Friday, August 06, 2010

Penny Thoughts: July 30-August 5

Green Zone (2010) ***½
Director: Paul Greengrass
Writers: Brian Helgeland, Rajiv Chandrasekaran (book “Imperial Life in the Emerald City: Inside Iraq’s Green Zone”)
Starring: Matt Damon, Greg Kinnear, Brendan Gleeson, Amy Ryan, Igal Naor, Khalid Abdala, Jason Isaacs

Image courtesy of Universal Pictures
Is this really the only way we can honestly approach this never ending war that this country started? With action movies by the team the brought us the best of the Jason Bourne franchise? Now, “Green Zone” is a good movie. I’m not knocking it, but it strangely feels like one of the few popularly seen honest statements about our involvement in Iraq. Truth is this film is much more fiction than fact, yet somehow its still more honest about what might have down than most Americans would like to be about that war. Maybe I’m just being won over by good filmmaking, but c’mon. Someone fabricated that war. The question of what happened to those WMDs should never leave any American’s mind, and if it takes Matt Damon running around shooting a bunch of guys to remind us, well at least someone is.

The Fugitive (1993) ****
Director: Andrew Davis
Writers: David Twohy, Jeb Stuart, Roy Huggins (characters)
Strring: Harrison Ford, Tommy Lee Jones, Jeroen Krabbé, Joe Pantoliano, Andreas Katsulas, Daniel Roebuck, Tom Wood, L. Scott Caldwell, Sela Ward

Image courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures
Sometimes it takes movies like “The Fugitive” and “Salt” to remind us that movies can be great even if they are just entertainment. “Salt” greatly impressed me due to its unpredictability and its efficiency. “The Fugitive” was made at a time when efficiency wasn’t so important to film, but it’s carried along by an amazing cast, a cast that seems even more amazing in retrospect when some stars have since risen from the minor roles in the film. Julianne Moore, Jane Lynch, and even Neill Flynn have since emerged as great performers in their own right, the latter two as comic performers. But the anchor in the film is Tommy Lee Jones’s Oscar-winning performance as the hard-nosed Marshall Gerard. Harrison Ford isn’t too shabby either.

The Crazies (2010) ***
Director: Breck Eisner
Writers: Scott Kosar, Ray Wright, George A. Romero (1973 motion picture)
Starring: Timothy Olyphant, Radha Mitchell, Joe Anderson, Danielle Panabaker

Image courtesy of Overture Films
I had a friend who had a very bad reaction to this film. He raged about it. I’m not really seeing his problem. Is it a great and original horror movie? No, but it isn’t terrible either. It has one wonderfully original scene in it, however. That scene takes place in a car wash and ends with a sudden, perfect, and unexpected punchline. I’m also a fan of the movie’s star Timothy Olyphant, who was so good in “Deadwood” and always makes his characters understatedly interesting. I liked the way the film dealt with his deputy, played by Joe Anderson. There’s always a questionable character in these horror movie apocalypse plots, and it seems the filmmakers always go to great lengths to make the audience despise this character from the get go. In the deputy’s case, you want to trust him. This brings out the true horror behind this particular story line, you can’t trust what you know and have chosen to surround yourself with. Again, nothing brilliant here, but a fun horror flick.

The Tracey Fragments (2007) *½
Director: Bruce McDonald
Writer: Maureen Medved (also novel)
Starring: Ellen Page, Max McCabe-Lokos, Ari Cohen, Erin McMurtry, Zie Souwand

Image courtesy of THINKfilm
You know what I’m sick of? I’m sick of teenagers in movies claiming to be just your “typical teen” despite the fact that some unusual tragedy has befallen them. No, you’re not typical. The typical teen doesn’t lose their younger brother after she’s hypnotized him into behaving like a dog. That’s not typical at all. Typical teens don’t have a psychiatrist that is obviously undergoing some sort of gender transformation and no one mentions it. A typical teenager does not run away from home to search for her missing brother and then wander around the city wearing only a shower curtain. There is nothing typical about the teenager in this movie, which plays like something that would be considered groundbreaking in art school, but is actually quite naïve and annoying in its execution, with it’s constant multiple image screen. This might be good as a short film, or it’s technique might work as a short segment of a feature film, but even at its mercifully short length of 77 minutes, “The Tracey Fragments” is more hot air than groundbreaking.

