Friday, January 28, 2011

The Mechanic

I think it is fair to say that I am a bit of a fanboy when it comes to Jason Statham. “The Expendables”, “The Transporter”, “War”; heck, I even enjoyed the insane mess that is “Crank: High Voltage”. As with anything you are a fan of, the potential for disappointment is high when any new project comes out due to high expectations. Well, I went into Statham's new film, “The Mechanic” with really high expectations, and you know what? I wasn't disappointed at all.

“The Mechanic” is a remake of a 1972 film of the same name that starred Charles Bronson, and Jan-Michael Vincent. I've never seen the entire original, so I cannot really comment on how to new one compares, but I do know that there have been some significant changes aside from just modernization. I will say that I am not normally a fan of remakes, but that does not effect my opinion of this film.

Jason Statham plays Arthur Bishop, a “mechanic”, which is to say a man who fixes problems quickly, efficiently, and without emotion in a manner befitting his employer's wishes. He is a solitary man who keeps his emotions to himself, but he is not made of stone. When a job comes a little too close to home for comfort, he finds himself internally conflicted. When Steve McKenna (Ben Foster: “Pandorum”), the son of a friend that Bishop betrayed, comes to him asking to be trained as a “mechanic” himself, Bishop gives in and mentors the young man.

If you are familiar with other Statham movies, then you know what to expect here; snarky one-liners, car crashes, explosions, and lots of mooks getting shot, stabbed, and otherwise killed in brutal ways. Going with the idea that there is no kill like overkill, Bishop and McKenna cut a bloody swath through their enemies leading up to a climactic battle that includes a city bus and a garbage truck. It's everything you could want from an R rated action movie.

Statham plays one of his stock characters, in this case the character from “The Transporter”. He's quiet, but sarcastic, he is meticulous, and does not display a lot of emotion. He is a man who plans his jobs down to the smallest detail, but is quite capable of improvising when the situation changes suddenly. The biggest difference between Bishop and Frank Martin really is the wardrobe. Rather than wearing a suit, Statham dons a lot of leather jackets and pea-coats for this role, and he pulls the look off well.

If I had any real criticisms about this film, it would be that Ben Foster comes across as a little whiny and annoying, but I think that was intentionally a part of the character. The only other issue I had was the extremely short and completely out of place sex scene early in the film; I know that it was partly another excuse to show Statham without his shirt on again (he actually appears shirtless within the first two minutes of his appearing on screen), but it didn't really fit in with the tone of the rest of the film.

I loved every minute of this film from the first punch to the last explosion (except maybe that sex scene). If you are looking for a deep story with complex characters then you are looking in the wrong place. “The Mechanic” is just a fun popcorn film where you can relax and cheer as the sort-of-bad guys take out the really-bad guys with a pretty decent soundtrack playing in the background. There's no thinking required, just relax and let the awesomeness roll over you. If that sounds good to you, then I definitely recommend heading out to the theater to see this movie.

“The Mechanic” is in theaters now

Early Morning Amusement: Jason Statham Audi Ad

After seeing a screening of "The Mechanic" (the review should be posted today) I've gotten on a bit of a Jason Statham kick again, and it made me think of this. Today's video combines two of my favourite things: Jason Statham awesomeness with a really cool Superbowl ad.

I liked this ad in 2009 when it first played, and it is still cool today.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The Rite

Ever since the classic “The Exorcist” movies about demonic possession have been scaring the crap out of horror fans everywhere, but what is it about these movies that makes them so genuinely scary? For people that believe in God (or a god) I think it's the idea that while vampires and zombies may be scary, they are not real, but the devil is real, and the idea that he could take over your body is a very terrifying thing. Even for atheists and agnostics I think the idea of losing control of your body and mind generates a bit of a shudder. If you plan to watch the new film from director Mikael Håfström (“1408”) be prepared to do a bit of shuddering.

“The Rite” is the story of Michael Kovak (Colin O'Donoghue), a young man who has gone to seminary school rather than be stuck working at the family mortuary. As he nears the end of his education he decides that his heart really isn't in it, and he is not going to take the vows to become a priest. It is then that Father Matthew (Toby Jones: “W.”), one of his instructors, suggests that he take a two month course at The Vatican as part of the church's attempt to install an exorcist in every diocese.

It is in Italy that Michael is sent to meet Father Lucas Trevant (Anthony Hopkins: “Silence of the Lambs”), a warm, quirky priest who also happens to be a practicing exorcist. Lucas tries to show Michael that demonic possession is real, but he remains skeptical until things become a little too real. Suddenly faced with an all-too-real display of supernatural phenomenon, Michael must figure out what he really believes before it is too late.

