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Surely by now in our year 2013, it's no secret to any film viewer, young or old that James Bond is one of the all-time favorite characters in cinema, the world over. The 007 Franchise has graced us with a whopping 23 films over the years, while garnering an astronomically impressive profit that exceeds $11.5 billion in global revenue.
The sleek and sexy British secret agent's films appeal to both men and women of all ages. Men admire him because he's macho, sleeps with various women, and gets the job done with the added bonus of the occasional, not always overtly cheesy `one liner' here and there. Women admire him for his gentle poise matched harmoniously with strong convictions for danger, succeeding and sex. To sum him up in a bit of a redundant cliche; men want to be him; women want to be with him.
My childhood is stuffed to its brim with memories of my grandparents (who were not particularly into film) showcasing for me on my weekly visits to their casa - syndicated re-runs of the Roger Moore era James Bond films, practically relentlessly (I've sense enjoyed quite immensely jumping on the Daniel Craig band wagon). I was hooked. Here was a man that had it all: a slew of sexy women here and there, the freedom to travel the globe, to take the lives of his enemies without facing repercussions, all whilst maintaining a lifestyle infused with a considerable income and an endless sense of adventure. And he wasn't at all like the superheroes I had grown accustomed to. He could sweep women off their feet, defeat the bad guys, thus saving the world, and sip a martini as if nothing had happened, all the while remaining 100 percent human, and hardly ever even losing his cool. What a bad-ass!
So it's no wonder, esteemed novelist and screenwriter, Damian Stevenson, took up an interest in divulging to us, the prestigious brains behind the operation, Sir Ian Fleming. Stevenson's latest work, The Ian Fleming Files: Operation Armada is a stunning biography on the man who brought us the man, the myth, the legend, that is... James Bond.
Reading this piece, it's not hard to see where Ian Fleming found the inspiration to birth the character of James Bond. You see, he's not too far off from the stellar chap himself! This book reveals the edgy and daunting past of Ian Fleming as a young agent at the brink of World War II. My research tells me this story is 100 percent accurate to the truth, which is simply put, downright astonishing. The story has all the elements that make any good Bond film worth watching: espionage, sex, action, violence, suspense, drinking, smoking, delicately and tastefully pervaded bits of humor here and there, and of course, the incredible imaginings of what it must be like to be a secret spy, all shared with its audience intimately.
I've not yet read any of the Fleming novels (there are 16 James Bond novels in total) but after reading Stevenson's work, I'm beyond enthralled with doing so. Here is a formula of storytelling that is every bit as exhilarating on the page as it is on the screen. We're brought into the mind of a spy; thrust into his thoughts and his heart as his most personal thoughts are shared with us in moments of shocking suspense and intrigue. I was on the edge of my seat from beginning to end, thirsting for where the story would take me next, with young Commander Fleming at his helm.
It was nearly impossible to not think of Fleming as James Bond which I found to be invigorating! Sitting there, thinking of what must have been going through Fleming's mind when he is plunged into the situations he faces within his unbelievably incredible tale. It must have been effortless for him to later reflect on the events, picturing them as not only cinematic, but as an overall upright story worth telling. The adrenaline is always there, on every page as he finds himself in sticky situation after muggy circumstance.
He talks like James Bond, moves like James Bond, thinks like James Bond and feels as James Bond. My favorite element was learning what Fleming was discerning during each story beat. The way he studies people he interacts with and how he judges them. There is one moment in the book that stands out, where Fleming is sharing his thoughts with us of what he thinks of a mistress of his, and you can just see where James Bond's free spirited take on sex and relationships formulates from. You can hear Bond's sarcastic tone when he's in the presence of a commanding officer and you can picture the smirk that must be on his face, that makes James Bond so stylistic and, let's just say it... ballsey.
It's impossible to read this tale and not be inspired, moved and absolutely titillated. Stevenson writes with the seamless balance of dedicated research, humor, wit and imaginative elegance all the while, painting a majestic picture in the reader's mind of what he wants you to see, feel, and ultimately experience. It's lean, straight to the point, and never disappoints. If you're looking for a thrilling read on espionage that won't bore you to death and take you months to finish, then you've come to the right place. You'll want to run out and watch a Bond film or two immediately upon finishing it. I'm heading to amazon to add Skyfall to my shopping cart right now!
