Tuesday, September 28, 2010

From Paris with Love

Guns.  Explosions.  Espionage.  Terrorists.  Drugs.  Chases.  Shootouts.  Betrayal.  Twists.

From Paris with Love was written by Luc Besson, who wrote Transporter, Taken, Bandidas, and other decent action flicks.  If you liked some of those movies (I did) you'll like this one.
James Reece (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) works in Paris as an aide to the U.S. ambassador.  He hopes to get into the spy game, doing small tasks for mysterious people--presumably CIA--who call him and send him on errands.  He gets called to pick up an agent and becomes embroiled in Charlie Wax's (John Travolta) wild, aggressive, unorthodox, and frequently violent methods of pursuing the bad guys and uncovering conspiracy.  The timid Reece isn't sure what to think of this brash operative, but plays a great straight man to Wax's antics.

If violence and bad language in movies offend you, well, you'll do yourself a favor by staying away.  But if you like fun, crazy, action movies with a pretty decent story, you'll enjoy From Paris with Love.

Bottom line, 2 1/2 stars.

Thursday, September 23, 2010


Unthinkable is not a great movie, but you have to give it some credit for tackling tough questions in a suspenseful way without using a moral club or preaching at us.  Fans of Jack Bauer in 24 will recognize the dilemmas here, and anyone who has an interest in the U.S. military's treatment of "enemy combatants" will be on familiar ground.

The U.S. has a credible threat of the detonation of nuclear bombs in several locations.  The intelligence backs up the assertion, and a suspect is rounded up.  H (Samuel L. Jackson) is called in to help with the interrogation.  H battles the suspect, but the more intense battle is with Agent Helen Brody (Carrie-Ann Moss) who questions H's tactics and torture.  Together they deal with the question, is torture of one man justified if you can save the lives of others?  Is it permissible to do the unthinkable to one man (and maybe his family) if it means saving the lives of millions?  H turns out to be smarter and more restrained than you might think, and Brody's firm ethical foundation is shaken during the day.

This is a smart thriller, with some unexpected twists, and an ending that does not spoon feed the "right or wrong" answer to the viewer.  Production-wise, its quality was like a TV show, not as good as 24, in my opinion.  But the story and message was more nuanced than Jack Bauer's exploits.

Bottom line, 2 1/2 stars. 

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Das Weisse Band (The White Ribbon)

I really wanted to like this movie, a nominee for the Best Foreign Film Oscar.  It's very "artsy," not just because it's black and white, but by nature of its slow pacing and cryptic plot.  I think sometimes I'm OK with a movie that does not have a clear resolution, or that has a lot of ambiguity, but this one left me dry.

That's not to say it's not a beautifully made film; it is!  The black and white looks beautiful, and the atmosphere--a rural, pre-WW1 German village--was perfect.  The characters were a little creepy.  Strange things have been happening in this quite village, not paranormal strange, just criminal strange: the doctor's horse is tripped by a wire, injuring the doctor; a disabled child is beaten and tortured; a barn is burned.  No motives, evidence, or answers present themselves, putting the townsfolk on edge.  The real reason and culprit aren't clearly revealed; the point is the impact the actions have on the people.

In a way, this is reminscent of a Coen brothers film, or others of that genre, those films that explore the human nature that lurks beneath the surface.  The normal-seeming, almost too-perfect people acting strangely, religious folks who turn out to be repressive, upstanding citizens who are really sleeping with the help, all fit in a Coen brothers type movie, with the setting being rural Germany rather than the suburbs of America.

I hate not to give this movie a great rating.  Critically acclaimed, Cannes winner, artsy black-and-white--but ultimately, not completely to my taste.  I will say it's a thought-provoking piece on the impact some escalating crimes can have on a peaceful town, and the moral breakdown that would permit them.

Bottom line, 2 1/2 stars.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Toy Story 3

Pixar has for years set the standard for animated films.  Their story lines and flawless animation haven't failed to make a great movie yet.  I must admit, I was a little skeptical of Toy Story 3.  I enjoyed 1 and 2, but how much more can they milk these characters?  Well, the movie pleasantly surprised me.  I took Elliot to see it and we both laughed and laughed, and yes, maybe got choked up a bit.
Should they stay or should they go now?

Andy is going off to college, and his mom wants to clean out his room.  He can't bear to part with the toys we know and love from the other movies, but in a mix-up, they get donated to a day care center.  At first they think they're in toy heaven, but quickly realize their mistake when the little kids abuse and nearly destroy them.  When they protest their treatment to the teddy bear who rules the day care, they are jailed in cubby baskets.  Their loyalty and determination fuel a daring escape and reunion with Andy.
Beware the kindly pink teddy bear!

Toy Story 3 has terrific voice acting, the Pixar animation that is so good you don't notice it's animation, and a great story.  As with the other Pixar films, this is a movie grown-ups can love, even without the kids around.  But your kids will love it, too.

Bottom line, 3 1/2 stars.