Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Premium Rush

In spite of the fact that Joseph Gordon-Levitt is in this film and the fact that he is a good actor (see 50/50), there is not much acting in the film. That said, this film does not require much acting. It is pretty much a constant action film, all set up by bike messengers in New York. A nice little plot that gets Gordon-Levitt delivering something valuable that a bunch of people want, a little inter-office tension (fixie vs. gears) and lots of great biking. Of course the messengers are a bit crazy (texting and riding in Manhattan? Really?), but that is the point, right? They are also people and this doesn't drop to the level of Crank (although that wasn't bad for pure summer fluff). Everything in this genre is compared to Speed and this is similar. I might even say better since it is not about terrorism and death and killing. Good, clean summer fun. Hold on to your popcorn.
4 stars (out of 5)

Friday, August 24, 2012

Hope Springs

What could have been extremely cheesy and overplayed and caricature was only moderately so. And even then, not so much as to distract from quality acting and a decent story. Meryl Streep and Tommy Lee Jones play a couple entering their 31st year of marriage. They have routines so fixed that the bacon and sunny side up egg slide off the griddle and onto the plate every morning just as Jones sits down for breakfast. Streep's character is a bit disaffected, not feeling the love and excitement that she envisioned and wanting to recapture the magic. She signs them up for an intensive week of therapy in Maine, throws down the ultimatum, and the stage is set. What is remarkable about this film is the sincerity of the characters. They are real people with real problems. Jones is well out of his comfort zone and his face is able to portray in a glimpse his anguish and dissatisfaction, while Streep can do the same with discovering a simple pleasure. It is not groundbreaking and the story is largely predictable. But it is quality acting and fine entertainment while prompting you to be just a bit introspective about your own relationships.
4 stars (out of 5)

Sunday, August 19, 2012

The Intouchables

Sometimes the story is not what makes a film good. In this case the story is typical. Philipe is a middle aged man constrained to a wheelchair. Actually, he is an extremely wealthy middle aged man constrained to a wheelchair, put there by a paragliding accident that broke his neck. Driss is a Senegalese immigrant to France who finds his way into a job as Philipe's caretaker. There are no surprises in how this starts or how it plays out. What makes this a great film is the dynamic personality of Driss. He is a big, happy, goofy guy who finds a way to be interested in you. He doesn't have it all together  but he has enough together to get it started.  And then the chemistry between Driss and Philipe, as they learn to draw strength from each other, develops. See this film.
5 stars (out of 5)

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Bourne Legacy

A reboot of sorts. We have the history of Bourne, including the Treadstone and Blackbriar projects that culminated with The Bourne Ultimatum. Here we find that these were not the only projects that the U.S. is involved in to develop super-soldiers. In fact, they were only the beta-versions. Now we have Outcome and Larx. Jeremy Renner is Outcome 6. This super-soldier is a GMO, with a chromosomal change that increases mitochondrial efficiency by 1%. Just enough to make you that much stronger and smarter. Just enough to give you an edge. Or the ability to cross Alaska on foot and fight wolves with your hands. Renner is a good choice for a super-soldier. His is serious and solid. Not a lot of emotional range is shown, but that is primarily the script (2/3 of the film is backstory on the Outcome project when Renner is emotionless). And like all good summer action films, he simultaneously saves, and is saved by, the girl. Doesn't really get much better.
4 stars (out of 5)

Sunday, August 5, 2012

The Mechanic

Jason Statham has two characters. Frenetic bad-ass and Morose bad-ass. Don't mess with either of them. Just know which one you are dealing with so you know how much time you have to run. Here, he plays a professional hit-man working for the anonymous syndicate. He does what they tell him and doesn't ask questions. When the next job that comes through is his mentor, it is just another job (clearly we are setting up the Morose bad-ass character). He finds out he was lied to and begins the path towards vengeance. Along the way, he becomes a mentor himself and we wonder if history simply repeats itself or can one break out. That is an attempt at depth, but this is really a straight up action film. A well done offering (these can be really bad) but nothing extravagent. I simply enjoy watching Statham be Statham.
3 stars (out of 5)

