09 February 2011

Review: The Mechanic

Urban: Jason Statham takes this film in a contemplative direction in the style of the recent film The American. The result is a film full of action, that nevertheless hits some strong and subtle notes.

Simon West (Con Air) directs this remake of the 1972 Charles Bronson film about an elite assassin (Jason Statham) working for a high class cabal as he teaches his trade to an apprentice (Ben Foster) who has a connection to one of his previous victims.

The Mechanic rises above the typical fare, and the typical Jason Statham film, by taking a little extra time to fill out the story and show us the details.

It's that simple.

Without a steady hand to guide it this film could have easily entered the realm of The Transporter, the only difference being the subject matter glossed over before Statham started crushing skulls and the addition of a buddy storyline. Instead, Statham's character, Arthur Bishop, really steps onto the screen and channels some inner Charles Bronson as he deals with one of the most common employment issues when working for an assassin cabal - that they always feel the need to terminate their employees? (Mr. and Mrs. Smith, the Bourne Trilogy, Wanted). This happens in two ways:

First, the buddy story that is depicted on the screen actually plays out. By that, I simply mean to say that it has a trajectory. The last buddy film that I can remember was The Other Guys with Will Ferrell and Marky Mark, but that one simply served as a vehicle for both of those actors to act silly. Here, we get to see a fully developed bond, complete with the weaknesses and areas of mistrust you might expect from a relationship thrown together like this.

Second, the details of the film are really allowed to show through. I guess, this is probably my way of saying that I noticed the details here, and I liked them. The Schubert playing on vinyl, the classic porsche, the house on the bayou - most importantly, the detailed planning of the assassinations - this is not Cranked, or Death Race, but a story about the kind of characters that I want to know about. It's also probably why the film didn't produce at the box office the way Statham's recent films have, despite the fact that this one has plenty of action.
The primary thing that I want to say about this movie is that I really enjoyed it, but that I also had very low standards for what to expect from it. This happened because I couldn't help but compare this film with the last 8 years of Jason Statham films and find a whole lot more in this one than in all of the others. Slate television critic Troy Patterson says that "Statham isn't pretentious enough to try to elevate any movie, but rather that he celebrates the 'B-Movieness' of the roles that he choose", but I happen to agree more with Julia Turner on the same cultural gabfest when she mentions Statham's ability to bring humor to a role that would other wise not seem very funny. I think that in this film, that humor fits in with the rest of the storyline and along with the details and pacing (think of this one as a poor man's The American) combine to create a pleasant film.

Urban: Recommended
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22 October 2010

Review: Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps

Urban: Another Oliver Stone piece about the recent past, the acting is good, the directing misses the mark, and the story is good, but simply too long.

Oliver Stone returns to his seminal character, Gordon Gekko (Michael Douglas), in order to trace the events involved in the recession of 2008. As Gekko emerges from prison he attempts to re-unite with his daughter and rebuild his financial empire in a land where many of the old rules don't apply.

Urban: This is a pretty good film. Whatever else I may say, this is something that you should watch, and should enjoy/think about. The events and themes that tell the story behind the 2008 recession are fully on display in all their tawdry glory.

At the same time, this film really misses the mark by attempting to make the story fuller. While this may seem odd, most Stone films tend to be preachy. In this one, Jake Moore (Shia LaBeouf) is the same character as Bud Fox in the original Wall Street, in the same way that he is also Chris Taylor from Platoon. In Stone's moral universe, everyone has two father figures as options. In this film, Gordon Gekko competes with Bretton James (Josh Brolin) as the right to guide Moore (and by metaphorical extension the American public) out of the recession. Taking time to develop both of these options moves the viewer to highs and lows, but mostly includes lows (just like the economy) because both options are pretty lousy.

Instead of developing the downward spiral to its fullest extent, Stone attempts to build a story of hope (Obama?) into this film. However, from the vantage point of the viewer, this story isn't finished and to many, the hope that may have reached it's epoch when things were still at their darkest during the 2008 presidential election hasn't delivered relief for very many. Stone went too far with this story considering the recent history of this event. Having Gekko reform, return the money to the green power initiative, and letting Moore reunite with his fiance; as well as allowing justice to have it's way with James just wraps things up way too neatly for anyone to feel good about this happy ending.

Artistically, this film has some good moments. The shots that occur organically within the storyline - the busy trading floor, Miss Moore showing a gaudy (empty) mini-mansion, the deathly seriousness of the major banks around the table negotiating for their lives, and Gekko lording over his empire sitting behind his massive desk with hands folded. These shots are well-put together and effectively communicate the mood of the film and please us by meeting our expectations. The film does a decent job of maintaining continuity by showing the peaks and valleys of the market imposed upon the New York City skyline. It also comes close to achieving symmetry by including two different instances of voice-over from LaBouef that do a tremendous job of explaining the larger consequences of entire groups playing out the morality play by our characters.

In another way though, Stone tries to go beyond our expectations by adding a number of stylish shots that all disappoint. Of these overreaches, very few compare to the miss-step in the opening credits when the look at the New York City streets attempts to climb a building and enter a board-room meeting. The CGI is apparent and looks very amateurish. Throughout the film, small attempts to do things like this really mar the finish of what would have been a pretty decent looking movie. The most unforgivable offense though, is extending the movie beyond the final voiceover from LaBeouf. This second instance occurs right after Gekko has turned back to the dark side, betraying his friends and family, and perfectly hits the tone of our nation at the time. Instead, Stone fits poor form onto poor content when he tries to give this sad story a happy ending.
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14 October 2010

Review: The Social Network

Urban: The Zeitgeist that everyone remembers, told in a smart way and directed with all of the momentousness that it deserves.

