9/29/10

Review: Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps (2010)


Oliver Stone's Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps is a solid money melodrama very much in the mold of the original, but with an irony and maturity properly advanced with Stone's age and experience as one of our great American filmmakers.

I didn't rewatch the original Wall Street in preparation for this review. It's among my many favorite movies, but it's not my favorite Oliver Stone film in particular. I think of it as an entertaining, voyeuristic and iconic picture about high finance in the eighties, with great work from Michael Douglas as Gordon Gekko.

It's so famous by now that it's a bit more than a movie. Once I watched it in high school government class, though that wasn't the first time I'd seen it. Wall Street also feels leftist and anti-corporatist, which it is, quite directly, maybe even a bit clumsily. Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps is as well, but feels more intelligent and well-earned dramatically than the original, though I don't like it quite as much. Also missing is a bit of the pure outrage and clarity of the original. But I would argue that this mostly helps the sequel.

The trailer (and the casting, frankly) gave me one idea about what Money Never Sleeps might be. Basically, it was that it could be a very good film, or it could be a lousy retread like Indiana Jones and the Whatever of Whatever. Then the film went in completely different directions from what I felt led to expect, really surprising and delighting at nearly every turn.

I can say with confidence that this is the best performance I've seen from Shia LaBeouf as Jake Moore, a trader with a modest but venerable firm run by Louis Zabel (Frank Langella, great), seemingly based on Lehman Brothers or Bear Stearns. Jake's a bit of a wonder boy there, and Zabel a truly dear figure to him.

Jake also has a fiancée, Winnie (Carey Mulligan, excellent), who happens to be the estranged daughter of Gordon Gekko (Michael Douglas, smooth, convincing), out of jail and touring with a book and inside opinions on finance. Jake, always sort of wondering how Winnie can love him and hate her father with the similarity between their high-flying Wall Street careers, can't resist making contact with Gekko, out of overwhelming personal and professional curiosity. Of course, he gets in a little over his head.

Now, I'm going to resist any spoilers here. As I said, I found the movie to be almost nothing like previews had led me to suspect, so I'm not going to say one more thing about the plot here. Josh Brolin is strong as Bretton James, a sort of unreformed Gekko-like rival/mentor of Jake's. Eli Wallach has a memorable if fairly inconsequential cameo, and there's another cameo from the previous film, also mostly inconsequential but quite welcome.

Brian Eno's and David Byrne's songs add a retro eighties feel while at the same time, like the progression from Wall Street to Money Never Sleeps, wisdom and experience have added some welcome mellowness and maturity. They're a perfect fit for the film.

Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps keeps secrets and leaves some things understated, some things unsaid, but none unconsidered. It's smarter about money than Wall Street, and overall the characters feel more organic. It makes a lot of sense, maybe more sense than the original, though I can't say it surpasses the original in toto. I wouldn't have minded a few more trims. But the return of Gekko in another great performance from Michael Douglas is more than worth the price of admission. And the movie really works.

Alex
The Magic of the Movies

9/26/10

Review: Catfish (2010)


Ariel Schulman's and Henry Joost's Catfish is a cautionary documentary about online relationships, and the perils of communicating with arty types from New York with video cameras. I could tell you the ballyhooed twist and, as Roger Ebert said about Inception, it still could not spoil the film. But I still won't; I'm going to try to talk around it for nine paragraphs.

The famous line from The Usual Suspects says that the "greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn't exist." The greatest trick Catfish may pull is to convince you that it doesn't exist.

But the film this one reminded me of the most, okay, along with The Blair Witch Project and Paranormal Activity, is Amir Bar-Lev's My Kid Could Paint That, about young artist Marla Olmstead and suspicions that her work might not be everything it's represented to be. If you watched all three movies three times in a row and then immediately wrote a screenplay, you'd probably come up with something like Catfish. You still might decide to go a different way than Catfish does.

I'm hinting around about twist endings and issues of veracity, social relations, public relations, online relations, beauty, attraction and youth, and that's a pretty good listing of what Catfish is all about. If you like mysteries and are observant, you may watch and find clues to this or that about the actual veracity of the film's claims to be a documentary, to sway you either way, but for me, it worked. I still am not sure what to think about the question, or if it matters. Going in, I felt differently. Is this the mark of a great film, or a great con? Definitely.

