Saturday, April 2, 2011

Film Reviews-Irish Gangsters, Mama's Boys, Alien Invasions and more

The Town
This was a very entertaining film although it used virtually every known cliché of heist flicks/Irish gangster movies/action movies and ran maybe 20 minutes too long. Affleck plays the leader of a tight-knit clan of bank robbers. Affleck's father (Chris Cooper) is incarcerated for similar crimes. Affleck is determined not to make the same mistakes as his Old Man. Also look for a good bit of acting from the late Pete Postlethwaite, who plays an understatedly sinister Irish gangster boss who runs a floral shop. Shades of Dion O'Banion perhaps?

It was testament to Affleck's directing skills that the movie was this good as not every director can make an entertaining film from a story that includes such obvious tropes as "Hot tempered second-in-command", " Unfaithful girlfriend", "Racist Irish", "One Last Job", "An offer you can't refuse", " No cop can outdrive the Kid", "Just like his father", "Four man band", "The good girl", "It's quiet out there-Yeah too quiet", "You were like a brother to me", "I'm not going back to prison" and so on. Unlike the film Takers, this film puts a love story at the center. Affleck is MOTIVATED.  It has a few similarities to the underrated Bluehill Avenue.
The movie looks great (especially on HD/Blu-Ray) and really brings out the beauty of Boston and surrounding areas. Still if you've seen "Heat" or "Takers" you've already seen most of "The Town". The only question is do you like heist movies?

I didn't recognize any of the actors in this nifty little horror film and it was just as well because I had no expectations. It's a simple premise. Three college students (boyfriend/girlfriend and a second guy -best friend of the first guy) decide to go skiing together, despite the second fellow's open resentment at the fact that the girlfriend is taking up more of his friend's time.

Through a combination of stupidity and honest mistakes the trio is stranded in a ski lift between 50-100 feet off the ground when the ski resort closes down at night. The ski resort will not open again for four days as there is a holiday. The trio can't call for help as their cell phones are back in their lockers.

The temperature is dropping dangerously. Storms are approaching. They must decide whether they want to wait it out and risk frostbite/gangrene, jump down or try to climb down icy steel cables. A local pack of wolves is attracted to their cries for help. That last item was pretty ridiculous of course but I let it slide.

Even though this movie had a low budget and limited area of action it worked for me. It certainly didn't LOOK low budget. It felt like something that really could happen to careless people. Have you ever locked yourself out of your car/house or waited too long to get a car repair? Decisions have consequences and in this film they're grim. Maybe that's you up there in the lift. The acting was good but the move worked primarily because of the tension and suspense. In some respects this was a throwback to 70's movies in which directors assumed the audience actually had an attention span. The film manages to be scary without over the top gore.

The eXperiment
Behavior modification stories have always fascinated me. People will often do wicked things if they think that they have permission. This movie examines that phenomenon.

A group of financially needy men sign up for a study. About 1/4 of them are to play prison guards while the other 3/4 will be inmates. They will be locked away from the outside world for 2 weeks. At the end of that time they will each get $14,000. No violence or rule breaking is allowed. Supposedly they are being watched at all times and any violence will cause a red light to come on. If the red light comes on the experiment ends and they don't get paid.

The leader of the guards is played by Forest Whittaker, a Bible reading man who is gentle and firm (on the outside) while the inmate leader is played by Adrien Brody-a liberal antiwar pacifist (on the outside). Whittaker's character wants to get money to help his mother get an operation while Brody wants to have enough money to join his girlfriend on her trip to India.

Of course the situation causes both men to behave in shameful ways. Whittaker's role is particularly meaty and his lazy eye comes in pretty handy in helping his character to look extremely disturbed as his sadistic and authoritarian personality elements come to the forefront. It is a little too predictable and things go downhill too quickly, but otherwise not bad.

You know you're getting old when you remember when Marisa Tomei was playing a fresh faced kid on It's a Different World or the young hottie girlfriend in My Cousin Vinny and now she's playing middle aged women of fading beauty (The Wrestler, Before the Devil Knows You're Dead). She still looks nice but the years are catching up. So it goes. It will happen to all of us. Nobody gets younger.

