31 May 2012

Movies: Contraband

Contraband (2012) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1524137/

Thriller


Chris Farraday was a smuggler but got out of the biz and went legit to support his wife and kids. And his dad is in the prison. And his best friend used to smuggle with him and quit too and now goes to AA meetings. Briggs is the brother of a dude that used to go smuggling with Chris. Chris warned his wife's brother to stay out of the smuggling biz but he does it anyway. Yeah - sort of an everyone knows everyone multi-generational close knit group of folks.
Chris's wife's brother decided to do some smuggling for Briggs and almost got caught so he dumped the stash in the water before the customs folks could find it. Of course that causes problems with Briggs so he threatens to go after Chris's wife and kids unless he gets paid for the lost product. Briggs won't back off, so to pay off Briggs Chris comes out of retirement to pull that one last job to get his family out of danger.  Chris's best buddy Sebastian is gonna hold down the fort and protect Chris's family while Chris, Chris's bro-in-law and part of his old smugglin' crew head down to Panama to smuggle back some counterfeit moneys.

Stars Marky Mark Wahlberg as Chris Farraday. Is that even funny to say any more? Or has everyone forgotten that Mark Wahlberg was once in 'New Kids on the Block' before starting 'Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch'? Ah well, as much as I never bothered to listen to his music I think he's been more successful as an actor.
We also get Kate Beckinsale as Farraday's wife, Ben Foster as best buddy Sebastian, Giovanni Ribisi as Briggs, even Lukas Haas. Yep, quite a cast of solid actors in this film.

No complaints about music, camera work, sets, direction, casting, script.  This is a solid dramatic thriller film with hints of heist / caper film from start to finish.  The heist / caper bit comes about when you try to figure out how he smuggles the moneys and drugs in to the country without getting caught. Of course in the end they show us how he did it just in case we weren't able to figure it out based on the clues dropped during the film, so no worries. Not especially groundbreaking in its genre, but not terrible at it either.

So yeah, although I was probably less than serious about the summary and stuff, it is decent and entertaining flick and should work fine for the thriller/caper movie night.  It's a capable flick, done well enough to watch and be entertained.

21 May 2012

Movies: The Skin I Live In

The Skin I Live In (2011) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1189073/

Thriller / Horror (and a pinch of sci-fi). Spanish language subtitled.

After his wife was horribly burned in a car accident a surgeon develops a new artificial skin that withstands damage. When the surgeon presents his skin to the medical community and mentions that it was developed through transgenics, that is, harvesting animal genetic material to strengthen human skin, the community huffs and puffs and he's pulled aside and basically ordered to quit his research. Good thing he didn't tell them about his human guinea pig locked up back home - a woman that he has been testing this new skin on. .

I first heard about this film when I read a news article that basically said when the film was screened at the Toronto Film Festival a bunch of people walked out on it because the subject matter disturbed them. It also mentioned the film starred Antonio Banderas, but I don't think that factored in to their decision to walk out.
Regardless, I figure if a film starring Banderas has the title "The Skin I Live In" and is so disturbing that people walked out of the screening then I have to see the film.

A couple things came to mind as I watched the film. Closing in on halfway through I still couldn't figure out why people walked out of the theater and began to wonder if maybe the scenes were deleted or something.  The other thing that came to mind was although there were a couple mentions of things in the surgeon's past by that point, the flashback to years prior to the film's 'current' time threw me off because the film seemed to leap abruptly in a different direction. We went from the film's exploration in to the ethics involved in the transgenics method of developing the skin, testing on humans to watching the surgeon and his daughter deal with the aftermath of his wife's accident.
It felt like an abrupt course change. But I stuck it out. And it was worth it. So worth it.
The order of events played out, with the flash back to the past then return us to the 'now', is the best way to tell this story. When you see it and how everything pieces together you'll understand how everything you watched up to that point has to be rethought.

Stars Antonio Banderas as the surgeon Robert Ledgard.  I didn't particularly recognize the rest of the cast. I'm pretty sure they are all Spanish actors, the film is a Spanish film and subtitled in English. But that didn't matter. The story was compelling enough that I forgot I was reading the dialog along the way.
Direction, sound, music, sets, acting, story, all top notch. Darn good and disturbing story.
And well worth reading subtitles to watch this film.

