Saturday, June 1, 2013

Movie Reviews- Broken City, Texas Chainsaw 3D, Pawn, Hammer of the Gods

Broken City
directed by Allen Hughes
I've often wondered how people who are married to or seriously involved with actors, actresses, models or other artistic folk keep their equanimity when their spouse or significant other does a love/sex scene or photo shoot that either seems too real or features graphic nudity. Imagine everyone seeing, enjoying and commenting on what you thought only you were supposed to see. I certainly couldn't deal with that but obviously thousands of people do so quite easily. Artists are different folks. If you can't accept the very particular artistic and business requirements that a performing artist works under or the fact that your significant other may have wildly different ideas than you concerning privacy and decorum then you probably should be with someone whose values and mores are a closer match to your own.

I mention this because it's a minor plot point in Broken City. New York City private eye Billy Taggart (Mark Wahlberg) has a relationship with Natalie Barrow (Natalie Martinez), an actress and would be screenwriter. The two really come from different worlds. Billy is a former NYPD cop who killed the criminal who raped and murdered Natalie's sister. He's a former cop because though he was cleared of murder charges, the NYPD decided it could do without his services. Natalie's parents love Billy but Natalie herself is showing worrying signs that the thrill may be gone. The movie implies that the Puerto Rican Natalie may think that the Caucasian and temperamentally conservative Billy is no longer a good fit for her ambitions or her artistic, metrosexual, liberal, heavily minority circles. Gratitude isn't a good basis for sustained erotic interest.

But that's a small concern for Billy at first. He's trying to keep his business afloat and doesn't have the time to worry about Natalie's emotional ups and downs. As a private eye Billy no longer has access to the official state power which he enjoyed as a cop. So clients feel free to slow pay him or worse not pay him. He's assisted by his young smart mouth secretary Katy (Alona Tal from Supernatural) who may have a thing for her boss. They track down just enough debtors to pay the office back rent and avoid eviction. So Billy thinks it's manna from heaven when he's contacted by Mayor Hostetler (Russell Crowe), who with the assistance of Billy's former boss and now police commissioner Carl Fairbanks (Jeffrey Wright), helped Billy out all those years ago. The mayor is calling in a favor, albeit one he's willing to pay handsomely for. He wants Billy to follow his coolly attractive wife Cathleen (Catherine Zeta-Jones). The mayor is certain she's having an affair. Billy is ordered to find out who the other guy is and get pictures. The money the mayor offers is enough to fix Billy's precarious financial situation for good.
But Cathleen is not exactly a dummy. She quickly picks up that she's being followed and who likely ordered it. She confronts Billy and tells him he has no clue as to what's really going on. Commissioner Fairbanks also seems to be running into Billy a bit more than randomness would indicate. But Billy is a man who believes in fair work for fair pay. He's also not particularly introspective. In his line of work he can't afford to be. He figures out that Cathleen is having an affair with Paul Andrews. (Kyle Chandler)  Andrews just so happens to be the campaign manager for Jack Valiant (Barry Pepper) who is running against the mayor in the upcoming election. Billy duly provides the photographic evidence of a meeting between Cathleen and Paul. Shortly afterwards some events take place to suggest to Billy that perhaps not everything was as seems. Murder, adultery, corruption all mix together. But Billy is a man who believes in doing right, even if he can't always figure out what the right thing is or if the right thing to do is not necessarily the legal thing to do.

This was the first movie directed by Allen Hughes (Menace II Society) without his twin brother Albert. It tries to be a modern film noir. Although Hostetler is a very obvious stand-in for NYC Mayor Bloomberg, otherwise the film has some links back to fifties films like Detective Story, The Big Heat, Dark City and a few others. Unfortunately something went wrong in transition and I'm not really sure what it was. Perhaps Wahlberg is more of an action movie name; maybe Zeta-Jones needed a larger role. Yes I would have liked to have seen a slightly stronger role with Zeta-Jones. This film probably lacks a femme fatale and you can't really have a good noir without one. Anyway this wasn't a great movie. It wasn't a bad movie. It was just blandly worthwhile. It is not as action packed as the trailer would have you believe.

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Texas Chainsaw 3D
directed by John Luessenhop
Look if you watch any of these movies you pretty much know what you're going to get, right? There won't be any surprises. A group of physically attractive teens or young adults go somewhere isolated, ignore some very obvious problems or even explicit warnings, and proceed to get murdered in quite gruesome ways, though not before at least a few of them get laid or otherwise show some skin, usually of the female variety. It is predictable, so much so that much like Cabin in the Woods proposes, you almost wonder if there is something in the human psyche, or at least the American one, that almost requires this as a sacrifice.
Well maybe.

