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Twelve Movies From The Last Five Years That I Wanted To Like But Didn’t – Part Two of Two

Twelve Movies From The Last Five Years That I Wanted To Like But Didn’t – Part Two of Two

I left one movie off my previous post from 2007, which was my Part One list of Twelve Movies From The Last Five Years That I Wanted To Like But Didn’t.  Remaining are the movies from 2008 and 2009 that made (or didn’t make, if you look at it that way) the cut.

2007 continued

American Gangster

Common = Gangster in RIdley Scott's American Gangster.

This movie was built up to be pretty big in the minds of those that love a gangster film.  You have Denzel, Russell Crowe, Ridley Scott directing, a Jay-Z-laden soundtrack, and comparisons to the classic film Scarface, then…ehhh.  The movie was just okay. It wasn’t along the same lines of the Pacino/DePalma classic, it didn’t really move me, nothing about it was very memorable, even though it was a solid film.  It was just another movie and that was disappointing. I still haven’t seen it since.

2008 – Be Kind, Rewind & Blindness

Be Kind, Rewind

Be Kind featured Mos Def and Jack Black, an odd and intriguing pairing, mixed with the directing talents of Michel Gondry, and the result was one of the weakest movies of the year.  Mos was almost impossible to watch (to listen to him), the lo-fi film recreation storyline should have been a lot more fun, and it really amounted to a schlocky, underwhelming piece, that made me further question the talents of those involved, and have highly soured me on Gondry as a director. He has to earn back the good will that he built with Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, and I don’t know that he is up to the task.

Blindness

This turned out to be the biggest rip-off ending in a film that I have seen in years.  With Fernando Meirelles helming one of my favorite films of the past decade and a high-ranking personal favorite of all-time in the amazing City of God, this was an opportunity to see him take the next huge step as a director and reap the rewards that fans of City of God wanted for him. (Fernando, feel free to mix in a Lil’ Dice cameo).  Instead, he didn’t take advantage.  The movie kept your attention (though not easily) for the duration and then yanked the rug out from beneath your feet in a horrendous ending.  I don’t know that I will ever forgive him.  BTW, Fernando, call me – because in truth I don’t remember the ending, I just know I absolutely hated it.

2009 – Bronson, Watchmen, The Hangover & Public Enemies

Bronson

Tom Hardy was Bronson, pre-Inception.

Nicolas Winding Refn’s film built up as A Clockwork Orange type of film, but was nothing more than a weird, sordid tale about a guy, told in an odd, and rather uninspiring way.  I was very high for the film before I saw it only to be incredibly let down. It was actually hard to make it through. I know it was based on a true story, but it didn’t redeem it at all for me. I hoped for a lot more.

Watchmen

This was a film that had a great trailer. Normally I wouldn’t have had much interest in a film like this, but it was built up to be perhaps one of the biggest movies ever, and landed with a rather resounding thud.  This wasn’t a horrible work, but if you counter it with a movie like The Dark Knight which more than matched the hype, it only exaggerated the difference of what this film might have been.  I think Zack Snyder may be able to become an interesting director, but he also might be the next Michael Bay. At this point, the meter is swinging in the “Bay” direction. Not good.

The Hangover

I don’t like comedies. Rarely, do they ever live up to my expectations, which are, I don’t know, how do I say this, to….laugh during the movie.  Is that too much to ask?  Absolutely. I chuckled two to three times during the film.  That does not a good movie make, nor is it worthy of being the biggest comedy of all-time.  This movie exemplifies how different the tastes of mainstream America and mine are.  I envy you, mainstream audiences.  To derive enjoyment from such average work must be nice. I wish I was as easily entertained, but alas, I am not. I’d rather be hung over, than watch The Hangover.  It was not believable, nor very fun.

Public Enemies

I have to include this movie on the list, because we did a dedication week to Michael Mann here on The Film Nest, and I (essentially) had breakfast with the man a few months ago. I was hoping for another movie along the lines of his previous actioners such as Heat and Collateral.  This did not match that.  I don’t think that this is a bad movie by any means, it just wasn’t great, and I thought it had the potential to be that.

