Tuesday, October 30, 2012


Month’s back, when I first heard about Ben Affleck’s latest directorial project, Argo, I thought it was a comedy. At first glance, the material, which was plucked from history after recently being declassified, was too outrageous to be anything but comical; however, the trailer made it apparent that this was a very serious movie. After seeing it this past week, I must admit, all the Oscar talk is warranted as it was simply a great movie.

For those who don’t know about Argo, here’s the storyline as written by Kenneth Chisholm on IMDb: In 1979, the American embassy in Iran was invaded by Iranian revolutionaries and several Americans are taken hostage. However, six manage to escape to the official residence of the Canadian Ambassador and the CIA is eventually ordered to get them out of the country. With few options, exfiltration expert Tony Mendez devises a daring plan: to create a phony Canadian film project looking to shoot in Iran and smuggle the Americans out as its production crew. With the help of some trusted Hollywood contacts, Mendez creates the ruse and proceeds to Iran as its associate producer. However, time is running out with the Iranian security forces closing in on the truth while both his charges and the White House have grave doubts about the operation themselves.”

Affleck not only directed the film, he starred as the aforementioned Mendez. Before I get into Affleck’s acting chops, let me just say that I think he’s a hell of a director. This was his third major film, which followed the critically acclaimed Gone Baby Gone (2007) and The Town (2010), and I’ve been impressed with them all. Affleck has earned my respect as a director and I look forward to his future projects.

With that said, I’ve always been hesitant regarding Affleck’s acting abilities. I don’t know why exactly, but I’ve never considered him anything more than a mediocre performer. Don’t get me wrong; I’ve always been satisfied with Affleck, just never blown away. I liked him in Reindeer Games, Pearl Harbor, Daredevil, Smokin’ Aces and The Company Men, just to name a few, but he didn’t perform exceptionally. He didn’t do that in Argo either, but admittedly his portrayal of Mendez is was fulfilling.

What Affleck did have was a strong supporting cast, and together they brought the story to life. Alan Arkin and John Goodman did tremendous as two Hollywood vets who helped bring the film within the film to “life”, and both are being mentioned for a Best Supporting Actor nomination. I’ve long thought Goodman was a talented actor, and it’s nice to see him finally get his due. Other stand-out performances were delivered by Breaking Bad’s Bryan Cranston, who played CIA handler Jack O’Donnell; and Clea Duvall (no relation to Robert Duvall), who played hostage Cora Lijek.

Argo had an interesting storyline anchored in history and supported by a strong cast. At no point did I feel the film lagged; in fact, I think Affleck did a stupendous job injecting tension into what were fairly blasé situations. I quickly became invested in the characters and at times it felt as if I was among the hostages trying to escape with my life. It’s not often that a movie is able to establish that sort of connection.

I was also impressed with the time period modifications. The film takes place in 1979, and everything was spot on. From the outfits to technology, a great deal of attention was paid to every detail, which gave the entire film a sense of authenticity. It also made me wonder how different crises were back in they day without the convenience of cell phones and the Internet.

If you’re looking for an action-packed shoot-em-up film, Argo’s not for you (I don’t recall a gun being fired in the movie); however, if you want a top-notch thriller driven by performance, dialogue and suspense, then look no further. Argo is one of the best films of the year, and I recommend you see it while you can,

Buddies Forever Movie Club Rating: 87%

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Tuesday, October 16, 2012


I’m a big fan of both Bruce Willis and Joseph Gordon-Levitt, so it didn’t take much convincing for me to go and see Looper, the new Action/Sci-Fi/Thriller time-traveling flick. What’s more, the film looked like an original, which was nice after a summer full of reboots, sequels and comic-book movies.

For those who don’t know what Looper’s about, here’s how IMDb describes it: “In 2074, when the mob wants to get rid of someone, the target is sent 30 years into the past, where a hired gun awaits. Someone like Joe, who one day learns the mob wants to 'close the loop' by transporting back Joe's future self.”

The movie was written and directed by Rian Johnson, who previously directed two episodes of Breaking Bad (Fly and Fifty-One) and 2005’s critically claimed Brick, which also starred Gordon-Levitt. Johnson has a reputation as an up-and-coming filmmaker that brings a healthy does of originality to his films. Johnson’s style is a bit different and somewhat of an acquired taste, but I was more than willing to give it a try.

Ironically, Looper had me going in circles as to whether or not I liked it. The story was certainly unique, but it began to convolute itself with an assortment of elements. For example, as if the time-traveling story wasn’t engaging enough, Johnson throws in a telekinesis component that eventually leads to a bunch of new conflicst. What starts off with Joe (Gordon-Levitt) taking on the mob entities, most notably Jeff Daniels’ character Abe, soon breaks into tangents such as Joe vs. Old Joe (Willis), Old Joe vs. the future/Rainmaker, etc. There was a lot going on, and while I think Johnson did an admirable job juggling it all, I couldn’t help but wonder if the film would have been better had it devoted itself to just one major element/conflict.

