THE GUARD

August 14, 2011

 Greetings again from the darkness. Writer/Director John Michael McDonagh is the brother of Martin McDonagh, who brought us the excellent In Bruges (which also starred Brendan Gleeson). I figured it best to say that upfront because there is no way to avoid comparisons of the two films. Clearly these men grew up in the same house and share the brilliant dialogue gene.

Brendan Gleeson delivers a powerful and hilarious performance as a local cop (Garda) in rural Ireland. His Sgt Gerry Boyle is quite an enigma – he gets along great with locals, yet struggles to fit into society. This is never more apparent than when FBI Agent Wendell Everett (Don Cheadle) hits town on a drug smuggling investigation. The key to their relationship is crystallized at the moment an exasperated Agent Everett says to Boyle, “I can’t tell if you are really smart or really dumb”. Of course, I am paraphrasing because the F-word gets literally worn out in this movie. There aren’t many lines I can actually quote in print. But the word rolls off Gleeson’s tongue as if it’s a work of art … especially in conversation with his ailing, equally colorful mother, played well by the always terrific Fionnula Flanagan.

 The international drug smugglers being chased are a trio led by Liam Cunningham and the always interesting Mark Strong. The endless rips, insults and jokes are fired rapidly at Americans, Brits and anyone unfortunate enough to hail from Dublin. Boyle uses his Irish background as a crutch for his racism and insensitivity. But he leaves no doubt about his expertise as a cop. Heck he even recognizes the importance of some 9 year old kid riding around on a pink bicycle. That’s just another example of the off-center approach to story telling offered by McDonagh.

 If you are a fan of In Bruges; Snatch; or Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, I think you will enjoy this one. It falls just short of that level, but not by much. Gleeson is outstanding and the story is simple enough, yet with plenty of twist, turns and hilarity.  However, it should come with a warning to viewers: tune in your ears quickly or the Irish/Gaelic dialect will leave you behind.

SEE THIS MOVIE IF: you enjoy the off-color cynicism of In Bruges, Snatch and Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels

SKIP THIS MOVIE IF: you are easily offended OR you need movie dialogue to be easily understood

watch the trailer:

 

Advertisements

GREEN LANTERN

June 18, 2011

 Greetings again from the darkness. I have admitted many times that I am a sucker for Super Hero movies. There is just something really cool about an average guy falling bassackwards into super-human strength and being able to fly. With that said, I readily admit some Super Hero movies are better than others. While this one has some entertaining moments, it certainly isn’t one of the better entries in this genre.

It is difficult to know if a viewer is better off as a Green Lantern expert or novice for this adaptation. I can see both sides. The film beats us over the head with explanations, lectures and details but falls way short of the desired action sequences.

 Basic storyline has test pilot Hal Jordan (Ryan Reynolds) chosen by “the ring” to become part of the Green Lantern Corps … an intergalactic peace-keeping patrol. Yes, he would be the first human Lantern and no, he is not readily accepted by the leader Sinestro (Mark Strong). By the way, who would choose a guy named SINESTRO to be the leader of your army of good guys?

There are roughly a half million sub-stories that get a blip and then are cast aside. That’s the film’s biggest problem, next to the shortage of action sequences.  I was surprised at the lack of imagination shown for Green Lantern‘s constructs.  They were a bit cartoonish and reminded of what we saw in 1988’s Who Framed Roger Rabbit?.  On the positive side, Parallax, the evil mass that threatens earth and Oa, looks like a tentacled tumbleweed with a scary face. 

 Some stellar supporting actors here (in addition to Mark Strong) include Tim Robbins, Peter Sarsgaard, Angela Bassett, Michael Clarke Duncan and Geoffrey Rush. Duncan and Rush are voice only, but definitely have an impact. Blake Lively plays Carol Ferris, the co-pilot and would-be girlfriend of Jordan. She is also involved with her Daddy’s defense contracting firm and just doesn’t work as a high-powered exec.

 The film is directed by Martin Campbell who also gave us the near awesome re-awakening of James Bond in Casino Royale (2006). He seems to have a feel for action, but gets to use very little of that talent in this film. It really seems to me that the writing was too scattered and just generally weak for a movie of this size. I kept thinking we were going to get some real mind games between Sarsgaard’s Elephant Man with psychic abilities and Reynold’s perfect body Lantern. Instead, we get just another tease and a disappointing action sequence to end the film.  I would say Marvel has a pretty clear lead over DC Comics on film … except, of course, for Christopher Nolan‘s Batman series.

SEE THIS MOVIE IF: Green is your favorite color OR you have any doubt that Ryan Reynolds has the physique of a super hero.

SKIP THIS MOVIE IF: you never cared to see what would happen if The Elephant Man turned evil OR the recent exposure of Blake Lively has shown you enough

 


ROBIN HOOD (2010)

May 20, 2010

 Greetings again from the darkness. Hard to argue with the box office success when director Ridley Scott teams up with Russell Crowe (Gladiator, American Gangster). Can’t really challenge the resume of writer Bryan Helgeland (Mystic River, L.A. Confidential) or the acting chops of Cate Blanchett, Max von Sydow or William Hurt. And only the most cynical would deny the appeal of the Robin Hood legend … stealing from the rich to give to the poor. So why is it that I feel so cheated and let down by this version?

