Friday, September 16, 2011

True Grit (2010)

Year 3, Day 259 - 9/16/11 - Movie #980

BEFORE: Another Western, with a similar theme in that it's all about tracking someone down. And linking is simple since Tommy Lee Jones from "The Missing" was also in "No Country for Old Men" with Josh Brolin (last seen in "Jonah Hex"), who appears here.

I had thought that this film would be on premium cable by now, but it's still on Pay-Per-View, so I shelled out $5 so I could watch this back-to-back with "The Missing" (I do, and do, and do for you people...)

THE PLOT: A tough U.S. Marshal helps a stubborn young woman track down her father's murderer.

AFTER: Well, I thought that "Out of Sight" felt like a Coen brothers film, and this is a Coen brothers film that feels like, I don't know, a John Ford film? I admit I have not seen the original "True Grit" with John Wayne (though I did read the MAD magazine parody) - I'm not a fan of John Wayne like my father-in-law is.

There is something of the Coen brothers spirit from films like "Fargo" and "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" that shines through - you can count on criminals acting stupid, and fighting with each other, and you can also count on big, broad goofy acting strokes - it's almost a wonder that Rooster Cogburn wasn't played by John Goodman. But Jeff Bridges (last seen in "Jagged Edge") is fine, he is sort of getting up there in years, and playing a drunk in "The Big Lebowski" could be seen as a fine warm-up for this.

It's a servicable enough story, the quest to track down the criminal, the search for vengeance, the sacrifice made to put things right. I did appreciate that the quest took place in Indian territory, but Indians weren't portrayed as the weirdo villains who have bizarre mystical ways - in fact I think they may have been absent from this film altogether.

Also starring Matt Damon (last seen in "Chasing Amy"), Hailee Steinfeld, Barry Pepper (last seen in "Flags of Our Fathers"), and a vocal cameo from J.K. Simmons (last seen in "The Jackal").

RATING: 7 out of 10 cornbreads

I'm taking a week off from the blog, since tonight is the kick-off of NYC Craft Beer Week, and it's difficult to maintain both a movie schedule and a drinking schedule at the same time. This will push the last round of horror films into October, which works thematically for Halloween - I'll be not-so-coincidentally back on Michael Douglas' birthday, September 25.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

The Missing

Year 3, Day 258 - 9/15/11 - Movie #979

BEFORE: A thematic jump, perhaps, from a crime film to a Western - but I wanted to send the next Birthday SHOUT-out to Tommy Lee Jones (last seen in "A Prairie Home Companion"), who's turning 65 today. Plus there's the extra semi-related titles - if something is out of sight, it's missing, right? Linking from last night's film, I thought I'd have to go through the "Batman" films, since George Clooney played Batman and Tommy Lee Jones played Two-Face, but that was in different movies. (And as an extra bonus, Michael Keaton was in "Out of Sight", and another movie Batman appears tonight, plus another Two-Face...weird, 3 Batmen in 2 films) But it's easier to link Clooney to Cate Blanchett (last seen in "Babel") since they co-starred in "The Good German".

THE PLOT: In 1885 New Mexico, a frontier medicine woman forms an uneasy alliance with her estranged father when her daughter is kidnapped by an Apache brujo.

AFTER: Well, there were some plot links to this week's earlier movies, as we have a crime, a kidnapping, just taking place in frontier times. And it's about tracking down the rogue Indian kidnappers, instead of a bank robber. Am I trying to hard to make thematic connections?

But it's also about a man trying to reconnect with his daughter, and her daughters, though he hasn't seen her in decades, and she still holds a mean grudge. Tracking down his granddaughter's kidnappers offers him a shot at redemption, albeit a very difficult one. There's plenty of time on the trail for these two to work out their personal issues, though.

There's a fair amount of action, though the film is still relatively slow-paced. But it's an attempt to describe a slower, simpler time - when it took days to travel between cities, the wheels of justice turned slowly (if at all), and people had to fight just to hold on to their piece of land and their basic human rights.

