Thursday, March 22, 2012

Couldn't get the rights to the Scandal song for the theme? Shame ... : "Warrior"

Come on ... you know you love some Patty Smyth. Enjoy.

Like a lot of people, I didn't really pick up on this tale of ultimate fighting fun last year. But I recall reading later that it wasn't too bad, and then everyone's favorite mugshot got an Oscar nomination. Well, if Four Leaf Tayback is getting praise, then I really need to take a peek. It also didn't hurt that I loves me some Tom Hardy, the best guy by far in "Inception." And this is coming from someone who respects Leo and has a slight bromance with Joey Gordon-Levitt.

"Warrior" got me almost from the start. We meet ne'er do well Hardy as he comes home to dad Nolte's house -- apparently after Mom died. Meanwhile, Nick's other son (Joel Edgerton) is a teacher trying to get by with his wife and daughter. Seems happy enough, certainly compared to his brother's brooding. So it's clear from the get-go where each guy is coming from. Oh, and wouldn't you know it? They're both fighters. If only this took place it some gritty state like Pennsylvania. Wait, it does? Well, there you go.

Soon enough, we see how both guys' fightin' leads them toward the same goal: a big payoff in the Octagon in that second-most regal of pugilistic locales, Atlantic City. They take different and intriguing paths, but you see the collision course coming from a mile away, and you can't help but wonder how this will all work out.

The director here also did "Miracle," the 1980 Olympic hockey movie. So there's some rah-rah here and maybe a bit more polish than I'd prefer. Is it a little Disney? Maybe. Plenty of implausibilities; let's just say there's a fight that makes Daniel LaRusso beating Dutch seem positively reasonable. It's also a bit long, although to cut too much would probably make it even harder to swallow.

Even so, I ate it up. Pretty high on the suspense scale, and solid performances throughout. Nolte has the crusty bit down pat, and adds plenty of pathos here. Jennifer Morrison as the teacher's wife isn't hard to look at. And then there are our leads. Sure, Hardy's a Brit and Edgerton is an Aussie. They still manage the hardscrabble Pennsylvania act OK.

Hardy might have been a little better, and he was an absolute beast in the ring. Seriously. In "Inception" I didn't think of him as particularly big and tough. Since then, we've learned he'll be the villain in the next Batman movie. Even so, his bulk and brutishness here surprised me ... in a good way. Add Edgerton's slighter build and underdog status -- he's older, too -- and it's a good mix, even if you ask the audience to except a bit more than logical.

So yeah, you could do worse than "Warrior." Not as good as "The Road Warrior" but better than "The Warriors." Even if Patty Smyth didn't slink through in a cameo ...

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Now if only these kids would drop by the set of "Glee" ... : "Chronicle"

So I haven’t been to the movies much the past couple of months. Not that big a deal this time of year – the dead zone before the spring flicks arrive. And really, once all the Oscar nominations roll in, won’t they just re-release “Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance?”

The last movie I saw in Ye Olde Cineplex was “Chronicle,” and on opening weekend no less. That was more a coincidence than anything, but I was intrigued by what appeared to be a cross between “Carrie” and “Explorers,” only without a little tweed-jacket-clad River Phoenix.

Our plot, told in the everybody-else-is-doing-it fashion of “found video”: A high school geek whose life generally sucks ultimately ends up at a party where he, his normal-but-slightly-insufferable cousin and the most popular guy in school stumble across Something Weird in a hole in the middle of a field. Soon afterward, they notice they can move things with their minds. Hijinks ensue!

It’s actually a simple yet interesting premise, and the “reality” aspect serves it well. Had this been done Hollywood style – with musical scoring and, say, Michael Cera and Zac Efron – I would have cried foul early on. But here we have mostly unknown actors. That’s not to say they don’t bring it. The lead in particular – the geek behind the camera, and then floating it around – was especially genuine. Multiple reviewers have said the actor, Dane DeHaan, has a Leo DiCaprio thing going, and I see that. In any case, you can see why he thinks his life sucks, and why this new power could pose the greatest risk in his hands (or mind, I guess).