Casting Johnny Depp (a feminine man in a masculine role) was the starting point of this heading down the wrong path.  The action was ordinary and you didn’t care enough about the characters to engage in the story.  It was a movie you simply watched but didn’t interact with. For that, it makes the disappointing list.  And Michael, next time we are at breakfast, easy with the staring at me brother, I’m just trying to eat and mind my own business.  Don’t use me for your script inspiration – unless of course, you really, really needed it.

I hope all movies I see are entertaining, but the odds are stacked wildly against me.  In the next five years, if I lower my expectations, perhaps there won’t be a need to compile such a list. I’m counting on you Hollywood, to bail me out.  If not, my pen (or keyboard in this case) is ready. Good luck.

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Twelve Movies From The Last Five Years That I Wanted To Like But Didn’t – Part One of Two

Twelve Movies From The Last Five Years That I Wanted To Like But Didn’t – Part One of Two

Twelve Movies From The Last Five Years That I Wanted To Like But Didn’t – Part One of Two

Right off the bat, I don’t want the title of the article to be misleading.  In my eyes, it’s a given that you want to like every movie you see.  That’s the reason you pay money to go to the theater or take the time to rent and watch a movie.  Sure there are some movies that you have low expectations (or no expectations) for and end up being pleasantly surprised. But what I am concerned about here are movies that I was looking forward to seeing and came away disappointed.  These are, as the title states, movies that I wanted to like but ultimately didn’t (or I didn’t enjoy them nearly as much as I had hoped to).

This is an entirely subjective list.  I understand that.  I’ll say right off the top that these are not movies that I saw that were ruined by a particular experience taking place either – i.e., a bad movie-going experience where teens are talking all the time (one of the reasons I prefer to see films in an empty theater usually, and often by myself) or your dog just went to the vet and the bill was $1,000 and you tried to watch a movie to cheer up, unsuccessfully. These are simply movies that I wanted to be better.

I should also specify that these aren’t the worst movies I saw in a given year; these just didn’t live up to my expectations.  There is a reason I have learned to temper my expectations for movies throughout the years, and it is because of film viewing experiences such as these. Note: Movies are from 2006-2010, hence, the 5-year window.

2006

Clerks II & The Fountain

Clerks II is kind of a given, considering the classic that Kevin Smith’s original Clerks is.  As far as I am concerned, his whole career has been a struggle to live up to the expectations he set with that film.  (That being said, while still a classic, even Clerks is incredibly flawed upon repeated viewings).  Still, the sequel was ridiculous and over-the-top where the poor acting stood out more.  He should have went back to B&W film stock and shot that for $100,000 to force everyone to become more creative.  I know that’s a tall task, but still, adding Rosario Dawson didn’t help. This was one of the worst movies I saw that year.

The Fountain suffers a similar fate for a different reason.  While not an awful movie, director Darren Aronofsky was coming off his incredible Requiem For A Dream (6 years earlier, but still), and you had two reasonably big stars (Hugh Jackman, Rachel Weisz) and a big budget.  I expected so much more from this bizarre fantasy film. It just didn’t do it for me (and I don’t think I am alone here).

2007

Death Proof, The Darjeeling Limited & Transformers

Noticing a theme here already? I am.  These are all movies from directors I like (or want to) and the movies failed to move me.  Quentin Tarantino made three of my favorite films in years past with the triumvirate of Jackie Brown, Pulp Fiction (particularly P.F.) and Reservoir Dogs. Then he wasted his (and my) time making this schlock.  I know its supposed to look cheesy, and aside from the purposely edited film stock that made the film look like a true B-level movie, the acting and story were just weak.

This was a pointless exercise to me.  I know that this is not the most popular opinion among film (nerds) fans and Tarantino backers, but I call people out when they deserve it. He redeemed himself with Inglorious Basterds, so there.

