Monday, September 27, 2010

Man on Film: The Town

Perhaps the most impressive feat that Ben Affleck, The Director, has achieved is that when leaving the theater, I kept thinking to myself that I cannot wait to see the next film by* Ben Affleck.

*I use "film by" not without the knowledge of the loaded connotation the phrase has, but it seemed the easiest way to construct the sentence. You can choose to ignore this note, but I choose to subscribe at least partially to the auteur theory.

In The Town, Affleck has crafted a compelling crime drama with the emphasis on the drama. Rather than just churn out another bank-robbing movie, Affleck has chosen to focus on character rather than action. That is not to say that the action is non-existent--quite the contrary--but the central focus is not on the heist/chase sequences, and the film is that much stronger for it.

Having found his niche within the genre, Affleck surrounded himself with an outstanding cast, threw one of the best cinematographers in the business behind the camera (Robert Elswit, whose credits include every P.T. Anderson film, Michael Clayton, Good Night, and Good Luck, and Amazing Grace and Chuck), and hired Dylan Tichenor, the editor of The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, Brokeback Mountain, and most of P.T. Anderson's films, to put the whole thing together.  And the film looks fantastic.  The Greater Boston Area comes alive on the screen, as does Affleck's affinity for his hometown--even its seedy underbelly.

As for the cast, I don't think it's any secret that I have a totally hetero-man-crush (probably) on Ben Affleck, the actor.  People used to look at what seemed to be a normal guy with discerning taste with raised eyebrows when I not only confessed that I liked Ben Affleck but vehemently defending him.  How do you like me now?  As was the case in State of Play, Hollywoodland, Extract, Affleck impresses in front of the camera.  His character, Doug MacCray, is the heart and soul of the film.  The life of the bank robber is one he was basically born into.  Brotherhood, figuratively, is what keeps him in.  What is interesting is how the external factors pull at Doug.  At his core, he is a mostly good person.  His crimes are victimless for the most part, and his life of crime is one he wants to extricate himself from.  His fraternal allegiances, his protective urges--these are the things that keep him tied in.  Doug is the heart of the film, despite his dubious pastime, and Affleck plays him with a perfect mixture of good nature, good humor, and quiet danger. 

Around Affleck is a cast rounded out with standout performances from Jeremy Renner, Rebecca Hall, Blake Lively, Pete Postelthwaite, Titus Welliver, and Jon Hamm.  Renner in particular stands tall as the hardened ex-con best friend whose stint in prison was served after protecting Doug.  His time changed him, leaving him slightly unhinged and a bit of a wild card.  There is a chaotic, anarchic energy coursing through his performance.  Any scene he is in has the audience on edge.  Postlethwaite surprises in playing the aged hard-ass.  Hall and Lively play polar opposites, with Lively playing the drugged out single mom with a flair I didn't think was possible and Hall playing the part of the victim in recovery with pitch-perfect fragility.

Narratively, the film never had me bored.  The dialogue seemed both authentic and adroitly mixed in enough comedy to strike a tonal balance to lighten things up just enough (that "Bones" line had me laughing out loud).  In short, there is nothing that I didn't love about The Town.  Sure, I'm not the most objective person on this film, but don't let that stop you from seeing this film.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Tube Steak: Laziness Leads to Craig Ferguson Which Snowballed into Longing

All right, I promise I'm working on a write-up regarding The Town, but I haven't had the time to finish it yet.

The other night I spent a ridiculous amount of the time watching Craig Ferguson clips. I started off by looking for Ben Affleck on the show, but apparently that has never happened. What the hell?...

Anyway, I got sidetracked, as I am wont to do, when I found my way to a slew of Kristen Bell clips, including this most recent one:

Holy shit, she is so goddamn adorable. What this makes me long for is a vehicle suitable for the massive talents of Kristen Bell. Man alive do I miss Veronica Mars...

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Man on Film: The Other Guys

If you have actually had a conversation with me in the past year or so, there was a very good chance that at some point I said, "So I was watching Step Brothers today/yesterday..." Between its ever-presence on the premium movie channels, its availability on Netflix Instant Queue, and the fact that I own it on Blu-Ray, it seems that it's always calling out to me, and I answer its call an inordinate amount of the time.

