Movie Madness

My movie reviews and rants at your fingertips.

Monthly Archives: September 2010

The Town

Ben Affleck is quickly becoming one of my favorite directors. He understands nuance and subtlety. Unlike many other actor-directors, he focuses on making rich characters out of the script. With a supporting cast that is too good to be true, The Town easily becomes the best heist film in a long time.

The film has two plots going on. The one that gets the most attention is Doug MacRay (Affleck) and his band of heist brothers. We watch them as they scheme, rob, and live in uncomfortable ease. How can guys these talented live so comfortably? The other story is FBI agent Frawley (Jon Hamm) as he builds a case and tries to bring Doug and his boys down. For a cat and mouse movie, it’s unusual but original in how Frawley and MacRay never have the big climatic confrontation. In fact, the brief interrogation scene is the only time these characters ever interact directly.Frawley finds his in from a hostage of one of their heists played by Rebecca Hall. She starts the movie as a victim but ends up way more involved than she could have expected.

All the acting is great. Jeremy Renner and Pete Postlethwaite (and very briefly Chris Cooper) round out a solid cast. Everyone explores their characters and brings all of them to life. The biggest surprise is Blake Lively as Renner’s James’ sister. The script gets a bit thin at the end of the second act, but the third pick up the slack. A solid heist movie that is sure to be mentioned around Oscar time. And deservedly so. 3.5 out of 5 stars

Easy A

Emma Stone has arrived ladies and gentlemen. In the first time since Mean Girls, we have a smart teen comedy with a smart and talented cast. Man, was it overdue!

Easy A stars Emma Stone as a woman who puts her reputation up for sale. But not quite in the usual way. Instead, she helps those underprivileged guys at her school by pretending that they shacked up. What starts out as a favor for a friend turns into a service that draws much attention from her classmates and the faculty. It culminates in an altercation that really brings her to truly understand the trouble of what she has done.

Ms. Stone is backed an all-star cast including the Stanley Tucci, Patricia Clarkson, and Thomas Haden Church. But even with a great cast, the strength is in the writing. The script is fully aware of its trappings and instead of ignoring them to takes them head on and exposes them, laughing all the while. This is a smart film that is guaranteed to rise above the cliches of its subgenre. 4 out of 5 stars.

I’m Still Here

Joaquin Phoenix has lost his mind. Or has he? In I’m Still Here, we witness a man slowly losing touch with reality. Casey Affleck directs what appears to be performance art, but for what purpose.

I’m Still Here follows Joaquin Phoenix (or JP as those close to him call him) as he quits the movie business and pursues a career in music. Those who remember Walk the Line, we saw JP transform into Johnny Cash. He learned guitar and trained his voice to sound like Cash, so a career in country sounds like a sound choice. But instead, he is convinced he is to become a rapper. This is his journey.

At the being of the film, the concept sounds controversial and exciting. We quickly learn that this is a shoddy pet project that stalls shortly after it can go anywhere. Incorporating celeb cameos only seems to elevate the awkwardness of this piece. Is it a hoax or is it reality? That is the most interesting part of the film. The question and its answer are way more interesting than the film itself. Phoenix delves into such a strange place that the last sequence drags on just like the rest of the film. It’s an elaborate **spoiler** that isn’t worth the concept. By the end, you just want it over. And afterward, you are left with a feeling of “Who cares?” 2 out of 5 stars.

16 to Life

Here is an independent film that does it right. From the distribution to the execution of the whole film, it works. One of the few films to escape the circle jerk that is the Iowa Film Tax fiasco, this film truly resonates.

16 to Life stars Hallee Hirsh as Kate, a bookworm turning 16 and has never been kissed. she spends her birthday working at her summer job tending the burger joint down by the marina. Unfolding over the course of a day we are met with vivid characters and situations that seem reasonable and awkward at the same time. Manning the little joint is her friend Darby, a girl whose idea of love isn’t quite right. Rene, the fry cook, is the quirky background character who always close to the action, whether he wants to be or not.