Transformers is just devastating for personal reasons. Making it a kid’s film (robots hiding behind the house from parents? Really?) was tantamount to heresy for me.  I need to see Megatron as a size defying Gun and not a plane.  All of the robots had virtually the exact same voice save for Peter Cullen’s distinctive Optimus Prime.  This made it hard to care about any of them much. Where was Starscream’s high-pitched whine? I needed it.

On the positive side, the effects were cool, but not enough to save the film for me.  I can live with the human element (though its not easy), with the love story and all, but while most of my friends enjoyed it (the last time I saw a movie in a rather large group), I was not down.  I have yet to see it’s sequel either. Michael Bay should finally go darker with the next film (like Christopher Nolan’s Batman/Dark Knight) and then we might have something to work with.

The Darjeeling Limited began to show Wes Anderson’s time in the spotlight was fading.  I still enjoyed his previous effort, 2004’s Life Aquatic, and Rushmore and Royal Tenenbaums are great movies, but Darjeeling did little for me.  You have the Wilson brothers and add in Jason Schwarztman, I expect so much more.  One particular moment, a J.Schwartz ad-libbed hand lick was the only redeeming thing in this movie.  I was highly disappointed with the art-house hero on this one.

Semi-redeemed himself with Fantastic Mr. Fox, but the jury is now out on Anderson.  Wish I could say the same thing for M.Night Shyamalan, but its no longer out on him. He just sucks now.

Part Two with the other movies will come soon enough. Stay tuned and share your comments on this so far. Thanks.

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Latest Movie Rentals / Movies Seen From My Netflix Queue

Latest Movie Rentals / Movies Seen From My Netflix Queue

Since there are as many slow days from a quality news standpoint in this industry as there are, I figured I would go ahead and do a recap of some of the movies I have recently seen from my Netflix queue.  These will just be quick shots, mini-reviews of these dvd rentals; just my feelings on the films I have seen.  I’ll try to update a post like this every so often, once I have enough to report on.  Maybe every month or two, something along those lines. Just work with me on this, cool?  I’ll even throw in my Netflix rating, based on their 5-star system.  Not the same system I use here, so my official The Film Nest ratings might be different.  Anyway, here are the latest movie rentals I have seen from my Netflix queue.

Brooklyn’s Finest

 

Don Cheadle and Wesley Snipes in Brooklyn's Finest.

 

This is a movie I was really excited about upon first hearing about it, but then mediocre reviews led me to skip it in theaters.  (This is a common theme with many of my Netflix movies BTW.)  Nevertheless, the movie didn’t do it for me.  I was hoping for a mini-New Jack City or Training Day, but while in some ways it came off as Training Day 2, with Ethan Hawke still there, I’ve never been a huge Richard Gere fan, though he was fine here.  Visually the film was good looking, it just didn’t have any emotional resonance and the script was a bit jumbled.  Essentially a talking head movie, when I was hoping for something more action oriented.  The suspense was there, but something was just missing.  2 stars of 5

The Wolfman

Benicio really didn’t need much make-up to become the Wolfman, based on the original film.  Cheesy graphics didn’t help this.  The film had a strange tone.  Really, Emily Blunt’s character is going to fall for the Wolfman even though her husband/fiancee just died?  Silly really.  There wasn’t enough rhyme or reason to why certain things were the way they were in the film.  Hopkins was actually tolerable as Wolfman senior, but this was just a poor effort overall.  1 star/5

Edge of Darkness

 

Mel Gibson dreams of Oksana's fate. Just kidding. I think.

 

Mel Gibson’s return to the big screen before we heard the recent tapes from dude’s personal life.  He is thrashed, but again, I was down with seeing him return to his action roots.  Unfortunately, this was far too much if a talky to ever get too involved.  Where was the action? This was basically him investigating the entire time.  Disappointed.  The best part was (spoiler!) when that chick got killed by a car when exiting Mel’s vehicle. That was cool.  2 stars/5

Shutter Island

I’d already seen it in theaters, so you can see what I felt about it right here.  Very good movie.

