Monday, January 16, 2012

The Best of 2011

My apologies dear readers! With the holidays and my actual work schedule, I have been lacking in pulling my weekly review together. I hope I haven’t lost too many of you in the silence. I hope to make that all up to you with this week’s feature, which is more of a list of recommendations than anything else!

A few weeks ago, I published my 2012 Oscar Previews; a list of films that I thought would get the nominations for best picture. This week, I would like to share with you a Top 10 of the best movies of 2011. Now some of these may actually end up getting Oscar nominations and some may not! Most of these are still in theaters and I will do my best to make mention where! So let’s kick it off with:

10. ‘Harry Potter and the   Deathly Hallows, Part 2’ – The epic series comes to a very satisfying and exciting conclusion in this 7th installment. Deftly helmed by director David Yates, this is the best of the 7! Redbox BluRay worthy!

09. ‘Moneyball’ – One of the more entertaining and heartfelt baseball movies since ‘Field of Dreams’; Brad Pitt is the role of a lifetime about a manager who is finding value in what the traditional manager misses. Find it on Redbox BluRay!

08. ‘Drive’ – Ryan Gosling channels Steve McQueen cool as a getaway driver who battle an evil mob boss. I am betting this will be too ultra-violent to score an Oscar nomination (but it deserves one). Due at Redbox BluRay 1/31/2012.

07. ‘Hugo’ – Martin Scorsese delivers magnificently a beautiful and heartwarming 3D adventure about a boy who lives in a train station. The 3D is not a effect here – rather it is a part of the story; a stunning achievement from a modern master. See it at: AMC Woodridge 18.

06. ‘Mission Impossible – Ghost Protocol’ – Well, the IMF team is back and back in a big way! Helmed by first time live action director, Brad Bird (‘The Incredibles’) – the MI series is once again king of action! This is what every action film should strive to be! See it at: AMC Showplace New Lenox.

05. ‘War Horse’ – Steven Spielberg’s sweeping World War I saga of a boy, his horse and the remarkable relationship they share. See it at AMC Showplace New Lenox.

04. ‘The Descendants’ – George Clooney in the role of a lifetime will most assuredly get a Best Actor nomination (as well as the statue) in this very rare human comedy that earns every laugh and tear.  See it at: Marcus Orland Park.

03. ‘My Week with Marilyn’ – The true story of Colin Clark’s time spent with Marilyn Monroe during the filming of ‘The Prince and the Showgirl’.  While the film is a basic biopic, the performances are incredible! See it at: AMC Woodridge 18.

02. ‘The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo’ – David Fincher has once again proven that he is the director of choice for macabre material. Rooney Mara is stunning as the tattooed heroine.  Clocking in over 2 ½ hours, you never notice the time. See it at: AMC Showplace New Lenox.

01. ‘The Artist’ – An audacious gamble that pays off with possibly the Best Picture of 2011. Filmed in black and white as well as SILENT; this loving tale of a 1927 Hollywood star who must face the challenge of the ‘talkie’, invokes powerful emotions and is one of the most creative films I have seen in some time! Sure to be a future film school study piece! See it at: AMC Yorktown 17.

Some of these will be getting Academy Award nods (one way or the other); some will not but deserve to be seen! With the cold weather – what better way to warm up than at a movie? Don’t forget – the Beat Bob’s Oscar Picks contest will be here soon – so make sure you brush on your films!

Thursday, November 24, 2011

‘Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 1’ – Breaking Yawn more like it…

I will openly admit that I am neither a 'Team Edward' fan nor a 'Team Jacob' fan. I really could care less and I suspect only those that actually care would appreciate this film, and this film series. I have not been a fan of the 'Twilight Saga', at least the films. For the most part, they have been wooden, boring and very poorly acted. Basically, it is a 50 minute movie that has been stretched 2 painful hours with a lot of furtive looks and teenage, soap opera angst.  I am sure author Stephanie Meyer’s and screenwriter Melissa Rosenberg are laughing all the way to the bank with what seems a very pedestrian and half hearted effort at adapting the original novels.

