Thursday, August 25, 2011

A Movie Review: The Guard (2011)

The Guard (2011)
Director - John Michael McDonagh
96 Min; R
Sergeant Gerry Boyle - Brendan Gleeson
FBI agent Wendell Everett - Don Cheadle
Cornell - Mark Strong

Seeing a movie with Brendan Gleeson is an awesome experience.  His presence alone makes a film better.  It doesn't necessarily make the film a good film just because he is there, but it helps.  If you like to watch the way certain actors do their job, this is one hell of a guy to watch.  You really see him manipulate his mannerisms and speech to fit the moment perfectly and that is something not many actors do nearly as well. 

In this film Gleeson (Sergeant Gerry Boyle) is a local policeman in a small, Irish town who finds himself investigating a few murders and an imminent cocaine deal worth 500 million dollars.  He doesn't care at all about the drug deal, but an FBI agent (Don Cheadle) arrives to make sure the local force cooperates with the investigation. They are looking for 3 men who are supposedly in the area and the masterminds behind the cocaine movement.

That's pretty much all of the plot I need to give you.  Watch the trailer below if you want to see a little more, plus it will help orientate you to the type of film and dialogue that is present throughout.  I'm not sure everyone can enjoy a movie with thick accents and cultural differences, but for those of you who can I think you'll love this film.

The director is the brother of Martin McDonagh, who directed one of my favorite films In Bruges, also with Brendan Gleeson.  I'm not going to try and compare the two as directors or the two movies, but this one is pretty good.  I would almost call this a comedy with noir tendencies, but it isn't quite that and shouldn't be compartmentalized. Gleeson is just awesome as a 'don't give a shit' policeman who drinks, does drugs, hires hookers, and gets the job done.  Cheadle as the FBI agent is nothing special and his role is seemingly there just so that Gleeson can make racial jokes - but some of them are really funny and the chemistry between he two is solid.

Aside from the plot and the acting, the star of the film is the cinematography.  Barren Irish sea-scapes can make for some wonderful shots and the decision to film many scenes in the evening and dead of night leads to some pretty incredible shots.  This isn't the best film of the year but it is damn good.  I laughed out loud quite a bit and also admired the film for taking a chance.  This is not formulaic at all and that is about the best compliment I can give.

**** out of 5

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

DVD pick of the week: Big Fish (2003)

Big Fish (2003)
Director - Tim Burton
125 min; PG-13

Director Tim Burton used all of his creativity to bring to life the stories of a dying man who has told them so often to everyone around him that he may actually believe they are true, fantastical or not. Ewan McGregor is pitch perfect with a wonderful supporting cast who take a lifetime of tall tales and leave us wondering just what is and is not a big fish story.

People often tell me they just want to watch a movie to be entertained and they don't want to have to think too much.  While I will never understand that point of view, I can safely say that this is a film you will enjoy for all of the visuals as well as the storylines, even if you have to (gasp!) pay a little attention.

I can't wait to watch this again and again.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

6 recently viewed Netflix movies

I'm hitting home runs with Netflix lately - lots of good ones seen for the first time and some for seconds

Oldboy (2003)

You'll never forget the name Oh Dae-Su after watching him turn made and seek revenge after years of imprisonment for reasons he can't understand.  Brilliantly violent with an amazing story, make sure to ONLY see this in the original Korean language with subtitles and NOT the dubbed version - night and day difference.

***** out of 5

The Thin Red Line (1998)

Famed director Terrence Malick created one of the best movies not widely seen in the late 90s.  In just about the greatest travesty of a category, the 1998 Oscar for Best Picture went to Shakespeare in Love when it could or should have gone to any of the other contenders (The Thin Red Line; Saving Private Ryan; Elizabeth; Life is Beautiful).  I enjoy Saving Private Ryan, like many, but the Thin Red Line really is a much better film in every aspect except it doesn't have Tom Hanks and Matt Damon to draw in the crowds.  What it does have is Nick Nolte and an amazingly long cast full of credentials taking part in war where things are portrayed in a very real way.  It is long and at times can feel drawn out but does so in a way that makes the viewer feel what these soldiers feel.  Just a top film.

***** out of 5

Children of Men (2006)

In 2027 a strange thing has happened on earth - women can no longer get pregnant.  Obviously this will lead to disaster, so it is quite surprising when a small band of rebels are discovered to be transporting a pregnant girl to scientists who will hopefully be able to solve a problem that will eventually lead to the extinction of mankind.  Clive Owen is a very strong lead and the supporting cast is fine as well.  Not an outstanding movie but a very good one worth seeing.

**** out of 5

Glengarry Glen Ross (1992)

The leads! The leads! That's what this movie all about, sort of, and if you're a sales person you need to move this movie to the top of your to-see list.  An outstanding cast with more than one award worthy performance and several memorable and quotable lines make this a compelling drama with a lot of comedic dialogue.  Kevin Spacey as a slimy and spineless boss is juxtaposed perfectly with the brash and seasoned salesmen played by Jack Lemmon, Ed Harris, Alan Arkin, and Al Pacino.  Of course the speech by Alec Baldwin is one of the most famous speeches ever given on film, so if nothing else, see it for that alone.

