Tuesday, March 23, 2010

“The Taking of Pelham 123” (2009)

The basic premise is the same, but director Tony Scott rachets up the noise, violence and cutting tempo in this remake of the 1974 thriller. In this outing, John Travolta, suffering from a bad case of Al Pacino syndrome, emotes his way through the subway hijacking, while Denzel Washington keeps his cool as the dispatcher on the other end on the line. “The Taking of Pelham 123” ends like the original with them getting the bad guy. But it’s all brawn and no brain. And even the reason for the hijacking is convoluted. Without giving up too much, it made me wonder why Travolta didn’t just hire someone to do it for him. Maybe someone who’s a better actor. My Tweet: The Taking of Pelham 123-After they took the Pelham One Two Three in 1974, the Transit Authority should have beefed up security. 6.5 (out of 10)

To see it done old school, here’s the trailer for “The Taking of Pelham One Two Three” with Walter Matthau and Robert Shaw.

“The Taking of Pelham 123”

Released: 2009

Rating: R

Length: 106 minutes

Cast: Denzel Washington, John Travolta, James Gandolfini, John Turturro

Director: Tony Scott

Genre(s): Adaptation, Action, Thriller

Thursday, March 18, 2010

“X-Men Origins: Wolverine”

Because of all the bad press this movie got, the fact that it didn’t completely stink was a surprise. While this is far from a rousing endorsement, “X-Men Origins: Wolverine” is far from a complete waste of time. As the title implies, it tells the backstory of one of Marvel Comics’ and the X-Men movie franchise’s most popular characters. And if you’re interested in Logan’s (Hugh Jackman) strained relationship with his brother, Victor Creed (Liev Schreiber), how he got his adamantium claws, the reasoning behind Stryker’s (Danny Huston) mutant experiments and meeting a few more mutants, it’s worth a look. But it’s mostly Jackman snarling and snorting his way through a trail of dead bodies and exploding real estate. The formulaic violence makes the movie feel more like a vigilante flick from the 1970s. It also lacks the hip sensibility of “Iron Man” or Gothic moodiness of “The Dark Knight.” So unless you’re one of Stan Lee’s “true believers,” I’d skip this one. My Tweet: X-Men Origins: Wolverine-A case study in how not to handle an individual with unresolved anger-management issues. 6 (out of 10)

“X-Men Origins: Wolverine”

Released: 2009

Rating: PG-13

Length: 107 minutes

Cast: Hugh Jackman, Liev Schreiber

Director: Gavin Hood

Genre(s): Adaptation, Adventure, Action

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Has “Big Love” Nuked the Fridge?

I know this is a slightly off topic since “Big Love” is a TV series. But it’ll be on DVD soon enough. Season 4 ended last Sunday on HBO and I have just one question: What happened? “Big Love” has always been a bit out there. This season they went way out there.

For the uninitiated, “Big Love” revolves around the lives of polygamist Bill Henrickson (Bill Paxton) and his three wives, Barb (Jeanne Tripplehorn) , Nicki (Chloé Sevigny) and Margene (Ginnifer Goodwin), who hide in plain sight in a Salt Lake City suburb. Meanwhile, characters from the benign to the creepy, including Roman Grant (Harry Dean Stanton), the leader of Juniper Creek, the polygamist colony where Bill grew up, and Bill’s father (Bruce Dern), threaten to expose the family. Those outside forces and the domestic politics between the three “sister wives” have been the show’s driving force. But this season, the plot lines seem to be ripped from the headlines of the National Enquirer.

Here’s the brief summary: The fundamentalist Henrickson family is now a partner in an Indian casino with Barb running it. Bill himself is running for a seat on the Utah state legislature. Ex-wife Ana (Branka Katic) is pregnant with Bill’s child, while Margene is in a sham marriage with Anna’s husband, Goran (Steve Bacic), to save him from deportation. Roman Grant, now dead, is taunting son Alby (Matt Ross), whose sanity is slipping away after his gay lover, Dale (Benjamin Koldyke), commits suicide. Nicki, Roman’s daughter and the oddball of Bill’s wives, takes the opposite tack by trying to be more normal, even jettisoning her “Annie Oakley” wardrobe in an attempt to mainstream herself. Nicki’s ex-husband, J.J. Walker (Zeljko Ivanek), is involved in a plot to use IVF to incestuously impregnate his wives. And these are just the highlights There are more (and even more confusing) plot detours in the mix. And when the season finally comes to a close, Bill, while addressing his political supporters, publically comes out as a polygamist, contradicting everything he and his family been doing for the last three seasons.