The film opens with the preparation for the wedding of 18 year old Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart, looking as bored as ever) to the much older vampire Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson, who has still not learned how to emote one single bit). Crammed with over the top visuals meant to be romantic, we are bombarded with the kind of wedding preparations that reminds one of the ‘All My Children’ soap days and some of the more extravagant weddings of Erica Kane. It’s all a bit uneven, poorly written and equally poorly acted. At least during the first half, which most teen girls may enjoy as Jacob (Taylor Lautner) is shirtless within the first five minutes, the characters seem a bit cartoonish; someone really needs to tell Billy Burke (Bella’s father) that the 70’s porn mustache really needs to go. Surprisingly TSBD: 1 was directed by Academy Award winner Bill Condon (Gods and Monsters); who is sadly wasted as the director only, apparently the producers did not wish to leverage his writing capabilities.

Without explaining why (or maybe I slept through that part in the last Twilight film), Bella opts not to be turned into a vampire by Edward until AFTER the honeymoon; a fact that Jacob fears will somehow kill Bella (but isn’t that the point? Kill her and then she comes back to life as a vampire?). After some very weird S&M type honeymoon scenes, Bella comes to find that she has somehow become pregnant; a pregnancy that will likely yield a human baby that is also a vampire that could possibly destroy her from the inside out or become the next savior of the universe. I am not sure; I got a little lost in all of the furtive and longing looks between Bella and Edward.

Admittedly, the Twilight series is a good idea – it’s just poorly executed (or rather, should be executed). I am sure the novels, which have sold millions, are not too bad; I may just pick them up and read them; but nothing ruins a good novel more than a poor screen adaptation that is equally poorly executed by all involved.

The film ends after the credits have been run – with what I am sure was meant to be chilling dialogue from what looks like a rival coven of vampires. Instead it seems more tongue and cheek; forced as well as comical. It was hard not to laugh out loud. I am certainly hopeful that the series will end on a high note and surprise me; but I am not betting on it. Instead, I think it will more likely be another 2 star effort better off left to a Redbox rental.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

‘J. Edgar’ – Not Eastwood’s best, but still outstanding..

As flawed human beings, our very emotional make-up is about being remembered. For some, it is as simple as wanting people to remember us as a ‘nice guy’ or ‘a beautiful woman’. For others, it is about the legacy they want to leave, it is about the adoration and for those of us doing the actual remembering; it is about all of the shades of grey in the middle.

Clint Eastwood’s latest directorial effort, ‘J. Edgar’, is a study of not only the man that J. Edgar Hoover was, but of the shades of grey in the middle. Even filmed with dusky grey colors, Eastwood and Leonardo DiCaprio (as Hoover) delve deeply into the background and forces that shaped Hoover’s path through life. From a controlling mother, played with exquisite grace by Judi Dench, to a time in our history that shaped not only our lives but our very thoughts and perceptions; we begin to see that Hoover was a deeply conflicted man.

Eastwood commands the film with his usual confident grace. While not as emotionally charged as his previous films, this semi-biopic is fairly straight forward and somewhat cold (for an Eastwood film). While some may argue that it has caused it to be a weaker Eastwood film, I would argue that it’s clinical look and style adds to the voyeuristic feel. DiCaprio is fantastic as the young Hoover and equally fantastic as the older megalomaniac Hoover, even under the age inducing prosthetics. DiCaprio is growing into a solid actor, one that can be counted on to deliver worthy performances, his choices of working with the likes of Eastwood and Scorsese has also added to his growing pedigree.

Screenwriter Dustin Lance Black does a wonderful job taking us through the life of Hoover. This was the man the not only created the FBI, but created the art of finger printing and bought together the first forensic science laboratory.  He was a stumbling nerd who was given great power as a young man, who used that power to not only save a nation but to also to use that power to intimidate to get what he wanted. This is a man who sat through more presidents than any other living appointed official, going to each meeting with a file, knowing full well the next president would give him what he needed.