--------------
And it was such relief to watch after the load of crap films I sat through recently.

20 May 2012

Movies: The Devil Inside

The Devil Inside (2012) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1560985/

Horror

When Isabella was but a wee child her mother went sort of nuts. Of course her family thought she was possessed by the devil, so they called in the church. After killing two priests and a nun who tried to perform a non-Church-sanctioned exorcism she was arrested and eventually diagnosed with Dissociative Identity Disorder. After that diagnosis she was found not guilty by reason of insanity and sent to an asylum just outside of Rome. Italy. That is odd considering Isabella's family lived in the U.S. at the time of the murders.
Years later Isabella decides to make a documentary about exorcisms and going to see her mother at the asylum. Along the way she stops by the Vatican's Exorcism College and sits in during a lecture. She meets a couple of priests that were at the lecture. They tell her that she'd learn more going to a REAL exorcism and happily drag her along to one they've been performing off and on for a while. These priests were bucking the system, see, 'cause the system is slow and hides things, and they're smarter and wiser and stuff. Down with the man. Seriously I got a real hippie vibe from these priest guys, despite one looking like a balding potato-headed dough boy.

Shot in the "hey this is a documentary and it's real, honest" way that a lot of low budget films (Paranormal Activity, etc.) have been going since the Blair Witch Project burst into theaters. It also hinted around being a 'found video edited together' type of film too, considering who was around in the end to cut it in to a film. So yeah, real as in not real. You know. The whole 'we have an outline, make up some words to tie scenes together' type of scripting. It looked like that, anyway. If that was scripted dialog the film was worse than I thought.

It was painfully boring, though it did get comical at times. Watched half of the film then shut it down. Watched the remainder the next day. Couldn't sit through the whole thing in one sitting. And it's only 83 minutes long.
Ugh. Even "The Rite" was a better film. This was probably more in the quality sandbox of "The Last Exorcism", only maybe slightly worse. About the only thing the film had going for it was some of the contortions and perhaps a flying body or two. I suppose someone out there might find some measure of entertainment from the film.  Honestly you're lucky - you wasted less time reading this review than I spent watching the film.

Ah well. I'm still on the lookout for a decent exorcism film. They are apparently few and far between.

19 May 2012

Movies: Giallo

Giallo (2009) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1107816/

Thriller horror

After her sister disappears Linda goes to the police. As she describes the circumstances around her sister's disappearance they send her to the basement to talk to detective Enzo Avolfi. Apparently he's the go-to guy when it comes to serial killers and he's been tracking this dude for a while. Despite Enzo's telling Linda to go home and wait she insists on tagging along as they try to find her sister before she becomes the killer's next victim.
Yeah - that last bit didn't make sense to me either. She already disappeared. For some reason her sister held on to the hope she wasn't killed just yet.

Stars Adrien Brody as Det. Enzo. Emmanuelle Seigner as Linda. I recognized Brody 'cause he's been getting a lot of work lately, and Seigner from the 1999 Roman Polanski film "The Ninth Gate" (decent film btw). Brody also plays the serial killer known as "Yellow (Giallo)" Not in the "cop-is-the-killer-twist" sort of way, but as the actor is wearing a mask and grunting in a stereotypical Italian-speaks-broken-English sort of way. Perhaps the film's budget was blown on Brody and Seigner 'cause the rest of the cast looked rather sad (acting-skillz-wise) next to 'em.
But the cast wasn't the only problem. The story was rather predictable and wonky too. I sort of expected more from a Dario Argento flick, but it wasn't happening. Overall the film looked like a B movie: B movie script, B movie camera work, B movie supporting actors, B movie practical effects, B movie editing. But it looked A-movie crisp. So they had good cameras.
The story tried to have back story for Det. Enzo, to explain why he's the go-to-serial-killer-detective that's Italian but raised in New York City (also explaining his "accent"). It didn't add to the main story, it didn't add to the character. Even Linda's story was boring. If "Yellow" had a story, it was boring too. I think my brain switched off rather early.

