RocknRolla on DVD. A lot of the time our enjoyment of an event is affected more by our expectations than by the actual event. As Jason Zweig notes in his book, Your Money & Your Brain: “Your investing brain come equipped with a biological mechanism that is more aroused when you anticipate a profit than when you actually get one.” This phenomenon holds true with entertainment as well. I was not expecting much from this Guy Ritchie film about the London underworld. I was hoping it might be similar to last year’s The Bank Job and have some decent action and comedy. Instead, I was quite pleasantly surprised by its complexity. An aging, yet powerful, London mobster negotiates a huge deal with an aggressive Russian counterpart to build a large, downtown complex. The partnership is jeopardized when both parties, unbeknownst to each other, are the victims of robberies. Their interconnected quests for revenge eventually involve a supposedly dead drug-addicted musician and his former agents, a group of low-level hustlers looking for an easy score, a pair of hardened killers, corrupt politicians, and a secret police informer. The delicious Thandie Newton is more than eye candy as the Russian’s smart, tough accountant looking for a little excitement, but thinking she’s above it all. This film is certainly not as dark as the excellent Eastern Promises, but it shares some common elements and its intricate web of story lines is worth seeing.
Archive for the 'movie review' Category
The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor on DVD. My Chinese friends who had seen this third entry in the Mummy series starring Brendan Fraser all found it to be the worst of the group. However, I enjoyed the change in scenery from the deserts of Egypt and jungles of Africa to the ice fields of the Himalayans and the battlefields near the Great Wall. They were disheartened that Rachel Weisz did not return for a third time in the role of Evy O’Connell, but I thought Maria Bello was fine in the role and I liked the witty way in which she was introduced to the audience. Besides, the film focuses much more on the tempestuous father-son relationship between the now adult son, Alex, played by Luke Ford, and Fraser’s Rick O’Connell. The basic plot remains unchanged: a mummy (Jet Li) comes to life and seeks vast power with the assistance of his enormous undead army and some modern-day evil doers, in this case a Chinese general. The O’Connells must stop the mummy and are helped by the guardians of the tomb, an immortal sorceress (Michelle Yeoh) and her beautiful daughter. There is little that distinguishes this film from the other two, but it certainly lives up to the standards set previously. For those looking forward to volume four, the series moves to ancient Mexico for its next unearthing.
The House Bunny on DVD. After a string of action movies, sometimes you just need something silly and funny for a change. This film certainly isn’t a masterpiece and it may not be all that original either, but it filled that need satisfactorily. It’s basically another retelling of the “ugly ducklings become popular but lose their inner beauty until they discover their true selves” story. Anna Faris plays Shelley, a former long-time resident at the Playboy Mansion who finds herself out in the real world for the first time in her adult life. She stumbles into the position of house mother to a sorority full of misfits who need a complete transformation in order to attract the pledges necessary to keep their charter. There are elements of Animal House and Revenge of the Nerds as our heroines battle their evil pan-Hellenic counterparts. There are also some similarities to Tommy Lee Jones’ character from Man of the House in that both Ranger Roland Sharp and Shelley are somewhat in the fish-out-of-water scenario with much to learn from their charges, especially when it comes to dating. Although a lot of the humor is of the “dumb blonde” variety, one never forgets that Faris is playing a character and doing it well. Emma Stone as the sorority president and Colin Hanks as Shelley’s love interest give good supporting performances, though the rest of the characters are rather one-dimensional. Overall, there isn’t much depth here, but it was a nice break from the testosterone-dominated fare lately on display. The DVD also contains almost an hour a featurettes.
Eagle Eye on DVD. The adrenaline junkies will love this one, but those looking for significant character development or a cohesive plot should seek satisfaction elsewhere. Two ordinary Chicagoans, Jerry (Shia LeBeouf) and Rachel (Michelle Monaghan) are coerced by a seemingly omnipotent organization into participating in a high-level assassination plot. In between the car chases, crashes and explosions, there are a few attempts to give some back stories to the pair, but mostly it’s a series of car chases, crashes and explosions as they try to avoid the authorities led by Billy Bob Thornton as the FBI investigator.
