Edge of Darkness (2010)


Starring: Mel Gibson, Ray Winstone, Danny Huston
Director: Martin Campbell
Screenwriter: William Monahan, Andrew Bovell
Rated: R for strong bloody violence and language.

Remaking his own 6 episode BBC mini-series, director Martin Campbell attempts his reboot skills, this time not for a fictional character, as was the case with James Bond (twice even, in 1995 with Goldeneye and 2006 with Casino Royale), but rather one made of flesh and blood, Mel Gibson. “Edge of Darkness” is an attempt at a comeback for the 80’s violent conspiracy/revenge/Mel flicks. And it sort of works that way too.

Thomas Craven (Mel Gibson) is a Boston homicide detective. When his daughter is killed right in front of him, he begins an investigation which leads him into the murky corporate underworld, complete with nefarious government cover-ups, silenced witnesses and henchmen driving around in black SUVs. His daughter was working for Northmoor, a company she discovered was secretely manufacturing nuclear weapons. Now, it’s up to Mel to avenge his daughter, plow through the bad guys and bring down Northmoor executive Jack Bennet (Danny Huston). What a great set-up for a trailer. You can even imagine that deep trailer voice announcing all this stuff.

The most important thing to keep in mind when deciding to watch this movie, is the fact that it’s throwback to the 80s conspiracy thrillers. It doesn’t always make sense, and the fact that a 6 episode plot was condensed to a two hour movie leaves a lot of the story feel rushed. While the mini-series was supposed to be a dark mistery with a slow pace, this one is supposed to be just as dark, but more action oriented, and tailored to Mel Gibson’s brand of intense performance. Indeed, Mel is back into his “Lethal Weapon” game, chewing scenery whenever he can, but, as you can imagine, in a way more appropriate for his age. I was afraid they would have him do James Bond stunts, but, thank God, there’s none of that.

Besides Mel, there’s another interesting character, Jedburgh (Ray Winstone), who describes himself as “the man who stops you from connecting A to B”. His job was to take out Craven before he would become a nuisance for the government, but something about Craven intrigues him. They share a couple of lengthy conversations, and in a separate scene, we find out Jedburgh is terminally ill. All these will lead to a puzzling final scene I will not spoil. His motivations are a mistery, much like the character himself. There’s a certain depth to him that doesn’t feel fully developed. Just, intriguing.

The whole film is full of little contradictions. It has a deliberately slow pace, that ends up conflicting with the condensed and rushed plot. It throws in shocking, unexpected scenes of graphic violence that fit the revenge plot, but remain nothing more than shock tactics in an otherwise tame movie. It shows us the promise of a psychological thriller, but by the end it’s nothing more than a shoot’em up. Everything shifts and turns. The only constant and dependable things are Mel Gibson’s overacting and Danny Huston’s weasely villain. It’s the kind of movie that can be enjoyed especially if you aknowledge and accept these facts and savour them for what they are. If this is your kind of fare, then you’re going to love “Edge of Darkness”, like I did.

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Trailer : Prince of Persia (2010)


Disney and Jerry Bruckheimer shake hands once again to recreate the success of “Pirates of the Caribbean”. A video game adaptation, “Prince of Persia” is a similar attempt at using a vague historical setting mixed with pseudo-mythology as a setting for a kids-friendly adventure movie filled with humor and epic action. Definitely the most eagerly expected trailer of this week.

So far, the trailer reveals loads of CGI  and Jake Gyllenhaal doing a bad british accent. I find it funny that a british accent is quintessential to envisioning the middle east in a movie, so much so, that an american actor has to fake the said accent in order for everything to be “authentic”. Not that I’ll let stuff like that prevent me from enjoying some good ol’ fashioned mindless action. I’m sure it’s going to be a fun crowd-pleaser (Mike Newell behind the camera is a big plus), though not as successful as “Pirates…”, and probably less likely to spawn a franchise…though I have been wrong before. Lower expectations and take in all that eye-candy.