The film circles around Kate wanting her first kiss and the obstacles and opportunities that change the chance that her birthday might be the day. The focus isn’t of a linear nature, the film is more focused on the characters and their reactions to bikers or damaged cell phones (a great moment). Kate meets a boy named Carson and sparks fly right away…or do they. Is this guy going to be her first kiss? Or is this just another day?

The direction of Becky Smith remains true to the environment and its characters. The dialogue rings true and the fantasy sequences of Kate in China (you’ll get it when you see it) really allow us to see how she thinks. Movies sometimes to show us the mind of a teenager and we’re left lost and confused. Megan Fox didn’t look or talk like a teenager in Jennifer’s Body. Here, all the actors feel at home in his or her character’s body. Everything feels authentic.

If you get a chance to see this film, don’t hesitate to go. Touring from theater to theater across the country, the likelihood of seeing the cast or director for a special screening are high. This is a romantic comedy through to its core, but done so independently of the Hollywood clichés and oversimplifications. The film knows you aren’t stupid and therefore is mostly void of “explainers’. Explainers are anytime when a character, narration, or action that explains exactly what happens. Once you notice them they’ll drive you nuts. But not to worry with this film. A brilliant film that leaves you with a nostalgic feeling of young love and that first kiss. 4.5 out of 5 stars.

The Expendables

Sylvester Stallone had a career resurgence over the last few years. Resurrecting first Rocky Balboa, and then Rambo to years later. After both impressed and made a bit of coin, Stallone was given a chance to make a truly macho movie, just like he used to.  He chose The Expendables, calling in friends and fellow action heroes for some fun.

The title is unintentionally refers to how most of the cast is has been action superstars. Looking at the cast is a trip down memory lane for most movie fans over 30. But the cast knows what is going on and it feels like business as usual for us avid action fans.

The story follows a group of mercenaries (the title comes from its name) asked to take out a general in a small island in the Caribbean. Finding that things are more complex than they appear, they realize what the real intention of the mission. The film rests a bit too much on the script which is good, but a bit thin. The action sequences fill in lagging moments and though it makes it to the end intact, the journey wasn’t as good as expected.

The action sequences are well choreographed and the stunts are very exciting. The reason for this is Stallone’s insistence on as little CGI as possible. Instead he chose to make a movie where the action is close quartered and visceral. A fun action film for those who enjoy seeing his/her favorite action heroes all together. 2.5 out of 5 stars

Machete

Back when Grindhouse opened, a fake trailer for Machete was inserted before Planet Terror. The short was so popular that it was spun off into an actual movie. Retaining much of the same style and plot of the original fake trailer, Machete aims to take you back to those days when these B-movies could exist.

Character actor Danny Trejo gets the spotlight in this film. He plays Machete, a ruthless Mexican mercenary who has ties to our government agencies. After a drug dealer kills his wife and daughter and leaves me for dead, he plans his revenge. He is hired to kill an anti-immigrant Senator and ends up being framed, making him the fall guy. This sends Machete trying to kill the man who sets him up, who happens to be working for the man who killed his family.

The best part of the film is that it doesn’t take itself too seriously. The plot is just enough to carry through to the end, but the strength is in its knowledge of the films it is parodying. Despite beginning a B-movie with a surprisingly smart cast, the film manages to tackle topical subject matter while remaining true to the story.

Director Rodriguez does well with ensemble casts, most notably Sin City. With a diverse call sheet that includes Lindsay Lohan, Jessica Alba, Trejo, Steven Seagal, and Don Johnson, the surprises appear to end there. Fortunately, the film takes the action and gore to new heights. Though most of the film is played without humor, many of the scenes and dialogue lead to laughter from the audience. In a summer riddled with prepackaged garbage, this is a spin-off that actually has punch to it. 3.5 out of 5 stars.