A remake of a 1972 Charles Bronson film, The Mechanic is a passable, workmanlike action thriller that knows what it's doing, but not much more than that. The 2011 film stars Jason Statham, an actor who I'm convinced with each passing film is getting paid by the amount he snarls on camera. He gets to snarl and sneer a lot here as Arthur Bishop, a professional hitman who specializes in silent kills, as we witness in the opening scene, where he takes out a Colombian drug lord in his own swimming pool, right under the noses of the drug lord's own armed guards.
Arthur returns home to New Orleans to hook up with his best friend and former mentor, Harry (Donald Sutherland). Right when we see Harry, we know he doesn't have a lot of time left in this movie for two key reasons. Reason no. 1 - He's in a wheelchair. People in wheelchairs tend not to last very long in action movies, especially those starring Jason Statham. And reason no. 2 - He's played by an actor like Sutherland, who's obviously too good for this material. We're right on both counts. Arthur gets his next job from his slimy boss, Dean (Tony Goldwyn), and the target for the job just happens to be Harry. Arthur seems conflicted about having to kill his friend, but eventually goes through with it. Harry at least is a good sport about it, saying he's glad Arthur is the one who gets to put a bullet in him.
Through dialogue, we learn that Harry had an adult son whom he was not on good terms with. Said son shows up after his father's death. That would be Steve (Ben Foster), who shows up before Arthur, wanting to learn his trade, as he wants to hunt down and kill the people who murdered his father. Of course, Steve doesn't know that Arthur is responsible. Regardless, Arthur takes him under his wing, and tries to teach him how to be an assassin. Problem is, Steve has a very violent mean streak, and would prefer to mangle his targets into a bloody mess, rather than silently sneak in and get the job done. Regardless of their differing approaches to killing people, the two become partners, especially when they go up against the corrupt Dean.
There's a lot of style and flash in The Mechanic, and director Simon West (who's past experiences in the action genre include Tomb Raider and Con Air) stages some impressive stunts, such as when Arthur and Steve have to escape a hotel after their presence is detected immediately following a successful hit. As impressively mounted as the film is, I found it hard to care about what was going on. That's because the movie is icy underneath. Everyone is a silent killer or dealing with murderous rage issues, and the script never bothers to dig much deeper than that into the cast. Don't get me wrong. Killers can and have made fascinating characters in movies before. But both Statham and Foster seem to be playing merely at the surface level. They sneer and look threatening, but there's nothing underneath.
To be fair, the movie does eventually turn into non-stop sound and fury, so we don't have time to complain that the characters in the middle of it all have no real personality. I guess this is the director's way of saying we shouldn't be putting too much thought into this film. It sure does get ridiculous, though. This is one of those movies where a garbage truck (driven by Arthur) can ram a car into a burning bus in the middle of a city street, and nobody seems to notice. (Nobody notices the bus being carjacked and exploding, either.) I know, I'm not supposed to be thinking about this kind of stuff. I'm just supposed to get caught up in the over the top action. I probably would have if I felt like I hadn't seen it all before. As impressive as the action usually is, it's never very original.
This review is just a formality, really. If you're in the mood for a mindless action film, The Mechanic will do just fine. I enjoyed some of the nonsense some of the time, but not enough for me to recommend. Still, it's fast-paced, it doesn't get bogged down in useless subplots, and a lot of stuff blows up. For most people who go see this movie, I assume that will be enough. See the movie times in your area or buy the DVD at Amazon.com!
This is the kind of movie the month of January was made for. The Rite is low key, unassuming, and not very memorable. It will fade quickly from the minds of everyone who pays to see it, and probably collect a lot of dust on DVD. That's not to say it's a terrible movie. It's just very middle of the road, and not very scary for a movie about exorcisms and demonic possessions. I guess if you've seen one person wreathing in agony as they speak in tongues and shout ungodly things at priests, you've seen 'em all.
