Monthly Archives: June 2009

Smokin’ Aces (2007)

My Rating: 4/5 STARS
MovieStudio Quote >> “Lots of faces, guns and cinematography. Great Stuff!”

Fresh from his success with HBO’s ENTOURAGE, Jeremy Piven gives his career a further boost by taking the lead role in director Joe Carnahan’s (NARC) fast-paced thriller, SMOKING ACES. Piven plays Buddy “Aces” Israel, a former Vegas performer who has holed up in the penthouse suite of a Lake Tahoe casino after what seems like half the planet decides they want him dead. The reason for this bloodlust stems from Israel’s dalliances with the mob, who have put a $1 million price tag on his head after discovering he is about to tell all to the feds. The only people who don’t want to put a premature end to Israel’s life are two FBI agents, played by Ryan Reynolds and Ray Liotta, and their boss, Andy Garcia.

Smokin' Aces

Smokin' Aces

As various assassins attempt to put an end to Israel’s pitiful existence, a parade of celebrity cameos ensues, including Alicia Keys, Common, Ben Affleck, and Jason Bateman. Carnahan soaks the screen with vivid primary colors, lots of flashy set pieces, and plenty of guns and violence as his movie thunders from one explosive scene to the next.

Smokin' Aces

Smokin' Aces

The shooting style, script, and acting are all highly indebted to Quentin Tarantino’s early works, and the impressive ensemble cast will ensure plenty of PULP FICTION comparisons. Standout performances come courtesy of Piven and Liotta, with the former reveling in a character surrounded by burly bodyguards, cheap hookers, and a blizzard of cocaine as he sweats and paces around his penthouse hideout, ultimately awaiting either freedom or death as the movie nears its spectacular finale.

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Meet Bill (2008)

My Rating: 3/5 STARS
MovieStudio Quote >> “Simplified Living, do nothing!”

Meet Bill (Aaron Eckhart)—a doormat if there ever was one. A man reduced to a mere accessory to his family by working a dead end job at his father-in-law’s bank, Bill’s wife Jess (Elizabeth Banks) is loathe to explain her “friendship” with the local news anchorman (Timothy Olyphant).

Meet Bill

Meet Bill

But Bill’s fate begins to change when he becomes mentor to a self-assured boy (Logan Lerman) who engineers Bill’s recovery with the help of a cute lingerie sales girl named Lucy (Jessica Alba). Together, the trio confronts Bill’s hapless life with humor and energy while forcing him to capture his dream of being financially independent and self-confident. Directed by Bernie Goldmann and co-writer Melisa Wallack.

The Alphabet Killer (2008)

My Rating: 3/5 STARS
MovieStudio Quote >> “Believing that it’s a true story is impossible!”

Believably twitchy and preternaturally pallid, Ms. Dushku plays Megan Paige, a workaholic detective who suffers a nervous breakdown when her hunt for a young girl’s killer is accompanied by visions of the decomposing deceased. Two years in an institution and one diagnosis of schizophrenia later, Megan returns to work to learn that the killer has resurfaced using the same M.O.: choosing victims whose first and last names begin with the same letter.

The Alphabet Killer

The Alphabet Killer

Loosely based on a series of murders that took place in Rochester in the 1970s, “The Alphabet Killer” relies less on the novelty of its premise than on the positioning of solid actors in minor roles (including Melissa Leo and Martin Donovan as the tortured parents of a murdered child) and the intelligence of its star. Yet the out-of-left-field ending, rich with sequel potential, may be its scariest scene: there are, after all, an awful lot of letters in the alphabet.

Nim’s Island (2008)

My Rating: 3/5 STARS
MovieStudio Quote >> “Adventurous and story book style!”

Based on the popular children’s novel of the same name by Wendy Orr, NIM’S ISLAND follows the adventures of Nim Rusoe (LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE’s Abigail Breslin), a spirited young girl who lives on a remote island with her scientist dad, Jack (300’s Gerard Butler), and a host of animal companions, including an iguana, a sea lion, and a sea turtle. Nim’s idyllic life gets shaken up, however, when her father goes missing while on an ocean outing. Seeking help to find Jack, Nim contacts her favorite literary hero, explorer Alex Rover (also played by Butler), who, in reality, is uptight–and distinctly unadventurous–author Alexa Rover (Jodie Foster). Against her better judgment, Alexa journeys to Nim’s faraway home, setting a series of thrilling and funny moments in motion.