***** out of 5

Big Fish (2003)

Director Tim Burton used all of his creativity to bring to life the stories of a dying man who has told them so often to everyone around him that he may actually believe they are true, fantastical or not.  Ewan McGregor is pitch perfect with a wonderful supporting cast who take a lifetime of tall tales and  leave us wondering just what is and is not a big fish story.  I can't wait to watch this again and again.

***** out of 5

The French Connection (1971)

Before he made his masterpiece, The Exorcist, in 1973, director William Friedkin made another masterpiece that just happened to win Best Picture as well as giving Gene Hackman a statue for Best Actor with his portrayal of "Popeye" Doyle, a NY narcotics detective who, along with his partner, the great Roy Sheider, seek to bring down a drug king from a foreign land, Alain Charnier (Fernando Rey).  Pacing and the score are key components to this film which may feel a little outdated today if you're seeing it for the first time, but a film like this is so rare that you must give it a chance, if for nothing else because it contains what an actual master car-chase scene should look like.

***** out of 5

Monday, August 1, 2011

My DVD pick of the week: In Bruges (2008)

Every so often I'm going to send out a movie selection from the past that I think is brilliant.  I hope you all see it and enjoy it. 

In Bruges is one of my top 20 favorite films from the 2000s - here is what I wrote a year ago:

In Bruges (2008) In a widely over-looked film when it was released we are given a gem of a movie that brilliantly weaves noir-comedy and ultra-serious issues seamlessly. Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson complement each other perfectly as hit-men who are heading in different life directions, each thrown together for an indeterminate amount of time in the postcard-picturesque city of Bruges as their employer (Ralph Fiennes) decides how to handle the delicate decision (both professional and moral) that a bundled hit has put them all in. With side-busting humor on the darkest level it may not be a film for everyone, but it certainly captures a different feel for how to tell a movie about a not-too-uncommon Hollywood theme of hit-men and the difficult situations they always seem to find themselves. Witty dialogue keeps the slow-ish pace of the film on track and the comical ending turned tragedy leaves you with a deep appreciation for the people who worked on the entire production.

I have posted my original review below along with a link to a wonderful write up about the film which you should read if you've seen the film and should wait to read if you haven't seen the film.  This write up makes me want to see the film immediately for a 5th time! So much insight.

In Bruges (2008)
Director - Martin McDonagh
Writer - Martin McDonagh
Colin Farrell – Ray
Brendan Gleeson – Ken
Ralph Fiennes – Harry Waters

Ray: Do you think this is good?
Ken: Do I think what's good?
Ray: You know, going around in a boat, looking at stuff?
Ken: Yes, I do. It's called sight-seeing.

The beauty of Bruges, the city in Belgium, is that it is “the most well-preserved medieval city in the whole of Belgium”, according to Ken (Brendan Gleeson) as he flips through his touristy books and maps. Ray (Colin Farrell) responds with the memorable line, “Ken, I grew up in Dublin. I love Dublin. If I grew up on a farm, and was retarded, Bruges might impress me but I didn't, so it doesn't.”

This aptly sums up the two distinct personalities of Ken and Ray, two hit-men hired to do a job that did not go according to plan. The two men are sent to the picturesque city of Bruges to wait for further instructions from their boss, Harry Waters, played wonderfully by (Ralph Fiennes). How much time they will have to wait is unknown (though 2 weeks in the same hotel room is probably a good guess) and so the two men proceed to pass the time in various ways and varying degrees of strangeness.

Director Martin McDonagh presents to us a complex film that, on the surface, you might think a fairly typical Hollywood plot. There is murder, drugs, sex, dark comedy, on-location shooting – all things you can find in any big-budget action flick. What In Bruges manages to do is to take all those components and weave them into a story about the human condition, a story told to us through the viewpoint of multiple and distinct characters, each with a set of ideals and thoughts and beliefs that may not agree with each other, but ultimately are strong enough to guide in each of the character’s convictions.

I found myself playing the role of tourist while watching this film, imagining myself climbing the towers or slowly coasting around canal corners. The scenery is breathtaking, no doubt, but it is the character driven film that makes this such a special project. Multiple supporting roles lend so much to the film that it takes some of the burden off the main two characters and allows us to remember that this is a real city with real people living real lives, even if we only get to see a glimpse of the not-so-proper ways of living.

Without giving away too much, for I found that knowing very little going in made this a special experience, it should be noted that whether you feel this is the story of Ken or of Ray, we are privy to so much from each that it ultimately doesn’t matter. Each has and will make his own decisions and accept the consequences, whatever they may be. Ultimately it is a story of convictions for these characters – What can you live with? And what is too much to carry?

This film received multiple award nominations and rightfully so. I was taken in by Gleeson’s portrayal of an introspective, mature hit-man, just as much as I was thrilled to see Farrell pull off a much more complex character than he is used to doing. Along with an American dwarf actor and local drug-selling beauty, In Bruges managed to pull off that rare ability to make me watch no less than 3 times since its release, with an emphasis on hardly being able to wait to go back for a 4th viewing.