The reason for this is simple: Step Brothers might just be the funniest movie in the past 10 years. The premise is simple (two 40-year-old men live their lives like 10-year-olds) but basically allows for the odd comic brilliance of Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly to shine.

Following on the heels of that release, my expectations were going to be impossibly high for The Other Guys. To be fair, The Other Guys was a perfectly all right movie. It was funny. I actually found myself laughing pretty consistently throughout the film, which is the truest test of how well a comedy succeeds at being a comedy.

Mark Wahlberg gets to play the angry man that he played in The Departed and I Heart Huckabee's so well, and while it may not be new territory, it definitely works. He absolutely made The Departed for me. Every moment he was on screen was golden. Here, his anger and his frustration at his partner not wanting to be the kind of cop he needed him to be works very well.

Samuel L. Jackson and The Rock were fucking great in their limited roles as the super cops. Their chase scene was absurdly over the top, and the "Are you thinking what I'm thinking?" sequence is uproariously funny. Michael Keaton and the TLC quotes are deliciously bizarre.

Will Ferrell is very funny, especially as his Gator alter-ego.

Unfortunately, the film isn't transcendent. It is certainly unfair to expect this of a film, but The Other Guys, at least upon first viewing, didn't make me forget about Step Brothers.

It certainly isn't that I didn't like the film, and it was a thousand times better than this year's Kevin Smith "film" Cop Out, but The Other Guys is remarkably forgettable.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Tube Steak: Craig Ferguson Weirdness

All right, so maybe this is lazy, but I've been watching clips from "The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson" and stumbled across this. I'm not shitting you when I say I watched each of these clips in their entirety. Do yourself a favor and at least watch every interview he's ever done with Kristen Bell.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Man on Film: The American

First things first: it seems as though the expectations as to what the film is going to be when one head's into the theater have been led hopelessly astray, due largely to the ad campaign for the film. If one sees the trailer for The American with no other knowledge about the film, they may think that it is going to be a movie in which the hunter become the hunted and that it will be a mile-a-minute thrill ride.

If one knows that this film is by the director of the Ian Curtis biopic, Control, and this video:

then those expectations should be entirely different.

What we get in the end is a nuanced piece that follows an assassin while he is laying low in Italy. We get a glimpse into the day-to-day life of a killer-for-hire trying not to make a ripple after getting personally involved with someone in Sweden only to have the relationship end tragically. It is a simple film that relishes silence, stillness, and the quiet Italian countryside. The dialogue is sparse, the action sparser, and, honestly, the film is refreshing for it.

Anton Corbijn clearly has an eye for the deliberate "thinking man's action film." He builds the suspense by letting the audience's imagination run wild. The lack of action and the gradual building of tension by keeping the camera with the protagonist and experiencing the events that transpire alongside him are what truly make the film work. Taking a page from the book of Hitchcock, he lets the images do the talking. This film could exist without dialogue, and it would still be entirely comprehensible and, more importantly, compelling.

One of the main reasons for this is its star, George Clooney. Clooney commands the screen effortlessly. To his credit, he bathes in the lulls and lets each line breathe, sitting back and letting the silence do its thing.

The American also has some pretty significant nudity, which is great as long as you are not watching the film with your parents. Both Irina Bjorklund and Violante Placido are very pleasing to the eye, and Corbijn's lens is ever-so-kind to both of them.

The nudity is simply a bonus, though, as the movie more than stands on its own merits without it. As long as you go in not expecting the film that it was marketed as, you should be happy.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Man on Film: The Sorcerer's Apprentice

This is absolutely the oldest movie on the list* that I have yet to write about, so you can take solace in that fact. This, as every Nicolas Cage movie is, was a must-see in the theater. The Sorcerer's Apprentice marks the seventh straight live-action Nic Cage film that I've seen in the theater. For those keeping track at home, that means I've seen Next (3 times), National Treasure: Book of Secrets, Bangkok Dangerous, Knowing, Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call - New Orleans, Kick-Ass, and The Sorcerer's Apprentice during their theatrical release. If you wanted to play a little loose with the rules, you could also add Grindhouse to the mix as he was in the Werewolf Women of the SS trailer, but I take my Cage streak seriously, so I won't.

