Friday, February 25, 2011

The Eagle

The Eagle - 114min – PG13

I am a sucker for good period pieces, I admit it. This movie brought me back to the feeling I had when I watched 13th Warrior or Braveheart. There is something about a movie that takes me back to a time and a place before technology that I really get into. This movie has a great cast and some wonderful settings. The attention to detail with the costumes and the sets was wonderful. I got lost in the time and place and was swept away with the movie. Hey I am a sword play geek what can I say? I know that some of you are imagining me with a case of Mountain Dew and a dice bag all geeking out over the film. Well you are wrong.

I don’t drink Mountain Dew.

The story centers on a young Roman Commander, Marcus Aquila (Channing Tatum), who is trying to regain his family’s honor. His father was a previous commander of the ninth was dishonored when he went missing with 5000 men of the 9th legion and also their emblem a golden eagle. The father’s expedition disappeared beyond Hadrian’s Wall in the northern part of Scotland. With the help of a Celtic slave, Esca (Jamie Bell), Marcus ventures north after rumors that the eagle was seen to be used by some northern tribe in their rituals. How painful is that? Not only are we going to kick your ass while wearing less armor than you, but we are going to take your precious emblem and use it in our religious rituals as well. They got PWND! Donald Sutherland plays Marus’s Uncle Aquila, a supportive father figure. Their dynamic is great for a glimpse into the Roman view of society and politics. I don’t know if this movie is historically accurate but it’s very fun to watch.

This movie examines the dynamic between master and slave as they travel across the landscape looking for this eagle. There is an underlying message of honor and what it means to each of the characters. We see the two move from master and slave to slave and master and then to friends. The movie also looks at the redemption of family honor as the son strives to wash away the sins of the father. Another subtext deals with redemption; they highlight the opportunities missed by the characters but making the right choice brings back honor and redemption in the end. I love these kinds of stories because we can learn so much from them. The choices you make dictate the life that you live, and it’s never to late to do the right thing.

Kevin Macdonald directed this movie superbly. He also brought us The Last King of Scotland and State of Play. His timing on this film works out to tell a story kind of on its own. The Eagle is a long story with many elements that get woven together well. Yes, I will be getting this one for when I am in the mood for olden days, swords and sorcery kind of a film festival at the house. The other films that I like are the post apocalyptic setting films. Tank girl, Waterworld, I know, I Know, but I still like it. This movie is not like the stylized 300 that is in the same setting, it has more of a real feel. On the other hand it’s not like Gladiator that is too real, its right in the middle of those styles.

This is a go see movie if you are looking for a historical story that has some excellent subtext. I would defiantly see this again in the theater. If any of my readers wanted to go.

Ok, I have shared my views, share yours. What types of movies do you like that other people don’t care for, but you don’t care because that movie speaks to you. Tell me about yours in the comments.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

The Roommate

The Roommate – 91min - PG13

This movie is masterfully executed by all players, but has no real soul. All the elements are in place to make a good physiological thriller: it’s shot well and the actors did a good job, but it falls flat. I had no connection with anyone on screen. None. Zip. NADA. I think that the high creep factor and low thrill factor were the blame. This movie had many creepy elements but it never paid off with any real suspense.

Sara Matthews (Minka Kelly) is a freshman and is excited to start her new life as a college student. She meets her new roommate Rebecca (Leighton Meester) and they bond, but Rebecca is stand-offish with other people on campus. As the year progresses, we see Rebecca start to slowly break down and become more unstable. Sara grows in her role as a student. She is taking classes and working part time at a coffee shop and also has a boyfriend (Cam Gigandet) — a frat boy drummer from a band. Rebecca also grows: grows obsessed with her roommate, that is. She takes it upon herself to remove all the other relationships in Sara’s life. Sara finally starts to put the pieces together and we have a huge confrontation that really does not have much of a climax, it was and “eh, sok, nothing to write home about” kind of an ending. This movie was not overly gratuitous in its nudity or violence. We had a shower scene that could have been very revealing but the choice of camera angle hid all of the naughty bits. The violent scenes did allow us to fill in the gaps with what they did not show us, but where it did so well on those elements it lacks on the elements of tension or thrills. If the thrill element was better this could have been a marvelous movie. Today movies seem to rely on the boobs and blood elements to sell their products. I applaud the effort in avoiding the easy way and shooting something that was more complicated, an honest effort that fails is still worth something.