SEASON OF THE WITCH
STARRING: Nicolas Cage, Ron Pearlman, Claire Foy, Stephen Campbell Moore, Stephen Graham, Ulrich Thomsen and Robert Sheehan
WRITTEN BY: Bragi F. Schut
DIRECTED BY: Dominic Sena
Rated: PG - 13
Genre: Action / Horror
Release Date: 07 January 2011
Review Date: 12 January 2011
Season of the Witch is a movie that constantly dabbles in the art of being both good and bad; sort of like someone jumping from foot to foot over a bed of hot coals. Sadly, rather than end up on some soft ground to cool our heels with at the end, we never leave that bed of hot coals and our feet just simmer.
Any film that headlines Nicolas Cage supported by Ron Pearlman will instantly get me into a seat on opening weekend, as was the case here. Add the directorial talents of Dominic Sena (Gone in Sixty Seconds, Swordfish), and I'll even buy popcorn or a six dollar drink to boot. So what was the problem?
The opening scene involves a priest condemning three women to death by hanging when they are found to be guilty of witchcraft. After the hanging they are to be drowned, which (pardon the pun) may seem a bit redundant but who knows with witches, right? This is a few centuries ago, by the way; you know - when that whole witchcraft thing just wasn't tolerated.
This sequence had me intrigued instantly and was granting my wish that this little slice of macabre would lean more on the darker side of a horror film. At least one of those women was in fact a witch and returns from her watery grave to first reek havoc on that priest, and then spread a grizzly plague that eats through the flesh of the entire countryside.
From there we jump through a series of poorly put together battle sequences introducing Cage and Pearlman, which looked like they were copied and pasted from old episodes of Hercules or something. We sit through them and hope that when we meet their characters after the mundane montage, we will feel better about where the film is taking us. We don't. I didn't write down the exact quote, but it was something to the extent of "you're buying the drinks tonight." That was just the beginning of a whole irritating slew of modern day dialogue placed into what could have been a good period piece.
Cage plays Behmen and Pearlman is Felson. They are Knights fighting for the Church; killing in the name of God. We will skip the dreadful discussion on religion, politics, and slander and just proceed by saying there are too many unanswered questions as to why they were blind to see this was not what God would have them do. At any rate, one day out of the blue they suddenly realize this and become deserters.
They flee to a small town and are soon discovered and jailed. They are given a chance for redemption however, should they agree to take the girl believed responsible for the black plague, to a far away castle where she is to be tried. Eventually they accept the mission and the movie begins to get a little better.
In addition to what is promised to be a fair trial for the girl, what awaits them at this castle is a magical book that can relieve her of the dark curse. I will not spoil for you what they stumble across, but I will say it is a very nice twist I did not see coming. The only complaint I have is to report that the computer effects involved were cheesy and should not have been used in the first place. There are more conventional ways in which this sequence should have been handled.
The entire second act of the film was its strongest moment, which is good because it's also the longest. There are some well acted scenes from the girl playing the witch (Claire Foy) who I hope to see more of. There's also a harrowing journey through a creepy forest, over a decaying bridge, and even a nasty run-in with some wolves that are brought forth by dark magic.
But the acting of our two leads at times seems a bit flat and stale, and neither of them appears to really want to be there. I'm not at all overly quick to discredit them. The flow of the entire film complete with that bad dialogue, holes in the story, and weak plot points, strongly suggests that they didn't have much to work with. It's almost like they're trying to maintain balance while standing in the middle of a soggy paper towel.
All of the above being mentioned, you may be confused when I now tell you that I still liked this film. I'm harsh on it, because while I enjoyed it, that doesn't necessarily make it good. I'm very partial to Nic Cage as he's one of my favorite actors, and at times can be more forgiving of his work than the average moviegoer. And so, I've reviewed the film for you as it should be, with my admiration for Cage held aside.
