Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Eagle Eye

Shia LaBeouf is terrific as an aimless young man suddenly "activated" as part of giant conspiracy to "save the nation." He plays the role with a marvelous understated bewilderment, yet fully there for the character. This young man has a huge future ahead of him. And maybe another Indiana Jones with him? But what would they call it? Mutt Williams?

His brother, an air force intelligence officer, falls under a cloud of suspicion after dying in a horrible call accident. After coming home to his apartment, only to find it loaded with weapons, explosives and military intell, and then being warmed by phone to leave, because the FBI will be there in 45 seconds, he slowly becomes engaged, in the hopes of clearing his brother's name.

Michelle Monaghan
his "partner" in all of this, a young mother whose son, a grade school trumpet player, has been brought into the conspiracy unknowingly, is "activated" and does as she's told if she wants to see her son again.

These two finally meet n a dramatic car chase scene, brought together by cryptic phone messages and a seemingly endless manipulation of the electronic network surrounding all of us - from cell phones to surveillance cameras, traffic lights and subways (what isn't monitored and controlled by computers these days?)

It's all about a super computer "who" sees the current administration as a violator of the American Constitution (a contemporary message here?) in its pursuit of terrorists - quoting from the Declaration of Independence:

That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.

Think of Hal on steroids.

A rip roaring story, with plenty of action, the story moves along well, if not predictably.

A bit formulaic, but sustained well with fine acting, special effects and music, the film entertains well.

For ladies? Perhaps, because of Michelle Monaghan's sensitive portrayal of a single mom coping with way too much, and now her son's innocent entanglement from which he can be rescued only if she cooperates.

And LeBouf's "gentle" kind of guy role - he's got guts, moxie, but not the James Bond kind. Both gals and guys will like him.

Directed by D. J. Caruso.

Worth seeing? For sure.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Righteous Kill

De Niro and Pacino are what they are - at the top of their game. They're fun to watch.

As detective partners, Turk and Rooster, they're an effective team with " 120" years of experience - Ha!

My son, a wise commentator on all things film, suggests that the film, if not starring such giants, would likely have gone straight to DVD.

He observed, "Stories with such a twist are a little tired right now."

And I agree ... it was a bit formulaic, but fun to watch nonetheless. The movie held my attention, but then I'm an easy rider when it comes to movies.

In their earlier meeting in "Heat," Pacino does in De Niro; but here ... oh well, I don't want to give it away.

Great music, cinematography - some very cool lines, almost aphorisms ... like:

You don't become a cop because you want to serve and protect. You join the force because they let you carry a gun and a badge. You do it because you get respect.

Most people respect the badge. Everyone respects the gun.

Nothing wrong with a little shooting, as long as the right people get shot.

Who finally says these things and why is part of the fun.

Worth seeing?

Sure, why not? Especially if your fan of De Niro and Pacino.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Burn After Reading

A very good film ... lots of ironic laughs ... subtle and rather dark as it unfolds, brought to us by Cohen Brothers (Ethan & Joel). Some critics have panned it, saying that it "fails to ignite" - hardly! If you're looking for out-and-out slap-stick, go to "Step Brothers."

"Burn After Reading" actually takes you places and gives you something to think about even as it provides plenty of laughs. Perhaps it requires a level of thought or sophistication to appreciate the skillful manner in which the story is told and the characters revealed. All right?

This is a story of bumbling people bumbling their way through love and life (do we every really do any differently) - managing to do some serious damage along the way. If the film has message, it's likely this: play with fire, ya' get burned, and burned badly!

An all-star cast wonderfully restrained and comically intense.

Brad Pitt is terrific as a gum-chewing, not-too-bright, slightly whatever, physical trainer (Chad Feldheimer) who cooks up a scheme to extort money from a CIA analyst after he discovers on the gym's locker room floor a CD with apparently valuable information.

Francis McDormand is terrfic as "Linda Litzke" (echos of her Fargo twang) who wants to meet a man and finally decides she needs some physical enhancements. The only problem being: her insurance won't pay for for the surgeries. So when "Chad" shows her the CD, she's in.

Richard Jenkins (gym manager, Ted Treffon) portrays wonderfully the wounded soul who so badly wants to date Linda who "shuts him out all the time." Ultimately, after Chad disappears, Linda gets Ted to sign-on to steal more information from the CIA analyst.

The CIA analyst is played wonderfully by slightly loony John Malkovich who's wife, "Katie" (Tilda Swinton) is having an affair with George Clooney - "Harry Pfarrer."

