Friday, January 27, 2012


MAN ON A LEDGE (Dir. Asger Leth, 2012)

Although it isn't a comedy, MAN ON A LEDGE has more laughs than last fall's similarly themed TOWER HEIST, but most of them aren't intentional.

It's not because the plot, which concerns an ex con who climbs out on the ledge of a high rise Manhattan hotel room to distract everybody from noticing a heist at another building nearby, is so ridiculously implausible - it's just pulled in so many ridiculously implausible directions that it's laughable.

Sam Worthington (AVATAR, CLASH OF THE TITANS) is the title character who toys with the police, including Edward Burns as a a wise cracking detective and Elizabeth Banks as a NYPD negotiator, as he seemingly threatens to jump.

You see, Worthington was screwed over by Ed Harris as a Donald Trump type tycoon, so he's enacting a convoluted revenge involving a big-time diamond heist. It involves Jamie Bell (as Worthington's brother) with his squeeze Génesis Rodríguez breaking into Harris's vault while our hero keeps the cops and the crowd occupied.

Everything moves along briskly, but it's such standard stake-less stuff that it takes no hold.

Worthington doesn’t have a worthwhile character to inhabit, the glibness of Banks’ part would be better suited for a sitcom, Harris doesn’t care enough to even slightly nibble the scenery, and Rodríguez is on hand only to provide cleavage.

Also misused is Kyra Sedgwick as a TV reporter on the sidelines milking the event for ratings - a role that’s been done to death and it never comes alive here.

Laughs of the eye-rolling variety are all MAN ON A LEDGE is good for, and there aren’t enough of those to make it recommendable.

So I know it sounds like it could be something worth stopping and taking a look at, but move along folks!

Nothing worth seeing here.

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Monday, January 23, 2012

The Film Babble Blog Top 10 Movies Of 2011

2011 was a pretty unremarkable year for movies.

I saw over 130 films on the big screen and the vast majority of them sucked. Few films caught on at the art houses, and the multiplexes were dominated by super hero movies and sequels - 9 out of the top 10 grossing films were sequels, and the only one that wasn't was THE SMURFS which should really tell you something about how sucky the year was.

However, there were a handful of excellent films, so here's my top 10 favorites:

1. THE TREE OF LIFE (Dir. Terrence Malick)

The reaction to this film has been extremely divisive (my wife hated it for example), but no other film this last year made a bigger dent into my cinematic pysche. In my review last summer, I wrote that “the visual thrust is stupefying; it’s like Malick is actually trying to capture God on film.” Read my review here.

2. HUGO (Dir. Martin Scorsese)

Scorsese's first film in 3D is very personal tribute to the magic of filmmaking, focusing on a young French boy (Asa Butterfield) who discovers the toy shop owner at the train station is the legendary Georges Méliès (Ben Kingsley), who has been called the world's first Cinemagician. It's a stunning and touching piece of work that is an amazing addition to Scorsese's incredible canon. Read my review here.

3. DRIVE (Dir. Nicolas Winding Refn)

Ryan Gosling plays a Hollywood stunt driver who moonlights as a getaway driver in this moody, stylish thriller that has a '80s retro feel. Winding Refn brings out standout performances from Gosling, Carey Mulligan, Bryan Cranston, and especially Albert Brooks, who should really get an Academy Award nomination for his turn as a murderous mobster.

4. THE ARTIST (Dir. Michel Hazanavicius)

When "talkies" start taking over cinema in the late '20s, a silent film star (Jean Dujardin) finds his fame fading while an actress dancer (Bérénice Bejo) he helped get into show business becomes a big star. It's a beautifully shot black and white (and actually silent) homage to the Golden Age of Hollywood, and I savored every second of it. Read my review here.

5. MIDNIGHT IN PARIS (Dir. Woody Allen)

This charming comedy, which features Owen Wilson as a writer who is somehow transported to Paris in the '20s, is Woody Allen's highest grossing film ever, and it's his best film since VICKY CRISTINA BARCELONA. Read my review here.