The producers did everything short of having Bill strap on a helmet and fill up the shark tank. I’m really not sure where the Henricksons go from here. My fear is that next season they’ll introduce special guest sister wives like Charo and Betty White. My hope is that Pamela Ewing (Victoria Principal) will wake up and realize it was all just a very bad dream.

“Big Love” Season 4

Released: 2010

Rating: TV-MA

Length: 90 minutes

Cast: Bill Paxton, Jeanne Tripplehorn, Chloë Sevigny, Ginnifer Goodwin, Amanda Seyfried, Douglas Smith, Grace Zabriskie, Matt Ross, Harry Dean Stanton, Bruce Dern, Aaron Paul

Directors: Dan Attias, Adam Davidson, David Petrarca, David Knoller

Genre(s): Drama, Romance, Family

Thursday, March 11, 2010

“The Bicycle Thief”

This film is on virtually every critic’s all-time best list. It’s required viewing at film schools around the world. And if that’s not enough, Martin Scorcese himself recommends it his documentary/Italian film history lesson “My Voyage to Italy.” (trailer here) “The Bicycle Thief” is Vittorio De Sica’s landmark film that captures the desperation in Italy following World War II. It’s a simple story, told well: after a long period without work Antonio Ricci (Lamberto Maggiorani) finally lands a job that requires a bicycle. His wife, Maria (Lianella Carell) sells their bed sheets to get Antonio’s bicycle out of hock and on the first day of work, it’s stolen. Antonio spends the rest of the film searching around Rome for the bicycle with his son Bruno (Enzo Staiola). There are some light moments between the two of them, but the tone of the movie turns darker as Antonio realizes that the bicycle, and his hopes for a “normal” life may never be recovered. Which is the source of my Tweet: The Bicycle Thief-Lamberto Maggiorani’s last glimmer of hope vanishes when he learns an important lesson about the value of a bike lock. 10 (out of 10)

Note: For those who shy away from foreign films because of the subtitles, I can still recommend “The Bicycle Thief.” The acting is superb and the film tells its story with the actors’ faces and in their gestures. I bet you could even turn off the sound and captions and still get the story. It’s that good.

“The Bicycle Thief”

Released: 1948

Rating: NR

Length: 90 minutes

Cast: Lamberto Maggiorani, Lianella Carell, Enzo Staiola, Elena Altieri

Director: Vittorio De Sica

Genre(s): Drama, Adaptation

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

“The Hunting Party”

Start with a war-torn countryside, add a dash of satire, a little action and a pinch of sermonizing and you’ll have “The Hunting Party.” This not quite fully-baked mixture stars Richard Gere as Simon Hunt, a burnt-out war correspondent banished to Bosnia after suffering an on-air meltdown. Five years later, Hunt’s ex-cameraman “Duck” (Terrance Howard), who’s traded in the war zone for a network job, is back in Bosnia to do a puff piece on the war’s end with Benjamin Strauss (Jesse Eisenberg), a young reporter (and son of the network’s V.P.). Hunt entices Duck by claiming he’s after an interview with a notorious war criminal known as the Fox (Ljubomir Kerekes). It’s not until the three of them are in the thick of it that Hunt reveals his true intention. My tweet pretty much sums it up: The Hunting Party-Reporter Richard Gere realizes it’ll take more than a story to restart his career & goes after a war criminal instead. 6.5 (out of 10) The producers of “The Hunting Party” make a point of telling you this is a true story. Which may be because they had a hard time conjuring up believable characters. Hunt is the beaten-down, yet eternal, idealist, Duck is the corporate sellout trying to convince himself he isn’t and Strauss is the nervous newbie who surprises everyone by having a backbone. The movie has its moments, like this exchange when Hunt meets Strauss for the first time: “Benjamin, you look young enough to be someone important’s son.” But there aren't enough of those moments to lift this movie. Bottom line: it’s an okay flick but you can do better.  

Another Richard Gere movie you might like: “The Hoax”

“The Hunting Party”

Released: 2007

Rating: R

Length: 104 minutes

Cast: Richard Gere, Terrence Howard, Jesse Eisenberg

Director: Richard Shepard

Genre(s): Adaptation, Comedy, Action