The film concerns a New York photographer, Yaniv "Nev" Schulman, who has a photo published in the New York Sun. He is contacted by a young girl on Facebook who wants to render it as a painting. This is welcome, and interesting, and soon she's painting more of his work, some on her own and some at his request. Proper social etiquette follows, with contacts with the girl's family, including her mother, Angela, father and older sister Megan, with whom Nev develops a convincing and relatively steamy online and telephone romance.

But some things Megan says seem to test credibility, raising questions about the whole family and Nev's budding friendship with them all. (Here, and throughout the film, there is great music, both in the narrative and in Mark Mothersbaugh's score.) Attempts to meet with any family members and verify any details meet with little success.

What would you do? In the film, they keep filming and moving forward. But just the ideas of caution and sensibility which would run through anybody's head at this point begin to create suspense, excitement, even a bit of dread. What could the secret be? How elaborate could this con be, if it's a con, and to what end? The film is rated PG-13, so one can reasonably infer beforehand that the movie is not Hostel nor even quite The Wicker Man or Children of the Corn. But where's the line going to be drawn?

Some may find the answers unsatisfactory, or practically nonexistent. Some might call it predictable, or lackluster. But it's handled pretty meticulously, and touches on the issues raised in a deeper way than some films which rely in some part--for marketing, or dramatic purposes, or both--on a real-life mystery, an impenetrable curio or a cheap stunt. Like the recent, and somewhat similar The Last Exorcism, I think Catfish may prestidigitate a bit too much, though not quite as far as The Last Exorcism. And the lead "performance" of Catfish doesn't really hold a candle to Patrick Fabian's in The Last Exorcism, but that doesn't hurt too much.

Catfish is compelling, but compelling what? I decided it's a compelling ad for art, and a bit more. Don't keep reading reviews, go see it if it seems interesting. Heck, even if you think you've had it spoiled for you in advance, try it and you might see you really haven't. It's very interesting. It's a remarkable and promising first film, fun, suspenseful, and smart. I got hooked.

Alex
The Magic of the Movies

9/24/10

Review: Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole (2010)


Zack Snyder's Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole, based upon the books by Kathryn Lasky (which I have not read), is a gorgeous, action-packed computer-animated owl tale which unfortunately suffers from a bit of editing attention deficit disorder common to many action films these days, when cuts and chops come so fast that it's disorienting if not impossible to tell what's going on a lot of the time.

Despite that common and completely ridiculous flaw, it has an okay script and story and some really stunning moments. But seriously, action directors, can we talk? Many of your films would be about one hundred times better if you would let the audience see them. I know, with storyboards and/or computer animation work, and actually shooting, compositing and editing all this stuff, you get to stare at some of these truly astounding movie worlds until you're sick of them.

We in the audience get to see less of them, so please add some seconds to your crazy-cuts, or pull the angle of view out a bit so we can get a physical idea of what's happening, and we'll love you for it. This might have been a four-star movie if not for the bad action moments.

Seriously, is it the drugs, Hollywood? Too much caffeine? Bad conventional wisdom about attention spans in the Internet age? Whatever, it's not cute, it's stupid. Millions for eye-busting effects, action violence and lavishly painted worlds you are not going to actually show us? Knock it off, jerks. I'd rather see those worlds than your name in the credits, or your blinky idea of excitement.

All right, enough of that rant, though I think this is a good place for it. Aside from shooting itself in the foot on the action front, Owls has a pretty engaging story, as well as some good views of the world it creates. Soren (voice of Jim Sturgess), our hero, is a young fledgling Tito owl who lives in "The Hollow" with his parents, younger sister Eglantine (voiced by Adrienne DeFaria) and brother Cludd (voice of Ryan Kwanten). (Most of the owls seem to live in "The Hollow," but apparently not the self-same hollow.) Soren's still learning to fly, as is his brother, and Soren and Eglantine thrill to stories told by their father of "The Guardians," a mythical group of warrior owls who fight for truth and justice in dark times. Cludd thinks the stories are stupid.

On an unauthorized outing to test their wings, Soren and Cludd are whisked away to another corner of owldom where the work is compulsory and the tenor fascistic. Now the good owls need the Guardians, not just inspiring tales about them.