*As mentioned in the Facebook group--join, fans...

Now I want you to think long and hard about how many straight movies you've seen of an actor or actress in the theater. I've seen four of the last five Matt Damon star-vehicles in the theater, but he's done a couple of cameos that I still haven't seen. That is not the case with Cage.

"Why the love for Nicolas Cage?" some of you joyless bastards may ask. Because every moment he is on screen is fucking sublime. Hell, every minute he's being interviewed is sublime. Case in point (trust me, take the time--Jeremy and Mark would agree):

Back to the movie, though, The Sorcerer's Apprentice is a lot of relatively wholesome fun. It is the third instance in which Jon Turteltaub and Nicolas Cage have teamed up, and just like in the case of the National Treasure films, the finished product is a success. I haven't seen Fantasia since about 1985, so I barely remember the source material that provided the inspiration, but the modernization of "The Sorcerer's Apprentice" section of the film seems to have been revamped in good faith.

The element of the film that ultimately makes it work is the student/teacher relationship between Jay Baruchel's character, Dave, and Cage's Balthazar Blake. While Baruchel can be occasionally irritating, Cage's turn as the mentor is rich and a source of many laughs. Both the levity and the gravity come from the person of Balthazar Blake, and in Cage's sure hands all that is necessary is delivered. All of the conflict within the film originates in Blake's past. Cage's ever-present awareness of character imbues the movie with a richness of personal history--the conflict with Alfred Molina's Maxim Horvath, the centuries-old widower's love for Veronica*, all of this falls flat and so does the movie with a lesser actor carrying the weight of the film on his shoulders. Hell, the fact that a movie co-starring Jay Baruchel is thoroughly entertaining is a testament to the acting chops of Nic Cage.

*Although men will probably pine for Monica Bellucci for centuries anyway, so maybe this isn't that great a feat...

Now, yes, the story is as much Dave's as it is Balthazar's, and the apprentice could probably have been cast with another actor who would not have been as irritating to others, but I didn't really have a problem with Baruchel. Sure, he has a slightly off-putting nervous energy in general, but I think it works for the most part.

In the end, this film is good family fun and has one of our generation's finest actors gracing it with his presence. Some may question his selection of roles, but he is just doing what he loves, and I am pretty goddamn glad he is.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Reading Rainbow: Indignation by Philip Roth

Prior to furtively reading this*, the only other Philip Roth I had read was American Pastoral, which I wrote about here. While the scope was certainly broader in the case of American Pastoral, it was a much more laborious read than Indignation.

*I was in the midst of books for the aforementioned book club (spoken of here) and have still yet to finish the first book that was selected, Midnight's Children, but breezed through this in between reading Slaughterhouse-Five and The Fall.

Clearly Indignation does not have the pedigree that American Pastoral did--one of them won the Pulitzer, the other did not--but the reading experience was quite a bit more refreshing*. For starters, the first-person point-of-view narration from the standpoint of Roth's protagonist, Marcus Messner, forces the reader to begin to empathize with the character. As Marcus's father becomes increasingly overbearing and paranoid, we project ourselves into that situation. When he leaves Newark for the fictional setting of Sherwood Anderson's arguable "Great American Novel" Winesburg, Ohio, Marcus begins to become increasingly paranoid and finds trouble balancing the rigors of dedicated studying with a personal life that is growing more and more complicated as Olivia Hutton walks into his life.

*A sentiment that was likely driven just as much by the fact that I was laboring through Midnight's Children at the time.

Now, there is a bizarre turn at about page 75 that I'm not going to get into so as to preserve the surprise, but needless to say this was a turn that caught me so off-guard that I had to put the book down for a couple of minutes just to gather myself. That's all I'll say to this matter.

Now, being set in the 1950s and Marcus being of college age, the ongoing Korean War and the prospect of being drafted if Marcus doesn't remain in college is looming over his head like the Sword of Damocles. It is with so much riding on Marcus's success that his principle-driven self-destructive tendencies and inflexibility put him at risk.