One other thing that kind of bothered me was that the entire cast was all beautiful people. It would have been nice to see a few average looking people to give the eye some variety, heck even toss in an ugly one or two so that way it seems like a real collage campus. There were a number of elements that were a shot for shot copies, err... sorry “homages” to Single White Female. We have the two characters getting a small animal, and the crazy character killing it. Oh, spoilers coming. Sorry I need to be quicker there. Then again, if you have seen SWF you know what’s going on anyway. We have the crazy roommate taking on the image of the object of her obsession and having a liaison with her obsession’s ex-boyfriend, and killing him. The end fight scene is really a letdown; they have so many opportunities for a cool death scene. They had a gun, an open window in the fifth floor, other bludgeoning items, and the weapon they decide to go with is……a box cutter. I am guessing it must have been the brand of box cutter that makes people not want to fight back once they get stabbed with an inch long strip of metal.

This is Christian Christiansen’s fourth feature film and he was nominated for an Oscar for his short “At Night” he has potential, but this might have gotten lost in translation. He is Danish. Perhaps what plays well in that market does not translate well to the American palate. This movie might have been the height of thrills in Denmark but here, it really is just a basic cable version of an after school special.

As we are on the topic of this kind of movie, what was the last thriller you saw that made your hair stand on end?

Thursday, February 17, 2011


Sanctum – 109 min – R

This is a very beautiful film. I have to hand it to James Carmon, he does know how to spend money on making a pretty film. With all the cool video set up, it lacks all of the other elements that make a good movie. What a disappointment as far as story elements go. It screamed out the clichéd trope of an action film. To make the time more enjoyable while sitting through this film, try playing this drinking game. Take a drink every time you see some heavy handed foreshadowing, you should be under the table by the halfway point. This movie did make me realize one thing: National Geographic documentaries need to be shot in 3D. If this had been a documentary on cave exploring it would have been a much better use of the technology.

The story is based around Frank (Richard Roxburgh) a cave researcher that is being funded by Carl (Ioan Gruffudd) a rich adventure-seeker. They are mapping out an unexplored cave. They feel that the cave leads to the ocean, and they are going to find the way out. Frank and Carl get trapped in the bottom of the cave when a tropical storm arrives two days early, trapping them in the bottom. The only way out is to explore further until it reaches the ocean. Carl has brought his girlfriend, Victoria (Alice Parkinson), along. Frank has his son, Josh (Rhys Wakefield). Both are trapped with a fellow researcher by the name of Crazy George (Dan Wyllie). They fight for survival while they try and get to the surface by going deeper into the caves.

Wow I almost gave away the ending here but the movie does that in the first 15 min, so I won’t steal its thunder. We have poor performances from everyone, but I think it was because they had little to work with. It’s hard to be engaging when your characters are really just wearing red shirts. There is one character that is not and you can pick them out in the character line up at the beginning of the film. Ok, I tried, I really tried not to talk about terminal stupid that drives the characters I have to talk about them, if for some ungodly reason you are going to watch this film please look away I am going to be talking about spoilers.

Ok first off NO ONE listened to Frank. Frank makes his living in caves. If this man told me to put a herring in my pants and crawl on my belly to survive I would be looking for the fish. Everything this man says need to be followed no matter how crazy it sounds. Carl and Victoria are rich people who are funding the expedition so that automatically makes them smarter than Frank. NOT! As soon as Frank sees what’s going on, he starts pulling a wet suit off one of the dead members of his team for Victoria. She replies “I am not wearing a dead woman’s wetsuit”. I am thinking, Lady, you are so dead. And time after time Frank gets ignored. It frustrates me to see that kind of stupidity in characters. On the up side we don’t have to worry about them polluting up the gene pool. Carl also has this “I am better than you” attitude and also proceeds to take himself out of the population, and there was much rejoicing

