Friday, August 8, 2008

The Bank Job

Sometimes I want to watch a film strictly for who is directing it. The Bank Job only made my Netflix queue because of the great director Roger Donaldson (13 Days, No Way Out, White Sands, Species, Cocktail) was the man behind it. Donaldson has a way of making movies exciting...even Cocktail... and Dante's Peak for that matter. He specializes in thrillers so when the halfway point of The Bank Job rolls around and the shit hits the fan... boy does it ever.

Our story begins with the lovely Martine (Saffron Burrows) asking her old flame Terry (Jason Statham) if he is interested in doing a little job with her. A sort of last heist so both of them can get out of the business. Terry isn't really in the heisting business and is skeptical of the offer. He finds out that Martine is really being asked to cooperate for a British MI5 agent that got her out of a drug smuggling charge. You see the British lads need to get some compromising photos out a safety deposit box in order to charge an upstart young hood Michael X (Peter De Jersey). As I said before... halfway through the light tone takes a hard turn. Things get veeeeeeeeeery complicated when it goes into thriller mode.

All of the actors are impeccably well chosen no matter how small the part... and boy there is a lot of speaking parts here. I got quite a few twists and turns including two WTF moments... one involving a sandblaster. Donaldson does a great job of getting the entire look too... the costume dept and everyone on the film deserves high praise.

The only downside is perhaps there are a few too many threads to be woven together here. The last 45 minutes gets very deep into the details. Not a lot of loose ends either. How much of the story is actually true is questionable as well. No matter what the answer to that may be, The Bank Job is flat out entertaining. In a marketplace with so many stupid films (eyeballing you Vantage Point), it is a pleasure to see a great director work with this much talent.


X-Files: I Want to Believe

This film hasn't been given a fair shake at all. I think a lot of the criticism has come from non-fan reviews and casual fans. For the hardcore fans of the series, I Want to Believe delivers the goods on what we realy want: Mulder and Scully. The plot takes a backseat to their relationship.

Let's get to the plot first. Mulder (David Duchovny) has been living in exile when a young FBI agent is kidnapped. Another agent in charge (Amanda Peete) reaches out to Scully (Gillian Anderson) to help her locate Mulder so he can use his unique skills to find the missing girl. The audience (and Mulder) is lead to believe that suddenly the FBI is all forgiving and will let the the two back without consequences. Mulder decides it is worth the chance to help sort out the mystery. Here is where it gets a little foggy. The only lead the FBI has is a reformed molester who happened to be a priest that still goes by the moniker Father Joe (Billy Connolly). Father Joe claims to have pyschic abilities and in fact led the FBI to a field with a maimed arm. Whether or not the good Father has a hand in this is the mystery.

Much of the plot was kept on the down low for reasons unbeknownst to me. Nothing in it is that original other than you do have a legitamite WTF moment half way through. The real story is Mulder's attempt to reconcile who he is and Scully's questions of faith in a fucked up, apeshit world. Ultimately those of the two major themes of the series so to say this is unexpected would be to reveal you to be a nonfan.

I think if you go into the film knowing that it is very low budget(Half the original film's budget) and expect a good longer episode you'll be fine. The interplay between the leads is still some of the best you can find. It is also a pleasure to see Duchovny in something smarter than the lackluster Californication. Series creator Chris Carter wrote/directed the film with a limited feel for visuals. It might have been better to obtain someone a bit more skilled with the camera to make the film look a little bigger. This one looks and feels small. Carter also makes a horrible casting decision with Exhibit as another FBI agent...terrible terrible. What was TI doing...oh yeah he's in jail.


Thursday, August 7, 2008

The Year of Living Dangerously

Some movies start out with a deeper meaning or rather to come across as deep and fail miserably. Some strive for big ideas and are mediocre. This is a mediocre tale from awesome director Peter Weir (Mosquito Coast, Master and Commander, Truman Show, Dead Poets Society). Guy Hamilton (Mel Gibson) is a young journalist on his first real foreign assignment in Indonesia around the same time that whole conflict in Vietnam was starting up. Hamilton is teamed with a freelance camerman Billy Kwan(Linda Hunt playing a dude). Billy has adopted a woman and her son as his own and believes Guy could be the one journalist to blow the lid off the tragedies taking place there. Along the way Guy meets a hottie working in the British Embassy (Sigourney Weaver) and falls in love. Their relationship is compromised when a story comes between them that could not only destroy them, but get Guy killed in the process.

