Monday, September 30, 2013

Scary Flick Time!


Well folks, it's that time of year again. It's time for my fourth annual 31 Days of Horror!!! Sure, it's a bit of a cliche to spend the entire month of October with ghosts, goblins, and all other creatures of the damned, but that's precisely what I'm going to do. As usual, we'll kick things off on the 1st and roll right through Halloween day. We'll start with a classic, and get into a few more. There will also be plenty movies of recent vintage. We'll definitely sneak in a horror based comedy or two (or three). And I'll try to fit a list in there somewhere. Oh, almost forgot, this year, for the first time we're even going to touch on a book...as it relates to cinema, of course. I'll get things cranking tomorrow. Today, I have to double check my house's history to make sure it's not built on top of an ancient burial ground. Been hearing some strange noises lately. Get...out. Wait...what...did you hear...never mind. Leatherface willing, I'll catch you at the flip of the calendar.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Hitchcock

Directed by Sacha Gervasi.
2012. Rated PG-13, 98 minutes.
Cast:
Michael Stuhlbarg
James D’Arcy
Michael Wincott
Richard Portnow
Kurtwood Smith
Ralph Macchio


After reading a novel inspired by the exploits of real life serial killer Ed Gein entitled “Psycho,” director Alfred Hitchcock (Hopkins) is so enthralled he decides that he must immediately adapt it to film. He forges ahead despite the fact he won’t get any help from his bosses at Paramount and will have to finance it himself. Not only do the powers that be not believe in the project, they have their doubts about Hitch, as well. After all, he’s never done a horror flick to that point. The only person in his corner is his wife Alma (Mirren) who has worked alongside him on everything he’s ever done. She even agrees to let him mortgage their home to pay for the movie without any objection. However, having been together for thirty plus years, their relationship appears to be circling the drain. The movie proceeds to give us a way behind the scenes look at the making of Psycho.

Anthony Hopkins is in rare form as the iconic director. From everything I’ve ever seen of the real Hitchcock, Hopkins has his mannerisms and speech down cold. He also manages to go beyond just being a surface imitation and gives us a real sense of the man’s ego, dismissiveness of those he has no use for, possessiveness of those he does, and the fragility beneath it all. Many of his most heartfelt moments are when he says nothing at all. It helps tremendously that his leading lady is just as good. Actually, I’d rater her work just a slim shade below his, but only because she isn’t hamstrung by having to replicate her character’s physicality. In any case, it’s another strong performance in a career filled with them.

Hitchcock is also visually strong, but in subtle ways. These are nods to the man’s work and likeness sprinkled throughout the movie. Perhaps most noticeable are the several prominent shots of our hero’s shadow. He is the rare icon you’re likely to recognize quicker by his silhouette than his face. Another obvious thing is the famous peep hole from Psycho. Due to implications of it being put to use in the real world makes it even more disturbing here than in the horror classic.


With those good things comes some not-so-good things. Chief among these are the nightmares and daydreams Hitchcock has about Ed Gein. I gather they’re intended to give us some insight on Hitch’s mental state at various points during the production of Psycho. All they really do is interrupt the flow of the movie to pointlessly inject horror flick elements. It’s a misguided attempt at showing a man at war with himself. The effort put in here would have been better spent focusing on his battle with the bottle as it sets up to. He’s seen drinking at all times of the day, but only passing mention is made of this.

The most serious problem is that this movie is lacking any suspense whatsoever. This is ironic since our hero is known as the master of that very thing. I understand that creating some is probably an impossible task with regards to how Psycho plays out, but there is none in the lesser known aspects of the story that have nothing to do with the movie. This is most evident on Alma’s excursions with Whitfield (Huston), a writer who not only wants Hitch to film one of his scripts, but seems to have a thing for Alma. The way it’s written we never feel he’s a real threat to their marriage, yet she acts as if it is because the plot needs her to. I’ve no idea how any of this played out in real life, but it’s not handled well here.

The subpar storytelling overwhelms the performances of the two leads, rendering everything we like about the movie merely superficial. Yes, watching Hopkins and Mirren is nice, as are the numerous nods to the man that inspired this production. Everything else is either cliché or just plain botched. We’re left with a film with clever little touches, but is unable to sufficiently pull us into the story.