The film relies just a little too much on the "Indians are weird" stereotypes, with all the hoodoo and the magic powders and the speaking with animal spirits. Same goes for the "Indians are evil" notes - haven't we seen that a few too many times?

Aside from that, the film has mostly modern sensibilities - same storyline as a film like "Taken", for example, if you ignore the time and place. And teen girls still get abducted into sex slavery today - so if the Old West was such a brutal place, what does that make our modern world?

In the end, it's about how far people will go to get a family member back, what sacrifices they're willing to make, and that rings true no matter what the setting.

Also starring Evan Rachel Wood (last seen in "The Wrestler"), Aaron Eckhart (last seen in "Erin Brockovich"), Eric Schweig (last seen in "The Last of the Mohicans") with cameos from Val Kilmer (last seen in "MacGruber"), Clint Howard (last seen in "Far and Away"), Elisabeth Moss (last seen in "The Last Supper").

RATING: 5 out of 10 rattlesnakes

If you've got a feel for how I think, you can probably predict what tomorrow's movie will be...

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Out of Sight

Year 3, Day 257 - 9/14/11 - Movie #978

BEFORE: This is another popular, well-respected (?) film that it seems most everyone, except for me, has seen. Thematically, I'm wondering if this one should have come after "Cool Hand Luke", in place of "Carlito's Way". Linking from "Bad Boys II", Joe Pantoliano was in the classic "Midnight Run" with Dennis Farina (last seen in "Thief"), who appears in tonight's film.

THE PLOT: A career bank robber breaks out of jail and shares a moment of mutual attraction with a US Marshall he has kidnapped.

AFTER: A career criminal and a career cop - who'd have thought they'd be attracted to each other? Well, if they're played by George Clooney and Jennifer Lopez (last seen in "Jack"), it might become a little easier to understand. Let's face it, Clooney is charming as a thief ("Ocean's Eleven"), he's charming as a businessman ("Up in the Air"), he's charming as a federal agent ("Burn After Reading").

It's pretty tough for a film to find a good balance between action and humor, I felt this one managed to ride the line in-between, though I also found it a little too talky (show, don't tell...). It's also a nice cross between a prison film and a caper film.

I know it's directed by Steven Soderbergh, who directed the "Ocean's Eleven" trilogy, but in tone this one almost seemed something like a Coen Brothers film - take the bad guy/good girl romance from "Raising Arizona", the George Clooney as a fugitive plot from "O Brother, Where Art Thou", and fold in the criminals screwing up aspect of "Fargo", and you might get something akin to this.

But again we find a movie that can't tell its story in a linear fashion - the plot jumps around in two timelines, one after the prison break, with frequent flashbacks to what happened in prison, or even before. Say it with me - this was probably done to cover up some kind of story flaw that existed when the story was told in order. Probably the director feared that either the prison story or the caper story wasn't strong enough on its own, so the two needed to be scrambled together. Plus it gives the added advantage of leading off with the most exciting bit, the bank robbery. (Exciting in that George Clooney "I'm so cool" way, not in a shoot-the-hostages kind of way.)

But why not just take some time to fix the story problems, or eliminate the boring bits, so the story can unfold bit by bit? We know it's possible - or were you going for "artistic" by messing with the timeline? Suspicious how this movie came out just a few years after "Pulp Fiction", hmm?

Also starring Ving Rhames (last seen in "Surrogates"), Don Cheadle (last seen in "Colors"), Luis Guzman (last seen in "Carlito's Way"), Steve Zahn (last seen in "Sunshine Cleaning"), Albert Brooks (last seen in "The In-Laws"), with cameos from Catherine Keener (last seen in "Percy Jackson & The Olympians"), Viola Davis (last seen in "Law Abiding Citizen"), Nancy Allen, Michael Keaton (last seen in "The Other Guys"), Isaiah Washington and Samuel L. Jackson (last seen in "S.W.A.T.")

RATING: 6 out of 10 ski masks

Bad Boys II

Year 3, Day 256 - 9/13/11 - Movie #977

BEFORE: All right, I'll give this franchise just one more chance, to maybe develop a plot this time instead of just blowing stuff up.

THE PLOT: Two loose-cannon narcotics cops investigate the flow of Ecstasy into Florida.