THE LINCOLN LAWYER
STARRING: Matthew McConaughey, Ryan Philippe, Marisa Tomei, William H. Macy, Michael Pena, John Leguizamo and Josh Lucas
WRITTEN BY: John Romano; based on the novel by Michael Connelly
DIRECTED BY: Brad Furman
Genre: Drama / Thriller
Release Date: 18 March 2011
Review Date: 18 March 2011
The Lincoln Lawyer was a refreshing film for two paramount reasons: it's one of the top films of the year and its Matthew McConaughey's best performance to date. I generally like McConaughey movies but he's played a lot of goofballs.
More often than not he's a buffoon or a slacker who has beautiful women flocking to him and we never question it because he's Matthew McConaughey. The ladies in his films never question it for this same reason and because he usually has his shirt off. But here he's charming, intelligent, slick, and meticulously perfect at everything; particularly the work he does from the back seat of his Lincoln. We'd believe any woman's attraction to him. Ironically, only one woman shows interest in him and it's an old flame.
She's Maggie, played by the lovely Marisa Tomei. The two are lawyers who remain friends who may want a little more. The iceberg between them is that they are on either sides of the fence when it comes to the law. She wants bad guys behind bars; he couldn't care less if they're on the street so long as they can afford his hefty fees.
McConaughey slides into the role of Mick Haller with great ease and does a tremendous job. Mick lives to be in a courtroom and finds great euphoria in winning and knowing that he will win without question. We love watching him in action. As good as this film was, I imagine the detail that went into the novel, of which it's based, was even more enticing. Even John Grisham is likely a fan.
We spend the first several minutes of the film being acquainted with the big sleaze ball Mick is. He handles multiple cases at a time: hookers, drug dealers, whatever; and seems to have them settled in his head before he even steps foot in court.
All that changes however with his latest client: a rich kid accused of a brutal rape (Ryan Philippe). All fingers point to his being guilty, but he insists otherwise. Ryan Philippe isn't as good here as he was as a similar rich snob in Cruel Intentions, but he's pretty close.
To reveal what happens next would be inconceivable to anyone who's seen the film. It spirals out of control over and over and it's the kind of film that makes you think while entertaining the hell out of you. It's one of those rare movies that actually could happen yet still has us captivated. Oh, and McConaughey only removes his shirt once.
STARRING: The voices of: Jonny Depp, Isla Fisher, Abigail Breslin, Ned Beatty, Timothy Olyphant, Alfred Molina, Bill Nighy, Ray Winstone and Harry Dean Stanton
WRITTEN BY: John Logan, Gore Verbinski and James Ward Byrkit
DIRECTED BY: Gore Verbinski
Genre: Animation / Comedy
Release Date: 04 March 2011
Review Date: 21 February 2011
How do I even begin to explain the brilliance of Rango? It's hands down the best movie I've seen from 2011's early line up and it's going to be a heavy contender for the Oscar in the best animated feature category. It's marvelous.
The tremendous Johnny Depp stars as the voice of a very likeable chameleon by the name of Rango. Rango's head is slightly misshapen with one eye bulging out at an obscure angel and he wears only a red and white Hawaiian shirt.
He often fantasizes of being a hero as is shown through comedic scenes of him acting out plays with lifeless friends that live with him in his little world. Yep, life is pretty dull as a pet in a glass cage; that is until an automobile accident literally shatters his entire world and leaves him stranded on the side of a desert strewn road.
Thirsty for adventure, he sets off on a quest to find a story for himself, and boy does he find one. He stumbles across the town of `Dirt' and it's littered with colorful characters. Several other little animals ranging from snake to hawk await him in the little town and Rango is determined to make an impression.
The film takes a nice bold stride from goofball comedy into a classic western, as Rango puts on a show claiming that he is the new kid on the block and is not to be reckoned with.
We know he's a scaredy-cat but he doesn't want them to know, so he claims some achievements big and tall. When a local patron asks him in front of everyone at the town's bar, if he was responsible for killing a set of brothers, he is quick to say yes and add that he did it with only one bullet. It's then immediately revealed that there were in fact six brothers that were killed, and Rango has a hidden large gulp that sends us rolling. This is the comedic tone of the film and it lasts from beginning to end.