I feel I should pay credit where it's due - Director Mikael Hafstrom (who made a much more successful thriller almost four years ago called 1408) seems more interested in finding subtle ways to unnerve his audience, rather than focusing on special effects. At least for the first hour or so. The movie seems more interested in its lead character, a young priest named Michael Kovac (Colin O'Donoghue) struggling with his faith, or his lack thereof. As the film opens, Michael is the son of an undertaker (Rutger Hauer), who is not interested in going into the family business. He runs off and joins the priesthood, but even finds that uninspiring. He fires off a letter of resignation to the father superior (Toby Jones), who thinks he has the answer to help Michael find his faith - Send him off to Rome, and train to be an exorcist at the Vatican. "It's a couple months in Rome. How bad can it be?", the father superior says.
Apparently when he said that, he did not read very far into the script. Michael arrives in Rome a total skeptic, making plenty of logical and scientific explanations to explain away "demonic possessions" in his classes. So, he's teamed up with Father Lucas (Anthony Hopkins), a grizzled and dry-humored veteran who has done battle with the Devil's minions many times, and has no need for skeptics. He takes young Michael under his wing, and begins taking him along on some of his jobs. The early scenes establishing the relationship between Michael and Father Lucas are promising, but don't add up to much. I did appreciate Hopkins' performance, and how he finds the right balance of noble teacher and dry wit. In the film's single funniest moment, Father Lucas has to take a call on his cell phone while in the middle of an exorcism, leaving Michael to handle things on his own.
At this point, the movie was about an hour in, and while I was not exactly engaged, I was intrigued. The movie makes a lot out of Michael questioning his faith, and whether the things he sees when he follows Father Lucas on his jobs are really acts of the paranormal, or an elaborate hoax being played either by the patients or the Father. In fact, the movie makes too much out of it. The first half is a fairly long slog of too much dialogue, and not much else happening. Michael keeps on doubting that evil and the Devil exists. Well, of course we know they exist. The movie would be a total cheat if they didn't. The main patient that Father Lucas visits is a pregnant 16-year-old girl who claims to be possessed by a demon. I'm trying my best to avoid spoilers here, but I will say that whatever force is controlling the girl soon moves on to another body, and Michael must throw away any doubt he has to save himself.
It's at this point that The Rite flies off the rails. Whereas before it was a mostly mediocre, but somewhat intriguing study of faith, it now becomes a special effects demo. Walls rattle and shake, voices boom on the soundtrack, demonic mules and painful childhood memories haunt Michael's dreams...Yep, the Devil is here. As it becomes increasingly loopy and derivative of other films about exorcism, we think back on the opening titles that informed us that what we're seeing is "inspired by true events" and snicker. At least a disclaimer during the end credits have the honesty to admit that although the character of Michael is based on a real person, much of the film we've just watched was made up. I guess saying that right at the top of your movie doesn't sound as impressive as saying it's inspired by true events.
By the time the third act rolls around, the movie dips so much so into nonsense and supernatural cliches that we just can't take it seriously anymore. Everything goes up to overkill levels - The effects, the performances, and especially the atmosphere. All dramatic storytelling and characterization fly out the window. It turns into one big excuse for Hopkins (who up to this point was fairly subdued) to ham it up, and for O'Donoghue (a relative newcomer) to look like he's intimidated to be acting in the presence of Hopkins. As Michael, O'Donoghue is an attractive face, but he can't quite make his character come to life. Whenever he's with the film's female lead, a reporter investigating the Vatican (Alice Braga), or taking center stage as the hero during the film's insane climax, he's just not that convincing.
I have a suspicion that The Rite started out as something much smaller, until studio heads twisted the whole thing around, adding elements that just don't quite fit. To be fair, the movie held my attention, though not always in a good way. It goes on a little too long, it's never quite as engaging or smart as it seems to think it is, and the last half hour or so is a total wash. But, at least it's not boring.
The problem with Adam (Ashton Kutcher) and Emma (Natalie Portman), and why they don't work as a couple, is that they seem to know they're in a generic romantic comedy. They're both smart in a quirky and cute way, they both don't talk about anything that doesn't have something to do with the plot at hand, and they surround themselves with friends and people who are equally smart in a quirky and cute way, and don't talk about anything that doesn't have something to do with the plot at hand. Looking for honesty in this movie can be a tiring experience, when everyone walking around within it seem to be going through the motions of a creaky screenplay.