The film is clearly inspired by, and takes some tips from fantasy films like The Lord of the Rings series, the Narnia movies, The Wizard of Oz, and more, and it's ambitious to tell its own story and find a place among the greats, but it doesn't quite make it. It's just okay, with beautiful birds.

Visually, the owls are amazing, appealing, stunningly portrayed, really. We like them more than the story actually makes them likable, so some lacking elements can be forgiven, and the film still pulls you along, to a point. The emotional elements of the various fights, however, as mentioned above, are undercut by rapid, incoherent cuts. We feel like rooting for the good guys, then wonder if this or that slice of pixels might be them.

Despicable Me and Toy Story 3 are still playing in my town, and they should definitely make any movie priority list before Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole. But if your kids have read the books or really want to see it, it's all right. Very young kids might not do well with all of the action violence or scary story elements, but I'd vote that eight years old and up is probably about right. It is gorgeous (at least the parts which can be clearly seen before being yanked away). Mr. Snyder: Relax, breathe. Give us a break.

Alex
The Magic of the Movies

9/22/10

Review: The Town (2010)


Ben Affleck's The Town, based on the novel Prince of Thieves, by Chuck Hogan (which I have not read), is a smart, fast-paced heist film with a heart of gold. It may be a little too perfect for its own good, but it delivers a thrill ride with great performances and a clever, solid picaresque film without being too flashy. It's maybe a bit neat, but that's a minor complaint.

Affleck co-wrote, directed and stars as Doug MacRay, a former rising hockey star whose lacking skating skills and goofing off getting in fights got him kicked out of training camp and led him home to Charlestown and the only other life he had any training for, armed robbery, just like his old man.

Charlestown is talked up early as the armed robbery capital of America, so much so that a disclaimer appears near the end assuring us that Charlestown folks are just like any folks anywhere.

The Charlestown folks we meet in The Town, however, are true psychopaths. Affleck's character is made both the most sympathetic, and the smartest of the crew. He seems to have some shreds of conscience, if not for public order, and tries to keep his armed robberies non-violent. As in real life, this is easier said than done.

MacRay's crew is made up of his childhood friend and blood brother, James Coughlin (Jeremy Renner, very good, Cagney-esque), who's seen some prison time, driver Albert Magloan (Slaine), and tech guy Desmond Elden (Owen Burke). They're ruthless, efficient and read-up on the latest in forensics, leaving little or no traces behind on their jobs. We follow them through three jobs, the first of which introduces a complication.

James takes a hostage during the first robbery on which we ride along, a bank teller named Claire Keesey (Rebecca Hall, excellent), and later worries because she might have seen something to which she could testify. Doug assures him he'll take care of it, and promptly stalks and falls in love with her. The feeling seems mutual, until, of course, the investigation progresses, James gets antsier and secrets are dragged out into the open.

Leading the investigation is the FBI's Adam Frawley (Jon Hamm of "Mad Men," very good and looking like Superman, a role he's rumored to be considered for). Hamm's character is smart but constrained for a while. He's effective if not always likable, or as wise as one might hope from our real law enforcers. But when he finally goes on offense, all bets are off.

Chris Cooper is very effective in nearly a cameo role as MacRay's father. Despite lacking screen time, he makes a strong impression amazingly economically. Affleck, Renner, Hall, Hamm, Blake Lively as Coughlin's sister and Pete Postlethwaite as "the florist" are all outstanding. The relationship between Doug and Claire gets very forced, logically, but our actors make it believable when it maybe shouldn't quite be. The score is tense and appropriate, though there are two composers listed, and two distinct styles to the music, and one theme was perhaps not as well used as it might have been.

If you're just looking for an exciting action picture, The Town is definitely one. Great performances and attention to detail lift it above genre limitations to something more, despite flaws. It's not quite as good as Affleck's devastating feature directing debut, Gone Baby Gone, but give it a try.

Alex
The Magic of the Movies

9/20/10

Review: Devil (2010)


John Erick Dowdle's Devil, from a story by M. Night Shyamalan (and script by Brian Nelson), is a great, strong start to Shyamalan's "The Night Chronicles" suspense series. More than your average horror/suspense film, it contemplates life, evil, the city and human failings in a profound, deep, moving, involving and surprising way. It's a beautiful puzzle in plain sight and a pure pleasure, a truly great film.