MY SCORE: 5.5/10

Friday, September 27, 2013

Oz the Great and Powerful

Directed by Sam Raimi.
2013. Rated PG, 130 minutes.
Cast:
Zach Braff
Bill Cobbs
Joey King
Tony Cox


Oscar, Oz (Franco) for short, is a carnival magician and ladies man only making chump change from his chosen profession. While trying to escape a certain beating, and possible death, at the hands of The Strong Man, Oz takes off in a hot air balloon. Like Dorothy would years later, he finds himself entangled in a tornado which dumps him in a place also called Oz. Immediately, he discovers that the people think he is the wizard that has come to save them from the wicked witch, as has been prophesied. Once successful, he will be named king and be given the royal treasure, a Scrooge McDuckian room filled with gold coins and other objects, both large and small, made of the precious metal. It’s an offer he finds too enticing to resist. In case you somehow haven’t caught on, this is a prequel to the revered classic The Wizard of Oz.

Like the movie it’s leading up to, Oz the Great and Powerful is a visual treat. Yes, there is lots of CGI, including some interesting creature effects. However, it’s the endlessly vivid color palette that dazzles the most. It’s particularly effective early as the movie transitions from the black and white of Kansas to the multi-hued Oz, but manages to remain a source of pleasure throughout. This adds to the movie’s overall sense of fun. Our eyes happily dart around the screen as our adventure bounds forward.

Story wise, Oz gives us a fresh take on characters we thought we knew. Most notable is the evolution of The Wicked Witch of the West, which I’ll not completely spoil if you haven’t seen it. I will say that it adds layers to the dynamics between she and Oz. In all, there are three witches. Honestly though, their work is a bit of a mixed bag. Rachel Weisz fares best. Of the trio, she is the most thoroughly believable. Michelle Williams, perhaps taking it easy after some emotionally draining films over the last few years, is solid but doesn't knock our socks off. Mila Kunis seems to be miscast. She gives a game effort, but it feels like she’s out of her element. Thankfully, she’s nowhere near a big enough detriment to ruin the movie. In the title role, James Franco seems to be having a great time. His enjoyment transfers to us. I am on record as saying I’m not a big fan of his. Still, I found him to be a blast here.


I understand this isn't the most liked film. In some circles, it’s downright reviled. To me it appears to be a victim of expectations. The Wizard of Oz is so pervasive in American culture, nearly every person of every age goes into it with a preconceived idea of what story this movie should tell and how that story should be told. This is an impossible tree to climb. Fiddling with a universe we all know and love will piss some people off. These folks will then declare with absolute certainty that Oz the Great and Powerful is not worthy of being a prequel to the iconic original. And they would be right.

The truth of the matter is Oz wouldn't be a worthy prequel no matter what. The movie that inspired it is nothing less than a national treasure. Think of it this way: it’s the only movie older than the original Star Wars that most people you know have seen at least once. I’m not talking about your small circle of friends and family, either. I’m talking anyone you've ever laid eyes on in real life. In fact, most of them have seen it twice. And it was made nearly fifty years before Star Wars. Living up to such a legacy feels like an impossibility. Yes, I am aware how well received the novel (which I've read) and the play (I've not seen) Wicked are. Trust me, if (when?) an adaptation of that hits the big screen many will cry foul. It might even play for too narrow an audience, depending on how true it stays to its source(s).

Here, we get the wizard drawn from behind the curtain, fleshed out a full of energy. The movie breezes by and looks great. Sure it’s flawed. I’m not saying it’s a masterpiece. I am saying that it keeps us involved enough in the story to keep us engaged. We enjoy the new characters and develop a new understanding of the old ones. Like many prequels, the conclusion suffers from a lack of tension because we already know how it ends. Despite this, it still functions nicely as a stand alone project. Unfortunately, it will never be allowed to actually stand alone. If you go in just looking for a fun flick, you shouldn't be disappointed in Oz the Great and Powerful. Once you start comparing it to The Wizard of Oz, both the facts and your rose-colored memory of it, it will wither and die like The Wicked Witch of the West after a bucket of water has been poured on her head. Don’t pour water on it.