I enjoyed Depp in Tim Burton's Corpse Bride, and I was even more thrilled with him here, and look forward to more vocal talents from him in the future; he's every bit as creative in a voice box as he is in any dramatic scene.
Director Gore Verbinski who worked with Depp on the first three Pirates of the Caribbean films has done nothing short of spectacular in the look and cinematic scope of this animated film. There is just as much adventure to be found in Rango as any of those live action films.
STARRING: James Franco, Kate Mara, Amber Tamblyn and Treat Williams
WRITTEN BY: Danny Boyle, Simon Beaufoy; based on the book Between a Rock and a Hard Place by Aron Ralston
DIRECTED BY: Danny Boyle
Genre: Drama / Thriller
Release Date: 12 November 2010
Review Date: 04 January 2011
127 Hours tells the harrowing true story of an outdoorsman named Aron Ralston, who found himself trapped all alone in a deep crevice in the middle of a desert, with a boulder crushing his arm. His only way out was to cut off his own arm with a dull tool that would barely cut through warm butter.
If you can get past the initial kneejerk reaction to deem the lead character a moron, you'll see the brilliance of 127 Hours. Much like Buried, I wasn't overly excited about spending nearly two hours with someone stuck between a rock and a hard place. Regardless, I gave both films perfect ratings.
Having James Franco play Aron instantly makes it a tad easier for us to not be so quick to deem him a moron as I mentioned in the first paragraph. Add that Aron begins to grow on us with his colorful sense of humor and a strong internal instinct for survival that few people have and we have the makings of a likeable character forming here. Suddenly all that time spent with him doesn't seem so taxing.
One could easily argue that it's no challenge for us to like this character as we are spending nearly the entire movie with just him. But I could come right back and say it's that much more important we like him and don't grow weary of him, which in turn becomes a challenge that very few actors could have pulled off. I and the audience members I shared the viewing with, did not tire of Aron; we were rooting for him the entire time - moron or not.
The reason for the mention of the term `moron' being that Aron was so flustered to get away for a few days, that he neglected to tell a single soul where he would be heading. In addition to this, he gives up far too quickly in his search for THEE essential outdoor tool: a pocket knife. There is a nice moment in the beginning of the film where the cinematographer toys with us in placing the camera in the cupboard that houses Aron's trusty companion, and we see his fingertips darting around frantically trying to find the knife, only to give up and shut the cupboard after having been just an inch or two from it.
Oh, and then Aron also leaves a great deal of his supplies such as an extra beverage or two in his truck. Which come to think of it, WATER is even more valuable in the wilderness than a pocket knife. There's also a great shot of the water dripping from Aron's sink as he leaves, which serves as both a foreshadow and countless metaphors.
If you're wondering what is to come of Aron that would have him stuck between a rock and a hard place for 127 hours, it is very easy to explain: he trips, falls down a crevice and lands between - you guessed it - a rock a rock wall, serving as the hard place. Aron is an outdoor extraordinaire, but he was sadly unprepared for this. With a single bottle of water and mere remnants in the way of food - it's going to be a tricky situation for him to get out of.
Other than that all I'm going to tell you is that director Danny Boyle delivers his brilliance yet again, Franco is very delightful here and could be nominated, and the movie is put together so well that we care for Aron and hope he makes it out of this alive, all while being entertained both visually and mentally by the story itself; yes that's right there's enough going on here to classify it as a story.
Oh, and don't eat before the movie... trust me on this.
STARRING: Naomi Watts, Sean Penn, Ty Burrell, Brooke Smith, Thomas McCarthy, Jessica Hecht, Noah Emmerich, Bruce McGill and Sam Shepard
WRITTEN BY: Jez Butterworth and John Henry Butterworth; based on the books, The Politics of Truth, by Joseph Wilson, and Fair Game by Valerie Plame
DIRECTED BY: Doug Liman
Rated: PG - 13
Release Date: 05 November 2010
Review Date: 09 November 2010
A very rewarding and not highly practiced treat in cinema, is sitting down in your seat at a theater and having no idea what kind of movie you're about to watch; not the premise, not the rating, not the genre.