The Book of Eli

Denzel and the Hughes Brothers sounded like an intriguing combination.  The look of the film was cool, with the washed out film stock.  I actually liked this about as much as I expected to.  I didn’t find the spiritual elements too overwhelming and actually thought that the end of the movie was pretty cool.  Maybe a little unrealistic for Denzel to care about the Mila Kunis character enough to worry about her the way he did, but it made for a decent film.  3 stars/5

Un Prophete (A Prophet)

This was a bit of an unexpected movie in terms of the way it played out.  It is set nearly entirely in prison, on the inside.  Not what I was expecting from a story about the rise of a kid into a gangster, baller.  Still, it was unique, a little gritty and pretty cool direction.  I was overall pleased.  If you can handle the foreign aspect of the film, I recommend it.  It was a little graphic in its violence and had some weird undertones with the ghost hanging around as much as he did, but still a nice work.  4 stars/5

The Burning Plain

I’ll watch a lot of Charlize Theron since I respect here so much as an actress.  This movie qualifies as one I wouldn’t otherwise have seen.  Catching Charlize naked was enough to make me finish the film.  Unfortunately, it all takes place the first five minutes of the movie.  Still, the story was interesting, if a little uneven.  I was down with the youngsters forbidden love storyline.  This was one of those full circle sort of films.  Not enough to recommend it highly though.  2 stars/5

I Hope They Serve Beer In Hell

 

Bad acting is the law in I Hope They Serve Beer In Hell.

 

I expected this to be unwatchable and it essentially was.  Its a guy movie through and through and yet it plays the happy-ending card at the end.  Completely lame, with marginal acting, an unbelievable story in some ways (that was supposedly based on true events); I am just shocked I actually sat through it all. A rare movie I watched during daylight hours just to finish the film.  Highly unrewarding in every way. 1 star/5

District 9 (Note: o.g. review not mine)

Saw it already last year and liked it enough to re-watch it. Not quite as good the second time through, but still an original story. Check it if you are a sci-fi fan. 4 stars/5

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Comic-Con Movies: Win, Lose or Draw

Comic-Con Movies: Win, Lose or Draw

Every year, Comic-Con in San Diego is one of the biggest events for studios to unleash the latest in upcoming films.  The event has grown from a pequeno little event for comic book fans to an industry extravaganza where studios and stars come out to hype the latest in films, whether they are in production, have wrapped, or are still at the very early planning stages.  Various announcements are made with regards to casting (the big one this year was with regards to Mark Ruffalo’s replacement of Edward Norton as the Hulk in The Avengers upcoming movie) and general hoopla, panels and parties are held. It all sounds so, well, like so much hype.  I have never attended.

That being said, I still try to keep you abreast of the most significant of happenings there.  Usually, those are an announcement or two and some footage in regards to trailers.  Last year, there was probably a little more info, due to Avatar having a presence, but there are still some interesting pieces to report on from this year.

I have read a few things on what the “results” of this years event are.  By results, I mean, what films came out ahead, what got left behind, or what stayed about the same on the expectation meter.  So, I give you win, lose or draw from Comic-con, primarily based on the piece done by Steven Zeitchik of the LA Times.  I will add my own thoughts based on what his takes are of the events proceedings with regards to films we are ready to see, this year or next, and maybe in a case or two, even 2012.

The Winners:

Cowboys & Aliens

This makes sense given that Jon Favreau has been known to be incredibly fan friendly and interactive at Comic-Con (and other events for that matter).  He can do no wrong in fans eyes, given the popularity and success of both his Iron Man films.  Additionally, bringing Harrison Ford out for a public display during the Cowboys & Aliens panel, only served to heighten the experience.  That being said, this 2011 movie is one of the farthest from release/earliest stages of production, of about any film that was discussed at Comic-Con. SZ said bringing Ford out is “precisely the kind of Comic-Con moment that’s long forgotten when a film finally comes out.”  I couldn’t agree more, but this is off to a good start.