Perhaps the biggest secret though was his relationship with his right hand man Clyde (Armie Hammer); it is that relationship that causes some of the most conflicting moments in the film as well as some of the most touching. We know (and knew) that J. Edgar Hoover lived his life a lie, he spread lies (when he needed to) and was desperate to stop liars. He was a powerful man who was extremely troubled, with a power that seemed to run unchecked until his death.

If you are looking for the secrets that Hoover held in this film; you will not find them here. Eastwood is smart in keep the secrets to the shadows, instead focusing on the man as well as the performances of DiCaprio, Hammer and Dench. Running over 2 hours in length, the performances are so captivating that you rarely realize the minutes clicking by. While this is not the best Eastwood film, it certainly is a 3 ½ star effort from a director who has the courage to show us that it is not how you are remembered, but how you choose to be remembered.

Friday, November 11, 2011

It’s Oscar Season!

This is the time of year that the studios roll out their Oscar contenders; oh sure, there will be some trite junk for sure (you can’t pay me to go see ‘Jack and Jill’), but for the most part, the upcoming slate of Oscar bound pictures is one of the strongest I have seen in some time. Sorry Twiheads, the new ‘Twilight’ movie did not make the list – when I do my clunker list, maybe then! So, here, in order of release date, is my list of Oscar contenders. Try and go see them and let me know what you think!

11/16: ‘The Descendants’ – George Clooney is Matt King, a husband and father on a tragic journey of discovery from Alexander Payne, who won an Oscar for ‘Sideways’. After his wife suffers a boating accident, Matt is left alone to deal with his two indifferent daughters and the revelation of his wife’s infidelity.  Early buzz, Clooney gives the performance of a career.

11/23: ‘Hugo’ – If anyone can make an Oscar worthy 3D movie, Martin Scorsese can! ‘Hugo’ is the story of an orphan living a secret life within the walls of a Paris train station where he becomes caught up in a magical and wondrous adventure. Based on the bestselling novel ‘The Invention of Hugo Cabret’, this is Scorsese first attempt at a family film as well as a 3D film.

11/23: ‘A Dangerous Method’ – Can a movie that pits Carl Jung against Sigmund Freud possibly win an Oscar? With Michael Fassbender is Jung, Vigo Mortensen is Freud and Keira Knightley is the unbalanced yet seductive patient they are battling over, I think they have a good shot!

12/9: ‘Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy’ – Based on the novel by John le Carre, Gary Oldman is back in rare form as George Smiley, a disgraced British spy who is bought back into the fold by his government during the height of the Cold War.

12/21: ‘The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo’ – The first novel in author Stieg Larsson’s trilogy to be released by Columbia Pictures features David Fincher at the directing helm and Daniel Craig as an investigator looking into a mysterious death. While the trailers practically reveal the entire movie, anything from David Fincher has my vote! Be sure to try and Redbox the original Swedish version of the films!

12/25: ‘War Horse’ – Steven Spielberg ventures into war torn England and Europe during World War I for this study of the bond between a horse and a young boy in what is sure to be an emotionally charged as well as beautiful piece of film making.

12/25: ‘Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close’ – Oskar (a young and very talented Thomas Horn) is convinced that his father (Tom Hanks), who died in the 9/11 attacks, has left him a message hidden within the city. With a mother (Sandra Bullock) who has been distant and unapproachable since the loss of her husband, Oskar sets out on a journey of discovery and healing. Sure to strike an emotional cord along with Academy favorites Hanks and Bullock, this is sure to garner more than a few nominations.

12/30: ‘The Iron Lady’: Meryl Streep is back in this portrait of Margaret Thatcher, arguably one of the most powerful women of the 20th century and the only female Prime Minister of England. In a role perfectly suited for Streep, this could be the gold statue she has been waiting for.

