I’m happy to announce a new semi-regular feature here at The ‘Shine, my friend and former teammate Alberto DeSouza (or the Brian Leetch of Chelsea Piers as we used to call him) is our new movie critic in residence. Look for Al’s reviews every now and again (or at least four times a year).
Now Playing and Recent Releases
One of the top quality flicks of 2007 with a tour de force performance by Viggo Mortensen (from the Lord of the Rings trilogy). If you didn’t know him, you’d swear he’s a genuine Russian mobster chauffer for the Russian mob, or at least ethnic Russian. His transformation into this role is the equivalent of how Tom Cruise transformed himself for Collateral and Meryl Streep did for The Devil Wears Prada.
Armin Stahl, who always plays the grandfatherly roles or scientists, is one of the top mobsters who runs a restaurant as a cover. His psycho son, played by Vince Cassell, is next in line. Set in present-day London, there is a brutal murder in the beginning of the film that sets into motion a possible Russian gang war.
Meanwhile, a young Russian woman is killed but not before giving birth. Naomi Watts is the nurse who uses the young woman’s diary to track down her next of kin in order to deliver to the infant and unwittingly reveals too much to Mr. Stahl. Apparently, the diary contains quite a bit of incriminating information and thus Ms. Watts becomes a potential target.
Meanwhile, Mortensen is an illegal immigrant outcast who gets this chauffer gig for Mr. Stahl to make ends meet.
Be forewarned that there are some nasty killings including the outrageously brutal and very realistic bathhouse knife fight scene.
A funny but yet somewhat dark response Mortensen gives Naomi Watts when Ms. Watts mentions something of sentimental value, “Sentimental value. I’ve heard of that.” A must rental.
I mentioned in my last review that this flick, despite the exciting looking trailers, was nothing more than a cable viewing or rental. Well, I was almost right.
It’s a formulaic action flick with the usual cardboard cutouts and Travel & Leisure cinematic back drops. Any one of the top stars in this flick is interchangeable. But let’s face it. Without Jamie Foxx, Jennifer Garner and Chris Cooper, this flick goes straight to DVD. Foxx should stick to serious flicks since he’s way too good for this. The same goes for Chris Cooper.
Basically, an American compound is the target of a massive bomb attack and an FBI team, led by Foxx, is sent to Saudi Arabia to gather evidence and perhaps nail the perpetrators. Due to cultural sensibilities and politics, Foxx’s FBI team is limited as to where they can go and must be accompanied by a Saudi officer everywhere. Ironically, the actor who plays the Saudi officer, was the best actor in this flick, almost a Middle Eastern Jean Reno.
Despite this FBI teams’ international experience, they seem “shocked, shocked, shocked” by Saudi culture. The FBI crew is flat-out naïve about what goes on in daily Saudi life. Then again, they’re Americans.
There’s an outrageously, extremely hard-to-believe gun battle in a “dangerous” neighborhood. Dozens of very heavily armed Saudi thugs have the “high ground” – as in rooftops – in an urban box canyon vs. the FBI team in & around their vehicle. Yet despite hundreds of rounds fired, the Americans somehow manage to fight them off.
Nonetheless, the ending was rather clever with respect to parallel statements given by Foxx and a little Saudi boy.
The best line was a short statement by the FBI head to a swarmy Attorney General on why he’s publicly backing his special FBI team.
A well done drama featuring George Clooney as the “fixer” or “janitor” of a high-powered law firm to fix up some mess made by a close colleague who simply when psycho when he bit the hand that fed him going from defender to prosecutor against a pesticide company. The company is facing a massive class action suit.
The new legal counsel is played by Tilden (angel Gabrielle in Constantine) who has a win-at-all-costs attitude. The big boss is Syndey Pollack.
No cardboard cutouts here as each character, despite their super-powered ambitions and dirty deeds, are flawed and vulnerable. Inn a subplot, even Clooney must pay off a $75,000 loan from some unscrupulous people (no, not Countrywide) for a failed restaurant business. Despite his big buck paycheck, he has a serous gambling problem, which results in easy come, easy go.
Definitely a worthwhile cinematic ticket purchase while it’s still on the big screen, otherwise a must rental.
I Am Legend
It’s essentially an updated version of the Omega Man which starred Charlston Heston as the only non-mutant man on earth. The cure for cancer by some limey doctor goes bad with some serious biological/viral blowback resulting in the deaths of billions of people within months.
This leaves only Will Smith (Dr. Neville) and his pooch as the only humans (apparently) untouched by the virus. My guess is that he took massive doses of GNC multi-vitamins.