I've been fortunate to do this a few times and it can be awesome. If you're wondering how you can do this, well - every once in a while for whatever reason, a studio will release a film with A-list talent but only put it in a selected handful of theaters across the country. As such was the case for me when I drove 15 miles to see Fair Game at my city's `artsy' theater, knowing only that it was the new Sean Penn.
I was also surprised to learn at the film's close, that it was based very largely on a true story. Fair Game shows a couple who was sabotaged by the media when they exposed that the government had blatantly lied about where Iraq may or may not have gotten their supposed nuclear warheads, way back at the brink of the Iraq war.
Now before you get all fussy due to the touchy political subject matter, RELAX. I'm a proud American and served in the Military and I didn't find the film offensive. We are all aware that Sean Penn is known for voicing his lefty political views rather radically; but I strongly think 99 percent of us with brain stems will agree with his character's speech at the end of the film.
This movie isn't about bashing Bush or his administration and it's not about being anti-American and painting a portrait that displays Iraqi terrorists as the good guys and us as the bad guys. If anything, it's a film showcasing both our beautiful God-given rights to freedom of speech and that if you KNOW firsthand that someone lied, then you may want to do something about it; sometimes no matter what the cost.
I'm not going to say whether or not the film is 100 percent accurate because I don't know that and you don't know that. Hell, the filmmakers probably don't even know that. But we ALL know that things were shady to say the least for a while there, and that surely somewhere, SOMEONE lied - big or small, they did; and it was most likely more than one person.
Anyway - Fair Game shows us a character named Joe Wilson (Sean Penn) who volunteered to go to Africa on behalf of the CIA's request, to investigate if and or how weapons of mass destruction could have been shipped from there. The film shows us very clearly, that they could not have been. Our character knows this. Oh, and he was asked to do this by the way, because his wife Valerie (Naomi Watts) is a CIA operative, and Joe has some experience in this field, the details of which I'll leave for you to discover.
When Joe returns, he is baffled to soon learn that we are going to war, and that the President and the Pentagon have more or less claimed that it was proven that these WMDs did in fact come from Africa, and that Iraq has them and that we need to step in. Being one of, if not THEE only American who knows this to be not true, Joe naturally feels a duty to report this. So he writes and article, has it published and all hell breaks loose for him and his wife, and that's all I'm going to tell.
There are however, a slew of small additional things to mention to you. The acting is sensational; specifically from both Penn and Watts, no shocker there I'm sure. The cinematography is terrific as is the direction by Doug Liman who also brought us The Bourne Identity and Mr. and Mrs. Smith. And the film is brilliantly written and it displays scenes of realistic moments we can all relate to; such as political discussions at a dinner table with friends or family who are quick to run their mouths about things of which they have no personal experience with. You know, dinners where everyone at the table is an expert and can solve all the world's problems? Yeah, dinners like that.
If anything, aside from being entertaining from start to finish, Fair Game is a movie that makes you think. It makes us realize how the media will often twist and skew things to be interpreted the way they see fit; and don't worry - I'm not blind to the fact that Hollywood does this as well.
Although the odds are high that it will never happen to you or me, each and every one of us could be `fair game' to the media or the government's vendetta driven shenanigans at any moment. But what's great about America, and what this film is trying to convey to us, is that thanks to our amazing Constitution... the media and government can be fair game as well.
STARRING: Paul Giamatti, Rosamund Pike, Minnie Driver, Scott Speedman, Bruce Greenwood, Mark Addy, Rachelle Lefevre, Anna Hopkins, Jake Hoffman and Dustin Hoffman
WRITTEN BY: Michael Konyves; based on the novel by: Mordecai Richler
DIRECTED BY: Richard J. Lewis
Genre: Comedy / Drama
Release Date: 07 October 2010
Review Date: 17 February 2011
There are a few sensational films that were overlooked for the bulk of Academy Award nominations this year, and Barney's Version is at the top of that list. It received a single nomination for make-up which is much deserved, but it also has far more to offer.