Devil opens on an ordinary day in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Normal in every way, that is, except that as we tour the city from above, we see it upside down. These opening shots are reminiscent of the folding cityscapes in Inception, and they're just as beautiful, and maybe more meaningful. There's just enough of it to truly make a statement and set a waking nightmare tone which sustains throughout the film, also in league with Fernando Velázquez's dark, solid score and Tak Fujimoto's assured cinematography.

The opening is accompanied by narration from someone we haven't met yet, who starts a folk tale about "The Devil's Meeting," a series of supernatural revelations which occur from time to time, some iteration of which we may be about to witness.

Then immediately we are thrust into the story as Detective Bowden (Chris Messina, great, apparently channeling Jimmy Stewart) meets with his AA sponsor before going on duty. There's a lot to Bowden. He's quick, smart, notices details. He's a very good policeman. Sometimes he follows a particular lead which seems to bypass others, but he doesn't forget anything. There's also a mournful quality to him, for good reason.

While Bowden investigates a death, five seeming strangers enter an elevator in a tall downtown office building. What happens inside, I cannot say, but it is shown with a level of mystery, restraint and detail which is admirable and effective. I won't even tell you the character names of the five, but Geoffrey Arend plays a glib salesman, Logan Marshall-Green (looking like Tom Hardy from Inception) plays a mechanic, Jenny O'Hara an older woman and Bojana Novakovic a younger woman, and finally Bokeem Woodbine a security guard from the building. The elevator stalls. Bowden investigates. The five interact, get snippy, clash and/or form alliances.

That's about all I can say about the plot without ruining it. The film seems to be suffering from its Shyamalan lineage at the box office, so maybe a bunch of people will miss satisfying the mystery for themselves. Their loss. I'm not the biggest Shyamalan fan in the world. I've missed some of his films and don't feel a particular urge to remedy that. If you'd told me at the beginning of the year that I'd be giving two Shyamalan efforts four stars, I might have laughed. But I have to call them as I see them, and Devil is a masterpiece, shot-perfect, note-perfect.

It's taut, too, maybe easy to accomplish with a fairly straightforward but still surprising 80-minute film, but truly that's the perfect length. Nothing is forced, belabored, or missing. The film reminded me of previous sharp work by Shyamalan, and also It's a Wonderful Life, United 93, Rob Zombie's excellent Halloween II, Paranormal Activity and Cloverfield. It's tense, it pays off, it works its symbols, characters and story expertly, masterfully, artistically, never overplaying its hand.

All of the acting is top-flight, with even minor characters getting moments to shine or contribute dramatic pieces which make the whole thing go. Messina, Woodbine, Marshall-Green, Novakovic and Jacob Vargas as another security guard stand out from the pack a bit, but nobody flubs anything.

Devil is just a great movie, a great time at the movies, fun, dark, moody, paced perfectly and built to last. I call it not-to-be-missed. If you hate Shyamalan or feel let down by him, don't let it infect your perceptions of this great film. Or do, I'll probably watch it enough times for it to break even. I've already seen it twice and will again.

Alex
The Magic of the Movies

9/17/10

Shop the Shop!

Check out the Choose Our President 2012 Shop. Since '05, I've sold items in all 50 states and the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, Guam, the U.S. Virgin Islands, U.S. military bases overseas, Alberta, British Columbia, Ontario, Quebec and Saskatchewan, Canada, the Australian Capital Territory, New South Wales, Queensland, South Australia, Tasmania, Victoria and Western Australia, Australia, the United Kingdom, Austria, Brazil, Denmark, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Singapore, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan and Turkey. I've sold campaign items for President Barack Obama (IL) and for first lady for Michelle Obama, as well as Colbert for President and Olbermann for President items.

There are 2010 congressional campaign items, Senate campaign items and governor's race items available and no doubt for more and more candidates as we get on toward the 2010 election and beyond. Candidate stores have buttons, rectangular, oval, and bumper stickers, notebooks, mugs, shirts, yard signs and more, so get decked out and support your candidates early!

Along with specific-candidate items, there are Democrat and state and national flag items, and more at my politics and humor shop.

