Thursday, September 30, 2010


'Buried' (PG-13) (3 1/2 stars)

Writer: Chris Sparling
Director: Rodrigo Cortes
Starring: Ryan Reynolds With the Voices of: Stephen Tobolowsky, Samantha Mathis, Erik Palladino

I remember laughing when the late movie critic Joel Siegel always gave an over hyped tag line on a movie he loved. After watching "Buried" I feel like giving a Siegel like tag line. Well "Buried" is a white knuckle thriller that you won't be able to shake for days! "Buried" is a simple thriller that is spellbinding, intense and very uncomfortable. It is also brilliantly filmed and acted and it all takes place in a coffin. When the movie starts it stays on a black screen as we start to hear some one breathing. Actually it is a man gasping for air as we find out that he has been buried alive in the ground. The man is Paul Conroy and he is a contract worker in Iraq and he is a truck driver. He is ambushed one day in the desert and is now where we find him, in a coffin. There are many gruesome ways to die (just watch the "Saw" movies) but I think everyone can agree that being buried alive is probably the worst way to die. Paul has two things he is able to use and that is a cell phone and a lighter and the way he uses them is genius. Paul gets a call on the cell phone and it is from the man who put him there and he wants a ransom. From the get go I felt squeamish and uncomfortable and my palms were starting to sweat. I am claustrophobic to begin with and I was finding it hard to sit through. Then when I could return to my normal breathing I got carried away with this movie. This movie is a lot of fun and it is very suspenseful and intense. It also has a great sense of humor and I laughed more in this movie then I have in a lot of comedies lately. It also has the best performance of Ryan Reynold's career so far for he is outstanding in a difficult role. He won't get Oscar notice but he now has a Snavely award nomination for his bravura performance. He handles the coffin setting brilliantly and he is perfectly cast to handle the movie's twisted humor. Director Ricardo Cortes is someone to keep an eye on for his direction is flawless. You will remember this movie for days and it has more suspense than a handful of recent horror movies. Yes this is a movie that Hitchcock would be proud of. "Buried" will leave you gasping for air because it flawlessly uses it's setting to make you feel you are really in that coffin. Except for one scene that throws one too many obstacles for Paul, "Buried" is a near perfect masterpiece.


'Catfish' (PG-13) (3 stars)

Directors: Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman
With: Abby, Nev, Angela, Megan and Ariel

Facebook is both a weirdly amazing phenomenon and a curse to our society. "Catfish" is a fascinating, weird, captivating and finally sad movie that sheds a light on the curse of facebook. It tells the story of Nev Schulman as his brother Ariel and friend Henry film him building a relationship online with an artistic family. He sees a young girl on facebook named Abby and her paintings which he finds beautiful. He has her send him some of her paintings and then Nev adds Abby's mother Angela and her older, hot sister Megan as facebook friends. Megan is a dancer and a musician that looks somewhat like a model but she seems down to earth and sweet. After Nev and the family send messages back and forth Nev calls Megan and finally talks to her on the phone. She has a sweet, timid voice and Nev starts to really get intrigued by her. He also talks to Angela and Abby and also adds more of the family members and their friends. This is all filmed by Nev's brother Ariel and Nev finds the family fascinating and even starts to lust after Megan. Then some strange things start to happen and things start not adding up. There are some inconsistencies in the information that Angela, Megan and Abby give to Nev and he is compelled to find out if Megan is who she says she is. They decide to go on a trip to visit the family and see if Megan exists.

