokles (Sullivan Stapleton) gathers his forces to defend Greece from the invading Persian navy, led by Xerxes’ ruthless right hand woman, Artemisia (Eva Green).¬† The most feared of all the Persian generals, Artemisia has an unquenchable thirst for blood and will slit a man’s throat at the slightest provocation.¬† God help any subordinate who fails in their task, or who in any way displeases her.

This most unmerciful lass harbors a particular disdain for the Greeks, despite being a born Greek herself, and is all to happy to do her part to burn Athens, and the rest of Greece, to the ground.¬† However, before she can do that, she’ll have to get past Themistokles and his army of poets, and sculptors, and philosophers.¬† She figures this should be no problem, since the ships in her fleet do outnumber his ten to one.¬† But what Artemisia doesn’t understand is that these crazy Greeks do love themselves a good fight, especially when the odds are stacked against them.¬† Copious amounts of sweaty pecs and severed limbs ensue‚Ķ

I suppose I should start out by stating that I did enjoy Zack Snyder’s adaptation of Frank Miller’s 300 back in 2007.¬† I wasn’t some super fan or anything, but I dug the hell out of its then inventive visual aesthetic as well as the highly stylized battle scenes.¬† Sure, the script was pretty cornball, and at times the flamboyant visuals became a bit much, but overall, I had one hell of a good time with it.¬† Now, seven years later, Snyder (serving as co-screenwriter and producer) comes at us with 300: Rise of an Empire, a sequel (or perhaps more accurately, a concurrent-quel) that doesn’t feel entirely necessary, but that’s so ridiculously entertaining I can’t really complain.

The fact that Snyder did not return to the director’s chair initially gave me reservations; however, incoming helmer Noam Murro (Smart People) does a commendable job of nailing down the distinct visual style that Snyder established in the earlier film.¬† I could give Murro shit for doing nothing more than aping Snyder’s look, but given how well he pulled off the many battle scenes in the picture, I’ll let his copycat approach slide.¬† The intense sword and arrow battle sequences pack a particularly mean punch in 3D (that I had the very best seat right smack in the middle of the IMAX theater didn’t hurt), with the gallons of CGI blood splashing me right in the face.¬† Normally I say fuck 3D, but in this case, it’s very much worth shelling out the few extra bucks to catch the carnage in all three dimensions.

On the downside, that CGI blood does look as hokey as ever, making the violence quasi cartoonish at times, and therefore not as effective as it should have been.¬† Again, I like the overall stylized look of the film, but I would’ve preferred the guts and gore to have looked a tad more realistic.¬† The video game look of the violence aside, I also had issues with the film’s script, mainly that for much of the first half, the film piles on layer after layer of tiring exposition, delivered mainly via voiceover by the recently widowed Queen Gorgo (Lena Headey).¬† I exaggerate not, roughly the first 20-30 minutes of the movie is nothing but narration, narration, and more narration, giving us backstory on Themistokles, Xerxes, Artemisia, and the political bullshit leading into the war.

Once all the background blah-blah is out the way, the epic hack n’ slashing starts, and the film turns gruesome good, but the first third is kind of a clunky slog.¬† And while I’m bitching about that which did not work, I’ll go ahead and say that leading man Stapleton is no Gerard Butler.¬† He tries his damnedest, and he does get his big, inspirational speech to the troops right before the final battle, but‚Ķ no, I just don’t buy that he could inspire a nation to unite against a common enemy.¬† He just doesn’t have the weight or the presence.¬† Sorry.

On the other hand, Green absolutely kills it as the vile and villainous Artemisia.¬† She’s vampy, campy, sexy, and sadistic, and she just steals the whole fucking show.¬† Chewing up the scenery all over this bitch, it’s obvious she’s having a blast in the role, and I had a blast watching her.¬† Towards the end, she gets to deliver the best line in the movie (you’ll know it when you hear it), and she has an utterly absurd sex scene that I’m fairly sure is intentionally hilarious.¬† Her off-the-wall, bat shit performance is alone worth the price of admission, and I can’t wait to see what she does in that other Frank Miller sequel, Sin City: A Dame to Kill For.

I suppose I would be stating the obvious by saying I thought 300: Rise of an Empire was one bloody fun ride, but 300: Rise of an Empire was one bloody fun fucking ride.¬† It’s certainly not the ground-breaker that its predecessor was, and for God’s sake, don’t mistake it for a history lesson, but as a balls out brutal popcorn flick, it gets the job done.¬† The severed heads fly fast and furious, the fights are viscerally thrilling, and best of all, the film closes with a sweet lead-in to the inevitable third chapter.¬† I say bring it!

 

Prisoners

Monday, March 3rd, 2014

****½

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“Pray for the best, prepare for the worst.”