For my full reviews of the rest – please click on the highlighted titles:



8. 50/50 (Dir. Jonathan Levine)

9. BRIDESMAIDS (Dir. Paul Feig)

10. RED STATE (Dir. Kevin Smith)

Man, I hope 2012 is a better year for movies.

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Friday, January 20, 2012

Gina Carano owns Steven Soderbergh's HAYWIRE

HAYWIRE (Dir. Steven Soderbergh, 2012)

Although I had not seen a trailer or read anything about it going in, I caught on quickly that this film is simply an excuse to string together a series of acrobatic fight scenes showcasing the mixed martial arts skills of Gina Carano.

Thing is, it’s a pretty good excuse.

The plot, something about the CIA trained Carano getting set up and betrayed on a mission, really doesn’t matter, because this movie is all about the kinetic, extremely well choreographed, and superbly shot fight scenes.

Surrounding Carano is a cast of familiar faces: Ewan McGregor, Michael Douglas, Antonio Banderas, Bill Paxton, Channing Tatum, and Michael Fassbender, but I believe had those same roles been played by a bunch of unknowns, it would have the same effect, because, again, it’s all about Carano’s game.

On the run from an international manhunt, Carano hijacks the car of the scruffy Michael Angarano in upstate New York, and she tells him (and us) how she got there, so we get flashbacks of set pieces in opulent settings.

For instance, a hotel suite in Dublin in which Carano and Fassbender have a brutal scuffle; it’s polished violence with class as the couple is outfitted in expensive evening wear.

With its snazzy jazzy soundtrack by frequent Soderberg collaborator David Holmes, HAYWIRE bops along enjoyably from brawl to brawl. It’s a durable diversion especially compared to its competition (*cough* CONTRABAND) in this January dumping ground.

From 1989’s SEX, LIES AND VIDEOTAPE to last year’s CONTAGION, Soderbergh has dabbled in just about every genre (can’t wait for him to tackle Westerns), so why not an espionage revenge thriller with a kick ass hottie, who actually can kick ass in real life?

Here Soderbergh throws his new heroine into the ring with Laura Croft, “The Bride” from KILL BILL, and Lisbeth Salander (either Noomi Rapace or Rooney Mara - it doesn't matter), and by the end of it you’ll be convinced that Carano would be the last one standing.

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THE ARTIST Is Chock Full Of Charm

THE ARTIST (Dir. Michel Hazanavicius, 2011)

There were a few times during this film that I forgot I was watching a modern movie.

So beautifully and affectionately does Hazanavicius and co. recreate the era and the aura of the Golden Age of Hollywood in this black and white wonder, that I felt like I was in an old revival movie house instead of the bland big box multiplex where I attended the screening.

For the first silent movie since Mel Brooks took on the genre in SILENT MOVIE in 1976, we get the story of a silent film star whose time in the spotlight may soon be over because the talkies are the wave of the future. Despite that arc, this film doesn’t have any spoken dialogue - except for a single scene that still has no talking but some sound effects – it’s silent from start to finish with white-on-black title cards to boot.

Jean Dujardin suitably plays George Valentin, who we first meet at a lavish film premiere of his latest movie in 1927, basking in the love of his audience. One of his fans, a wide-eyed wannabe starlet named Peppy Miller (Bérénice Bejo), through some cute circumstances, breaks into showbiz and her talking pictures take off, while Dujardin’s lose favor.

With only his Jack Russell terrier named Jack (Uggie in real life – who actually has a IMDb page) Dujardin loses his fame and fortune, and spirals down into squalor.

Of course it’s up to Bejo to be Dujardin’s saving angel.

As for the supporting players - John Goodman, as a cantankerous studio boss, is great as always, but he really only seems to be there to help this French film crossover to us Yanks. The also always great James Cromwell plays Dujardin’s valet, Penelope Ann Miller plays Dujardin’s long suffering wife, and Malcolm McDowell has a cameo as a butler. And, as a thousand other critics have already written, Uggie the dog often steals the movie out from under everyone.

