Captain Phillips

tn_captainphillipsCAPTAIN PHILLIPS is a tense and well made thriller based on a simple real life incident: a small band of Somali pirates board an American cargo ship to try to hold the crew for ransom, the crew tries to not be held for ransom. I remember when this happened. I mean, I’m sure this sort of thing happens all the time, but this was the famous one because of how things ended up. So that’s all I really knew about the story, so I was in suspense about how things ended up how they ended up.

Tom Hanks (HE KNOWS YOU’RE ALONE) plays the titlional captain, portrayed as an ordinary sorta schlubby working man married to Catherine Keener (in a part only slightly bigger than she had as the dead body in BAD GRANDPA). There’s a sense of inevitable doom as he takes his boat around the horn of Africa. We’re not the only ones who know he’s gonna get hijacked. He spends the first part of the movie suffering from an acute case of That Sinking Feeling until sure enough a suspiciously close skiff shows up on the radar. (read the rest of this shit…)

Lethal Weapon 3

tn_lethalweapon3LETHAL WEAPON 3 is the third one in the series in my opinion so it brings with it certain baggage, but also certain strengths. On the negative side, it feels more concerned with satisfying sequel expectations than with actually telling a good story. Even more than the other two it feels more like a list of ideas strung together than a story. Oh, we gotta bring Leo back, he should be bleach blond and act all Hollywood and stuff, that would be funny. And Murtaugh should be trying to sell his house and they try to not mention to prospective buyers that a bunch of deadly battles took place there! Oh yeah, Leo could be the real estate agent. That’s it! And Murtaugh should be retiring soon so he’s all worried he’s gonna get shot, ’cause he realizes how it works in movies! But then it’s Leo that gets shot, he’s okay but he gets all high and mighty about it, saying he got shot in the line of duty. You know how Leo is. Murtaugh should bond with a son this time, not just Rianne. Something about guns in the black community. Oh, and explosions. Bigger than before. One of those “the red wire or the green wire?” scenes could be fun. Who should be Riggs’s new girl? How ’bout a girl cop? You think she’s uptight, ’cause she’s internal affairs, but then she knows how to kickbox!
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American Hustle

tn_americanhustleDavid O. Russell’s latest is a fictionalized take on a true 1970s incident when the FBI worked with conmen to entrap politicians to take bribes from a fake Sheik. The movie opens in the thick of it, right before a big attempted sting, with a long, quiet, unbroken take of Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale) gluing on his toupee and carefully combing his remnants of real hair over it. It’s pretty representative of the movie: silly almost to the point of Will Ferrell cartoonishness, but you have to stare at it and contemplate it long enough that it’s on the verge of becoming more sad than funny.

Who does this guy think he’s fooling? Why is he so vain? Won’t somebody tell him how terrible he looks? So when FBI Agent Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper) angrily grabs the toupee and makes it stick straight up, and Irving just stands there angrily, I already feel for him. It’s a funny sight gag, but also it says something about human vulnerability. We can be so hung up on a phony image that we fool ourselves. (read the rest of this shit…)

Lethal Weapon 2

tn_lethalweapon2“I’m really too old for this shit.”

Is it wrong that I almost like LETHAL WEAPON 2 better than part 1? I know it’s kinda formulaic and Shane Black left part way through and everything but to me it’s a really enjoyable follow-up with some great gimmicks.

It states its action-with-a-comedic-edge intent from the opening logo when it plays the Looney Tunes music with the dramatic metal title lettering. Credits forged in steel. Then it opens mid-high-speed car chase with Riggs cackling like a madman, i.e. like Riggs. We get to have our cake and eat our cake also because he hasn’t wanted to commit suicide since the end of part 1, but he’s still a nut. To underline that point we get to see him wearing a straitjacket at the police station. He takes a bet that he can’t escape from one, and is crazy enough to intentionally dislocate his shoulder to pull it off. (read the rest of this shit…)

The Raid 2: Berendal Indonesian trailer

I didn’t post this right away because I didn’t want to watch it. I don’t need so much as a description of a still photo to sell me on a sequel to THE RAID, I’m fuckin there. So I thought maybe I shouldn’t risk giving anything away.

But who was a I fooling? I watched it and then I immediately watched it a couple more times. And later I watched it again. It implies a totally different movie, way bigger in scope, locations and variety of action, and hugely operatic. It looks like Tony Jaa meets John Woo meets Stanley Kubrick. Holy shit you guys. This seems unfair. I don’t know how a movie could live up to this.

A Perfect World

tn_aperfectworldI started 2013 with a review of the broad but likable baseball movie TROUBLE WITH THE CURVE, where I wrote, “I don’t know if this is true but I heard it’s good luck for movie critics to start a year with a Clint Eastwood review.” I made the whole thing up, and the results were inconclusive anyway. I wouldn’t say last year was exactly a day at the races for me, but at least I wasn’t one of the horses. There were a few scares but they coulda been worse. I’m still going.