Prisoners

The H-Bomb:  What would you do if your child went missing?  Would you not do anything and everything in your power to get them back?  Even if it meant going to any extreme, and doing things you never would have thought yourself capable of?  That is the very question that Keller Dover (Hugh Jackman) faces when his young daughter, Anna (Erin Gerasimovich), and her friend vanish on Thanksgiving Day.  After a search of the neighborhood turns up nothing, Keller starts to fear that the girls have been abducted.  The only lead that he can give the police is that they were seen playing near an RV parked in the street.

Later that night, the police find the RV and take its driver, Alex Jones (Paul Dano), into custody.  Alex, as it happens, is a man-child with the mind of a ten-year-old (kind of like the real life Alex Jones), and after hours of being grilled by Detective Loki (Jake Gyllenhaal), gives up no information as to the whereabouts of the missing girls.  More or less ruling this simpleton out as a suspect, Loki starts to look into other possible leads.

Keller, however, is not at all convinced of Alex’s innocence.¬† His suspicion turns into certainty when Alex mutters something to him, something about his daughter, while leaving the police station.¬† Keller tries to tell Loki about this,¬† but Loki dismisses it, advising Keller to just go home and let him do his job.¬† But there’s no way Keller can do that.¬† Every moment that passes, it becomes less and less likely that the girls will be found alive.¬† Convinced that Alex had something to do with their disappearance, Keller decides to take matters into his own hands‚Ķ

I passed on Prisoners when it was out in theaters last fall because it looked like nothing more than your typical kidnapping thriller.¬† The kind of disposable potboiler that everyone did for a quick and easy paycheck.¬† Fuck me, was I wrong!¬† A cross between Zodiac and Mystic River, Prisoners is an engrossing, layered, smarter-than-average thriller that taps into every parent’s worst fear, then poses that most important question, “What would you do?”¬† Director Denis Villeneuve takes a low key, nuanced approach to Aaron Guzikowski’s twist-laden screenplay and builds an unnerving sense of dread that amplifies as the picture progresses.

Remaining fairly subdued and un-intrusive with the camera, Villeneuve effectively shows how two families are shattered by the disappearance of their daughters, and how they are pushed to the limit both emotionally and psychologically.¬† Keller’s wife, Grace (Maria Bello), bombs herself with pills and stays in bed all day.¬† The parents of the other missing child, Franklin and Nancy Birch (Terrence Howard, Viola Davis), seem to cope by simply shutting off emotionally.¬† As for Keller, the survivalist that he is (wait till you see the inside of his basement), he decides, as stated, to do something about it himself.

This is where Prisoners stops being a run of the mill thriller, and turns into a thought provoking, and somewhat disturbing, morality play.¬† Without giving away any specifics, Keller forces himself to do things that betray every sense of who he is as a decent, God fearing man, in order to get his daughter back.¬† He is horrified when he realizes the level of brutality that he’s capable of, and Jackman, who gives it everything he’s got, is simply fantastic.¬† Here, as a desperate man hanging on to his humanity by a thread, he taps in to something deep and dark, and delivers a truly great performance.¬† His best, I’d say.¬† He made me feel for Keller, but he also made me afraid of him.¬† Jackman’s turn is truly award worthy, and naturally, the Academy didn’t nominate it.

Also putting in an excellent showing is Gyllenhaal, as the dogged Detective Loki, who cooly and methodically investigates every possible lead and angle of the case, all the while dealing with a ticking clock, an incompetent chief, and an increasingly unhinged Keller.¬† I would’ve expected Prisoners to lose a step any time it took focus off of Keller and the other parents, but in actuality, the police procedural aspect of the film, while less emotional, is every bit as engaging.¬† The deeper Loki delves into the case, the more compelling it becomes, as we discover, along with him, that there’s a lot more to it than a simple kidnapping.

Gyllenhaal is as convincing as he is commanding, and he more than holds his own when he has to butt heads with Jackman, I just would’ve liked to have known the story behind his character’s freaky tattoos, which were a bit distracting.¬† As for the supporting performances, Dano strikes just the right balance between innocent and creepy as the prime suspect, Alex, a character who we don’t know if we should fear or pity.¬† Howard and Davis are solid as the other couple, the Birches, though I really would have liked to have gotten a better sense of their relationship and who they are.¬† Bello, as the constantly crying mother who just can’t deal with her daughter’s disappearance, seemed a bit one note, though I suppose her reaction is a perfectly realistic one.

As for the film’s other imperfections, at two and a half hours, it is definitely on the long side.¬† Never is it at any point boring, but it certainly could have been tightened.¬† Is no one capable of making a movie under two and a half hours, anymore?¬† Another issue, and this is hard to explain without crapping spoilers, but I found the way in which everything tied together at the end to be simply unbelievable.¬† Again, I can’t go into details, but pretty much every single thing Loki discovers peripheral to the kidnapping, ends up being relevant to it in some way.¬† Eventually, the coincidences just became too much to swallow.