Let me be frank here; this is a long and very emotionally draining film to watch. The actual length, about two hours, is my only real complaint here. A good chunk of the first half hour could have easily been chopped out and alluded to in some expositional speech. There were some funny moments, and some shocking moments, but nothing like what I was expecting from the trailers.

The movie doesn't really get moving until Michael finally meets Father Trevant, and this is why Anthony Hopkins is the star of the film even though he is not the main character. Hopkins shows a great amount of range in this film, originally playing Trevant as a kindly, if hard-edged, old man makes his portrayal of demonic possession all the more horrifying later on.

Hopkins quickly switched back and forth between accents and voices as the demon inside Trevant threatens and mocks Michael for his lack of faith, frequently walking a fine like between scary and laughable, but never quite crossing it. It is a powerful role, but it is a scene early on in the possession that got the biggest reaction at the screening I attended The audience audibly gasped at a scene with the priest standing in a park; a little girl approaches him, asking him to bless her dolly when he... well, now that would be telling. I will tell you this though; I expected him to do something horrible to the child, but I did not expect that.

This movie is scary, not the sort of stab you in the eye, bogeyman under the bed scary, but more of the your immortal soul is at risk scary. If you are not a religious person, then some of this may be lost on you, but I am enough of a believer to find the last thirty to forty-five minutes of this movie extremely frightening. It is kind of a shame that it took the movie so long to get there, but then maybe that was the idea; lull you into a false sense of security before unloading on you with both barrels at once. Of course I don't know that almost putting your audience to sleep before scaring the hell out of them is the best tactic.

Aside from Anthony Hopkins' stellar performance, there is also newcomer (to American audiences, anyway) Marta Gastini as possessed teen mother-to-be, Rosaria. The film spends a good amount of time with Rosaria as Lucas tries to both free her from the demon inside and convince Michael that her possession is real, and not the product of some mental illness. Like Hopkins, Gastini's role requires her to quickly and repeatedly jump back and forth from being a scared, shy teenager, and writhing sexualized monster from hell, and the end result is very disturbing at times.

Despite its slow beginning, “The Rite” does manage to be an intense experience before the end credits roll. If you are willing to sit through the first third of the film you will be rewarded for your patience. If you want to be scared I can't think of a better choice in theaters right now. I found this to be a well-acted piece that I enjoyed a lot, but I honestly can't say that I expect to ever watch it again; it's good, but it's a very stressful movie to watch. So leave the kids and the faint of heart at home, and bring your crucifix with you when “The Rite” opens in theaters everywhere this Friday.

Friday, January 21, 2011

No Strings Attached

Ah, the romantic comedy; you already know the general plot, right? Boy meets girl, they fall in love despite boy being a dweeb/loser/fat/womanizer, but then boy screws things up and loses girl so boy has to win girl back before it's too late and she goes off with cool jerk/moves away/gets herself to a nunnery. “No Strings Attached” is the new RomCom from director Ivan Reitman (“Ghostbusters”) starring Ashton Kutcher (“That 70's Show) and Natalie Portman (“Black Swan”) as our couple-to-be, but this movie does play the story a little bit different.

Adam (Kutcher) and Emma (Portman) originally met as kids at summer camp, but it isn't until they meet again ten years later that a real spark starts up between them. They are clearly attracted to each other, but as Emma describes herself as not being very affectionate this meeting results in one very awkward not-date before they go their separate ways again.

Jump ahead to the present and Adam has a job as an assistant on a television show that looks to have take more than a little inspiration from “High School Musical”, and Emma is working through her residency at the local teaching hospital. Adam is not having a good time of it; he's just found out that his ex-girlfriend has hooked up with his father (Kevin Kline), and in a night of drunk-dialing, Adam calls every woman he knows trying to find one to have sex with him. This is how Emma and Adam finally end up together.

I said before that this film flips the standard RomCom script a little bit, and the flip is that the conflict in their relationship is not the fault of Adam. Kutcher actually does a good job of dialing down his seemingly natural douchiness and playing a really genuinely nice guy; it's Emma that's the problem. While Adam would happily enter into a relationship, Emma does not like them; she compares being in a relationship to having an allergic reaction to peanuts. What she really wants is someone to have sex with with no complications, no jealousy, no strings attached (ah ha!), so they become “sex friends”. How long can this last though? Can Adam not push her away by trying to pull her closer? Can Emma stop herself from having human emotions? Can they really stretch this story out to almost two hours? Well, the answer to the last question is a resounding yes.