To be fair, I believe I’d appreciate this film even more with a second viewing, which would allow me to pick up on subtleties I know I missed. Much like Inception, this film was an original, and sometimes it’s hard appreciating an original the first go around after your brain has been bombarded with big-budgeted blockbusters and sequels. On the same token, Looper had just a $30 million budget, which meant Johnson was limited in the amount of special effects and location shoots he could accomplish. He was aware of this and did an excellent job of spending money where it’d get the most bang for a buck.

Not only did Looper have a strong story, the performances were solid. Gordon-Levitt gave one of his best performances to date, and will continue to rise in Hollywood. Likewise, Emily Blunt was barely recognizable as Sara, and I feel that’s a testament to her talents. Willis’ showing wasn’t anything great, but he shouldered his load and did a decent job, while Daniels, while underused, was ominous as a man from the future. Along the same lines, the lesser known Noah Segan, who worked with Johnson in Brick, did a great job as Kid Blue, a clumsy yet devoted henchman.

Here are a few other random thoughts on the film:

-       Gordon-Levitt’s prosthetic, which he wore to look more like a young Willis, was great. I had heard it was noticeable and off putting, but I didn’t find that to be the case. In fact, I didn’t even notice it.
-       Paul Dano had a limited role as Seth, but he made the most of it. The guy is a talented actor and having him as a supporting character helped strengthen the film as a whole.
-        It was cool to see the black cowboy outfits the hit men in the future wore were teased in one seen. Keep an eye open for a “Bad Bob” poster and toy in the Cid’s bedroom.
-       Note Blunt’s character, Sara, uses some sort of mechanized crop duster to water her crops. It’s essentially a “Rainmaker”.

I left the theater feeling conflicted about Looper, but the more I thought about it the more I liked it. I’ll definitely give it another watch when it comes out on DVD, and in the meantime I’d recommend to those who go and see it, keep an open mind and remember that it’s an original. If you judge it against the norm, you will not fully appreciate what it has to offer.

Buddies Forever Movie Club Rating: 71%

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Sunday, October 14, 2012

Taken 2

After being on the road for three weeks and unable to make it to a theater, the films I wanted to see upon my return began to stockpile; in fact, the day after I got back from Europe, I went to see the one at the top of the queue (which actually takes place in Europe)—Taken 2.

I was a huge fan of 2008’s Taken, which was a surprise hit with the masses and made Liam Neeson a legitimate action star. To remind you of that film’s premise, and you’d best know before going to the sequel, I’ll turn to IMDb: “A retired CIA agent travels across Europe and relies on his old skills to save his estranged daughter, who was kidnapped on a trip to Paris to be sold into prostitution.”

Now, here’s IMDb’s description of Taken 2: “In Istanbul, retired CIA operative Bryan Mills and his wife are taken hostage by the father of a kidnapper Mills killed while rescuing his daughter.”

I tempered my expectations for the sequel for fear that it might have been slapped together as a money-making machine and would neglect the things that made the first so great—a father’s unwavering devotion, no timidity, and a certain level of justified ferociousness. The biggest red flag that might be the case was the director of the first, Pierre Morel, had been replaced by Olivier Megaton, best known for Colombiana and Transporter 3.

In the back of my head, I expected Taken 2 to suck, and I was prepared to deal with it; after all, the first film came out of nowhere and set the bar high. Much to my surprise, Taken 2 proved to be more than a decent sequel. They did a few things wrong, but overall I felt it captured the essence of the first film while exploring the grey area between justice and revenge.

Taken 2 toed the line of being a cookie-cutter copy, but there were enough subtle differences to set it apart while capitalizing on storylines established in the first. Again, Neeson proves an unlikely badass, and Maggie Grace, who played his daughter Kim, did a good job of transitioning from victim to aggressor. I was also very pleased to see Famke Janssen have an expanded role as Mill’s wife Lenore. To say she was underutilized in the first would be an understatement, and I’m glad they learned from that mistake.

Unfortunately there were a few things that detracted from the film—mainly some notable inaccuracies. For example, Kim was struggling with passing her driver’s test, but was suddenly Mario Andretti in a car chase through Istanbul. Speaking of which, they portrayed Istanbul as being somewhat third-world, when in actuality it’s one of Europe’s most developed cities. Likewise, Albania doesn’t border Turkey as suggested in the film, and with so much gunfire in the city, you’d expect more of a police presence. While the filmmaker’s attention to detail was admirable in many scenes (i.e. Mills and Kim knowing to keep there heads down and call for help after plowing a car into the U.S. embassy), it was noticeably lacking in others.