But back to the story. So if you were a teenager and all of the sudden could get your mindfreak on, what would you do? The way things unfold in “Chronicle” doesn’t seem far-fetched at all – that is, goofing off and one-upping each other before things get out of hand. Only now, the stakes are a bit higher when the put-upon kid decides to get back at all the a$$holes in his life. It’s all fun in games until someone loses a few front teeth. Or walls.

I’ll even give the directors a pass on the found footage front, which doesn’t hold up all the way through the movie. Yes, they got around some of the normal logistics issues by just having the guys float the camera around with their minds. They also use other video sources, e.g. security cameras and smartphones. But I wasn’t sold on every scene, and then there’s the big question: Who pulled all this stuff together? You know, if it’s just something we stumbled across one day …

Still, that’s a quibble, especially since by the time the other camera work was in play, I just wanted to see how this mess would be resolved. (These kids’ story, not the movie.) On the whole, the plot and performances worked, and the straight-on filming technique delivered both humor and drama in a raw and effective manner. Sure, nobody got doused in pig’s blood, but you can’t have everything, right?

Sunday, March 04, 2012

That thing to your right? Yeah, it's the gear shift. Speed up, already: "Drive"

Oh, hi. How have you been? Me? Good, good. Just, you know, doing a few things. Sorry it's been so long, but I'm here now, right? So let's roll.

What better way to fire up Ye Olde Movie Blog again than with a film that stank of uber-cool last year. "Drive" features everyone's favorite pouty hunk, Ryan Gosling, as a professional driver -- movie stunts by day, crime by night -- who gets tangled up in both a neighbor's domestic situation AND organized crime. Man ... can't a brother just drive his car and keep it at that?

You know you're going to get some retro vibes and a serious noir-on right out of the gate. There's the cold open of a car chase followed by the silly cursive font in the credits followed by a lot of heavy instrumental music meant to convey deep thoughts and emotions. At least, that's what I was guessing, since there were a lot -- A LOT -- of lingering shots with people not saying much. But hey, it's L.A. People there are so low-key.

Out story has Gosling the driver trying to balance his two careers when he meets a comely neighbor (Carey Mulligan) and her little boy. The man of the house is in jail, but as things get a wee bit serious, he shows up. And is a peach. That puts our hero in the position of getting more involved than he normally would, as we are clearly told he is a professional who doesn't give a fig about the people he does business with. But this girl ... she's different. Why else would he just look at her, and she him?

Of course, things go askew, and Gosling has to get his hands dirty. Will this end well? Did you not see the cursive script? It's ironic, you dimwits!

I joke, but "Drive" was a bit disappointing. I'm a Gosling fan, but let's be honest .... there wasn't a lot of acting here. Yes, he's done well playing the understated card, but no way this matches up to "Lars and the Real Girl" or "Half-Nelson." And as we saw in "Blue Valentine," "Crazy, Stupid, Love" and even "The Ides of March," he can emote somewhat. No question the guy's a good actor. But this role wasn't really for a good actor.

Mulligan has much the same problem. She has the wounded bit down pat, and I trust she split her paycheck between Michelle Williams and Gwenyth Paltrow, since she channeled both of them throughout. That's not to say she was lacking, but just not bringing anything particularly original or amazing to the party.

No, for that you have to go with Albert Brooks, who plays one of the villains. Yes ... Albert Brooks ... villain. I know! Aaron Altman is all growns up. This is the most excited I've been about a Brooks performance since "Out of Sight." (And please don't tell me you haven't seen that. Just step away, go to Netflix, Amazon, whatever and make it right.) He arrives with some typical subtle kvetching but soon shows he's a different cat than in previous roles. And God bless him for that.

In the end, "Drive" is definitely watchable and even kind of good. I just wonder if all the heavy-handed film-school techniques could have been dropped so this would have been a solid short film. What's that? Longing looks and moody music DO convey motivation and understandable reasons for people's actions? And I shouldn't even think of questioning a movie whose hero wears a silk jacket with a scorpion on the back? Got it. Noted.