No Strings Attached starts by asking an intriguing question, then does nothing with it. That question is whether a man and woman can be friends, and still have sex with each other without commitment. A movie that dealt honestly and openly with this issue would be something to see, but this isn't it. In fact, it seems to forget about its own question about 40 minutes in, and turns into a tired, overly-conventional romantic comedy about two leads who are obviously right for each other, but spend the entire movie avoiding that fact, and going through a series of misunderstandings that keep them apart. The screenplay by Elizabeth Meriwether reads like it was dumbed down at some point, either at conception, or when studio heads got a hold of it. How else can you explain the movie's gradual watered-down tone as it drags on, and how the lead characters frequently seem to be all over the map emotionally and in their personality?
But let's get back to Adam and Emma. The movie opens with a montage of them meeting at different points in their lives, and things not working out. They first meet as awkward pre-teens at a summer camp, then at a college frat party, and finally as adults. Emma's a medical doctor, though we never actually see her working or handling any patients. She just walks down the halls, having colorful conversations about sex with her girlfriends. Adam is a low-level assistant on a TV show that can't seem to decide if it wants to be a parody of High School Musical or Glee, and has dreams of being a screenwriter. When Adam and Emma meet as adults, Adam is dating a ditzy woman named Vanessa (Ophelia Lovibond), only to have her dump him off camera, and move in with his washed-up actor father (Kevin Kline). Seeing his father being romantic with his ex sends Adam spiraling into an alcohol-fueled depression. He blacks out, and wakes up in Emma's apartment, where she quite suddenly decides to have spontaneous sex with him, and decides they should become "friends with benefits".
A sexual relationship without any intimacy or meaning is a good deal for Emma, as she has to work odd hours at the hospital, and can call upon Adam for quickie sex anytime she wants. Adam's okay with it too at first, but we can tell almost from the start that he's attracted to her, and wants more out of their relationship. This is when the movie stops being about "friends with benefits", and becomes yet another movie where the two lead characters avoid the inevitable conclusion that they're meant for each other in order to pad out the running time. This wouldn't be so bad, but some of the decisions these characters make don't make any sense. Adam has feelings for Emma, but is willing to date other women when she suggests it. Emma isn't interested in a traditional relationship, then begins dating a fellow doctor while she's having sex with Adam. Later, she seems to be developing genuine feelings for Adam, only to act horrified when Adam admits his feelings for her, and physically attacks him for doing so. These characters are so hard to pin down, it's impossible to care about them.
What frustrated me the most about No Strings Attached is that it doesn't even seem interested in its own idea. After screenwriter Meriwether and director Ivan Reitman (My Super Ex-Girlfriend) set up the idea of this couple having free sex without commitment, the movie drops it almost immediately. It doesn't explore the thought process that would lead to such a relationship. Again, I wouldn't mind so much if the movie was actually dropping it for something else that was equally interesting. Instead, it drops its own intriguing premise for cliched sequences, such as the umpteenth time we've seen the scene where one character rushes to the other in order to profess their love, only to find the other person in the arms of someone else. Can we please retire this plot device in romantic comedies, or at least think of a new spin on it?
Let me be clear - I have no problem with romantic comedies being predictable. Heck, I pretty much expect it. But when a movie offers no real wit or intelligence to offset the cliches, I get bored. One final note: Cary Elwes is the third name listed in the cast credit, but watching the movie, I couldn't find him anywhere. Turns out he plays a doctor at the hospital where Emma works who stands in the background in almost every scene he's in. I really hope most of his scenes ended up on the cutting room floor, because he deserves better.
It's been a long time since acclaimed Australian filmmaker, Peter Weir, stepped behind the camera (his last film was 2003's Master and Commander), but he finally makes his return with an entertaining, but flawed, story of survival. The Way Back is a beautifully filmed and well-acted old fashioned adventure epic, and were the pacing a bit tighter, this could have been extraordinary. As it stands, this is still a great achievement, thanks to Weir's realistic vision, and his ability to avoid forced sentimentality that usually accompanies Hollywood survival stories.