Paul Giamatti delivers a groundbreaking performance as Barney Panofsky for which he was awarded a Golden Globe. Barney is a balding, overweight drunk slob who is convicted of murdering his best friend. This is brought to our attention in the early moments of the film and from there Barney takes us years back, to share with us his version of what transpired. Continuous cuts from past to present display the astounding makeup jobs attributed to the characters.
We journey back to his first of three failed marriages and realize quickly that he has been this pudgy drunkard for quite some time. He marries his first wife solely on the basis that she is pregnant. When that doesn't pan out, he marries his second, for her beautiful looks. It probably doesn't hurt that she comes from money to boot.
It's during his marriage to his second wife (Minnie Driver) that Barney and his best friend (Scott Speedman) get into a drunken argument and something goes terribly wrong; the details of which involve his being accused of murder (but that's all I can say).
Barney leaves wife # 2 for another woman named Mirrian (Rosamund Pike) whom he believes he has fallen in love with at first sight. Mirrian becomes wife # 3 and they bare two children together and this is the relationship we spend the majority of the film with.
Given the subject matter this may sound like a heavy drama but it is more often than not a laugh out loud comedy. It has its dark moments and serious ones, but it is a vivid look at a goofball of a man who has surprising luck with exceptional women. We enjoy watching Barney continuously make a fool out of himself and repeatedly sabotage his own life.
Barney goes through hell and back to get Mirrian to be his lawfully wedded wife. Yet once he has her, all he can do is let her down, drink excessively and embarrass her in front of her friends at social gatherings. And should any other men come into Mirrian's life, socially or otherwise, Barney is thrown amuck. He even goes so far as to tell one family friend that Mirrian thinks he is gay.
Paul Giamatti is dead-on in this role and I was completely captivated every time he entered the frame. Giamatti adds his own likeable qualities to Barney and they are virtually all that is keeping us rooting for this obscure dimwitted character.
Dustin Hoffman plays Barney's father and there are some enormously humorous as well as tender moments shared between the two of them. Hoffman's role is a supporting one but thanks to his brilliance, it's a role that really brings the film up a notch or two.
And the lovely Mirrian character, which in virtually every way is a perfect creature, is brought to life magnificently by Rosamund Pike. Pike's demeanor is accompanied by such a genuine tranquility that she almost seems unreal. She is sensational and there is literally a glow about her.
The dialogue in this film is remarkably entertaining and the story takes us off on very rewarding conflicts and plot twists. The look and feel of it match the perfect writing and acting to a T, and I'm absolutely dumfounded that this was not considered one of the best films of the year. It was so much fun, I consider it one of the best films I've ever seen; and here I've gone on and on about it, and yet there is so much I haven't told you.
BAD LIEUTENANT: PORT OF CALL NEW ORLEANS
STARRING: Nicolas Cage, Eva Mendes, Val Kilmer, Xzibit, Brad Dourif, Jennifer Coolidge, Shawn Hatosy, Denzel Whitaker, Fairuza Balk, Tom Bower, Vondie Curtis-Hall, Irma P. Hall, Shea Whigham and Michael Shannon
WRITTEN BY: William M. Finkelstein; inspired by the previous film Bad Lieutenant, written by Victor Argo, Paul Calderon, Abel Ferrara and Zoe Lund
DIRECTED BY: Werner Herzog
Release Date: 20 November 2009
Nicolas Cage delivers his most daring performance since his Oscar winning role in Leaving Las Vegas. Much like his character in that film, Terence in The Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans, finds himself wondering down a dark path in a tornado of self destruction. He's a police officer who also happens to be a drug addict and a criminal.
There is no one big case that Terence is assigned to in this film and that is due mainly to the film's setting: a post Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans. Terence is a man who finds much to do with his new found freedom of working in the slums of a city brought nearly to its knees.
He forces himself onto women, gambles heavily, he steals drugs from both drug dealers and evidence lockers - taking them while on duty, and he cheats on his prostitute of a girlfriend. Few actors could have taken a premise as disturbing as this and a character as twisted as Terence and made both not only tolerable but likeable. Cage is an actor more than capable.