There are a few more worth mentioning: ‘Garbo: The Spy’, ‘Rampart’, ‘Shame’, ‘We Need to Talk About Kevin’, ‘Tin Tin’, ‘Albert Nobbs’, ‘We Bought a Zoo’ and ‘Shame’.  There are a few you may have missed as well, so either run out to Redbox or to the theater this weekend to catch these: ‘Moneyball’, ‘Drive’, ‘Anonymous’, and maybe ‘Ides of March’ although I thought that film could have been better.
I am going to be bringing back the Oscar contest as well this year – so you better study up!

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Boo! Top 10 Horror Films for Halloween

A great horror film will live with you for a long time – it will survive the ever increasing desensitized viewers that are currently awash in blood and gore. A great horror film will strike you at a core level that cannot be touched like any other; they will make you squirm in your seat, they will make you turn the lights on because you see movement in the dark shadows and they will (sometimes) have you question your beliefs. More importantly, a good horror film will stand the test of time and scare you despite repeated viewings! I have many favorites, but the following list of 10 score high marks on all of the criteria listed above!

10. ‘The Shining’ – Stanley Kubrick’s adaptation of Stephen King’s novel has become a tag line more than a horror movie (‘Here’s Johnny!’). But with its haunting score, lush atmosphere and a simply terrifying performance by Jack Nicholson, this story of a family’s descent into madness is a case study of how you make a horror film into art!

9.  ‘The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)’ – Tobe Hooper’s disturbing vision of the real life ritual murders committed by Ed Gein; ‘Chainsaw’ was shot with a grainy, low budget look that made it seem like a documentary rather than a piece of fiction. With little to no blood, Hooper was able to convey a snuff film feel without actually showing the gore. I dare you to look at a small town farm house the same way again.

8.  ‘Halloween (1978)’ – John Carpenter has been blamed for starting the ‘slasher flick’ craze with this simply terrifying tale of a relentless serial killer hell bent (literally) on revenge. The difference, Carpenter’s film is filled with intensity and suspense; he does not rely on gore to make his point, rather the build up and stalking of Michael Myers causes us to be afraid of what might happen, not by what is happening.

7. ‘The Silence of the Lambs’ – As Dr Hannibal Lecter, Anthony Hopkins is the seductive, sick and twisted serial killer that everyone loved to hate. And he did most of this without ever having to step foot out of his maximum security prison cell. Jodi Foster as the FBI trainee Clarice Starling is perfectly cast as the helpless lamb caught in Lecter’s web. Hopkins did more with scene chewing lines and subversive looks than any actor has to date. Chilling.

6. ‘A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)’ – John Carpenter makes the list again creating yet another character that will haunt you (that is until you see ANY of the next 6 or so iterations) into your dreams, literally! Freddy Krueger is the vengeance seeking janitor who stalks the children of the people who murdered him, in their dreams! His initial entrance still can make you jump!

5. ‘Jaws’ – Steven Spielberg’s first big screen movie remains one of the highest grossing horror films on record. When the film was first released – beaches even in Chicago (a lake!) saw a significant drop in attendance. Now that is a film with power! With its heart pumping score and murky visuals, ‘Jaws’ remains as pulse pounding now as it was then.

4. ‘Night of the Living Dead (1968) – George Romero invented the Zombie genre on a shoe string budget with a film that raised the level of hysteria to 11! Often imitated but never duplicated there hasn’t been a better zombie film until the new AMC series ‘The Walking Dead’.

3. ‘The Omen’ – Richard Donner’s horrifying tale of the birth of the anti-Christ will forever scare parents, both old and new; relying more on fears generated internally by the audience, Donner serves up visions that will forever live with you and question that misbehaving child in a whole new way!