MY SCORE: 7/10

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Jack Reacher

Directed by Christopher McQuarrie.
2012. Rated PG-13, 130 minutes.
Cast:
Werner Herzog
Alexia Fast
Josh Helman
Dylan Kussman
Joseph Sikora


Our movie begins with a seemingly random shooting spree. From a parking deck across the street, sniper James Barr (Sikora) picks off five people, gets back into his van and speeds away. Through some crack police work, Det. Emerson (Oyelowo) figures out who the bad guy is, takes the SWAT team over to the guy’s house and arrests him. While awaiting trial in prison, some fellow inmates lay a beat-down on Barr. Before falling into a coma, he requests that Emerson, and District Attorney Rodin (Jenkins) get Jack Reacher (Cruise). They have no idea how to get a hold of Mr. Reacher since he’s been missing for the last few years. Luckily for them, Reacher catches wind of the shooting on the news and just strolls into the police station on his own. In a strange move for both parties considering Reacher’s feelings on the matter, he winds up working for Helen (Pike), Barr’s defense attorney, who also happens to be the daughter of the DA. Reacher investigating the crime ensues.

If you’re a Tom Cruise hater, there is no reason for you to watch this movie or read beyond this point. You've already decided not to see this movie. And yes, he more or less plays Tom Cruise. This character feels no different than Ethan Hawke from the Mission: Impossible flicks, or from his character in Knight and Day, or any number of films where he’s tasked with saving the day. On the other hand, if the mere mention of his name does not make you physically ill, then stick it out. By this point, he seems to have become a one trick pony. Thankfully, it is not a terrible trick.


Fortunately, our supporting cast is solid. Pike does fine work as Barr’s lawyer. She’s delightfully defiant in her willingness to defend an apparently guilty man. The drawback is that her chemistry with Cruise is a bit off. This is, at least partly, due to the script. It can’t figure out if it wants there to be sexual tension between them or not. Things initially head down that path, but the trip is abandoned. Richard Jenkins is great, as always, albeit in brief bursts of screen time. During the movie’s latter parts it is completely stolen by Robert Duvall and, surprisingly, famed director Werner Herzog. The two find themselves on opposing sides, but neither is any less enjoyable than the other. We just enjoy them differently. Duvall brings us comic relief while Herzog creeps us out.

Since we follow him around much of the time, we must get back to our hero. Reacher goes all over town chasing down leads and, as expected, this gets him into the occasional scrape. We focus more on the following of the clues than the violence. The movie is successful with this as what’s going on becomes increasingly interesting. There are just enough twists within the narrative to keep us paying attention to what’s between action scenes. This is very important because there really is not that much action. That fact, plus our expectations, for those of us who have seen the trailer, help create an identity crisis for our feature. It never seems sure if it’s a procedural or an action flick. As the former, things tend to come a little too easily for our hero. As the latter, as I've mentioned, there’s not quite enough of it. Of course, our finale is one where bullets and fists fly. While that’s not terribly original, it is entertaining. For some, however, it may be too little too late.

Overall, Jack Reacher is a fun movie. It’s a popcorn flick with ever-so-slightly more on its mind than the usual. We get an intriguing tale with some enjoyable performances. It’s not a bad way to pass two hours. That said, you must understand that if you’re looking for a non-stop action shoot ‘em up, this is not it.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Best Movies of 2012

Yesterday, I gave you my list of 2012's worst movies. Since you're probably thoroughly depressed at the prospect of watching those movies, I'll go ahead and show you the opposite side of the cinematic coin. Again, I'll note that this list doesn't strictly follow the scores I initially gave them. As I said yesterday, the way I feel about some movies evolves over time. With that said, feel free to click on the titles to see those original reviews. My idea on the score may have changed, but the things I like and dislike about each pretty much remain the same, if that makes sense. And of course, feel free to give your thoughts on the matter. In the (not so) immortal words of Drake...what is this world coming to when I'm quoting Drake...we started from the bottom, now we're here...


2012's 12 Best Movies


This is pretty standard chick-flick stuff, but in David O. Russell’s capable hands it is far better than most of its ilk.


11. Looper
Even though it is science-fiction, Looper is not about showing off whatever futuristic gadgets the filmmakers can dream up or giving us a laser and lights show. It’s a rather human tale that happens to contain time-travel.


It works on multiple levels. Its layers don’t merely cover, but enhance one another. This works so well that despite all the wicked cutlery and pointed or jagged fangs on display, the movie’s wit is sharpest of them all.


It grabs hold of us as it explains the hows of the whats we already know. We’re intrigued by the process. When we get to the last scene, we do as Maya does. We exhale.


The Perks of Being a Wallflower is an enthralling movie. It draws us into this young man’s life and lets us love it or loathe it as he does.