Considering the names behind the flick (Brody, Argento) one would anticipate a stronger film. That's why I even watched it in the first place. The description was sortof intriguing: "yellow-skinned serial killer". I suppose it dug up memories of "Sin City" or something. It had Adrien Brody, who generally is more of a 'hit' actor than 'miss' actor. And Dario Argento at the helm - he's had successes in the past. I expected to be in for a confluence resulting in a decent film. Boy was I wrong. Lesson learned.

Wasted my time. I was bored 15 minutes in to the film, stuck it out to see if it got better. It didn't.

13 May 2012

Movie Series: Hostel x3

Hostel (2005) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0450278/
Hostel Part II (2007) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0498353/
Hostel Part III (2011) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1255916/

Horror Thriller (Torture Porn)

2005's Hostel
Basic story line - a couple of stereotypical American douches and their Icelandic middle-aged douche friend are backpacking across Europe in search of sneepur. Of course, when backpacking across Europe staying at hostels is the cheap way to go. In Amsterdam they are told of this hostel in some Slovakian city where there's tons of fine women 'cause all the menfolk died in the war and nobody goes there because it's off the beaten path and the women love any man with an accent. Of course the douches-three decide to head that-a-way.
They get to said mythical hostel and sure enough, hot young naked womenfolk abound. Only hostel stayers sort of start mysteriously disappearing, one-by-one.
Behind the disappearances is an organization that takes these unlucky abductees and sells them to rich psychos who pay good cash money to torture and kill them. There is a warehouse in Slovakia set up specifically for this purpose, with rooms and all the tools one could ask for to carry out their sickest fantasies.

Written/directed by Eli Roth and produced by Quentin Tarantino. QT's involvement not only gets the film made but also attaches an imprimatur to help get the film watched. Heck I watched it because QTs name was attached. What can I say? I like most of QTs stuff and he has a sensibility about films that I respect, whether or not I like the films he likes, so I figured I'd give it a shot.
Hostel brought bloody gratuitous torture horror to mainstream theaters. Great production quality, as opposed to most horror/slasher/torture films that are generally low budget B-movie quality for direct-to-video releases.

The first time I saw this film I was rather surprised at how graphic it was for its slick mainstream production ways. 6 years later? Not so much. I think I've been seriously desensitized in the interim. I hadn't been much of a gratuitous bloody violence torture film viewer before then, and am not much of one now, but I suppose I've seen enough. As much as it graphically showed, I realized it actually did leave some things for the imagination, a feature I didn't notice the first time around.

If graphic bloody torture violence is not entertaining at all for you then avoid this one.
Otherwise, if you can stomach it, it ain't so bad. A coherent story with a start, middle and finish. The gang of children are especially endearing.

But, they couldn't just leave it there. They had to go and make

Hostel Part II (2007)

Like its predecessor, this is written and directed by Eli Roth and executive produced by QT again. Not surprising, actually, the guy made a decent film the first time. And Cabin Fever wasn't so bad either. Predictable, but done well for its genre.

This film starts off close to where the first film ended, with the surviving character. But we quickly move on from him as this time we follow three girls instead of three guys. While traveling through Europe doing traveling through Europe things like drawing nudes and riding trains they are coerced by one of the nude models to travel to Slovakia to go to a hot springs spa and get away from the crush of douchey-European guys. The girls end up staying at the same hostel we saw in the first flick, with the same dude behind the counter, and the same crowd of street urchins stopping folks and demanding DOLLAR.

Instead of rehashing the first film with a trio of girls, though, this film takes some interesting twists. One new aspect is a little more insight into the workings of the organization that sells the chance to torture and kill the backpackers that make the unfortunate choice to stay at the hostel. We also get to follow a couple of Americans who bid on then bought the chance to become new members of this elite club.

And that's what actually works for this film in comparison with the first one. Instead of just repeating the first film they tell us more about that organization behind the kidnappings, we get to see a couple of the participants and learn about their motivations and such, how they handle actually stepping in the room for the first time. Things like that, and some other stuff I won't reveal.

There's still the graphic violence just like the first one, the repeating of dumb decisions people in horror films always seem to make - the obvious missteps they take that lead them directly to their fate.

As a sequel it is much stronger than one would think it would have been. A little bit smarter approach than the "how can we creatively kill people this time" tack that the Final Destination series took.