2. ‘The Exorcist’ – William Friedkin’s masterpiece; it will stay with you long after any viewing! Something jumping at you from off camera will make you jump; but the disturbing images and feelings generated by ‘The Exorcist’ will stay with you for a very long time. Not only does this film question the very existence of God, but it has the disturbing courage to put Satan into the body of a 12 year old girl. Throwing all of our insecurities to light, ‘The Exorcist’ is a film that horrifies on many different levels.

1. ‘Psycho (1960)’ – Alfred Hitchcock practically set the stage for modern horror films. Rated X when it was originally released, ‘Psycho’ was a censor’s nightmare but a film that audiences could not get enough of. Hitchcock pulled out all of the stops, inventive camera work, a score that will chill you to the bone, courageous direction (as in killing off a major star ¼ of the way into the film) and a central character that was horrifying in his shear every man quality.  Norman Bates wasn’t a monster that we could easily see; his evil was internal, suggesting that an evil like that could rest within any of us.

Happy Halloween!! Bwahahahahahaha!!

Friday, October 14, 2011

‘Ides of March’ – Tired of politics yet?

George Clooney’s ‘Ides of March’ is supposed to be a political thriller. But, in order to be that, it must be thrilling to begin with. More a stump speech for Clooney’s obvious political views, ‘The Ides of March’, while filled with solid performances, simply fails to live up to what a political thriller should be. If you want a taunt political thriller, rent ‘The Candidate’ the 1972 film with Robert Redford.

While most of ‘The Ides of March’ is believable and relevant to what today’s Democratic Party believes, what is not believable is the shear gullibility of campaign strategist Stephen Meyers (Ryan Gosling, whom I like more and more with each film he does). Working for Governor Mike Morris (George Clooney) who is running for the Democratic Primary Presidential Ticket, Meyer’s job is to get his boss elected. He supplies Morris with tag lines and position pieces that help place him on the brink of victory. Tags like ‘My religion is the Constitution of the United States of America’, as well as positioning that awards each college student with free tuition if they provide two years of public service; winning thoughts and policies, even by today standards. Where Clooney as Director goes wrong though; Meyers actually believes the lines he creates. He actually believes in his candidate and places all of his faith in him.

Gosling plays Meyer with a smart and very cool attitude. He is the type that has breezed through life on his good look and charms. He knows people, he understands them and is very good at manipulating them; so why is it that he gets so manipulated in the film? It just doesn’t fit or make sense. He is lead around and obviously so, by Paul Philip (Philip Seymour Hoffman), the campaign manager for Morris who worries that Meyer will take his job. This manipulation, coupled with some bad choices (also uncharacteristic) toss Meyers in the flames of politics at its worst (or what we feel to be normal politics).

Ryan Gosling continues to impress as an actor – he has improved with each performance. While he does not disappoint here, he is weighed down by disappointing material. But, the good news, Gosling is able to make a very doe-eyed idealist, very believable; I still think he was fantastic in the much better thriller ‘Drive’ (which if you haven’t seen yet, what are you waiting for?). George Clooney is as good as always, looking Presidential and confident, even when he becomes wrapped up in a scandal of his own causing. As a Director, Clooney has really come to age and has proven himself very capable. However, as a screenwriter (he co-wrote the script with Grant Heslov, based on a play by Beau Willimon), Clooney falls into the trap of pushing his own personal political agenda rather than that of the character.  We are treated to one too many sound bites that seem to have cascaded from the Democratic Party in a season when political offices of both parties are extremely split. It would have been tighter and better to focus on the scandal, what it does to the people surrounding it and what it does to the country (potentially).

Clooney’s constant pouring of his political beliefs become heavy handed by the end of the film; it is the same reason that ‘Lions for Lambs’, Robert Redford’s political thriller, failed. They chose to focus too much on the political message rather than the situation that made the story thrilling. By the end of both films, I was ready for them to be done with them! You should leave a film energized and moved, one way or the other; this 2 ½ star effort left me running for the door!

Friday, October 07, 2011

‘50/50’ – Hits the mark and beats the odds!