The Director, Alister Grierson, has one other movie under his belt, so this is a second attempt a feature film. What gets me is that this has two writers, neither of which seem to not have any feature film writing experience. This is John Garvin’s first attempt at a screenplay, and his co writer Andrew Wight’s only background is in documentary production. Wight’s production experience really shows in the shot selection and the makeup of the film, but what is missing is any real experience on the production side of the house. As a side note, this story is based on a real life experience of an incident that happened to Wight during a cave diving trip. He was trapped when the cave entrance collapsed with 14 other people. They had to tough it out for two days to find another way out. It’s a shame that a wonderful real life experiences has to get dressed up in a bad script. They should have kept it a biographical account and I think it might have been more entertaining.

Hummmmm, my wife went to a writer’s conference, and one of the authors said that when she is frustrated at people in real life she writes about their deaths. It makes me wonder who Wight had on that trip that he hated so much that he had to make a movie about killing them. Skip this movie unless you are a huge fan of 3D movies with 2D Characters.

Ok, let me leave you with this question. If you had to make a movie about your life what kind of move would it be?

Thursday, February 10, 2011

The Mechanic

The Mechanic – 93 min - R

So, here is the rundown on The Mechanic. Jason Statham plays Arthur Bishop, a hit man. He is good at his job. He will make a hit look just as you need it – like an accident if necessary. He is a company man, and is methodical in his planning. He will take weeks of scouting and research to pull of the perfect hit. He receives a contract on his friend Harry McKenna (Donald Sutherland), also a company man who has turned on the company. Arthur does what he does best and takes him out by making it look like a carjacking gone bad. Harry has a son Steve (Ben Foster), who Arthur feels responsible for so he takes him under his wing to teach him how to be a hit man. During their journey they find out that the person who had Harry killed (Dean, played by Tony Goldwyn) was the one who was really the bad guy. Steve and Arthur go after him and exact revenge. Along the way Steve finds out that Arthur killed his dad and the rest is… ah well you should be able to make out the end.

Man, I really love Statham’s work. He does a wonderful job on most of his films and this one he did well in. I think the story was poor. I really had a hard time getting onto this movie. First off, let’s look at the contradiction in his character: he is a cold blooded methodical killer who shoots his friend on an order, and then he grows a conscience and decides to look after Harry’s son? Ok, fine, I can overlook that, and it might make for a good story. His pupil starts learning and starts to take a hand in some of the jobs, he gets his first hit. It’s all set up by Arthur he has spent months priming this hit to make it as smooth and easy as possible. Steve decides that instead of taking out the target as Arthur instructs: easy, clean, efficient -- it would be better to strangle the target. Now let’s review here, Steve, the rookie hit man out on his first mission, is about 150 lbs soaking wet and stand a full 5 feet 2 inches. The target is 245pounds 6 feet 4 inches and a professional hit man from a rival company. This is a plan that looks good on paper. No, wait that plan doesn’t even look good on paper. What is he thinking? Steve finally overpowers his target, but not without leaving a considerable amount of DNA evidence in the room. Translation: Steve had the snot beat out of him. Steve did kill the target so I guess that miracles do happen. So when he gets back to Arthur all he has for Steve some steely glances and a first aid kit. Months of planning down the drain, and nothing is said about it. I am sorry. Arthur should have put a bullet in his brain -- the boy is damaged and a liability. This is where I lost interest.

From a technical standpoint I am going to say that these two gaffes were ones that really only me and my brother would catch, let me know if you spotted these as well. They have a long montage of what I am guessing is training , Arthur and Steve are out shooting and we see targets being hit and the use of firearms. There are lots of rounds, a lot of smoke and some really tedious artsy shots. There’s one slow motion shot of a round ejecting from the chamber where the slow motion really makes the shot stand out -- especially when the round flips toward the camera and you can see the crimped front of the blank that they used in that shot. REALLY!?!?! You had shots being filmed at the rage to get the close ups of the targets getting holes, you could not turn the camera and get a few shots of real rounds? The next oops moment was when Arthur is calling the big bad guy’s office and lets him know he is coming for him. It‘s an “I am in the building” moment. The bad guy looks down at the phone and it says conference room E. We cut away to Arthur down the switch box room with a handset he has connected on the copper wire. See, modern phones that are all digital lines, you can’t connect via copper wire. You may not have picked up on those issues, until I pointed them out. Sorry for spoiling it if you did not see them.