The film is inspired by a best-selling Polish memoir about a journey on foot across Siberia and the Mongolian desert by a group of escapees from one of Stalin's prisons during World War II. There has been some controversy as to whether or not the book is a hoax, or if the event even happened. Knowing little about the book and the controversy surrounding it, I can't comment, but I will say that Weir directs the film with an unflinching eye toward the harshness of life in the prison camp during the film's opening half hour or so. There's a sense of realism as we witness the prisoners being worked to death, or splitting off into small fractions amongst each other, creating different groups and walks of life within the prison walls. The performances that Weir gets out of his cast also adds to the effect, as everyone here is very understated, and don't play up the melodrama of the situation. They seem like real people who once were living normal lives, and now find themselves facing death and starvation.
The lead prisoner that the screenplay (co-written by Weir) focuses on is a Pole named Janusz (Jim Sturgess), who finds himself in the prison when his wife is forced by the government to testify against him, accusing him of being a spy against Stalin. After a few months of hardships in the camp, Janusz befriends some of his fellow prisoners, and devises a plan to escape to freedom. There are seven in all in the initial group, with key members being an American who goes by the name of Mr. Smith (Ed Harris) and a Russian criminal named Valka (Colin Farrell). As they escape into the woods to begin their journey, I admired the film's sense of detail, such as a sequence that shows them crafting crude masks out of tree bark in order to protect their faces from the biting wind during snowstorms. Along the way, they pick up a runaway teenage girl named Irena (Saoirse Ronan from The Lovely Bones). She creates some tension at first, as the American thinks she'll slow them down, but she proves her worth as a member of the group quickly enough.
The Way Back is a true survival picture. The conflict the characters making the 4,000 mile trek from the prison camp in Siberia and ultimately to India is not with each other, or even with the danger of being caught (although it does rear its head once in a while). It is a battle against the elements, as the group walk across frozen wastelands, mountains, and deserts. Exhaustion, dehydration, and starvation are the main dangers they face along the way. The terrain itself (which is constantly changing throughout the film, and all beautifully shot) becomes the greatest danger. We see how the group hunt for food, deal with insects, and keep each other's spirits up. The fine cast do create a sense of bonding during the course of the film, and we get a sense that they really are going through hell up there on the screen. This is not one of those movies where the hero goes on a great adventure of survival, yet somehow their hair and skin remain remarkably untouched. It's gritty, and the performances drive home the honesty.
That being said, the movie does lack a dramatic focus, which ultimately holds it back from being the great film it could have been. So much of the movie is devoted to the characters walking, that no one really gets a chance to step up and become the heart of the movie that we can relate to. It's not that the characters are unlikable or hard to relate to. It's simply that the script never gets around to making any of the individual members of the group truly stand out. The performances certain stand out, but the characters as they're written needed to stand out more, I felt. If there was more of a dramatic arc, or someone we could really get behind, this movie could have been inspiring as well as honest and well-shot.
But, perhaps Weir is trying to show us how the ordeal ground down these men to the point that they did not really resemble who they once were. It's a valid argument. The characters are forced to act as a unit for much of the film, and while this prevents the movie from finding one character whom we can get behind, it does a good job of showing how these people from different walks of life can band together. Whether intentional or not, I must report on how I felt watching the film, and I admit, I was intrigued the entire time. The pacing is slow, but never boring. And I liked how the film focused on their survival techniques, such as finding water in the desert, or finding other means to stay hydrated when water is not available.
I have a feeling that The Way Back will appeal most to those who like an old fashioned survival in the wilderness story. It's low key and unassuming, but still manages to be quite gripping, thanks to the unflinching style that Weir brings to the film. He's the kind of filmmaker who can make you admire the beauty of nature, while at the same time make you grateful you're watching it from a warm, temperature-controlled theater.
Usually when a studio releases a movie by a big-name director (in this case, Ron Howard) in the notorious dumping grounds of January, it's a sign that the movie is a certified stinker. This is not wholly the case with The Dilemma. It's not exactly a bad movie, just an unfocused and confused one. There are some good moments here that hint at what the movie could have been, but the screenplay by Allan Loeb (Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps) isn't confident enough to follow them through. He also doesn't seem sure if he was making a broad comedy, or a sentimental drama that seriously tackles the issues the central plot brings up.