Couples Retreat (2009)


Starring: Vince Vaughn, Kristen Bell, Jason Bateman, Malin Akerman, Jon Favreau, Kristin Davis
Director: Peter Billingsley
Screenwriter: Jon Favreau

Ok, I knew I would not like this one. There was no way in hell that a
comedy starring Vince Vaughn and Jon Favreau would interest me in the
slightest. I also am not a heterosexual man so that the hotness of Malin
Ackerman or Kristen Bell or Kristin Davies would blind my rational
judgment. I saw the trailer and I thought it was a nice way for some A
listers to earn some money while getting a natural tan in an exotic location.
I knew well ahead what was coming and my masochist side was pleased to
see I was all I hoped it would be.

The plot revolves around four couples: Malin Ackerman and Vince Vaughn, Kristin Bell and Jason Bateman, Kristin Davis and Jon Favreau, Faison Love and a 20 year old post divorce rebound girlfriend. Every one of these couples
has ONE problem and everything they do is connected to that one problem
and/or is totally out of character but serves an one line unfunny joke. They
try to solve their problems by going on a vacation that includes, among
scuba diving and massages, couples therapy. I KNOW, this is so original
and so not cliché at all!

The trailer lies like a well oiled marketing device: it presents this movie as a
raunchy comedy with a stelar cast, great panoramic views and a love
centered story. If you actually buy tickets, you will be met by some bored
individuals who are trying to sell you some figments of candy wrapped
Hollywood “love” that should make you believe that these are good people
who deserve to be happy. I’ll give them this: they deserve each other. The
stories are one dimensional, predictable and quickly resolved, and there are
not enough helicopter shots of crystal blue sea water in this flick to make
anyone forget what impossibly contrived situations they try to pass as real
couple problems.

When I read some reviews about this movie, I realized that many people said that it was a shame that “such a talented cast” was “dragged into this horror fest”. I disagree. These people have not one, but several people watching every move they make, every contract they sign, every role they pick. They read the script, compare it to the check and decide if it’s worth it. So my conclusion was that Vince Vaughn deserves all the bad press he can get, because he wanted to become this mediocre romantic comedy lead with zero appeal. He is almost Kutcher level for me, only worse especially because he had things going for him that the ladder did not, mainly talent. Jason Bateman and Kristen Bell are basically two sides of the same character but at about half way through the movie, she becomes another person so they can fight and “communicate their issues”. It’s all bland and pointless, not to mention unintentionally funny. They are likable actors, but somehow this movie makes them annoying and I’m very happy because maybe that will make Bell stop with the “cute as a button” type roles. Malin Ackerman is underappreciated by her husband and remains that way even after the credits roll, although the script tries to tell you otherwise. And Faison Love is embarrassing, but luckily the bar can go lower to poor Jon Favreau (who also co-wrote this wreck) and Kristen Davis where there.are.no.words.

While watching this movie, the painfully true line uttered by Roeper when trying to explain using words the awfulness that is “What Happens in Vegas” was floating through my head: “The cast said they had so much fun during the making of this movie, THEY should have to sit through it”.

Trailer : A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010)


The remake to Wes Craven’s 1984 horror classic might be good news for fans of Freddy Krueger. The not-so-good news is that this is yet another Michael Bay produced remake that will send people screaming for the original. Starring Jackie Earle Haley and a handful of unknown youngsters, this will probably end up being another shot for shot remake. Perhaps there’s even hope of this becoming a reboot, but that might be taking it too far.

From the trailer it seems like a slick production, with good to great tehnical values, as can be expected, but something seems to be missing. It could be that perhaps the creepy vibe of the original is lost under all that CGI. Freddy’s makeup has changed as well, but they won’t let us see much of it yet. Plus, the director of this remake only has experience in the field of music video (Metallica, Blink 182, Green Day, Smashing Pumpkins) which almost always means that he can frame a scene, create the mood, but doesn’t have the experience to improve a bad script or channel good performances from his actors. Although it’s too soon to hand out a verdict on this one, it probably won’t be the experience hardcore fans of the franchise will expect, it will contain too many identical scenes from the original, but lacking in what made it so popular, while for the average horror film consumer, it will be a fun diversion with some scares and plenty of gore to boot. If one good thing can be said about it, it’s probably that Jackie Earle Haley is the best choice for a new Freddy. He’s made his comeback, now he’s riding the wave and seems to love taking on freaky characters.