The set up of this movie is very well done and grabs our attention mostly because we have all been fascinated by facebook. We have all corresponded with new people or have gotten strange friend requests. Facebook is addictive and this movie does a great job of feeding that addiction. What happens in the second half of this movie is explosive, revealing and twisted. The trailers of this movie lead you to expect a horrific and shocking ending. This is not a horror movie but it is scary in a different way. I guessed some things that would happen in this movie but I wasn't prepared for the emotional impact the last half hour of this movie delivers. I will not give away what happens in "Catfish" but I will reveal that the family that Nev has come to visit contains a lot of vulnerable and pathetic people that we grudgingly grow to care about. When we find out the revealing surprises we don't gasp and recoil but we feel some real pain and discomfort. All the people in this movie mean well but facebook has given them a tool to deceive. I wrote last week about how "Devil" made me cringe when it became religious and a moral fable. "Catfish" gives a moralistic story that is more impactful for it is a true story. "Catfish" is very compelling, gripping, emotional and full of offbeat humor and sadness. It makes me wonder how may people are using facebook for not very noble reasons.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

'Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps'

'Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps' (PG-13) (rental)

Writers: Allan Loeb and Stephen Schiff
Director: Oliver Stone
Starring: Michael Douglas, Shia LaBeouf, Carey Mulligan, Josh Brolin, Susan Sarandon, Frank Langella, Eli Wallach, Vanessa Ferlito, Austin Pendleton

"Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps" is the sequel to the very popular "Wall Street" from 1987 also directed by Oliver Stone. Micheal Douglas won an Oscar for Best Actor playing Gordon Gekko, a ruthless, arrogant and powerful stock kingpin. Douglas gave an amazing performance and I think Douglas has gotten better since. I love watching him in everything he has been in lately. He keeps getting better with age and he is becoming as iconic as Jack Nicholson or even his father. I felt the original "Wall Street" was a powerful performance in search of a great movie. I am not a big fan of "Wall Street" for I find it a weak and mawkish movie that is too much soap opera. The movie lives and breathes with Douglas's performance and I feel if people look back at it they will find it doesn't hold up. I feel that the sequel has the same problem for I find it weakly written but kind of worth seeing only for Douglas's second bravura performance of Gekko. When he is not on screen, which is surprisingly a lot, the movie is lifeless. When he is on screen the movie becomes totally different and full of more energy. The story that surrounds Douglas is again mawkish and weak.

The movie takes place 23 years after Gordon Gekko was put away in prison for insider trading. As he gets out he finds out no one is there to welcome him back. He writes a best selling book and travels around the country giving speeches. The movie starts out strongly with this and also with the only character I cared about. He is Louis Zabel and he is played by the great Frank Langella. Zabel is the mentor of Jake Moore who is the Charlie Sheen type character and hero of our story. Jake is played by Shia LaBeouf who I like a lot but who is miscast in this movie. Zabel is involved in a very shady stock deal and he commits suicide over it. He was muscled out by a young Gekko type character played by Josh Brolin. Jake is dating Gordon Gekko's daughter who is played by Carey Mulligan hot off her amazing performance in "An Education". Gekko then makes a comeback, gets involved with Jake who wants to get Gordon and his estranged daughter back together. The opening scenes with Langella are great and made me think this would be better than the over rated original. The middle of this movie where Douglas is gone a lot is dull and sappy. The only reason to see this movie is for Michael Douglas who is getting better with age. I love watching Douglas act more than anyone lately and I love him here. The problem is I didn't care about anyone else. I can't root for LaBeouf's character because I find him boring and smug. LaBeouf is okay but a little miscast and his character is shallowly written. Carey Mulligan is again amazing but the role she is given is whiny and I was tired of seeing her cry constantly. The role is beneath her talents. Josh Brolin should have been more vicious but he seems to be smirking a lot and he comes off as a male model posing as a Wall Street bigwig.

The movie never got me involved and like the original it comes off as a weak and shallow soap opera. I do think this movie is worth renting for Michael Douglas's performance and if you liked the original you can watch them on DVD back to back. I don't know why I don't like these movies. Maybe it is because I think the stock market is a boring subject and I couldn't care less about it. I did like the movie "Boiler Room" so I don't know if that is it. I do love watching Michael Douglas's performance so much I give this more of a pass like I did the original. Douglas is awesome but if you want to see a better performance by him rent the outstanding "Solitary Man". This movie came out earlier and it is much better and is the movie that will really get Douglas an Oscar nomination this year. So wait a few months and rent "Wall Street", it's sequel and "Solitary Man".

