By Scott Martin
Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol, USA / United Arab Emirates, 2011
Directed by Brad Bird
It’s worth noting that Tom Cruise performed all of his stunts in this film, as well as the other three Mission: Impossible films. Sure, there are bits of CGI, though seamless, and I’m sure a large team of medics and nets and other things were around to make sure he was alive at the end of the day, but that’s really the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, it really is the tallest building in the world, and that really is Tom Cruise dangling off its side, thousands of feet in the air. And that’s not even the most impressive set piece in the film.
You don’t necessarily have to see the first three M:I films to get this one and enjoy it, but it can’t hurt. Here’s a brief recap just in case you missed them:
Mission: Impossible – they make the hero from the TV show the bad guy in the film.
Mission: Impossible 2 – they do some stuff with motorcycles and Thandie Newton.
Mission: Impossible 3 – There’s an actual story involving Ethan Hunt (Cruise) and his now late wife, involving her death, and a couple other intricate missions. Probably the only important story of the three, even if it’s not the best film at that point. Up until now, the first adventure remained the most startlingly well-made of the series, but, with the inclusion of Ghost Protocol into the canon, those three seem a mite irrelevant in the world of filmmaking. Read More
By Scott Martin
Red State, USA, 2011
Written and Directed by Kevin Smith
Maybe the most interesting thing about Red State has little to do with the film that we watch, but the reaction it incites in critics. Upon its debut, it seemed that nobody could figure out what the film was supposed to be – horror, action, comedy, good, bad, watchable. Writer-director Kevin Smith obviously knew what he was doing, but it’s almost like he refused to let anyone in on the joke. Oddly enough, though, it worked.
This is a film about sex, Adult Friend Finder, Christian extremism, the Westboro Baptist Church, the overuse of violence by our American government, terrorism, torture, and some more fun stuff. Smith has said that the purpose of this film was to make his audience uncomfortable, like “when they go to sit in a chair, then I turn the chair over and they sit on one of the legs, and then we repeat the process”. That’s the essence of unpredictability, sure, but even a comedic director like Smith understands what horror movies are mostly about: obsession. Read More
By Scott Martin
Young Adult, USA, 2011
Directed by Jason Reitman
Meet Mavis Gary. Peculiar name, sure, but consider the woman: she’s an alcoholic, forever single, 40-year-old former beauty queen for Minnesota (Mercury, to be exact). Fitting that someone so alienating comes from a place named after a planet. It’s worth noting that Young Adult doesn’t follow any sort of conventional formula (even if that’s becoming a bit conventional these days). Diablo Cody, who won a well-deserved Oscar for writing Juno, and Jason Reitman, who received a well-deserved nomination for directing it, team up again to bring us this divisive film. That’s probably the best way of putting it. It seems to be something you either fall in love with or hate from the moment it starts. I’m happy to say that I fell in love with it, and its characters. Even Mavis. Read More
By Scott Martin
The Change-Up, USA, 2011
Directed by David Dobkin
At seems that at least a few times a year, movies are released that test the attention span -and maturity – of their audience. I’ll be the first to spoil the big surprise here: there’s a projectile poop scene. The review almost writes itself. Take Jason Bateman, who seems to be one of the busier actors this year, and put him with Ryan Reynolds, who seems to be one of the busiest actors in general, and put them in a Freaky Friday rehash, and you might expect some comic gold, right? Well, your head is in the right place, but your expectations might be too darn high. What we’re given instead is one of the raunchiest (for the mere sake of being raunchy) comedies I’ve seen in a long time. This makes Reynolds’ work in Van Wilder (2002) seem like The Adventures of Elmo in Grouchland (1999). And that’s being kind. Read More
By Scott Martin
Real Steel, USA / India, 2011
Directed by Shawn Levy
Boxing movies all have one thing in common, especially boxing movies these days, in our generation: there’s that moment of pure bad-assery that lets you know things just got real. The hero, our hard-boiled yet soft-hearted fighter, is getting beaten down, physically and emotionally, and you have every reason to believe it’s over – there’s no getting up off the mat, no getting out of the corner or off the ropes, and no closing those wounds – but the motion will slow, the music will stop, and the boxer will look at his opponent and do something that should make that opponent very afraid: smile. Things just got real.