But this film proves that even though many horror films work the same (crowded) side of the street, the director's and writer's skills matter quite a bit. You have to find a new fresh way to present the story. The only real new element here was that the director/writers tried to make Leatherface into a misunderstood anti-hero. This failed. Witness the successful ploy by the director Rob Zombie in The Devil's Rejects  where he makes the Firefly family into virtual anti-heroes despite their enthusiastic engagement in sadistic gory evil that would make Leatherface go running for his mommy. If you're not careful you can actually wind up feeling sorry for the Firefly clan when they go the way of all flesh. But in this movie you don't really feel sorry for anybody. I mention The Devil's Rejects because like that movie Texas Chainsaw 3D also stars Bill Moseley and is a reworking of Texas ChainsawThe Devil's Rejects is not only a far superior horror film; it's a far superior film, period.
Texas Chainsaw 3D is a rebooted sequel to the original. After the escape of a young girl who informs the authorities of the murderous and cannibalistic activities of the Sawyer clan, especially Leatherface (Dan Yeager), the townspeople gather and burn down the Sawyer farm house. They do this even though the Sawyers were considering surrendering and did not fire first. The townspeople shoot any survivors they find and pose with dead bodies or body parts. It's reminiscent of a lynching (deliberately so?). This is done over the sheriff's objections.
However a husband and wife involved in the murder of the Sawyers find a baby girl and decide to raise her as their own. This Sawyer girl grows up to become the delectable Heather Miller (Alexandra Daddario) who lives with her boyfriend Ryan (Trey Songz). Heather gets a letter from a grandmother she never knew existed which deeds her the Sawyer mansion. Heather decides to take a road trip to see the mansion with Ryan and their friends Nikki (Tania Raymonde) and Kenny (Keram Malicki-Sanchez). In order to have another person around for chainsaw fodder they pickup an untrustworthy hitchhiker named Daryl (Shaun Sipos). They arrive at the mansion. Leatherface lives there in secret. You can reread the first paragraph to learn what happens next. Ho hum. Daddario is nice looking and earnest; Trey Songz might have a future in acting. But this was a bad film. This is legitimately something which is watched on a night you don't feel like going out or on a weekend afternoon when you're drifting in and out of a nap. OMG they killed Kenny!!!!
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Pawn
directed by David J. Armstrong
This was an independent low budget film directed by a first time director. So it could have been a trainwreck. But it wasn't. It featured some big names (Ray Liotta, Forest Whittaker, is it just me or has his lazy eye gotten more noticeable, Common, and Michael Chiklis among others) but the movie's real star is the plot. Unfortunately the low budget limits the movie's potential, as does the fact that the film's noticeable names, with the exception of Chiklis, don't have a whole lot to do. 

The story involves a series of errors which cause Nick (Sean Faris), a recent parolee who's desperately trying to stay on the straight and narrow, to wind up in a late night diner that's in the process of being robbed by Derrick (Chiklis in the film's meatiest role) and two other goons. Derrick is British which gives Chiklis a chance to try out a (to me) seemingly genuine British accent. But Derrick isn't just a strong arm thug though he certainly can play one convincingly. No, the apple of Derrick's eye is some information that he thinks is held in the dinner somewhere. For you see, this particular diner with the friendly manager/cook (Stephen Lang) is a mob front. Obviously none of the diners or waitstaff know this. But Derrick thinks some people in the diner do know what he's looking for, and he's not shy about hurting, bullying or killing as necessary to get what he came for. Things don't proceed quite as Derrick planned and a hostage situation breaks out. To Derrick's glee and Nick's dismay, the police and some other more dangerous people assume that Nick is the mastermind behind this caper. I mean he just got out of prison, right. What else do they need to know.
Whittaker and Liotta play people who may or may not be on opposite sides while Common is a police negotiator who likes people to know he's in charge. The film is a little claustrophobic at times since most of the action takes place in the diner. But that was probably the point. Liotta oozes understated menace. I would be intrigued to see what this film would look like remade with a larger budget and some minor rewriting to tighten up character motivations. I didn't quite think this was a must see film but Chiklis' blustering and Common's alpha male posturing are just enough to carry it across the finish line. I also would be interested in seeing what else Faris might do in a larger role. He was somewhat underutilized.
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Hammer of the Gods
directed by Farren Blackburn
If you're looking for a violent gritty adventure flick set in late Dark Ages Britain when the Vikings had started their centuries long harassment and invasion of Saxon ruled England this could be up your alley. Did I mention it was violent? It's not quite as violent as Ironclad but the two movies are kissing cousins. Some of these names might be off because the sound levels were a little odd. In 871 AD an old Viking King (Game of Thrones' Lord Commander Mormont James Cosmo) is wounded in battle with the Saxons. His people are surrounded and outnumbered. It's likely the king himself won't make it past the week. Nevertheless the king has sent for his son Steinar (Charlie Bewley), who has fought his way thru Saxon lines to reach his Daddy. 

Steinar is not due to inherit. That title should go to his eldest brother Hagen (Clive Standen). But Hagen is not a leader of men. He would rather arrange a man's death and make deals behind closed doors than fight. In Viking culture just because you're the oldest son of a king doesn't mean you should be king. The King thinks Steinar might make a good king someday but despite Steinar's warrior nature his father doesn't think he has quite the brutality and ruthlessness to be king. It doesn't help that Steinar is an atheist who doesn't really go for the rape of women (or boys) or what he sees as needless violence. The king's other son Vali (Theo Barklem Biggs) is illegitimate, somewhat wimpish and half-Saxon. When the king capriciously orders Steinar to kill Vali, Steinar won't do it. This confirms his father's fears about him. 


Nope, as far as the old wardog is concerned there's only one son that deserves to rule after him and that's Hakan (Elliot Cowan), who was banished years ago for some unspecified crime. Steinar is ordered to find Hakan and return with a king. Everyone knows that Hakan is hyperviolent even for a Viking, brutal and quite possibly insane. Nobody thinks he would make a good king. Everyone thinks Steinar should ignore his father's dying orders. But Steinar is nothing if not a devoted son so he sets out to find Hakan. He takes along with him his best friends and Vali, who may or may not be working for the Saxons.
Someone is betraying them though because the Saxons and/or other people seem to know their moves before they make them. This was a combination of King Lear, Apocalypse Now, Heart of Darkness, The Wizard of Oz and The Magnificent Seven. Cosmo dominates the scenes he's in even though he's in a bed for most of the movie. Did I mention this film was violent?
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