P.S. Oliver Stone rebounds a little with this movie thanks to Douglas. I am still waiting for the button pushing, controversial and powerful Stone to come back.


'Devil' (PG-13) (1 1/2 stars)

Writer: Brian Nelson
Director: John Erick Dowdle
Starring: Chris Messina, Logan Marshall Green, Jenny O'Hara, Dojana Novakovic, Matt Craven, Bokeem Woodbine, Geoffrey Arend

"Devil" is a slow and ineffective thriller with not one scare or original thought. You know you are in trouble when you guess after a half hour what the surprise twist will be. "Devil" is produced by M Night Shyamalan and he can't even find and produce a good horror movie let alone write and direct one. "Devil" tells the very dull story of a group of people who get trapped in an elevator together. There is an old woman, a thug looking type, a beautiful woman, an arrogant salesman and one of the security guards. The performances are okay but these have to be some of the dullest characters I have ever seen in a movie. The pretty woman gets attacked as the lights go out and each time the lights go off again everyone starts to get picked off one by one. There is also a cop on the chase who had his family killed by a drunk driver and he is investigating a murder in the building. You know all these parts will come together and the movie is very predictable. There is the talk of a devil by another guard and the movie starts to be a mystery and weirdly enough it turns into a religious movie. Who is the devil among these people? I guessed who it was a half hour in and most will because it is spelled out pretty much. This movie is not very clever, the suspense is non existent and I really am annoyed when a movie pulls out the religious card. If this is supposed to be a morality tale and a religious fable then don't rip off the audience pretending to be a bloody, horror film. I am getting tired of Shyamalan finding projects with weak twists and I think his career is in trouble. Sit down for a year and reinvent yourself with a movie along the likes of a "Sixth Sense". I expected a movie called "Devil" to be scary, suspenseful and gruesome. I don't know, maybe I am expecting too much.

Monday, September 20, 2010

'Easy A'

'Easy A' (PG-13) (3 1/2 stars)

Writer: Bert V. Royal
Director: Will Gluck
Starring: Emma Stone, Penn Badgley, Aly Michalka, Dan Byrd, Thomas Haden Church, Lisa Kudrow, Cam Gigandet, Amanda Bynes, Patricia Clarkson, Stanley Tucci

"Easy A" is a smart and funny gem of a movie that surprises us with it's wit and contains a very special breakout performance. This is a high school movie that is a homage to John Hughes and he would be proud. This is the best high school movie I have seen in many years. It should be mentioned along with movies like "Risky Business", "16 Candles", "Breakfast Club" and "My Bodyguard", very classic company. When most teen movies are insipid and stupid, "Easy A" is real and smart and engaging. It stars Emma Stone who is a complete delight in a very strong comic performance that is good enough to get a Snavely Award nomination. The movie tells the story of Olive who is very pretty but is not one of the more popular girls in school but I would have fallen in love with her. Her best friend is more of the classic blond, busty popular girl. Emma Stone is so good as Olive with a great charm, sexiness, wit and beauty. It is one of the best performances ever in any teen movie. This movie should make her a star and if it doesn't it would be a great disservice. Emma made a huge impression in "Superbad" and she stood out in the awesome "Zombieland". Here she is funny and sexy and has a complete control of her performance and a great screen presence. Olive starts a false rumor that she had dated a guy and lost her virginity to him. When she helps a gay friend by pretending to have sex with him then the rumors spread faster and get bigger. Olive has a great family and some of the coolest parents ever on screen. They are played by Stanley Tucci and Patricia Clarkson and they are both very funny and a delight. The dialogue exchange between them and Stone are treasures and very funny and witty. Olive starts to dress a little more provocatively and pretends to sleep with others to keep the lie going.

