Thursday, September 23, 2010

The Town

Ben Affleck is developing a nice second career as a director. "The Town" doesn't have quite the character development of "Gone Baby Gone" but it's a taut crime drama with well done action sequences and some original moments.

Mr. Affleck directs himself and he is actually quite good as the bank robber with a conscience. Jeremy Renner, plays his childhood friend and partner in crime, "Gem" with a psychotic attitude and realistic menace. The film also stars Jon Hamm, as the FBI agent tracking them but it's hard to think of Mr. Hamm other than Don Draper from "Mad Men". He tries too hard to shed his signature character. Rebecca Hall and Blake Lively co-star as the women in Mr. Affleck's life and it's always good to see Pete Postlehwaite on screen, even if it's a minor role.

There are some exciting chase sequences through the streets of Boston and Fenway Park features prominently in the finale. The cinematography is crisp and for the most part, the editing is sharp. A definite recommendation.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Resident Evil: Afterlife 3-D

If you are a fan of this seemingly endless series, then you will make it your business to go. If not, stay as far from this worthless piece of celluloid as you can. Milla Jovovich returns as "Alice", the physically enhanced zombie fighter along with Allie Larter, as her zombie killing partner.

The film is a tired retread of all it's previous incarnations, ripping off "The Matrix" along the way. The gimmick, this time, to sell tickets is that it's in 3D. Unfortunately, this is the worst 3D film since "Clash of The Titans". The film is dark, the effects are cheesy and the medium is wasted.

Just remember, I see these films so you don't have to...

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Who is Harry Nilsson (and why is everyone talking about him)?

Many people know the songs (Without You, Everybody's Talking, Coconut, One, Me And My Arrow, etc...) but not everyone knows the name. Writer/Director John Scheinfeld remedies that with this new documentary.

Using rare, never seen before film clips as well as home movies and personal photos, Mr. Scheinfeld weaves an intimate portrait of the artist and the man. There are also dozens of interviews with friends, family and celebrities including Yoko Ono, Robin Williams, Brian Wilson, Eric Idle, Randy Newman, Jimmy Webb, the Smothers Brothers and many others.

The film starts with his early years growing up in Brooklyn, New York and moves through his career path showing us the highs and lows along the way. Mr. Nilsson reached his greatest success with "Nilsson Schmilsson", his most widely recognized album, produced by Richard Perry. There is some wonderful film footage of them in the studio as well as recollections by Mr. Perry of their years together. The Beatles had called Nilsson, their "favorite group" and the film has some great moments documenting his close relationship with both John Lennon and Ringo Starr.

After the success of "Nilsson Schmilsson", Mr. Nilsson's life began a terrible downward spiral and the film takes a honest look at the gifted artist on the road to self destruction. Mr. Scheinfeld balances the destructive "bad boy" with the loving family man and really answers the title question. It's a labor of love filled with great music and visuals that even a casual fan will enjoy.

Monday, September 06, 2010


Based on his fake trailer, writer/director Robert Rodriguez crafts a film filled with mayhem, violence, girls with guns, nudity, explosions, lots of fake blood and Robert DeNiro. Sometimes a film like "Machete" is just what the doctor ordered. Designed like a '70's exploitation film, "Machete" is the type of film best enjoyed in a drive-in as a double feature with "Piranha 3-D".

This mindless "popcorn" movie is actually a lot of fun when you go in knowing what to expect and get exactly what you pay for. It's great to see character actor Danny Trejo finally get star billing and his hard, weather beaten look is just perfect for the title character. The supporting cast is really amazing. When will you ever see a film again with Robert DeNiro (as a sleazy, racist, senator), Steven Segal (as a Latin crime lord), Don Johnson (as a racist vigilante), and Lindsey Lohan (shooting up people dressed in a nun's habit)? The movie also stars Jeff Fahey, Jessica Alba, Michele Rodriguez and Cheech Marin as one character more outrageous than the next.

Lost in the mayhem is a point about immigration laws and illegal immigrants (mostly from Mexico) but "Machete" makes too much fun of itself to be taken seriously. This film is so over the top, it's halfway down the other side.

Mesrine: Public Enemy #1 (Part Two)

The French crime epic "Mesrine" has been split into two separate films here in the U.S. but I'm not sure how it played in France. Having now seen the entire story, it could have been edited into one three hour film that probably would have worked even better. Part two, "Public Enemy" picks up moments after the start of the first film and like the first, dissolves into flashbacks to bring the story full circle.

Vincent Cassel continues an electrifying performance as the title character. As part two takes place in the '70's, we now find Mesrine older, heavier and a complete attention seeking egomaniac. Having made a daring escape from a courtroom (a terrific sequence), Mesrine's infamy continues to grow and he feeds off the fame with even more daring robberies and escapes.

Along for the ride this time is Mathieu Amalric as Mesrine's partner in crime, until even he is fed up with the antics of the publicity seeking criminal. Again, there is a daring prison break and also a great car chase through the streets of Paris. However, here is where part two begins to falter. While the first film moved at a kinetic pace, the second takes a different approach and slows down the story with much longer sequences. It begins to get repetitive and has more tedious moments in between the action. This is where more editing could have consolidated both films into one.

Having said that, it's still important to see both films and experience the full story. Mr. Cassel brings Mesrine to life and even through the slow spots is still mesmerizing to watch.

Mesrine: Killer Instinct (Part One)

Part one of a two part epic, this crime drama plays like a French "Scarface" as it charts the rise of Jacques Mesrine, a notorious French gangster in the '60's and '70's. Loosely based on real events, "Killer Instinct" introduces us to Mesrine as he returns to France from the war in Algiers. He begins his rise through the French underworld under the guidance of an older mobster, Guido, played by Gerard Depardieu.

Mesrine himself, is played by Vincent Cassel and he is electric in his best role yet, understandably winning the French equivalent of an Oscar for his role. Mr. Cassel lights up the screen with a multi-layered performance that captivates the audience. He turns Jacques Mesrine into such a charming rogue that you root for him to succeed in his criminal ways.

The film is directed by Jean-Francois Richet, who also won the French award for best director. The film moves very quickly with Mr. Richet keeping each scene short and concise, leaving the viewer to fill in the gaps between the editing. While this may turn off some viewers, it keeps the action going and ratchets up the suspense. There are some wonderful set pieces including an jailbreak in broad daylight and memorable bank robberies. The screenplay is based on Mesrine's autobiography which, while very colorful, is probably filled with much exaggeration but all of it, true or not is captured in the film.

Most of "Killer Instinct" takes place in the '60's and the costumes, sets, music and cinematography all work in concert to evoke the times. There are some scenes of brutal violence and the film is in French with English subtitles.