Monthly Archives: January 2010

Review: From Paris with Love

Age is just a number. John Travolta may be 56-years-old, but you would never know from his performance in From Paris with Love. His unusual new do and facial hair cloud the brain at first, but it doesn’t take long for Travolta’s ability to command the screen and a room full of gang members to let you know that this guy means business. Get ready for guns, explosions and a bunch of wisecracks because Charlie Wax has a lot of love to give.

Jonathan Rhys Meyers stars as James Reese, a promising young personal aide to the U.S. Ambassador in France. He’s got a great job, beautiful apartment, loving girlfriend and a bright future, but he wants more, namely, to be a CIA agent. Aside from his day job, he takes on minor operative work, but it isn’t until he gets his first high-level assignment that he really gets a taste of the action.

Reese teams up with Charlie Wax, a special agent with a tendency to utilize unconventional and eccentric methods. In an effort to stop a terrorist attack, Wax hurls Reese into the line of fire with a vase full of cocaine as his only shield. As the duo delves deeper into their mission, Reese discovers he’s got far more at stake than he initially thought.

From Paris with Love is intense in every sense of the word. From Reese’s minimal license plate-swap jobs to his explosive antics with Wax, the suspense level is high throughout the film. There’s blood, bullets and bombs galore all topped off with powerful car chase sequences.

Sounds like a typical action thriller, right? Yes, but not entirely. The barrage of firepower is gripping, but it’s impossible to overlook the film’s real stars, Reese and Wax. Reese is a methodical and respectable guy who’s just trying to do the best he can. Wax, on the other hand, is downright insane. His sole concern is that the job gets done and he won’t hesitate to put a bullet through the brain of anyone who gets in his way. The contradictory personas play off each other perfectly allowing From Paris with Love to deliver the suspense while still maintaining a sense of authenticity.

Of course there’s nothing realistic about a guy who’s seemingly indestructible and his sidekick who doesn’t have the nerve to pull a trigger yet still manages to survive, but the film is too much fun to care. A large part of that enjoyment comes from Travolta’ performance as Wax.  Anyone can wield a gun and do some stunts, but only an actor like Travolta could provide this wacky superspy with such a unique aura. Everything from his shiny bald head down to his confident strut is intriguing. It’s a relief that the story focuses on Wax as a professional rather than trying to force some emotional backstory to justify his no-fear behavior. But that’s where Meyers’ character comes in.

Wax’s wild shootouts leave From Paris with Love teetering the line of absurdity, but Reese keeps it from falling over the edge. He’s good and happy with his job working for the Ambassador, but craves a little action. When he asks his secretive CIA insider for more responsibility, he has no idea what he’s getting himself into. He follows Wax like a puppy dog as he bulldozes everything in their way. It’s easy to relate to Reese’s eagerness to attain his dream job, yet recoil when he gets a taste of what it’s really like to be an agent. The two coalesce seamlessly giving the film’s heroes a sense of imperishable loftiness and humanity as well.

If you’re able to get past the unrealistic nature of the content, From Paris with Love is left with just one major fault: convoluted plot points. The most difficult to get past is the relationship between Wax’s mission and a drug ring. Fast-talking Wax mutters over the details, but doesn’t allow for enough time to digest the information and get a clear picture of what exactly is going on. Other elements that are hard to swallow revolve around Reese’s underdeveloped relationship with his girlfriend Caroline. Far too much is left to presumption.

Overall, From Paris with Love is nothing but a routine action film. But, when placed in the hands of director Pierre Morel, it becomes a visual spectacle and compelling experience. Tack on Travolta’s comprehensive performance and a little authenticity from Meyers and you end up with something that makes due on its promise to blow you away, yet offers a pleasing dose of ingenuity.

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Review: Legion

There’s nothing worse than a disappointing movie. The plot is intriguing and the cast top-notch, yet Legion is an epic failure. It’s swallowed up by its effort to be a movie of multiple genres ultimately failing to attain any of the target thematic denominations. In fact, the only category Legion earns a place in is comedy for it achieves an amount of unwarranted laughs of biblical proportions.

Legion opens with an angel named Michael (Paul Bettany) falling to Earth. First order of business? Clip off those pesky wings. Next on the to-do list? Assemble a serious arsenal. After a quick chat with a possessed cop it’s off to the desert to unite with a group of people holed up in a diner. The phones are down, there’s no radio and they’ve just been attacked by a nasty grandma with a thing for rare meat and climbing up walls. Luckily for them, but unluckily for us, Michael comes to the rescue and to explain what in God’s name is going on.

Even with shoddy filmmaking, Legion is still tolerable up to this point. Poor character introductions are passable as long as there’s some meat to the story thereafter. The only meat in Legion is the steak left on Grandma Gladis’ plate. It tries to be serious, it tries to be funny and it tries to be scary, but doesn’t succeed at anything except being a waste of time.