Nim's Island

Nim's Island

Directed and written (in part) by the husband/wife team of Mark Levin and Jennifer Flackett, NIM’S ISLAND revels in its fanciful premise, never getting hung up on its unrealistic plot points. (E-mail on an extremely secluded island?) While Breslin and Butler are charming, the real revelation is witnessing the oft-serious Foster ham it up in a role requires plenty of slapstick, fish-out-of-water moments. Although teens might roll their eyes at NIM’S unapologetically sugary scenes, younger children will enjoy the giddy mood present of the ISLAND.

Sniper (2009)

My Rating: 3/5 STARS
MovieStudio Rating >> “Thrilling and well made action sequences!”

Films don’t open much better than The Sniper. On a dark, rainy night, two snipers sit perched in a tree, their sights trained on the men inside a hut. The scene shifts and two uniformed cops come upon a suspicious vehicle, turning their attention to the very same hut. In the ensuing stand-off, uniformed cop O.J. displays his superior marksmanship by killing the thug holding his partner hostage with a clean shot through the eye. Impressed by O.J.’s skills, SDU Sniper Team leader Hartman offers him a spot in his unit.

Sniper

Sniper

Meanwhile, Hartman’s former colleague Lincoln earns his release from prison after serving four years for manslaughter. Believing his conviction to be the result of evidence withheld by Hartman, Lincoln sets out to take revenge on his rival: first, by taking Hartman’s daughter hostage, and then by luring Hartman and new partner O.J. into a re-enactment of his downfall. A deadly triangle soon emerges between the three men as O.J. becomes fascinated with Lincoln’s skills while still bound by Hartman’s rules. Featuring a series of frenetic set pieces choreographed with nail-biting intensity, director Dante Lam continues his mastery over the action flick in The Sniper.

Man on Fire (2004)

My Rating: 5/5 STARS
MovieStudio Quote >> “Hotter than fire, inspiring heat!”

John Creasy (Denzel Washington) is a lost soul. A former government operative, he has become an alcoholic nomad, searching for inspiration and redemption. An old friend (Christopher Walken) who lives in Mexico gets Creasy a job as a bodyguard for nine-year-old Lupita “Pita” Ramos (Dakota Fanning), the daughter of Mexican Samuel (Marc Anthony) and his American wife Lisa (Radha Mitchell). Creasy’s primary job is to protect Pita from the kidnapping attempts that are an increasing menace to the children of Mexico City’s wealthy. A man of few words and many secrets, Creasy initially balks at Pita’s attempts to befriend him, but soon a bond grows between the precocious child and this lonely man who is tormented by his past.

Man on Fire

Man on Fire

When Pita is kidnapped despite Creasy’s valiant attempts to save her, he will do anything to bring all of those involved to justice. His fury unravels a net of almost unimaginable corruption and greed in the process. Director Tony Scott (TOP GUN, CRIMSON TIDE) builds the relationship between Creasy and Pita in the first half of the film in order to justify Creasy’s violent actions in the latter half, and in the process he does a fine job of keeping the film’s tension consistently high.

American Psycho (2000)

My Rating: 4/5 STARS
MovieStudio Quote >> “The real taste of a dramatic psycho thriller!”

Mary Harron (I Shot Andy Warhol) and Guinevere Turner’s (Go Fish) adaptation of Bret Easton Ellis’s controversial novel distills the critically maligned book down to its ironic, satirical core. Wisely situating most of the novel’s grisly action off-screen, Harron employs violence as a metaphor for the spiritually vacant materialism and corporate machismo of the Reagan ’80s. Christian Bale (Velvet Goldmine) delivers a shining performance as the status-obsessed, psychotic broker Patrick Bateman–self-proclaimed expert in “murders and executions.”

American Psycho

American Psycho

Traveling amongst narcissistic, misogynistic, barely discernable corporate clones, Patrick spends his workdays obsessing over tasteful business cards, designer suits, and prime reservations at trendy restaurants. After hours, he dismembers prostitutes, models, transients, and literally gives a co-worker the axe in a series of increasingly surreal episodes, all prefaced by demented lectures on the virtues of Phil Collins, Whitney Houston, and Huey Lewis. Chloe Sevigny (Boys Don’t Cry) and Resse Witherspoon (Election), as Patrick’s secretary and fiancée, turn in strong performances, and Andrzej Sekula’s stylish cinematography lends the film a stark, über-modern aesthetic reminiscent of A Clockwork Orange. While American Psycho does not venture deeply into the mind of its sick protagonist, it offers a sharp satire of the dark side of yuppie culture.

The Hunting Party (2007)

My Rating: 5/5 STARS
MovieStudio Quote >> “Total political and the most thrilling Journalist movie so far!”