AFTER: Well, I'm glad they ditched the ridiculous "let's pretend to be each other" bit. But the 2 black cops do get mistaken for gangsters, so is the mistaken identity thing an integral part of this franchise?

I finally figured out part of the problem with the acting - a lot of the dialogue appears to be improvised. And with the actors left hanging to fill in the story gaps that apparently were never written, and not knowing which of their takes will eventually be used in the film, they have to keep stressing the same story points, over and over. And that creates a tone where it appears that the filmmakers think the audience is made up of idiots. "But she's my SISTER, Mike!" Yes, we know - you can't talk about her without mentioning that point, which everyone around you happens to already know, and you've said that same line 23 times already.

There's a slightly more coherent plotline than in "Bad Boys", but the main emphasis is still on action. There's only one directive here, and that's to smash and destroy. A gangster in pursuit of an SUV would simply NOT hijack a car-carrier, one of the most notoriously slow vehicles on the road, unless his goal was to release those cars in a very visually stimulating way into the middle of the highway. Looks spectacular? Sure. Makes any lick of sense? Uh-uh.

The action is so frantic, with so many things going on at once, again it's the detective work that goes right out the window. Stuff like fingerprints, DNA, ballistics - nope, forget all that, we've got cars to smash. Look, car go fast! Very exciting! I guess cop training goes right out the window, the best work doesn't get done in a blind panic.

The most ridiculous thing would be the climax, a joint police/DEA/CIA operation (yeah, like those groups would even talk to each other, let alone work together) that essentially becomes an invasion of Cuba. Isn't that, like, illegal, or a violation of some U.N. bylaw? Why not add the Army, the Navy Seals, and the planes from "Top Gun" while you're at it? Imagine the most unbelievable police/military strategy, and then double that.

Starring Will Smith, Martin Lawrence, Joe Pantoliano, Theresa Randle (all carrying over from "Bad Boys"), Gabrielle Union (last seen in "Meet Dave"), Peter Stormare (last seen in "Minority Report"), Jordi Molla (last seen in "Knight and Day"), with cameos from Henry Rollins (last seen in "Heat"), Dan Marino.

RATING: 4 out of 10 rodents (of unusual size)

Monday, September 12, 2011

Bad Boys

Year 3, Day 255 - 9/12/11 - Movie #976

BEFORE: I suppose I could have followed up "S.W.A.T." with "The A-Team", another remake of an old cop show, but then I wouldn't be able to send a Birthday SHOUT-out to Joe Pantoliano, one of my favorite character actors. Happy 60th, Joey Pants! (last seen in "Percy Jackson & The Olympians") Linking from last night's film was rather difficult, but Samuel L. Jackson was in an obscure film called "Fathers & Sons" with Michael Imperioli (last seen in "The Lovely Bones") who has a small role in this film.

THE PLOT: Two hip detectives protect a murder witness while investigating a case of stolen heroin.

AFTER: I know this seems like another "must-see" action flick - one that everyone is familiar with and possibly even enjoys, but I found it hard to follow. The parts regarding the actual police investigative stuff - how the cops tracked down the missing drugs, and the people who stole them from the lock-up, I just didn't get. It seemed like this was a case of all flash and no substance. Geez, even Eddie Murphy did real police work in "Beverly Hills Cop" - he did it with style, but it still got done.

The "hook" here is that the partnered cops are different personality types, one is the free-wheeling bachelor and the other is the uptight married one, and due to a mix-up of "Three's Company" proportions, they have to pretend to be each other when around a witness, because she's been told to trust one of them. And taking 5 minutes to explain the mix-up seems to be out of the question for some reason.

It's not justification enough to hang a storyline on - and it leads to just confusion and bickering among the two cops, as opposed to the bickering they do on a daily basis, or the bickering that they do to confuse perps. My point is, they do a lot of bickering. Don't they say that the relationship between partnered cops is kind of like a marriage? Case in point.

Either I'm burned out by watching too many action films, or else the story here is bare-boned and the characters very simple and under-developed. Problem is, I can't tell the difference anymore - if I lose interest, I can't tell if the problem is with me or the film. I need to take a break just to get back some perspective on this sort of thing.

