Movie Reviews – October 2010

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The American
Focus Features
In Theaters: 09.01
As much as the studio wants to advertise Anton Corbijn’s thriller as the next James Bond or Jason Bourne film, I can assure you neither is the case. Corbijn, a successful music video director, sets his professional sights on feature films with an intense psychological drama that stars George Clooney (finally stepping away from constantly playing a cinematic version of himself) as a professional assassin living a lonely life of constant paranoia who must retreat to a small village in Italy after an assignment goes terribly awry in Sweden. While in hiding, the killer is hired to design and assemble an intricate gun for an anonymous buyer. As the task progresses, he befriends an inquisitive priest and an alluring harlot, but it’s only a matter of time before his troublesome past catches up with him again. Clooney provides a primarily unspoken yet powerful performance as he builds an ever-increasing level of tension with fidgety mannerisms and anxious facial expressions. It’s abundantly clear Corbijn has carefully studied his history of film text books and developed a project comparable to European films of the 1960s and 1970s with striking cinematography and impressive character development. Action is available in short bursts throughout the film, but the film places its focus on the emotional hardships one must cope with when profiting from the deaths of strangers. –Jimmy Martin


Devil
Universal Pictures
In Theaters: 09.17
It is truly sad to witness a once-gifted filmmaker plummet from the sky like a falling star as his talents progressively shrivel into absolute nothingness. The name M. Night Shyamalan has become so tainted with his atrocious endeavors that audiences groan and cringe at the thought of his involvement when his name flashes across the screen in trailers. He can’t even mention his attachment as a writer/producer without receiving a negative reaction, which is exactly his connection to director John Erick Dowdle’s latest addition to the horror genre. Shyamalan’s subpar and simplistic story follows five strangers, each with a sordid past, who find themselves trapped in a high-rise elevator with an indefinable presence of evil lurking within the confined space. One by one, the passengers begin to meet their demise, but a grief-stricken member of Philadelphia’s finest attempts to solve the murders via the elevator’s security camera. Dowdle has taken the concept of “less is more” entirely too literally and offers the audience nothing more than an 80-minute bore-fest of a group of people standing around in an elevator who are killed off one by one in total darkness. To say that nothing happens in this film isn’t an exaggeration. And what would a Shyamalan-esque project be without a shocking twist at the grand finale? Probably a slightly better venture since Devil’s revelation is as pathetic and derivative as they come. The movie is a glorified student film that’s been made a dozen times on college campuses across the country. Shyamalan’s über lack in creativity makes me believe he’s scoring classrooms for ideas rather than the usual notion of up-and-coming filmmakers pillaging concepts from Hollywood. Oh, how the tides have turned. –Jimmy Martin


Easy A
Screen Gems
In Theaters: 09.17
Every so often, a teen comedy comes along that’s so intelligent and witty, it proves formulaic fart jokes and gratuitous nudity aren’t an essential requirement for the genre. Taking a modernized twist on Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter, Bert V. Royal’s satirical script follows Olive (Emma Stone), an astute and mature high schooler who accidently allows a fictitious rumor to spread about her and a sexual encounter with a college guy. As the school’s religious elitists condemn her provocative ways, Olive embraces her newfound reputation out of sheer spite. However, when her closeted gay friend, Brandon (Dan Byrd), begs her to spread a rumor regarding a fabricated sexual encounter involving him in order to fend off his callous classmates, Olive discovers a profitable scheme that becomes wildly appreciated by more exiled peers. While verbally battling with the right-wing unpleasantness of Amanda Bynes, Stone fires off sharp and clever dialogue that’s evocative to Rosalind Russell’s performance in His Girl Friday. Every character in Royal’s screenplay is unforgettable with exaggerated yet charismatic personalities, especially in the case of Olive’s liberal-minded parents, played hysterically by Stanley Tucci and Patricia Clarkson. Director Will Gluck proves his own increase in maturity as he successfully returns to the director seat after the detestable Fired Up! and distributes a worthy homage to the teen classics of the 1980s that embodies the same characteristics the late John Hughes represented. –Jimmy Martin


