Monthly Archives: August 2010

Review: Takers

takers one sheetThe premise of Takers couldn’t have been better tailored to my cinematic interests. A team of criminals who engineer and pull off perfect robberies, with timing down to the fraction of a second, deciding to do one last job, even as they’re suspicious of the source of the information, while an obsessive cop is hot on their trail, determined to break the case.

Unfortunately, the film itself was so sloppy and riddled with clichés that it quickly stopped being an homage and became more akin to a heist movie satire. By the end of the film, the audience was laughing at the melodramatic shoot-out, aghast at how a film that had started out strong had fallen to such abysmal lows.
The tough cop is Lt. Jack Welles (Matt Dillon) and the gang leader is Gordon (Idris Elba), with his partner John (Paul Walker). The rest of the gang are A.J. (Hayden Christensen), Jesse (Chris Brown) and Jake (Michael Ealy), and it’s clear through both wardrobe and cinematography that the vision was to have a very stylish group in the mold of the Rat Pack (Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis, Jr., etc). The problem? Sinatra and team were unquestionably cool, but Christensen, Walker and team are all fashion but no style, like mannequins in a boutique shop window.
If you like heist films, there are a number of terrific alternatives to Takers that are a better use of your time, including The Italian Job (either the wonderful original or the entertaining recent remake). In fact, at one point in the film, TJ refers to them “going all Italian Job”, but, no, Takers never got near that level of style and grace and collapses under its own pretentions.

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Review: Scott Pilgrim vs. The World

scott pilgrim vs the world one sheetGraphics novels are ripe for film treatments and many look just like storyboards, allowing moviemakers to jump start the creative process. Most graphic novel-based films tell the story but shed the visual style of the original work. A few have tried to present a hybrid view, notably Sin City and Warren Beatty’s Dick Tracy, but Scott Pilgrim vs. The World is the first to offer up a unique hybrid where the action, the visuals, the sets and even the scene transitions mirror the style of the original artwork.

Scott (Michael Cera) is a 23-year-old slacker living in Toronto. He has no job and just drifts from activity to activity, notably including playing bass in his band “Sex Bob-Omb”. He shares a tiny studio apartment – and bed, platonically – with his openly gay roomie Wallace (Kieran Culkin) and is dating a 17-year-old Chinese high school student Knives Chau (Ellen Wong). He falls in love with delivery girl Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), then finds out that to date her he has to defeat her seven evil ex’s, known collectively as the League of Evil Ex’s.
The film is fast paced and presents a warm, affectionate look at the lives of twenty-somethings who aren’t driven to succeed in big business. You meet these people all the time, they’re the bagger at the supermarket, the barista at your favorite coffee shop and the chap who parks your car at the swanky hotel. It also has the sensibilities of an MTV special with a pace that never slows down and wry sarcasm throughout. There is a surprising lack of vulgarity, however. In fact, when characters swear, it’s not only bleeped out, but a black box appears over their mouths.
I really enjoyed Scott Pilgrim vs. The World and appreciated the core story of the journey we all go through to find our own identies and to figure out what makes relationships work. I also felt a bit old watching a film clearly targeted at a much younger audience, but just as I enjoyed the graphic novels from Bryan Lee O’Malley, I also couldn’t help smiling throughout the film. It’s well worth seeing, and if you have teens trying to figure out their lives, they’ll love it.

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Review: The Expendables

the expendables one sheetSylvester Stallone! Jason Statham! Randy Couture! Dolph Lundgren! Jet Li! How can you be a fan of action movies and not love the idea of teaming them all up as a mercenary army ready to take on the biggest bad guys in the world? That’s how Stallone undoubtedly lined up the funding for this big, loud mess of a movie. Actually, The Expendables is worse than that, because the first half of the film is terrific, enjoyable, dripping in testosterone and insider jokes, including cameo appearances by Arnold Schwarzenegger and Bruce Willis. Then it just falls apart, the story becomes completely incomprehensible and even the editing degrades to choppy transitions.

Stallone is Barney Ross, head of a rough band of mercenaries, The Expendables, who hang out in the back of Tool’s tattoo parlour, run by Tool (Mickey Rourke). There’s tension between the team, of course, notably between Ying Yang (Jet Li) and Gunner Jensen (Dolph Lundgren). Gunner is the “mad dog” of the team and when they get a new assignment from the mysterious Mr. Church (Bruce Willis), he’s not invited to join them, which — surprise! — upsets him a bit.
The story is some nonsense about a tiny Caribbean island called Vilena, ostensibly run by General Garza (David Zayas) but really run as a cocoa plantation by the nefarious American James Munroe (Eric Roberts). It’s a festival of clichés that could have been a fun traipse if the story itself hadn’t just collapsed in on itself so horribly. Heck, with the possible exception of Rourke, none of the actors stretch at all, instead just playing their typecast “action hero” roles, and even Roberts is so unrelentingly evil that he’s just as much a comic-book character as the rest of the cast.
I really wanted to like this film. I went in with visions of The Dirty Dozen, Where Eagles Dare, Force 10 From Navarone and other classic war / action films that featured all-star casts, and even an hour into the movie, I was pleased at how well Stallone (who is also the film’s writer and director) was satirically referencing classic action film tropes, but by the time the credits ended, I just felt relief that there wasn’t a “twist” suggesting that a sequel could be in the works.

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Review: The Other Guys

the other guys one sheetI take notes as I watch films so that I can remember salient plot points, great effects, and idiotic story twists. During The Other Guys, I wrote down “buddy cop film from hell”.  That might well sum up the weird mashup that is The Other Guys, a movie that can’t decide if it’s a straight-up action film, a satire that skewers the well-worn buddy cop genre, or a daft, sophomoric comedy in the vein of Police Academy.

NYPD supercops Highsmith (Samuel L. Jackson, who has become a parody of himself) and Danson (the ever-likable Dwayne Johnson) overshadow everyone else in their precinct with their ludicrously over-the-top heroics in the line of duty. $12 million in damage to capture criminals with a quarter-pound of marijuana? All in a day’s work.
Meanwhile, Hoitz (Mark Wahlberg) is a hotshot detective demoted to desk work for a heinous gaffe that I won’t spoil, partnered with the annoying and cowardly Gamble (Will Ferrell). The Other Guys is rife with cinematic cliches, including another pair of cops that constantly tease them and a precinct captain (Michael Keaton at his comedic best) who moonlights at Bed, Bath & Beyond.

Here’s the thing: As much as I groaned at scenes and dialog, I also laughed again and again as classic film tropes were parodied (with surprisingly good production values) and one-liners were trotted out as fast as they could be spoken. Did it stink or is it worth seeing? That might well depend on your familiarity with the genre — especially Pulp Fiction, a clear inspiration — and ability to handle the oft-crass comic touch of co-star Will Ferrell. The Other Guys is a film destined for cable TV, but if you’re looking for a good, simple laugh, this might well be your ticket for a weekend no-brainer.

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