Thursday, December 30, 2010

MICHAEL CLAYTON (2007) - Legal drama? Awesome? You bet.

I was a bit hesitant over whether I should review this movie here or not. I told myself when starting this blog that it would be dedicated to manly (that is to say, mindless) action movies and the like. I decided I would go through with it after all because in the end, Michael Clayton is a pretty slick movie, and although George Clooney doesn't do much womanizing, shooting or throw out one liners, it was an very enjoyable flick that had some great moments.

In one of the best openings for a movie in a while, manic depressive trial laywer Arthur Edens (a fantastic Tom Wilkinson) goes on a wild rant about a case he's been working for. I won't spoil any of it, but let me just say his snarling delivery is great and I felt like putting down my delicious ham and cheese sammich and just giving the guy an ovation. I added a link at the bottom of the review if you want to check it out. Anyways,  Edens is on the edge of a nervous breakdown, and is confessing confidential information about a huge class  action lawsuit that could cost his client and his bosses billions of dollars. He is confessing to Michael Clayton (George Clooney), who works for the same firm as Edens as a "fixer" - the go-to guy when there is a legally dubious problem to be solved as soon as possible and with no questions asked.

Edens (Wilkinson) is crazy. Or is he? Clayton (Clooney) has to figure out what the hell is going on.
The movie then rewinds back to a few days earlier. We learn that Edens is defending U-North, a multinational agricultural company in a controversial case dealing with deadly pesticides. Edens has a crisis of conscience, and strips naked in the middle of a videotaped deposition, and threatens to go public with information that could lose the case for U-North and embarrass his law firm bosses. The law firm sends Clayton to meet with Edens and try to defuse the situation before he does any more damage to their case. At the same time, Karen Crowder (Tilda Swinton), who is general counsel for U-North, realizes it will be her ass on the line if Edens ruins the case, and orders two shady guys to start following Edens.

Tilda Swinton as the desperate big wig out to save her job at all costs.
Things soon spiral out of control, as Clayton battles his gambling debts and his attempts to convince Edens to shut his damn mouth, while Edens escapes from custody, and Karen Crowder becomes increasingly desperate and dangerous with her decisions on how to deal with Edens and Clayton. The high stakes have every person on edge. Tension? Intrigue? Murder? Car bombs? Big companies doing bad things? Yeeeeah, you know it.

Look at that suave bastard. Not the kind of guy you'd want to piss off.
I can't have enough praise for Tom Wilkinson. He has far less time on screen compared to Clooney, but he eats up every minute of it. He is a beast with his material, and it was absolutely no surprise he was nominated for a Best Supporting Actor Oscar that year. Wilkinson is usually good in anything he does, but he's in top form here. Clooney turns in a good performance as well, and Swinton is great to watch as well, as we see her confidence slowly implode and her desperation leads her to make very dangerous decisions. In a movie that relies so much on dialogue instead of physical action, the cast has to be excellent, and in this case, it is.

Michael Clayton is a dark, grimy legal drama, that despite its serious subject matter is a thrill ride in disguise. There's more to it than you'd expect, especially in the last half hour as all of the loose ends fall into place and the adrenaline starts flowing, leading up to a very cool finale. I'm usually lukewarm when it comes to legal dramas, but this is one of the best of the type ever made. Very satisfying. Give it a chance even if you're not a fan of the genre.

TL;DR - Clooney and Wilkinson deal with shady corporations and do a hell of a job - 8.5/10

Monday, December 20, 2010

UNSTOPPABLE (2010) - The little train that could

Chances are you've heard of a guy named Ridley Scott. The director behind classics like Alien, Gladiator, and Blade Runner. It's likely you don't hear much about his younger brother Tony Scott, who's got a respectable amount of movies under his belt, even though he mostly specializes in big budget action movies and lighter fare compared to his big bro. All is good though, since it's a well known fact that once you've seen a Tony Scott movie, you'll be able to identify any of his other movies without going on Wikipedia and cheating. You'll be a Trivial Pursuit champ. Just remember: loud, fast, action and pace. That's what the guy goes for, and what he usually ends up with.

Captain Kirk and Detective Alonzo Harris... I mean, Chris Pine and Denzel trying to avert disaster.
What could possibly be louder and faster than a big ass train going 70 miles per hour with no one controlling it? Maybe Oprah Winfrey, but she's put on weight lately. Unbreakable begins with a fumbling fat guy working at a rail yard, who in his attempt to be as lazy and fat as possible, does a crap job of moving a train when ordered to. He neglects to fix the disabled air brakes on the train, then gets out of a moving train (with throttle set to 100%) to change a railway switch, and when the train starts to leave him behind, runs after it and falls flat on his face. Train #777 (the big, red shiny one from the trailer... you can't miss it) is now out of control, loaded with thousands of tons of toxic chemicals, and headed for a collision course with Stanton, Pennsylvania. Thanks a lot, fat guy.