The effortlessness with which Roth tells this story comes through in the ease with which one reads it. Unlike American Pastoral, which was very good to be sure, Indignation actually left me looking forward to opening up the next Roth novel I happen across (probably The Plot Against America).

But don't take my word for it...

Friday, September 10, 2010

Man on Film: The A-Team


This is a timely post.


Jessica Biel was hot. Shocking, I know. Not Powder Blue hot, but hot nonetheless.

Now that I've gotten that out of the way, let's move on.

I remember this movie being mindless fun. If there were a way for me to emphasize 'mindless' in that prior sentence without the use of italics, I would. After all, this is a movie in which, while falling from the sky in a tank, the A-Team fires the tank toward the ground to create enough recoil to slow its descent and navigate the tank towards a lake. Seriously. That happened.

That being said, you can mostly check out of your life for an hour and a half and not feel awful about having done so. Sure, some of the chicanery is absurd, but have you seen an episode of "The A-Team" recently? Honestly, I'm not one of the millions who have placed "The A-Team" on a nostalgia-fueled pedestal. Sure, I had an A-Team lunchbox in elementary school, but I was six, and, as has been covered in multiple posts, I may have been retarded as a child. Let us not have any delusions about "The A-Team."

Now whether or not there ever needed to be a film adaptation of the series is an entirely different matter and speaks to the startling lack of new ideas within the current studio system in Hollywood, but I am not here today to delve into that potentially exhaustive subject.

It occurs to me that I've gotten this far in and have not spoken to what works. What works is the cast.

While Bradley Cooper is coming perilously close to becoming the next Jeremy Piven (sans plugs), I do still have a soft spot in my heart for the Bradley Cooper of old. Perhaps his days as Will Tippin on "Alias" and his involvement in Wet Hot American Summer have tainted me as an objective person on the matter, but there is something I ultimately like about Cooper.

Granted, Cooper is basically playing Phil Wenneck from The Hangover again, but he plays smarmy with aplomb and in such a way that--for me, at least--works. That is more or less what the role of Face calls for, and he pulls it off.

As for the rest of the team, Liam Neeson picks up where he left off in Taken, kicking ass and taking names as Hannibal, while Sharlto Copley plays Murdock in such an unhinged way that nearly all of the laughs spring forth from his actions.

Now, the loaded casting decision is trying to fill the shoes of Mr. T. When you think of it, that's kind of weird. After all, Mr. T is no Laurence Olivier. But he does have this weird persona that has been oddly revered and loved for the past 30 years or so. There was virtually no one who could suitably play B.A. Baracus. Carnahan and crew went out and got Rampage Jackson and, well, he was all right. Really, though, is anyone going to be physically imposing enough and still have the mass appeal that Mr. T had? His fame was a product of a perfect storm in the 1980s, and there is simply no way to equate that to today's pop culture climate.

I do feel compelled to mention one more time that this is not a great film. It is a mindless action film that you won't regret having seen. In terms of evaluating films that are trying to profit from raping my generation's memories from childhood, The A-Team is pretty good. It is certainly better than Transformers, the second Star Wars trilogy, or IJ: KOCS, all of which left me unable to sit comfortably for days after seeing them.

On a side note, this is definitely the oldest of the Man on Film series that I had yet to write. We'll be getting much more current starting next week. Five posts in five days! I hope to keep up this level of production.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Reading Rainbow: The Fall by Albert Camus

As I remember it, I read The Stranger at a coffee shop in a sitting, and I rather enjoyed it. It was an effortless read with such a unique point of view that it left me wanting to read more Camus.