The setup concerns Ronny (Vince Vaughn) and Nick (Kevin James) - Best friends since college, and business partners in a small automotive design company that they started together. They're on the verge of a contract with Chrysler, which could put their company into the big leagues. In their private lives, the guys are generally happy. Nick is the straight-arrow type, happily married to his college sweetheart, Geneva (Winona Ryder, continuing her strong comeback that started with last month's Black Swan). Ronny is a guy on the mend. He's recovering from a gambling addiction that almost destroyed his life, until his live-in girlfriend, Beth (Jennifer Connelly), convinced him to get help. Now with his life in order, Ronny's looking to settle down and get married. While visiting the botanical garden where he hopes to propose to Beth, he happens to see Geneva getting romantic with a younger man (Channing Tatum). Should he tell Nick, who is already under tremendous pressure to get their presentation ready for Chrysler? Should he confront Geneva and question her about what he saw?
To Ronny's credit, he does confront Geneva fairly quickly when they are alone. She confirms what he saw, but says it was nothing serious. And besides, she says that Nick has been so focused on work, he never has time for her anymore. He also has a bad habit of sneaking off at night, saying he has a "business meeting". Has Nick been entirely faithful to her? Regardless, Nick is his best friend, and Ronny wants to tell him about what he saw. There just never seems to be the opportunity. That, and Geneva doesn't hold up on her "it was nothing serious" statement, and keeps on seeing the younger guy. And when Ronny threatens Geneva, she blackmails him back, forcing him to keep quiet. Meanwhile, all of this secrecy, sneaking around, and strange behavior has aroused Beth's suspicions, as she thinks Ronny is back to his old gambling habits. For once, this is not the case of the Idiot Plot at work. Anyone who has ever lived with or dealt with an addict, even a recovering one, knows how easy it is to suspect unusual behavior.
This obviously brings up a lot of tough questions for anyone watching the film. Unfortunately, The Dilemma tries to mine this material for laughs, and it doesn't usually work. A lot of the humor is of the broad variety, such as a pointless cameo by Queen Latifah as a worker at Chrysler who keeps on making inappropriate sexual comparisons and comments to show how excited she is when she hears a good idea. The humor often seems shoehorned in, as it forces characters to act in ways they usually don't. Compare how Ronny acts most of the film, to the scene where he tries to spy on Geneva and her lover, and snap photos of them. It gets even worse when Ronny is discovered, and a tired comic slapstick fight erupts, concluding with Ronny screaming like a madman, and threatening to melt his opponent's face off with a home-made blowtorch. This scene is not funny, it's embarrassing, and completely out of character for Ronny, who suddenly becomes a screaming idiot for no apparent reason.
Scenes like the one above almost made me give up on the film, but then a scene would come along that would restore my faith in it. These scenes revolve around the characters acting like adults, and actually handling the situation maturely. I was especially impressed with the way the film's final moments handle some of the trickier issues. Aside from an ill-advised and unnecessary fight between Ronny and Nick in a business waiting room, the movie's final 20 minutes or so are surprisingly smart. Likewise, the scene where Ronny confronts Geneva in a diner is another standout, due to the dialogue, and the performances by Vaughn and Ryder. It's interesting to watch the characters struggle for control and power as they threaten each other and try to gain the upper hand. I also liked the way the movie handles the outcome of Kevin and Geneva's relationship. It avoids melodrama, it's powerful and to the point, and it's an honest outcome and realization for both characters.
So, why make it a comedy? The jokes don't work, but the drama does. Granted, Vaughn gets a couple laughs, many of which come across as being improvised. Other than that, the movie just doesn't seem comfortable trying to give a light-hearted spin to this situation. Was it the screenplay? Did Howard force an ill-advised re-write when comic actors like Vaughn and Kevin James got involved? I honestly can't say. All I know is The Dilemma is at its best when its being honest with its characters. Too bad the studio is downplaying this aspect with its ad campaign, and seems to be selling the movie as a joyful comedy, with a perky pop song playing on the soundtrack. The movie is actually a little bit better than it's marketed as being.
I'm not recommending The Dilemma, but I certainly don't regret seeing it. The lead actors are strong enough to carry the material (especially Ryder, who gives her character more dimension than she was probably written with), and there's some good stuff to be found. It's just mixed in with a lot of stuff that doesn't work at all. With a more focused approach, or maybe a better sense of how to mix humor with sentiment, this could have been something.