The Expendables

This was kind of being looked at as a potentially nice action film, a trip down memory lane for all the big names involved, but Sylvester Stallone‘s movie gained the most goodwill from the event it sounds like.  SZ says “Comic-Con has sealed its fate: “The Expendables” (“Explodables?”) is destined to open big.”  I am not surprised by this, when Sly rolls out several other cast members for a butt-kicking good time.  But to me, the film may not offer enough to get me excited. I am still on the fence as to whether this will be a cheesy good time or just a boring clunker with big names.  If I had to put my money on it, it would be both.

Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World

This is one of those movies that visually looks wholly original, which is a good thing.  Fans ate up the media blitz at Comic-con.  Whether that will translate into box-office success remains a question mark though.  This seems similar to Kick-Ass which generated buzz in San Diego last year, only to see middling (small) box office results.  Star Michael Cera is the x-factor; a make or break film in a sense I believe.

Draw:

Let Me In

This is a remake of an underseen Swedish “horror” film from two years ago, Let The Right One In.  It seems as if fans basically want the same movie, but in English, if this is to work.  I think positioning the film in the horror genre means it needs to deliver more jumps and scares than the original, which actually was more of a character vampire piece.  I am curious to see how this goes.  I liked the original enough to have an interest, but will US audiences as a whole feel the same? SZ saw this one as a potentially slightly positive churning film.

Sucker Punch

Director Zack Snyder‘s 300 and Watchmen earned him hype for this female-centric film.  Rolling out a half-dozen cast members was only going to work in the film’s favor for this event.  But whether or not the movie will draw women (or enough men) remains to be seen.  Watchmen was a disappointment on release, so I can’t help but think that Sucker Punch, even with its lower expectations, won’t wow at the turnstiles.  Hmmm.

Tron: Legacy

Hype was already pretty high for this one, so #sdcc did nothing to diminish that.  It will be interesting to see if the old generation of cult fans for the original turn out for the new spin from Disney.  The footage didn’t wow me, but I still expect this to be well-received.  SZ says it is “well-positioned” as a December release this year.  Probably so.

The Losers:

Thor

This has been one of those films that continues to look like a failure thus far and Comic-Con’s presentation didn’t do enough to sway that opinion, here or there, it seems.  SZ says “it was impossible not to hear the dissenting voices questioning, perhaps fairly, the histrionic costume-drama of the exposition and the generic explosions that followed. For some reason we have a feeling these voices will only grow louder.” This one just has looked generic to me thus far, but it is Marvel so there is still hope that this will turn in the right direction in the next year before its release.  I remain skeptical though.

The Green Hornet

I read elsewhere a piece on the question of what director Michel Gondry had done to warrant such fanboy lust.  After reading the piece and thinking about it myself, I had to concur.  I mean, he has done some great things visually in commercials, and I really enjoyed Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, but honestly, his resume beyond that film as a director is pretty bad.  A list of movies you’d like to like, but didn’t.  Ditto for star Seth Rogen in my book.  A fresh face in Knocked Up, has really turned into a one-trick pony incapable of being a lead and carrying a film on his own.  Add that to the fact this is supposed to be an action movie, and I can’t help but think this will bomb.  SZ says “The panel was vexed by the same problem as the trailer: the inability to choose, or find the right space, between comedy and the more serious business of superhero mythology. This one made few inroads at Comic-Con.”  Not a good sign.

Share your thoughts on what films on this list you are excited about and which maybe, you are not as thrilled about.  I’m listening.

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Inception Movie Review

Inception Movie Review

Inception is an amazing movie.  There is no sense in moving forward with a full review without first getting that out of the way.  Christopher Nolan and his team, with a cast that is led by the sterling Leonardo DiCaprio, have made a complex, innovative, and compelling film that will be talked about for years to come, let alone is an early awards season favorite.  It is likely the best film that I have seen in the last five years and perhaps longer.  Yes, it is that good.

