Sunday, March 21, 2010

Repo Men (Review)

     The previews and hype for "Repo Men" screamed stay away but the concept and Jude Law gave me some hope.  Maybe there's something more to this movie.  Maybe it's not just an over-hyped, action filled, excuse for bloody violence.  Maybe, just maybe, it's worth seeing.  Then again, maybe not.

     "Repo Men" stars Jude Law and Forest Whitaker as a pair of repo men who come to repossess very expensive artificial organs from people who have fallen behind on their loan payments.  It is somehow legal for them to incapacitate and slice people open, wherever they just happen to be, (after breaking into their homes, in public, whatever) remove organs by hand, and leave people lying in pools of blood, dead or dying.  It is also, somehow, permitted for these organs to be reclaimed, cleaned, and resold, which, amazingly, is more profitable for the company than selling organs on credit and having the entire loan repaid.  Jude Law's character ends up needing an artificial heart and, rather than opening up the door for some deep, soul-searching analysis of what he does for a living, it simply puts him on the other side of the equation, where he and his former partner can have several over extended and unrealistic fight scenes.  There's also a very convenient and under developed love story between Jude Law's character and, basically, Melina from Total Recall, played by Alice Braga.  Also, Jude Law's character is trying to get his wife and son back, but that gets in the way of the first love story, so that just kind of evaporates.  Oh, and I almost forgot to mention the incredible twist ending that is heavily foreshadowed and can be seen coming from a mile away. 

     What a muddled mess.  "Repo Men" tries desperately to be a science fiction morality tale, but has no moral and makes no statement about society.  It tries to have a love story, but can't seem to decide if Jude Law's character loves his wife and son or the club singer he found in a gutter, strung out on futuristic looking, red cocaine who suddenly becomes perfectly healthy and fights like a seasoned professional  after two days straight of being unconscious because she was strung out and coming down. (What??!)  It desperately tries to be an action movie, but the action is over stylized, unbelievable, over extended, full of MTV style quick cuts, and tries to be a substitute for a real plot or an actual ending.  In the end, (which couldn't have come soon enough,) "Repo Men" tries to blow your mind by being a psychological thriller with a twist ending, but the possibility of the twist is given away far too early and too often and hinted at more than once during the ending, so, unless you were texting during the movie and not paying attention, there is no surprise twist, just a feeling of being thoroughly let down as the inevitable happens. 

     The premise had some promise, but there is absolutely no analysis or explanation of the social situation.  We are not sure what 'The Union' is or what role it plays in society.  The absolute first thing you hear is a staticky news item about the U.S. government going bankrupt, but there is absolutely no further mention of the social or political situation.  The repossession and resale (Resale?  Really?!) of artificial organs is rationalized by some quick exposition at the beginning of the film and there is no other mention of why or how this can possibly be legal or socially acceptable.  I might be able to swallow such a illogical and flawed premise if there was some kind of pay off, but all it leads up to is action, violence, and insulting my intelligence.  (And shouldn't the people who work for the artificial organ company have better health insurance??!)

     Don't buy into the hype.  "Repo Men" isn't worth a matinee ticket price, much less waiting in lines and sitting in a crowded theater full of kids texting.  If you must see for yourself, do yourself a favor and wait for "Repo Men" to hit the dollar theaters or Netflix.  It'll be there faster than you think.

Green Zone (Review)

     I had low expectations for "Green Zone."  I thought that Paul Greengrass' direction of "The Bourne Supremacy" and  "The Bourne Ultimatum" got progressively worse one film to the next and this was being billed as the next Greengrass/Damon action movie.  Surprisingly, it is more than that.  Not too much more, but Greengrass seems to be getting better.

     "Green Zone" takes place not long after the US invasion of IraqMatt Damon plays Chief Warrant Officer Roy Miller, assigned to investigate suspected hiding places of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction.  (Big surprise, he isn't finding any!)  Miller soon begins to suspect that the intelligence they are using is unreliable (another shocker) but his superiors don't believe (or don't want to believe) that the intelligence is to blame.  Enter Brendan Gleeson as CIA operative Martin Brown.  Brown is at odds with his superiors about the post invasion strategy (because there wasn't one) and recruits Miller to help him find the source of the faulty intelligence.  After that there's more 'plot' than an action movie should have, a lot of fast action, explosions, chase scenes and a heavy handed attempt at a moral.   

