Friday, December 10, 2010

Valentine's Day Review

The Plot:
- Valentine's Day attempts to interweave the stories of a number of singles and couples over the course of one Valentine's Day - starting in the morning and ending at midnight.

The Good:
- The cast is one of the most impressive in a film in years. The film's poster alone lists 19 names, easily enough to populate a handful of movies. Almost all of the actors seem to try to elevate the material as much as possible in limited screen time.
- Jennifer Garner and Ashton Kutcher have the most effective narrative arcs, not coincidentally because they have the most screen time.
- Eric Dane's plot line has a genuinely funny and memorable conclusion.

The Bad:
- Almost every character is little more than a caricature. There's almost so much good actors can do with underwritten, one note characters in limited screen time.
- Some of the plots (Topher Grace's, for one) are pretty painful to sit through.
- Taylor Swift + acting = disaster.
- It feels like a slightly more cohesive New York, I Love You or Paris, je t'aime.

The Verdict:
- Is it the worst romantic comedy of 2010? No. Is it amusing to watch all these big stars in one movie? Sure, but it never goes beyond that. The characters never come to life as anything more than a variety of cameos by actors we like better in other movies.

Overall Score: 4/10

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Edge of Darkness Review

The Plot:
- A homicide detective (Mel Gibson) investigates the murder of his daughter and stumbles into a far larger conspiracy.

The Good:
- Sadly, Edge of Darkness underperformed at the box office because of all the (deserved) negative publicity surrounding Mel Gibson. Gibson, however, delivers one of the best performances of his career, far better than the pulpy material deserves. Even in his mid-50s Gibson is entirely credibly in action scenes. More importantly, he manages to deftly balance the sadness inherent in losing a child and the pure rage that drives him to find those responsible. The performance is most effective in the small genuine moments, such as a flashback to Gibson lightheartedly making a shaving cream beard on his daughter.
- Ray Winstone, as always, brings fantastic gravity to the movie. His scenes with Gibson are absolutely electric.
- Martin Campbell, director of Casino Royale, Goldeneye and Mask of Zorro, is one of the most competent directors working today in terms of staging action scenes. Each shot flows logically from the one prior and it's entirely possible to grasp the exact location and scale of all the moving pieces of a scene.
- Nice work in limited screen time by Bojana Novakovic who plays Gibson's daughter.

The Bad:
- The conspiracy theory plot, which dominates the film's second half, feels weak and out of place. The film was adapted from a six hour British serial drama so, perhaps, something was lost in translation.
- The often effective Danny Huston seems wasted in a smarmy role as the boss of the evil Halliburton-esque corporation behind the conspiracy.

The Verdict:
- While the film itself works as a solid action movie, the second half is muddled by an emphasis on the less compelling conspiracy aspects. The whole thing would have worked better as a pure revenge thriller. Mel Gibson, however, does such fantastic work with the material that I believe he deserves legitimate award consideration (which will, of course, never happen). Writing this in December of 2010, I still see Gibson's work as some of the finest of the year. Perhaps inspired by his nearly 8 year hiatus from starring roles, Gibson brings fantastic intensity and commitment to his character. I hope that people are someday able to separate Gibson the actor from Gibson the person so that his work can receive the credit it deserves.

Overall Score: 8/10

Banlieue 13 - Ultimatum [District 13: Ultimatum] Review

The Plot:
District 13: Ultimatum reunites the lead actors from 2004's District B13 in another parkour based action flick to prevent the French government from annihilating the Parisian ghettos. Patrick Alessandrin steps in to replace Pierre Morel who has moved on to bigger budget Hollywood productions (Taken, From Paris with Love).

The Good:
- The action scenes are compelling enough to carry the viewers attention. Inspired by the martial art of parkour (or free running), the characters literally jump off buildings and run up walls. The grace and athleticism involved in the art and stunt work (also seen in movies like Casino Royale, Live Free or Die Hard and The Bourne Ultimatum) is absolutely astounding.
- The lead actors, David Belle (the creator of parkour) and Cyril Raffaelli (a poor man's Jason Stahthem), are appealing enough to carry the non-action scenes.

The Bad:
- The plot is some sort of ridiculous nonsense involving a variety of ethnic gangs uniting to, more or less, stage a coup.
- The supporting performances are lacking, at best.
- The editing and lensing of the actions scenes is a step down from those of the original. Morel had a better feel than Alessandrin for when to move the camera or cut during one of the action scenes without taking away from the impressive stunt work.

The Verdict:
- If you have any interest in parkour, martial arts or top flight stunt work, the movie is worth seeing. Less so if you need a competent plot or performances to enjoy a movie.
- A worthy, but inferior, successor to District B13.

Overall Score: 6/10

The Book of Eli Review

The Plot:
- A nomad named Eli (Denzel Washington) fights his way across post-apocalyptic America carrying a tome that is supposed to hold the hope for humanity's salvation.

The Good:
- One of the finest character actors in the business, Gary Oldman delivers yet another interesting role. His sneering deliveries liven up every scene.
- The film crafts a convincing and effective post-apocalyptic world.
- Creatively crafted action scenes keep things interesting, as does the competent camera work and cinematography.
- A nice little role for Ray Stevenson (HBO's Rome) as Oldman's top henchman.

The Bad:
- The ending twist is more than a little absurd.
- Mila Kunis lacks credibility as an action heroine.
- Denzel seems a bit bored by the material.
- The action scenes are poorly edited to the point where it's sometimes difficult to tell what's going on.

The Verdict:
- Worth seeing for Oldman's amusing antagonist performance and a well-designed film world, just don't expect anything profound.

Overall Score: 6/10