It doesn’t really matter if the superstition holds water, though, ’cause a Clint movie is a good way to start a year anyway. I might make it a tradition. I decided to go with A PERFECT WORLD this time because I’d been meaning to see it for a long time and I was reminded of that recently when the screenwriter, John Lee Hancock, directed SAVING MR. BANKS. Between that and THE BLIND SIDE (and maybe THE ROOKIE, I haven’t seen that one) Hancock’s John Hancock has become sort of better-than-expected middlebrow feel good type movies. In comparison his script for A PERFECT WORLD, directed by Clint and starring Kevin Costner, is pretty bleak. I mean it’s about a sweet relationship between a fugitive and a little boy. And it means it. But it doesn’t try to make you forget that this is a murderer taking a little boy hostage, putting him in danger and exposing him to terrible, traumatic events, even making him point a gun at people. He tries to be nice to the kid and encourages him to do harmless fun things his mom doesn’t let him do, but that doesn’t make him Mary Poppins or Sandra Bullock. More like a deadbeat uncle who tries to be your bro. (read the rest of this shit…)

Ninja II: Shadow of a Tear

tn_ninjaiiNINJA II: SHADOW OF A TEAR is the kind of action movie I always want more of: a pretty simple story about a badass in a personal conflict, stubbornly entrenched in the distinct values of a warrior subculture, with some absurdity but no joking around, and designed to deliver a whole bunch of great fight scenes done by real martial artists with lots of long takes, the camera always carefully composed and steady, moving in ways that always emphasize action and never obscure it. In other words it’s the long-awaited new Isaac Florentine/Scott Adkins joint. (read the rest of this shit…)

The Wolf of Wall Street

tn_wolfofwallstreetTHE WOLF OF WALL STREET is the incredibly entertaining new movie from director Martin Scorsese (Michael Jackson’s BAD), based on the memoir of scumbag fraudulent stockbroker Jordan Belfort (executive producer of SANTA WITH MUSCLES), adapted by Terence Winter (writer of a 50 Cent video game and 2 episodes of The Cosby Mysteries). Leonardo DiCaprio (POISON IVY) plays Belfort in the saga of his meteoric rise from innocent Wall Street rookie to multi-millionaire cokehead innovator in greed and callous thievery. After THE GODFATHER and all these other classics that show how organized crime operates like a business, here Scorsese flips it around to show how business acts like gangsters.

Man, we take it for granted after so many big, showy movies with great directors – or we don’t want to admit it ’cause he’s still got kind of a baby face and we remember when he made the teenage girls faint in their pants – but jesus, DiCaprio sure has turned into a good actor. WOLF is Scorsese picture #5 for him, and it seems for a while like he’s mostly doing his usual moves. He’s got the intensity, the energy, the accent that’s old timey and not very naturalistic but he goes so all-in that I buy it, the face that teeters between boyish and Benicio Del Toro. Early in the movie he even crash-lands a small aircraft and stumbles away, as if he’s doing callbacks to THE AVIATOR. He should do that in all his movies, it could be his “I’ll be back.” (read the rest of this shit…)

Lethal Weapon

tn_lethalweaponFirst of all, I would like to extend my deepest and most profound apologies for the first time I wrote about LETHAL WEAPON and fixated on Mel Gibson’s Swayze-esque hair and David Sanborn’s Smooth Cop Jazz saxophone. I know my comments hurt alot of people and put alot of negativity into the world, and that is something I simply never wish to do. I would especially like to apologize to Gibson’s hair stylist Paul Abascal, who not only did hair on many Swayze, Stallone and Willis (?) classics, but also went on to direct PAPARAZZI and the reshoots of PAYBACK. I know now it was a different time and place that cannot be held to a newer era’s standards of taste and style. In the years since that review I have changed alot, I have learned, I have grown as a man, as a critic and as a spiritual being. I have looked at pictures of JCVD in HARD TARGET and realized Mel’s mullet coulda been worse. So to get ready for Christmas I decided I was ready to try LETHAL WEAPON again.

It’s hard to separate LETHAL WEAPON from the litter of movies it spawned. In the sequels Murtaugh (Danny Glover, PREDATOR 2) and Riggs (Mel Gibson, MAD god damn MAX) are great buddies and there’s wisecracking and everything and I mix it up in my mind with the cliches of interracial buddy movies. But really the first LETHAL WEAPON is not about race and it’s pre-buddy. It’s about the formation of their buddyship. It’s about this regular working family man cop who, on the day after his 50th birthday, is forced to be partners with a younger crazy guy. Like, not just a loose cannon, a guy that we’ve actually seen wake up in his trailer, put a gun in his mouth and start crying and almost pull the trigger. While watching Bugs Bunny cartoons. He’s been suicidal since the death of his wife in a car accident, even has a special hollow point set aside for the job. (read the rest of this shit…)

Saving Mr. Banks

tn_savingmrbanksSAVING MR. BANKS is the story of P.L. Travers (Emma Thompson) flying out to Burbank to develop the movie of her book Mary Poppins with Walt Disney (Tom Hanks). I’m surprised it’s not called TRAVERS, following the last-name-of-character-to-indicate-this-is-a-biopic-and-this-small-story-is-representative-of-the-larger-story-of-their-life trend (CAPOTE, HITCHCOCK, LINCOLN, BLADE, E.T. THE EXTRA-TERRESTRIAL, etc.). Maybe they were worried people would think it was about Peter Travers.

As a one-time film critic herself, P.L. would never be confused with Positive Pete. It’s not mentioned in the movie, but I’ve read that in ’37 this Travers reviewed Disney’s pioneering achievement SNOW WHITE AND THE SEVEN DWARFS and trashed it. I wish I could read the whole thing, but all I can find is this quote that’s been floating around: “There is a profound cynicism at the root of his, as of all, sentimentality.” Lucky thing Rotten Tomatoes was only on index cards back then, so nobody cared that she was the Armond White of the ’30s, fuckin up its 100% fresh rating. (read the rest of this shit…)