Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Two Reviews in One: Devil and The American

It's becoming a trend of mine lately, but perhaps I shouldn't be too proud of it. For the second time in consecutive weeks I decided to catch a pair of movies at the Regal in Edgmont. I won't go into the details about the art of sneaking into a second film (maybe I'll blog on that later), but you can't be too picky when pulling off "The Double Feature". I had a partner in crime this time out, so I let him choose the first one. He decided to go with the M Night Shyamalan (producer) film Devil. Being somewhat restricted, I wasn't upset at all by the thought of doubling down with the latest George Clooney picture, The American. With pretzel bites and candy in hand, we set off on the adventure. Here's what I had to say about the films:

Film: Devil

Starring: Chris Messina (Julie and Julia) and Geoffrey Arend (500 Days of Summer and Super Troopers)

U.S. Release: 2010 (rated PG-13)

Director: John Erick Dowdle

Genre: Horror

Runtime: 80 minutes

I had no real expectations going into the film. I've always been a big horror fan, so I guess you could say I was somewhat intrigued. Devil offers a solid story, excellent pacing, and just enough suspense to keep your interest. Though I must offer a warning to die hard fans of the Horror genre. Devil shies away from showing you too much during the intense scenes. If your looking for gore and brutality, you definitely won't find it here.

Devil follows a group of strangers on an elevator ride inside of a Philadelphia building. When the elevator breaks down, the situation begins to go haywire. Police are baffled by the crazy turn of events that begin to take place in the enclosed space. However, one security guard has his own theory for detectives at the scene. He believes that the Devil is present in the elevator.

Despite it's mediocre attempt at a twist, Devil will keep you entertained and interested in how this 80 minute thrill ride resolves itself. The acting was certainly above average for a Horror film and props to Devil for its constant usage of the Philadelphia skyline. And even though there's nothing groundbreaking about the film, the story is sure to keep you guessing until the end. I wouldn't recommend rushing out to see it before it exits theatres, but it's worth seeing if you stumble upon it down the road.

Watch Devil if you enjoyed: The Orphan. Very different stories, but the feel of the movies were similar. Intriguing and entertaining, but nothing more.

Stars: 2 out of 4 stars.

Film: The American

Starring: George Clooney (Up in the Air and Burn After Reading)

U.S. Release: 2010 (rated R)

Director: Anton Corbijn

Genre: Drama

Runtime: 105 minutes

George Clooney is a polarizing actor. Generally speaking, most people either love him or hate him. I was in a discussion recently about Clooney, and someone suggested he was one of the most overrated actors alive. Personally, I find him to be a wonderful character actor. More times than not, I find myself getting emotionally invested in Clooney's roles, and it often leaves me satisfied with his performance. But I like to objective, so I can sort of see the other side of this argument. His resume isn't overwhelming, but somehow he's certainly one of the biggest superstars on the planet. Hence, I went into seeing The American expecting a knockout performance from Clooney. Unfortunately, he didn't deliver.

The American follows Jack (Clooney), an aging hitman who's become a target himself. And when you're a hitman, where do you start when compiling a list of anyone who could be out to get you? Jack takes the advice of his employer and decides to hide out in a little Italian town. While in Italy, he falls for a local call girl and wants nothing more than to run off together and live a normal life. As the days pass, he finds it difficult to trust anyone and begins to realize that his fantasy is all too unlikely.

This film was certainly a poor choice for Clooney. Despite it's decent cinematography, the story is dry and the main character, Jack, is all too emotionless. As the film drags on, you find yourself uninterested in Jack's fate, good or bad. I understand the director's attempt, but he failed at creating a wonderful character piece in the likes of Gran Torino or Crazy Heart. Instead, Anton Corbijn leaves the audience bored and detached. When a film lacks depth and a fluent storyline, much like The American, a brilliant performance by the lead actor or actress becomes a necessity. And believe me, Clooney didn't give such a performance. I would be very reluctant to see the film unless you're a sucker for a very slow, character-driven drama.

Watch The American if you enjoyed: The Wrestler. Be warned though, Clooney is no Rourke and the story is less intense than the Darren Aronofsky hit.

Stars: 1 out of 4 stars

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Raise Those Thumbs for The Town

Film: The Town

Starring: Ben Affleck (Good Will Hunting) and Jeremy Renner (The Hurt Locker)

U.S. Release: 2010 (rated R)

Director: Ben Affleck (Gone Baby Gone)

Genre: Drama

Runtime: 123 minutes

One thing was certain, Warner Bro's dished out beaucoup bucks in order to promote the latest Ben Affleck project, The Town. You couldn't escape it's trailer on commercial spots all over television. Unlike Affleck's directorial debut Gone Baby Gone, The Town has high expectations and even bigger shoes to fill. Let it be known that I was a huge fan of Affleck's first film. Great acting, an intriguing story, and even a twist or two made Gone Baby Gone an instant classic. It even landed in the #12 spot on my "Top 20 Movies of the Decade" post. That being said, if Affleck's second big release is being critiqued under a microscope, it's definitely being done by me.