Now that the superlatives are out of the way, let me tell you a bit about the film that has been hyped on the internet for at least a year.  Inception is a difficult film to define, which will leave you questioning the events you have seen from start to finish.  The idea of inception, is the concept of planting an idea in someone’s mind, in order to make that idea a reality within the individual.  It may sound complex, and it is, but it also is very compelling.

In the film, DiCaprio’s Dom Cobb is a master at entering people’s dream states and stealing their ideas for various uses.  Cobb has a team of rogues that include Arthur (the continually maturing Joseph Gordon Levitt of 500 Days of Summer fame), Tom Hardy’s (Bronson and RocknRolla) impersonator Eames and the rookie architect Ariadne (Juno’s Ellen Page).  The team’s members are all capable of interacting with one another within a dream state.

While Cobb has largely been a stealer of ideas, with the concept of inception, his goal is to plant an strong idea in Robert Fischer’s (Cillian Murphy) mind, as a favor (paid) to billionaire Saito (Ken Watanabe), so that Tom will regain his freedom and be able to return to the United States and see his children.  Cobb has been living on the lam internationally since he was forced from the US upon an accusation that he killed his wife (Marion Cotillard).

Entering the mind is a challenging art as the mind has defense mechanisms built in to defend itself against theft, which is played out in the film in various forms as well.  That is the essential groundwork one can know, in order to grasp the basic principles of what will take place in the movie.  Almost anything else would be considered a spoiler; a slippery slope as it is.  That being said, the journey that Nolan’s Inception takes you on is an incredibly immersing and creative one.

The visual effects are top notch, the creativity involved truly makes a dream world come to life unlike any film I can recall witnessing.  Physics and time rules are tossed out the window (trains travel down the middle of the street, building are bent, gravity shifts – all at a moments notice), and similar to being in a dream, things happen seemingly at random until the “kick”, which is a reference to being jolted awake.

Most everyone knows the feeling of falling from a cliff in their dream and bouncing awake on their bed. Inception takes that fundamental feeling and explains how it happens.

The movie is an incredible thing to witness.  You are taken on a journey across continents, torrential weather changes, shape shifting worlds where houses float and stairs end and begin as you create them in your mind.  Throw that on top of the strong acting and incredible direction.  If you thought The Dark Knight or Memento was Nolan’s strongest point, you can now cast such thoughts aside.

Inception is the clear-cut leader in the awards race for best picture, director and technical achievement at this juncture, if nothing else.  The Oscars, Golden Globes and others will be hard pressed to find a yet to be released film to top it.  A tall statement in July I understand, but one I believe will hold true nevertheless. Inception combines the striking visuals and mind bending concepts of a film like The Matrix, the action of the Bourne trilogy, with the emotional core of a film like Slumdog Millionaire and rolls them into one challenging whole. Inception is a film that demands repeated viewings and philosophical discussions for those truly trying to discern specific answers to it, but even those who leave their minds at the door can enter into a dreamlike state and just take it all in.

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Knight-and-day

Knight and Day Movie Review Starring Tom Cruise

Knight and Day is a difficult movie to define.  It is equal parts screwball comedy and action with elements of romance and espionage thriller sprinkled in.  Director James Mangold aims to let the audience in on the fun directly and the results are a mixed bag.

Knight and Day Sees A Return to Form for Star Tom Cruise

On one hand, you have two stars with genuine chemistry between them.  Tom Cruise movies used to be an event, but his star has dimmed a bit in recent years.  Here he plays rogue CIA agent Roy Miller, a man who has fallen out of favor with the agency over what has been deemed to be behavior contradictory to the best interests of the organization.  Cameron Diaz is everyday girl June Havens, an innocent bystander who gets caught up in the web of intrigue as an unknown pawn between Miller and the CIA agents who are tracking him.

Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz fire away in Knight and Day.

A third group of sinister types are also in pursuit of Miller, for he is deemed to control a prototype energy battery that is as small as a normal AA Duracell, but can power an entire city with its efficiency.  Miller has the battery and everyone else wants it, so that it doesn’t fall into the wrong hands.  Whose hands are truly wrong, becomes the twist beyond the action in figuring out this cat and mouse game.