As The King's Speech expands into wide release, riding a wave of Oscar hype and trumpeting critical acclaim, you have to ask yourself if the movie really is all that important. After all, the movie does not cover much new ground, and follows a fairly rigid "unorthodox mentor meets and eventually bonds with disbelieving student" formula. That being said, it cannot be denied that the movie is also highly entertaining, inspirational at times, and is probably the best acted movie of 2010. So, while the core of the movie may be nothing new, this is still an exceptional piece of filmmaking.
The film is a fairly standard dramatic retelling of the rise of King George VI (played with much conviction by Colin Firth), and his long personal battle with a childhood speech impediment. As the film kicks off, he's still Prince Albert (Bertie to his friends and family), and he gives a disastrous public address at Wembley Stadium in 1925, thanks to his uncontrollable stutter. Certain that his brother Edward (Guy Pearce) is next in line for the throne after their father (Michael Gambon), Albert shies away from public view, and tries a variety of quack doctors to help with his impediment. That's when his wife, Elizabeth (Helena Bonham Carter, understated and charming here), discovers the services of Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush), an Australian wannabe actor turned unorthodox speech therapist, who believes that his particular method of treatment can help her husband. Lionel's methods clash with Albert initially, as Lionel does not believe in making house calls, and also insists on treating Albert as an equal, referring to him as "Bertie" instead of a royal title. Naturally, the two eventually begin to bond, especially when Albert learns that he can control his stutter.
There are subplots, of course. One concerning his brother Edward, and his desire to to marry a twice-divorced American woman. A scandal rises because of this, forcing Edward to give up his crown after he takes the throne with their father's passing. This leaves Albert as the King just as World War II is about to erupt. There are some cameos by historical figures to give the film some context, including Winston Churchill (Timothy Spall, giving a dead-on performance), but the real heart of the film is not the historical trappings, but rather the relationship that builds between the future King, and his speech therapist. The screenplay by David Seidler (Quest for Camelot) allows these characters to be human, flawed, and sometimes quite funny, so we can relate to both of the characters as they go from trading verbal barbs, to mutual respect. We may have seen this kind of relationship done before, but seldom this well.
It is the performances that truly give The King's Speech much of its dramatic weight. There are so many standouts here, it may be hard for Oscar voters to choose. There's Firth, who gives a performance of quiet dignity, with loud rage bubbling underneath, ready to explode at a moment's notice. He wisely does not overplay his verbal handicap, and hits just the right note that we sympathize with him, but do not pity him. He is a strong and natural-born leader, held back only by his own self doubt. While the character may not have come across as entirely three dimensional in Seidler's script, Firth's performance and his mixture of royal pride and personal self-loathing sells the character wonderfully to the audience.
Meeting him every step of the way is Rush, giving one of his best performances in a while. He rises above the cliche of the offbeat mentor, and turns Lionel into a fleshed out character with a family, personal desires, and a genuine bond that we can feel growing with Firth's character as the film progresses. Likewise, Helena Bonham Carter (best known for her offbeat work in Tim Burton's films these days) gets to display some genuine warmth here, and is quietly understated. Yet, she never disappears into the background, like you expect her to. She's a constant presence in the life of her husband, and gives the sense that she is just as important to the King's emotional and vocal healing as the speech therapist is.
So, is this just a feel-good movie with a lot of great performances to lift it above the norm? While it does suffer from some trappings of the genre (certain lines, like when Firth bellows "I have a voice" in defiant anger, seem tailor made to be an Oscar clip or a clip for the trailer), what pushes it above the norm is not just the performances, but that it is also highly entertaining to watch. The movie never slows down in its nearly two hour run time, nor does it ever feel it is losing focus on the characters by cramming in too much historical detail. Director Tom Hooper (TV mini-series John Adams) avoids the stuffy trappings of a dull historical drama by putting such a strong emphasis on the relationships at the heart of the story, and making us care about the characters.
There is certainly a lot to praise in The King's Speech, though I'm not quite labeling it the end-all movie of 2010 as some critics are. If it falls short in any department, it's only that it follows a fairly rigid inspirational formula. But at least it actually manages to be inspirational, especially during the final 10 minutes or so, which gives the film its title as Britain is about to be pulled into war with Germany. Is The King's Speech a true original? Far from it. Is it still one of the better experiences you can have at a theater right now? Believe it.