Only a few days prior, I watched 50/50 so I was somewhat ready for a heavy drama about sex and illness. What I was totally unprepared for was just how funny this movie is.


Halftime

Okay, I'm taking a short break here because I wanted to recognize some movies that are not on this list, but were pleasant surprises. Frankly, I wasn't expecting anything from them and still got an enjoyable viewing experience.

21 Jump Street
Chronicle
Dredd
Goon
Killer Joe
Magic Mike
Safety Not Guaranteed
Ted

Now, on with the show...

For you action junkies, this is the stuff of your wet dreams. On the other hand, if you’re looking for things like depth, character development, witty dialogue, etc., they are not found nor welcomed here. And it’s still a great movie, just not for the squeamish.


When The Master ends we may be hit by a wave of confusion as we wonder what we just watched. In this case, that’s a good thing. We have much to talk about.


Skyfall is a return to greatness. It continuously questions its own place in today’s world. It questions the way its hero and, by extension, the movie itself goes about its business.


We’re often drawn to the edge of our seat. Then, at the end, our brain gets challenged a bit. Is what we've seen the truth or just a colorful metaphor? Does it really matter which? What proof does it offer of God’s existence? We can have fun with all of those questions after we've had fun watching Pi navigate difficult waters.


By the end, we’ve been through more than enough ups and downs with this family to become fully vested in them. When life throws yet another thing at them, we duck. We root for them and share in their triumphs and heartbreaks.


Django is more interested in getting the attitudes of the times right than the facts and even indulging the most violent fantasies of history’s victims. Sure, this requires some revisionist (or purely imagined) history but a Quentin Tarantino movie is not a fact-finding mission.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Worst Movies of 2012

I have a rule that I very rarely break. Once I start a movie, I'm going to finish it. No matter how bad it gets, or how late it is, even if I should fall asleep on it. Many times, I just couldn't keep my eyes open to watch a movie all the way through only to turn around and watch it in its entirety a day or two later. Even the bad ones.

Why subject myself to finishing a movie I already think is bad? It's simple, really. One of my core beliefs is what I call the law of opposites. We only understand something because we also understand it's opposite. We know what up is because we also know what down is. In movie terms, I can appreciate good movies more, because I know, or think I know, what bad movies are and vice-versa. I keep watching because there are always new levels of badness just as there are goodness. The cycle never ends.

Of course, we movie buffs like to cut those cycles into 365 day sections and grade each accordingly. I'll stick to that program. I'm just 200 and some odd days late getting the report cards out. When viewing this report card, note that the list does not strictly follow the way I scored these movies in my original reviews of them, which you can see by clicking on the titles (except for a couple of horror movies which I've yet to post reviews for). The way I feel about some movies evolves over time, some for the better, some for the worst. At the end, feel free to let me know if I've missed some horrible flick, or tell me how good some movie is that I've deemed terrible, or just share your own list. In my very humble opinion, these are...

The 12 Worst Movies of 2012


Spirit of Vengeance delivers precisely what its predecessor did: a fancy looking mess.


I’ll give some credit to the powers that be for wringing every last cent they possibly could out of this franchise…I mean not taking the easy way out and going an extra step. Disastrous it may be, but it’s a step.



Even the kids in the target audience are likely to have a “been there, done that” reaction to it all.



Underworld: Awakening simply tries to hide its lazy writing with a succession of not-always-so-nicely-rendered battle scenes. That, my friends, should be punishable by two shots to the chest and one to the head with ultra-violet or silver nitrate rounds, depending on which side of the monster ledger you think we’re dealing with.


I’m not sure anyone who has played the game could come up with enough of a storyline to justify a movie being made for it. Sadly, neither could the people actually involved in making it.


To their credit, the performers try valiantly to breathe life into this thing. As we all know, reanimating a corpse is impossible.


Tyler Perry is back in drag, yet again.


What to Expect is a classic case of a talented ensemble given nothing to work with and going through the motions.


Believe it, or not, so much suckiness is thankfully crammed into an hour and a half. However, since I started checking my watch about fifteen minutes in, it feels much much longer. I didn't think the hands of time could move so slowly.


3. Piranha 3DD
Its predecessor was trash of an endlessly and enjoyably repugnant variety. It was like gorging yourself on a gigantic bag of your favorite mini candy bars. The sequel is more like eating directly out of a dumpster.