What makes this movie fresher and better than the latest teen movies is that it has real people, knows how teens talk and gives a great message without being cloying. The plot is not dumbed down and is actually complicated enough to make you think. It doesn't have any stale cliches and actually is original and unpredictable. Sure we know where some of this is heading but it is done in a more intelligent way. There are no cheap gags, no vulgar toilet humor and it doesn't talk down to it's audience. Actually adults might like this as much for a lot of the dialogue is great in an old screwball, classic comedy way. This actually is in the style of writing as John Hughes "Ferris Buehler's Day Off". The movie even mentions John Hughes and all his wonderful movies. Olive even sings in the shower like Ferris and she also sings a music number like Ferris and sites that scene as being unnecessary but fun. The movie plays with the teen movie conventions and turns them inside out. There is also great support by Penn Badgley (much better than his "Stepfather" gig), Aly Michalka and two very good performances by Thomas Haden Church as Olive's favorite teacher and Lisa Kudrow as a guidance counsellor. Lisa Kudrow is very good here and I wonder why she hasn't been offered a great comedy starring role because she has wonderful comic timing. The movie is made more special by Emma Stone who could have a great career ahead of her as a romantic or comic leading lady. She has a unique and original look and she is sexy and funny. Dare I mention she has the gift of comedy that a younger Lucille Ball had. Hollywood could have a new special line of comedies building on Stone's charm. Olive tells her story on a web cast to the audience and at one point she asks us if we are still with her. Yes Emma we are still with you, we are definitely still with you!

P.S. I love how "Easy A" pays a sweet and heartfelt homage to John Hughes movies. It mentions that teen movies these days don't have the heart and romantic charm of his movies even though they might be dated. True romance though can never be dated in my eyes.

'The Town'

'The Town' (R) (3 stars)

Writers: Peter Craig, Aaron Stockard and Ben Affleck based on novel "Prince of Thieves" by Chuck Hogan

Director: Ben Affleck
Starring: Ben Affleck, Rebecca Hall, John Hamm, Jeremy Renner, Chris Cooper, Pete Postlethwaite, Blake Lively, Slaine, Titus Welliver

Ben Affleck has had a pretty successful acting career so far and I used to dislike him. After "Good Will Hunting" I found his projects vanity type ones and his performances wooden. Though ever since the powerful "Changing Lanes" I am getting to like Affleck a lot more and find him a very good actor. Now that Ben Affleck has directed to me one of the best and most powerful movies in a decade, "Gone Baby Gone", he is now a great director and better than he is an actor. I was very excited and eagerly awaiting his next directing effort "The Town". While not as great as Baby (not many movies period are better) "The Town" is still very well directed and very entertaining and compelling. "The Town" tells the story of Charleston, Massachusetts where more robberies take place then in any other city or town in America. It also focuses on one crew led by Affleck and Jeremy Renner (again very great) as they pull off a bank heist. They kidnap a bank teller played by Rebecca Hall and after they let her go Doug (Affleck) trails her. He starts a relationship with her and his partners start to get very angry about it. They are also chased by a too good looking to be true FBI agent played by John Hamm. Why do all FBI agents in television and movies look like male models? Another character in this film is the city of Boston. Ben Affleck knows how to showcase his home town wonderfully just like Andrew Davis, Michael Mann and Christopher Nolan do for Chicago. The movie captures the many wonderful, blue collar residents of Boston or Charleston to be more exact. If this movie took place in L.A. then I might have lowered my rating.

Don't get me wrong I had a great time watching "The Town" but it is not in the league of the two best heist films, Michael Mann's "Thief" (one of the best movies ever filmed in Chicago) or Michael Mann's "Heat". It is though full of great characters, great photography and a great lived in feeling. We can smell, feel and touch Charleston or Boston. I loved a prolonged heist and shoot out at Fenway Park and a car chase and gun battle on the streets. Ben Affleck does a great job directing the crisp action scenes and chases. Though the real strength of Affleck here like it was in "Gone Baby Gone" is in directing his actors. He coaxed an Oscar winning performance from Amy Ryan for Baby and the actors here are great too. What a great cast of dependable veterans, three stars on the rise and another solid Ben Affleck. Jeremy Renner is hot after "The Hurt Locker" and he is intense and solid here as Doug's partner and childhood friend. Rebecca Hall has been amazing in "Vicky Christina Barcelona" and other movies. She has a perfect American accent and gives a great and vulnerable performance. Yes John Hamm is very good looking and might be too good looking for an FBI agent but he makes an impression here. He sucks me into "Mad Men" every week, even when I think of not watching it anymore, and he has great star and leading man potential. The only problem and one of the weaknesses of the movie is there is not enough heat, tension or power to the battle of the agent and Doug. Also Blake Lively (Gossip Girl) is too mannered in her performance and her character is badly written. I like the flow of "The Town", loved the performances, direction and action. It is very entertaining but it is missing that extra oomph of say "Heat". I don't expect it to be as great but I think this movie hints at greatness but misses the line. Ben Affleck is becoming quite a director and story teller and I look forward to his next movie in a very big way.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