In updating the costumed crime-fighter, The Green Hornet, for today's audiences, comic actor Seth Rogen (who not only stars as the titular hero, but also co-wrote and produced the film) decided to make the character in his own image. This is less a superhero movie, and more an ego project for Rogen, as he constantly yammers on and mugs for the camera. He seems to think he's a hoot. Audiences, I suspect, will have a different reaction.
This is a shockingly inept movie, made much more so by the fact that the director is the very fine Michael Gondry (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind). It's an overlong exercise in sound and fury, broken up by long strings of Rogen doing his likable doofus routine that won over audiences in films like Knocked Up and Pineapple Express, but seems out of place and tired here. The film itself is a failed attempt to liven up a fairly generic action film, complete with a non-existent plot, with self-referencing humor. Though I chuckled on occasion, most of the jokes fall flat, due to Rogen's obnoxious performance, combined with his almost total lack of chemistry with his co-star, Jay Chou (stepping into the role of the Hornet's sidekick, made famous by Bruce Lee in the old TV series). This, sadly, is the least of the film's troubles. You know an action movie is in trouble when you spend a majority of the running time waiting for the action to even start. You know an action movie is beyond hope when the action finally kicks in, and gets dragged out so long, you can't wait for it to end.
Even if you have no history with The Green Hornet, you should find his story familiar. Spoiled billionaire brat Britt Reid (Rogen) is the aimless, hard-partying son of gruff newspaper tycoon, James (Tom Wilkinson, in a throw away cameo). An awkward edit and scene cut later, and James is dead, leaving Britt in charge of the family business. Rather than pursue a journalistic career, however, Britt decides to go into the costumed vigilante racket. He teams up with his father's old auto mechanic, Kato (Chou), who just happens to have a passion for building souped-up bullet-proof cars with lots of hidden weapons, as well as other gadgets. Together, they don masks and costumes, and go about taking out the city's leading crime kingpin, Chudnofsky (Christoph Waltz). There's also a crooked D.A. (David Harbour), and a lovely secretary at the newspaper office named Lenore (Cameron Diaz) for Britt and Kato to fight over. Maybe we'd understand their need to fight over her if the character of Lenore was given something to do other than...well, stand around and look like Cameron Diaz.
The movie spends a lot of time (too much time, actually) going nowhere, as we're subjected to scene after scene of Rogen's trademark man-child humor, where he reacts to literally everything around him with a "gee whiz, this is cool" kind of naivety. It's kind of amusing as he marvels at Kato's various weapons and inventions with a child-like wonder ("You're like a human Swiss Army Knife", he says at one point), but grows tiresome when you realize it's all the character is built on. Everyone else is given very little to work with. Jay Chou shows some charisma as Kato, but he's forced into the background too often by his co-star's constant yammering. As for Christoph Waltz, it's only fitting that he follows up one of the more memorable villain roles in recent memory in Inglourious Basterds (for which he won an Oscar) with one of the least memorable.
In Hollywood's never-ending quest for the all mighty dollar, The Green Hornet is being shown in 3D. As expected, it adds absolutely nothing. In fact, there's barely anything here displayed in 3D. I was able to watch a good 90% of the film or so with the glasses off, and still get a crystal clear picture. If I sound like I'm repeating myself, it's only because the studios refuse to learn from their mistakes, and keep on pushing out this sub-par 3D, expecting audiences to pay extra for it. It is also a sign that 2011 will not exactly see a change when it comes to the technology being used right. Until audiences wise up, get used to wearing those clunky glasses, and being subjected to poor picture quality.
The Green Hornet might work as light entertainment if there was anything up there on the screen to recommend. It lacks a real identity, instead throwing a lot of noise and special effects up on the screen to cover it up. Given the talent on and off the screen, I expected more. January doesn't have to be a depressing time to go to the movies, but it's movies like this that remind you why it usually is.
Shana Feste's Country Strong is a well-meaning film that never quite connected with me. It's well-acted, and the large variety of country music (most of it original to the film) is sure to sell more than a few soundtracks to fans. But the entire time, I felt like I was being kept at a distance from the characters. The movie is a fairly standard "behind the music" melodrama that knows what story beats and cliches to hit, but it doesn't know how to make us care about them.