2. The Innkeepers
Our director, Ti West, also helmed the equally bad and equally overrated House of the Devil. If you see this man anywhere near a movie set, please have the nearest person call 911 then physically restrain him until the cops arrive.


Nothing unexpected happens and almost none of it is funny when it does.


Before I let you go, I have a little more business to get to about '12's rotten flicks.

First up is a special shout out to this man...


Liam Neeson
Aside from Battleship, which clocked in as my eighth worst movie of last year, Mr. Neeson also had prominent roles in three other horrible productions in 2012: The Grey, Taken 2 and Wrath of the Titans. Since he probably made lots of money doing it, I'm not mad at him.


Next, I have to spotlight a couple of movies I thought were bad, but I'm completely in love with. In other words, these two movies were...


2012's Movies So Bad They're Awesome!

Without question, this is a “turn your brain off” experience starring a group of guys who made a pretty good living making stuff go boom.

&

A sharply written plot and Oscar-worthy performances are not found here. To be honest, don’t even expect it all to make sense within its own context. However, the blood splattering action makes it a package just too cheesy to resist.


Now I'm done.


Friday, September 20, 2013

The Dellies - 2012 Best Director

And now we've reached the last award. Sort of. As I've said before, I will do a best and worst movie list, both this weekend. For now, we'll tackle the people who have painstakingly brought their vision to life in the form of these pictures. Click on the titles of my nominees to read my full reviews.

2012 - Best Director

The Real Nominees: Michael Haneke (Amour), Ang Lee (Life of Pi), David O. Russell (Silver Linings Playbook), Steven Spielberg (Lincoln), Benh Zeitlin (Beasts of the Southern Wild)

My Nominees:

Ben Affleck, Argo
It’s a masterwork crafted by Affleck, the director. For me, each of his three efforts from the special chair has been brilliant. He may have made his name as an actor and dater of starlets, but it seems his true calling is behind the camera.


Paul Thomas Anderson, The Master
Paul Thomas Anderson directs his movie in a manner that makes it difficult to look away from. The shots are beautiful and Hoffman and Phoenix command the screen. Many of their scenes together are scintillating. The director brings this out with excellent story-telling skills.

Ang Lee, Life of Pi
Including this one, I've only seen five of the twelve full-length features directed by Ang Lee. Until now, I’ve only liked one, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. If you shared my point of view, you’d understand why I wasn't really buying into the hype surrounding Life of Pi. However, I’ll admit that Mr. Lee has crafted a winner with this one.


Quentin Tarantino, Django Unchained
Nothing is so effective in the movie than at several points when we merely think something heinous is about to happen. This is when we’re intrinsically drawn to the edge of our seat while simultaneously trying to sink backwards into the thing. It is at these moments when Django is at its best.


Benh Zeitlin, Beasts of the Southern Wild
By the end, we've been through more than enough ups and downs with this family to become fully vested in them. When life throws yet another thing at them, we duck. Beasts of the Southern Wild is just a wonderfully done film.


Honorable Mention:
Kathryn Bigelow, Zero Dark Thirty
Stephen Chbosky, The Perks of Being a Wallflower
Ben Lewin, The Sessions
Sam Mendes, Skyfall
Steven Spielberg, Lincoln
David O. Russell, Silver Linings Playbook


The Real Winner: Ang Lee, Life of Pi


And My Winner Is...


Quentin Tarantino, Django Unchained
Taking another cue from the Blaxploitation era, director Quentin Tarantino wraps this tale about the barbaric ways of slavery in spaghetti western garb. To drive it forward, we get a screenplay chock full of sharp, often funny, often stinging dialogue. Django Unchained continues the director’s tradition of creating great tension through words. This one has more action between conversations than his normal fare, but the relationship between the two dynamics remains the same. Dialogue, complete with dramatic pauses, creates tension, action releases it.


