Sunday, 26 February 2012

Traitor Review

Ultimately, this is really just another run of the mill movie about terrorism.  The story is kind of interesting though.  It features Don Cheadle as a former special forces operative that has found Islam and gone rogue into militant religious fanaticism.  The viewer is supposed to spend most of the time trying to figure out if he is ultimately good or bad.  For the most part, they do a decent job of masking his true intentions and, when they are finally revealed, there is no ambiguity to make you question anything.  In this, they have done a decent job of not making a double agent type movie too complicated with twists and turns that ultimately lead to a conclusion that is inevitable.  I did like that about it.  Double agent terrorist and spy movies tend to get confusing and dig too deep into the intrigue.  Traitor didn't do that and they made a movie that was pretty easy to follow.

I also like their use of international settings.  Nothing was over the top exotic.  They go from Yemen to France to the UK to the US to Canada.  While some of these places could be seen as exotic, all of the chosen locales and settings were very realistic to the nature of what the characters needed at the time.  From start to finish, the whole thing felt quite plausible.

So, they take a good story premise and film it very well.  However, they completely derail it with some very bad writing and subpar deliveries from some very decent actors.  The movie has Don Cheadle, Guy Pearce and Jeff Daniels in it.  These three are all accomplished and decent actors in their own right.  Not one of them was overly convincing in their line delivery.  The best would have been Pearce and he made me say, "meh"; especially due to a very fake southern accent.  I refuse to believe that all of these actors would phone it in on their own volition.  My best guess is that the director was just unable to motivate anyone to pick up their game.  And it's hard to do that when the writing is this contrived and, in some places, this cheesy.

I'm torn.  On the one hand, it is well shot and progresses well.  On the other hand, you have to sit through bad line after bad line.  Given the fact that we have a lot of good terrorist/espionage movies to choose from, I'd have to say Don't see it.  If it's free and you don't feel like searching for anything else though, it isn't a terrible thing to watch.

Monday, 13 February 2012

Safe House Review

This is what happens when you  make a movie using only that iPhone app that hipsters use because they think it makes their pictures look all cool and retro.  Instead, you get pictures that are just annoying to look at.  And, as long as they continue to use shaky camera work and unnecessary and awkward closeups, I will continue to bitch about it.  Those two things take away from what is otherwise a very believable and plausible situation.  And those two things (one thing really - the film making) are the only problem with this movie.

It is a terrific story with a Jason Bourne feel to it.  A young, unproven CIA agent whose only job is to babysit a seldom used safe house is thrust into trying to bring in one of the CIA's most wanted men.  What ensues is well placed and judiciously used action mixed in with very tense buildup throughout.  There are only a couple of times where it slows down a little too much but they are short scenes that don't dwell on making the story too human and moral.  With a film like this it would be easy to use the Tobin Frost and Matt Weston as a morality play about shades of grey and by the book isn't always right.  And while they do a little of that, they do not hit you over the head with it.

The acting is really good up and down the entire cast.  I'm not a huge Denzel fan.  While I do think he's a terrific actor, I also think that he's one of the unfortunate ones that has gotten too big for his roles and you seldom get past the fact that you're watching Denzel instead of a good performance.  Here, you forget you're watching Denzel.  He does a great job with the calm and collected "been there, done that" CIA veteran role.  Ryan Reynolds' performance was only slightly below that in calibre.  We all know Reynolds as being at his best when he can be a wisecracking, cocky guy.  But, through this and his performance in Buried, he's showing that he has some pretty good range.  And while I don't think their interaction is as good as that between Tom Cruise and Jamie Foxx in Collateral, it is still quite strong.  (Collateral wasn't a great movie.  But I thought the dialogue between the two was great.)

Finally, I want to mention the location.  For a spy movie in today's political climate, it is easy to just make it happen in Syria or somewhere else in the Middle East.  Or, you could find some exotic European or Asian location.  Setting this in South Africa was brilliant.  It is just exotic enough to hold our interest but it lends that bleak, poverty aspect that keeps it grounded from becoming too Bondesque.

See it.  If you like that surreal, saturated look and shaky camera work, this will be right up your alley.  If you can get put up with it, it is definitely worth your time for the tension, great story and strong performances.