Well, it is nearly five years later, and I have just now gotten around to revisiting Camus, due entirely to a transatlantic summer book club that I took part in. The third and final book that we read was The Fall, and despite the fact that the book comes in at a mere 147 pages, it wasn't the fastest of reads. The reason for this is not related to the flow of Camus's prose. As in The Stranger, the words flow smoothly and effortlessly from the French Algerian's quill/pen/typewriter. Oddly, though, the entire novel is presented in the first-person present-tense in the form of a monologue directed at the reader. As the reader, we are conversing (or rather being preached at) with the judge-penitent, Jean-Baptiste Clamence. Frankly, I found this off-putting. Ultimately, I can understand the rationale behind this manner of presentation. It definitely serves a distinct purpose, but that doesn't make it any more palatable. Moreover, it recalls the reaction I had to Jay McInerney's Bright Lights, Big City, a book famously told in the second-person. That reaction? Irritation. Now, do not get me wrong, Bright Lights, Big City is not The Fall, but each plays a game with its narrative voice to serve its author's wishes, and in each case this particular reader was a bit turned off by what struck me as a gimmick.

With all of this quibbling about how Albert Camus elected to present his last complete work of fiction, it would appear that I didn't like the book. While I consider the issue to be fairly significant, as it affects the reader's reaction to everything that is said for the entirety of the book, the novel itself certainly has its merits.

Camus masterfully balances nearly everything Jean-Baptiste asserts about himself with a corresponding contradiction. The duality at the core of his being elucidates the hypocrisy that has permeated his entire existence. Despite his prior belief that he had been a good person, each of his acts of selflessness were subconsciously perpetrated so that he could gain control over those who he had thought himself initially to have been helping out of kindness. Finding that, much to his surprise, he derives joy in depriving others of treatment with common courtesy and decency, he discovers the ease with which evil takes a hold because it naturally lies within. As he engages in a self-destructive, debaucherous life in what is likened to the last circle of hell--the red light district in Amsterdam--he descends from his life in high society in Paris.

Now, ultimately, Jean-Baptiste is using the example his life serves to turn the mirror on the reader, putting the choice of narrative voice to its intended use. It is Jean-Baptiste's belief that the guilt inherent in him is inherent in us all, and his goal as judge-penitent is to show others what lies within them. This point does not escape me, and it is effective. Unfortunately, its utility didn't make it overly engaging for this reader.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Rediscovering the Past: Kim Richards is All the Rage

If there is one fact that has been proven over the past year and a half, it is that America still loves Kim Richards.

You see, every time a Kim Richards movie is on TV, the traffic at this site skyrockets. Meatballs II comes on... 70 hits over an hour and a half.

Now granted the bounce rate of those hits is pretty high, but the fact remains that America's love for Kim Richards is alive and well.

I've let it be known here before, but Kim Richards was one of my first childhood crushes (Alyssa Milano being the other). Something about the Witch Mountain movies caught a hold of my young imagination, and I am definitely inclined to think that much of that was due to the beautiful Kim Richards. Yes, she was probably around 12 when they came out, but I couldn't have been any older than eight or nine at the time, so I'd hardly call this disturbing. Also, even at the age of 12, she had a sexy, smoky element to her voice (happy this time, KRD?). This no doubt affected my raging nine-year-old hormones.

Well, last Tuesday, I had over 300 hits and over 400 page views, something that is highly unusual. Sometimes I'll strike a chord with a Royals blog entry and get 150 hits, but really, who gives a damn about the Royals.

You know what people do give a damn about?

This picture.
And really, who can blame them?

Well, after years shying away from the limelight--electing to raise her children instead of pursuing acting--Kim Richards is back.

Starting October 14th, Kim Richards will be on Bravo's "Real Housewives of Beverly Hills," a show that I would not have given a damn about were it not for the involvement of Kim Richards, who is still a stone-cold fox.

Now I would like to say one thing to LA Times blogger, Yvonne Villarreal. I, for one, will only happen to see this show because of Kim Richards, and I don't give a damn that she's Paris Hilton's aunt. Your snide dismissal of her credits (and shocking omission of Tuff Turf--what the fuck is wrong with you @villarealy?) has put you on my shit list. I didn't know who you were before, but I know who you are now.

All right, maybe I'm overreacting, but I just get so angry when people try to marginalize Kim Richards.

I'll defend your honor, Kim, and there are a slew of fans who Google Image search you that would probably do the same.

I can't believe I'm actually going to watch a show on Bravo...