Is it bad that I found myself cheering for the train to smash as much stuff as possible?
While the railway company attempts to stop the runaway train (and fails in spectacular fashion), we meet two other workers starting their shifts at another yard. Will Colson (Chris Pine) is a rookie, and is assigned to work with 28-year veteran Frank Barnes (Denzel Washington). Their routine task for the day is to move a few wagons of cargo to a nearby factory. They are soon contacted by the local yardmaster, Connie (Rosario Dawson) who is by now supervising the efforts to rein in the unstoppable red machine of death and destruction known as train #777. Will and Frank's train and 777 are set to collide head on, and they must find a way to avoid dying a grisly death and ending up on the morning news. Oh yeah, almost forgot. Will and Frank will also end up having to try and stop 777 before it and its toxic cargo wreck the shit out of Stanton. Good times ensue, of course.

Rosario Dawson didn't even  have a bikini scene. Tony Scott, please... Step. Up. Your. Game.
Chris Pine does a stand up job as Will, though it's not exactly a demanding role, while Denzel seems to just cruise around the scenes. The guy's got so much charm that he could be reading his lines on the toilet and he'd make a convincing train conductor. It's just difficult to have a bad movie with Denzel in it. The script is neat and basically confines itself to trying to up the tension as far as it will go, and it's the correct choice for this sort of picture. It's a race against time, and a theme that fits Scott's directing style well. My main gripe with the movie is the abuse of the quick cuts and flashing scenes throughout the movie, something Scott is damn near infamous for. Some people love it, some hate it. I'm one of the latter. It's distracting and adds little to the scenes besides pissing me off. Besides that, Unstoppable does its job remarkably well: keep me entertained for its running time. What more can you ask from a popcorn flick? You can't fault a movie that knows exactly what it sets out to do, and then does it with no frills.

777 kicking ass and taking names.
Tony Scott has made his share of crappy movies, but thankfully Unstoppable manages to rise above the level of mediocre and is a good, exciting time on the screen. If there is one thing Scott is good at, is building excitement and keeping a breathless pace. There's no Oscar caliber acting, no fantastic script anywhere to be found, but there is heaps of adrenaline and a fun ride. A popcorn movie to the max.

TL;DR - Denzel and Captain Kirk do their best to try and prove the film's title wrong - 7.5/10

Thursday, December 16, 2010

UNTRACEABLE (2008) - When Internet trolls become murderers.

 Untraceable came out a few years ago and completely flew under my radar. I only remember seeing a brief glimpse of the trailer at the theater thinking that Diane Lane is still pretty damn hot for her age (so sue me). Oh yeah, and Tom Hanks' son was in it, so I figured my sister, who is a huge Tom Hanks fan, would probably end up watching it. In any case, a friend recommended it to me after we had mentioned the movie Se7en in conversation. Truth be told, it is a passable thriller, but nowhere near as good as Silence of the Lambs or Se7en. Not by a long shot...

Diane Lane stars as a cyber nerd working for the FBI. She probably hates ebaumsworld.
Jennifer Marsh (Diane Lane) and Griffin Dowd (Colin Hanks) are FBI agents working assigned to the cyber crimes unit in Portland. By night, they patrol that dastardly place known as the Internet, and take on the evils of the world like peer-to-peer networks, credit card scams, and murdering psychopaths. After an anonymous tip, Jennifer and Griffin begin to investigate "" The site is run by a sadistic bastard who posts a live streaming video of a kitten being tortured. The site starts getting visits, and is apparently very difficult to shut down. Jennifer informs her superiors about the website, but seeing as how the servers hosting the site are located out of their jurisdiction in Russia and only a cat was hurt, she's rebuffed.

