THE ART OF THE STEAL (2013)

March 16, 2014

art of the steal Greetings again from the darkness. Heist movies are a staple film genre that we can depend on to deliver plot twists, back-stabbing and misdirection. The best ones can make us chuckle along the way as we try to keep up, knowing full well we are a step behind.

The movie begins with a bit too much voice over from Kurt Russell’s character Crunch Calhoun. We learn that Crunch is a wheel man for a group of art thieves, and he was double-crossed by his brother Nicky (Matt Dillon). After serving his sentence in a Polish prison, Crunch becomes a stunt performer on motorcycles who makes a few extra bucks creating spectacular crashes for the spectators.

As you would expect, Crunch is soon enough drawn back into the world of stealing art … for the proverbial one last job. As the old gang assembles, it’s clear Crunch still doesn’t trust brother Nicky. But his need for money compels him to participate.  The rest of the gang consists of Kenny Welsh as Paddy, Chris Diamantopoulas as Guy, Katheryn Winnick (Crunch’s girlfriend), and Jay Baruchel as Frenchie (Crunch’s apprentice).

Writer/director Jonathan Sobol has solid instincts but would have definitely benefited from a script doctor, and more importantly, someone to stand up and rescue the mega-mismatch of Jason Jones (a bumbling Interpol Agent) and Terence Stamp (a parolee assisting with the investigation). Stamp is sadly underutilized here, though the film’s best scene has he and Russell facing off in an airport. Too bad the film couldn’t find a way to match these two up a couple more times.

The stylish direction would have been more effective if the stabs at snappy dialogue had been just a tad bit funnier and crisper. Baruchel helps with this some, and Russell still knows how to deliver a line, but this is not in the same class as Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels or The Usual Suspects. Heck, it’s not even Ocean’s Eleven. Still, despite all the things it’s not … it does provide some decent entertainment during the winter doldrums of movie releases.

It also gets bonus points for a creative use of Roy Orbison’s “In Dreams”, and for having a Canadian filmmaker’s use of the line “Canada.  America-lite“.

**NOTE: I’ve long been a fan of Kurt Russell and have often written of my disappointment in his movie choices. He has the looks, charm, screen presence and talent to have been a much bigger star had he only chosen his roles more carefully.  I’m convinced losing the Bull Durham role to Kevin Costner soured him on acting to the point that he has since refused to take acting too seriously again.  Crunch does not make up for missing out on Crash.

SEE THIS MOVIE IF: you enjoy most any heist film and appreciate the old school greatness of Kurt Russell and Terence Stamp.

SKIP THIS MOVIE IF: your expectations are at the level of Guy Ritchie or The Usual Suspects.

watch the trailer:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UbqvELZ1-P8

 

 

 

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ROBOCOP (2014)

February 14, 2014

robocop Greetings again from the darkness. The expected cringes and groans never fully surfaced as the modernized re-boot of Paul Verhoeven’s 1987 classic unfolded on the screen. Sure, I wish Peter Weller made even a cameo appearance, and yes, I missed the charm, humor and satire that has allowed the original to remain relevant; but, director Jose Padilha reimagines the story, sticks to PG-13 action, and incorporates the video game look favored by today’s filmgoers.  The result is an adequate action movie with a Dr Frankenstein twist, a dash of questionable technological morality, topped with the always evil corporate conglomerate.

The opening sequence takes place in Tehran and is extremely well done, setting the stage for incisive commentary on today’s foreign policies and drone usage. Unfortunately, THAT movie never materializes, but we do get the over-the-top conservative news host … played colorfully by Samuel L Jackson, who does manage to work in his iconic catchphrase (yes even a PG-13 movie is allowed one MF). His holographic studio reminds of Minority Report, and has the futuristic look required to distract us from any real message.

Joel Kinnaman (TV’s “The Killing“) adequately fills the part man/ part robot role (good guy and good cop Alex Murphy), but the script really lets him down when it comes to his wife (Abbie Cornish) and kid, his crime-fighting instincts, and the overlapping criminal elements – some poorly cast generic arms dealer and the ultimate villain known as mega corporation OmniCorp run by the great Michael Keaton. The movie’s best scenes involve the interaction between Keaton and the always terrific Gary Oldman, playing a conflicted doctor/robotics genius with a conscience (most of the time).

The supporting cast is stellar and features a nasty Jackie-Earle Haley, a properly proper Jennifer Ehle, a relatively straight-laced Jay Baruchel, a two-faced police captain played by Marianne Jean-Baptiste, Murphy’s partner Michael K Williams, and Oldman’s loyal assistant played by Aimee Garcia (“Dexter“). The biggest missed opportunities involve the cop partnership with Mr. Williams … such an integral part of the first movie (Nancy Allen), but here it seems most of this story was inexplicably left on the editing floor.  The story, the viewers and Mr. Williams deserved much better.

A bit too much shakycam in the first shootout left me disappointed, as did most of the action sequences. However, the effects for the robotic suit and Murphy’s “body” are fantastic.  Especially effective is the scene with Murphy first becomes aware of what remains of him and how much is robotic suit.  This is very much a tale of moralistic choices, and it could have been interesting to see Murphy go a bit deeper in his existential questioning of Man or Machine. Mostly, I was simply relieved it wasn’t terrible and didn’t tarnish the legacy.