Cameron Diaz Lends Notable Star Wattage to the Cast of Knight and Day

Cruise leaves a trail of bodies in his wake in broad daylight, so believability must be thrown out the door right away, but that doesn’t necessarily detract from the film’s effectiveness or lack thereof.  Mangold opens the film in an airport, and from plane to train to automobile destruction follows in this Bond-esqe actioner.

Cruise and Diaz run/ride with the bulls in Knight and Day.

Miller is a wild card with a good heart (it seems) but Havens can never know for sure.  While June gets swept up as a kidnapped pawn of sorts, it is unclear as to why she is along for the ride.  However, her feelings and desire for fun certainly play a part in that.  But what sane woman would want to entrench herself with a potentially unstable CIA operative who literally leaves dozens of bodies dead littered around her on multiple occasions?  Such is the type of film we are dealing with.

Director James Mangold Might Have Been the Wrong Call to Lead Knight and Day

It’s a messy and inconsistent script that follows its leads through several continents and locations that cause the whole enterprise to tumble.   Mangold, who made his name with dramatic films like Girl, Intterupted and Walk The Line, might not have been the right choice to helm here.  It is unclear whether the lo-tech digital enhancements are merely there to aid in the whole feeling of cheesiness or if they are simply a result of an insufficient post-production budget.  One may never know or care.

Knight and Day is not a bad film experience, but it’s not a strong one either.  It is actually a decent time at the movies if you check your sense of reality at the door.  Mangold’s film is geared toward the date-going crowd, which it marginally satisfies, without breaking any significant ground in the process.  It is a unique film for this day and age, in some ways it feels like a throwback to the Cannonball Run days, but it just isn’t as successful in its execution as one would hope for.  See it if interested, pass if on the fringe.

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iron-man-2-20090724013013844_640w

Iron Man 2 Movie Review

With the usual summer hype surrounding a sequel of this magnitude, Iron Man 2 had a lot to live up to.  The weight of the proverbial iron didn’t crush this film, but it certainly didn’t resist said weight and reach the height of the first Iron Man.  In IM2, Robert Downey Jr. is back as the titular iron one, but he is joined by a bevy of well-known stars for the sequel. Most notably, gone is Terence Howard, Rhodey from the first film, his replacement is the venerable Don Cheadle.  Also joining the fray are Scarlett Johansson, a more prominent role for Samuel L. Jackson, the always strong Sam Rockwell (Moon), the resurrected career of Mickey Rourke (The Wrestler) and usual suspects Jon Favreau (also the director) and Gwyneth Paltrow. Just getting a title card long enough to fit all these names is a task in and of itself. With such a cast, it was hard for the hype meter not to reach dizzying levels.

Robert Downey Jr. stars as Tony Stark in Iron Man 2.

Iron Man 2 finds RDJ’s Tony Stark in a vulnerable spot where the government wants his “weapon” and Rockwell’s Justin Hammer, a Hammer Industries CEO and competitor to Downey’s Stark Industries, is trying to assemble said weapon to sell to the government and acquire unknown riches.  Meanwhile, Stark is in meltdown mode, stressed from running the company and being Iron Man, so his confidante Paltrow’s Pepper Potts can come in and be the antidote for what ails him.  Additionally, Rourke’s Ivan Vanko (aka Whiplash) is of questionable origin, out to gain revenge on Stark for what Tony’s father did to his father.  ScarJo is a kick-ass assistant (and potentially more) to Paltrow, who has ulterior motives and Jackson’s Nick Fury plays a role along those lines as well.  Rhodey mainly in-fights with his buddy Stark who loses control at a party, which leads to further plot machinations.  Each character has their own mini-plot which doesn’t always serve the movie as a whole well.  Convolution galore, as far as the plot goes. It’s not that it’s ridiculously hard to follow, but it also doesn’t flow like a rushing river either.