Sunday, 12 February 2012

Feeling Minnesota Review

From the DVD cover, this movie is grossly misrepresented.  It makes it sound like a lighthearted romantic comedy where Cameron Diaz and Keanu Reeves hook up under dubious yet honourable circumstances and are then pursued by Vincent D'Onofrio who is Diaz' husband.  They only hit on half of that.  Reeves and Diaz hook up and are pursued by D'Onofrio.  But that's where it ends.  This movie is anything but a lighthearted romantic comedy.  Had they gone that way or had they gone fully to the dark movie that it is, it could have been a good movie in either genre.  Instead, they can't pull the trigger on either and it ends up being a poor film.  There's some good subtle dark humour and some over the top physical bits but the consistency with either is never really there.

That isn't to say that there is no comedy in the film.  There is quite a bit; especially when Reeves and D'Onofrio are interacting (ie. fighting) with each other.  I haven't seen such comedically awkward fist fighting since  Bridget Jones' Diary and Pineapple Express.  In fact, D'Onofrio is really the only thing that really works in this movie.  Even though it felt at times like he was trying to channel John Malkovich, it worked and most of what he does is is funny yet dark and that's what they were going for.  His performance is really strong and believable throughout.

The problem is that D'Onofrio is not one of the two main actors in the movie.  While, without his role there would be no film, the hero and heroine are Reeves and Diaz.  Neither one of them does a good enough job to grab the role and make you care about the character.  But it's for different reasons.  Reeves' character is flawed.  They try to make him some kind of suave and loveable guy while also making him an out and out criminal too.  His character is too layered and, while he's an OK actor, he can't do too much depth and couldn't really pull it off.  Diaz, on the other hand, is just an out and out terrible actress.  Her character had no depth and she still couldn't pull it off.  Her line delivery is always terrible and her body language is always annoying.  While she is a fairly attractive person, those other attributes are enough to just make you want to punch her.  She really played par for the course in this one.  I was actually relieved when she got shot.

Apart from those problems, I do have to say that the film is shot very well.  The lighting, setting, costumes and set designs gave it a real bleak and hopeless feel which suits the story quite well.  But without good characters and acting, that isn't enough for a good movie.

Don't see it.

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Monsieur Lazhar Review

I don't know if it's the Indie film factor, the non-English language factor or the Canadian-foreign film factor.  But, when you step out of the typical Hollywood paradigm and set out to just make a good, heartfelt and meaningful film, you often wind up with a movie that feels stripped down yet very layered and deep.  Lazhar doesn't rely on exotic locales or big name, big face actors.  It's set in Montreal in the winter after all.  And all of the actors look like someone who might bag your groceries or do your taxes.  When you add the simple yet superb lighting and camera work, you find yourself immersed in a very believable story.

That story is a fairly straightforward tale of an immigrant who talks his way into being the replacement teacher for an elementary school class who's regular teacher has just committed suicide.  You find this out in the opening minutes of the film and I knew it going in.  So I was braced completely for a real dark and melancholic piece.  For the most part, the emotion of the film is just that.  But it is fantastically spaced and paced with well written dialogue and comic relief that you never descend into a film depression that would be hard to bring the viewer out of.  It does not take you on a roller coaster of emotion that many other film makers would want to do with this type of story.  Instead, Philippe Falardeau keeps you very level throughout.

That's a very good thing because, if they had tried to make the movie a piece solely about grief, we would have been deprived of all of the other levels that made up the story.  Monsieur Lazhar has a lot of different themes going on all at the same time.  It deals with managing change in your life, acceptance of other people, dealing with grief, finding your way, the direction of society, facing the consequences of your actions, etc.  (Most of these themes are best shown in Bachir's relationship with the students and how that develops - which is a treat to watch.  They have every reason to resent and hate him.  But he manages the change so well that he wins them over quite quickly.)  If you look at all of these themes, you can see that, yes, they are all closely related.  But, in the film, they seem separate while they intertwine with each other.  if you were to drop any one of them out of the movie, the whole thing would have suffered.  But, while watching it, you can see them each for what they are.  I'm not a film maker so I can only imagine that weaving together all of these different themes of a film would be very, very difficult.  Falardeau does it to near perfection.  There is just enough time spent developing each theme and character to give the audience the information they need to start developing their own attitudes and ideas about the story.  I'm sure that, if you see it, you would have a different viewpoint on the meaning but you'd probably still come away saying it was a very good film if not a great film.

Definitely see this movie.  While it is a sad piece for the most part, it is also powerful and you feel like a bit of a better person for having seen it.  And it has a final scene that takes your breath away.