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Man on Film: Inception

So you may have surmised I was not head-over-heels in love with Christopher Nolan's latest film, Inception. Really, the stars should have aligned in such a fashion that the end result was a pleasing one to me. Aside from the perceived misstep that was the Insomnia remake*, Nolan has done little wrong in my book. Memento was a total mindfuck, and Batman Begins and The Dark Knight were head and shoulders above your standard superhero fare. Sure, The Prestige was a little cold, but it was certainly better than its Dante's Peak counterpart, The Illusionist, and Christian Bale and Hugh Jackman play pretty well off each other. Even Following was pretty damn good as I remember it.

*While I rather liked the original Swedish film, the resounding critical backlash surrounding the Nolan version combined with the choice of casting the two loudest over-actors in the past, well, ever was more than enough to scare me off.

With Leonardo DiCaprio, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Cillian Murphy, Michael Caine, Ken Watanabe, Tom Hardy, and Tom Berenger on board, I think there is justification for being pretty damn excited. DiCaprio has been pretty solid for the past five years or so, especially in the work he has done with Martin Scorcese. Joseph Gordon-Levitt has quietly become one of the most promising young actors in the business. The foreigners brought in were great, and it was pretty sweet seeing Berenger in a major motion picture again. While I am not insanely into Marion Cotillard, she was solid in the film, and the glaring potential problem was Ellen Page going in. She may not have ruined the movie, but she surely didn't help it either.

Now, gauging my feelings by the series of little "Inception is totally the best movie since..." posts, you can certainly tell that my reaction to the film is not the most favorable.

For the most part, I think Inception is a pretty good movie. It has a complex narrative structure that makes you think about the movie after you leave the theater. While you rack your brain trying to piece together the action, working out the layered plot, it would be easy to convince yourself that the movie you saw was mind-blowing.

But what did it really do?

Aside from the superficial complexity of the narrative itself, there isn't a lot of depth to the film. With the arguable exception of DiCaprio's Cobb (and if you are really reaching, Cotillard's Mal), there is not a single person in the film whose is even remotely developed. Even Cobb, the protagonist doesn't really have anything profoundly change him. How is Cobb discernibly different from the beginning to the end of the film?

Additionally, there really isn't much of a deeper philosophical meaning to the film. There is the "what this reality?" dilemma and the open ending, but I would hardly say that either element is anything more than a sly little trick and the existential conundrum is relatively insubstantial.

It may seem like I'm nitpicking, and perhaps I am, but I think the main issue I take with the film is the rave reaction that the film has gotten. It currently sits at #4 on the IMDB top 250. That's of all-time. Granted, as more of the populace sees the film, it will slip down the rankings, but I really don't see how this film even remotely compares to, say, Rear Window or Casablanca.

I will even allow for the fact that the movie is pretty "cool," but I would have to say most of the arresting visuals are in the first 45 minutes, and then we are treated to the actual mission. Within the mission, I would argue that the only sublime scene is the hotel scene with Joseph Gordon-Levitt in zero-gravity. The car chase and the alpine hospital sequence are both surprisingly pedestrian, and a lot rides on those being more than ordinary.

Clearly this review makes it seem like I didn't like the movie. I definitely wouldn't go that far. I liked it for the most part. In what had been a relatively shitty summer for movies up until its release, Inception was a breath of fresh air, but let's be realistic about the film. It has plenty of flaws, and some are fairly significant.

Find me a flaw in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. Casablanca. North by Northwest. Hell, The Sting is starting from a better foundation, and that's essentially within the same genre.

I just want the world to have a little perspective about this film. That's all.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Man on Film: Machete

If anything, Machete may be cursed by three years of expectations being built up. When Grindhouse first was released, nearly everyone I knew thought that the then-faux Machete trailer was the best part of the film. Lord knows Death Proof was unbearable, and Planet Terror was simply not awful when held up against its shittier counterpart. But, independent of the original presentation, the trailer held up well. When Machete became closer and closer to becoming an actual film*, a certain subset of the populace was abuzz (and I really am not exaggerating).

*I, for one, was not entirely convinced it would actually get made, assuming the project's fate would ultimately lie in pre-production limbo for eternity.