Joseph Gordon-Levitt (‘Inception’) is the nice guy Adam Lerner in the very moving ‘50/50’.  Levitt is turning into a deeply powerful actor, presenting a performance that is touching, funny and very moving; the nuance he brings to his characters relay a strength and maturity not found in most actors of his generation. As Adam Lerner, we are treated to his finest performance to date.

Lerner is the seminal ‘nice guy’, the guy who follows all of the rules and lives his life as straight as he can; so much so that while jogging on a very empty street, he still waits for the walk light to turn green. He works for an NPR radio station in Seattle and has a budding relationship with an up and coming artist, Rachel (another fantastic performance by Bryce Dallas Howard) and a best friend, since high school, named Kyle (Seth Rogen whom I like better here than in ‘Green Hornet’ – note to Seth, stick with what you do best, buddy drama/comedies). To his horror and surprise, he learns, quite unexpectedly, that he has a rare form of cancer. The news striking him to the core, as he recants to his doctor: ‘I don’t smoke, I don’t drink, I recycle!”

Written by Will Reiser, based on his own experience as a 20-something cancer survivor, ‘50/50’ blends comedy with tragedy in a very real way. Never do we feel like we are watching a Lifetime disease of the week movie; and never do we feel manipulated throughout the film. Titled because of the odds that Adam faces, Reiser never pulls punches on the horror of cancer and the impact it can have not only on the life of the patient, but the lives of those around them. Director Jonathan Levine smartly allows Levitt and Rogen to mesh; he also smartly allows the material to play out in the actors themselves. After chemotherapy, we see Adam, alone, sick and in the dark of his home, wondering why no one is calling him; we see the pained face of his mother (Anjelica Huston) as her eyes well with tears upon hearing the news; we see the reaction of Rachel, while initially supportive, coming to realize that this is more than she can bear. And in one very powerful scene, we actually live the reaction of Adam the night before what could be life ending surgery.

The focus is not entirely on Adam and his trial, it is not focused on the relationship of Adam and Rachel or that of his mother; rather, it is focused on the relationship of Adam and Kyle, lifelong friends left to deal with a life changing situation. Where Adam is quiet, unassuming and charming, Kyle is the lunk-head, but he is dedicated to Adam for the long haul. While Rogen is definitely an in your face actor, he and Levitt mesh nicely and the situation is believable. They are caught in a situation where you don’t know if you need to laugh or cry. Thankfully they do both as in when Kyle takes Adam to a bar in order to pick up girls using his bald head and cancer story as a line!

A wonderful subplot involve Adam’s therapist, Kate, played by Anna Kendrick (Twilight), a therapist in training actually, where it turns out that Adam is her third patient. The two develop a sweet relationship that begins adversarial as Adam is understandable angry but eventually turns to something very heartfelt and real. Aside from the ‘Twilight’ series, I have enjoyed Kendrick performances (I can’t really blame her for ‘Twilight’), especially that in ‘Up in the Air’ – which if you haven’t seen, she shines in it.

While ‘50/50’ is not a perfect movie, it is certainly one of the nest movies of the year and a 4 star effort!

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

‘Moneyball’ – A near perfect pitch…

‘Moneyball’ is based on the true story of Oakland A’s general manager Billy Beane (Brad Pitt), a once promising baseball prodigy who found himself a better manager than player. Managing a team with a rather small budget, Beane’s Oakland A’s seem trapped to becoming a club system for the bigger pay rolled teams. After losing several key players in the 2001 season to New York and Boston, Beane decides to take a different approach to building a team and winning games. With the help of Yale educated Peter Brand (Jonah Hill), the two develop a system that focuses on the stats rather than the traditional methods of the long time scouts. It is the theory of Brand that they can get underrated players for less money and still win games by seeking out players that have higher percentages in getting on base and scoring runs. While these may not be big name players, these players are so overlooked they have lost confidence in their own abilities.