'I'm Still Here'

'I'm Still Here' (R) (3 stars)

Director: Casey Affleck
Starring: Joaquin Phoenix, Casey Affleck, Sean Combs, Antony Langdon

"I'm Still There" is a self indulgent and badly shot documentary but it is downright hilarious. Joaquin Phoenix is a very talented actor who comes from a very famous family that were reared for stardom since they were little. Joaquin Phoenix has given some very good performances in his career but a documentary just for him really can't be justified. The only reason anyone should care is because the public is fascinated by Hollywood stars who crash infamously. Joaquin Phoenix announced that he was quitting acting and going into a rap career. In a now infamous appearance on "The David Letterman Show", Phoenix showed up looking terrible with an unkempt beard and sunglasses. He mumbled a lot and was very incoherent and everyone assumed it had to be a publicity stunt or fake. Was it performance art or a way to get people to buy into and follow his new ambition, rap music? Or is this someone who has mental problems and is having his sanity slowing slipping away? The movie follows Joaquin as he abuses his assistant Antony and tries to set up a meeting with Sean "P Diddy" Combs to see if he will produce his rap album. There is also the David Letterman interview shown in it's entirety. After that performance we see Joaquin pull over his car and start to have a nervous breakdown. That is pretty much the whole movie except for a few rap performances that are terrible and incoherent even for rap music.

This is a movie that a lot of people will hate but I had a great time laughing at this train wreck. Some people will think this is fake and some will find it real. There are parts of this movie that just seem too convenient. The film is credited to writers and a lot of scenes just seem to be staged. Maybe the movie is partly staged but all real. I gave up trying to figure it out after a while because whatever it is it seems fascinating like stopping and looking at a car crash. The David Letterman interview is fascinating and funny. Also when Joaquin pitches his rap album to Combs it is tense, uncomfortable and finally hilarious. Joaquin's music seems horrible but it could also be that way on purpose because it sounds like a joke sometimes. The movie is directed by his brother-in-law Casey Affleck and it is a bush league job but it is still an effective movie. I was a huge Andy Kaufman fan and he was a comedy idol to me growing up. The man knew how to flawlessly blend a mix of phoniness and reality and his experimental comedy was genius. If this is a hoax it is not is brilliant as Kaufman's work but if it is real then Joaquin Phoenix needs guidance and he might just have destroyed his acting career. Maybe he doesn't care if he really is quitting but this Howard Hughes type act is dangerous but fascinating and very funny.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

'The Tillman Story'

'The Tillman Story' (R) (3 1/2 stars)

"The Tillman Story" is a powerful and well done documentary that made me angry. It should make others angry also at our government, our military and the media. Pat Tillman was a hard hitting and talented football player who started his college career at Arizona State. He was signed by the Arizona Cardinals pro football team and was going to be rewarded with a lucrative contract extension. He turned down the offer and enlisted in the military after 9/11 happened. This was something that shocked a lot of people but Tillman thought it was his duty to fight for his country. Tillman first went to Iraq and then after his first tour he was then taken to Afghanistan. During a battle Tillman was shot and killed and the media and the military called him a hero when he saved other soldier's lives during an ambush. He was shot and killed and the government wanted to honor him as a hero at his funeral. Pat Tillman's family and mother really wanted a private funeral and knew that Pat wouldn't want this government funeral because he was a private person. We get to know Pat through his family and friends and after a half hour we know that we really like Pat Tillman. He is funny, charming, humble and had a good heart. His mother was strong and his family was decent and just normal. When news came out that Pat's death was an accident and a case of friendly fire the government and military tried to cover it up. At this point after the family explains the deception and how the government and military covered the accident up I got really angry.