"Katie finally decides to seek a divorce so she and Harry can get married, but Harry's not so sure now. In an effort to secure her husband's financial records, Katie burns a CD, which her attorney's secretary leaves in the gym - see above.

Clooney, by the way, is terrific - the slightly simple gun-totin' playboy, with some remnants of a conscience left, profoundly paranoid - he's right - and in one fine explosive scene near the end, he bolts from the park bench where he and Linda have become a number (they met on an internet dating service), exclaiming, "Who are you? Who do you work for?" when he discovers that Chad, the guy she's looking for, and he, with his "connections," is helping, learns that he disappeared at Katie's house. In his mind, it's all some horrible CIA plot, and he's smack dab in the middle of it.

Are we complicated enough yet?

After the shooting and the ax murder are done and the bodies disposed of, two CIA officers are discussing the case - a great scene of CIA a operative (David Rasche) hesitantly reporting delicate matters to a blunt, only-the-facts, superior (J.K. Simmons).
"Well, what did we learn?"
"Not to do it again."
"If only we knew what we did."

In the end, so to speak, Linda gets her operation.
And Harry is on his way to Venezuela "because we don't have an extradition agreement with them."

A lot of good laughs, some terrific acting - worth seeing, that's for sure.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Vicky Cristina Barcelona

Lots of fun ... and some wonderfully funny moments as everyone tries to figure out who they are, what they want, what they don't want, shall I or shall I not?

An outstanding cast doing a lot of terrific ad libbing, or at least that's the feel it has - not the polish of a script, but actors genuinely feeling their way through their character and the entanglements of love and life.

Where to begin ...

Rebecca Hall (Vicky), a young lady on a summer lark before marriage - cool and calculating, knowing exactly what she wants - a settled, sensible, husband, and a fine home north of New York City. Innocent and wide-eyed, yet capable of passion and dreams. But where can it go?

Scarlett Johansson - can she get any more beautiful? - (Christina), who joins her friend for a summer romp. She knows what she doesn't want, but what she might want, it's anyone's guess.

Jarvier Bardem (the artist, Juan Antonio) - who, upon seeing these two lovelies immediately begins to seduce them - coming right to the point: "Join me this weekend to make love."
"But we don't know you."
"Well, life is short."

Bardem, wonderfully, ruggedly, handsome, is terrific ... a subtle passion - the son of poet, an artist of renown ... who loves easily.

Vicky, the reluctant one, agrees when Christina decides it would be fun.

Juan Antonio, recently divorced from a fiery wife who knifed him toward the end, is trying to put his life back together again.

His ex-wife, fiery, creative, slightly crazy, wonderfully portrayed by Penelope Cruz (Maria Elena), is at loose ends without him, but neither of them can make it work. After a suicide attempt, Juan takes Maria into his home (with Christina) because she has no money, and nowhere to go.

In the menage a trois that evolves between Christina, Juan and Maria, Christina is the missing piece. Her love for them, and their love for her, enables Maria and Juan to love once again. But all good things must come to an end: Christiana knows what she doesn't want, and she doesn't want this, so off she goes, and with her departure, so goes Juan and Maria.

Vicky, who had a quick fling with Juan on the weekend, is soon to be married, and sooner than expected; her fiance arranges some time off from work and flies to Spain to meet Vicky and get married there, rather than waiting for fall. Oh well ... but the alure of Juan and his attraction to her is powerful. Where shall it go?

Vicky and Christina stay with Vicky's distant relatives: Patricia Clarkston and Kevin Dunn (Mr. and Mrs. Nash), who are "happily" married and enjoying life. Mrs. Marsh has her own challenges, being caught in a kiss with her husband's business partner. She, too, is looking for something.

It's a delightful tale, a snapshot of life for a few months ... with no real resolution of any one's situation. A typical Woody Allen approach - lots of questions, few answers, give it a whirl and see what happens. There's pain and there's joy, and who can sort it out? Some folks never quite find whatever it is they're looking for, and keep on looking. Some settle for what they have and make the best of it. Some relationships never seem to work no matter how much love, and some, devoid of love, still work. Who knows?

I thoroughly enjoyed how the story unfolded, with a good many chuckles at the expense of the characters. All of them wonderfully portrayed by gifted actors - conveying bewilderment, sadness and passion, love longed for and love regretted.

A must-see film ... hats off to Woody Allen who wrote and directed this delightful work.

Monday, September 8, 2008