This tactic is counter to the old school method of baseball, which focuses on a few star players to build a team around. Beane and Brand endure the ridicule of the sports world as well of that from within their own organization; the ridicule grows as their plan doesn’t quite work out as they initially thought. Written by Steven Zaillian, Aaron Sorkin and Stan Chervin, the dialogue is natural and crisp. The story progresses nicely without becoming a burden in the numbers of baseball and like other baseball movies, touches on the romance of the sport but smartly does not linger on that. What could have turned into a cold, clinical study actually turns into a very real and human story. The writing, as usual for Sorkin (The Social Network), is smart and filled with humor and some very intense moments.  Director Bennett Miller smartly uses actual baseball footage rather than the actors; this creates a very thrilling experience even though we all know the outcome.

The cast is stellar. Brad Pitt puts in the performance of his career; as he ages, he reminds me more and more of Robert Redford, even down to his choices in films. He has had an eclectic career thus far and his maturity is finally starting to show through. Pitt also produced this film which shows a keen eye for material, I would suspect that directing a feature is not far off in his future – and if he does follow the same path as Redford, I am sure they will be fantastic films. In ‘Moneyball’ Pitt as Billy Beane brings a subtle but powerful presence to the young manager struggling with a failing team, a failed marriage and the faith of the players around him. Prone to outbursts of anger, Pitt brings a gentle side to Bean that is so expressive in his eyes that one can almost feel your heart go out to him. While it’s a bit early on in the Oscar race, Pitt certainly deserves at least the mention of a possible nomination. Jonah Hill as Peter Brand was wonderful as well. Most people will remember Hill from his ‘Superbad’ debut; here in ‘Moneyball’ he really comes into his own as an actor and proves without a doubt that he is a talent destined for a fantastic career.

The supporting cast is equally as compelling; the always great Phillip Seymour Hoffman as the A’s coach is solid; in only a few short scenes, Hoffman commands your attention. Equally as stunning is the young Kerris Dorsey as the young daughter of Beane; she serves to humanize him as well as soften him. Dorsey is a scene stealer no doubt and a talent in the making.

While I would not say this is the best baseball movie ever, I would leave that to ‘Field of Dreams’ and ‘The Natural’, it is a solid piece filled with hope and the soul of the game. A 4 star Oscar contender that deserves multiple viewings.

‘Killer Elite’ – Passable action flick…

‘Killer Elite’, the new Jason Statham (The Transporter, pick a number) action flick, starts out with the tag line that reads: ‘Based on a true story’, hmmmmm.  The ‘true story’ is the 1991 novel by Sir Ranulph Fiennes , ‘The Feather Men’; a novel where the claim of truth has shrouded the book since it was published. In reality, it is just another steroid pumped action film with the clever bonus of Robert De Niro (who seems to be slumming more and more in films; I mean this is the same man who won an Oscar for ‘Raging Bull’!).

Jason Statham is ‘Danny’ (that’s it, just ‘Danny’, he’s that cool) a contract killer that is by far the most elite of killers. While working with his partner and mentor Hunter (Robert DeNiro), Danny becomes tired of the killing game and opts to drop off of the grid to build a new life in Australia while beginning a burgeoning romance with a childhood sweetheart, Anne (Yvonne Strahovski from ‘Chuck’). Of course, just when he begins to think he is out, he is pulled back in again (man, I love my Godfather references!) by an irate sheik who has kidnapped Hunter in a bid to force Danny to complete a job. Apparently, a group of very highly trained British soldiers killed the sheik’s three sons during the Dhofar war and in order for the sheik to regain power; the deaths of his sons must be avenged.

The movie becomes a bit too complicated for a Jason Stratham film, which during the action sequences is top notch, but when trying to be a political thriller loses its appeal. There are far too many players and far too many twists that make little sense. Essentially, the Dhofar war was waged by pin striped business men for the good of the common British oil needs (of course); the business men are protected by the former SAS agent Spike (Clive Owen) who happens to be on to the fact that Danny is killer behind the deaths of the former soldiers. There are plenty of nicely staged action sequences that director Gary McKendry tends to shoot too tightly, making some of the more balletic scenes seem frantic. But they are fun and Statham, Owen and even DeNiro play the tough guys well.