**NOTE: the city of Detroit is the base, but the movie never really touches on the problems within the actual city.  In fact, very little crime solving is shown – but we do have the stats relayed to us.

SEE THIS MOVIE IF: you wonder what Iron Man would be like with an evil billionaire calling the shots rather than a  brilliant billionaire wearing the suit OR you never miss the rare (these days) chance to see Michael Keaton on screen.

SKIP THIS MOVIE IF: you are perfectly content to allow the 1987 film version to maintain its spot as THE Robocop movie.

watch the trailer:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=INmtQXUXez8


COSMOPOLIS (2012)

September 3, 2012

 Greetings again from the darkness. David Cronenberg is a brilliant filmmaker. Brilliance doesn’t necessarily translate into popular or even accessible. He tends to make movies that force a level of discomfort while viewing, while also stretching our intellect as we attempt to follow. Even his films that come closest to mainstream (A History of Violence, The Fly) refuse to allow us to just sit and be entertained. His more esoteric films (Naked Lunch, Crash) will cause your thoughts to swim and your gut to churn.

This latest is based on the Don DeLillo novel and there is no known group of film lovers for whom this can be recommended, save Cronenberg fans. Even that doesn’t reduce its brilliance. Robert Pattinson plays Eric Packer, the ultimate example of the 1% that is receiving such notice these days. Packer is a young, billionaire, who rides around in his mobile high tech ivory tower (you might call it a white stretch limo), taking meetings while on his mission to get a haircut. The meetings are vignettes designed to grow increasingly abstract and dialogue heavy as the film progresses.

The meetings feature Jay Baruchel as his Chief of Technology, Philip Nozuka as an Analyst, Emily Hampshire as his Chief of Finance, Samantha Morton as his Chief of Theory … oh, and a special meeting with his mistress Juliette Binoche. He also manages to continually run into his new wife played by Sarah Gadon, and work in his daily doctor’s exam which is extremely thorough. All of these occur while he is being protected by his security chief played by Kevin Durand.

 This film is not plot driven, but rather ideal and theory driven. From the discussions we can tell that the financial systems are collapsing and Packer is losing millions by the minute. His fortune is vanishing and there are threats on his life. The most interesting threat comes from his true polar opposite in life – Benno Levin played by Paul Giamatti. This sequence is the film’s longest and most dialogue heavy. Understanding every sentence is not necessary to realize it’s a comment on the faceless many vs the evil privileged. The paranoia has boiled over to the point where anarchy and violence somehow make sense.

Twilight fans will not be pleased with Pattinson’s performance, but he is absolutely perfect as Packer. His cold, arrogant nature and monotone voice are anything but emotionless. He apparently realizes his path is leading to the Village of the Damned, and he seems to have designed his own purgatory. One of the funniest, yet still odd, moments arrives in the form of Mathieu Amalric, who will generate recollections of a Rupert Murdoch incident.

Howard Shore provides an extremely subtle score that fits with the mood changes a the film progresses. Again, this is a bit like watching a philosophical laboratory experiment and certainly won’t appeal to a wide audience. If you are a Cronenberg fan, have at it. If not … the risk is yours.

SEE THIS MOVIE IF: you are a big time Cronenberg fan (I can’t think of another reason)

SKIP THIS MOVIE IF: you are a Twilight fan expecting Robert Pattinson’s bedroom eyes to steal your heart

watch the trailer:


THE SORCERER’S APPRENTICE (2010)

July 15, 2010

 Greetings again from the darkness. Well, it’s the best kind of Nic Cage role … very little dialogue and plenty of scenes with him not included. Lots of special effects. Has some similarities to movies like National Treasure (another Jon Turtletaub directorial effort) and The Shadow. Can you tell I am struggling to find the positives?

The basic story involves Merlin’s three assistants (Balthazar, Horvath and Veronica) and their struggles after Merlin is killed by the evilest of all evil, Morganna (Alice Krige). Of course, that murder happened hundreds of years ago and poor Balthazar has been on a global search for the only sorcerer’s apprentice who can save the world in case Morganna is released.

Since Veronica (Monica Bellucci) sacrificed herself to capture Morganna, it is really important to Balthazar (Cage) that he find this apprentice who can also help revive Veronica, who is his one true love. The bad guy is Horvath (played well by Alfred Molina). He is on a mission to release Morganna so she can destroy the world and choose him as her assistant. Yeah, I know, lots of details that don’t really matter.

The reluctant apprentice is played by Jay Baruchel. Or someone playing Jay Baruchel. Can’t really tell since every role he takes is EXACTLY the same character. At least here he plays a physics prodigy. Yeah, right.

Next to Molina, the most fun is had when Toby Kebbell (RocknRolla) is on screen. He is a real hoot and these two play well off each other. The other attempt at humor is a weak homage to the Disney classic Fantasia, replete with moving mops, etc. No surprise, the sequence comes up well short of the original and Baruchel just doesn’t have the physical skills to pull it off.

I assume this movie is aimed at 10 year olds and I am just not sure they will understand the story, though I feel confident the big special effects and cool car chase will be enough for a few oohs and ahhs. Those over 10 … enter at your own risk.