It's worth mentioning without disclosing in full detail, how good this film is at having us believe this man would be able to get away with these things. He is constantly on the verge of being found out, and yet somehow amidst his coked out madness, he is able to use his police detective wit to outsmart his counterparts and the criminals he comes into contact with who want him dead. Naturally this makes for good suspense and kept me intrigued throughout.
The film is incredibly well written and directed and strewn with good supporting top-notch actors who include Eva Mendes, Val Kilmer, Xzibit, Brad Dourif, Jennifer Coolidge, Michael Shannon and Shawn Hatosy. Even so, it is not a film that will appeal to audiences in the masses, thus its limited theatrical release. But for any true Nic Cage fan or for anyone who can find the entertainment value in something so depressing and sinister, I can't recommend it more.
HURT LOCKER, THE
STARRING: Jeremy Renner, Anthony Mackie, Brian Geraghty, Guy Pearce, Ralph Fiennes, and David Morse
WRITTEN BY: Mark Boal
DIRECTED BY: Kathryn Bigelow
Genre: Action / Thriller
Release Date: 26 June 2009
It pains me to say that I missed The Hurt Locker in theaters. On my first viewing of the film, I remember enjoying it but thinking it was not worthy of the Oscar for best picture over Up in the Air, Avatar or Inglourious Basterds. Having seen it recently for a second time that feeling remains intact; but now I can proudly consider it worthy of its place among the top five best films of 2009. If you haven't yet seen it, you seriously need to.
The Hurt Locker holds a place dear to me on a few personal levels. The first being that it is an independent film (a world that I myself am entering into); and the second is that its story centers on soldiers fighting in the Middle East (something of which I have experience in).
Jeremy Renner earns his first of two Oscar nominations as Sergeant James; an EOD bomb tech who is a little too proud of his work ethic for the comfort of his comrades. And for those of you who aren't familiar with the term EOD (Explosive Ordnance Disposal), they are an elite group of soldiers whose sole mission is to find and disarm bombs. And I'll give you another one up front: an IED is an improvised explosive device. The story takes place back in a 2004 Baghdad, Iraq.
After their bomb tech is killed in an explosion, Sergeant Sanborn (Anthony Mackie) and Specialist Eldridge (Brian Geraghty) are awarded with a new one: Sergeant James. Eldridge and Sanborn had a good thing going, they work by the book, and they're but a few weeks shy of going home.
So when James comes into the picture with his carefree tactics and cocky attitude; they are a little on edge. That James is efficiently skilled and gifted at what he does only makes matters worse for all three of them; because James is very aware that he posses these skills, and takes great joy in the adrenaline rush they reward him with.
Sanborn and James butt heads from the get-go and Sanborn quickly realizes his last few weeks are going to be among his longest. Imagine working with someone who is very good at what they do, but their cockiness is sure to get you and them fired, and they don't seem to be the least bit concerned. Now amp up the volume on that little scenario by replacing the word fired with the word killed.
James smokes frequently (even when handling dangerous explosive materials), he's all too eager to get his hands dirty when the situation doesn't necessarily call for it, and he doesn't seem to have much to live for other than the thrill of the job. And he likes to take his time when defusing these bombs, regardless of the fact that his team, himself included, are completely in the open and could be killed at any moment. The sheer fact that they are there to begin with, alerts massive suspicion to the townspeople.
As nuts as this may seem, ask yourself if you were holding security for someone defusing a bomb; if you'd like that person to be as comfortable as possible when doing so. This is James' take on his work ethic, and it makes perfect sense.
One thing you have to understand about the conflicts in the Middle East, whether it's Iraq or Afghanistan; the battlefield is everywhere. There is no safe point or zone; some are safer than others, sure. There is no one outside the wire you can fully trust: the enemy could be anyone, anywhere at any time, and they don't play by the rules. Harmless seeming objects such as cell phones, video cameras, and even kites, all have the potential of being tools of deadly destruction over there.
The film rides on suspense driven scenes of: A. a guy defusing a bomb; and B. his security team surrounded by people who may want to kill them, may have the means to do so, and may be directly responsible and capable of detonating that very bomb. If that doesn't make for a good thriller, then I don't know what would.