Thanks,

Alex
Choose Our President 2012

Review: Alpha and Omega (2010)


Alpha and Omega is a trite, forced, boring retread of The Lion King which could only have been designed by a committee without a boss. It has no vision and little charm. It has questionably computer-y animation which looks and moves terribly in 3-D. It has no fun voice performances, character development or good music. There is a basic thread of a story you may find yourself shredding trying to hold onto until the final credits, so it charts a bit higher on my scale than some lousier films, but folks, that is low praise. Run your fingers over its movie brain and you will find no grooves.

There are these animated wolves, see, in animated Wyoming, who live by wolf pack law, a strict segregation between Alphas and Omegas, except for when their two stated purposes--hunting and distracting with humor for various reasons, respectively--come into alignment.

Kate (voice of Hayden Panettiere) is "The Wolf Princess," the daughter of the leader of the pack, Winston (voiced by Danny Glover)--because kids love throwaway Tarantino references--who is coming into her own as a grown-up Alpha and learning about some of the hard choices adults and leaders must make.

Her fun-loving childhood companion, Humphrey (voice of Justin Long), pronounced "home free," an Omega with a major-league crush on Kate, is fun-loving and has a major-league crush on Kate.

Kate has only just learned about an arranged marriage with the risible but earnest Garth (voiced by Chris Carmack) designed to unite two feuding wolfpacks, when some pesky human conservationists muck everything up by tranquilizing and transporting Kate and Humphrey to Idaho to repopulate another national park with wolves. This has worked startlingly well in real life, but of course seems somewhat presumptuous to our rather pointlessly anthropomorphized cartoon wolf heroes.

So Kate and Humphrey must journey back to Wyoming, Kate to fulfill what she sees as her responsibilities to the pack, Humphrey for fun and because Kate is. Along the way, they meet not-particularly-interesting golfing goose Marcel (voiced by Larry Miller), who sometimes sounds French?(-Canadian?) and his duck caddy, Paddy, who's British or something. Maybe they were intended to be funny. The interesting animals they meet along the way have no lines, because they are animals with animal instincts, and that would be dangerously interesting.

There are lots of particular plot elements which might have been expanded into something meaningful, or useful for character development--the stratification of the wolf society, Marcel and Paddy's purposes as characters, conservation and its successes and failures, Kate and Humphrey's love story--but everything's told in shorthand, and interesting questions and happenings are instantly forgotten the few times they are raised. It's relatively inoffensive, because it engages no dramatic or humorous issues. Whatever thought may have gone into it has been rubbed out by somebody else working fast over here to make sure there are no actual thoughts left extant. Oh, don't get me wrong, it is mildly, casually sexist, racist, misogynistic and homophobic, but clearly only from cluelessness, and in no way which would require or sustain much analysis or rebuttal. (I admit I'm a bit embarrassed to write this about a talking wolf movie, but I'll leave it in because it's true.)

The film doesn't even look good. It's at least two more illustration passes away from being theatrically releasable, in my opinion. We know it's computer animation, but we're never supposed to be able to see that on the screen with incomplete, ugly blocky characters and backgrounds of what are supposed to be some of the most beautiful places in America, looking like when the scene scrolls between shots in golf video games. It makes the least interesting use of the extra dimension of 3-D films that I have seen, mostly because of blurriness, also because of bad blocking. And some fine and just-okay actors' vocal performances are wasted in a film with few emotional notes and little wit. The score, by Chris P. Bacon, is rather listless Americana which matches the unimaginative landscape.

If you're truly desperate for an animated movie, you could theoretically do worse than Alpha and Omega for an afternoon matinee, but I would urge you to reconsider your desperation level. It's not a run-screaming-from-the-theater-bad movie, it prompts more philosophical questions, like "Why are we here?" and "Did I really pay enough attention when I skimmed Dianetics?" but generally, anyone would be well advised to find a stronger and more entertaining movie, and could certainly easily do so. Why not give Alpha and Omega a solid skip.

Alex
The Magic of the Movies

9/3/10

Review: Machete (2010)


Robert Rodriguez's and Ethan Maniquis's Machete is a hyperviolent, laugh-a-minute, wry, brilliant mix of max Mexploitation, "South Park" riots, scenery-chewing, bloody revenge and bright comedic political commentary from the one and only Robert Rodriguez y familia. Watch it.

It's simultaneously a tougher-than-nails, over-the-top-of-the-top exploitation film itself, a parody of exploitation films that hardly dreamed of the level of violence here, a pretty smart political farce/satire and a joy to behold. How is this even possible? We can only watch and learn. Machete is one of Rodriguez's best best movies.

