Monthly Archives: September 2010

Review: The Town

the town one sheetThe Town is built upon a cinematic cliché, the repentant criminal who finds it almost impossible to escape his surroundings, environment and peers. Fortunately, director Ben Affleck does a terrific job with the source material and has produced a gritty, exciting and satisfying crime film that ranks with the best of its genre.

The film opens up with a bank robbery, and it’s clear immediately that this isn’t a suave, sophisticated gang of thieves who are going to charm their victims, but a tough band of thugs who use physical force and intimidation to frighten them. Affleck plays disaffected criminal Doug MacRay, a lifelong Charlestown (Boston) resident who commits heists with his dangerously violent brother James (Jeremy Renner).
The bank robbery doesn’t transpire as planned and they grab bank manager Claire Keesey (Rebecca Hall) and use her as a hostage to guarantee a smooth getaway. On Doug’s urging, they release her unharmed and when FBI Special Agent Adam Frawley (Jon Hamm) later interviews her, he’s suspicious. But can Claire identify the robbers? That’s the central question in the film, and Doug begins stalking her — and then dating her — to ensure she doesn’t rat them out. Add in the “one more job” trope and you’ve got The Town.
Even with the occasionally ragged storyline, the action was exciting, the dialog gritty, vulgar and believable, the film reeked of verisimilitude, the performances were all spot-on, and the exterior shots of Boston were terrific. I really enjoyed The Town and anticipate Affleck becoming a reliable director of great films, much as Clint Eastwood has transformed his career and become one of the top directors in Hollywood. In a nutshell: go see The Town. You won’t regret it.

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Review: The American

the american one sheetClooney as an assassin? Sounds like the recipe for a slam-bang action film with a dollop of cool, but that’s not what director Anton Corbijn has created with the very European The American. With the plethora of mindless action films in the last few months, however, I really liked the slow, thoughtful pace of this surprisingly action-free action movie.

Clooney plays Jack, a gunsmith, craftsman and assassin. More a character study than anything else, the film starts in Dalarna, Sweden, where Jack has retreated with his lover Ingrid (Irina Björklund). Unnamed bad guys have tracked him down, however, and he unemotionally kills the team sent to kill him, then wipes all traces of his stay and runs to Castel del Monte, a quaint little Northern Italian town just outside of Rome.

Still loosely connected with his unnamed agency, Jack is given the assignment of creating a powerful, silent sniper rifle for the beautiful and equally cold Mathilde (Thekla Reuten). In scenes reminiscent of the terrific Day of the Jackal, Jack methodically builds the custom rifle and finds a secluded meadow alongside a stream to test and calibrate the instrument.

Seeking female companionship, he becomes close with Clara (Violante Pacido), a beautiful hooker who becomes pivotal to his character development: how can he allow himself to feel anything for her when his whole life has been about shutting down his emotions?

I really enjoyed The American, though I felt that the ending was flawed and distressingly cliché for such a unique film with an otherwise retro noir feel. Clooney is his cool, methodical self, an actor perfectly suited to his role, and the Italian countryside was worth the price of the ticket alone. If you’re looking for a Hollywood blockbuster action film, move along. If you want to enjoy a thoughtful character study about an assassin trying to find his humanity, however, I recommend The American highly.
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Review: Machete

machete one sheetAfter having sat through the enjoyable but mind-numbingly violent Machete, I’ve come up with a new movie category: bloodbath porn. From the very first scene in this Robert Rodriguez homage to 70s action films, Machete has a body count that I can’t recall seeing an equal of since the Rambo series. Not into decapitation?  Then this probably isn’t the film for you.

Machete is played by scary-looking character actor Danny Trejo, whose entire career seems to be made up of playing tough Latino hoodlums, including the recent Rodriguez action thriller Predators (see my review of Predators). In this film, he’s a machete-wielding Federale who starts out trying to free a girl from evil druglord Torrez (Steven Seagal). He slaughters at least a dozen bad guys but is ultimately betrayed and left for dead after watching Torrez kill his wife in cold blood.
Three years later, it’s a Texas border town and the story changes to Senator McLaughlin (Robert De Niro) running for re-election on a Draconian anti-immigration platform. His cynical media manipulation plan includes hiring a Mexican day laborer to hurt, but not kill him. It proceeds until they unwittingly tap Machete to play assassin. He decides to fight back against the system and predictable mayhem ensues.
Meanwhile, seemingly innocent taco-truck operator Luz (Michelle Rodriguez), secretly runs a sort of underground railroad for illegal aliens called “Operation Network”, while skeptical immigration officer Sartana (Jessica Alba) keeps a close eye on things while she tries to crack the secret group.
All the storyline is but an excuse to propel Machete from massacre to massacre, and some of the scenes are so silly that it’s hard not to laugh and just enjoy the mayhem. Bloodbath porn. Not your cup of tea?  Then you won’t like Machete and should skip it.

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