Monday, March 31, 2008

In Bruges

It's likely that most of you haven't heard of this movie, but I guess I just changed that. It was only playing in one theater in all of Indianapolis (super limited release; Keystone Arts Cinema), so my guess is that you didn't have an opportunity to see it. I don't know when it will be released onto DVD, but I'm guessing mid-summer.

Rather than try and explain the premise, I'll simply give you the preview (it's about 2 1/2 minutes long):

So, there you go. Let me first preface my review by saying that I hate--hate--Colin Ferrel. I don't know if I've ever liked any of the movies he's been in; or, at least, I don't think I've liked him in any of the movies he's in. He was fine in Minority Report and he was okay in The New World, but he's basically ruined any other movie he's ever been in. His main problem is that he sucks. At everything. Plus, he can't hold an accent. (Christian Bale is so good at his American accent that several of my friends had no idea wasn't American.) What helps Ferrell here is that he's allowed to keep his natural [Irish] brogue. Brendan Gleeson--perhaps more familiar to you as Professor "Mad Eye" Moody from Harry Potter--picks up any slack that Ferrell leaves. At the risk of sounding too professional-movie-reviewer-ish, Ralph Fiennes was "delightfully wicked" as the sinister boss.

The film was written by Martin McDonagh, who hasn't done much else. He's clearly seen all of Guy Ritchie's films; McDonaugh manages to pay tribute without encroaching. And thankfully, In Bruges--one of a recent crop of movies about assassins that emotionally/mentally unravel in a supposedly comic way (
The Matador; You Kill Me)--this movie has actual scenes that inspire laughter, and the action is good and appropriately suspenseful. The movie is rife with foul language, drug use, and poking fun at Americans (and Americans who turn out to be Canadians) and midgets, but it was usually funny so I didn't really care. I do need to warn you that there are a few scenes of gratuitous violence, but they weren't enough to make my stomach churn.

I saw The Bank Job a few weeks ago, and although it got good reviews (78% on Rotten Tomatoes), In Bruges is a much better movie. Granted, In Bruges is going for the dark comedy + action angle while Bank Job is merely action + a few laughs, but I didn't really care about any of the characters in Bank Job, the action wasn't very intense, and the story--although "based on true events"--was not riveting. In In Bruges (is there a better way to start that sentence?), on the other hand, I found myself caring about the characters--yes, even Colin Ferrell--while the action and story were both good. And to boot, the movie made me want to visit Bruges some day (it looks like a less-smelly version of Venice).

Final Grade: B/B+
Blurb: Although not as good as Snatch or Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels, In Bruges contains laughs, action, beautiful scenery, an interesting story, good cinematography, some [surprisingly] good acting, and is a nice--yet not pitch-perfect--mix of action and dark comedy.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Into the Wild

I thought about starting this blog with a review of Undertow (2004; written/directed by David Gordon Green), which I watched today, but I didn't want to start my blog with a movie that nobody had ever heard of...

Into the Wild (ITW) is based on the life Chris McCandless, a young man who hobo-ed around the US and then went to Alaska... and then he found five dollars. ITW is Sean Penn's fourth attempt to direct a major film. His last attempt was The Pledge (2001; starring Jack Nicholson) and it was one of the worst movies I've ever seen. If given the choice of watching The Pledge again or getting a bowlcut haircut... wait, that's not even a fair choice!

Although Penn has directed before, the amount of effects he uses in ITW makes you believe that he has never directed before (and watching The Pledge makes you believe that he doesn't know how to read scripts). All the effects seem to be random: one scene has slow motion, the next has blurry images, the one after that is in fast forward, then the next one has words appear on the screen, then there are brief, less-than-one-second flashbacks. Wes Anderson may overuse the slowmo effect (according to some), but he's found something that works and he has stuck with it. Penn and his schizophrenic use of effects reminds me of somebody that has just discovered how to use PowerPoint: each new slide has the words flying in or circling in or magically appearing or being "typed" by a typewriter. Memo to Penn: less is more.

The acting in ITW is fine. The lead is played by Emile Hirsch, one of the stars of Alpha Dog, the epic of our time (Brandon rented it one time and made me watch it with him ... we turned it off after 23 minutes). I'll say this about Hirsch: he can't grow a beard! It remains evident throughout the film that although the main character is in the wild, he has a short and perfectly manicured beard at almost all times. In the scenes in which Hirsch's beard was supposed to be haggard, it looked like somebody had shaved James Gandolfini's back and glued it to Hirsch's face. To a beard aficionado such as myself, it was disappointing and distracting. Shouldn't the call for actors have insisted that the actor who is going to portray man who lived out of a backpack for two years be able to grow a believable beard? Penn: you should've spent less money on those effects and more on a make-up artist.

ITW was nominated for two Oscars. Hal Holbrook (who?) was nominated for Best Supporting Actor with his role as a nice old man. He did a fine job acting, but he was only on screen for about 10 minutes in a movie that was 148 minutes long. Should you even be nominated if you are only in about 5% of the movie? I think this nomination was the Academy's way of saying, "Sean, remember that one time when you went to Iraq? That was totally awesome!" The other nomination was Jay Cassidy for Best Achievement in Editing. I tell you what, I think he deserved the nomination given the crazy variance in angles and the scratch-your-retina-with-a-fork amount of effects Penn employed.

Grade: C
Blurb: The scenery is beautiful and the story is sometimes inspiring, but the movie is 20 minutes longer than it needs to be and Penn's direction leads me to believe that he should be clinically diagnosed with ADHD. I'll say this about Sean Penn: he's a good actor.

I Watch More Movies Than You

I watch a lot of movies (I do the whole Blockbuster-in-the-mail program). Also, my opinions are better than yours, as is my taste in film. Thus, I need to tell you what you should think about certain movies because your thoughts on those same movies are wrong. That's right, I just said your opinions are incorrect.

I have invited former roommate and current pettifogger-in-training Brandon Dodgen to be my co-author on this blog. Like me, Brandon has the Blockbuster program; unlike me, he is willing to spend money on stupid movies such as Norbit, R. V., Kickin' it Old School, and License to Wed. He is a man of the people. I sit comfortably in the saddle of my high horse, passing judgment on those below, while Brandon dismounts to follow the trail of idiots right into the theater, just like E. T. and those tasty Reese's Pieces.

Neither Brandon nor I have any film school training. But we watch a lot of movies and I thought we should share our thoughts with you. I hope our posts will encourage you to watch some films and stay away from others. Yeah, your welcome.