Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Ong Bak 2: The Beginning

The sequel takes us back 500 years to the time of warlord battles for control of Thailand. Young Tien (Tony Jaa) is orphaned when his warrior father and mother are executed by the new regime trying to consolodate power. Tien is spirited away and begins a new life with the rebels. Here he learns to become a warrior and eventually sets off to avenge the murder of his family. While the first Ong Bak was primarily about hand to hand fighting and really showcased a new (to me) martial art style, the sequel spends its entirety with Jaa demonstrating his mastery of weapons. This is a gory, deadly exercise in revenge, anger and death. There is no redemption, which probably makes it a more realistic movie than most. The strange thing about this story was that I felt like I was supposed to know it already. While all the details were included, it still played like Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter. Having read the books, the film version could skip lots and provide a visual interpretation, without bothering with the minute details that make the story full. Unfortunately, I have not read this book (and don't really even know if one exists). Not nearly up to the high standard of the first film.
2 stars (out of 5)

Ong Bak: The Thai Warrior

In my last post, I was wondering about the existence of good action/romance films. The martial arts gem Hero came to mind this morning, fits the category, and I would like to recommend it again as one of my all time favorites. And since I am now in a martial arts mood, I checked out Ong Bak for a bit of a different martial arts flavor. I had not previously seen Thai martial arts (referred to as Muoy Thai in the film), but it is distinctly different. It is less about hand/foot speed, more about fluidity. Unique and frequent use of triceps, shins and knees instead of fists and feet. I liked the form alot. In this film, Tony Jaa plays the lead character Ting who is sent from his rural village into Bangkok to seek out the return of a stolen buddha head. Along the way, he encounters the requisite bad guys and has to fight himself out of trouble. I particularly appreciated the slow speed auto-rickshaw chase scene through the city. It was not near the beauty of the auto choreography of The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift, but highly enjoyable. I guess I am off to see the sequel then.
4 stars (out of 5)


Surrogates didn't get much traction at the box office last year, but I kinda liked it. At some point in the future, robotic technology has been developed that allows robots to appear and function as humans. The difference here is the the robots do not have any innate "intelligence" (a la Terminator). Instead, they are on a monster wi-fi network and each robot is connected to the brain of their controller, a real human. In effect, most people on earth sit in chairs in their houses and their surrogates travel the world. While originally developed to provide life improvement for disabled folks, the surrogate phenomenon became a way to avoid any disease or danger, as well as a way to travel far and try new things (just rent a scuba surrogate in Hawaii and you experience the vacation - sort of). Of course, every surrogate looks great and some have special powers (police can run fast to chase the villains, etc.). And of course, there is an opposition (The Dreads) who advocate living as a human who walks around on earth instead of sitting indoors safely. A weapon is developed that could kill lots of people through the infallible surrogate safeguards (I, Robot anyone?) and Bruce Willis must save the day. This is a basic action film, no super-duper CGI, but enough simple touches (like the appearance enhancement shop) to be a fun look at this possible future. So far, this was better than any of the summer diversions in theaters this year.
3-stars (out of 5)

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Knight and Day

Another entry in the Action/Romance genre. I must say that this was more enjoyable than recently reviewed Killers although it is basically the same film. Perhaps because I would rather see Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz than Kutcher and Heigl, but it is still a "turn off brain before entering" film. Here we see a CIA agent (Cruise) come into contact with a regular person (Diaz). The encounter leads to two hours of hi-jinks as Cruise alternately uses, protects and then is saved by Diaz, all in the name of national security. We are supposed to question Cruise's sanity (although we never really do) and be awed by his action hero chops (but are unimpressed by the CGI bulls running through Spain). There is a bit of chemistry between Diaz and Cruise, but it is always interrupted by the next big crisis, leaving us with only the verbal jabbing that surely suggests they really like each other. What ends up happening is that the film gets remembered as an Action/Comedy because of the verbal jabs and cheesy attempts to insert a meaningful interaction when really, it just wants to get on to the next action sequence. There are no surprises with this conventional summer movie and you get exactly what you expect. Surely nothing more, but not really any less either.

Since watching this I started to think about films that I have seen that would be considered great in this Action/Romance category. I couldn't think of any. There are lots in the Action/Sex category (The Specialist with Stallone and Sharon Stone for example) because the sex doesn't slow down the action, whereas the romance must??? And there are lots of Thriller/Romance (Duplicity with Julia Roberts and Clive Owen), Hero/Romance (nearly any comic book based film), and even films like The Brick that have action and romance but are really focused on something totally different (like high school angst) so that it is never considered a romance film. Clearly it is not easy to put together an Action/Romance film but I would be curious if anyone has any suggestions for even good ones.