Colin Hanks up in this bitch!
A few days later, the sadist moves on to torturing humans. A poor schmuck gets kidnapped at a hockey game, and becomes the next attraction on the site. The site displays a message, claiming that the more visits the site gets, the faster the person will be killed. Within hours, the site starts receiving millions of new visitors. Finally, Jennifer's bosses realize they have a real problem on their hands. Another FBI agent is sent to assist Jennifer in the investigation, as the website's owner starts killing more people in more gruesome ways. The stakes get higher once the killer begins to target Jennifer's family and her colleagues at the Bureau. New site, same old retard YouTube comments.
Overall, Untraceable is a passable thriller. It didn't win any awards, and it sure as hell didn't really deserve any. It follows most horror movie/slasher cliches down to a t, and the only saving grace to it is Diane Lane who does a good job with her role. Colin Hanks is fairly decent as well, but it's hard for anyone to shine when the script is so lame. One of my biggest problems with the movie was the ridiculous amount of stupid mistakes. For one, the FBI and the government, with all its money and resources, can't shut down a single website? Come on now. And Jennifer makes several stupid, stupid mistakes that no cop would ever do. In one scene, she's an experienced, smart cop, and in the next she's a typical horror movie bimbo who can't think to save her life.

Serial killer movies are hard to pull off, it's no surprise. What makes Untraceable score even lower than I'd normally give this type of thriller is the fact that it apparently has some sort of "message" about society's fascination with torture porn and sadism. * Yawn. * Yet, the movie tries to squeeze as much shock potential out of it's own scenes of grisly torture. A dude gets bathed in sulfuric acid, another gets burned alive with heating lamps, etc. Hypocrites.

TL;DR - A serial killer streams his murders online. Still gets less views than Keyboard Cat - 4/10

Sunday, December 12, 2010

ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK (1981) - Snake Plissken. Need I say more?

The first thing that I'll say about this movie is this: the Escape From New York poster is one of the coolest film posters ever made. It's just out there, and everything about it is just class. It even influenced the movie Cloverfield, in which the monster rips off the Statue of Liberty's head and chucks it across New York at some annoying hipsters. Badass. Anyways, about the movie itself. It's got Kurt Russell in it. It's a product of the 80s. . Oh yeah, and it's also directed by John Carpenter, who made The Thing and Halloween. Put two and two together and you know you're in for one hell of a great cult classic

400%? Hmm... still safer than Fresno, California.
Escape from New York takes place in a dystopian future for the United States. World War III has been going on for a few years, cities have been burned to ashes, millions of people nuked, and both the Americans and Russians are trying to finally end the war. Because of the decay of American society and the crime increase, the entire city of New York has been turned into an enormous prison, surrounded by guys with machine guns, barbed wire fences, and a huge concrete wall. Inside, there are no guards and no authority: the prisoners are free to do whatever the hell they want. The city has basically been left to fend for itself and anyone caught inside is, well... shit out of luck, as they say.

Kurt Russell wearing an eye patch. Awesome? Why, yes. Yes it is.
Of course, this becomes a big problem when Air Force One is shot down en-route to some international conference, and the President's escape pod ends up landing somewhere inside the rapist and murderer infested city. It's up to the government to find a way to rescue the president before the deadline to his speech with the Russians, or else something bad might happen. I guess something worse than World War III, if there is such a thing. Oh well. The government turns to a convict, Snake Plissken (Kurt Russell), who is an ex-commando and generally an all around badass. The thing is, Snake doesn't give a damn about the president, or his country, for that matter.

The police commisioner Hauk (Lee Van Cleef) offers Snake a deal: in return for saving the president and the data he was carrying with him, he'll be given a full pardon and be made a free man. Snake reluctantly agrees, and is about to head out to start the mission when Hauk pulls a fast one on him and informs him the government has injected a small bomb into his artery, which will explode in 24 hours. If he wants to live, he better bring the president back in one piece or they won't dis-activate it. Those bastards...

The best thing about the 80s was the hair. The worst thing? Also the hair.
Snake is sent off to find the president. He sneaks into New York with a glider, landing on the World Trade Center, and thus starts his epic adventure across the shithole that was once a city. Escape from New York relies very heavily on Russell's performance as a somewhat likable anti-hero. It's a good thing though, since Snake is such a cool character. He is just apathetic about everything. He doesn't mind shooting someone in the face, and his only motivation to get out of NY with the president is to get his revenge on that bastard Hauk who back stabbed him. The dystopian New York is as big a character as well. It's a dirty, menacing place overflowing with pyschos and degenerates. John Carpenter keeps things interesting and avoids slowing down the pace in exchange for some great action scenes and suspense. The main theme music is a classic too. I'll hear it sometimes on TV or in the background somewhere and always reminds me of what a great movie this is.

If you love action movies and haven't seen Escape yet, you definitely should. It's a bit grittier than most other 80s movies, and has a distinct feel to it, but it is a fun ride and worth it just to see Kurt Russell at his prime before he did family dramas and Disney crap like Sky High.

TL;DR - An angry, eye-patch wearing Kurt Russell shoots, stabs, and punches his way through New York to rescue the president. Greatness follows. - 9.5/10

Sunday, December 5, 2010

SKYLINE (2010) - Story? We don't need no story. We got LOUD NOISES!

