26 March 2011

Banzai! 2010 Catch-Up, Part II

I think I have one more 2010 Catch-Up in me, so expect that before months end. I want to enter April completely anew without thinking of last year releases. Enjoy!

The Fighter

Starring Mark Wahlberg, Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Melissa Leo, Jack McGee
Written by Scott Silver, Paul Tamasy, Eric Johnson
Directed by David O. Russell
Release: 10 December 2010
Relativity Media, 115 mins., Rated R

Plot: Mickey Ward is a boxer with a crazy family life that may either be his strength or weakness.

I made a serious error in judgment with choosing not to see The Fighter until yesterday. Can't blame me, really. The trailer, the title, the poster - it all stank of those damn inspirational Disney flicks where a underdog builds himself into a legend, overcoming any and all roadblocks that may confront him and in the end, succeeds and lives his dream. I did not, and still do not, want to see another retelling of that damn story. It's no longer inspirational or 'impossible' (as the trailer for Secretariat likes us to believe), it's just redundant with no value whatsoever.

Luckily The Fighter is not this.

Yes, The Fighter is about a man overcoming obstacles and becoming something and fulfilling an ambition, but it's also about a lot more than that, and with all those elements and the interesting angle the film takes - emphasizing the family dynamic and rounded personality of our protagonist - the movie ended up exceeding my expectations and becoming an completely enjoyable film that I daresay I liked a lot.

Direction by David O. Russell, although not award worthy, is definitely worth recognition: the title shot with the speedy pullback was quite cool, the hand held cinematography (especially in the boxing scenes) worked quite well, despite being overused in films these days. As mentioned a thousand times before, Christian Bale is quite awesome as Micky's troubled brother Dicky, but frankly, I found the real powerhouse performance to be Amy Adams as Micky's love interest (and mine, too!) Charlene. Full of sass, vigor, and ass-whoopin', Charlene is a great character brilliantly brought to life by Adams. And what's more, it's Charlene who knocks some sense into Micky, who makes him take charge of his life more instead of being submissive to what his mother, Melissa Leo, and family want for him. So what it's worth, Adams is amazing in this movie. But that's not to underscore the great job Mark Wahlberg and Bale provided, cementing a brotherly love constantly tried by a crazy family, loads of cocaine use, and other really shitty events that seem to blow up in Micky's face.

I liked the emphasis on family, and Micky's attempt to go down his own path made up by his own choices, not directed by his mother or bazillion sisters who seem to speak in unison. In the end, Micky settles with needing his family involved somehow, but not being overbearing. It's the sort of development I'm not 100% behind - it seems a little backpedaling, really: a few steps forward, one step back - but it's sweet and displayed with unflinching honesty by the screenwriters and director Russell. In fact, it's the blunt honesty of everything onscreen (in addition to the fine performances) that make this movie work well.

The Fighter is not amazing, it's not something you've never seen before, but it works, and it feels fresh and original while you're watching it and never fails to keep your interest. The really odd but good-willing family dynamic and sassy performance from Adams make this movie. It's all in the title: it's not the fights, it's the fighter that's on display here, and for my two cents, it's pretty damn good.

Rating: 8/10 = A fight you can believe in.

How Do You Know

Starring Reese Witherspoon, Owen Wilson, Paul Rudd, Jack Nicholson
Written and Directed by James L. Brooks
Release: 17 December 2010
Gracie Films, 117 mins., Rated R

The first thing one should know about How Do You Know is that it is not a romantic comedy. Yes, there are moments of funny, but first and foremost, it seems to be a drama. Here we have two characters with dark, depressing lives: an 31-year old athlete (Witherspoon) who is let go from her team, and a business man being investigated for fraud and facing three years in prison (Rudd). The comedy stems from the utter disbelief off Rudd's face and, mostly, Owen Wilson's womanizing millionaire who fancies himself in "love" with Witherspoon's Lisa. But for the most part, the movie isn't funny, it's a bit confusing, and is most definitely does not adhere to expectations. For one, the characters come off extremely unlikable, particularly Lisa who seems like a bitch far more than remotely likable. Were it not for Rudd's George and his ability to sell love-struck puppy magnificently, I wouldn't have one iota of a clue that there was some sort of attraction between these two. If there's one way to sum up How Do You Know, it's unconventional. These characters' lives suck, they're either a bitch, super freaked out, or a clueless stud who is new to the whole relationship thing. And surprisingly, I was at a point where I genuinely didn't know where this story was headed. In retrospect, it's all very obvious now, but the film throws a bunch of elements into the mix that what one is expecting seems like it might not come to pass, which is a good thing. Overall, How Do You Know means well, and the actors do all they can (especially Rudd and Wilson, the true stars of the film), but it isn't successful in conveying its story, making us really fall in love or even care for these characters, and ends up being a mess moreso than an enjoyable movie.