This movie is long, too long. Two hours is a good length for a fantasy epic, or a historical drama, but it is too long for a movie like this. It would not be so bad if they simply kept to scenes that contributed to the story. The problem with doing that is that a lot of the funniest scenes (Adam's mix CD is a perfect example) do nothing but take up time, while the scenes that forward the story tend to be rather meh. At times the film feels like the writers had great ideas for scenes, but no way to make them relevant, but decided leave them in anyway. There are easily thirty minutes worth of fluff that could have been trimmed out which would have saved me a lot of watch checking.

Another thing that seems to add to the length is the sheer number of stock RomCom characters present in the film. You have Adam's funny friends, Jake and Eli (Ludacris and Jake M. Johnson), who are not all that funny. You have Emma's roommates/friends, Patrice (Greta Gerwig), the BFF, Shira (Mindy Kaling), the snarker, and Guy (Guy Branum), the gay guy, none of whom get much of a chance to shine. There's the beta couple, fulfilled by Eli and Patrice, who seem to be more interested in staying out of the conflict than helping their respective friends in a more traditional beta couple role. Then there's the standard handsome mature jerk who wants Emma for himself, Sam (Ben Lawson), whose subplot is dropped before it ever really gets going. Finally there's the other woman, Lucy (Lake Bell), who is far too nice to deserve to be caught in the splash damage from Emma and Adam's relationship, but that's okay, because her subplot lasts even less time than Sam's (honestly, I liked her character better than Emma, even though they try to make her REALLY annoying towards the end).

Aside from all those characters fighting for screen time, there's the aforementioned Kevin Kline as Adam's actor father, and, most confusingly, Cary Elwes as one of the doctors at Emma's hospital. Kline is actually quite fun to watch in this movie, but I say that Elwes is the most confusing because his role has no significance; it could have been played by any no name actor. While he does appear in a number of scenes, he only has three or four lines and spends most of his screen time looking confused. I imagine that he was wondering why he was even there; I know I was.

Naturally Kutcher and Portman take most of the screen time, and they both do a good job. Kutcher shows some real range in this, breaking free of the personality built by years of “That 70's Show” and “Punk'd” to create a character that is at the same time fun and a little goofy, but still a mature, likable person. Portman's character is not quite as likable, but the exact roots of her damage are never explored (there is one scene that tries to explain it, but if you watched the film's first ten minutes then this explanation will not make sense). Portman's Emma tends to be all over the place as far as her personality goes, but this seems to be the result of the writers and director being unsure what is really wrong with her rather than any fault of Natalie Portman.

This film is a bit of a mediocre mess, even by romantic comedy standards. It tries to use a reasonably unique premise, but it gets so caught up in playing with as many RomCom tropes as it can that it turns into a rambling mess of minor characters with nothing to do fighting for a reason to be there. It's almost as if Ivan Reitman were trying to troll the crowd that likes traditional romantic comedies by turning traditional roles on their ear, but even if that was his goal, it just comes across as a poor effort. The movie does have a few good laughs, and seeing Natalie Portman swerve around drunkenly while cursing is quite amusing, but it's not enough to redeem this. Even compared to some of last year's efforts, like“Going the Distance” or “She's Out of my League” this movie falls well short of what a good romantic comedy should be, and what it could have been.

Unless you really want to see Ashton Kutcher's bare ass on a big screen (sorry guys, Portman never appears in less than modest underwear), there are just better ways to spend your time and money this weekend. It's too long, and while it does try to be everything a romantic comedy should be, it ends up missing that target by a lot. Spend your money on something better this weekend.

“No Strings Attached” is in theaters now.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Early Morning Amusement: The Purple Smurfs

Do you remember "The Smurfs"? I'm sure that even if you're too young to remember them from their Saturday morning run in the 80's that you have at least heard of them. If nothing else, you have probably seen the dreadful looking trailer for their upcoming film that is being released as part of Hollywood's on-going attempt to crap on the childhoods of my generation. Even those who grew up on the little blue fellows may not remember that they once did an episode where they have their own little adorable zombie apocalypse.

In 1981, as part of "The Smurfs" first season, they made a short called "The Purple Smurfs". In this cartoon Lazy Smurf becomes infected with a "28 Days Later"-esque illness that turns him purple, and makes him want to bite his fellow smurfs on the tail. Once bitten the victim smurf becomes infected and turns purple themselves. The short is based on the original comic story, "The Black Smurfs" (gee, I cannot imagine why they changed THAT title), I challenge you to show me a cuter zombie apocalypse!

Also, how awesome is it that there's a Smurfs wiki? I truly do love the internet.