Thursday, September 19, 2013

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

Directed by John Madden.
2012. Rated PG-13, 124 minutes.
Cast:
Penelope Wilton
Maggie Smith
Celia Imrie
Ronald Pickup
Tena Desae
Sid Makkar
Lillete Dubey
Diana Hardcastle
Seema Azmi
Paul Bhattacharjee


In rapid succession we meet various Brits all in their golden years, who don’t know each other, all going through a crisis of some sort. Evelyn (Dench) is a widow struggling to cope with the loss of her husband and will need a place to live now that she has to sell the flat they shared. Graham (Wilkinson) is seriously considering retirement and dreading the possibility. Madge (Imrie) is looking for her next husband. Norman (Pickup) is not looking for a wife, but is a horny old dude who keeps striking out. Mrs. Donelly (Smith), a blatant racist, needs a hip replacement. Who knows how long it will be before she gets to the top of that list. Mr. and Mrs. Ainslie (Nighy and Wilton, respectively) are having trouble finding suitable living arrangements after losing much of their life savings. Invariably, all of these people come across an offer to live out the rest of their days at the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel for the Elderly and Beautiful. Their trips will be paid for by the hotel itself. All of them decide to take this place up on its offer. By the way, the hotel is in India. Of course, when they get there and meet the energetic, fast-talking, and youthful owner Sonny (Patel), they quickly realize things aren’t quite what they were led to believe. Unable to afford return flights back to England, they try to make the best of things.

We weave in and out of these people’s lives as they have made them in their new home. They deal with culture shock, try to get used to the food and each other, and some long for home. We also watch Sonny try to keep the failing hotel afloat, speak passionately to his girlfriend Sunaina (Desae), and argue with his mother (Dubey) about both his girl and the hotel. Through each of the numerous subplots, the surface is made up of light-hearted humor, but powered by an undercurrent of sadness. These are not happy people, but people in search of what will make them so. As expected, they must also contend with the effect their living situation has on them, not only individually, but also as a group. It’s not completely different than a septogeneric version of “Big Brother.” Though they don’t vocalize this, and no one is voted out of the hotel, we clearly see alliances form.

To the movie’s credit, the veil of comedy holds up nicely. It manages to keep us chuckling most of the way through. The cast, and the script they are working with, is so terrific in this area that it accomplishes this without resorting to making buffoons of its characters. The exception here is Sonny. He is a bit of a nut, but he has purpose. Patel gives off a fun, used car salesman vibe, but one that is somehow earnest even though he’s never sure if he can deliver on whatever has flown out of his mouth. The rest of the cast is brilliant. Credit starts at the top with the always excellent Judi Dench and the equally great Tom Wilkinson. By the way, Wilkinson’s story line is the only one without a hint of comedy. Everything surrounding him is draped in sorrow. However, he’s such a marvelous actor, and his character is written so well, it never feels out of place. Also great is Maggie Smith as Mrs. Donnelly. She does so much acting with facial expressions and makes us laugh with each one.


One of the film’s shortcomings is that it has a little bit too much going on. As proof I offer Madge and Norman. They have separate but intertwining plots forming their own little clique. Unfortunately, they both get a bit lost in the shuffle. While we’re watching the lives of the others turn upside down they disappear from the movie for a really long stretch, almost long enough to make us forget who they are. They eventually get re-introduced, but it feels like their fates are afterthoughts in comparison to the rest of the bunch. This is particularly true of Madge. Nearly everything about her feels tacked on.

The other drawback is the easy ending. Everything is wrapped up in neat little bows just in time for the credits. No one we like is left unhappy while those we don’t merely clear the path for the “good guys.” For a movie that shows it can effectively deal in grays, it’s a bit disappointing for it to separate itself into clearly delineated sections of black and white. Then again, this is a comedy so I cannot rightfully expect some hard hitting and/or ambiguous finale. It just would have been nice for it to test us just a bit. Therefore, instead of being something that truly resonates, it becomes a cute and harmless picture.

Both of my complaints with The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel are minor. They’re things an already good movie could have done better. As it stands, it’s an enjoyable experience. Our ensemble is an absolute delight and enables us to see all of the heart in the material. In return, we’re glad to share ours with them.


MY SCORE: 7.5/10

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Parker

Directed by Taylor Hackford.
2013. Rated R, 118 minutes.
Cast:
Michael Chiklis
Emma Booth
Wendell Pierce
Patti LuPone
Carlos Carrasco


Parker (Statham) is a professional thief who run big-time burglaries. With the help of a crew run by Melander (Chiklis), a group he’s never worked with before, he successfully robs the Ohio State Fair of about one million dollars. Instead of splitting the money as previously agreed to, Melander suggests they put all the money toward a bigger score that will net them a few million bucks each. Parker balks at the notion and winds up in a roadside ditch with several bullet holes in him. Thanks to some good Samaritans who happen to be driving by, he makes it to the hospital. Of course, as soon as he opens his eyes he escapes and goes looking for Melander and the rest of his cronies. A broke and lonely real estate agent played by Jennifer Lopez figures into things later.