The once promising premise runs into trouble when the details are unveiled. Michael used to be a general in God’s army, but when assigned to take out the baby brewing in diner waitress Charlie’s (Adrianne Palicki) belly, he goes rogue. God decides that he can’t take humanity’s crap anymore and Charlie’s baby is the key to ensuring the species’ demise. Now, Michael finds himself on the other side of the battle trying to protect the unborn child from an army of possessed-shark-toothed people.

He’s not a one-man army, but his backup isn’t much help. Charlie is on strict “don’t be brave” orders so that leaves the diner owner Bob (Dennis Quaid), his son Jeep (Lucas Black) and employee Percy (Charles S. Dutton). Bob is perpetually confused and when Jeep isn’t moping about Charlie’s lack of affection for him, he’s too afraid to arm up and be a man. Thankfully Percy has something to offer both Michael and the audience. He’s one of the film’s more dynamic and interesting characters and Dutton provides him with a nice degree of authenticity. Tyrese Gibson’s character, on the other hand, is an absolute joke. Tough guy Kyle rolls up in his big black SUV packing heat and mouth full of stereotypical and obnoxious dialogue. There’s also Sandra (Kate Walsh) and her rebellious daughter Audrey (Willa Holland). They’re mother/daughter strife is completely unfounded, but once Sandra is pushed into the background, Audrey has some engaging moments.

Palicki is wasted as Charlie. She’s got talent and a natural ability to acquire a sense of endearment, but she’s drowned in shoddy dialogue and a silly premise. The worst part about Charlie is her relationship with Jeep. Black puts on an emotionless performance. Putting on a puppy dog sad face isn’t going to earn you any of the audience’s sympathy, it’ll only render the character completely ineffective. Palicki shares her get-out-of-jail-free card with Bettany. He isn’t given much to work with, but manages to make Michael seem somewhat human and a rather fun hero.

That being said, Legion isn’t all bad. Even with zero emotional impact, Legion can be rather suspenseful. Waiting for the next evil thing to invade the diner is a seriously anxiety inducing experience. Unfortunately, this one plus ends up adding to the film’s grand disappointment. When a concept has so much potential and fails to deliver it falls hard. Legion has so much going for it that its poor quality is almost insulting.

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Interview: Saint John Of Las Vegas’ Steve Buscemi

A movie starring Steve Buscemi? Yes, the time has come for Buscemi to emerge from his stereotypical witty sidekick role and take command of a film as its leading man. In Saint John of Las Vegas, Buscemi stars as John, a guy trying to escape his gambling addiction by fleeing Vegas and taking up a desk job at an insurance company. His new tranquility is disturbed when he’s assigned to join his company’s top fraud investigator on a case – in Las Vegas.

To most people, seeing Buscemi as a movie’s titular character is a monumental difference. But, to Buscemi, playing John is no different than playing a supporting role in films like Youth in Revolt or The Messenger. Whether it’s a prominent character or not, Buscemi puts everything he’s got into making that individual as memorable as possible.

Next up on Buscemi’s schedule? The new HBO series Boardwalk Empire and in a starring role nonetheless! He’ll play Nucky Thompson, the man in charge in Atlantic City in the 1920s. Boardwalk Empire won’t air until the fall, but in the meantime, you can see Buscemi in Saint John of Las Vegas when it hits theaters in Los Angeles and New York on January 29th.

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Interview: Saint John Of Las Vegas’ Romany Malco

Do you know anyone who got a laugh out of the movie Precious. I do and his name is Romany Malco. The concept seemed a little ridiculous at first, but Malco actually provided a rather sound explanation, “To me, comedy’s always been about making light of the drama.” If only everyone had his attitude.

We’re used to seeing Malco in laugh-out-loud comedies like The 40 Year-Old Virgin, but he’s switching gears a bit for a more offbeat comedy,Saint John of Las Vegas. Malco plays Virgil, an insurance agency’s top fraud investigator with an ego to match. Whether he’s cracking jokes in Baby Mama, getting more indirect laughs through his antics in Saint John or just having an everyday conversation, Malco bleeds comedy. This was no interview, it was a Romany Malco standup set and I loved every minute of it.

All joking aside, Malco has some serious talent and appreciation for his good fortune. Read on to learn Malco’s take on everything from his dating style to adlibbing ability to his upcoming film Gulliver’s Travels.

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Interview: Saint John Of Las Vegas Director Hue Rhodes

Hue Rhodes is every professor’s dream. He may have arrived at NYU to study film rather late compared to his peers, but his drive to succeed and passion for the art made him a model student. During a roundtable interview, the first time writer/director gushed about all he learned at school and how it made him the filmmaker he is today.