What you have here is a military that takes a normal soldier and treats him above every other soldier just because he was a sports star. Then when they find out the death was an accident they try to cover it up because nothing like this should happen and people shouldn't find out about it. This documentary made me angry and also choked me up mostly because Pat's family are decent and good people that were being lied to and manipulated by a military that can only be seen in a positive light. Something like what happened to Pat shouldn't be reported by the media or told to the public. Not only is the military culpable for this twisted view but the media can't even do the right thing. They are great at reporting a hero's death but when it is found out that Pat's death was a bad accident they seem to bury the lead. The movie does a great job at making us like and care about Pat and his family. It also does a powerful job at digging into the lies and deceit that our government gave to the Tillman's. This deceit is even seen to go all the way up to our military generals and even our President. Don't even get me started on how our worst president ever and his arrogant military had screwed up the war in Iraq. That is not the point of this movie though for I see this movie as simply trying to get to the bottom of this tragedy. The filmmakers just want justice for a simply good man and his strong and loving family. That the government and military couldn't have the balls to do what they could to ease this family's pain is a travesty. It is an indictment of our government that to me they come off as sniveling cowards when all they needed to do was listen, care and help the family find the truth. This is a strong and powerful movie that needed to be told and is told well.

P.S. It is also a travesty that this movie received an R rating for only a few F words. A PG-13 would suffice because now younger movie goers can't see a movie that they should see especially kids who want to fight for their country. Don't get me started on an indictment of the ratings system either for it is a joke also.

Friday, September 10, 2010

'The American'

'The American' (R) (3 1/2 stars)

Writer: Rowan Joffe
Director: Anton Corbijn
Starring: George Clooney, Violante Placido, Irina Bjorkland, Paolo Bonacelli

"The American" is an interesting and very well done character study and thriller. It is not for everybody but it looks breathtaking and it creates some great suspense in the second half. George Clooney can really do about any type of project even one that has no box office potential like this movie. It is a credit to Clooney that this hard sell was #1 at the box office last weekend. I expect a really sharp decline in it's second week. "The American" is slowly paced and takes it's time to create mood and character and that is why it is refreshing. Clooney is very stoic and withdrawn as a hitman who after completing a job travels to Italy to kill again. The opening scenes are beautifully shot in the winter in wide screen frame by the cinematographer. Jack/Edward's life is very lonely because he is told he can't make friends because of his job. He frequents prostitutes a lot because he can't start a relationship with a woman for obvious reasons. He does strike up a beautiful relationship with a prostitute played by the breathtaking Violante Placido. Their courtship is very sweet and touching and the only connection Jack/Edward can make.

Clooney is outstanding here doing more acting with his eyes then I have ever seen by him. It is not a flashy role or performance but it is one of his best performances. This is why Clooney is our biggest star, he picks small and different projects along with big budget movies. He is so well liked in all his movies and even in movies like "The American" which plays like a foreign movie. It stops to set up scenes, is meticulous and takes time to develop it's characters. This is not the smiling, charming Clooney because he plays a withdrawn, lonely man and people will still love this performance.

The movie is breathtaking to look at and director Anton Corbijn shows great talent and directing skills. This is his second movie, his first one was the unseen and excellent Joy Division movie "Control". That was a great movie and this movie builds on that greatness. "Control" was filmed beautifully in black and white and "The American" also looks gorgeous in color. The movie is a treat for movie lovers that love slowly building suspense movies with great acting and characters. Also cinematography fans and art film lovers will eat this movie up. The last half of the movie builds up great suspense and you won't notice that the movie is making you sweat. The movie lets you soak in the atmosphere and says so much with so little. Just the great performance by Clooney and his co stars in their eyes and movements. This is a movie that deserves your attention and feels rewarding when you walk out of the theatre. A second viewing feels warranted to soak it all in again.