The Blind Side (2009)


Starring: Sandra Bullock, Quinton Aaron, Tim McGraw
Director: John Lee Hancock
Screenplay: John Lee Hancock (based on a book by Michael Lewis)
Rating: PG-13 for one scene involving brief violence, drug and sexual references

For Sandra Bullock 2009 was the best year of her career. The summer comedy “The Proposal” was a pretty big box-office hit and “The Blind Side” was not only a huge dollar-maker and it seems will guarantee her an Oscar. Quite a big leap from comedian to dramatic lead (much like Mo’Nique in “Precious”). Of course there was also the God-awfull “All About Steve”, but I’ll let that one slide.

“The Blind Side” is esentially the true story sports drama we’ve all seen before, featuring the underdog and the people who support him along the way to fullfiling his dreams and/or ambitions of becoming a hero on the field (or whatever arena the sport in question takes place in). However, director John Lee Hancock surprisingly moves freely past some boundaries while keeping the film safe at home in all the familiar sports movie cliches. The story follows a homeless african-american kid Michael Oher (Quinton Aaron), who one day happens to cross paths with the Touhys, a tipical southern republican family in love with sports and family values. Mama Touhy, Leigh Anne (Sandra Bullock), strong-willed and compassionate, takes Michael in and makes it her personal crusade to help him realise his full potential, which coincidentally is, since this IS a sports drama after all, to become offensive left tackle in the college footbal program, and later on being recruited by the NFL. The saving grace of this movie is that it concerns a little bit less with the sports and more with the dynamics betwenn the Touhys and Michael, which, in a nutshell, is like a kids-friendly version of “Precious”.

Michael has locked himself away from everything and everyone. He’s a defeated young man, with no hopes or prospects, who does not have the means to save himself. Until Leigh Anne Touhy reached out to him. A touching story that gets translated to the big screen with plenty of emotionality, sometimes pushing into blatant melodrama. Seemingly aware of the requirements of underdog stories, Hancock shifts some of the focus away from the result of Oher escaping his impoverished past and becoming an NFL football player. It’s not just the story of a football player, but the story of a human being, pulled away from the streets and given a chance to fully grow. Thus, Michael’s story is not one of success and fame, but one of salvation. The director pulls it off, even while conducting the sports drama elements in a by-the-numbers fashion and all the comic relief elements, such as the Touhy’s plucky young son S.J. (who provides some of the funniest moments on-screen). The story has strength and Hancock knows exactly how to mix it with all the rest of the things a crowd-pleasing Hollywood movie needs, in a manner that makes us forgive some of its superficial interpretations of real life (and there certainly are plenty of those too).

The cast is great, especially newcomer Quinton Aaron, who pulls off a superbly subtle and touching performance. He can express so much with just his eyes, that there’s practicaly no need for him to say any lines. We can sense his turmoil, but cannot fully understand it at first. He maintains a safe distance from everyone, slowly revealing his true self just as soon as he feels it is safe to. Bullock is also riveting, and safe to say that this is her career-defining moment, years in the making. Here she puts all her experience to work, delivering a dynamic, candid, surprisingly balanced performance. Clearly one of the best the year has to offer for leading actresses. I’m not sure I actually think she fully deserves the Oscar this year, though, but I’m sure she will be bestowed the honor, considering the awards she’s earned so far (Golden Globe, Screen Actors Guild award, Broadcast Film Critics Association award). I guess, if she’s ever going to win an Oscar, it might as well be now.

Overall “The Blind Side” is essentially family entertainment, cleverly blending the inspirational true story sports genre with bits of social commentary, garnished with some laughs and sprinkled with healthy doses of melodrama and a solid cast, making it watchable for anyone seeking a fun and involving treat. It’s crafty cinema at its best, just don’t expect any profound experiences.

