24 February 2012

Act(ion) of Valor, not Act(ing) of Valor

Read the review of this well directed, terribly acted war film at insidestl.com

10 February 2012

The Vow = I Don't

The full review of this terrible film is up at insidestl.com

09 February 2012

Safe House is Generic

Safe House is the latest movie starring Denzel Washington playing Denzel Washington as only Denzel Washington can. Director Daniel Espinosa tries his best to impersonate frequent Denzel collaborator Tony Scott. In other words, this movie is not for the crowd that gets motion sick from shaky cam.

Safe House opens in Cape Town, South Africa, where Matt Weston (Reynolds) is a “housekeeper” for a CIA safe house. We are introduced to his mundane life and his hot exotic French girlfriend, Ana (Nora Arnezeder). He calls his CIA contact David Barlow (Brendan Gleeson) to inquire about a transfer to Paris. Barlow tells him to hold tight and that Weston needs more field experience.

Next up, we meet Tobin Frost (Washington) as he makes a pick-up from a crooked MI6 agent. Frost then injects what he picked up into his body for safe keeping. What he has is a file of corrupt government agents from many government agencies from many nations. When Frost leaves the drop point, a group of people try to kill him. As an escape tactic, Frost makes his way to the US Embassy.

Finally, we meet two other CIA agents who are alerted to Frost turning himself in. Agent Catherine Linklater (Vera Farmiga) is a counterpart to Agent Barlow, and Agent Harlan Whitford is their superior. From here, we find out that Frost is an ex-CIA agent who went rogue and sold government secrets to the highest bidder. He is highly trained in psychology and a great manipulator.

After an extraction team fails to get the information from Frost, and a firefight, Weston and Frost are on the run. Weston is a true blue American hero wannabe. Frost makes him question everything he believes in. Of course, Frost is trying to escape from West so that he is not tried for treason. Weston is then thought to be in cahoots with Frost because Weston does not obey his orders. So, your typical cat-and-mouse games follow as everyone is trying to get what they want.

To call Safe House generic would be a drastic understatement. David Guggenheim’s script has no original thoughts in it whatsoever. He even employs the dreaded “mole in the agency” schtick. It is set up early that either Barlow or Linklater is a bad guy. This is beat into your head repeatedly throughout the film.

Even Espinosa’s direction is generic and lame. He uses all the clichĂ© shot compositions common to action sequences. His tight steady cam shots only telegraph action is about to happen. Then, these scenes are fast and furious, hard to tell what is even happening; then, it is back to boredom for another fifteen minutes.

None of the acting is anything extraordinary. Denzel is Denzel. Reynolds is out of his element in a dramatic role. Gleeson delivers a painful American accent. Shepard and Farmiga phone it in. Even Ramin Djawadi’s score seemed a bit generic. His work on HBO’s Game of Thrones is far better than this.

By not having a single bit of “wow factor” in it, Safe House is a slow, bland two hour spy film. I was entertained enough to not hate it, but I can hardly recommend paying the admission price to see this in theaters. This would be better suited for a Redbox rental when it hits the home market in a few months. As my buddy said, “Hey, at least it was better than Skyline.”

RATING: 4.5/10

03 February 2012

Midnight in Paris

There were many great movies snubbed by this year’s Academy Awards. I could go off on a rant for pages and pages. Instead, I thought I would rent Woody Allen’s four time nominated film, Midnight in Paris. It picked up nominations for Best Picture, Best Original Screenplay, Best Director and Best Art Direction. Like many of Woody Allen’s films lately, Midnight in Paris has a cast as deep as any assembled by Soderbergh. This includes Owen Wilson, Rachel McAdams, Michael Sheen, Adrien Brody, Alison Pill, Marion Cotillard, Tom Hiddleston and Kathy Bates.

Midnight in Paris follows Hollywood writer and wannabe novelist Gil (Wilson), as he accompanies his fiancĂ©e Ines (McAdams) and future in-laws on a trip to Paris. Gil is nostalgic about Paris in the 1920s, but Ines does not share his love. While at dinner, one of Ines’s old college friends shows up with his wife. Paul (Sheen) is a know-it-all, and is painfully obvious about it. Gil quickly finds ways to be at odds with Paul whenever he can. Equally as fast, he finds a way to avoid going dancing that night.

That evening, Gil stumbles upon a taxi that turns out to be a time machine (that couldn’t hit 88mph if was going downhill with a strong wind at its back). Gil winds up spending the evening with F. Scott Fitzgerald (Hiddleston) and his wife Zelda (Pill) at a party. Then, he finishes off the evening with a nightcap at a bar with Ernest Hemmingway (Corey Stoll). Once Gil leaves the bar, he reenters the here and now, and the bar returns to the Laundromat it is. Gil returns the next night and the next and he meets various other famous people from history, including Gertrude Stein (Bates), Salvador Dali (Brody) and Pablo Picasso.

Woody Allen’s writing is nominated for the fifteenth time and his directing receives a seventh nomination. What can I say? The Academy loves Woody Allen. Midnight in Paris is a fun, enchanting film. It is funny and entertaining. It is original in its screenplay, and is poised to take that trophy. The only competition in that category is Bridesmaids. If J.C. Chandor gets it for that horrific hunk of shit that was Margin Call, what little faith I have left in the Academy would be forever lost.

As a whole, I do not think that Midnight in Paris has a shot in the Best Picture race. I have a hard time believing that the best picture of the year would not have at least one of the sixteen acting nominations. I am not saying it has to win one, but Midnight in Paris did not even get nominated for one. The last Best Picture to win with no acting nominations was LOTR: The Return on the King. Ian McKellan got a token nod for the first of the trilogy, but that was the only acting one in the trilogy’s thirty nominations.

Even with such a deep and talented cast, only two actors gave standout performances. Midnight in Paris proved to me that Owen Wilson may actually not suck as an actor. He was quite enjoyable in this roll. If anyone was going to get a token nomination for this film it would be Corey Stoll. I wish that Stoll’s Hemmingway had more scenes. He was brilliant and hilarious. Kathy Bates was good, but nothing spectacular. Rachel McAdams was a loathsome character. That was a nice spin on her usual nice girl persona.

Midnight in Paris is well worth the $1.20 Redbox rental ($1.50 if you want the Blu-Ray). It is a well paced 95 minute film that will leave a smile on your face. Come Oscar night, it should win for one of its four nominations. It is the best Woody Allen film since Match Point back in 2005.

Rating: 8/10