Despite a fairly shallow storyline, THE ARTIST is chock full of charm. It’s also full of gorgeous cinematography by Guillaume Schiffman, who shot Hazanavicius’s hilarious retro spy satires OSS 117: CAIRO, NEST OF THIEVES (also starring Dujardin and Bejo) and its almost as funny sequel OSS 117: LOST IN RIO.

This clever and amusing old fashioned flick pays tribute to so many films over its 100 minute running time that it would be pointless to try to list them (I’m sure there’s a site out there that does), but I’ll just note the dining room scene nod to Orson Welles’ CITIZEN KANE, the homage to Billy Wilder’s SUNSET BOULEVARD in Dujardin’s washed up re-watching of his old films over and over, and the use of a bit of Bernard Herrmann’s score for Alfred Hitchcock's 1958 thriller VERTIGO at a crucial emotional moment.

That last one I mentioned because of VERTIGO star Kim Novak’s recent claim in the magazine Variety that the use of bits of Herrmann’s score (which they paid for and credited) equates “rape.” I think that’s ridiculously extreme – lots of music from classic movies has been reused over the years, and the idea that this Award winning crowd pleaser tarnishes the famous Hitchcock thriller at all is ludicrous. 

I felt that composer Ludovic Bource, who otherwise fills the film with appropriate piano backing, and Hazanavicius were incredibly sincere in this execellent tribute.

But, hey, one man’s homage is another man’s rip-off, amirite?

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Friday, January 13, 2012

CONTRABAND: An Action Thriller Failure, But It's Not Mark Wahlberg's Fault

CONTRABAND (Dir. Baltasar Kormákur, 2012)

It’s not Mark Wahlberg’s fault that this film is such a forgettable failure of a action thriller.

Wahlberg shows up, punches the time clock, and puts in a workman like performance, but director Kormákur and screenwriter Aaron Guzikowski don’t give the man much to work with.

Based on the 2009 Icelandic film “Reykjavík-Rotterdam” (which starred Kormákur), “Contraband” has Wahlberg as a New Orleans family guy trying to go legit after years of smuggling, grand theft, and espionage.

Just when Wahlberg thought he was out, he’s pulled back into that world to pull off one last job involving millions in counterfeit bills, because his brother-in-law Caleb (Landry Jones),wife (Katie Beckinsale), and kids are being threatened by a sleazy shaky drug lord Giovanni Ribisi (even sleazier and shakier than his turn in last year's THE RUM DIARY which I didn’t think was possible).

So a lot of the movie is Wahlberg on a barge, helmed by the great character actor J.K. Simmons who is one of the film’s few plusses, to and from Panama, with precious little action or thrills to speak of. Back home, Ben Foster, as Wahlberg’s best friend, squirms through his role as a guy caught up in the scheme who we never believe that anybody would ever trust.

It’s tired faux gritty heist plots like this that make me appreciate more the 2 Boston set crime flicks that Ben Affleck has made (GONE BABY GONE, THE TOWN). Affleck's films certainly weren’t masterpieces, but they had a much better sense of character and tonality when it came to the working class townie tough guy milieu.

CONTRABAND has none of that, and it's too full of quick cuts which makes it seem like a giant trailer instead of a real movie, with no room for audience connection to anything but the bare basics of the uninteresting narrative.

There weren’t even enough instances of visceral violence to keep my mind from wandering.

I was so bored during this tedious slog that I imagined what if Wahlberg had played the lead in “We Bought A Zoo” instead of Matt Damon. It would be like the Saturday Night Live sketch with Andy Sandberg doing a dead-on Wahlberg talking to animals – “Hey, chicken, how's it hanging? A lot of people want to eat you, but I just want to talk to you, okay?”

That’s how bored I was.

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Friday, January 06, 2012

TINKER TAILOR SOLDIER SPY: Gary Oldman Comes In From The Cold War

TINKER TAILOR SOLDIER SPY (Dir. Tomas Alfredson, 2011)

“Don't trust anyone, especially not in the mainstream.”

This warning, which appears in the first few minutes of this film, may be overly familiar to anyone who has seen just about any paranoid political thriller, yet spoken by John Hurt as “Control”, the ailing head of MI6, it can't help but carry considerable weight.