Defendor (2010) ***
Director/Writer: Peter Stebbings
Starring: Woody Harrelson, Kat Dennings, Elias Koteas, Michael Kelly, Sandra Oh, Clark Johnson, Alan C. Peterson

Image courtesy of Darius Films
This is one of those small independent productions that I want to urge people to seek out. Although I’ve awarded it three stars, this cannot suggest to charm and originality of this black comedy about a nearly mentally challenged man who dons the guise of a superhero to fight crime. I guess it’s a more down to earth version of “Kiss-Ass”. It’s filled with wonderful performances by Woody Harrelson (as the superhero, Defendor), Kat Dennings, Elias Koteas (as a dirty cop), Michael Kelly, and the ever-dependable Sandra Oh. It’s funny, but not so much the laugh out loud type. It’s very intelligent. And it doesn’t compromise on its ending. I want to push that star rating into the great category, but perhaps it doesn’t have quite enough “umph!” behind it. I don’t know. But I greatly urge people to seek this small gem out.

Pleasantville (1998) ****
Director/Writer: Gary Ross
Starring: Tobey Maguire, Reese Witherspoon, William H. Macy, Joan Allen, Jeff Daniels, J.T. Walsh, Don Knots, Marley Shelton, Paul Walker, Jane Kaczmarek

Image courtesy of New Line Cinema
“Pleasantville” is one of my favorite movies from the ‘90s. It’s more poignant today than at the time of its release. During this screening, I couldn’t help but draw a parallel from the Pleasantville town elders, lead by the great J.T. Walsh in one of his final performances, to the current Tea Party. They mean well, but somehow they just don’t get that keeping things the way they are is diametrically opposed to progress, and the world will progress whether you want it to or not. Sure, they can make a good argument with some very good ideas that could contribute to a blissful lifestyle; but as their list of demands continue, their narrow views on society as a whole become glaringly obvious, all under the guise of “moral values.” Thank God, we have color in this world. Values aren’t the gifts that God gave us. His gift to us is color, and those who truly value our world are the ones who understand that.

Kick-Ass (2010) ***
Director: Matthew Vaughn
Writers: Jane Goldman, Matthew Vaughn, Mark Millar (comic book), John S. Romita, Jr. (comic book)
Starring: Aaron Johnson, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Chloë Grace Moretz, Nicolas Cage, Mark Strong, Lyndsy Fonseca, Xander Berkley

Image courtesy of Lionsgate/Universal
Yeah, “down to earth” certainly doesn’t describe “Kick-Ass” very well. It is a strange and odd sort of movie. It isn’t exactly a spoof of the superhero genre, and yet it doesn’t take itself entirely seriously. Yet it does take itself very seriously in many ways. The action is unique and interesting. The characters don’t do and behave as you might expect. I was especially impressed by Christopher Mintz-Plasse, whom most people recognize as McLovin’ from “Superbad”. He’s set up as his typical character type, a nerdy geek who thinks more of himself than he actually is; but instead, he’s actually intelligent and not entirely oblivious to the world he lives in. The hero, Kick-Ass, on the other hand, is oblivious until he gets beat up enough to realize just how oblivious he is and will probably always be. Anyway, it’s hard to keep a straight line of thought on this one, because it is so odd to begin with.


Alan Bacchus said...

Thanks for showing some love for Defendor - c'est Canadien!
Well, so is Tracey Fragments, oh well.

Andrew D. Wells said...

Yeah, I actually cut a line where I named' Tracey's home country. I felt that wasn't fair without calling out "Defendor". But I didn't want any stupid Americans thinking "Defendor" was in a foreign language. Interesting to see the contrast between an American take (Kick-Ass) and a Canadian take (Defendor) on similar subject matter. Although, I gave them each three stars, I think I prefer the Canadian version.