Urban: He's not a bad guy. Even though this film literally has to tell us this, it's still hard to walk away from this movie feeling this way. It's probably because it is largely based upon The Accidental Billionaires, a book told from the perspective of Eduardo Saverin, the Facebook founder who was pushed out of the business by Mark Zukcerberg. Despite this, writer Aaron Sorkin and Director David Fincher do an excellent job of creating the most realized film of recent memory. By this I simply mean to say that the film manages to avoid any reference to any other film/cultural epoch/war story. It doesn't stand for anything but itself, which (and I liked these films): W., The Hurt Locker, Avatar, all were unable to do, as they were somehow all pulled into larger stories within political/social groups.

In order to do so, the film focuses on it's self referential qualities. In many ways, the term "friend", with all of the connotations that it carries within Facebook, is the prism through which any, and especially this, social network must be viewed. The beauty of the term on the website and within this film is that it carries no distinction; between frenemy and best friend or being used as a verb or an adjective.

A friend is a person that you know, that you don't necessarily keep in touch with regularly due to the presiding social strata (Winklevoss Twins). A friend could also be someone you have a crush on, no matter how destructive of an influence that they are (Sean Parker, Christy Lee) A friend, as the movie also shows us, can be a person with whom you have serious disagreements (Eduardo Saverin). Nowhere is this rendered more artfully than in the courtroom deposition sequences, when Saverin and Zuckerberg speak to each other through their lawyers even though they are sitting across the table from one another - their lawyers are functioning as their facebook wall - they are communicating, but not on the level that they are capable of attaining.

Even further, the film's attention to detail with regard to these issues can also be seen in the amount of parallels that the story contains. This is apparent not only in some of the symmetrical life experiences that Saverin and Zuckerberg face, but also within the way that each storyline that is produced is completed within the course of the film. I know that some reviews noted that the crew racing scene in England seemed to be 'extra', but I contend that this scene functioned beautifully to construct the logical completion of the Sean Parker upward arc within the film, while also tying up the plot-line regarding the Winklevi.

As a sort of an aside, the Trent Reznor score really punctuates the film without ever taking away from it. He might have a future in the music business.

When viewed in total, the film was a complete success at telling a momentous story in a beautiful way. For doing so, the film will become a future classic.

Urban: Strongly Recommended
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15 September 2010

Review: Resident Evil: Afterlife 3D

Urban: For zombie movies, you're better off with Zombieland. For video game movies, better off with Prince of Persia.

Urban: This is the fourth in the series of Resident Evil films and the first that I have seen from beginning to end since the original. I did see parts of the third film, and thought that it handled the desert wasteland of a zombie apocalypse at least as well as any other zombie/apocalypse film (I think that Book of Eli and Terminator: Salvation both used the same gas station set).

This film does everything that it can to take advantage of the 3D stylings, which don't look bad at all, but which definitely are featured at the expense of the story, which is unintelligible. Having not seen the other films, I felt as lost as I did watching the original. All that I could deduce was that although earth was barren except for zombies and precious few holdouts, a gigantic corporation continued to house thousands of employees and test products underground. Why do they continue to test chemical weapons? There is no one to fight anymore! To add to this mistery, after apparently being injected with a serum that neutralizes the deadly "T virus" Milla Jovovich should lose her ability to be an outstanding zombie killer. Nonetheless, she is able to survive a deadly helicopter crash immediately after. Even though it occurs in the first 15 minutes of the film, this incident is not mentioned again for the rest of the film.

Once you get past these inexcusable story elements, what remains is your basic zombie movie, filmed in 3D, and Ali Larter. It's amazing how far those elements go with viewers these days when they are done well.

Urban: Not recommended.
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26 March 2010

My Oscars

Best Picture: Up In The Air

It's been called snarky and is apologetic about the way it is feasting on the zeitgeist. At the same time, maybe even because of these reasons, it causes people to feel. This emotion, which comes from plain profile shots, wide shots of people walking through airport corridors, and secret looks into private lives and affairs (of the heart?). It's much simpler than Avatar and The Hurt Locker, but in doing so, it lacks the flaws that the scope that those films entail.

Best Director: Todd Phillips-The Hangover

This man took simple fare, and turned it into THE COMEDY of the summer, and probably the year. Multiple catchphrases, numerous laugh out loud moments, and even the smallest details, like the song played while waiting for the tiger to fall asleep.

Best Actor: Christopher Waltz-Inglorious Basterds

Simply and darkly amazing.

Best Actress: Kristen Stewart-Adventureland

She's one of the most gorgeous women I have ever seen, and she acts disaffected effortlessly.
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09 February 2010

Movies I have recently that I didn't like

Avatar- most generic storyline ever. the line "I know I started as an undercover badguy, but then everything changed" is so overused I wanted to quit watching.

Bottle Shock- no spite, just not great

Book of Eli- garbage of the worst variety, wrapped in a pseudo-intellectual armor

Legion- to be fair, I saw these last two films at a theater in Joint Base Balad in Iraq, so I was still happy to get to go to the movies. Just disappointed in these pieces of garbage.
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02 February 2010

Recent Films I liked

Some Films that I have seen recently that I liked

Up In The Air

In The Loop

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