The mutants come out only at night since any light is toxic to them. I couldn’t decide if they were genuinely mutants or simply Euro-trash and trust-fund kids.
Meanwhile Smith lives in a fortified historic building in Washington Square South near NYU where he conducts experiments to try to reverse the ravages of the viral infection in mutant lab rats.
Nonetheless, despite the terrific special effects of a desolate NYC, there’s nothing intellectually profound. In fact, some scenes are outright stupid. If the bridges & tunnels where destroyed, why are there wild animals in Manhattan? And why are these animals (antelopes and lions indigenous to tropical climes) in NYC? I can imagine bulls and bears (and the occasional dead cat bounce) in Wall Street.
More annoying is, if millions of people perished, where are the bodies? I expected to see rotting corpses all over the place.
Again, a good sci-fi movie only for its special effects.
National Treasure: Book of Secrets
It’s a highly entertaining follow-up to the fist flick with the usual suspects along with the under-appreciated yet brilliant Ed Harris as the bad guy. The plot is preposterous but that’s not the point.
Ed Harris, as a descendant of a southern Civil War general, supposedly has proof that Cage’s great-great-grandfather was actually part of the conspiracy to kill President Lincoln. Actor Greenwood (CEO in I, Robot and captain of the haunted submarine in Below) plays the current U.S. President.
The comeback lines are good and the chemistry amongst the actors is excellent but it’s still a poor man’s Indiana Jones.
More Cable TV/DVD/Netflix and Trailer Reviews After the Jump.
Cable TV/DVD/Netflix Film Reviews
It’s supposedly Clive Owen’s breakout film as a croupier filling in at an underground London casino. Despite the professional raves, I thought that this flick was simply OK with a disappointing, cop-out ending.
The Black Book
A Dutch Jewess during WW II joins the resistance in battling the Germans. She goes, literally undercover, as the lover of the Gestapo head, to acquire information.
Although it’s a very good film, I found that sympathetic leanings towards a Gestapo head as ludicrous. In fact, the German actor (the writer in The Lives of Others) was seriously miscast since he doesn’t come across as a ruthless SOB. Nonetheless, it’s a worthwhile viewing.
Black, White and in Color
A 1970s flick that won the Best Foreign Film Award. A French colony in Africa finds out that WW I has broken out – months later in fact through newspapers delivered overland due to no telegraph communication. The small French colonialists decide to declare war on their neighboring imperialists, the Germans, with whom they got along perfectly well before the news.
Using the local indigenous male population, they uses them as mere surrogates in their nasty little war.
Like all wars, this one ends with a profound (and disturbing) statement given by each commander of the French and German forces as they walk into the African sunset.
It’s the quasi-anime remake of the Speed Racer cartoon series. Start your engines on May 9.
Will Smith plays a grungy, reluctant, terribly bored, uncouth, unshaven superhero in this silly comedy. Just swallow your kryptonite pill on July 2.
Another American remake (rip-off) of the brilliant Hong Kong film of the same name but this time starring Jessica Alba. A young woman, blinded as a child, receives an eye transplant that enables her to see again. But the transplanted yes are from someone with a mysterious and haunted past as Alba begins to see stuff not of this world. (Big deal. I get the same result when I mistakenly put the wrong contact lens in the wrong eye).
Honestly, the Hong Kong version is terrifying. I needed floodlights in my apartment afterward as I was reluctant to enter an elevator alone.
How the American version turns out is anyone’s guess. Check the eye chart on February 1.
Narnia: Prince Caspian
A follow-up to the original but this time with a dark edge. The British children return to Narnia but hundreds of years later Narnia time. The trailers look quite promising with stunning visuals. Coming out of your closet May 16.
Thanks to steroids, Sly Stallone is able to continue his battle against evil somewhere in Asia. He kicks ass and blows shit up once more for the pleasures of Generation X and Yers. Detonating (imploding?) January 25.
Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull
I haven’t seen ay of the trailers but I simply have to see the fourth installment of this classic action series. Don’t lift that statue! Debuting May 22. “Trust me.”
The Dark Knight
Christian Bale as Batman battles the Joker. Michael Caine and Gary Oldman reprises their roles as well. Exiting the Batcave July 18.
In The Name of the King
Jason Statham stars as the hero in some Middle Ages tale to save his village from rampaging demonic thugs. Statham is a terrific action hero actor but he seems very out of place for even a faux time period piece. A pure cable TV viewing.