THE BARBER (2015)

March 23, 2015

barber Greetings again from the darkness. There is a theory that to catch a killer, one must think like a killer. Young John McCormack is in the next room when his detective father, frustrated at being unable to put away a serial killer, commits suicide. Flash forward twenty years, and John is now himself a police officer intent on finishing his father’s work … and gaining a bit of revenge in the process.

The story picks up as John (Chris Coy) has tracked Francis Visser to a small town, where he is known as Eugene the town barber, a gentle and dignified friend to all. Scott Glenn portrays Eugene as a slow-shuffling elderly gentleman who doesn’t much appreciate profanity, rudeness or poor decisions. He is even friends with the local police chief (Stephen Tobolowsky), who accepts Eugene’s word on just about any topic.

The cat and mouse game between John and Eugene plays a bit like Sleuth (1972) where each participant sees himself as smarter than the other. Only this time, there are 17 previous murders to go along with the developments after Eugene agrees to mentor John on the fine art of stalking, planning and killing without evidence.

Beginning with a gypsy proverb: “You have to dig deep to bury your father”, the film seems to use that quote figuratively and literally, as being buried alive plays a role alongside the detective father’s ruinous obsession. Supporting work is provided by Kristen Heger, as John’s co-worker (and more), Olivia Taylor Dudley as the waitress looking to John for fun, and Max Arciniega as Eugene’s barber shop employee.

More attention to the John vs Eugene piece, and a little less to the various sub-plots, could have tightened up this thriller and elevated it to an even more suspenseful level. Mr. Glenn and Mr. Coy are both excellent, and at their best when sharing a scene. It’s a nice first feature from director Basel Owies, who has an eye for nuanced characters with a dark side.

watch the trailer:

 

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THE BOURNE LEGACY (2012)

August 12, 2012

 Greetings again from the darkness. The Bourne series has often been viewed as the American version of James Bond … only more serious and with more action. Doug Liman directed the first, which was taken directly from the Robert Ludlum novel. Paul Greengrass then assumed control over the next two and added hyper-kinetic speed to the action sequences and focused on conspiracy theories, with a fascinating hero looking to take down a corrupt system. Involved in all three as a writer, Tony Gilroy (dir. Michael Clayton) takes over as director in this fourth entry. Unfortunately, the Bourne series is not similar to Bond, in that the directors and lead actors are not so easily replaced.

 With Matt Damon (Jason Bourne) present only on computer screens, Jeremy Renner takes over the lead as the next super-spy-weapon. When Pam Landy (Joan Allen) blows the lid off Treadstone in a Congressional hearing, the shady back office meetings lead to the decision to shut down the program. We all understand what that means … destroy the assets and lose the records. This decision is made by Edward Norton and Stacy Keach, both new to the series.

The decision leads to a vicious scene featuring the always dependable character actor Zeljko Ivanek who almost completes his assignment, but misses out on Rachel Weisz (playing Dr Marta Shearing). Dr. Shearing is involved in the manufacturing of the “meds” that keep our super-spies and super strength and super intellect. Yes folks, our superheroes are roided-up! You have to hand it to Dr. Shearing – for a lab rat, she has a remarkable ability to stay alive despite being the target of many highly trained assassins. Of course, she does have a bit of help from Aaron Cross (Renner).

 Here is the real issue with the film. Instead of Bourne trying to bring down the corrupt system, this is really two hours of survival mode for Aaron Cross. It reminded me of the Monty Python bit as they face opposition on their castle storm “Run Away!, Run Away!”. Most of the first half of the film is spent with him in search of meds, like a common drug addict, and the second half is spent on a motorcycle chase that, while quite exciting, seems to go on forever.

As an action film, this one works just fine. The limited fighting and expanded chase scenes are well filmed and intense, it’s just that as a viewer, it really isn’t as much fun to cheer for someone who is running away as it is for someone (Bourne) looking to bring down a corrupt system. In addition to those I’ve mentioned, we get brief appearances from series’ regulars Albert Finney, David Strathairn, Scott Glenn, Joan Allen, and Paddy Considine.

The hope is that this is just a placeholder in the series. It’s been five years since The Bourne Ultimatum, and hopefully, if the series continues, we will get Paul Greengrass back in the director’s seat and Matt Damon teaming up with Jeremy Renner to wreak havoc on the true enemies of state. Otherwise, the American Bond ends up as nothing more than an action film with no real purpose.

SEE THIS MOVIE IF: you are a fan of the Bourne series and are curious to see it without Matt Damon OR you simply enjoy a well made action film

SKIP THIS MOVIE IF: you are expecting the intricate conspiracy story line that put the Bourne series on the map

watch the trailer:


SUCKER PUNCH

March 29, 2011

 Greetings again from the darkness. I am actually a fan of director Zack Snyder‘s two most recent films: 300 and Watchmen. Because of those films, I was really looking forward to what he would do with his first original piece. Two things are now very clear. First, Mr. Snyder is a visual virtuoso with film. Secondly, he is not much of a writer.