While watching that setup, I am immediately reminded of the Mel Gibson flick Payback. Gibson’s character there, and Parker in this movie, are essentially the same guy. Indeed, the two movies play out in much the same manner as far as major plot points go. The biggest difference between them is in tone. Payback strikes a darkly comic one, quite brilliantly in my humble opinion, while Parker plays it as a straight up action flick with the usual small doses of humor, here and there. This is where the movie’s biggest problems are. No, it’s not a terrible picture. It’s just that with little or nothing to truly call its own, the conventionality of its frame is laid bare. Surprises are minimal.


It doesn't help that our hero is a pretty flat character. We get that he’s been wronged and he’s incredibly focused on getting his just due. Unfortunately, that’s it. We understand that he loves his girlfriend Claire (Booth) and her father Hurley (Nolte). However, the depth of that love is summed up in the fact that whenever he does something to piss off another bad guy, he calls them on the phone to tell them someone’s going to be coming for them. Gee, thanks.

On the other hand, J-Lo’s Leslie is much more fleshed out with a good deal less screen time. The movie pushes the sympathy envelope hard with her, and simultaneously uses her for comic relief. However, it’s an up and down role that Lopez struggles with. Unlike many, I actually think she’s a fine actress. It seems to be at least as much an issue of presentation and writing as it is of her. How we’re supposed to take her changes from scene to scene and the jokes she’s given aren't funny. Besides, as good as I think she is, comedy has never been her strong suit.

All is not lost. Remember, this is an action flick. It’s a Jason Statham action flick, at that. Most people will watch to see our hero beat the crap out of and/or kill lots of bad guys. That’s precisely what he does. True to form, it’s brutal, bloody, and exciting stuff. His first fight, inside a moving SUV, and one he has later in a hotel room take top honors. Both are just plain fun to watch, no matter how preposterous they may be. Speaking of preposterous, even though the idea that Park is affected by all the damage done to his body is a fraud, I’ll at least give the film credit for trying in that department. The point is, if you’re looking for a testosterone fueled popcorn flick you could do a lot worse than Parker.


MY SCORE: 6.5/10

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

The Dellies - 2012 Best Animated Feature

Today we dive into what is probably the most fun category. Every year tons of kiddie fare hits the theater. Truthfully, much of it is annoying and overly simple. That said, when one of these movies gets it right it can be a truly wonderful viewing experience. The movies below got it right. Click on the titles of my nominees and honorable mentions to read my full reviews.


2012 - Best Animated Feature

The Real Nominees: Brave (Mark Andrews and Brenda Chapman), Frankenweenie (Tim Burton), ParaNorman (Sam Fell and Chris Butler), The Pirates! Band of Misfits (Peter Lord), Wreck-It Ralph (Rich Moore)


My Nominees


Directed by Mark Andrews and Brenda Chapman
Brave is a beautiful looking film. Beginning with our heroine’s expertly rendered hair, it’s a wonderful mix of photo-realistic scenery and cartoonish people. Nearly every frame has a touch or two that are a treat to lay eyes on.

Directed by Sam Fell and Chris Butler
The characters on the screen are plenty scared, but their plight is handled with a good deal of levity. And the jokes actually work.

Directed by Peter Lord
Verbally, Pirates prefers subtly inserted punchlines to the obvious or crass. All of this comes together in a solid package.

Directed by Peter Ramsey
It’s possible to see the entire plot as a test of faith and what happens if we don’t have it. No, this doesn't get preachy and it’s not an advertisement for any religion. However, the theme is present. More than any of this, it’s just plain fun to watch.


Directed by Rich Moore
There’s more to this movie than being pretty and loud. It eventually becomes a redemption tale. That much is expected. What’s not is the complexity of the redeeming and how many actually go through it.


Honorable Mention:
Ice Age: Continental Drift
Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted


The Real Winner: Brave (Mark Andrews and Brenda Chapman)


And My Winner Is...

Rise of the Guardians
Directed by Peter Ramsey
On the surface, things boil down to that good guys/bad guy stuff. That aspect alone is fun, but there’s more to it than that. It plays on our childhood hopes and fears to create both excitement and dread.