Starring Will Smith (last seen in "Enemy of the State"), Martin Lawrence (last seen in "Black Knight"), Tea Leoni (last seen in "Switch"), Theresa Randle (last seen in "The Five Heartbeats"), with cameos from Marg Helgenberger (last seen in "Erin Brockovich"), Kevin Corrigan (last seen in "Big Fan").

RATING: 3 out of 10 barrels of ether. Ether?

Sunday, September 11, 2011


Year 3, Day 254 - 9/11/11 - Movie #975

BEFORE: You can choose to mark this day however you want, I'm not one to say what's appropriate and what isn't. Just don't cast aspersions on how I choose to mark it, which is by watching a film about our (OK, L.A's) first responders. Colin Farrell carries over from "Phone Booth".

THE PLOT: An imprisoned drug kingpin offers a huge cash reward to anyone that can break him out of police custody and only the LAPD's S.W.A.T. team can prevent it.

AFTER: Last year at the San Diego Comic-Con, I passed a large bunch of people standing by one of the back entrances, with cameras ready. When I inquired about why, someone told me that they were going to be bringing Natalie Portman in through these doors. And someone told them that? There was only reason I could think or for someone to tip that, and it made me confident that Natalie Portman would NOT be coming in through that entrance. Sure enough, she appeared inside a booth in the center of the convention - I don't know how they got her in past the crowd, whether she was in disquise or inside a giant crate, but she sure didn't come through that door.

Similarly, if we get a tip that someone's looking to set off a truck bomb in NY, the one thing I can tell you is that someone's up to something else - we should be checking boats, planes and horse-drawn carriages instead. Though, to be safe, I guess don't stop looking for the truck bomb. But look how someone made an entire city paranoid just by leaking some information.

These are the tactics that the SWAT team has to consider. And yes, "T" stands for "Tactics", I guess I thought that the 2nd half of the acronym stood for "Anti-Terrorism", but I was mistaken. In this film an international criminal (we know he's bad because he sneaks things past airport security...) gets the entire criminal underworld working on breaking him free after he makes an offer via the press. See, it's all the media's fault, I knew it.

I never watched the original 1975-76 TV show, but this big-budget update seemed pretty satisfying. I assume they updated the characters, while making the team more racially diverse - Sgt. Hondo comes back to the squad after several years on another assignment. But he was white when he left, and now he's played by Samuel L. Jackson (last seen in "Mo' Better Blues").

Hondo gives the younger officer, Jim Street, a chance to get back on the team - he was benched after an earlier hostage situation where he and his partner disobeyed orders in an attempt to defuse a situation more quickly. Together they assemble a new team, put them through the special S.W.A.T. training courses, and then are ready to protect L.A. And of course, not too much screen-time passes before they're needed.

Pretty action-packed, as these things tend to be - nice and twisty, too, so I'll withhold some of my nitpick points since they'd contain spoilers. OK, just one.

NITPICK POINT: So, the characters in the movie "S.W.A.T." know the theme to the TV show "S.W.A.T.", and sing it together? That means that inside the movie universe, there's also a TV show about them? Does it also star Hondo, Street, T.J. and Deacon? Because that could get a little weird. Marvel Comics goes through the same conundrum, after accidentally showing Spider-Man reading comic books one time, they had to explain that within the Marvel Universe there's also a version of Marvel Comics, which licenses their stories directly from the superheroes (who are real, inside that fictional universe). But really, if people had Spider-Man battling Dr. Octopus in the streets of New York, would they really need to read comic books?

Also starring Michelle Rodriguez (last seen in "Avatar"), LL Cool J (last seen in "Any Given Sunday"), Josh Charles (last seen in "Dead Poets Society"), Jeremy Renner (last seen in "The Town"), Brian Van Holt (last seen in "Black Hawk Down"), Olivier Martinez, and Reg E. Cathey, with a cameo from Octavia Spencer (last seen in "Dinner For Schmucks")

RATING: 6 out of 10 manhole covers