I’m Still Here
Magnolia Pictures
In Theaters: 09.10
Ever since the red carpet announcement of his retirement from acting on Extra in 2008, newspaper tabloids and celebrity gossip television shows have been carefully examining and questioning the validity of Joaquin Phoenix’s bizarre antics. Refusing to be a Hollywood puppet anymore, the award-winning actor attempts to transition into a hip hop artist, but not without his brother-in-law/director, Casey Affleck, documenting every awkward moment along the way. As Phoenix carelessly performs his rhymes at local clubs with depressing results and spirals down into a drug and alcohol-induced crisis, all is not lost when Sean “P. Diddy” Combs steps in as a potential album producer giving the wanderer the much needed boost in acknowledgement. As much as Affleck and Phoenix proclaim the documentary’s authenticity, it’s clearly a hoax—the same style of hoax Andy Kaufman performed more efficiently in the late 1970s with his lounge-singing alter ego, Tony Clifton. Like Clifton, Phoenix comes across as an obnoxious, self-righteous rageaholic, however Clifton never sought empathy at the punch line of his pranks as Phoenix does making him come across as pathetic. As his beard grows, the former actor appears to become more insane and violent, but the overall joke falls flat with the drawn out running time. The major appeal comes with the behind-the-scenes glimpse of Hollywood stardom, especially in the case of the infamous David Letterman interview, but the childish shenanigans of scouring the internet for escorts and defecating on sleeping roommates should remain with Johnny Knoxville and his Jackass friends and stay away from mockumentaries searching for an emotional response from the audience. –Jimmy Martin


Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole
Warner Bros.
In Theaters: 09.24
Of all the directors in Hollywood who come to mind when thinking of someone perfect to helm a children’s animated fantasy, Zack Snyder would probably fall right next to Rob Zombie at the bottom of the list. Not that he’s incapable of the task, quite the contrary, but his entire directorial filmography (Dawn of the Dead, 300, Watchmen) is comprised of projects specifically created for adults, so the conversion would be quite unconventional. In this tale of loyalty and survival in the owl kingdom, two brothers, Soren (voiced by Jim Sturgess) and Kludd (voiced by Ryan Kwanten), are kidnapped and forced into slavery by the wicked Metal Beak (voiced by Joel Edgerton) and his brain-washed army of orphaned owlets. When an opportunity to escape presents itself, Soren and a group of newfound friends make a dash for freedom, but the corruptible Kludd stays behind with his new family. Upon discovering the Guardians of Ga’Hoole aren’t merely the mythical characters his father spoke of in bedtime stories, Soren wastes no time in locating their lair in order to form a plan of attack. Snyder gracefully transitions to the new genre as he interweaves his signature visual style of fast-paced action sequences with short bursts of slow-motion frames that accentuate the beauty of the creatures’ movements. The downfall of the director’s undertaking is ultimately due to an unoriginal story that essentially rips-off Star Wars, The Lord of the Rings and The Lion King. In addition, you can be sure to thank studio executives for putting the kibosh on Snyder’s sophisticated flow by including an unnecessary montage accompanied by mind-numbing pop music. –Jimmy Martin


Machete
20th Century Fox
In Theaters: 09.03
Spawned from the faux theatrical trailer segment of Grindhouse, Robert Rodriguez has given his audience exactly what they demanded and has resurrected and revived the cartoonish exploitation film genre for a new generation. In his latest creation, the knife-wielding ex-Federale, Machete (Danny Trejo), whose life was destroyed by a merciless drug lord in Mexico, attempts to start again with new life in America as an illegal immigrant looking for work on the streets. When a profitable opportunity arises to assassinate a racist senator (Robert De Niro), the blade enthusiast agrees, only to find himself double-crossed and listed as America’s most wanted fugitive. In order to enact a vicious wave of revenge, he teams up with an underground resistance led by a sexy taco truck owner (Michelle Rodriguez). Let’s be as brutally honest as Rodriguez is with the violence in this blood splattered death extravaganza. Trejo barely slips by as a mediocre actor. His one-note demeanor and expressionless, rugged face doesn’t work for 99% of the acting gigs out there. With that said, he’s absolutely perfect for the mechanical aura that is Machete. He’s so “cool” he’s laughable, and that’s exactly what Rodriguez intends. The ingenious director captures the absurdity of 1970s action films all the way down to the funky bass line soundtrack that starts when an attractive female steps into the frame. Rodriguez has always had a talent for directing explosive, entertaining projects on a small-scale budget, and this conservative aptitude works perfectly with his decision to recreate a genre that requires exactly that. –Jimmy Martin


Oddsac
Plexifilm
Street: 08.10
By the time Animal Collective’s “visual album” Oddsac had made its rounds during the 2010 Sundance Film Festival, it seemed like every hardcore Animal Collective fan had seen the film and had wildly different opinions on its merits. The film was hailed as a brilliant, margin-walking art piece that blurred the line between sound and image, but it was also described as derivative weirdness from an overhyped band whose edge was lost. With such wildly different opinions coming from within the community, the release of Oddsac into the general film-watching world (if you consider Sundance general) has had a similar reaction. Oddsac is alienating, beautiful, abrasive and polarizing, just like the band itself but, just like Animal Collective, Oddsac is capable of finding kernels of brilliance within the messy superstructure. The film moves from structured scenes with actors and plots to hyperkinetic, avante-garde segues that rely heavily on a fiery orange-red color palate and physical and digital manipulation to the film stock that visually obsesses over oozing orifices and melting polyurethane. This move between structure and chaos tracks Animal Collective’s musical tendencies to move from melodic, pop-informed numbers to ear-melting art squalor. Both work quite nicely apart, but are severely compromised when placed in the structure and lexicon of a film. It is difficult to say what Oddsac is. In many ways it feels like collaboration between Bill Viola, Tarsem Singh and John Carpenter. But unlike those directors Oddsac is hardly structuralist, not exactly an installation piece, not exactly a film, but in the end Oddsac is everything Animal Collective says it is: a visual album. –Ryan Hall