Precious (2009)


Starring : Gabourey Sidibe, Mo’Nique, Paula Patton, Mariah Carey
Director : Lee Daniels
Screenplay: Geoffrey Fletcher (based on a novel by Sapphire)
Rating: R for child abuse including sexual assault, and pervasive language

Anyone who follows the award season closely has probably already heard about, learned about, even seen “Precious”, or as it’s officialy titled by the distributor, “Precious: Based on the Novel “Push” by Sapphire”. Why such a painfully long title ? Marketing strategies so that everyone knows it’s based on THAT novel, and to avoid confusion with that awfull sci-fi thriller “Push”, though I personally like to be given more credit as a moviegoer.

The movie centers on familiar themes like abuse and dysfunctional family environment, but gives us a memorable and unique story that refreshes these themes, just in case we’ve forgotten what they’re about (and I’m not being ironic). In fact, I can safely say that cinema is in need of more stories like Precious’ sad one. Claireece Precious Jones (Gabourey Sidibe) is a broken soul. An obese, illiterate 16-year-old black girl living in Harlem with her oppresive mother Mary (Mo’Nique), abused by her father, twice impregnated by him, living her daily life split between dark reality and glamorous fantasies. Her only escape from the nightmare of reality is through her imagination which transforms her into anything other than who she really is. In her imagination, she becomes a singer, model, actress, even an ordinary pretty white blonde girl. She fantasises about love and dreams of having a loving family. She’s suspended from high-school when the principal finds out she’s pregnant for the second time, but is offered the chance to continue her studies in an alternative school program led by Ms. Raine (Paula Patton). Here she will find the suitable environment to learn not just to read and write, but also to sustain hope, dare to achieve more and eventually free herself from the suffering she’s endured. That is not to say everything will be all right, far from it, as life still has plenty of punches to pull, but Precious will find friendship and love she never thought actually existed, little things that will open up a whole new world for her.

Now, down to specifics. You have probably learned by now that “Precious” is a solid contender for Best Picture, Leading and Supporting Actress, and you’re probably wondering, is it really that good, or is it just that the critics are suckers for social awareness underdog stories. Well, it’s really that good, actually, although it has its own problems which make it fall short of perfection. Director Lee Daniels has great instinct when it comes to his cast. Even Mariah Carey is unrecognisable in this film, and fairly efficient. The cast is perfect in unexpected ways. In fact, that is probably the prevailing aspect of this film.

Sidibe, a first timer, through her balanced performance inspires not pity for Precious, but respect and compassion. The girl is damaged beyond hope, but she finds a way to get by, hiding her frailty under a layer of anger and stubborness. She hopes to save her children from ever going through what she did, and so she fights to escape her broken home. The scene in which she tearfully confesses to Ms Rain that the only thing love has done for her is hurt her, is an emotional powerhouse because Sidilbe’s performance is heartfelt, so we witness a real person’s confession, not an actress emoting.

Mo’Nique is particularly effective. She portrays nothing less than a monster, yet allows some streams of humanity pour through her at a crucial moment towards the end. We can’t possibly relate to her or even fully understand her in terms of humanity, but at that moment we get to see more of her inner-workings. Mo’Nique could have easily gone the other way and portray her as simply “evil”, but this way we deal with something a lot more complicated, another damaged human being, broken and hateful. This is even more of a triumph for her as an actress, considering her acting experience is concentrated in the comedy genre. There is nothing comical about Mary. She has tolerated the raping of her own daughter in her home, and continued to abuse Precious, blaming her for “stealing her man”, beating and degrading her because of the life she herself never had.

What Daniels handles badly are the fantasy scenes. The scenes where Precious imagines an alternate glittery life are intrusive and break the emotional connection with the character rather than help establish it. The contrast with the gritty style is necessary and serves to remind us how different the two versions of her life are, I understand that, but they feel like we’re being slapped over the head with that particular message. I don’t even think they were absolutely necessary, since the story is already strong enough to keep us engaged. It’s as if the director felt we could not understand what Precious feels and thinks, unless he employed some CGI and stylish cinematography. I personally couldn’t wait for the fantasy scenes to end and allow the film to move on. The voice-over narration was sufficient to help us create a mental image of her fantasies. I was dissapointed that the director doesn’t credit us with a little more imagination.