All of this makes The Year of Living Dangerously sound a lot more glamorous and high minded then the resulting film. Weir clearly loves the humanity of the project, but you never really get a true sense of the plight of the people. Only vague moments provide you a small glimpse into the true atrocities going on. Everything else is a young Weir trying to find his filmmaking self. The actors are fine especially Weaver who classes up a somewhat thankless role.

Nothing special here unless you want to see the evolution of Weir as a director. For this is the only reason I gave it a shot in my Netflix queue. Slight thumbs up for the solid talents behind a subpar script.


Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Wristcutters: A Love Story

No doubt Wristcutters sat on the shelf for a long time because really... how do you market a long story about two people who committed suicide? And again the cut that director Goran Dukic finally released was probably not quite what he wanted. Dukic actually adapted his screenplay from his father's short story so that is probably why the characters seem to actually have a depth and feeling to them.

Zia (Patrick Fugit from Almost Famous) kills himself after problems with his girlfriend Desiree (Leslie Bibb from Talledega Nights). He finds out that suicides are condemned to live in a world much like the one he left "only a little worse." The fact that this world is made up of only suicides probably has something to do with that. Zia befriends a young immigrant Eugene(Shea Whigham from All the Real Girls) whose entire family has killed themselves. They talk and commiserate about their stories until one day Zia gets info that Desiree has too killed herself. Eugene and Zia set off on a road trip and that is where the story really gets going. The first person they encounter is Mikal (Shannyn Sossamon from A Knight's Tale and every man's wet dream) who is on the road trying to find the people in charge to inform them that she is in this work by mistake.

The story takes some twists and turns with other nice moments from John Hawkes, Tom Waits, and Will Arnett as the story comes to an end. The subject matter of suicide is a tough one to tackle and Dukic manages to craft a near brilliant tale of remarkable originality. His stark vision of the afterlife limbo in which the characters are habitating was missing only the lonely voice of Billy Corgan ala Spun. Suicide is treated with a bit a humor, but never so that is lessens the message of the film. The ending... the ending is just right.

Wristcutters will rightfully become a cult film one day much as Donnie Darko (tepid response in theatres) did in the last few years. One can only hope a true director's cut will come out with the many deleted scenes back in the film where they belong. If that happens my 90 will be a 100.


Angel Heart

Angel Heart is one of those odd films that has somehow lived on through the years despite it not being very good. It is almost mythical for the ruining of an American sweetheart Lisa Bonet from the Cosby Show. The nudity and sex scene she has later on in the film seem to be the sole reason why anyone remembers this Alan Parker film. Rumors were about too that the scene wasn't simulated... always one of those every few years in the urban myth variety. On to the movie...

Harry Angel (Mickey Rourke) gets a visit from a potential client (Robert DeNiro) one day. Angel is more accustomed to finding cheating husbands than missing persons, but Cyphre (DeNiro) wants him to track down an old singer who has gone missing. Not much of an explanation or reason why just a thread to start with. Essentially this turns into a series of meetings Angel has with various associates of the singer that ultimately end with them showing up deceased. Angel feels a constant pressure to solve the mystery before he joins them in the morgue. Throw in an old girlfriend (Lisa Bonet showing up a long ways in) of the singer who seems to practice voodoo and you've got a glossy trash film noir.

Director Alan Parker has always been an overrated hack with far too heavy of a hand for me to take. Midnight Express got a lot of attention and probably is the only reason he was still making films by the time he got to Angel Heart. Parker would follow this trash up with an undenialable masterpiece Mississippi Burning. It was tough for him to mess that one up just as it is too much for him to elevate this material above standard genre crud. Much later on, Parker would do a string of so-so films culminating with Angela's Ashes and the godawful The Life of David Gale.

Bonet is extremely hot and underused, much like a walk on by British actress Charlotte Rampling. Of course, there is Mickey Rourke who has always been one of the finest actors working depending on how he feels about the film he is in. Here is seems to be trying to make the best of what he has got. Film noir is something Rourke was born to play, tis a pity he couldn't find a better script to do. The interviews with Rourke on the DVD lead you to believe his heart was never in this film and was more into his boxing around this time. I can't figure out for the life of me what DeNiro was doing here... and all the extras seem to point to the fact that he wanted nothing to do with it afterwards.