Rating: 4/10 = Most definitely odd, misguided, and not for everyone, and very much "meh"

It's Kind of a Funny Story

Starring Keir Gilchrist, Zach Galifianakis, Emma Roberts, Viola Davis, Lauren Graham, Jim Gaffigan
Written and Directed by Anna Boden & Ryan Fleck
Release: 8 October 2010
Focus Features, 101 mins., Rated PG-13

Plot: Craig feels like he's about to burst, getting to the point where he's contemplating suicide, and checks himself into a hospital for some help in dealing with his issues.

I'm just going to be straight up: I loved It's Kind of a Funny Story, and in fact, I plan on buying it on DVD next paycheck. I don't think it's for everyone - it may seem unoriginal, a bit forced, and at times groan-worthy with the acting (particularly the lead) - but I think it all works from beginning to end, this is a solid movie with a clever script and some damn fine performances. I love this movie, and this is why:

Zack Galifianakis, for the first time ever, was restrained, not obnoxious, and actually delivered one hell of a fine performance. Zack plays Bobby, someone who establishes a friendship with our protagonist Craig (even nicknaming him 'Cool Craig') and plays a sort of mentor for Craig. Galifianakis is all about the acting here, not so much preoccupied with acting like a dumbass and bringing on the laughs - he's completely in character, and thanks to the very cool script, his character becomes just as cool and entirely memorable.

Youngsters Emma Roberts and Keir Gilchrist are great in their respective roles, Keir as Craig the awkward boy who feels boggled down by stress, and Roberts as Noelle, a girl with her own problems and ends up sparking a relationship with Craig. The chemistry and relationship between these two is fantastic, and definitely a highlight. Can't help it, I got all giddy like a girl watching The O.C. or something when these two leads were onscreen and their friendship was building.

The script is superb. Craig has quite the comical personality, full of sarcastic asides and humorous awkward moments. Craig is a teen, falls into the same teen traps: hormones, stress, need for fun, and it's all brought to screen wonderfully. Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck have written and directed a movie that accomplishes so much. It has heart, it has some great characters that are not stereotypes and are very much rounded and completely interesting, it has a nice, fast-paced story worth telling, and loads of comedy and genuine humor. It doesn't get hammy like a bloody Hallmark movie; it does say, 'hey, mental illness sucks', it's simply about a teenage boy who is going through a lot in life to the point where he's contemplating ending it, and he finds help in the friendships and relationship he starts at the hospital. It's a happy story that's told honestly in a non-corny way, and I give kudos to it for that.

Overall, just give it a chance. It's smart, it's funny, it's endearing. At the very least this will be the only time Zack BeardedMan gives a great performance, so that's definitely worth checking out, no?

Rating: 9/10 = It's Kind of a Great Movie.

My Soul to Take

Starring Max Thieriot, Denzel Whitaker, Raul Esparza, Shareeka Epps, Emily Meade, Zena Grey
Written and Directed by Wes Craven
Release: 8 October 2010
Rogue Pics, 107 mins., Rated R

Plot: The soul of a serial killer may just have implanted itself in one of the kids who were born sixteen years ago on the night its original host 'died'.

My Soul to Take is something special. It's written and directed by Wes Craven, one of the true masters of horror, and one of the directors in that field I super respect thanks to the Scream trilogy. And honestly, that's quite puzzling, cos Craven is known for some really great cinematic ventures. This is not one of them. In fact, My Soul to Take is special because it's so damn weird, so damn horribly written and acted and completely messed up, it therefore enables me to say this:

What the FRAK?

Just a word of caution: this review is going to be all over the place, because even hours later, I'm still in a state of disbelief of what I just watched. I went in expecting badness, knowing full well I would get that in spades, but what I got in addition to that is rather surprising. I went in with the expectation of something like David S. Goyer's The Invisible mixed in with a serial killer which isn't actually a serial killer but one of the kids. Well, I was sorta right, but mostly wrong. Yes, the killer does end up being a bit obvious, but whereas The Invisible but a coherent script that knew full well what it was, what direction to go, and wrote logical, dare I say dimensional characters, My Soul to Take boasts characters that I feel were written by a kid in sixth grade.

Let's take, for example, the character of Leah, or as she's known around campus "Fang". Firstly, her character comes across as a complete cartoon throughout most of the film, and it's not until the last act where she is given greater depth. Well, it just so happens that she has a sordid past that has made her act out and be generally crazy. One case that particularly left me smiling wondering what the frak was going on was when she flat out beats the shit out of her brother, Bug. And not just a bunch here or there, but something from a less spectacular kung fu movie, as she knees him in the stomach, punches him in the face, pushes him to the ground, etc., and the real kicker is Bug has no friggin' idea why the hell she's doing this or why he even bloody deserves it! Sure, it may stay in character considering Leah is a bit of a hardass, but the whole affair comes off as a hugely comical skit from a satire.