Red
Summit Entertainment
In Theaters: 10.15
As Hollywood continues to rummage through the mounds of comic books and graphic novels in search of “new” ideas, it’s inevitable they’ll eventually discover an unknown gem every now and again. Based on the DC comic series created by Warren Ellis and Cully Hamner, Red follows Frank Moses (Bruce Willis), a retired CIA agent who spends his now mundane existence purposefully ripping up his retirement checks so he has a reason to call and flirt with Sarah (Mary-Louise Parker), his designated federal clerk. For Frank, life is as dull as it can get until a squadron of armed forces raid his home guns blazing, but these youthful agents were no match for the veterans’ dexterous RED (retired extremely dangerous) status. Annoyed and fuming, Frank sets out to discover who’s behind the assassination attempt and recruits his fellow retirees to help solve the conspiracy. The initial idea of casting actors old enough to be able to recap in vivid detail where they were when Neil Armstrong walked on the moon to play fierce assassins sporting automatic weapons is amusing, but the joke isn’t sturdy enough to fend off the other stereotypical aspects of the film. The powerhouse team that embodies the debonair Morgan Freeman, the certifiable John Malkovich and the graceful Helen Mirren does save the production from complete clichéd trite, but beyond their presence, the story places itself on autopilot with the settings of that of an action film made over a decade ago. However, if the price of admission is worth anything, it’s witnessing Mirren annihilate a secret service brigade with a high-powered mini-gun. –Jimmy Martin


Secretariat
Disney
In Theaters: 10.08
If Disney has attempted to master anything beyond the world of animation, it’s inspiring sports films based on true stories that spotlight an underdog beating the odds and conquering impossible feats. Films like The Greatest Game Ever Played, Miracle and The Rookie showcase iconic individuals in their moment of glory, but now the mouse company has moved on to the lucrative sport of horse racing. When Penny Chenery’s (Diane Lane) father passed, he left her his failing horse stables—without a way to keep it running financially. Hope comes in the form of a colt whose parents’ genetics offer the gifts of speed and stamina, making him a potentially unbeatable force on the track. Separating herself from her family and diving headfirst into an unknown masculine territory, Penny finds guidance from the unconventional and neurotic trainer Lucien Laurin (John Malkovich) and soon finds herself competing for the first Triple Crown title in 25 years. With her bleached blonde hair and distinctive accent, Lane is clearly attempting to follow Sandra Bullock to the Academy Awards’ winner’s circle, but her inspirational-poster soap box dialogue is much too sappy and deliberate for another surprising upset. On the other hand, Malkovich and Nelsan Ellis (from HBO’s True Blood) deliver the most charming, droll and entertaining performances of all that could easily be recognized down the road. Director Randall Wallace captures the elegance and beauty of the sport with striking cinematography that displays the beauty of the animal’s agility, but hinders the refined tone with first-person “horse cam” shots and an absurdly insinuated competitiveness brought forth between the steeds themselves as though they’re about to dub in the late John Candy’s voice from Hot to Trot to trash talk. –Jimmy Martin


The Town
Warner Bros.
In Theaters: 09.17
It appears as though Ben Affleck has finally rebounded from the devastating events his career endured during the past decade and has matured immensely not only as an actor, but as a director as well. The film, adapted from Chuck Hogan’s Prince of Thieves: A Novel, stars Affleck as Doug MacRay, a Bostonian living in Charlestown, the neighborhood known for harboring the city’s most notorious bank robbers, and MacRay certainly falls into this line of work. After his crew’s most recent heist, a bank employee (Rebecca Hall) is taken hostage and eventually set free, never knowing the identities of her captors. To ensure her subsequent actions with law enforcement don’t result in their apprehension, MacRay forms a relationship with the unsuspecting victim that eventually morphs into something more affectionate. Affleck commands the camera from both sides and releases a heart-pounding drama that embodies as much tension and action as it does character sentimentality, but he isn’t alone. Jeremy Renner, fresh from the Best Picture Oscar-winner The Hurt Locker, steals virtually every scene from his co-star and offers another performance worthy of praise and accolades. Thirteen years ago, Affleck and Matt Damon were on top of the world with the release of Good Will Hunting, but it seemed it was the latter of the two to walk away with more accreditation. With this nearly perfect achievement, it appears the time has come for Affleck to revisit the spotlight. –Jimmy Martin