Present day Charlestown is the "bank robbery capital of America", so says The Town's tagline. Located in the slums of Boston, this corrupt town is a breeding ground for delinquents. The handbook on "how to be a criminal and (sometimes) not get caught" is passed down from generation to generation, leaving most growing children with no way out. Doug MacRay (Affleck) and James Coughlin (Renner) are no exceptions to the rule. With bank robbing in their blood, there's no other way for these two childhood friends to make ends meet. While pulling off a job at a local bank, MacRay and Coughlin's plan gets foiled, and they are forced to kidnap a bank manager (played by Claire Keesey) as collateral. Lucky enough, the duo get away scot-free and release their hostage. But when they come to find out she also lives in Charlestown, they need to pay even closer attention to her cooperation with the Feds.

There are plenty of great moments in The Town to discuss. Jeremy Renner, fresh off an Oscar nomination for The Hurt Locker, was superb. He's an up and coming actor who will definitely be on everyone's radar after this performance. He stole the movie. On the other hand, Affleck wasn't as brilliant. In fact, I found his character often lacking emotion. His unconvincing delivery took a little bit away from the film. Perhaps Affleck should stick to directing, and leave the acting to professionals.

The crime-drama craze has been out of hand lately. Many people are beginning to feel like the genre is overplayed, but The Town still has something to offer. The film is surely filled with cliches, and to add insult to injury, the whole Boston love-fest gets annoying. But when all is said and done, Affleck really knows how to depict a story. The action sequences are tasteful and by no means overdone. Also, the movie has a nice flow and the ending can only be described as "gratifying". The Town is definitely worth checking out in theatres, despite all of its imperfections.

Watch The Town if you enjoyed: Inside Man. Affleck's picture isn't as "cat and mouse" oriented as Spike Lee's clever film, but it's more humane and character driven.

Stars: 3 stars out of 4

Monday, September 20, 2010

It doesn't get much better than Get Low

Film: Get Low

Starring: Robert Duvall (Crazyheart, We Own the Night), Bill Murray (Broken Flowers, Life Aquatic), and Sissy Spacek (An American Haunting, Hot Rod)

U.S. Release: 2010 (rated PG-13)

Director: Aaron Schneider (debut full length movie)

Genre: Comedy

Runtime: 103 minutes

Where do I begin? Most of you probably haven't heard of Get Low (and shame on you for it), because this low budget film began its limited release in July of 2010. However, just recently it got the green light to have a more wide-scale release throughout the United States. When I went to the Regal in Edgmont today to see The Town, I knew I had to double dip and catch this Indie film with a star-studded cast. Get Low was not only a diamond in the rough, but it was clearly one of 2010's finest films.

Set in 1930s Tennessee, Felix Bush (Duvall) is an old hermit with a bad reputation. 40 years in seclusion has stirred many rumors about Mr Bush, but he's come up with a way to set everyone straight. With the help of a local funeral parlor owner named Frank Quinn (Murray), Felix plans to put an end to all the folklore by having a public funeral at his home. The only kicker is, Felix plans on being alive and in attendance. Well ... perhaps it isn't the only kicker. In fact, Mr Bush carefully crafts the idea to do one thing and one thing only, tell his story.

Get Low offers countless of praiseworthy aspects. The first-time director Aaron Schneider did a fantastic job. It was no surprise to find out that he has some hardware to his resume. Schneider won an Oscar for his featured short film Two Soldiers, and he may have even more in his future. Excellent direction, coupled with a fun, unique story, spelled a recipe for success. Get Low was as charming and witty as its entire cast. Duvall's performance as the misunderstood hermit Felix Bush was award worthy, and it would be a shame for him not to be recognized for his amazing work in this film. Bill Murray, Sissy Spacek, and Lucas Black all chipped in with solid roles as well. Get Low absolutely shined. It's rare to encounter a film that has no real flaws, but this one surely fits that criteria.

I thoroughly enjoyed Get Low from it's opening to closing credits. Everything from it's unforgettable cast to its perfectly scripted dialogue. Duvall dazzles, and reminds us of how great an actor he's been since his early days in classics like The Godfather. Felix Bush is a troubled, yet lovable, character with a story that everyone should hear. He seems so strong yet so fragile, so reckless yet so innocent. He's far from perfect, but that's what makes him so human and allows for the audience to connect with him on a deeper level. If you can't find the time to see it in theatres, then at some point, be sure to make an effort to watch Get Low. Believe me, you won't be disappointed.