First of all, it is presented as a prequel to the legend. This is the story of how Robin and his band of merry men (and Maid Marion) came to be united. If it is a prequel, why then is Robin (Russell Crowe) so darn old? There is even a line in the film noting the advanced age of King Richard the Lionheart being 40 or even more! For the times, this was considered old, yet somehow Robin is ready for a career change.

The best parts of the film are the amazing sets and pieces – both the villages and the boats. And we all know that Mr. Scott can film a massive battle scene! There is a touch of Gladiator, Saving Private Ryan and Braveheart in many scenes. All fine, but what I really missed was the flirtatious banter between Robin and Marion. Maybe I am biased, but a Lorena Bobbitt threat doesn’t strike me as light-hearted bed chamber conversation.

My biggest complaint is with the script. It just felt clunky and messy. A couple of scenes were apparently included just so Mark Strong could scowl … and he has a great scowl! Other scenes and lines were seemingly included just to give the film a complex feel. Probably too complex for what it really is.

Oscar Isaac as Prince John was the funniest and most interesting character in the film. The preview made him look like a buffoon, but the film gave him more depth … and a couple of great lines. Danny Huston as Lionheart, Mark Addy as Friar Tuck and Matthew Macfadyen as the Sheriff of Nottingham all add to the luster, but remember this is prior to Robin’s ongoing battles with the Sheriff.

Be cautious with younger kids as it is a strong PG-13. The battle scenes are entertaining, but this is one legend that did not need its roots exposed.


KICK-ASS (2010)

April 17, 2010

 Greetings again from the darkness. Just when you are convinced the comic book movie genre has been overdone, in swoops director Matthew Vaughn (the rocking Layer Cake) to reach an entirely new level through a unique, unconventional and twisted approach. It does’t take but a few minutes to realize that clichés mixed with shocks will mess with your movie-processing mind!

Somehow we are treated to teen angst,superhero-ism and most every human emotion and type between the two. WARNING: this movie is rated R and it is a strong R … IT IS NOT FOR KIDS! The film slam-dances between ultra violence and uber-geekdom and satire driven slapstick. We get a 12 year old Chloe Moretz as Hit Girl, wielding weapons even more deadly than her shockingly adult tongue. Moretz was also a standout in last year’s 500 Days of Summer. We get her revenge-driven, ex-clean cop Big Daddy father (Nicolas Cage) in Batman costume mentoring her to the ways of a world class assassin. I busted out laughing when I realized that Mr. Cage’s voice mannerism mimic that of the great Adam West while donning the black cape. A very nice touch. Our other home grown, would be superheroes are Aaron Johnson as Kick-ass (replete with green scuba suit) and McLovin (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) as Red Mist. Most of these characters are one step removed from One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.

Of course a comic book story must have a top notch villain and these days there are few better than Mark Strong. He delivers another terrific dead-pan performance as a drug lord and father to Red Mist. Strong’s character is the driving force behind Big Daddy’s quest for revenge.

Aaron Johnson’s Kick-ass is an example of the clunky teenager who has a good heart and is desperate for attention from the girls. He even accepts being labeled as gay by the hot chick he adores just so he can spend time with her. He hangs at the comic book store with his equally geeky friends and then “transforms” into Kick-ass, a superhero with no powers other than a desire to do what’s right and help those in need.

Mark Millar’s script balances many cultural and societal observations while delivering a visual parade of images and sounds (wonderful music and score … including ELVIS) and moments that will keep the viewer unsettled. You might think it odd that an early scene lingers on a giant advertisement featuring Claudia Schiffer. Ms. Schiffer is married to the director and becomes one of many tributes and satires throughout the film. This is quite a different experience and one that not all will enjoy … but it is to be admired for reaching for new levels.


THE YOUNG VICTORIA (2009)

February 8, 2010

 (2-8-10) Greetings again from the darkness. Emily Blunt would have stolen The Devil Wears Prada if not for the queen of screen, Meryl Streep. Here she competes with no one and does a nice job of carrying this film based on the early years of Queen Victoria. If you are rusty on your British sovereign history, she ruled from 1837-1901.

For 20 of these years, she was married to her true love, Prince Albert (played well by Rupert Friend). While the two meet as youngsters, the bond between them comes from their letters … an early precursor to eHarmony?? We know Victoria mostly from royal portraits, so it’s nice to see her as a rebellious youngster trying to learn the tricks of the trade, even while being manipulated like a pawn by her mother (Miranda Richardson) and her mother’s lover (Mark Strong). We get to see her tenacity blossom as she matures and literally grows up into the monarchy.

While Ms. Blunt’s performance is strong, Julian Fellowes’ writing is not at the level of his previous work in Gosford Park. We do get some of the same power plays, but it is missing the nuances of that much better film.