So, bottom-line, the film benefits greatly from an excellent cast and powerfull story but is somewhat hindered by the director’s heavy-handed use of pointless storytelling artifices. Even so, it’s still a relevant, brutally honest cinematic achievement and will definetly garner plenty of attention during this award season for its Sidibe and Mo’Nique.

A History of Violence (2005)


Starring : Viggo Mortensen, Maria Bello, William Hurt, Ed Harris
Director : David Cronenberg
Screenplay : John Olson
Rating : R for strong brutal violence, graphic sexuality, nudity, language and some drug use.

David Cronenberg is a true artist. His films are the kind that you either instantly hate or instantly love. His vision is always uncompromising and almost always bleak and depressing. He focuses on the dark core of humanity, questioning the reality his characters inhabit, whether it is the life they live or the world they live it in. Brutal, dark, original and thought-provoking, Cronenberg’s vision is just as vivid in one of his most recent succeses “A History of Violence”.

Tom Stall (Viggo Mortensen) is a model citizen. He lives in a small town, he’s married, has two kids, a cozy household, and owns a modestly succesfull diner. The peaceful life he so much enjoys is torn apart when two psychopatic killers attempt to rob his diner. He guns both of them down with extreme prejudice, turning him into a local hero. His celebrity unfortunately extends beyond the borders of the small town, attracting unwanted attention from Philadelphia mobster Richie Cusack (William Hurt) who sends Carl Fogarty (Ed Harris) and a couple of henchmen to bring back Tom who they believe is Richies’s brother, a former assassin for the mob who dissapeared a long time ago. Fogarty and his crew shake things up in the small peaceful rural living while Tom himself must bring back some of his past bad habits in order to save his new life, and the life of his family.

While more accesible than his past films, this is still Cronenberg at his best. A psychologicaly tormented lead male character, borderlining split personality, who denies his life as hellraiser Joey Cusack, clearly a psychopatic killer back in the day, while maintaining his current identity as family man Tom Stall, under the pressure of his violent past coming back to haunt him. Definetly right up Cronenberg’s alley. What’s also interesting is how Joey/Tom’s history of violence is reflected on his family in the way their psychology bends almost as if organically reacting to the new identity of the family head. Tom’s deceit and the thought of his criminal past has devastating effects on the family psyche, provoking unusual behaviour. Their adolescent son explodes with violent rage against the local bully in an act of rebellion motivated by his loss of the male role model he identified with, Tom and his wife engage in very rough sex on the staircase (borderline S&M), venting their frustrations, a mix of love and hate, right after she just lied to the local sheriff about Tom’s true identity, herself deeply conflicted about accepting this new man in her life. All of it underlines deep changes in their lives, with the new Tom being the root of all evils, unleashed on their unsuspecting innocence. He’s both the problem and the key to solving their dilemma. The question is : will they now accept him for who he really is, which will probably mean a new beginning ? Standard issue with stories like this, but Cronenberg doesn’t go for the cliches even if the solution to Tom’s problems is easy to forsee. In the end, the only way to ensure his quiet life is to violently kill his past. Now, usually this is a paradox very familiar to action films, but Cronenberg doesn’t do Arnold Schwarzenegger films, so the big climax is a dialogue between Tom and Richie (fantastic line delivery by William Hurt, nominated for an Oscar), which of course ends in violence, but is basically built on tension and character motivations rather than nonsensical shoot’em up.

Since violence is the foundation of this film, it certainly won’t dissapoint gore hounds. Cronenber himself is a crafty director when it comes to blood and guts. “A History of Violence” depicts hardcore violence intentionally framed in gross close-ups and carefully choreographed. He does not glorify it, but instead throws it in our faces in all its horrifying details. This enhances the effect of the story in a way, since it’s all about the violence in these character’s life, how it grows within our society, and acts as a catalyst for our inner demons.

So what is essentially a thriller, pushes the lines of conventional cinema with style and subliminal usage of violence, allowing the viewer to form their own conclusions while being entertained by the perfect acting and tense atmosphere. A must-see.