What’s most disappointing is why the sophisticated, evil mastermind who can remotely control docking cranes, airport luggage systems and power grids not to mention a score of individuals besides Jerry and Rachel can’t conceive of a simpler, more elegant plan. Instead our villain emulates the scoundrels of the Adam West Batman television series by creating Rube Goldberg-like schemes with multiple moving parts. Jerry and Rachel inevitably make mistakes that require interventions and assistance from the behind-the-scenes puppeteer. Alert viewers will even find a similarity between Get Smart’s C.H.A.O.S. plot and this one.
Traitor on DVD. Don Cheadle almost always chooses good roles in good movies. From Crash to Hotel Rwanda to the Ocean’s heist series, his decisions have been well-conceived and audiences have benefited as a result. So it was surprising when the trailer for Traitor, in which Cheadle plays the lead character, appeared to be no better than another version of Wesley Snipes’ mediocre 1998 film, U.S. Marshals. What audiences don’t need is another unmemorable entry in the fugitive-running-from-the-authorities genre. Fortunately, Cheadle’s character, Samir Horn, is more complicated than what is portrayed in the trailer. Horn is half-American, half-Sudanese and as a young boy witnesses the assassination of his father in a car bomb. He is raised in the Chicago Muslim community and eventually serves in the U.S. Special Forces wing of the military. However, after his tour of duty in Pakistan ends, he remains overseas and the film opens with Horn attempting to sell explosives to a group in Yemen. As he is drawn closer to the group’s center and its leader, a FBI investigative team led by Roy Clayton (Guy Pierce) and Max Archer (Neal McDonough) target Horn as a suspected terrorist. Horn must reconcile his devout Muslim beliefs with the group’s ever-increasing violent plans while avoiding the FBI pursuit. Although the audience is privy to most of Horn’s secrets, they can never be quite sure how far he will go and what his final actions will be. This uncertainty gives the movie a high level of suspense in addition to a nice mix of action, ruthless villains and a complicated, realistic and scary plot. However, Cheadle’s choice of roles falls into question anew with word that he has joined the cast for the sequel to Iron Man. Hopefully, he hasn’t lost his touch and the sequel will be an improvement over the debut.
Iron Man on DVD. If you’re looking for an action-adventure film with plenty of high-tech gadgets and lots of explosions, then this movie might be for you. However, it pales in comparison to The Dark Knight. Robert Downey Jr. is fine as the title character and he does have some humorous lines, especially early in the film before things turn dark, but his supporting cast is mediocre at best. Neither of the two villains seems especially dangerous and Gwyneth Paltrow’s character flip-flops between being a ditzy redhead and an efficient, gutsy assistant. There is the stereotypical inner turmoil that develops when an ordinary man discovers he can be a superhero. Admittedly, it’s a nice twist when that ordinary man is also the CEO of the world’s largest weapons manufacturing company, but the movie’s message about the dangers of American-made missiles ending up in terrorist’s arsenals is too transparent. The film was so commercially successful that a sequel is inevitable. Here’s hoping that they come up with a better script featuring a more convincing adversary for the hero.
The Dark Knight on DVD. When the hype for a film gets as big as it did for this release, audiences are frequently disappointed in the end. That will not be the case here. Although the revolving sequence of chases, kidnappings, killings, captures, and escapes probably goes one cycle too many, overall this action-adventure sequel to Batman Begins is quite well done.
Most of the media attention has centered on Heath Ledger’s performance as The Joker and his presence on screen is mesmerizing. I don’t feel qualified to comment on the acting itself, but the character is everything you could want in a villain. He is totally unconstrained by the rules that limit the police, the DA, Batman and even the mob, making him extremely dangerous and unpredictable. He claims to be insane and spontaneous in his actions, but his crimes are intricately well-planned and ruthlessly executed with creativity and a sense of style.
The film’s message about the public needing a hero with an unblemished record, a “white knight,” echoes one of the themes of Will Smith’s superhero project, Hancock, from earlier this year. It is an interesting commentary given today’s celebrity culture and the scrutiny given to our politicians, athletes, actors and others.