Well, it took more than three years, but Robert Rodriguez has finally delivered on his promise to give his cousin, Danny Trejo, a star-vehicle.

And for the most part it works.

Such a long time waiting for something is bound to have the detrimental effect on one's enjoyment of the film. In Austin, it was damn near impossible to avoid little bits of news regarding the film. Either your roommate was behind Jessica Alba in line at Whole Foods or your friend heard her throwing up in the bathroom after eating a salad at a local restaurant, but waiting for Machete, at least in Austin, was somewhat agonizing.

When a movie that cannot come out fast enough takes three-plus years, your imagination begins to run wild. While Rodriguez is clearly cognizant of this (as is evident in the opening minutes as an already severed head is chopped in half again as it sits on its owner's shoulders and a cellphone is procured from a vagina), there simply isn't enough fucked up shit in the world that could happen in a movie to exceed what my fucked up imagination has conjured up.

That being said, this is a Mexploitation explosion of crazy deaths and crazier characters. The motivation of the villains is pretty timely and their cutthroat nature raises the stakes for the hero. Steven Seagal is great in all the best ways. Jessica Alba doesn't have to stretch too far. Jeff Fahey is surprisingly maniacal* and makes it hard to believe that he hasn't gotten a lot more work in the past 15 years. And while Michelle Rodriguez usually irritates me, even she didn't bring me down.

*Was it just me, or was it hard to believe his diatribe against anti-immigration when you knew that it would just be putting the Lawnmower Man out of work?

What was surprising to me was that I was a little disappointed in the man I was most pumped about: Danny Trejo. Maybe he doesn't actually have what it takes to carry a film. Maybe the role was too heavy on the stoicism and not heavy enough on the badass one-liners, but the one thing that detracted from the film for me was Machete. Don't get me wrong, when the blades are a swinging and the action sequences are in full gear, Trejo is pretty sweet, but in the down time the film does drag a bit because the hero is too one-dimensional.

Yes, it's a Mexploitation film. The delicious trashiness is great. The cheeky dialogue elicits more than its fair share of laughs. The film is a success for the most part. I suppose the hero is sort of the exploitation archetype, but it just seems like someone like Richard Roundtree was bringing a little more to the table, and that is not a sentiment that I was expecting to have if we're being totally honest.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Man on Film: Predators

So it occurs to me that I am way behind here. You can thank moving, an increased workload thanks in large part to the absence of a dirty damned leprechaun, and a trip to New Orleans to have the shit rocked out of my ass like a goddamn hurricane. As it stands, I am three blockbusters behind and still have to keep my string of Nic Cage movies seen in the theater alive, so The Sorcerer's Apprentice is waiting in the wings.

Since I started this post about a month ago (that first paragraph really is that old), my output has been roughly nil.

So... Predators...

I saw that movie. It was a long time ago. If you interchanged the title of Predators into the chorus of the song "Breakfast at Tiffany's" with the titular film, that would probably aptly describe my feelings about the film at this point. In fact, here you go:

Aren't you kind of happy I did that? You know you're happier...

Back to the film, though, yes, it's been a while, and if we're being honest, I did miss most of the scenes with Montana Fishburne's dad because I fell asleep, but I didn't doze off out of boredom. I was tired as shit but needed to see this film.

I'm happy I did.

It was fun. It was closest in spirit to the original film of any of the subsequent Predator titles--well, unless we start talking about "To Catch a Predator." I like the hunters being hunted concept, generally, and I think it's used to great effect here. Any elements of trepidation I had going into the film were generally related to the weird casting, but Topher Grace and the ridiculously cut Adrien Brody actually both work quite well in their respective roles. The bonuses (boni?) of having Oleg "The Russian Bear" Taktarov appearing unexpectedly (making both Peter and I very happy to see our old UFC buddy making the most of his skill set) and having Danny Trejo and Walton Goggins* threatening to kill each other for nearly every instant they're on film is pretty damn fun, even if the bickering could be trimmed down just a bit.

*Goggins's turn on the first season of "Justified" was outstanding, and the series's initial season has long been calling out to have been covered here.