Hostel Part III (2011)
So, here we are. At this moment I haven't yet watched the film. I'm just trying to capture my snarky skepticism before I begin watching.
I must ask why oh why did they make this movie? The first two were fine enough for their genre and as far as I'm concerned the story was told well and doesn't really need to continue. I'm satisfied where things leave off.
First off - this one went direct to video. That's clue one.
Clue two, not written nor directed by Eli Roth.
Clue three, it is not even produced by Eli Roth nor QT.

So where does this stack up in the series? Guess.

I know where my suspicion lies.
It's going to feel like some studio had contracted for the third film and wants to get it out before they lost the rights to make it. They want to cash in on the Hostel film franchise name. I'm guessing it is going to suck.

Okay, now that I've seen the film, here we go.

This time around we aren't in Slovakia. Apparently the "kill for pleasure" club, now officially named the "Elite Hunter's Club" (with its snazzy logo), has franchise locations. One such location lies just outside Las Vegas in a giant stone building surrounded by a shiny new chain link fence.
So starts the "Hangover" meets "Hostel" film. Four guys are gonna do a bachelor party, they lie about where they are going and divert to Las Vegas. Stripper party, woo! Guys start disappearing. Eventually everyone ends up at the club.
This club is Vegas-fied. Not only do people pay to do their killings, other club members place bets on what sort of torture will be applied, what sort of pleading for life angle the victim will use ("I have a family" "I have to feed my dog" "I'm allergic to circular saws"). Apparently these folks all hang around in a small theater that looks through protective glass at the torture room. Big breasted women wearing suspenders over the naughty bits serve drinks.

Positives:
It ties in to the previous two films through the organization that arranged for the rich to indulge in torture-killings of people. It introduces the concept of franchises or satellite locations, that is, locations other than the one place in Slovakia that all the club members would travel to get their sick on.

Negatives:
I had a giant mental list so I will just hit the major negative points.
The only tie-in to the original film is the title of the film, the killing-people-club concept and the core of the updated membership tattoo. Otherwise there really is no real connection between this film and its predecessors.
Redesigned club tattoos. Club tattoos can be used at various scanning points to unlock doors. You can guess how this factors in to the action.
The Vegas-ification of the club with the drink servers, betting on aspects of the torture sessions, etc. Killing people because you can isn't a private endeavor any more, it is a (more or less) public performance.
Apparently the same people hang out in that club for ages.
The tracking-down of someone's residence from an email address. Because someone has leet hacking skillz.

subpar acting. limited sets. overly complex club location in comparison to the original.
Some of the practical effects are laughable. I laughed out loud when a dude's arm got chopped off.

Yes it sucked. It Fantastic Four sucked. Not quite Ewe Boll sucked, but close.

If you liked the first two films there is no reason to even watch this one except to laugh at it or mock it with friends. If you hated the first films you probably wouldn't watch this one anyhow. You aren't missing anything.

11 May 2012

Movies: Womb

Womb (2010) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1216520/

Sci-fi Drama/Romance

While nine-year old Rebecca is staying with her grandfather she meets ten-year old Thomas, a local boy. They develop a very deep friendship, but it ends too soon when Rebecca's mother secures a job in Tokyo and Rebecca moves there.  Thomas promises to see Rebecca off at the ferry, but doesn't make it. Rebecca leaves.
Twelve years later Rebecca returns to her now-dead grandfather's house and seeks out Thomas. His mother tells Rebecca where to find him. He quickly recognizes her and the years apart melt away and their relationship rekindles.  Later, when Thomas announces he has to go away for a couple days alone Rebecca insists on going with him. While driving down the road Rebecca asks Thomas to stop because she has to pee. As she walks in to the field she hears Thomas get out of the truck, then the screech of braking tires followed by a sickening thud. Thomas is dead.
Unable to let Thomas go again Rebecca clones Thomas, carries and gives birth his baby-clone and raises the clone as her own son, named Thomas.

So the sci-fi component is the human cloning bit, the romance component was the deep love Rebecca held for Thomas, and the drama component? That's Rebecca's raising the clone, the very mixed-up emotions she deals with while raising the clone, the ethics of human cloning, the repercussions in the prejudice the populace expresses against known clones, a whole bunch of other stuff.