That can also be said of much of the dialogue in this new adaptation of John le Carré’s 1974 novel (especially coming from the mouths of such refined Englishmen as Colin Firth, Tom Hardy, Benedict Cumberbatch, and Toby Jones), but in the case of Gary Oldman as British Intelligence officer George Smiley, its the long silences that are the most stirring.

In fact, it's a bit into the film before we even hear Oldman speak.

When the man finally does talk, his dulcet tones recall Alec Guiness, who portrayed Smiley 30 years ago, in a 1979 mini-series adaptation of le Carré’s book, and a 1982 followup Smiley's People.

In London in the early '70s, Oldman's Smiley comes out of enforced retirement to investigate allegations that there is a "mole, right at the top of the Circus." Meaning that a Soviet spy has long infiltrated the highest echelon of the Secret Intelligence service.

The title refers to the codenames given to the suspects: "Tinker" (Jones as the new Chief of the Circus), "Tailor" (Firth as Jones' Deputy), "Soldier", and "Poorman" (Ciarán Hinds and David Dencik as close allies in the Circus).

After that you're on your own with the plot, which is so murky and shadowy that many folks may have trouble following it (the people in the audience around me sure did, as I heard murmered questioning throughout the screening I attended).

However, if you pay close attention right from the beginning, you should be able to make sense of it (and maybe even guess who the mole is) - to a degree. There's still some plot points I'm not sure I understand.

No matter, Alfredson's film is still extremely immersive, with it's sparely lit wide shots of dusty office spaces and drab apartment houses as backdrops to back-stabbing treachery.

Oldman gives a tour de force of minimalism as the never smiling Smiley. Only showing intense emotion in one scene, Oldman's restrained and deadly serious demeanor navigates through the movie with precision. Throughout his career the man has gone to dizzying extremes - witness his over-the-top work as Sid Vicious, Count Dracula, and Jean-Baptiste Emmanuel Zorg (the villain in THE FIFTH ELEMENT) - but here it's all about what he's thinking; his inward turmoil.

The rest of the cast is spot-on as well - particularly Firth in his comfort zone of charm, Jones nicely settled in his stogginess, and Cumberbatch nailing his character's nervousness and confusion.

TINKER TAILOR SOLDIER SPY is edgy espionage at its finest. Just take note that it's not a film one can watch casually. To fully get it, you have to quietly concentrate on the proceedings of these old grey men in high places of power, and listen intently to every spoken word, parsing every utterance for clues.

In other words, you have to be just like George Smiley.

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Thursday, January 05, 2012


BLACKTHORN (Dir. Mateo Gil, 2011)

This film builds on the legend that the infamous outlaw Butch Cassidy didn’t die in the Bolivian army ambush in 1908, as depicted in George Roy Hill’s 1969 classic BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID - he lived into his old age as a rancher in the mountains of Bolivia, going by the name James Blackthorn.

Mateo Gil, working from a screenplay by Miquel Barros, gives the great grizzled Sam Shepard in the title role, getting caught up, on his way back to the states, in one last adventure involving a young Spanish thief (Eduardo Noriega) who has a posse after him because he stole $50,000.

Stephen Rea has a stand-out part as a broken down Irish lawman who suspects Cassidy is still alive. Nikolaj Coster-Waldau and Pádraic Delaney play the young Butch and Sundance in flashbacks that aren’t really necessary, but don’t distract too much from the grand old man Western here.

A suitably winding plot, Juan Ruiz Anchía’s stunning cinematography of the Bolivian landscape, and a powerful performance by Shephard make this recommendable, even if it is a bit slow going at times.

However, slow doesn’t necessarily equal boredom as some excellent modern Westerns – like THE ASSASSINATION OF JESSE JAMES BY THE COWARD ROBERT FORD and MEEK'S CUTOFF – have shown. These fine films, BLACKTHORN included, well know that the wide terrain of the Old West should'nt be rushed through.

Special Features: Deleted Scenes, “Making of BLACKTHORN”, Short Films by Director Mateo Gil, HDNet: A Look at BLACKTHORN.

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