Now, don't get me wrong, this is not a great film by any stretch of the imagination. The plot is thin to say the least. It is basically just the super hunters from earth find themselves on a planet where they are the prey. That's about it. You can figure out what happens from there. Humans get picked off by Predators one by one while they try to find their way off the planet. This is immaterial for the most part.

You don't find yourself waiting for the film to be over (although this could merely have been a side-effect of having fallen asleep), the action is paced well, the suspense is built aptly, and it is a generally enjoyable film. Ultimately, that's what matters most. Was it fun? Yes. Am I glad I saw it? Yes. Was I the only one who felt that way when we walked out of the theater? No. That wraps things up pretty succinctly, while giving you a flavor of Robert Evans to close things out.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Man on Film: The Expendables

Holy hell, do I have some catching up to do here...

I have been balls deep in a move and am now approaching four consecutive weeks of chaos in my life. As a man who lives a simple, constant life, this is overwhelming and leaves me little time or energy for much of anything else.

That does not mean that I've not been to the movies, however. I still need to do a proper write-up for Inception. I also have a partially written response to Predators waiting to be finished. Then there's The Sorcerer's Apprentice, Piranha 3D, and The Other Guys--and that's just what I still need to on the Man on Film front.

As one might expect if one were even remotely familiar with this blog, The Expendables takes precedence over the rest of those films.

I have seen this film twice.

I wouldn't be surprised if I saw it again in the theater.

When evaluating what The Expendables is, it is imperative to look at how it measures up to what it is setting out to do. If there is one thing that is apparent when looking at Sly the auteur, it is that his goal is to please his crowd. Sylvester Stallone the writer/director is essentially like the keynote speaker at the Democratic National Convention at the end of primary season. He is there to deliver exactly what his base wants.

In what were presumably the codas for the Rocky and Rambo series, he hit every note perfectly, and any fan of the previous installments were left mouth agape as the films came to an end. Rocky Balboa was a stirring elegy to Adrian and a testament to the heart of a champion that pumps the lifeblood through Rocky's veins. It also happened to be the best film in the series since the first one. Rambo gave us one more look at our cast aside Vietnam vet, and that look just happened to be the most violent film I've ever seen--and I mean that in the best possible way. It also ends with John Rambo perhaps finally putting his inner demons to rest and returning home.

When one looks at the cast of The Expendables and sees the names of Jason Statham, Jet Li, Dolph Lundgren, Mickey Rourke, Bruce Willis, Randy Couture, Terry Crews, Eric Roberts, and Steve Austin alongside that of Sylvester Stallone, one's imagination cannot help but run amok. When you see that cast with this man at the helm, I think the obvious conclusion is that this movie is going to be a crazy fucking action flick that hearkens back to the great action films of the '80s which we as a society are so desperately lacking.

So if this is what we are expecting, then the ultimate question is: Does the film meet these expectations?

Fuck yes.

You want shit blowing up? You got it. People getting killed in crazy-awesome ways? It's here. Knives being thrown? Jet Li comic relief? Check. Check.

Did I mention the shit blowing up?

Sure, it may not be high art, but as I once told Jon Cryer when admitting that I enjoyed Hiding Out after a then-fresh viewing, "It's not like I was expecting Citizen Kane."

Upon leaving the theater both times, I was fucking pumped. Sly knows what his audience wants. He knows how to deliver it. Sure, there are little issues that one could reasonably have with the film*, but it all boils down to whether or not this film addresses the jonesing for a real '80s-style action flick, and it feeds that hunger.

*The action in the final fight scene is sort of hard to piece together as the scene takes place at night, and the CGI fire in the Steve Austin/Randy Couture fight is pretty comical.

I'll certainly grant you that the dialogue isn't the greatest and there are non-actors who depending on your affinity for them going into the film could weigh the film down, but what we've got here is a movie in which the bad guys are bad, the good guys are good, and you want to shout out at more than a handful of the deaths. I'd say that's a recipe for cinematic success that has been sorely lacking from the cineplexi for quite some time.

So, Sly, you did me a solid, and that's all I care about. If you decide you wanna help keep Jason Statham looking badass in The Expendables 2, I'm fucking game.
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