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Showing posts from January, 2012

THE CONTENDER (Rod Lurie, 2000)

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There are many film directors who are excellent in their craft even if they do not write their own material, Scorsese, Spielberg, and Eastwood to name a few. However, I still prefer those who can write and direct, with names like Almodovar, Wong Kar Wai, Coen Bros. and after watching THE CONTENDER, my admiration for Rod Lurie solidified not only as a one-time success with his later film NOTHING BUT THE TRUTH (which I saw first). 
Like Eastwood, Lurie knows how to turn words off the script into interesting visual drama. Politics is really Lurie's comfort zone, and like in NOTHING BUT THE TRUTH, this sophomore film from Lurie surprised me when I least expected it. Both feature heroines in great distress who rise up to the occasion and prove among everyone they are equal with men, but whereas NOTHING BUT THE TRUTH ends on a sad note, THE CONTENDER emerges triumphant.
Joan Allen plays Laine Hanson, a Senator tapped by the United States President Jackson Evans (Jeff Bridges) to be his nu…

CONTRABAND (Baltasar Kormakur, 2011)

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CONTRABAND works best when you think of the technical aspects: the icebreaker aerial shots, the restless camera when the characters are having a conversation, and the relaxed pacing. For a film about a smuggling, and eventual heist, CONTRABAND is pretty quiet. Thank God Baltasar Kormakur is no Michael Bay.
One can't help but liken CONTRABAND to "GONE IN SIXTY SECONDS", a film produced by Jerry Bruckheimer starring Nicolas Cage. CONTRABAND shares similar plot jumpoff and resolution with GONE, and they both feature Giovanni Ribisi in opposing roles (Ribisi is the victim that sets things in motion in the latter film). Mark Wahlberg is the Nicolas Cage character who is a retired career criminal forced back in the game due to family involvement in crime. Yes, the story isn't exactly original.
CONTRABAND also has that ITALIAN JOB feel (a movie which also stars Mark Wahlberg). Most of the suspense are layered during the planning stage, and while CONTRABAND piles up twist afte…

J EDGAR (Clint Eastwood)

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If there's a message Clint Eastwood's J. EDGAR successfully conveys, it is this: even monsters have goodness in their hearts, no matter how wrong their methods of achieving ends may be. Eastwood masterfully directs a fairly-presented biopic based on a screenplay by Dustin Lance Black (MILK), while Leonardo DiCaprio gives his all and achieves a lot covering his character's beliefs and inner conflicts, though he has given better performances in previous films (SHUTTER ISLAND is one example).
The focus primarily of J. EDGAR is the controversial FBI head's contributions to modern law enforcement, and the price he paid for it, both cementing his status as a relevant icon of history. We see J. Edgar Hoover's unwavering allegiance to the American flag, and the many times his ideas seemed farfetched, to the point of utter rejection, yet the script is intent on proving that Hoover was right most of these times, with all his seemingly absurd notions about surveillance, forens…

SHERLOCK HOLMES: A GAME OF SHADOWS (Guy Ritchie)

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Holmes and Watson are back, with Holmes neck deep in intrigue and hijinks, and Watson always ready to back him up, much to his annoyance. Guy Ritchie has managed to film this Sir Arthur Conan Doyle classic well, thanks also to the charm and talent of his two leads.
However, A GAME OF SHADOWS may pale in comparison to its predecessor, especially when Mark Strong (Lord Blackwood from the first film) seemed a more vile character than Prof. James Moriarty (Jared Harris), and Moriarty is supposedly a formidable foe for Sherlock. 
The action is still fast and funny, yet we already saw plenty of that in the first film. Noomi Rapace as a gypsy woman embroiled in the intrigue is welcome, but forgettable. The story is really a bromance between Holmes and Watson that a female decorative is hardly necessary. 
I liked that new characters brought additional flavor to the story. Stephen Fry as Holmes's brother is hilarious, and it's good to see Watson's new wife serve a higher purpose than …

WARRIOR (Gavin O' Connor)

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There are sports dramas, and then there are sports dramas. WARRIOR, transcends the sports drama genre mainly because of the pureness of the sibling story at its core and the unflinching performances of its seasoned cast. Both Joel Edgerton and Tom Hardy are compelling to watch, but it's Nick Nolte who plays their reformed father on a path of redemption who's really the show-stopper. 
The mixed martial arts sport serves as the arena for siblings Tommy (Hardy) and Brendan (Edgerton) to dish out long standing family issues, and what's ironic is that neither of them wanted the confrontation. Each has a purpose for being in the ring- Tommy wants the money to fulfill a promise to a fallen comrade; Brendan needs to win or else their house will be repossessed by the bank. Eventually, they meet in the end. Brendan is willing to forgive, but Tommy is not. There is a subdued rage within Tommy that bursts whenever he pulls punches. 
Through dialogue, we get a glimpse but never fully und…

THE IDES OF MARCH (George Clooney)

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*may contain a little bit of spoiler
Politics is a dirty game. If you want to preserve your conscience, integrity, and/or whatever values you may have left in your body, do not enter it at all costs. In order to succeed in a political career, it seems that the accepted practice is to get results no matter the consequence. In fact there is no arena more brutal in human existence than a political arena because the players are all under the guise of fancy suits and fake smiles. 
Clooney's latest turn as a director (and co-writer) dabbles into politics with the premise of idealism, as embodied by the story's protagonist Stephen Meyers (Ryan Gosling), a young, driven, and brilliant deputy campaign manager to Governor Mike Morris (Clooney) who's in it to become the next United States president. In fact this is nothing new, since the case of the young idealist losing his innocence to the unforgiving social and political system is inevitable, and such is exactly what happens here in…

REAL STEEL (Shawn Levy, 2011)

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REAL STEEL is a family film in the truest sense of the word- an enjoyable, suspenseful action drama with an engaging father-son relationship in the center. Moreover, it has the energy and the hysteria of the greatest boxing movies, and placing it in a futuristic world but maintaining a present setting only adds to the film's beauty.
Based in part to the Richard Matheson short story "Steel" which sets the story in the year 2156, REAL STEEL adjusts the timeline a little bit closer to reality, in the year 2020 where locations appear normal as it would today, only that the robots have replaced humans for sport. Jackman, who takes a break from the X-MEN films, is lean and still gritty as a washed out boxer roaming the country with a washed out robot. 
The story gets interesting with the arrival of his estranged son Max (a starmaking performance for Canadian young actor Dakota Goyo), whom he gets to spend a brief time with, following the death of Max's mother, who is Jackman…