I'm giving this an average grade and you have to understand, without Bonet and Rourke, this would get a 0.


Tuesday, July 15, 2008

The Grifters

Sometimes it is fun to revisit a film that you don't bust out too often to see how well it holds up. The Grifters is a drama from 1990 featuring the talents of director Stephen Frears (Hi-Fidelity, Dangerous Liasons) and producer Martin Scorsese. Essentially it is a story about three grifters (con men) and their relationship to each other. Each one looks at the other as a potential mark despite their closeness. Lilly (Anjelica Houston) runs odds down at racetracks for the mob and is sent to LA for some quick work. She drops in to visit her son Roy(John Cusack) who is hurting from a con he tried to pull in a bar. These two all ready have a contentious relationship when Roy's girlfriend Myra (Annette Bening) enters the picture.

Revisiting this film now, I can clearly see that is set up as a creepy love triangle. Cue the scene where Myra confronts Roy about his work. A wisecrack early about Roy selling matchbooks provides a clue that she knew along what he did, but only later on after she witnesses it does she bring it up. At this point, Myra tell Roy that she is of the same ilk. Roy becomes immediately more intrigued by Myra since there is already that sexual tension between him and his mother.

Cusack is a master at the scenes with Lilly providing the viewer with way too much info with his eyes. They dart back and forth from breast to leg in a manner unbefitting of a mother-son relationship.

Strange that the film would come full circle from a line earlier on in the film. A woman always has one thing...

The Grifters was adapted from a novel by the great Jim Thomson that is less about the script as it is about the perfomances and direction. Cusack has the least showy part, but perhaps the most difficult overall. Houston has always been a fine actress, but most people didn't even know who the hell Bening was before this film. This is an excellent showpiece for one of the best actresses of all time. The daring and ballsy-ness is amazing.

Frears is always the consumate professional who might someday get the word auteur attached before his name. Each of his films has his fingerprints all over it. His work with the camera has a definite feel of the producer Scorsese. Each scene is done with such precision you can't help but feel excited just seeing what he is going to do next. Movies like this are an absolute pleasure to rewatch no matter what the subject matter.


Cameo alert for the great Pat Hingle as Lilly's mob boss. He was the original Commissioner Gordon in the Tim Burton Batman!

Geronimo: An American Legend

The second half of Walter Hill was much better thank God. You get a good script from excellent screenwriter/director John Milius (Rome, Red Dawn, Conan the Barbarian) with limited chances for Hill to fuck it up. Though the title would lead you to believe it is about Geronimo (Wes Studi), the story is told from a 2nd Lt. Davis (Matt Damon) fresh from West Point. He is put under the direct command of 1st Lt. Charles Gatewood (Jason Patric). Gatewood and Davis are charged with bringing Geronimo in to Brig. Gen. George Crook (Gene Hackman - the fuckin') to surrender. Geronimo's warriors would be the last to go into the reservation system while the US continued to push the American Indians away from their homes. Something happens on the reservation to start a revolt and soon Geronimo is back on the loose.

Altough you never really get to the heart of the Indian exploitation, you do get an excellent surface piece that manages to hit all the main points. Hill is able to sit back and not do anything too distractive to the narration. This represents a great change from his earlier work that would later again be touched on in Broken Trail.

In the description of the film, I wasn't even able to get to the greatness that is Robert Duvall as the tracker Al Sieber. Duvall manages to create a compelling character out of what seems like a stock role. In fact, each performance propels this film out of run of the mill status. For Gatewood, Patric brings the same underplayed, gentleness to the character as he lent to August March. Patric has become the king of understated roles, but that's for another column... Even Damon shows flashes of why, given the chance, he can really act. Also... look for a nice cameo from Kevin Tighe as a general who takes up the search for Geronimo later on. You'd probably recognize Tighe best as Locke's father on Lost or as the bar owner in the action classic Roadhouse.

Geronimo was Hill's follow up to the bomb Trespass. Both films did poorly in theatres despite being worthy of viewing. I liked Trespass a little bit better no doubt due to Bill Paxton and the Demon Knight himself William Sadler as the leads. Still Geronimo marks a key point in Walter Hill's career of direction.


Speaking of cameos... I almost forgot about Stephen McHattie popping in as well. McHattie is the diet Coke version of Lance Henriksen... right down to the gravely voice.