Total Recall

I don't remember the details of the original, only the basic story line and that Arnold was in it. This is probably a good thing, since I remember the original being very good and don't want to watch movies just to compare. In this offering, the world created is fabulous. After global chemical warfare, the surface of the earth is basically uninhabitable. The two remaining outposts for humanity are United Free Briton and The Colony (formerly known as Australia). The political power and wealth lies in UFB, the underclass and laborers are in The Colony. To transport between the two locals, a 17 minute bus ride takes you through the center of the earth is a sort of ultra-modern funicular. Fun. There are enough plot elements tied to the details of this transport to make you think that the science is well thought out and consistent, but it is sufficiently in the background to not need to divulge all the details and blow the fact that the science is not quite right. A fine line to walk and well done here. The remainder of the plot comes from the political/power struggle between these two human outposts. Every modern mind-bending plot must now be compared to Inception. Here we are shown characters who are not sure what is real and, to a lesser extent than Inception but still present, as viewers we are also not quite sure if we are seeing "reality" or "memory". Put all of this together with a truly fabulous world reminiscent of Blade Runner but not nearly as dark so that we can actually enjoy traveling around. Somehow, though all of this fun does not quite become an altogether "must see" event. It is good and entertaining. It is probably better on the big screen. It is not the movie event of the year.
4 stars (out of 5)

Friday, August 3, 2012

The Dark Knight Rises

After a tremendous amount of hype and expectation for this film, and then a lot of mediocre reviews, I was a bit wary. But this was a good movie. It is a good story with good characters. One of my big disappointments is when a serial film or book is clearly a setup for the next film or book (best recent example is the second book of the Matched trilogy). In these cases, the film itself is not actually very good, but ties together the previous story with the supposed next story as a necessary bridge. I understand the nature of graphic novels and that you have to always set up the next, but you also have to tell story and you have to have some resolution. Otherwise you are just jerking the audience around. I must say that Nolan does an excellent job of avoiding this common pitfall. The story is complete (I don't remember much from the earlier installations and didn't feel lost), the story resolves and the door is open for the future. My only complaint is that I had a hard time understanding Bane much of the time. It seems like you could have developed a different device to satisfy the same physiological purpose without covering the mouth. Hathaway is an excellent CatWoman and I really like Joseph Gordon-Levitt in pretty much anything he does (see 50/50). This is an entertaining conclusion to the current Dark Knight trilogy.
4 stars (out of 5)

Friday Night

There are films and there are movies. Films are "better", but movies are more enjoyable. The best entertainment comes when you get a film that is also a movie. Friday Night is clearly a film. And I would say even more specifically, an art film. Whatever you do, don't read these prior sentences with a derogatory tone. I mean this description in the best sense. Directors often use cinematographic (is that a word) techniques in lieu of dialogue to set tone and communicate message. This can be done splendidly (see first part of Wall-E) or it can be exceedingly ineffective in actually communicating (see Limits of Control). In all cases, the filmmaker must remember that the technique cannot replace storytelling. Here, the lack of dialogue is replaced by texture. Fully a third of the film is slow, close up pans across wallpaper, curtains, car doors, faces, and cityscapes. The tone is introspective and suggests appreciation for environment. This is well done and as the viewer, I felt like I was in the same frame of mind as the protagonist Laure. As for the plot, we are set in Paris and Laure has just finished packing her apartment for a move. It is Friday night and she is leaving for the last time to go across town for dinner with some friends. Enter Parisian transit strike. Stuck in her car traveling blocks per hour, a stranger (Jean) gets in to her car (still minimal dialogue). One thing leads to another and Laure takes a little detour. This is an erotic (although not explicit) love story that has as many plot holes as any other film (how does traffic suddenly disappear when Jean drives?). But the point is not necessarily plot consistency. Perhaps it is something else... Just remember, it is a film, not a movie.
4 stars (out of 5)

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

In Time

Here is an interesting, if not entirely new, idea. Time is currency. In the dystopian future portrayed here, every human has a clock embedded into their arm that is connected to their biochemistry. People are born with 1 year on the clock and it begins running when they turn 25 years old. Two tiny details follow: 1. whatever your body looks like when you are 25, that is what you will look like for the rest of your life, and 2. "the rest of your life" ends when the clock runs out. Now, you can get a job and they will pay you in time. Want to buy a coffee, cost you a couple of days. But you can earn those back and more if you have a good job. So literally, time is currency. This film then follows Justin Timberlake as he attacks the class system that has developed between the haves (1000's of years on their clocks) and the have-nots (living day-to-day or hour-to-hour). And we find that because of this currency issue, the time on your clock may not be the time you have to live, because you do have to eat after all. This wasn't a strong movie, and it is not going to get any acting or writing awards, but I like movies that make me think. This has lots of avenues that you could pursue.
3 stars (out of 5)