P.S. Clooney is not only are biggest and most likable star but his performances lately are outstanding and the movie choices brilliant. "Michael Clayton", "Up in the Air" and now "The American" and he can direct, wow!


'Takers' (PG-13) (3 stars)

Writers: Peter Allen, Gabriel Casseus and John Luessenhop
Director: John Luessenhop
Starring: Matt Dillon, Idris Elba, Michael Ealy, Jay Hernandez, Hayden Christensen, Chris Brown, Zoe Saldana, Gaius Charles, T.I., Marianne Jean Baptiste, Nicholas Turturro, Glynn Turman, Steve Harris, Paul Walker, Jonathan Schaech

"Takers" is a surprisingly solid if minor heist movie, let's call it "Heat" light. The movie works because of a nifty and awesome foot chase scene and two great performances. They save the movie from being routine and dull and the two performances add more depth to the writing. "Takers" is simply a group of thieves trying to grab a big score whenever they can. When the movie opens the group robs a bank and they are pretty good at what they do. When one of their ex group members (rapper T.I.) gets out of prison he tells the group of a million dollar score. They are hesitant because this member is a loose gun and a bad seed but they are criminals and duty awaits. The group is led by the great new actor Idris Elba, using his normal British accent. He is one reason this movie is better than it should be. He has great star potential and might take over for Denzel Washington. The actor is excellent here like he is always and I wonder why he hasn't hit it big. Are we ever going to have a African American star other than Denzel?, this tells us racism is still prevalent in Hollywood. Hot on the group's tail is a cop played solidly by Matt Dillon. His is the other performance that rises this movie above formula. It is no secret that Dillon is one of my top favorite actors ever and he still gets taken for granted. His performance is flawless and full of heart and nuance. At one point he pursues the bad guys in a car with his young daughter after he promised to spend the day with her. This scene is heartbreaking and one of the best scenes in any movie this year.

Dillon and Elba save this movie, without them this movie doesn't work. Everyone else lends good support though Zoe Saldana is wasted in a thankless role and T.I. shouldn't give up his day job. The movie has crisp, well directed action and two nice subplots dealing with the sister of Elba's character and Dillon's daughter. There is also one of the best foot chase scenes I have ever seen. Dillon and Jay Hernandez chase the Chris Brown character on foot as Brown flips and jumps over cars, on top of buildings and up walls. It is a very well directed and fun scene that had the crowd cheering after it was over. "Takers" is actually very entertaining and again I love Dillon and Elba. I could even forgive the crooked partner subplot and you know he will eventually get shot. The formula works this time due to two performances and great action.


'Machete' (R) (3 stars)

Writers: Alvaro Rodriguez and Robert Rodriguez
Directors: Robert Rodriguez and Ethan Maniquis
Starring: Danny Trejo, Michelle Rodriguez, Jessica Alba, Steven Seagal, Jeff Fahey, Robert Deniro, Cheech Marin, Shea Whigham, Don Johnson, Lindsay Lohan, Daryl Sabara, Tom Savini

"Machete" is a silly, blood splattered and trashy movie that is also slyly satirical and actually pretty smart also. This is the movie that "Piranha 3D" should have been like. As was true with "The Expendables" this is not for the squeamish and not for moviegoers that don't like this type of violent and cheesy throwback to grindhouse movies. "Machete" actually comes from one of the wonderful mock trailers that were shown in the middle of Tarantino's and Rodriguez's "Grindhouse" movie. It deals with an ex Federale who saw his family murdered by drug dealers. He goes out for revenge against these men which include a puffy but still bad ass Steven Seagal. Machete is played by long time character actor Danny Trejo and I have always loved Trejo in anything he has been in. Since 1984 when he trained Eric Roberts to box in "Runaway Train", he has been cast as a thug in many movies. He has always been recognizable with his barrel chest and body covered with tattoos. He finally gets to play a lead and a hero and he is good again. This movie is co-directed by Robert Rodriguez who has had an exciting and up and down career. This movie is much better than his "Planet Terror" half of "Grindhouse". The movie is cheesy on purpose and done in the style of those old 70's exploitation movies and it is done in that style flawlessly. It is goofy, violent and full of bloody be headings and impalings. Fans of this type of movie will definitely not be disappointed.