The other big disappointment was lackluster death scenes, most notably two at the end. I don’t want to spoil who bites the dust, but they were offed in an uncreative manner; in fact, it was hard to tell how they even died. I chalk this up to the friendly PG-13 rating.

Taken 2 wasn’t as good as the original, but I felt it was an excellent sequel that tied in nicely to its predecessor. Simply put, if you liked Taken then you’ll like Taken 2. Also, be sure to enjoy it because the film’s writer, Luc Besson, has already said there won’t be a third.

Buddies Forever Movie Club Rating: 75%

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Saturday, October 6, 2012

Resident Evil: Retribution

I was a big fan of the original Resident Evil video game on PlayStation, so imagine my excitement when the franchise was turned into a movie back in 2002. There weren’t many similarities between that first game and that movie, but it turned out alright. Now, ten years later, both the video game and film franchises continue to spew out sequels. In my opinion both have been on a steady decline, but I gave the latest installment in the latter franchise—Resident Evil: Retribution—a shot on its opening weekend.

The previous films had gotten so convoluted and cluttered (where are the zombies?!?) that I set my expectations quite low for Retribution. Here’s how IMDb describes the film: “The Umbrella Corporation's deadly T-virus continues to ravage the Earth, transforming the global population into legions of the flesh eating Undead. The human race's last and only hope, Alice, awakens in the heart of Umbrella's most clandestine operations facility and unveils more of her mysterious past as she delves further into the complex.”

Let me preface this review by saying that I feel the Resident Evil film franchise has been botched. I still enjoy them, but they could be so much better. My personal preference is that they reboot it and bring add little realism (tongue in cheek dealing with zombies), much like the Walking Dead.

With that said, Resident Evil: Retribution turned out to be a little better than I expected. That’s not to say it was great, but it proved entertaining and a little more focused than the previous two films. You see, the first to Resident Evil movies are centered upon “The Hive” and Raccoon City, two very distinct locations. From there, Resident Evil: Extinction and Resident Evil: Afterlife branched out and expanded the story to show how T-virus ravaged the entire world. It was a big step to take and sloppily done. Fortunately, Retribution got back to the basics and focus on one facility.

Granted, that facility, which is buried under the Siberian tundra, has holograph-domes (for lack of a better word) that are able to recreate various locations such as suburbia, New York, Japan and Moscow. Alice, the main character played in all five films by Milla Jovovich, must escape from the facility but has the luxury of tossing in different setting. A cheap copout, but it worked.

Jovovich does a decent job as always, but the film was billed on reuniting many of the characters throughout the franchise, many of whom had perish. I’m not a fan of clones in movies, but it was nice to see Michelle Rodriquez, who was only in the first film, reprise her role as Rain; as well as Oded Fehr as Carlos and Boris Kodjoe as Luther West, though the latter wasn’t a clone.

The performances were a mixed bag. Jovovich was fine as always, as were all of the other cast members I’ve mentioned. Kevin Durand and Bingbing Li were new additions as Barry Burton and Ada Wong respectively, and I though they did a good job. I was especially pleased to see Barry (“Blood, I hope this is not Chris’ blood!”), a classic character from the original video game. Durand was a good choice for the role, though he wasn’t really a major player. One new comer that went to waste was Johann Urb as Leon S. Kennedy. He had a fairly important role in the film, but there was little to no character development. I found that to be a great shame as Leon was such a major character in the video games.

I must note that the performance of Sienna Guillory as Jill Valentine (who should be the main character in a Resident Evil film—again, reboot) was terrible and almost laughable at times. With that said, you don’t go see a Resident Evil movie for the performances, you go for the action sequences and the zombies.

In that regard, Resident Evil: Retribution did a decent job. The opening scene, which is shot in reverse, was pretty cool, and there was a scene shortly thereafter set in suburbia that caught my attention—though it seemed to be a bit of a rip off of the 2004 Dawn of the Dead opening sequence.

Resident Evil: Retribution didn’t further the overall story of the franchise much; in fact, all Alice did was escape from a research facility (though there is a last-stand type of scene as a cliffhanger). Still, it proved entertaining, the 3D effects were solid, and the action sequences decent. I liked it a bit better than Extinction and Afterlife, but not as good as the first two, which puts it squarely in the middle.

I will always hold a special place in my heart for Resident Evil, and while the five films have kept me vaguely entertained, I sincerely hope that Sony Pictures will consider a reboot and give the franchise the justice it deserves.

Buddies Forever Movie Club Rating: 53%

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