Based on Danny Trejo's multi-dimensional character, who appeared as weapons expert Uncle Machete in the Spy Kids movies and in a fake trailer for this movie in the Grindhouse double feature directed by Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino, here we get Machete's federale origin story in Mexico before the (awesome) opening credits and a new adventure in Austin, Texas, after.

I say "multi-dimensional" about Machete Cortez not because he does more than say wry things, kill people and be irresistible to women, but because this story takes place in a different movie world than the kids-adventure Spy Kids films. This film is more of a fairy tale than a fantasy like the previous ones. Cheech Marin and Daryl Sabara also appear from those films, as slightly different characters, though Sabara, aged at least a month, still plays Machete's sobrino, if only in the sense popularized by Snoop Dogg.

Like Lisbeth in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Machete escapes from official corruption to wander into further official corruption, mostly beyond his control or ability to walk away. The confrontations are inevitable. Like George Clooney's Jack in The American, his choices are to kill, be killed or abandon himself entirely, and also like Clooney's character, Machete, faced with such choices, eats well, hides out and takes full advantage of his irresistibility to women, between killings.

I hesitate to describe too much of the plot, but it's not really a spoiler to say that after betrayal in Mexico, Machete wanders across the border with little hope or direction and becomes enmeshed in political schemes which involve him with Jeff Fahey's Michael Booth, an aide to state senator John McLaughlin (Robert De Niro, funny, not slumming), Don Johnson's border vigilante Von Jackson, Michelle Rodriguez's taco-truck operator involved with a Mexican immigrant "Network" and Jessica Alba's beautiful Latina ICE agent with conflicted loyalties. Along the way, he gets help from his brother, the forward-thinking Padre (Cheech Marin).

It's an excuse for a crazy, hilarious, shoot-'em-up "South Park" episode of a Robert Rodriguez film. The political machinations are ridiculous, sharp and witty, in a realm of political commentary which completely embraces the absurd alongside some more believable developments and still makes a ton of cogent political statements with its violence, humor and silliness. It never misses one possible joke. There's even the familiar refrain, "Oh my God! They killed"--whomsoever. "The Network" alone is a brilliant play on the current immigration imbroglio, subversive, sublime and funny just as an idea, and also in how it plays out. Steven Seagal plays Mexicano. Lindsay Lohan plays herself as a nun.

Machete features great performances from Trejo, De Niro, Fahey, Don Johnson, Cheech, Michelle Rodriguez, Alba, Sabara, Seagal and Lohan. It has non-stop action and laughs, with visual action jokes worthy of the Latino love child of Buster Keaton and Sam Peckinpah. It's Robert Rodriguez's Coffy, Cleopatra Jones, Kill Bill, I'm Gonna Git You Sucka and A Day Without a Mexican all rolled into one. Machete is also a "Nash Bridges," Desperado, From Dusk Till Dawn, Heat and Spy Kids reunion, if you're keeping track. It's the movie I wanted Once Upon a Time in Mexico to be.

They were giving out free taco coupons after one of the (two) times I've seen it so far, but I didn't take one to avoid its influencing this review. You're welcome. As with Piranha 3D and The Expendables, the level of violence here is so high that the squeamish must be warned away, and tacos might not seem so appealing afterward anyhow. But don't be squeamish and warned-away. If you watch Machete now, you'll be all ready for Machete Kills and Machete Kills Again.

Alex
The Magic of the Movies

Pence leads 2012 GOP presidential nominee web poll results for August

Rep. Mike Pence (IN) led August voting for who respondents thought would be the 2012 Republican presidential nominee. As usual, this is of self-selected voters of any party who found my website, so it is not scientific in any way. (This means you should not complain that it was not scientific because it's never going to be.) Voting is just for fun, please no wagering. Here are this month's results:

August 2010

#1 - Rep. Mike Pence (IN) ... 18.6%
#2 - Fmr. House Speaker Newt Gingrich (GA) ... 14.9%
#3 - Fmr. Gov. Sarah Palin (AK) ... 13.7%
#4 - Sen. John Thune (SD) ... 10.6%
#5 - Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (TX) ... 9.9%
#6 - Rep. Ron Paul, M.D. (TX) ... 6.8%
#7 - Senate Min. Leader Mitch McConnell (KY) ... 6.2%
#7 - Gov. Tim Pawlenty (MN) ... 6.2%
#8 - Other ... 5.6%
#9 - Fmr. Vice Pres. Dan Quayle (IN / AZ) ... 4.3%
#10 - Gov. Haley Barbour (MS) ... 1.9%
#11 - Fmr. Gov. Tom Ridge (PA) ... .6%
#11 - Fmr. Gov. Mitt Romney (MI / UT / MA) ... .6%

161 total votes cast / Margin of error ±100%

You can vote for this month's new poll here, or click the vote button from any of the Choose Our President 2012 pages.

Alex
Choose Our President 2012

9/1/10

Review: The American (2010)


Anton Corbijn's The American, based on the novel A Very Private Gentleman by Martin Booth (which I have not read), and starring George Clooney as a world-weary hitman looking for something else, is a moving and accomplished semi-allegorical action suspense thriller. It does bring to mind great assassin and other action movies of the past (directly referencing Sergio Leone in more than one way) without feeling like a rehash, and it sticks with its characters and story to the end.

We meet Clooney's assassin, alternately known as Jack or Edward, on holiday in heaven at the top of the world in Sweden with a lovely companion (Irina Björklund, lovely). A walk in the snow alters some of their self-satisfied plans, and Jack heads further into the wilds of the EU to Italy to consult with his mysterious boss, an utter staple of mysterious-assassin films, Pavel (Johan Leysen, strong), who of course has luxurious hideouts and lucrative hitjobs on speed dial twenty-four hours a day.

Lackluster set-up? Not really, it's pretty effective for whatever genre limitations apply. We're quickly and believably--in context--ushered into Jack and Pavel's world and invited to look around, and it's all illustrated convincingly as the story progresses, sustaining the chief metaphors fairly ably. Out of context--oh, but why bother with that?

Some of the semi-allegory does suffer from repetition and a meditative pace which sometimes causes symbols to get a tad more meditation than strictly necessary, at times flirting with ponderousness. Still, like a couple of other notable time-warp films--films in which you notice the experience of viewing it seems timeless or interminable at the same time you realize you don't mind a bit--which I have enjoyed, Jim Jarmusch's Dead Man and Mel Gibson's Braveheart, or like the more recent The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, everything's there for a memorable, enjoyable time and a feeling afterward that what you've seen is profound and meaningful, or close.

The American comes close. It also compares favorably with similarly ambitious films of this year with similar themes, Shutter Island and Inception, without all the complicated fooferaw of a ponderous framing story, mindbending special effects or a big-reveal ending. Sometimes when you put a character in purgatory, you can just put him right, just right slap there in purgatory without need for sci-fi, drugs, psychotherapy or what-have-you.

You can just play it straight. Clooney does, and his performance is the film. We see most of the action through his character's eyes, or framed directly on his character, with a few exceptions of additional angles. He plays Jack's tension, uncertainty, suspense, exertion, mental discipline, world-weariness, and extremity rather brilliantly, and not just on his face, but with his every movement. He's as physically expressive here as in his most outlandish comic-farce performances, in a totally different, obviously and necessarily more subdued, but wholly dedicated way.

The strong supporting cast includes Björklund and Leysen, previously mentioned. Leysen, with what could have been a boring or predictable character, is terse, economically used and indeed seems almost the pluperfect assassin-runner. Paolo Bonacelli is colorful and wise as the perceptive priest Father Benedetto. Thekla Reuten is gorgeous, smart and utterly put-together as one of Jack's professional colleagues. And Violante Placido as Clara takes another worn movie stereotype and breathes some specific life into it.

Herbert Grönemeyer composed the score, and it deserves special mention. It's varied and versatile, sometimes just tickling the moviegoer lightly under the chin, sometimes charging ahead, sometimes jazzy, sometimes synthetic, usually adding to the suspense or other mood of the scene. There's Ennio Morricone in there, for sure, and more.

Anybody might like The American. George Clooney fans will particularly be glad to spend this time with him on the big screen. Action fans with short attention spans need not apply, but others should be satisfied with the tension, conflicts and resolution. Anton Corbijn has crafted a striking and elemental film with a great lead performance from Clooney. It's not perfect; it's very worthy.

Alex
The Magic of the Movies