The film is long and dialogue heavy, but the action sequences do live up to what those in a summer blockbuster should.  Iron Man and War Machine whiz around the sky, Black Widow has some nice fight sequences, and all in all, from that standpoint, things are lively.  Unfortunately, the action is a little too sparse between the long dialogue sequences.  For instance, Paltrow’s Potts appears to be consistently whiny, her character virtually destroying the fun in most scenes she is in. To her credit, this isn’t really all on her, it is the way the character is written, Meryl Streep (hang it up – by the way) couldn’t make Potts any more tolerable.  Alternately, Rourke is strong in his vignettes as a real threat to Stark.  Of course, Downey Jr. brings the goods, a natural acting talent, breezing through dialogue with whipper snapper flow.  Alas, there is no Ghostface sighting like in the original (deleted scene here) which would have helped for simple comedy.  Ultimately, there isn’t enough to raise the bar enough to make it a strong recommend.

ScarJo lends her assets to the "Iron Man" party.

This is average summer fare. It provides what is expected, nothing more, nothing less. It’s easy to be underwhelmed by the results, given the hype, but I find that to be a bit unfair in this case. This isn’t The Dark Knight, something I think many film fans were either clamoring for or hoping for.  Iron Man 2 is serviceable entertainment and a decent way to get the summer season moving at the turnstiles. Just don’t expect anything transcendent and with the proper mind set, you’ll be entertained.

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Harry Brown Movie Review

I went to this film on a complete whim, knowing nothing but two things, a.) it starred Michael Caine, an actor I am neutral on at best, sometimes I like him, others not so much, and b.) I had seen one photo of him wielding a gun.  I knew nothing of the plot, so anything could have happened and I would have no preconceived notions of what to expect.  This is a fairly uncommon place to be in for me, a.) as a film writer, and b.) simply due to the volume of information on films available.  I am happy to report, I came away pleasantly surprised with the results.

Harry Brown is a drama/thriller by a relatively new director, Daniel Barber, from a screenplay penned by Gary Young.  Neither of these names are likely to mean much to audiences here in the states (up to this point).  Brown stars the aforementioned Caine as the titular Harry, a widower who lives in a slum akin to those Jay-Z often raps about.  These projects are rampant with crime and drugs, both of which come into Harry’s life in not-so-pleasant circumstances.  I.E., he’s not the one willingly doing blow, brandishing weapons and breaking into people’s homes – at least at first.  However, when a crime is committed on Harry’s best friend Lenny, Lenny attempts to strike back with vengeance on a crew of thugs who are the suspected perpetrators.  The results are less than fruitful as Lenny is murdered.

Michael Caine's Harry Brown is an O.G. that would make Ice-T proud.

Thus begins an investigation into Lenny’s mysterious death and a deeper look at the crimes that the group of hoodlums have routinely become known for.  Emily Mortimer plays Alice Frampton, a new to the precinct law woman who decides she wants to investigate the death with more aplomb than the usual detective would apply.  Normally, its take a report and let the locals sort it out, but her curiosity is piqued for reasons unexplained.  Meanwhile, driven by loneliness and revenge, Harry begins his own sort of investigation to bring his own brand of justice to the passing of his buddy. Thus begins a sort of cat and mouse game between the thugs, Harry, Frampton and even others that will be revealed with a viewing.

As Harry descends deeper into his moral self and calls upon his past as a war hero, a complicated moral quandary comes to the fore front that will be revealed in time.  An intriguing plot unravels on the screen in a rather unusual way.  Caine’s Harry takes on a form of Liam Neeson-lite from last year’s Taken.  Though maybe not highly plausible, the circumstances and actions in the film are still mired in enough realism to keep the viewer on edge.  Barber has some good locations to shoot in and Young’s script delivers a nice mix of both the dramatic and thrilling.  The climax will likely leave you talking about the film afterward.  Brown may not the most rewarding film you will see all year, but it will likely be near the top in originality.  The mix of young (the thugs, gangsterism) and old (Caine, revenge) blend nicely into a cohesive whole.  It’s a close call on the final verdict, but I give Harry Brown a fairly solid recommendation as mature adult entertainment.

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