On the fifth anniversary of the end of the civil war in Bosnia, former hot-shot reporter Simon Hunt (Richard Gere) mysteriously shows up, five years after imploding on live television and disappearing into a self-imposed exile. Reunited with his cameraman, Duck (Terrence Howard), who has been promoted to a cushy studio gig working with anchorman Franklin Harris (James Brolin), Simon convinces Duck to go on a dangerous journey to get an interview with the wanted war criminal known as the Fox (Ljubomir Kerekes), based on the real-life Radovan Karadicz. They are joined by Ben (Jesse Eisenberg), the Harvard-educated nephew of a network executive who is in search of adventure and a good story. Together the three drive deep into Serb territory, facing more intrigue and danger than they ever could have imagined.

The Hunting Party

The Hunting Party

Writer-director Richard Shepard (THE MATADOR) loosely based THE HUNTING PARTY on an article Scott Anderson wrote for Esquire magazine entitled “What I Did on My Summer Vacation,” about five reporters who actually did go after Karadicz, and tried to capture him. Shepard infuses the film with a sly black humor and fills the story with a crazy cast of oddball characters, paying homage to Carol Reed’s THE THIRD MAN, which was set in postwar Vienna. The three leads are excellent, especially Gere, who plays Hunt with a knowing grin that often hides what he’s really up to. Shot on location in and around Sarajevo, lending the film an eerie reality, THE HUNTING PARTY–which claims at the beginning that “only the most ridiculous parts of this story are true”–is a fun, fascinating political thriller.

War (2007)

My Rating: 3.5/5 STARS
MovieStudio Quote >> “Jason is hot and charismatic, but Jet Li wins again!” 

Set in San Francisco amidst a feud between the Japanese yakuza and Chinese Triad criminal factions, director Philip G. Atwell’s WAR stars Jet Li as the enigmatic assassin Rogue, and Jason Statham as Jack Crawford, an F.B.I. agent determined to track him down. As the prime suspect in the murder of Crawford’s partner, the elusive Rogue uses the mayhem of gang warfare to his advantage, even as the gruff lawman closes in on his trail, leading to a dramatic showdown. Although Li and Statham have shared the screen before in THE ONE, this is the first film to give the two stars equal billing. While Li has little to say in the movie, his actions speak volumes; he plays Rogue with a sleek menace that contrasts nicely with Statham’s gruff, no-nonsense presence.

War

War

WAR is the debut studio film from hip-hop-video director Philip G. Atwell (best known for his work with Eminem and 50 Cent). It moves at a brisk, quick-cut pace, and benefits from fight choreography by veteran Chinese actor/director Corey Yuen. Though martial-arts fans may be slightly disappointed by the movie’s focus on gunplay, one of its centerpieces, a furious swordfight that showcases Li’s stunning dexterity, is sure to please aficionados of Hong Kong-style kinetics.

Role Models (2008)

My Rating: 4/5 STARS
MovieStudio Quote >> “Very offensive language, but great comedy!”

Director David Wain (WET HOT AMERICAN SUMMER) capably mixes the saucy and the sentimental in the bawdy boys-to-men comedy ROLE MODELS. Stuck-in-a-rut Danny Donahue (Paul Rudd) and womanizing man-child Wheeler (Seann William Scott) work together promoting Minotaur energy drink to high school students. But when Danny’s girlfriend Beth (Elizabeth Banks) dumps him because he lacks maturity, his lashing out threatens to land him and Wheeler in jail. Their only way out is to act as mentors at Sturdy Wings, a Big Brother-esque organization run by reformed addict–and unrepentant flirt–Gayle Sweeny (Jane Lynch). There, Danny is paired with the decidedly dorky Augie (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) while Wheeler is the latest victim to take on foul-mouthed Ronnie (Bobb’e J. Thompson). After a bumpy beginning, both Danny and Wheeler connect with their kids over everything from sword-and-sorcery role playing to the chick-scoring power of the band Kiss.

Role Models

Role Models

But when these two presumptive adults put their charges’ well-being in jeopardy, they face both jail time and the loss of everyone’s respect. With their own friendship on the brink of ruin, Danny and Wheeler–not to mention a little help from the magic of Kiss–must reach deep inside to prove to the world how responsible they can truly be. In the spirit of films like KNOCKED UP and THE 40-YEAR OLD VIRGIN, ROLE MODELS features a healthy dose of sharp humor and juvenile gags balanced by a feel-good message that growing up doesn’t mean giving up what makes each of us special.