The cast has a lot of fun with this movie and they are all wonderfully hammy. Robert Deniro plays a crooked Southern senator and he is funnier here than he is in most of his comedies. Steven Seagal really is good here and plays an evil bad guy with the proper menace and doesn't over do it. Michelle Rodriguez is cool here like she always is and she is becoming one of the sexiest women on screen. I am a big fan of her and I can't keep my eyes off of her, a sign of future star power. Also very good are Don Johnson, Cheech Marin and Jeff Fahey. A movie like this in the 70's always had bad acting and most of the actors recreate that wooden acting very well. Even Jessica Alba and Lindsay Lohan, who are truly horrible in this, can be forgiven because their bad acting matches the old movie's style. Jessica Alba might look good but her acting leaves a lot to be desired, Rodriguez trumps her big time in sex appeal and acting, and Lohan looks like she was really drunk during filming. It's all in fun though because all that matters is that the movie has cool killings, fight scenes and nudity. What surprised me was that this movie had some great, sly satire in it dealing with topical issues like Arizona's immigration law fiasco. This is also a very smart movie that knows what it is doing and does it well.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

'Going the Distance'

'Going the Distance' (R) (3 stars)

Writer: Geoff LaTulippe
Director: Nanette Burstein
Starring: Drew Barrymore, Justin Long, Christine Applegate, Charlie Day, Jason Sudeikis, Kelli Garner, Ron Livingston, Jim Gaffigan

A while back I wrote a review on "The Switch", a romantic comedy starring Jason Bateman and Jennifer Aniston. I mentioned how likable the leads where and that I would follow them in any story. That is also true of Justin Long and definitely Drew Barrymore in "Going the Distance". The difference here is that I like this movie much better because it has a sharper focus even though it has some faults. The movie deals with long distance relationships and focuses on Erin and Garrett who meet cute at an arcade game at a bar. They immediately are drawn to each other and we can see why, because they are decent, good looking people. We are drawn to the two because Drew Barrymore and Justin Long are very likable actors and they have good chemistry here. They are an off and on again couple in real life but that doesn't always spell chemistry. When her internship at a newspaper in San Francisco ends Erin has to go back home to find a job in New York. With Garrett living in San Francisco the two try to have a long distance relationship.

What I like about this story is that it has not been done a lot and that gives this romantic comedy freshness. It is about something when recent crap like "Valentine's Day" and "Things You Can Tell" are shallow and about really nothing. This is also a very funny movie at times and a lot of the laughs are generated by the supporting characters like all successful comedies do. Jason Sudeikis (SNL) is much better here than he was in "The Bounty Hunter" as one of Garrett's pals. There is also a very funny performance by Charlie Day (It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia) as another pal. Sudeikis and Day are great together and hilarious whenever they are on screen. There is also another solid and dependable performance by the wonderful Christina Applegate as Erin's sister. Applegate is becoming a great comic actress and I am still waiting for a great romantic comedy for her to star in (wake up casting agents!) This movie works because it has many laughs but deals with serious issues in relationships in a well written way. I also love that this movie is rated R instead of safe and bland PG-13. Now we have a romantic comedy that has dialogue that real people would speak. I know this is a shock to some but real people swear, real buddies tell dirty jokes and a lot of people use the F word. In most romantic comedies, because of the PG-13 rating, we get a fake sanitized world and that's why most stink these days. This movie is truthful, different and Long and Barrymore are great and real here. Drew Barrymore has such a sweetness, charm and magic that makes any movie happier and sunnier. The movie does drag sometime and some humor falls flat but it is better than most romantic comedies these days.