‘Killer Elite’ brings nothing very new to the table. I thought there was more to do with the characters, especially characters that are sick of the ‘game’; far better was ‘Eiger Sanction’ an earlier Clint Eastwood film. From that perspective it missed the mark, but as a ‘B’ action movie, it was right on cue. If these events did truly happen, I doubt they happened in this fashion. Either way, it’s a 2 ½ star effort that was fun to watch (at moments). I still feel bad for DeNiro, who once, at the top of his game, would never be caught dead in a film like this.

Monday, September 19, 2011

‘Drive’ – relentless thriller!

‘Film Noir: A style or genre of motion picture marked by a mood of pessimism, fatalism, and menace. The term was originally applied to American thriller or detective films made in 1944 – 54’ –

Nicolas Winding Refn’s ‘Drive’ delivers a powerhouse of film noir with art house qualities and just enough of mass market appeal to make a nearly perfect movie. With a nice homage to the Michael Mann films of the late 80’s, this modern ‘70’s type thriller, bathed in pink neon and synthesizer mood, firmly established Ryan Gosling as the next ‘Steve McQueen cool ‘ star. And while you think you may know these styles of films, you will walk out of the film knowing you have never quite seen a film like this.

Gosling is the unnamed lead character (simply called ‘Driver’ in the end credits) in ‘Drive’; he doesn’t really need a name, he is there to simply ‘drive’. A stunt driver for the LA film industry, he works with his stunt boss Shannon (Bryan Cranston who seems everywhere these days) at a local garage while taking on ‘side jobs’ acting as the driver in various robberies. We first meet Gosling during the film’s opening, which serves to define the character with little to no dialogue or background. He is a driver, and a damn good one at that. The first of the films chase scenes is really not a chase scene at all, rather it is a high tension game of cat and mouse that takes place during an escape and from entirely within the getaway car. Brilliant in its direction, Refn builds tension using the dialogue coming from the police scanner as well as the narrative from the basketball game on the car radio.

Gosling plays the part with deliberate, quiet intensity; emotion practically smoldering from his eyes, his facial features just as expressive. We are never concerned with his background as where he is going is what we are all sitting on the edge of our seat for. In that path are neighbors Irene (the beautiful Carey Mulligan) and her young son, Benicio. Irene’s husband is in prison and the two strike up a friendship that starts innocently enough, we watch their first ‘date’, underscored by the fantastic soundtrack, that is both tender and loving. The grin on Goslings face while he is with Irene instantly relieves the tension that is built up, only to have it begin to grow once again after she is gone. Also in his path, Bernie Rose (Albert Brooks in a marvelous performance), an emotionless, ruthless, calculating mob boss who agrees to fund Shannon’s dream of heading a race team with Gosling as the driver. With Bernie, his partner Nino (the always menacing Ron Perlman); find themselves at odds with the driver.

Through a serious of unfortunate events, Gosling is the driver at a failed robbery attempt that was a set-up by Nino. As the events unfold, director Refn uses every tool he has to amp up the tension and the reaction he wants from the audience. In the second, and best, chase scene, he smartly allows the roar of the engines to punctuate the action rather than music. No one has done this better since ‘Bullitt’ in 1968.

The film is stylized in every way; Refn uses slow motion, lighting, framing, amazingly rich shadows and sound to tell the story. And while it is a lot of slick style, it is never too much or overbearing in any way. The elevator scene, while one of the most brutal I have seen, was still one of the most beautifully shot scenes I have viewed in a while. The violence is graphic, so be forewarned, but it is not constant, it explodes out in an almost operatic style. ‘Drive’ is the perfect blend of Noir, Art House and Mainstream film; this is a 4 star effort worthy of trip to the theater.