Those rather minor faults aside, Prisoners is an almost unbearably intense, and surprisingly thoughtful thriller that packs one hell of an emotional punch.¬† I am completely beside myself at how riveted I was by it, and I can say with all honesty that it is one of the best films of 2013, falling behind only 12 Years a Slave and Gravity.¬† It’s a crying shame that it’s been almost completely overlooked this awards season, as it is a genuinely gripping motion picture that I won’t soon forget.

 

Non-Stop

Friday, February 28th, 2014

***½

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“I’m not hijacking the plane, I’m trying to save it!”

Non-Stop

The H-Bomb:¬† Air Marshall Bill Marks (Liam Neeson), an edgy alcoholic with a tragic back-story, is barely keeping his shit together on an overnight flight to London when he receives text messages from an unknown sender.¬† After the typical “who the hell are you” question and answering is done with, the mysterious texts cut right to the chase, stating that every twenty minutes, someone on the plane will die, unless $150 million is wired into a certain account.

With over 100 people on the plane, Marks doesn’t even know where to start looking.¬† He notifies the pilots of what’s happening, and enlists the help of the only two people he knows he can trust, one of the flight attendants, Nancy (Michelle Dockery), and a fellow nervous flier, Jen (Julianne Moore), who was sitting next to Marks on the flight, to help him find the passenger sending the texts.¬† Before long, Marks realizes that it’s no hoax, as the bodies start to pile up.

Growing more frantic in his search, Marks begins to lose the trust and cooperation of the passengers, who he has been searching and questioning, while keeping them in the dark about the situation.¬† What’s worse, Marks learns that whoever is behind this hijacking of sorts is framing him for it.¬† Now, not only does Marks have to stop this invisible hijacker, he has to clear his own name, as well.

Non-Stop is the latest in the now annual line of late winter action movies to star Liam Neeson, who has reinvented himself as a kind of Steven Seagal-like ass kicker… the key difference between the two being that Neeson can actually act.  The movies Neeson has made as a late-in-life action star have ranged from pretty good (Taken) to oh-so-shitty (Taken 2).  Non-Stop, thankfully, is much closer to the former than the latter (seriously, fuck Taken 2).

Going into Non-Stop, I was expecting a kind of Die Hard on a plane type flick, like Air Force One or Executive Decision.¬† In actuality, it really isn’t that at all.¬† As directed by Jaume Collet-Serra, who helmed a previous Neeson actioner, Unknown, as well as the mucho underrated Orphan, Non-Stop is really much more of a cat-and-mouse thriller than a straight up action film, with elements of mystery and a ticking clock thrown in for good measure.

Collet-Serra keeps the pacing tight as the plot’s numerous twists and turns keep coming, constantly shifting Marks’ (and our) suspicion from one passenger to another.¬† He also does a nice job of cranking up the sense of paranoia, as he frequently shows Neeson’s eyes, with growing urgency and frustration, scanning the crowd of passengers.¬† Though, I must be honest, when he tried to shift our suspicion onto the one Arab passenger, I thought to myself, “No, too obvious.”, and spoiler alert‚Ķ I was right.

That one bit of obviousness aside, however, Collet-Serra did a fine job of keeping me guessing who the culprit was, and, I might as well confess, I was surprised when the bad guy was finally revealed.¬† That said, I found the villain’s motives not entirely convincing.¬† Also, I can’t get very specific for spoiler reasons, but there’s a plot detail towards the end involving the plane’s altitude that really makes no sense when one stops to think about it.¬† Then again, if there’s one thing Non-Stop has going against it, it’s that a number of aspects about the story don’t make much sense, if one takes the time and effort to really (nit)pick it over.

But, for the most part, these issues come up thinking back on the movie, after it’s over.¬† While it’s going, we’re with it one hundred percent, and the main reason for that is Liam Neeson.¬† As always, he plays it with conviction, and he makes us believe, even when the things happening on screen are less than believable, which, again, in this movie’s case, is quite often.¬† Even though we get a big confessional monologue about halfway through the film in which Marks explains to us why he’s so screwed up, we don’t really need it, because Neeson conveys so clearly throughout the film, without dialogue, that his character is damaged goods.

Just from his facial expressions and the way he’s carries himself, we can tell he’s a broken man.¬† That’s a level of performance that few can muster, but Neeson just makes it look so fuckin’ easy.¬† As for the physical stuff, he pulls that off pretty well, too, especially for a guy over sixty.¬† That life or death fist fight he gets into in the lavatory‚Ķ awesomely brutal.¬† Hollywood’s greatest mouth breather, Julianne Moore, manages to be less annoying than usual, and Corey Stoll has some fine moments as an off-duty New York cop who butts heads with Marks, but really, Neeson is the main attraction here, and for good reason, he carries the flick flawlessly.

In fact, I would say that Neeson is better than the film itself.¬† While Non-Stop is certainly a solidly entertaining thriller, it’s not terribly significant, nor is it really going to stick with you after it’s over.¬† At best, it’s a decent way to kill a couple of hours.¬† No more, no less.