That’s probably in my top five movie cliches that don’t actually put me off to the whole project. Real Steel, fortunately, has a moment like that. If you’ve seen one boxing movie, you’ve seen Real Steel. While this isn’t exactly Rocky (1976) or Cinderella Man (2005) with robots, it has the same idea; you have your rundown fighter on his last legs, trying to make it all work, while overcoming all sorts of adversity. In Real Steel, that adversity comes in the form of gambling addiction, debts, and a kid. Of course, the kid proves to be the one thing that holds our hero together. That’s not a spoiler, that’s a formula. Don’t yell at me. Read More
By Scott Martin
Drive, USA, 2011
Directed by Nicolas Winding Refn
If you watch Drive on a superficial level, you get a bad-ass action film – a slow burning, tightly paced one, at that – but if you watch it from a critical standpoint, you’ll notice more than one polite tip of the hat to Taxi Driver (1976), slight turns from Martin Scorsese’s directorial play-book by director Nicolas Winding Refn. Really, Drive could be viewed as a pastiche of action movies and westerns from the glory days of Hollywood in the 70’s and 80’s era.
Ryan Gosling has a skill for determining the darker aspects of characters that appear to be a little blank on paper. In 2001, he played a self-hating neo-Nazi Jew in Henry Bean’s The Believer; in 2010, he was a failing husband in Derek Cianfrance’s Blue Valentine (I really hope you all saw that); and here, he’s the wheel-man with no name. He goes by “the kid,” and that’s barely a term of endearment from the man who took him in. He has a hell of a job: he’s a stunt driver for the movies by day, and a getaway driver at night. Of course, he’s freelance all the way. When a producer needs a flawless car crash, he’s the guy, and when a mob king needs a flawless getaway, there’s nobody better. He works with a man named Shannon (Bryan Cranston) who gave him a job years before the movie (and the kid’s criminal activity) started. Read More
By Scott Martin
Please Give, USA, 2010
Written and Directed by Nicole Holofcener
When Melvin Udall (Jack Nicholson), the novelist main character in As Good as It Gets (1997) is asked “How do you write such great women?” he responds, “I think of a man, and I take away reason and accountability.” Nicole Holofcener didn’t take that advice, and she’s probably the best writer of women in Hollywood, behind the indelible Woody Allen, that is; I don’t think anyone can top him, but, as he’s in a class of his own (it can be said that Woody writes Woody’s women well, and that’s it), Holofcener might be the best in the game. For a further example, seek out Lovely & Amazing, her first feature from 2001, also starring Catherine Keener. Please Give and Lovely & Amazing aren’t too similar in content, but the aftertaste is the same; you’ve just witnessed something daring and tangible, something more exciting than most things studios push out these days. Please Give is a darkly sweet comedy about the destructive and oddly uplifting power of guilt and, subsequently, what it does to a person. Or, rather, a group of people.
Kate (Keener) and Alex (Oliver Platt) live an interesting life; they’re essentially ambulance chasers, but in the antique business. They run a local furniture shop and get their goods collecting from the children of the recently dead. Kate is a woman with a warped sense of guilt; she gives seemingly large amounts of money to the homeless and does her best to volunteer for charities. Nothing seems to help, especially because she’s married to the charmingly goofy Alex, who treats her like a partner in everything. Nothing seems to be enough for her. They live next door to a cantankerous old woman named Andra (Ann Guilbert) who is pushing 90 and who hates just about everything in everything she sees. She’s cared for by her two granddaughters, Rebecca (Rebecca Hall) and Mary (Amanda Peet), who have their own reservations, either because of prior plans or their own dispositions. Mary can’t stand the old woman, and Rebecca wouldn’t know who to care for without her. Sarah Steele plays Kate and Alex’s teenage witch, Abby. Read More