Stars Eva Green as adult Rebecca. She was the awesome Morgan in "Camelot". Whether you liked or hated that show she was probably the best character in the series.  She was also Vesper Lynde in the Bond reboot "Casino Royale" and is in the upcoming "Dark Shadows" by Tim Burton, among other stuff.
Adult Thomas is played by Matt Smith, probably best known for being the eleventh (and current) Doctor in the BBC's Doctor Who series.

Even though I knew this was supposedly a romance film I watched this film specifically because I saw that Eva Green and Matt Smith were in it. As I've only seen Smith as the Doctor I wanted to see how he did in a non-Doctor role. Well, and I figured even if it is a romance film it is also a sci-fi film about some chick that clones her dead beloved, gives birth to that clone then raises it as her own child. If it was going to get all weird and twisted and probably go off in creepy reverse-Oedipal-land it'd be worth it.

The film's pacing is deliberate. By that I mean it will likely be perceived as slow. Lots of wide shots of seashore with people staring over the water. Lots of silences and looks by characters. But the silences speak volumes. So much more is said wordlessly and more effectively via body and facial meta-messages than straight-up exposition. Some events are completely set up, executed and explained without a word being said. Props to the cast for delivering their performances so well.

It's a nice break from the shoot-em up in space explosionfests that make up the bulk of sci-fi films these days, much in the same way that "Moon", "Never Let Me Go", "Another Earth" and "Gattaca" are all good examples of alternative sci-fi dramas.  And, for the record, if you haven't seen "Moon" or "Gattaca" I recommend 'em, even if you don't watch "Womb" or "Never Let Me Go" or "Another Earth".

10 May 2012

Movies: Underworld: Awakening

Underworld: Awakening (2012) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1496025/

Action/Thriller

The story of "Underworld: Awakening" (U:A) continues a little bit after 2006's "Underworld: Evolution" (U:E) leaves off.
Humans have discovered that vampires and werewolves (lycans) are not only real but living hidden lives within the population. Humans freak out, figure out how to distinguish the others and start killing off every one they can get their hands on.
Super-vampire Selene and vamplycan hybrid Michael are on the run dodging the death squads. They get chased to the docks, get shot up, fall in the water and get captured by some grenade technology that freezes them in the water (just go with it).
We rejoin Selene's frozen self in a container labeled Subject 1. She thaws, escapes, gets dressed, fights some folks and flees the building. Someone set it up so she could escape. Don't worry - she (and we) finds out who and why soon enough.  While Selene grapples with the discovery that she's been frozen for twelve years and deals with the apparent loss of her beloved Michael she encounters a vampire that is part of an underground vampire coven. As they track down another escapee immortal whom Selene suspects is Michael, some remaining werewolves are also pursuing said escapee.  Despite the humans trying to hunt them all to extinction he vampire vs. lycan fight still continues.

It helps to have seen both "Underworld" and "Underworld: Evolution" before watching this film. They establish the groundwork, the 'world' that these vampires and werewolves operate in, the central character(s), their histories, etc. Yes, there is an "Underworld: Rise of the Lycans" (U:RotL) film that was released between U:E and U:A, but U:RotL is a prequel. Its story line takes place way before the original "Underworld" film, and basically plays out histories mentioned in U and U:E. Seeing U:RotL isn't necessary for watching U:A.
U:A, on the other hand, continues to follow how Selene has been impacted by the gift given her by Corvinus, the father of both the vampire and lycan lines, and the impact of the first vampire-lycan hybrid Michael on the future of the Corvinus-infected descendants.

The film has a lot of action, fights, callbacks to things that happened in previous Underworld films, some explosions, runnings around, car crashes, and more Selene in the sleek black pleather corseted kickassery she brings to the series. Kate Beckinsale still looks about the same as she did in the original Underworld film 9 years ago, which really helps the continuity of the series.  Although another major character was gone most of the film they were somewhat present, if mostly in spirit. If there is a sequel and that character returns, hopefully casting continuity happens.

Technically, there were a couple of CG effects that were really noticeably computer-generated, others worked well enough to not be a bother. Most of the practical effects were good. There were a couple of camera shots that looked really "Grand Theft Auto".  The lighting got sort of annoying because it seems like every location is outfitted with strobe lights. Although the film felt a little less organic than its predecessors I would say that overall it's a fine continuation of the series. It isn't a big degradation of the franchise, so any weaknesses get a pass in my book.

