Tag Archives: 7.5 potatoes

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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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.

Assault on Precinct 13 (1976)


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Starring: Austin Stoker, Darwin Joston, Laurie Zimmer
Director: John Carpenter
Screenwriter: John Carpenter
Rating : R

John Carpenter is the undisputed champion of B flicks. The way he exploits violence and builds around an interesting enough plot, with style and wit, has earned him the title. “Assault on Precinct 13 is by now a classic in Carpenter’s filmography, all the more reason to make producers think they needed to make a remake in 2005 (and a surprisingly good one too).

The story unfolds in a gang-ridden L.A. where a war is underway between the law and the extremely well armed outlaws. Collateral damage in this urban conflict is a little girl, shot while getting ice cream. Her father declares his own kind of war on the gangs, kills their leader and runs to safety inside the now infamous precinct 13 (although it’s actually refered to in the film as Anderson Precinct, the 13 bit was added in the title by the producers to make it sound more ominous), which is currently closing down so it’s short on men and weapons. Coincidently, a prisoner transport also makes a stop at the precinct because one of the prisoners got sick. Part of the shipment of inmates is the feared psychopathic killer Napoleon Wilson, on his way to death row. The gangs organize a daring assault on the precinct to avenge their leader, and Officer Bishop, left behind to oversee the closing of the precinct, along with a few other people, including prisoners, prepare to fiercely fight for their own survival.

The idea itsef is perfect for an action film, the bad guys attack in waves, and the good guys attempt to find alternative survival methods with limited amounts of weapons and ammunition. John Carpenter first intended to do a western, but lacking the resources (money that is), decided to go for a gritty urban action film with a western touch. Action-wise it’s not terribly spectacular by today’s standards, but it does a better job by relying on good ol’ suspense and claustrophobic atmosphere. The characters and dialogue are typical western fare, from the good sheriff type (Bishop) and the ruthless morally ambiguous bad guy (Wilson), to the swarm of outlaws beating down the door in a classic western alamo scenario. The interesting idea here is that of the cops and robbers joining forces in order to survive, but it’s not really explored in a serious fashion. It’s just an excuse for tense action. The actors are largely unknown even to this day, which I consider effective for its realism.

The 2005 remake contains an entirely modified storyline and characters (a lot more stars in the cast). What they keep is the basic idea of the siege, which is, obviously, the whole concept of the original. It also concerns itself more with gimmicky action, indeed superficial, but just as much fun, particularly since it has a larger budget to work on. It’s pretty difficult to recommend on of the two. As I said, I personally would go for the remake, and action/violence fans will probably choose the 2005 film as well, but if you are a Carpenter fan (as I am), and you enjoy the classics, or you just hate remakes for what they really are : cynical excuses for producers to make money, you should turn to the original. After all, the remake can’t exist without the original story it’s based on.

21 (2008)


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Starring: Jim Sturgess, Kevin Spacey, Kate Bosworth, Laurence Fishburne
Director: Robert Luketic
Screenwriter: Peter Steinfeld, Allan Loeb
Rating: PG-13 for some violence, and sexual content including partial nudity
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21 is a rare breed in the sea of blockbusters. It’s a film with modest means which milks its intriguing idea for all it’s got and succeeds in surpassing its more glamorous competition. Such creations are regarded as underdogs, but when directed with taste and feeling, they can surely pay off.

Inspired from actual events (wich makes it about 80-90% fiction), „21” tells the story of a group of MIT students, the best of the best, who under the guidance of a brilliant statistics proffesor (Kevin Spacey), equiped with fake ID’s and trained in the art of what is known as „counting cards”, strike blow after blow in the monetary hearts of Las Vegas’ finest casinos. The last recruit in the group is Ben Campbell (Jim Sturgess), who desperately needs 300,000$ to be accepted at Harvard. But the taste of money and pleasure is enough to corrupt anyone, so Ben leaves his old life behind and sinks deeper into the world of gamblers, losing his soul, bit by bit, at the card tables of Sin City. When an old school overseer (old school as in a Scorsese type that applies brutal treatment to cheaters), played by a very large Laurence Fishburne, catches onto the trickesters, Ben in particular, the rules of the game change and the stakes are absolute.

The world of casino cheaters is not really something we’ve never seen before, but the idea of MIT students pulling the tricks and the fact that it’s based on fact, is a welcome change and well handled by the director and screenwriter. The pacing is quick and enthusiasticly flashy, sometimes resembling a music video, especially during the card games, which could get boring without a bit of sound and editing wizardry. The characters are pretty sketchy, but the eager cast more than makes up for it, holding the story on their own terms, adding where it’s lacking. The believability factor also takes a nose dive sometimes, but nothing to worry about, since you’re not required to think about it. It’s all fast and charming, thanks to Russel Carpenters’ cinematography („Titanic”), who relies heavily on digital cameras, obtaining an effect similar to Michael Mann’s recent films (like „Collateral” or „Public Enemies”). The editing is even more coherent that is expected from such MTV generation films, even when it turns scenes into a surreal hallucination of sorts.

It’s fairly obvious this is not a complex or profound experience. It just has some well used aces up its sleeve : the simple but intriguing plot, enough visual energy to keep things moving and enhance the atmosphere creating fluid scenes, good to great acting, all leading to the conclusion that during its aproximativelly 118 minutes it provides quality entertainment and nothing more. It’s not a Best Picture nominee, and it certainly doesn’t aim that high. The director is well aware of what kind of film this is, so he never pushes it, he just lets it be the best it can be, enough to make it worth seeing at least once.