I’ll start with the bad news. I was stunned at how lousy the story and script were. Some of the dialogue is so bad it comes across as purposefully dumbed down. If that is the intention, then I must ask WHY? It’s clearly not a movie for little kids, so most over aged 13 are quite capable of following a story. Therein lies the biggest problem. There isn’t even a story! The ending makes absolutely no sense and the road to that ending just makes you happy it’s over … no matter the dumb ending.

 The good news is that Mr. Snyder’s visual effects do not disappoint. There are some terrific battle scenes and one of the coolest on screen dragons you’ll ever see. The film is very dark and muted in colors (think Sin City) but that works for the dream sequences and the asylum interiors. Very little color is present other than just before the dance sequences. Speaking of, what’s with the dance sequences? If Baby Doll’s dancing is the key to the film, shouldn’t we get more than just a head-bob?

 The premise is that Baby Doll (Emily Browning) is cast away to an asylum by her step-father. She has five days to escape or she faces a lobotomy. Yes, really. She quickly discovers that her dancing has a mesmerizing effect on all those watching and she can escape into her fantasy world. While there, she meets a Wise Man played by Scott Glenn in a role that would have been perfect for the late David Carradine. The Wise Man tells her what to do to gain her freedom and she quickly enlists the help of some other inmates: Sweat Pea (Abbie Cornish), Rocket (Jena Malone), Blondie (Vanessa Hudgens)and Amber (Jamie Chung).

The asylum has an even darker side as run by Blue (Oscar Isaac). He forces Dr Vera Gorski (Carla Gugino) to teach the girls to dance so as to entertain “high rollers” who pay big bucks to Blue to spend time with the girls. Gugino plays her character like a rip-off of Natasha Fatale from the old Bullwinkle cartoons. Blue is just a weaselly bad guy who brings nothing to the film … and this film needed a top notch bad guy.

The actresses all seem like they really are into their roles and enjoy the physicality required for the fighting and action scenes. Cornish especially comes off well. Browning in the lead as Baby Doll brings no real baggage to the role as most won’t recognize her. Jena Malone has been an indie film favorite for years and Ms. Hudgens is trying to find a new audience after the High School Musical films.

 This movie was pitched as “Alice in Wonderland with machine guns”. I believe that is a slap to the face of Lewis Carroll. Watching this movie is like watching someone else play a video game … or a two hour music video of a terrible song. So if you must see it, enjoy the visual effects and don’t think too much about what the characters say or why they do what they do. And let’s all hope that Mr. Snyder’s visuals payoff for next year’s Superman movie … and be glad that Christopher Nolan is working on that script!

SEE THIS MOVIE IF: you live for special effects and video games on the big screen OR you want to see a really cool dragon fly around for about 3 minutes.

SKIP THIS MOVIE IF: non-sensical dialogue and a junior high script cause you to scream obsenities (it’s not worth getting arrested)


SECRETARIAT (2010)

September 21, 2010

 Greetings again from the darkness. The story of Secretariat is legendary in the world of thoroughbred racing. Being a sports fan, it is always fascinating to witness domination by a singular athlete – Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods, Roger Federer. Secretariat was the Michael Jordan of racing. In 1973, Big Red dominated racing like no other.

What makes this even more amazing is that Secretariat is actually the second most interesting story … his owner, Penny Chenery Tweedy (played here by Diane Lane), was his match in competitive spirit. This Disney movie actually spends as much time on Ms. Tweedy as it does the fabulous horse.

Disney does what Disney does best. This is an all out feel-good, rah-rah movie in the vein of Seabiscuit, The Rookie, Rudy and even Hoosiers. Don’t expect in-depth analysis of the racing world, horse training or even horse farm operations. This movie is made to deliver a warm fuzzy via the perseverance of a strong-willed lady and an incredibly majestic animal.

Expect some over-the-top touches such as John Malkovich‘s portrayal of trainer Lucen Laurin, horse-whispering by Ms. Lane, and plenty of heart-string tugging as is customary from the fine folks at Disney. Expect historical facts to be treated a bit lax in some scenes (no mention of 1972 Derby winner Riva Ridge, also from the Chenery stables). Expect none of that to matter as this is a crowd-pleaser, not a documentary.

In addition to Mr. Malkovich and Ms. Lane, there is some fine support work from (former Senator) Fred Thompson, James Cromwell and Nelsan Ellis (so great as Lafayette in True Blood). Directed by Randall Wallace, whose most recent directorial effort was 2002’s We Were Soldiers, this is entertainment for all ages and an easy introduction to the champion that was Secretariat.

SEE THIS MOVIE IF: you enjoy strong, smart female characters (Diane Lane, not Secretariat) OR you thought Seabiscuit should have won an Oscar

SKIP THIS MOVIE IF: you look to John Malkovich for fashion tips OR you think pari-mutuel betting is allowed at the cineplex