     Greengrass' style of shaky camera action actually works for most of the combat scenes, and the editing is not so fast that it makes the action sequences unintelligible; the chase scenes, however, are another matter.  There is an attempt to build suspense or turn "Green Zone" into some kind Bourne style mystery/thriller, but there really is no mystery.  (Unless, of course, you haven't paid any attention to the news for the past seven years.)  There are no weapons of mass destruction, the intelligence is faulty, and it is quite obvious who, in the movie, is to blame for that, and you spend half of the movie, literally, chasing that answer.  Top all that off with a less than satisfactory ending (we are STILL there, after all) and a very heavy handed 'moral,' and you've got something in between a passable action movie or a laughable suspense/thriller/spy/Bourne/whatever flick. 

     "Green Zone" is pure popcorn fodder.  If you can turn off your brain for a while, you might enjoy the explosions.  If not, then don't bother. 

P.S.  A few real people and companies who appear in "Green Zone" have had their names changed so this can be a work of fiction.  The basic premise, however, is not fiction.  We went into a sovereign nation on bad intelligence and had a poor plan for after the war.  If you can't bring yourself to admit that by now, just go back and watch Fox News.  They'll protect you from the scary truth (with their scary distortions.)  On the other hand, simply pointing out the reality of a seven year old situation is not enough reason to like a movie. 

An Education (Review)

     I wasn't in the mood to see Disney re-bastardize two classic pieces of literature and I had seen everything else playing locally that was worth seeing, so it was time to drive a little and catch up on some limited release films.

     "An Education" is based on the memoir of Lynn Barber, a British journalist who, when she was sixteen in the early 1960s, was seduced by an older man.  I want to tread lightly here because it is very easy to give away too much and ruin this movie, but there are a few things that an American audience should know before seeing "An Education."  'A-levels' are sort of like British college entrance exams, 'sixth form' is a school or institution where students, usually sixteen to eighteen years old, take their last two, optional, years of school in order to study for their A-levels 'sixth form' is a student, usually sixteen to eighteen years old, who is taking their last two, optional, years of school in order to study for their A-levels, and Peter Rachman, the man at the dog track, is infamous for buying slums and moving in immigrants from the West Indies, who could live no where else, and extorting excessive rent from them.  Forgive me if that was over simplified, but it should get someone who didn't know through the movie.  (It would have helped me!)

     Still trying to tread lightly, Carey Mulligan is brilliant and convincing, as Jenny, an intelligent, charming, and beautiful sixteen year old girl who's just a bit too mature for her age.  She is seduced by David, played almost too well, by Peter Sarsgaard, a seemingly, wealthy, worldly, and very charming, older man.  He is also more than he appears to be and, in the end, so much less.  Before meeting David, everyone in Jenny's life knows her intelligence and potential, so they drive her toward the best formal education she can get, but once a man comes into her life, someone who can give her everything she would ever want, her teachers try to keep Jenny on course and her father, played notably by Alfred Molina, tries to steer her away from expensive Oxford and toward a life more exciting and charmed than his working class existence, and Jenny, ultimately, gets a far greater education than she had ever wanted.

     "An Education" is a well acted, well directed, and is a truly charming coming of age story as well as a true story.  It was well worth the wait and deserves every one of the awards it won, and maybe some of the ones it didn't. 

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Black Dynamite (Review)

      Somehow, I missed "Black Dynamite" when it was in theaters.  Now, finally, thanks to Netflix, I get to see it.  (Can you dig it?)

     "Black Dynamite" is pure spoof.  It parodies the classic Blaxploitation films of the early 1970s, making fun of films like "Shaft," "Dolemite," and many others in the short lived, but prolific, genre, mocking their low budget production values, kung fu prostitutes, and the unending battle against The Man.  Black Dynamite, played by Michael Jai White, is a  former CIA operative and bad ass pimp, who is training his prostitutes in kung fu so they can fight The Man in the coming revolution.  When The Man kills his brother, Black Dynamite comes out of retirement to avenge his brother's death and uncover an evil plot by The Man to destroy the black community. 

     ...And that's about as much sense as the plot will ever make.  Most Blaxploitation films have continuity errors and plot holes so big you could drive a mac truck through them, and so does "Black Dynamite," but it's meant to.  Being a genre spoof, there isn't much to say about "Black Dynamite," except that it's an intelligently done spoof of Blaxploitation films that just gets better and funnier the more you know about the genre but is likely to confuse those with no knowledge of Blaxploitation.  Michael Jai White is dead on, and drop dead funny, as stone cold (I am smiling,) yet righteous, cultural warrior, Black Dynamite, fighting in the revolution against The Man.  Numerous other supporting roles, like Arsenio Hall as Tasty Freeze and Tommy Davidson as Cream Corn, are just as funny and accurate to the genre. 

     "Black Dynamite" is a must see for anyone who's ever seen a Blaxploitation filmCan you dig it?

P.S.  If you're looking into the genre for the first time, start with "Shaft" and work your way down.   "Dolemite" is kinda rough, as in, you might not ever try the genre again.