The Skyline trailer came out a few months ago, and I remember thinking it looked somewhat interesting and it caught me by surprise since I hadn't heard any buzz about it. I checked it out on Wikipedia and saw it was directed by the guys behind Alien Vs. Predator: Requiem... "The Brothers Strouse." Besides thinking to myself that would be a good name for a reality show about German bakers, I realized this movie was going to suck hard. Because there's a reason you give directing credit to "The Brothers Strouse" - it's called plausible deniability. See, when the two Strause brothers realized just what an abomination of a movie they were going to release, they knew that in ten years they wouldn't want their name on it. So by having just their last name on the credits, each could blame the other brother for the movie in case they were ever confronted by an angry, knife-wielding schmuck who wanted his $11.50 back after watching Skyline.

Aliens crashed the party and didn't bring booze. What a party foul.
Jarrod (Eric Balfour) and his girlfriend Elaine (Scottie Thompson) fly to California to spend a few days with his old friend Terry (Donald Faison), who is apparently filthy rich and famous or something. They are celebrating his birthday at his snazzy Los Angeles apartment, and joined by Terry's girlfriend Candice (Brittany Daniel) and his personal assistant Denise (Crystal Reed). The morning after the birthday bash, one of the guys staying in the house is awakened by bright blue lights coming in through the blindsm stares directly at it, and we see his face becomes covered with purple veins and bruises. All of a sudden he is sucked out the window and disappears. The rest of the group wakes up and soon finds out that giant alien space ships are floating over L.A. and are vacuuming up thousands of people for no apparent reason. Jarrod stares at the light as well, but is saved from being vacuumed out himself. The group then has to decide whether to make a run for it and try to leave the city or stay in the apartment and hope for the best.

Save yourself! It's the attack of the giant blue LED lights from space!
The entirety of the movie takes place in the apartment complex. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to realize that you need interesting characters to keep the audience hooked. Misery, which mostly takes place inside a single bedroom, works because Kathy Bates's character is downright amazing as the psychotic bitch nurse from hell. In Skyline, it fails so hard because the characters might as well just die in the first five minutes and nothing of value would be lost. You don't learn anything about them, they don't develop, and you plain just don't give a damn about them. They're boring and have nothing interesting about them. In fact, Terry was the only one that even seemed likable, but since he's the Token Minority Character, you don't have to guess who'll end up dying first.

There could have been hope if at least the aliens were interesting. But no... Skyline had to go and break the cardinal rule of alien invasion movies - no boring aliens. These aliens look like flying metal squid. Well, whoop-de-doo. They're also too stupid to figure out how to grab people inside buildings. The aliens get no back story either. They just show up, start vacuuming up humans, and just chill in L.A. Boring, stupid aliens. Gee, what a thrill.

Hey, it's Turk from Scrubs packing a 9 milli. Giant alien space ships don't stand a chance.
Skyline has some nice eye candy at times (not that often, mind you) and well done special effects and CGI. The close ups of the massive alien ships are really detailed and hold up well in high-def. Without a story or any characters that the audience actually cares about, it's all wasted. By the time the credits roll, it feels like you just watched a demo reel of cool effects made by that weird kid that sat in the back of your class in high school and was always playing with AfterEffects on his Macbook. It's hollow, not exactly thrilling, and ultimately can't grow out of the fact that it is a cobbled together mix of scenes and ideas from other, better sci-fi movies.

The military is useless against the aliens? HOW ORIGINAL.
Like Gary Busey's teeth, Skyline is a disaster.

TL;DR - Aliens invade the world, but no one knows why. No one really cares either. Crap. - 1/10

Thursday, December 2, 2010

TAKERS (2010) - Plagiarizing Better Movies 101

I'll be completely honest and just state the truth: I was convinced this movie would be a piece of crap from the minute I saw the trailer a few months back. Everything I read or heard about the premise of John Luessenhop's movie sounded too close for comfort to one of my favorite movies of all time and a true crime film classic, Michael Mann's Heat. I skipped out on watching it in theaters, and figured I'd scope it out later DVD. Well, the day arrived and I decided to approach the movie with an open mind, however hard that would be. I took comfort in the fact that Matt Dillon and Idris Elba, who did such an awesome job as Stringer Bell in The Wire, were in this. It couldn't be all that bad, now could it?