Actually, to keep with that line of thinking, I firmly believe My Soul to Take was intended as a comedy. There's no way writer/director Craven could think audiences would suck up the lame characters and lazily written 'foreshadowing' and kills and...well, just about everything that makes up a horror movie. Hell, y'know, these characters aren't bad because they're cliches - cos there's plenty of those [e.g., religious redhead nut] - but exactly because they scream of fakeyness and jocularity. Take another example: the jock of the movie gets killed by the Ripper (surprise), and as the Ripper gets his knife on he asks the jock if he wants to say goodbye to someone, and the jock replies, "my unborn child", and the Ripper says as the jock falls: "fuck you and fuck your unborn child."

This cannot be anything other than a comedy, right?

And the kills. Oh, the kills! This is a horror/slasher movie, so at the very VERY least, the kills should be the highlight, no? The moment where all the viewers in unison watch with delight as the special effects guys come up with some cool deaths with plenty of blood spraying all over the place. Well, sadly, that ain't this movie. It's as if the deaths were an afterthought. 'Oh, wait, we gotta kill this person, right?' So we have the Ripper come out of nowhere sometimes (and at one point comically yells, 'Fear yee the Ripper!' or something like that) and just slice someone's throat or knife them in the gut a whole bunch of times. It's not brutal like, say, the Scream franchise, it instead just comes across as lazy. I would be a bit more okay with that if we at the very least cared about the characters, had one iota of connection to them. Instead, they literally are just cardboard things to be killed and taken off the board.

And let's talk about the lead. Max Thieriot is Bug, the protagonist, who the Ripper is primarily targeting because of who he is. I know that's vague, but Bug's past is one of the very few things the movie has going for it, so I'll conceal that little bit here. Thieriot delivers his lines so, so horribly. Imagine a braindead zombie, or a teenage boy who had his brain liquefied or lobotomized, and that's exactly how Thieriot sounds. The thing is, Thieriot is actually pretty damn good at mimicking the voices of his deceased co-stars (apparently their souls are apart of him, now, for some reason or another), so it's odd that he's impressive in that regard, but absolutely lacks any acting talent when it comes to his solo lines. Bloody hell, y'know?

One last note: I can't fathom how on earth 3-D would have helped this movie. At no point did it appear that Craven made a effort to show off the 3-D technique, with no special camera angles or somethingorrather heading straight towards the lens. Nada. Zilch. It was a regular 2D movie with 2D visuals, and I have very little doubt those who chose the 3-D option were a tad disappointed by the lack of 'awe' factor.

In conclusion, My Soul to Take is a train wreck of a movie (hehe, train wreck; and the next review is about a train...that wrecks...hehehe), but miraculously, it was fun. Everything is written so horribly, from the characters and plot to the dialogue, it's all one big mess, and definitely a black spot in Craven's resume (here's hoping Scream 4 kicks ass). So if you're in the mood for a wickedly bad time and some laughs on the side, My Soul to Take is for you!

Rating: 4.5/10 = I'm appalled and yet can't look away.


Starring Denzel Washington, Chris Pine, Rosario Dawson, Ethan Suplee
Written by Mark Bomback
Directed by Tony Scott
Release: 12 November 2010
Telecino Cinema, 98 mins., Rated PG-13

Let's be honest here: the real star of Unstoppable is the train. After all, that's what people came to see, and in that regard, Tony Scott delivers. The train zooms, the train BOOMs, and the train causes a look of ruckus and chaos. The characters Denzel Washington and Chris Pine play are just there to be the saving grace at the end of the day, but really, they're one-dimensional puppets placed here and there in order to bring the desired outcome into fruition. Attempts at creating character is given in-between Scott's trademark quick cuts and circling shots, but they don't overall add up to anything substantial. But like I said, we're not here for characters, we're here to experience this motherfrakking train be motherfrakking unstoppable. And oh yes, it does do that. Thanks to Tony Scott, the only director who could have pulled off this "missile the size of the Chrysler building" story, the visuals of the train are spectacular, the scenes of Denzel and Chris racing to save the day intense (especially in the third act), and the enjoyment factor major high.

Rating: 5/10 = Look at things go BOOM! Wait, hold it, character moment for a sec. Okay, good, time for more BOOM! Did you see that BOOM!? There was a BOOM!


Castor said...

Loved the Fighter! As you mentioned, it's nothing new but it has that little family twist that makes it so much more compelling and interesting. Add in some really outstanding performances all around and it's no wonder it was one of the best film of 2010.

Unstoppable: I thought it was a relatively entertaining movie and that's all I expected. Tony Scott is someone who can easily get on my nerves due to his intense urge to edit everything needlessly but overall, it was better than many of his previous outings.

Andy the Time Lord said...

Castor, what do you think about Wahlberg wanting to do a sequel?

And hell yes about Tony Scott. DOMINO, next to SYRIANA, is the only other movie that I felt like I was truly suffering to sit through, and that's thanks to Scott's OBSESSION with saturating the visual and making it look like acid (at least UNSTOPPABLE isn't too distracting).

However, UNSTOPPABLE did lack the hilarious over-the-top John Travolta. Oh, how I miss that man. Now I'm imagining DRIVE ANGRY with Travolta in the lead. Already a interesting prospect...