His mentors should be proud because his feature debut, Saint John of Las Vegas, makes its way into theaters in New York and Los Angeles on January 29th with a wider release planned for February 12th. What’s even more impressive is the brilliant minds he attracted to join the project. Not only does the film star Steve Buscemi, Romany Malco, Sarah Silverman, Peter Dinklage, Tim Blake Nelson, John Cho and Emmanuelle Chriqui, but it’s executive produced by Buscemi, Wren Arthur, Stanley Tucci and Spike Lee.

The film boasts a unique charm, just like its creator. Saint John is Rhodes’ first feature film, but it certainly won’t be his last. Check out what Rhodes says about his journey to the director’s chair and lessons he’s learned for the future.

Click here to read the interview.

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Review: The Book of Eli

Religion in film is always a testy subject. Even if a movie isn’t directly about faith, organizations manage to find minute details to point fingers at. The Book of Eli isn’t one of those movies. Denzel Washington’s name may be plastered all of the posters, but the Bible is at the film’s core. It’s a hypothetical story that makes no harmful allegations, yet its religious connotations will make it impossible for some to accept. On the other hand, for those willing to completely dismiss reality, it’s an enjoyable and action-packed dose of illogicality.

The Book of Eli is about just that, Eli’s book. Okay, it’s a little more complex. Thirty years post-apocalyptic occurrence, Eli (Denzel Washington) stumbles across a bible. Why is this so significant? Because after the apocalypse the men and women remaining turned their back on religion and destroyed every copy. Well, every copy except one and that one belongs to Eli, a seemingly indestructible wanderer wielding a massive machete.

The first twenty minutes of the film are fantastic. The Hughes brothers’ attention to detail is astounding. Everything from the contents of Eli’s pack to the beads of sweat glistening on his forehead makes him endlessly fascinating. But there’s just so far sequences of close-ups and dreary landscape shots can carry you and the brother know it. The first action sequence combines extraordinary choreography with mesmerizing cinematography to show that Eli is capable of far more than moping about the desert.

Eli is all serenity and pacifism when he arrives in the rickety town run by Carnegie (Gary Oldman) obsessed with finding a particular book. Naturally, it doesn’t take long for someone to push Eli’s button forcing him to brandish his weapon and give the townsfolk a serious beat down. Carnegie catches a glimpse of Eli’s talent and tries to enlist him in his team of goons. While hanging out with Solara (Mila Kunis), the daughter of Carnegie’s wife (Jennifer Beals), Eli mutters some verse of the bible, which she innocently repeats in front of the boss man. Oops! That book Carnegie is so desperate to get his hands on? The Bible. And now he knows Eli has the sole copy.

Yes, the plot sounds ridiculous and what I’m about to say is going to sound cliché, but IT’S A MOVIE. Eli walks around with a semi-busted iPod, the country is packing major artillery and everyone has a trendy pair of sunglasses, yet the Bible is nowhere to be found? If you get past the impossibility of the scenario, it’s endlessly entertaining. There’s few people left who know of life pre-destruction and the old-timers left share zero information about the concept of creed. Carnegie thinks that if he can get hold of a Bible, he can spread the word of God but not for the betterment of humanity, so that he can expand his empire.

Oldman is the ideal villain. He’s creepy and ruthless leaving you uneasily awaiting his every move. Carnegie’s every hope and dream relies on getting a copy of the bible and you feel his burning passion for domination. Oldman’s ability to bring Carnegie to life so vividly leaves Washington in a haze. You’re content with Eli muttering and milling about at first, but once more vibrant characters are introduced, like Carnegie, he’s kind of boring. Luckily Solara befriends the brooding hero bringing out more the buried elements of his personality. Kunis is also responsible for infusing the film with some much-needed heart. The battle between Eli and Carnegie keeps your heart races, but it’s Kunis’ story that makes it endearing. Solara’s portion of the film is really a coming of age story. You want her to survive and thrive, which ultimately makes you deeply concerned for Eli’s safety.

Solara’s story gives The Book of Eli some heart, but in the end it’s just a nonsensical action movie. The finale will be extremely difficult, if not impossible for some to digest, but for those who can push practicality aside, it’s a rewarding culmination. Having to put your brain on cruise control to appreciate a movie is never a good sign, but in The Book of Eli’s case, letting yourself go for two hours is well worth it.

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DVD Review: Moon

Slow films often falter upon a second viewing. Slow films that rely on the jolt of a major plot twist simply crash and burn. Not only is Moon unusual in that it’s a simple and alien-free example of the sci-fi genre, it’s also an exception to the slow-and-twisty rule. After a second viewing, Moon still packs a potent punch, and its ultimate impression is actually enhanced.

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