Paul Walker and T.I. in the same movie?!? Quick, get the Oscars ready...
The opening scenes introduce the crew of robbers as they pull off a quick orchestrated bank heist in downtown Los Angeles. Gordon (Idris Elba), John (Paul Walker), Jake (Michael Ealy) and Jesse (Chris Brown) don ski masks, grab assault rifles and make off with a good haul of cash, while A.J. (Hayden Christensen) steals a news helicopter to make their escape. High fives all around and a obligatory slow-motion explosion of the helicopter as the team walks off in different directions. And there is our crew of stylish, suave group of would be criminal masterminds.

While Gordon and his boys are off blowing their cash on girly drinks at a nightclub, detective Jack Wells (Matt Dillon) and his partner Eddie (Jay Hernandez) are busy beating the daylights out of drug dealers somewhere across the city. Jack, as we soon find out, is a no-frills cop with an eye for detail and a troubled family life. Jack and Eddie are assigned to investigate the bank robbery, and are initially stumped. At the same time, we see a guy named Ghost (T.I.) being released from jail and immediately looking to reunite with Gordon and his former crew.

Cool guys don't look at explosions.
Ghost joins the rest of the "takers" at the club, where he proposes a new job that offers a ton of cash, but warns them that they'll be on a tight schedule. His plan is to rob an armored truck loaded with millions of dollars in plain daylight with less than a week to prepare, thanks to inside information given to him by a Russian mob connection. The crew reluctantly agrees to take on the new heist, although some of the guys don't trust Ghost, especially Jake, who has just proposed to Ghost's ex girlfriend.

As the team prepares themselves for the job, the detectives are hard at work trying to solve the first robbery and looking for leads. After a routine bust, Jake and Eddie find evidence linking Ghost to the Russian mob. Jake tails Ghost and eventually sees him meet with Gordon and Jesse. As Jake continues to get closer to solving the case, the day of the heist arrives and ultimately results in a hectic web of betrayal, some obvious twists, and a few genuinely interesting action set pieces.

Matt Dillon's pimp hand is feeling mighty strong these days.
Before I proceed to vent out my frustrations with what could have been a decent heist movie, I'll blurt out the good to be found in this flick. There's a very cool foot chase between the two detectives and Chris Brown's character, which lasts an eternity and has some parkour moves a la Casino Royale's opening credits and is generally exhilarating. Idris Elba did not disappoint and was the highlight of the movie with a good performance limited only by this terrible script. Matt Dillon held his own as well, but that's about as far as it gets. On to the problematic...
Let's all chill together at da club after committing some felonies, yo.
Chris Brown and T.I. cannot act to save their life. Brown is atrocious. This should come as no surprise seeing as how Paul Walker and Hayden Christensen, who are also terrible, are part of this cast. The editing is dizzying and the action suffers from the schizophrenic camera. One promising shoot out scene is ruined by some excessive slow-motion and an even worse soundtrack choice. Speaking of choices, someone ought to bitch slap the guy behind this script. It's as if he decided to one day gather every possible action movie cliche and write a needlessly complex and uninspired plot around them. What's worse, there are almost whole sections of dialogue, characters, and even action scenes lifted from other movies.

The armored car robbery plays out like a straight rip off of the much more exciting finale in The Italian Job. Matt Dillon's detective investigating the robbery is divorced and having trouble being a good father to his daughter, just like Al Pacino's character in Heat. At the scene of the initial robbery, Jake comments on the technical proficiency of the robbers and their use of shaped charges and C4... wait for it... just as Pacino does in Heat. The lines sound almost exactly the same. The opening bank robbery is eerily similar to the Heat's famous bank robbery, even down to the guns the characters use, their outfits and the stuff they say.

I mean, even the blueish hue to the scenes is blatantly lifted from Mann's movie. Except that in Heat, it fit the minimalist, loner characterization of De Niro's role and the bleak portrayal of a decadent Los Angeles, while the guys in Takers hit up a nightclub after their heist and hook up with chicks, smoke cigars and sip scotch like a scene out of Jersey Shore. The only thing missing was for DJ Pauly D to make a cameo appearance and start bumping some beats. All flash and absolutely no dash.

Sadly, this would only have improved this disaster of a movie.
I vainly held hope that it would turn out to be decent, and it crashed and burned.Takers is shamelessly derivative to a fault and has very little going for it. It's a dumbed down, MTV version of better films that deserves to be shown on basic cable and nothing else. Wooden cast (save for Elba and Dillon), wooden story, and only one or two passable action scenes to keep you interested. If you're in the mood for a good heist/crime drama, watch The Town, or even better, rent or stream Heat. Give this piece of crap a wide berth.

TL;DR - A rip off of better crime movies, but with a bad cast, bad writing and no shame whatsoever. Yes, I mad. - 2/10