Anyway this is an odd film that also stars John C. Reilly, Catherine Keener and Jonah Hill.
John (Reilly) is a lovable loser who flips out when his ex-wife (Keener), with whom he still has a friendly relationship, tells him that she's getting remarried. She will no longer be available to be a platonic girlfriend/sister/buddy for him. She invites him to a party where he meets (and is intimate with) Molly (Marisa Tomei). Things are looking up. However John discovers Molly has a twenty something son, Cyrus, (Jonah Hill) with whom she has a WAYYYYYYYYYY too close relationship. Cyrus obviously wants emotional and physical intimacy with his mother, although he won't admit it to himself. He launches a quiet war against John. John has fallen in love with Molly and at first tries to turn the other cheek to Cyrus' subtle attacks. Of course this doesn't work and John is forced to go to Plan B.

This could have been played for gross laughs but actually the movie mostly remains adult about the challenges that parents and children face in growing up/letting go as well as how middle aged desperate people meet each other. It's quiet and except for a few threats of physical violence by the male characters, slapstick is mostly avoided. Jonah Hill is 27 but could easily pass for 34-35 or maybe even older. This adds to the creepiness.  Some might think this film is a broad comedy (similar to Stepbrothers in which Reilly was playing a similar character to Hill's but without the Oedipal overtones) but it really isn't. Don't be fooled by the trailer. If you like offbeat subtle stuff, this may be for you.

I don't know what to say about this movie other than it stunk. This was a bad sci-fi film. I wish I hadn't seen it. I wish to warn others against it. So there will be nothing but SPOILERS here-including the ending so if you intend to see this film, (which you really shouldn't) stop reading here…

100% SPOILERS BELOW!!!!!!!!!
100% SPOILERS BELOW!!!!!!!!!
100% SPOILERS BELOW!!!!!!!!! 

A woman and her nerdy boyfriend travel to LA to visit the boyfriend's old school buddy, the Black Guy.
The Black Guy is played by Donald Faison (Turk from "Scrubs") and he is evidently a successful music or movie producer;it's unclear. He has a white wife (Brittany Daniel) on whom he cheats with his jailbait appearing assistant. After a party at Black Guy's suite, sometime around 4 AM the next morning everyone is awakened by noises outside. They go look. There are blue lights moving through the sky. If you look at them too long you get cataracts, really bad skin rashes and then disappear.

Most people would leave but these Mensa members decide they should remain where they are and wait for help. When the Sun rises they notice that there are these ½ mile wide spaceships all over the place along with several smaller alien beings/machines. All these machines are literally vacuuming up people or snatching them off balconies after hypnotizing them with aforementioned lights. After more arguments and gnashing of teeth everyone decides that yeah maybe they ought to leave the building. Black Guy has produced a semiautomatic pistol which he holds sideways. It's because he's cool like that. Black Guy wants to lead the way and drive away with his wife but his Saxon Queen has discovered video of Black Guy and assistant doing the do and isn't having it.

So Black Guy and assistant get into car and drive off at which point the primary directive of films like this is executed.

A big alien monster steps on the car, and kills assistant. Nerd Guy gets out of his car to try to help his friend but of course monster snatches Black Guy away. Perhaps this is a not so subtle warning about the dangers of interracial marriage? Or maybe it's just the writers' and director's subconscious feelings taking charge? If I wrote stories in which the white man was virtually ALWAYS the first to die, don't you think people might notice that? Why do Black actors put up with this?
Anyway the team is panicked as the monsters are inside the parking garage. Everyone runs around screaming until Hispanic Guy (the building manager) smashes his SUV into the nearest alien machine/monster and joins the team, giving them access to a brand new list of stereotypes. Hispanic Guy is even more macho than Black Guy, curses in Spanish, and is constantly kissing his crucifix. He's also not above throwing Nerd Guy a beating or two. That's just how he rolls, man.
More arguments ensue about the safety of leaving. The Air Force shows up and detonates a nuclear missile on the primary alien ship. Not only is NOTHING in the immediate vicinity harmed by this-no mushroom cloud or immediate incineration or black rain, the alien ship is barely harmed. Again a NUCLEAR BOMB goes off about 1 mile from the apartment building and no glass even breaks.
Finally Nerd Guy discovers his yarbles (by this time he had learned his girlfriend was pregnant). Standing up to violent Hispanic guy (who later commits suicide while swearing in Spanish and kissing his crucifix-cause that's just how he rolls, man), he and his lady run to the roof where despite a pathetic last stand they are both captured by aliens. There, they find out the hard way that the aliens need human brains!! That's right; a species that developed light years away from Earth apparently can't survive without human brainzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz!!!!
Nerd Guy is decapitated. His brain is inserted in an alien construct. But wait, his brain overrides the construct, because obviously out of ALL the millions of people similarly treated, ONLY this man had TRUE LOVE.  The construct (Nerdstruct?) takes a fighting stance over the woman.
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