3 stars (out of 5)

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Solitary Man

Michael Douglas plays an aging salesman who is down on his luck. Once the owner of a very successful chain of car lots in New York City, he has recently lost all his social cache (and his cash) after a conviction for fraud. Even so, he is still a salesman and probably the most important, smartest and coolest man he knows. Every encounter with every person is an angle to work, as he tries to dig himself out of professional and personal purgatory, without even realizing that the personal portion is an issue (we are not even sure in the end if the realization comes). This navigation of angst traverses a lost career, failing health, screwed up family relationships, lost opportunities and ultimate self realization that goes along with getting old. All told, there is a lot of angst here. Douglas plays it flawlessly, but so much angst makes the movie get old quickly. By time we are half way through the film, we get it. If only there could have been something else to keep us interested, to mix it up a bit. Alas, there is not.
3 stars (out of 5)

Monday, June 14, 2010

Get Him to the Greek

Russell Brand as Aldus Snow is an amazing character. Having seen him on the late night circuit, you are never quite sure whether the person is the character, or is in character always. Reminds me a bit of Ricky Gervais, both in ability to maintain a persona at all times as well as in his cadence of speech. Unfortunately for this film, Russell Brand does not carry a movie all by himself. Or at least, he doesn't here. As a aging British rock star, Brand (Snow) is making a comeback attempt by playing a 10 year reunion concert at the Greek Theatre in L.A. Jonah Hill is the record label flunky assigned to escort him from London to L.A. in time for the show. Of course, there are hi-jinks along the way, with stops in New York and Las Vegas. Unfortunately, aside from the Brand riff's, there is not a lot funny there and I found myself getting bored. Jonah Hill is a decent side kick, but his character is too annoying to be on screen for long. It has been said elsewhere, but I wholeheartedly agree that a much better showcase for Brand (and writer Jason Segal) is the excellent Forgetting Sarah Marshall.
2 stars (out of 5)

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day

A sort of rags to riches for a day story for Frances McDormand as the title character Miss Pettigrew. Hard on her luck and looking for work, she finagles herself into a job as personal assistant for Amy Adams Delysia. There is not anything original here, as Pettigrew is another variation of Eliza Doolittle and is able guide/advise Delysia through the complexities of life that she has wound herself in (multiple boyfriends in an attempt to make it big on the stage). It is all pretty predictable and for the first half, I thought I might just not need to see the rest. Maybe it is just me and my need for closure, but by time I got to the second half, I was curious enough about how things would wrap up cleanly that I watched with interest. In the end, there are no surprises.
2 stars (out of 5)

Monday, June 7, 2010

Mother and Child

Full disclosure: I love Annette Bening. In this film, my love is warranted. She is amazing. Here we have a couple of parallel stories all surrounding mother/daughter relationships and adoption. Bening plays a woman who gave her child up for adoption thirty something years ago when she was a teen mother. For her entire life she has agonized over this action of giving her child away, having to live daily with the outcome as well as with her own mother who was influential in the decision. We also see the story of Naomi Watts and her life path which is influence by not having any family. Her decisions seem to lie on the border between high self confidence and self destruction. Finally, we follow the path of a young couple who is trying to adopt. They work through, to varying degrees of success, why they want to adopt and how it is impacting their individuality, their families, and their marriage. Throughout, the writing is true. Neither over dramatic nor apathetic, each character encounters real emotional barriers and is able to display the gravity of those barriers in their life. Written and directed by Rodrigo Garcia (who also wrote several episodes of In Treatment and Six Feet Under both of which I loved), Mother and Child is one of the best films I have seen this year.
5 stars (out of 5)

Friday, June 4, 2010


I questioned my decision to see Killers before going. I am not a Kutcher or Heigl fan, it is clearly going to be a wrote comedy/action/romance film and while in the theater I noticed that the majority of attendees were in the 14 year old girl demographic. Besides, I could go to Laemmle and see a good film (I have never seen a bad film there). But I went anyway. And while I am apparently the only one in the world to like this film, I did. Kutcher plays a trained CIA assassin who falls in love with Heigl while on a job in France. Fast forward three years and the two live in suburbia, completely content with their "normal" life. Then the other shoe falls. Kutcher is reactivated, refuses to go back to his old job, and a host of sleeper agents come to try to knock him off. Note: by "host of sleeper agents" I mean that every character with a speaking part in the film is actually a sleeper agent. Heigl gets dragged into the effort to stay alive until everything is nicely wrapped up in the end. Predictable. So why did I like it? Perhaps because it was a Friday night popcorn diversion and at the end of the week I can no long handle movies that require engagement. This required none. Instead, every idea used in assassin/romance films was used in a way that didn't challenge the viewer to move outside the box. I laughed at a few of the jokes and enjoyed the performance by Tom Selleck in particular. He plays Heigl's dad and he plays it so that the appearance of an actor reading lines in a bad movie actually comes across as the characters personality. Overall, brainless summer fare.
3 stars (out of 5)

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

The Secret in Their Eyes

This is a very good film. It carries well the honor of Academy Award Winner for Best Foreign Film. I like this category of award since there is a huge variety of film genre's that compete against each other and they are generally all good. Imagine that the U.S. would be able to only submit one film for a contest of best film in the world. Anyway, I am not saying this is the best film in the world, but it is a really good crime thriller/romance. Set in Argentina, a state prosecutor (Esposito) investigates the rape/murder of a young woman. Along the way, he befriends and consoles the widowed husband (Morales), trusts only his drunk of an assistant (Sandoval) and dances around his attraction to his boss (Irene). The investigation is intertwined with each of these three relationships throughout and is mostly seen in flashback as Esposito considers writing a novel about the case after he retires. Several things that make this worth seeing. The romance is subtle and at the same time pervasive. Esposito is not pursuing Irene overtly, but we still see the desire and the acceptance of class separation. The investigation of the crime is straight forward, with clues leading Esposito and the viewer down the path together. There are no big surprises here and perhaps I am dim, but by the end I could look back and say "How did I not see that coming 30 minutes ago?" Asking the audience to think about the meaning of justice and retribution and peace, while also allowing them to enjoy a well written story is not easy. But it is accomplished here.
4 stars (out of 5)