Overall? An interesting enough story, keeps me interested in the franchise. I want to see what happens next, and the ending of the film leaves the doors wide open for another sequel. If you are/were a fan of the original Underworld film and its sequels then this film should do nicely to keep you in the series.

09 May 2012

Movies: Lucky

Lucky (2011) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1473397/

Comedy

Ben Keller is a mousy sort of man that nobody notices and he's been in love with Lucy since they were neighbor children playing "Dukes of Hazzard" together. On the other hand as adults Lucy barely tolerates Ben's existence until he wins a $36 million lottery. What we've also learned by this point is that Ben is an occasional serial killer, and the winning lottery ticket happens to have been bought by his most recent victim. The news stories covering the missing woman's disappearance have also linked two other disappearances. All the women are in their 20s, blonde hair, 5'-6" to 5'8" in height and about 120-140 lbs. They also happen to be ringers for Lucy.
After being dumped by her boyfriend Lucy quickly warms up to Ben in an obvious bid to get at the cash. Blinded by his childhood love for her they are married within a couple of months. After Ben and Lucy fight about finances during their Hawaiian honeymoon Ben kills a maid that fits the profile. Only this time Lucy happened to see him do this. Fueled by her greed she hides the deed.

And the rest of the film continues on following Lucy's attempts to manage the situation.

So I suppose it's a dark farcical comedy.  I didn't spoil anything about the film, the film's description doesn't try to hide that it's about a serial killer winning the lottery and pursuing his lifelong crush.

Stars Colin Hanks (Tom Hanks' son) as Ben, Ari Graynor as Lucy. Ann-Margaret is Ben's mother. I didn't recognize Ms. Graynor, though apparently I've seen her in a few flicks already, specifically  "An American Crime" and "Whip It" and "Conviction". Now knowing that I still don't remember her.
The awesome Jeffrey Tambor is in here too as the police detective, although he's not on screen near enough to capitalize on his talents.

I liked the premise of the film - a serial killer wins the lottery and his new wife finds out about him. The film never really takes off, though. It just idles along from start to finish.  Half an hour in and I was still waiting for the film to get interesting, though I did stick it out to the end. I guess part of my problem with the film was I didn't particularly like any of the characters. Ben was too much of a mama's boy, too mousy, didn't seem anywhere near assertive enough nor psycho enough to be a serial killer, let alone a successful one. Yeah he was a bit disconnected from reality, but it isn't really apparent until he does something outside of the norm, like kill someone. Lucy's not very likable either, she's a codependent gold-digger that can't control her greed as motivation even after she admits that greed is the only reason why she married him.
The technical aspects of the film are fine. The character acting is sort of exaggerated, but it fits the tone of the film. I'm pretty sure Hanks and Graynor played their parts the way they were supposed to play them.

Despite the plot's absurdity the humor is so low-key it's practically flat. I can see what humor it goes for, I just didn't feel amused. It was entertaining enough to finish I suppose, but I doubt I'll stop and watch it again if I happen to catch it broadcast on a channel sometime.

Heck, "American Psycho" has more laugh-out-loud moments and that's something considering it's dark cynical humor really isn't tuned for LOL moments.  Best bet - watch "American Psycho" instead.


06 May 2012

Movies: Haywire

Haywire (2011) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1506999/

Action / Adventure / Thriller

Mallory Kane, a black-ops contractor, gets sent on a mission to Dublin, Ireland, only to have things go off the rails when the agent on the op with her tries to kill her. She escapes with her life and realizes she's being hunted by the company she works for and the US Government. She makes her way back to the states to protect her father and track down those who betrayed her.

Not the first time we've seen a film about an agent being set-up, double-crossed and hunted while trying to clear their name. Not the last time we'll have one either. So it then falls on the film to have a compelling enough story, great action scenes, a good cast, and be entertaining.
This film doesn't fail in any of those categories.

