Monday, September 1, 2014

The Trip to Italy

A sequel to The Trip, which I did not see, this film uses the same gimmick, but moves from England to Italy. A couple of friends (Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon) play themselves, hired by an English paper to travel around Italy, eat at fancy restaurants and provide commentary. Even though they are not food experts, they are entertaining enough for the paper to want six articles. For the film viewer, the two are entertaining enough to just sit back and enjoy. It is like watching a couple of friends who have known each other so long that the know exactly how to joke and push and play. Add that to the fact that these guys are professional impersonators and we get long segments of what I am sure are improvised stand up riffs just making each other laugh while trying to perfect a particular voice. Walking out, one of the viewers was overheard saying "That was so self-indulgent", and while probably true, I don't even care. It is light hearted and fun, made me laugh. And there were 4 or 5 short scenes, usually the just before lights out, or walking away from an event, that the film captures a look or expression that puts the entire thing back into reality (a couple guys who are friends, working, and trying not to think about "real life"). These are glimpses, not major, but long enough to provide perspective to keep the film balanced.
4 stars (out of 5)

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Special 26

A clear example of random Netflix luck. Set in India, a crew of 4 partners work together to impersonate various public agencies to make raids on wealthy (and corrupt) people to steal from them. They are decidedly low-tech in their methods and is quite fun to see how far hubris gets you. It is also fun to see the push/pull between the impersonators and their nemesis policeman who is on their tail. And top it all with typical Bollywood style, we don't pass the 30 minute mark without a full fledged song and dance number. A fun heist film...

4 stars (out of 5)

Saturday, August 30, 2014

The November Man

I have liked Pierce Brosnan since the Remington Steele days. And while he was not my Bond (he was not Connery), in the right film (e.g. The Matador, Thomas Crown Affair) he definitely fits. This is another example. Here he plays Devereaux, a retired CIA hitman. We get glimpses of his past as he trains a protege (Mason) and get a sense for his melancholy life. He is pulled back into the business by his former handler, and of course things do not go well. In the end, it is up to him to find what is really going on while mourning loss, running from his former pupil, and protecting the girl. He is pretty rugged, a bit tired, and a bit sassy throughout. His methods are standard (in the way that CIA spy cleverness is standard in films these days) and his confidence is off the charts. A solid entry in the "Bourne genre" of films.
3 stars (out of 5)

Friday, August 29, 2014

Special ID

In many ways, this film is typical. An under cover cop is in deep and his handler wants to keep him there for personal gain. He is loaned to another agency and his new handler does not understand how he works. Hong Kong style martial arts and street chases and fights abound. A couple of different mafia (in this case triad) bosses are in conflict and our hero is caught in the middle. So standard fare in many ways. Until the last 20 minutes. That is, the final 20 minutes are a culmination car chase/fight scene that you have not seen before, and it makes the whole thing worth while. Quite a good summer flick...

3 stars (out of 5)

Thursday, August 28, 2014

The Jacket

Oooh, more wacky time travel. Having just read The Time Travelers Wife, this was more than I expected. Adrien Brody is a recently returned from the gulf war (1991 version) veteran who gets mixed up in a bad situation and sent to an institution for the criminally insane. While there, his treatment leads to episodes of time travel, where he goes forward a few years to enlist the help of Kiera Knightly in finding out about what actually happened to him back in "the present". This is quite well done, making us think about time loops, cause and effect, and how to jump out of loops. I also appreciated the portrayed true confusion and altered mental state that returning from combat results in. Perhaps this is because I am in the middle of reading Naked in Baghdad by Anne Garrels and recently read Baghdad Diaries by Nuha al-Radi. Both of these books give insight into the gulf wars from the Iraqi point of view and raise non-combat mental trauma of citizens in war. So I have war trauma on the brain and this film gave a particularly interesting (to me) perspective.

4 stars (out of 5)

Monday, August 25, 2014

Hellboy II: The Golden Army

I liked the first Hellboy, perhaps because it surprised me a bit. It was light hearted, action hero based, and yet irreverent and a bit disgruntled. This sequel held to that same standard. Ron Perlman plays the title character and again nails it. He is good, bad, a bit of an immature kid, a bit angry and true superhero when it comes down to it. The story follows him and his buddies helping to prevent ancient royalty from re-animating a robot army and destroying humanity. In addition, we get Guillermo del Toro's brilliance in creature creation again as the crew spends some time in the Troll market. I wonder if that guy just sits around imagining crazy creatures. I hope he gets lots of free time to do more because you could just sit around and "people watch" what he makes and that would be an entire film.

4 stars (out of 5)

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Pulp Fiction

I finally saw it. This film that has been talked about as a game changer for film, for violent characters, etc. Eh, it was alright. I can see why it broke ground 20 years ago. But now, it is a pretty good buddy-gangster film, with some idiosyncratic touches. Travolta and Jackson are hitmen for the mob in LA. While they are ruthless, they are also a bit bumbly and faux-metaphysical. At least today, it feels manufactured. I do like the nonlinear editing that Tarantino put together, telling the story out of sequence and putting it back together in a seamless and very pleasing final product.

3 stars (out of 5)