I love being that kind of sick where I’m just under the weather enough that I need to stay home and rest, but have enough coherency that I am not tied to the bathroom and miserable. It allows me to watch my Netflix backlog, and catch up on guilty pleasures. I am emerging from my living room cave with comments on a few flicks for your perusal...What have you seen lately that you would recommend to watch or avoid?
Cowboys and Aliens:
A movie without a center of gravity on which to stand: Both too derivative to be a great sci-fi flick, and too stupid to be taken seriously as a hard boiled western. The trailer made it look and feel tongue in cheek, and every write up ahead of time made it look like a fun time at the movies. In addition, the film is stocked with talent: Steven Spielberg and Ron Howard produced it, Jon Favreau is a great action director, Daniel Craig and Harrison Ford are more than capable, etc. Hey, the creature design is even really cool. But when any film is credited as having 7 people creating the story (5 of whom are the screenwriters), you know there are going to be some bumps in the road
Terrible dialogue, frequent wooden acting, and clichéd characters stock the movie. The worst offender though is the story itself and the films creator’s insistence on it being taken as seriously as a Sergio Leone movie. Confusing changes in tone and other regular consistency issues in the story leave me scratching my head at what could have been a fun movie. As is, it’s so mediocre to poor that it’s the worst kind of bad – it can’t be so bad it’s good or as good as its loony premise suggests. It just tries hard and succeeds at very little. The most disappointing film of the year.
This little film from 2006 is certainly one to put on your Netflix queue (providing you haven’t dropped the service yet). Richard Gere and Alfred Molina star as two writers who concoct a hoax to write an autobiography of Howard Hughes. As one lie leads to another, things get awfully twisted and complicated in a matter of minutes that have big effects on the characters and everyone in their lives. I’ve never cared much for Richard Gere, but here he is irreplaceable. Slimy, yet charismatic, you kind of want his plan to work even though you see the holes in its plausibility.
Molina is great as well, but it’s the “based on a true story” elements of the film that left me hanging on to what felt like a slightly long movie. Lots of curiosity about what really happened and what didn’t are made all the muddier by the Gere’s characters real life inability to be trusted. Frequently funny, well written, and notably brought to life by its stars, “The Hoax” is a film well worth checking out.
Ryan Reynolds, gagged and sweaty in a coffin for 90 minutes. While for some I just described their fantasy (for better and for worse), the rest of us should know whether or not it makes for a good film. The answer is absolutely “yes.” The film throws just enough curve balls to keep you guessing right up to its conclusion, which I won’t spoil here. I’m most curious about repeat viewings – it could be boring as once the film’s conclusion is known, the tension may evaporate (So don’t read about it in advance).
Technically, the film is also brilliant. Several of the shots (of which no CG is added) are so well done featuring 360 crane shots that leave the coffin still enclosed, and frequently effective lighting show us just what we need to see. Ryan Reynolds is fantastic, toning down his charismatic funny guy persona while playing things straight to perfect effect. Last, the film is most effective for playing on our fears of being in Reynolds place and doing everything he can to survive as an everyman – he isn’t a martial arts or survival expert, just a guy trying to take care of his family. It’s relatable which makes the film that much more interesting. Some plot holes and a cynical worldview prevent a whole hearted recommendation, save for Hitchcock lovers and suspense junkies.
Looks and feels a lot like a Tony Scott film with a color palette that is oversaturated and fast camera movements to boot. Also like recent Tony Scott films, the characters are 2 dimensional and simple minded. The film also has every cliché imaginable – expect double crosses, “one last job” plot points, and one scene where the sexy man stars walk away from an explosion without looking back. It’s derivative and mindless, with an over dependence on slow motion and a barrage of musical accompaniment.
In addition, the film feels like it is acted and played by male models. While that’s exciting for some, for the rest of us it leaves us watching tailored suits and Gucci ads when we don’t care. Terrible subplots are littered throughout the film and everyone talks like they just got off of the set of a stereotypical rap video from the mid 2000’s. To its credit, there is a fantastic chase sequence where Chris Brown goes from rapper to parkour expert with unbreakable bones (by the way – he sucks at acting). Additionally, a slow mo shootout and street explosion sequence made for some great set pieces. Still, none of that can save the films general derivativeness, and desire to watch far better heist flicks out there like “The Town” or any of Jean Pierre Melville’s heist films.
Burn After Reading:
The Coen Brothers ode to stupid people is better with every repeat viewing. This one was viewing number 3 or 4 for me, and it was funnier than the previous viewings. John Malkovich’s use of colorful language (of which the film features aplenty) is also unabashedly hilarious, especially in the opening scene. Brad Pitt’s character is also consistently hysterical. It won’t convert the non-Coen film lovers out there, but for people like me, it’s an easy vote for a great sick day flick.
This is what it looks like when actors are having fun. Great chemistry from the leads with lots of heart. One liners abound with a surprising amount of violent shootouts. Bruce Willis is charismatic in the lead, but it’s John Malkovich who steals the show. Shootouts are well staged, including a hilarious scene early in the movie that leaves a house with way too many bullet holes. Mindless without being too stupid, fun and full of action, “Red” won’t change the face of cinema but it will likely be remembered as at least being entertaining.