Stars Gina Carano as Mallory Kane. This is her first lead role, although she was in one film before this one in a supporting role. Prior to this film she was in the first-ever sanctioned women's MMA bout. She's a Muay Tai / MMA fighter by trade. However when Haywire film director Steven Soderbergh saw her fight in the ring he decided he wanted to make a film starring her. This is that film. She's a natural on screen. Especially in the action scenes. Good screen presence and charisma.
Rounding out the cast includes Channing Tatum, Michael Douglas, Antonio Banderas, Michael Fassbender, Ewan McGregor. Yeah, Soderbergh went full A-list casting this film to support Carano's film debut. Soderbergh has produced and directed plenty of films (Oceans 11,12,13, The Informant!, Contagion, Solaris, to name a few) and his experience in strong story, editing, development results in a solid film again.

Well, I said solid film, but there are some bits that are a little out there. Like hairstyle changes, camo makeup, finding a guy at a specific location with just "he was spotted in this country" information to go on. I suspect those things happen as a result of editing out the set-ups for time and pacing. Such leaps aren't new to any action films and this film was entertaining enough that I give 'em a pass in this film too. 

The fight scenes are amazing. Great locations and sets. Realistic weapons handling too. You can tell (and it is confirmed by DVD extras) that Gina Carano trained for her role. For being new to acting Carano did surprisingly well. I know it helps having the vets around her to support her performance, but she had plenty of her-only scenes that she did well in too.  I look forward to seeing her cast in more films. She did well, looked great on screen, and I suspect


So if you're in the mood for a solid thriller/action flick with well choreographed fight scenes you won't go wrong watching this one.

01 May 2012

Movies: Hearts in Atlantis

Hearts in Atlantis (2001) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0252501/

Drama

After the death of his best childhood friend Sully, Bobby Garfield returns to his home town, breaks in to his boarded-up old house and reminisces about the year he turned 11 years old, way back in what looks like the early 60s.  11-year old Bobby lives with his widowed mother and she earns just enough to pay rent, buy food, give him a free library card for his birthday and keep her closet full of nice expensive dresses to wear to work and impress her boss. A mysterious elderly man named Ted moves in upstairs and hires Bobby to read the newspaper to him. Ted warns Bobby about the 'low men' that might show up to town to take Ted away and asks him to keep an eye out for them.

There is a bit more goings-on that border of the supernatural sort but I'd rather not spoil things for those who haven't seen the film.

Stars Anthony Hopkins as Ted, David Morse as older Bobby and Anton Yelchin as young Bobby.  I thought I recognized Yelchin, turns out he was Chekov in the "Star Trek" reboot film. He was also Charley Brewster in the "Fright Night" remake, a connection I never drew before looking him up just now.

The reason I watched the film was I saw that Anthony Hopkins was in it and it was based on a Stephen King novella. Good enough for me. Unfortunately that set my expectations higher than they should have been, apparently. For me anyway, my wife really liked the film.

What I saw was just another adaptation of a Stephen King coming-of-age story to film. The film bookended the story with a reminiscing adult voiceover just like the awesome "Stand By Me" did, only less effectively IMO. Once I was reminded of "Stand By Me" from the get-go my viewing experience was doomed. Like other Stephen King coming-of-age stories it had its bully picking on the little trio of kids (Bobby, his best girl and first kiss Carol, and Sully), a showdown with said bully, parental relationship issues for Bobby involving the memory of his dead father and living mother, Bobby longingly looking at the better life his friends have compared to his, Bobby having to grow up fast to handle plot circumstances, other go-to things that are a common thing among Stephen King stories.

The locations, sets, set dressing, costuming, soundtrack choices (familiar late 50's early 60's songs) did a great job placing us in the right era. Technical aspects like direction and camera work were good too.  Hopkins and Morse are both solid performers and delivered as expected. Young Mika Boorem, who played Carol, did really well in both her roles. I did get annoyed at some of the acting, especially Anton Yelchin. His performance seemed spot-on sometimes, other times just plain oddly delivered. Then I found out that he's originally from St. Petersburg and English is not young Anton's first language, which probably is why his performance bothered me. It didn't seem to bother the real critics, or the wife, so what do I know?

All together my initial expectations and obvious Stephen King story thematic similarities added up to knocking my viewing experience down a few notches. I think my self-inflicted comparison to "Stand By Me" is what did me in. I self-ruined my viewing experience. Whereas the wife didn't seem to suffer from such realizations and enjoyed the film a lot more than I.  Funny thing is, I picked the film, she didn't want to watch it, and by the end she had a much better time than I did.