As the film opens, we're introduced to Kelly Canter (Gwyneth Paltrow), a star in the country music world who has fallen on hard times personally, and is being forced into a comeback by her husband/manager, James (Tim McGraw). We learn that months ago, Kelly was drunk while giving a concert, fell off the stage, and miscarried a five month pregnancy. She's been at rehab since then, trying to put her life together, and flirting with one of the orderlies there. That would be Beau (Garrett Hedlund from Tron: Legacy), who aspires to be a country singer and songwriter if somebody would just give him a chance. James checks Kelly out of rehab a month early, eager to get her back on the road, and stage a massive comeback tour. Kelly agrees, but only if Beau gets to be her opening act. James, however, has another opening act in mind - a former beauty queen turned wannabe singer, Chiles Stanton (Leighton Meester).
The movie sets up its multiple plots quickly. Kelly and Beau are obviously attracted to each other, as Kelly feels the love has gone out of her relationship with her husband. But has it really? The marriage between Kelly and James seems to be whatever the screenplay wants it to be, whenever it deems it convenient. Sometimes, James is a cold and distant husband. Sometimes, he's cruel and harsh. And sometimes, he's soft and sympathetic. We don't spend enough time alone with these characters to truly get an angle on just how they feel about each other. Likewise, we don't get close enough to Kelly to fully understand her past demons. We know she has a history of drug and alcohol abuse, but don't really get a clear picture as to what has caused it. Was it the stress of her career? Stress of her marriage? The movie doesn't so much develop these characters, rather it checks off the expected cliches (substance abuse, marriage on the rocks), and expects that to be enough.
There are similar problems for the other two main characters in the story - Beau and Chiles. At the beginning, Beau resents Chiles, seeing her as a spoiled and talentless girl who gets by on her looks. The movie seems to feel the same way, and depicts Chiles as being almost shallow early on. Still, Beau ends up helping her out when she freezes on stage while singing a song. Seeing them sing together is enough to convince James to bring them both along on his wife's comeback tour as the opening act. Once again, Beau is not happy about this. And yet, as the movie goes on, Chiles' personality begins to soften, and darn it, she actually starts to show that she's more than just a pretty face. Suddenly, Beau starts to feel romantically drawn to her, and the movie starts to like her, too. It feels forced, though. The feelings they develop for each other seems like a necessity for the script, rather than a natural thing that develops over time.
It doesn't take long for Country Strong to start to resemble a patchwork that's been stitched together from the pieces of other movies. It doesn't help that Crazy Heart with Jeff Bridges is still fresh in everyone's mind, and dealt with the story of a self-destructive country singer in a much more honest way. It also becomes a jumbled mess of emotions, as characters fall in and out of love with each other, seemingly at the drop of a hat, and some scenes just don't add up. Characters also suffer, as they seem to be only partially developed. The character of James is a good example of this. Even though he's played with a wide range of emotions by Tim McGraw, we never get a sense for just who he is, as the movie doesn't spend enough time with him. Just like his relationship with his wife, the film is content to just give us the bare essentials.
But, of course, some people won't care about that. They'll only care about how the movie looks and sounds. And does it ever look and sound good. The performances are great all the way around, even when the script gives them little to work with. But it's the music performances (of which there are many) that the film is rightfully banking on. The songs are spirited, and the performances (especially the one by Paltrow) are genuine show-stoppers. The movie shows a real knowledge for talent and flashy entertainment, but whenever the characters step off stage, it gets thrown out of its comfort zone. Paltrow comes across as a natural up on stage, performing in front of stadiums. Quite an impressive feat. But when it comes time for us to feel for her, we're left feeling cold.
I'm certain that Country Strong will have its fans and supporters, and I wish more power to them. I just never felt for anyone up on the screen the way I think the filmmakers intended. Maybe you have to be really into the country music scene in order to pick up on little things that make the movie seem more natural or real. All I know is I felt like an outsider looking in.
I am a rabid movie fan since 1984 who calls them as he sees them. Sometimes harsh, but always honest, I offer my 'reel opinions' on today's films. I don't get money for my reviews, and I have to pay to get into every movie I see (even the really awful ones), so what you will see here is the true reaction of a man who is passionate about film. - Ryan Cullen