The style of the film had very much a 70’s movie feel in its cinematography. The way the shots were set up and even the quality of the film, it seemed to be grittier or rough. Simon West directed this film and also brought us Con Air, Laura Croft Tomb Raider, and The General’s Daughter. Con Air was a much better film. Was “The Mechanic” a bad film? Yes. When I see your mistakes in the first viewing, it means that I am not caught up enough in the film. The tempo was slow to start with but got its action move groove going toward the end. One review said “check” your brain at the door and enjoy this film. I am sorry, even brainless I don’t think I would enjoy this film.

What do you think? Does an action movie just need lots of fighting, deaths and explosions to be good or do you look for a good story to bring these visual elements together? Or better yet what action movies had a really good story to exemplify what a good action movie could be?

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Black Swan

Black Swan - 108 min - R

Nina Sayers (Natalie Portman) is a young reclusive dancer who is a part of a New York Dance Company and she dreams of performing the lead role in the ballet Swan Lake. She is completely dedicated to her art, she lives and breathes dance. She lives with her mother (Barbara Hershey). Her director Thomas Leroy (Vincent Cassel) decides to give her the part but tells her that her performance of the white swan is perfect but she needs to also embody the aspects of the black swan. We see Nina work on getting the duality of the two roles for her performances. She struggles with the demanding life of a performer and also the relationship of her overbearing mother. She also has the add pressure of a rivalry with one of the other new dancers Lilly (Mila Kunis) who can easily perform the darker aspects of the swan queen. She idolizes Beth (Winona Ryder) the previous star performer at her dance company and tries to live up to her image as the new star. We see her have a break down as she works herself to death trying to capture and embody the duality of her role. We see her give everything for the performance of her life.

The most captivating thing about this film is how the film makers have used duality as a motif throughout this film. We start getting a sense of the duality when the director introduces the next production they are doing is Swan Lake. During one shot we see Thomas's face in two reflections when he talks about the person who will have to portray the role. The dance who will play the Swan Queen takes on the white swan and the black swan. Nina gets the part but has to get in touch with a dark side of her personality that has never had a chance to evolve. Her dark side shows up in many reflections and interactions she has with other people. Like a shadow that is stalking her we see it in glimpse and quick reflections of her. Many of the practice mirrors show the performers in two halves because of the seam where two mirrors join together. Not to mention many digital effects that give us a glimpse of Nina’s black swan emerging from the shadows and in other people.

Darren Aronofsky does not disappoint in his latest movie. Fans of his earlier works, Requiem for a Dream or PI will enjoy this mind bending journey. We start out seeing Nina as a very immature young woman who has a sheltered life because of her mother and her dedication to her art. She is often shot in a crowd of people all by herself separate from the rest of the dance company. Watching Nina struggle with trying to be something she is not is hard to watch because Natalie brings this character to life; I felt for the character. The filming style is designed to keep you on edge and get more and more engaging as the movie goes on. The camera work is all steady cam, we also have images that are broken down in to close up shots of different parts of the same person. Normally I don’t care for steady cam shots because it has been over used in many films. This is one film where it’s used to keep you just a little bit uncomfortable and it works well to keep you off kilter. The use of reflections in this movie is also one that keeps you guessing if you are seeing the real thing or an illusion. One really great shot is a slow pan across Thomas as he is watching Nina’s audition, and we see her dance across the back ground in the reflection. Great shot and wonderful effects to make such a technical shot seem so natural. I was never emotionally comfortable in this movie; I was so connected with the actors from the start. I felt the pressures of the main character and was genuinely concerned for her wellbeing. This is a wonderful film, if you are into Physiological journey movies this is a must see.