Watch Get Low if you enjoyed: Gran Torino. Duvall's performance was reminiscent of Clint Eastwood's fantastic role as Walt Kowalski. Get Low isn't as meaningful of a film, but it's great in its own right.

Stars: 3.5 stars out of 4

Grade: A-

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

The Best is Yet to Come: Fall Movie Preview

Even with all the praise and notoriety surrounding the blockbuster Inception, it's been a bare year for top notch cinema. And sure we were teased with a few other sporadic treats like Toy Story 3, The Imaginarium of Dr Paranassus, and Kick Ass. But, all in all, the movie gods have been cruel to us in 2010. However, fear not disappointed moviegoers, because this Fall and Winter, we're destined to rejuvenate our spirits.

Every year multiple "wise" directors plan their filming around this end of the year deadline, in order to create a buzz just in time for Oscar Season. This year will be no exception. Even though the Summer drought of exciting movies has come and gone, you can thank renowned directors Danny Boyle (Slumdog Millionaire and The Beach), Clint Eastwood (Gran Torino and Million Dollar Baby), Darren Aronofsky (The Wrestler and Requiem for a Dream), and David Fincher (Fight Club and Seven) for giving us something to look forward to.

There are countless movies being released in the upcoming months that should undoubtedly get your heart racing. So fasten your seat belt, let your hair down, and read on, about all the releases that you'd be foolish to miss.

#1) The Town is director Ben Affleck's second mainstream release. His first film, Gone Baby Gone, was a cinematic gem, and the trailer for his second film has people talking already. Starring Jeremy Renner (The Hurt Locker) and Affleck himself, The Town focuses on a group of criminals who rob banks in and around Boston. But when Affleck falls for one of the managers at a bank he's robbed, he decides he wants out. Sometimes though, it's not that easy. Opening up this weekend (Friday September 17th), I'll be sure to get out and see it quickly to have a worthwhile review for you.

#2) Fincher built his career around thought provoking, edgy films such as Seven and Fight Club. Then in 2008, he shocked us all with the wonderful film The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, which did well at the Oscars. Now, he's back with a film that we all can relate to, The Social Network. His latest picture centers around the global phenomenon Facebook, and the people tied to its origins. Facebook is the guru of social networking, and it's used by countless people all over the world. Whoever came up with this revolutionary idea was sure to make an incomprehensible amount of money. Since the idea was originated on the campus of Harvard, we can only imagine the controversy surrounding everyone hoping to get a piece of the pie. [release date 10/01/10]

#3) Matt Damon stars as a man capable of communicating with the dead in Clint Eastwood's uncharacteristic supernatural thriller, Hereafter. In the tradition of Crash and Babel, the film focuses on a few separate storylines that unravel to ultimately come together in a clever ending. Many of the details of the film and its plot have been on the "hush-hush", but it's rare to be disappointed by a legend of Hollywood such as Eastwood. The trailer isn't very telling, but it is definitely intriguing. [release date 10/22/10]

#4) 127 Hours portrays the real life story of Aron Ralston (played by the under-appreciated James Franco). Ralston embarked alone on a weekend rock climbing trip without notifying anyone of his plans. Therefore, when he encounters a potential life threatening problem in the mountains of Utah, he knows he is left to fend for himself. One thing is for certain, Ralston will do whatever it takes to make it back home. Danny Boyle directs this gut wrenching tale of courage and survival. [release date 11/05/10]

#5) Black Swan. This dark thriller centers around a New York City ballet company and follows a hard working dancer destined to star in an upcoming show. Ballet consumes the lead character's life (played by Natalie Portman) , not to mention the added pressure from her controlling mother and flirtatious director. And when a new face shows up in the company (played by Mila Kunis), her lead role in the production may be in jeopardy. Filled with an aura of desperation, obsession, and betrayal, Black Swan looks like the latest masterpiece from highly regarded director Darren Aronofsky. [release date 12/01/10]

Some other notable upcoming releases are:

The independent film Jack Goes Boating. It stars Philip Seymour Hoffman as a loner who starts seriously dating for the first time in his life, and he may have found the one. But his lack of dating knowledge and understanding of life, could ultimately spoil this fairy tale ending.

The Company Men. The film features Ben Affleck, Tommy Lee Jones, and Kevin Costner. It revolves around the economic downturn in America and the skyrocketing unemployment rates. When successful businessmen find themselves without a job, you can see that coming to terms with their ego and finding a way support their families, can be quite the challenge.

Another independent film, Monsters, tells the not-so-distant futuristic story of a mission to outer space to find other forms of life. The mission goes terribly wrong, and these "monsters" come back to earth, and inhabit a quarantined area located mostly in Mexico. However, a lost couple are willing to risk their lives and venture through this danger zone, in order to get back home to the states.

Trailers to all of these films are available and IMDB.com. Feel free to check them out and let me know which ones you think look interesting.