Sunday, January 27, 2013

Date Night

Tina Fey and Steve Carrell are funny. But they have to have material. This was 100 minutes of film with 30 minutes of action and 20 minutes of funny. I could tell that they had fun making certain scenes, but the plot was definitely developed as a string of situations that could put comedians in awkward situations that they should not know how to handle separated by dramatic pauses that would allow the audience to reflect on their own relationships. Probably the most unfortunate part of this is that it probably made enough money for us to expect Date Night 2.
2 stars (out of 5)


This is as formulaic as they come. Former CIA agent gets framed for killing a spy. Gets sentenced to maximum security prison (which in this case happens to be an orbiting space prison). Conveniently, the presidents daughter is on a humanitarian mission to said space prison when it gets taken over by the prisoners. CIA guy is given opportunity to help his cause by rescuing presidents daughter. Chemistry develops, moral choices are made, smart quips are tossed about ... walk off into the night. Guy Pierce does a pretty good job as the CIA agent with enough swagger to talk back to anyone and everyone. No academy awards (clearly) but a good way to waste an afternoon. And since that was my goal...
3 stars (out of 5)

Twilight Samurai

When I think Samurai, I think honorable body guard trained to be the fiercest of all fighters. In Twilight Samurai we enter into a story of class. There are peasants, there are nobility, and there are Samurai (the paid professional servants of the nobility). These Samurai are often professional warriors, but many of them have a primary responsibility in the mundane. These lesser Samurai might be in charge of the food stores in case of a siege or battle, as is the case here. So while trained to fight, they are actually accountants. And of course, "lower class". Our hero (Seibei Iguchi) is one such accountant, who has lost his wife and struggles on his small stipend to support a senile mother and two young daughters. He is dutiful to his master/clan and to his family. This is not an action or martial arts film, but a look into the culture of mid-19th century Japan as its society begins the transition to modernity. What piqued my interest was the demonstrated roles and responsibilities of living in a hierarchy  At one point, Iguchi makes a request to allow his duty as a samurai to be placed on another. The clan master will not hear of it and, from a position of power, is astonished that the request is even made. Power insists that duty is fulfilled regardless of situation or conscience. Almost immediately following, the hierarchy shows another side. If Iguchi does not return, his superior accepts the responsibility to care for his senile mother and children. With power comes responsibility. Too often, those in power develop a great entitlement to the obedience and forget the responsibility that must be an equal partner.
4 stars (out of 5)

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters

I am trying to decide whether this film was worth while or not. The fact that I actually have to consider this probably means it was not. The plot follows Hansel and Gretel 25 years after their childhood escape from the gingerbread house. As they have become the regional witch hunters, their services are very much in demand. Throughout the story, we watch as they hunt witches and come to terms with the truth of their past. All very low concept and perfect for a summer flick. Unfortunately, either the writing or the acting (or both) left me feeling like we are all just marching through a script to the end. It may be the matter-of-fact voice over narration that gave the "ho-hum here's another boring witch" feel. While I can see the value of creating this mood intentionally in the first third, the film was never able to turn it up a notch and get out of "ho-hum" to develop tension that needed resolution. Add this to the fact that I didn't get popcorn since I had just had lunch, so I can't even give it a great rating as a popcorn movie.
2 stars (out of 5)

The Man from Nowhere

A nice little Korean film that reminds me of the plot of Taken, but better. A reclusive pawn shop owner befriends a neighborhood girl who needs a friend (mother is a prostitute and no father). Unfortunately, the mothers work gets her involved with drug running and gets the girl kidnapped as collateral to collect on stolen merchandise. Fortunately for the girl, our pawn shop guy is a former special ops kind of guy who you don't want to mess with. Mayhem and brutal vengeance follow in the effort to save the girl. A clear reminder that racism is universal (all the stupid people here are Chinese and all the smart ones are Korean) as well as retributive violence. It seems that in films like this, with good v. evil guys, the ego of the bad guys always gets them shot. Maybe this is not and intentional cultural statement by the filmmakers on how power corrupts one's sense of place in society, but watch enough of these films and you begin to see them reflecting (on an exaggerated scale in most cases) the mores of society. Imagine a humble crime boss. Would probably be wildly successful since they would not overestimate their abilities, and would make for a box office flop of a film.
3 stars (out of 5)

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

The Tourist

Perhaps a conversation I had with Annika about 15 minutes into this film sums it up.
  Me: Did you want to watch this with me?
  A: No, I heard it was really violent... or really boring... I don't remember which...

Turns out it was the boring option. Angelina Jolie is followed by the police since her former boyfriend is a wanted man. When she gets a message to meet him, she jumps through the hoops to try to lose the police. Part of the plan is to meet a random guy on a train and befriend him, making everyone think the random guy is the boyfriend. Johnny Depp plays the tourist and gets enmeshed in the hijinks. But still, not enough action, or not enough creativity, or not enough chemistry. This felt as if everyone phoned in a performance. If you have late night insomnia, this might help.

2 stars (out of 5)

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Jack Reacher

Sometimes inspiration hits in the funniest places. Or maybe not inspiration, but curiosity.  First the movie. Jack Reacher is an ex-Army MP who is apparently the worlds best investigator and baddest tough guy. He gets "called" into Pittsburgh to help investigate the guilt/innocence of a sniper. His persona is one of quiet confidence, which I guess you can have (confidence that is) when you know you can beat up 5 guys any time you want. For the first part of the film, Reacher is almost apologetic about his ability to hurt people and he really just wants people to tell him the truth, not get beat up. But in this we are drawn into a bit of minor hero worship. Don't we all hope Reacher is the guy investigating our crime when we are falsely accused? Don't we all want Reacher to ignore the rules to get at the truth? And as we are set up to really like this guy, we are then reminded that Reacher practices vigilante justice. He is never wrong, so it is OK. It is a bit ironic that the entire film plot is based on Reacher helping a lawyer avoid the death penalty for this sniper who killed 5 people in cold blood. And yet somehow, the villain does not even get a trial or a lawyer to argue against the death penalty. Just death. I like that this is not just straight up action, but is an investigation. It gives us time to observe, to think and recognize what mythology the authors want us to believe. And we have time to decide whether we actually believe this.

3 stars (out of 5)

Now to curiosity. The movie previews included ads for two 1st person shooter games that are being released soon. In my hope to some day see books and films that are both good and offer alternatives to violence for dealing with conflict, I wondered what it would look like for a 1st person shooter game to be non-violent. Or at least, violent without death? It seems that two things are going on in these games: 1st - players must solve a puzzle or traverse a maze to "win", and 2nd- players must be alive to do this (and often killing the bad guy is the only way to progress through the puzzle). Is it possible to have a kick-ass puzzle/maze that would knock even the most ardent player flat with its detail and at the same time, set up "fight rules" that reward violence-alternative solutions? These rules would have to be very cool and unique. I don't play enough to even know how to imagine what the alternatives could be. But this kind of game would be so novel, it would definitely have a corner on the market. I would simply hope that it would not be released and only be "kinda-OK". "Kinda-OK" is like christian rock. It's not really good, but it is christian so some people listen. Someone out there invent a kick-ass, violence-alternative, 1st person shooter game for me.