The Academy Award winning screenwriter (Mark Boal) spent time in Baghdad with a real EOD team and the film proves it. He nailed every detail from the soldier favorite juice boxes, to the Military jargon, to the shocking realization of just how far these people are willing to go to hide their IEDs in innovative ways.
His goal here was not to make a big Hollywood action movie, but to tell a good story, and to stay true to the men and women who serve by keeping the film believable. There are a few Hollywood moments in the film for sure, but every single thing that happens could realistically happen in real life; maybe not to the same three guys, but hey.
Mark's efforts are only matched perfectly by director Kathryn Bigelow who also won the Oscar for directing. They could have taken this project to a major studio who would have given them millions of dollars to film it in Arizona or Nevada. But instead they sought out investors overseas and filmed the movie independently and properly in the Middle East; and their hard work and commitment has paid off. There are six little shiny gold men resting on glamorous shelves somewhere, to prove it.
STARRING: Christina Aguilera, Cher, Cam Gigandet, Stanley Tucci, Kristen Bell, Eric Dane, Peter Gallagher, Alan Cumming, Julianne Hough and Dianna Agron
WRITTEN BY: Steve Antin
DIRECTED BY: Steve Antin
Rated: PG - 13
Genre: Drama / Musical
Release Date: 24 November 2010
Review Date: 18 December 2010
While Cher has been dabbling in music and movies for several years, this is musical sensation Christina Aguilera's first time on the big screen, and what a job she did. Her face is definitely a familiar one to all of us and maybe that's what makes it feel like she's been acting for so long. She's a natural.
Much like musicians Eminem and 50 Cent did, Aguilera chooses to play a character close to home for her big screen debut; you guessed it - an aspiring singer / dancer.
She's small-town girl Ali, and ups and leaves with her life savings to head to Los Angles to make it big. When she arrives, she's a little overwhelmed by the big city rush, but soon enough finds herself in a dark and tiny club called Burlesque. She enters just in time to see Cher's character Tess, performing on stage. Naturally, she's captivated, and so are we: Cher's still got it, folks.
Tess owns the club, and is on the verge of losing it to a rich L.A. playboy, Marcus (Eric Dane). Dane plays Marcus as nice a villain as he can be, and villain or not - I was forced into liking the character. Dane is a blast, and I look forward to seeing him in more things.
Tess's ex-husband and co-owner Vince (Peter Gallagher) is on Marcus's side, and wants her to sell. Tess has too many memories, and buried dreams rooted in her little club though, and to sell it would be to sell her soul. But when money isn't exactly flowing in, whatever is she to do?
Luckily, Ali is smitten with Burlesque, and is determined to get a job there. After she is told to come back and audition by Tess and her assistant, Sean (Stanley Tucci); there's a nice little moment where Ali decides to first pick up a tray and start waitressing right there on the spot. This catches Tess's attention and more importantly this early on in the story, the attention of the bar tender, Jack (Cam Gigandent).
After an unfortunate incident, Ali finds herself homeless with nowhere to go. So she shacks up with Jack, who is a safe fix because she works with him, and he has a fiancé. I enjoyed these scenes a lot, as Cam and Christina had amazing chemistry, and it was a lot of fun to see their feelings for one another boiling, with the conflict of Jack's fiancé, keeping them from acting on them.
And of course, we have the witch-character that is the club's best entertainer under Tess, until Ali comes along. Kristen Bell, plays the snarky alcoholic Nikki, to a T; which is due much praise, as we all know what a sweetheart she can be.
I've given you a lot with the characters alone, and hopefully that's enough. You can see how they will interact with one another and move the story forward. The plot and story arks we've seen a million times before, but the actors all do their jobs effortlessly, and we get some breaks from the melodrama by big musical scores that were put together quite nicely.
In addition to her great acting performance, Christina Aguilera delivers some jaw dropping dance moves and her voice sounds only better in digital surround sound.
Burlesque probably should have been an R-rated film, with more adult driven dialogue and some nudity; something one would expect to find in a club called `Burlesque'. But it does about as good as can be expected with a PG - 13.