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Capsule reviews #1

As you know if you listen to the podcast, I watch a lot of movies. So much so that sometimes I have to decide which to talk about and which to omit entirely. No more! I’ve decided to start posting capsule reviews of anything I don’t discuss on the podcast. They won’t have a ton of detail – maybe just a paragraph or two. Enough to tell you how I feel about each movie.

There won’t be any particular theme with these posts. It’ll be a random sampling of stuff that didn’t make it into the podcast for whatever reason. And I don’t know how often I’ll need to do these little round-ups, but they’ll probably happen every once in awhile. So anyway, here’s the first batch.

Narc (2002) – A fantastic film from Joe Carnahan that I felt compelled to revisit after the disappointment that was The Grey. Okay, so most people liked The Grey –  I’m just saying I thought it could’ve been better. Anyway, the opening scene of Narc grabs you by the throat with some wild shaky-cam action, but Carnahan doesn’t overuse it the way a less skilled director might. Once that chaotic first scene is over, he switches to a more traditional shooting style for the remainder of the film.

The story here begins as a straightforward murder investigation, with Jason Patric and Ray Liotta working together/butting heads to solve the killing of Liotta’s former partner. Both guys are fantastic in their roles, and when you throw in the madness that goes on in the third act, it makes for a memorable finish. I loved the way this movie kept me guessing right ’til the end.

Cell 211 (2009) – A fairly interesting film about a prison guard (played by Alberto Ammann) on his first day on the job. A riot goes down and he pretends to be an inmate to save his own skin. This is a Spanish film, but it feels like it’s destined for a crappy American remake in the near future. On the positive side, it surprised me a good deal, which is rare. On the negative side, the main character becomes kind of morally ambiguous by the end, and I didn’t find his transformation entirely satisfying. But even with the questionable writing, Ammann does his best, and is mostly convincing. The “leader” of the inmates is also very memorable, thanks to Luis Tosar’s performance.

The Women On The Sixth Floor (2011) – A fun, upstairs-downstairs romp about rich French people and their Spanish servants. Very enjoyable movie. There’s not a whole lot of depth to the plot or the themes, but I found myself engaged throughout. Writers Philippe Le Guay and Jérôme Tonnerre prove adept at mixing drama and comedy, and Fabrice Luchini is funny as the well-intentioned but occasionally clueless master of the house. Going in, I would not have guessed I’d like this film, but I was pleasantly surprised. I probably won’t remember it by next week, but for what it is, it’s entertaining.

Le Havre (2011) – A disappointment. It’s the story of this older French couple who take in a refugee and try to keep him hidden until he can reunite with his family. I just couldn’t figure what this movie was trying to be. As a drama, it fails because the actress playing the wife can’t act at all (or she was directed to be very wooden, one of the two). As a comedy, it fails because the actual jokes are way too few and far between. It’s like the director couldn’t stick to any particular tone and wound up with a mess as a result. I thought the main actor (André Wilms) did a good job with what he was given, but he wasn’t given enough. The script just didn’t keep me interested. My first exposure to popular Finnish director Aki Kaurismäki, and I can’t say I was much impressed.

3 responses to “Capsule reviews #1

  1. michaelwalls March 7, 2012 at 5:00 pm

    Nice review of NARC, reminded me that I should rewatch that movie. Loved it the first time I saw it.

    Joe Carnahan is a fantastic and underrated director, in my opinion. NARC’s fantastic, SMOKIN’ ACES was an ambitious misstep, THE A-TEAM is a great action film that’s infinitely rewatchable and THE GREY was haunting and beautiful. Anything Carnahan decides to do I’m on board with. I hope he gets the chance to make his two passion projects: KILLING PABLO and the adaptation of WHITE JAZZ.

    Also, I really want to check out CELL 211 and THE WOMEN ON THE SIXTH FLOOR now.

  2. Mike Lake March 7, 2012 at 5:21 pm

    I haven’t seen Smokin’ Aces or The A-Team, but I’m definitely down for more Carnahan so I might just give ’em a look.

    As for The Grey, I already feel like I’m wrong about that movie, but something about it just didn’t grab me. I think a lot of it had to do with the way it was marketed. I paid to see Liam Neeson punch some wolves, dammit! What I ended up with was unexpectedly low-key and philosophical. I also found it surprising to the point of being off-putting in the way it dealt with minor characters dying. Basically, Carnahan subverted survival movie tropes so well that it was starting to mess with me.

    I’ll probably enjoy it more on second viewing when I know what I’m in for…

  3. michaelwalls March 7, 2012 at 5:32 pm

    I agree. I was psyched for weeks to see WOLFPUNCHER: THE MOVIE and I ended up with DEALING WITH DEATH: THE MOVIE. Which, while off-putting, grabbed me right away. The first death on the airplane…fuck. It was so powerful. And we didn’t even know the guy. You’re right, it completely subverts any survival movie tropes. Like, when you look at it from the beginning again with everything in mind you realize, even though Neeson’s character is the most experienced, they’re all basically fucked from the get-go. The whole film’s about dealing with the inevitable.

    When Neeson tells the dying man to let his niece take him away–which is shown again with Dermot Mulroney and his daughter–you realize that the whole film is about Neeson’s character coming to terms with death. His constant visions of his wife is him allowing her to ‘take him away’.

    Also, it has some really good, tense sequences. And that scene of the one man taking in the view as the wolves(us) close in behind him is amazing.

    Definitely check out SMOKIN’ ACES and THE A-TEAM though. Carnahan has a really interesting perspective that I feel gets written off too easily.

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