Archive for woody harrelson

Synoptic Six

Posted in Action, Comedy, Drama, Mystery, Oscar winner, Oscar-nominated, Thriller with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 19, 2010 by ericstraus

I know all 3 of you who regularly read these film reviews have been wondering if I’d given up the movie blog, being that it’s been a good 5 weeks or so since the last post.  But no, I return to you today with brief reviews of the six films I’ve seen since that last post; hopefully this will satiate your itching desire to know what I think of these recently released DVDs.  Enjoy.

The Messenger – A moving film with superb acting performances from Woody Harrelson (Oscar-nominated) and Ben Foster.  Two Army men are tasked with personally informing families that their loved ones have perished during combat in Iraq or Afghanistan.  The veteran Harrelson and the newcomer Foster have differing views about how their job should be carried out, complicated more when Foster begins to have feelings for one of the widows he meets.  There is a decent amount of humor which helps to keep the film from being a complete downer; the relationship between Harrelson and Foster and their performances make the film well worth a viewing.  Final Grade for The Messenger:  B+

From Paris with LoveA fast-paced, silly action film that is a sort of throwback to the cheeky Schwarzenegger films of the 80’s, fraught with one-liners and a pointless story.  John Travolta is actually quite entertaining as a rebellious CIA agent who does things his way, but always gets the job done.  Jonathan Rhys Meyers is pulled into Travolta’s world as a young CIA agent trying to stop a terrorist plot, and the two men battle bad guys all around the City of Light.  The action sequences are very fun to watch, if you’re into that sort of thing, and even some of Travolta’s one-liners are funny.  But it’s little more than a big-budget action film; if you’re looking for character depth, or depth of any kind for that matter, don’t.  But lots of explosions and car chases make for a fun popcorn movie, and to that end, the film delivers.  Final Grade for From Paris with Love:  C+

Edge of DarknessIt’s hard to judge a Mel Gibson film these days without considering what’s been going on in his personal life, but I’ll sure try.  This movie marks Gibson’s return to the screen following his anti-semitic diatribe and drunk driving offense, and overall it’s not bad.  Gibson is a homicide detective who watches his college-age daughter get gunned down right in front of him.  He assumes that he was the target, but as he investigates he learns that his daughter was a political activist and she indeed was intentionally murdered.  He throws the police rulebook away as he conducts his own interrogations, stopping at nothing to discover the truth.  The film has some gritty, intense sequences, but too much of the film is spent on Gibson’s personal reflection and humdrum investigation scenes.  By the time he finds his daughter’s killer, we’re not too bent on seeing him exact his revenge (which we all knew was coming) – there’s no real climax to the film.  Gibson is decent, but it’s obvious the drama in his personal life has taken a toll on his acting chops – he seems like he’s aged a lot more than he actually has, and it’s hard to know how much of the anger and desperation his character takes on is Gibson’s acting or Gibson’s actual personality these days.  Final Grade for Edge of Darkness:  C

The Blind SideI usually make it a point to not see Sandra Bullock movies; most of the time she does films I wouldn’t see anyway, but I usually just don’t like her as an actor.  But with her Oscar hype for this film, I decided to let go my dislike for her and watch the movie; she does deliver a fine performance – not sure if it was Oscar-worthy, but it didn’t annoy me, so that speaks volumes.  The film is a true story of Michael Oher, a young man who has sprinted through the foster system from family to family, never finding a home, and is eventually taken in by the Tuohy family.  The Tuohys are very well-off, and Oher is presented with opportunities he’s never had – Bullock takes him clothes shopping, gets him a tutor, and he begins to understand what it means to be a family.  Colleges begin to recruit him as his terrific athletic ability becomes well-known, and it’s up to Bullock and her family to keep him grounded and safe.  Bullock is very charming as the no-nonsense mothering figure, whose compassion and love for someone like Michael extends to her own family, and actually makes you feel good that she’s based on a real person, Leigh Anne Tuohy.  Quinton Aaron is also very good as Oher; he’s convincing in his obliviousness to what many of us take for granted – family dinners, our own bed, etc.  The film definitely has some overly sappy scenes; the tearjerker moments, if you will.  But overall it’s a good movie, and the ending is particularly moving as they show video and photos of the real Michael Oher and the real Tuohy family.  Final Grade for The Blind Side:  B-

Green ZoneMatt Damon is an action star, as the three “Bourne” films prove.  Those films are sharp, intruiging and fun to watch.  “Green Zone” is not any of those things – it’s a boring military action film, and despite Damon’s always-good acting, it should never have been made.  Paul Greengrass directs this film – he directed the last two Bourne films, so it seems that someone thought putting him and Damon together again would be a good idea.  But they apparently forgot to get a good script to go with it.  The film tells a ficticious account of Iraq in 2003, shortly after the U.S. “liberation,” with specific focus to Army units trying to find WMDs.  Damon’s squad continuously comes up empty after their intelligence reports directs them to where supposed WMDs are being kept.  Damon begins to unravel a conspiracy between the U.S. and Iraqi governments, and of course his work puts a stop to it by the end.  Maybe it’s because the story is no longer timely, or maybe because it’s too close to the truth, but it’s not a compelling tale at all.  The action scenes are ok, but they don’t drive the plot and by the end we just don’t care.  Final Grade for Green Zone:  C-

Pirate Radio We saved the best for last.  This is a marvelous film about censorship and rock n’ roll in Britain in the late 60’s.  The British government has virtually banned pop music from its airwaves, but a group of DJs skirt the ban by broadcasting rock music 24 hours a day from a large commercial ship, anchored somewhere in the North Sea, much to the delight of English youth.  It’s basically an ensemble comedy, taking place almost entirely on the ship.  The writing ranges from funny to truly hysterical; the actors do a great job of delivering the hilarious lines.  Kenneth Branagh plays the government pencil-pusher whose mission is to stop the DJs from broadcasting.  His performance is wonderful, as he ranges from ecstatic when he thinks he’s come up with a fool-proof plan, to blisteringly angry when his plans are foiled.  The soundtrack is a delight as well, featuring a lot of well-known tracks from the Rolling Stones, the Beach Boys and the Who, but also touching on some less-known hits like Dusty Springfield’s “You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me” and the Easybeats’ “Friday on My Mind.”  The end of the film gets a bit silly, and at times it’s unnecessarily preachy regarding the music=freedom vs. music=indecency argument that we’ve become all-too familiar with regarding the 60’s.  There are also a couple of sub-plots that are amusing, but don’t drive the story much.  For those reasons I had to include the “minus” in the final grade – but overall it’s a very funny movie that entertains from start to finish, highlighted by Branagh and the other actors’ comedic performances.  Final Grade for Pirate Radio:  A-

All Smiles in “Zombieland”

Posted in Comedy, Horror with tags , , , , , , , on April 5, 2010 by ericstraus

It’s rare to find horror films with likeable characters; you usually end up rooting for the demons/zombies/serial killer/giant lizard to kill everyone because they’re so annoying.  Plus most of those films are hard to take seriously in the first place, filmmakers included.  One film in recent memory that created both likeable characters and a serious look at the genre was 2003’s “28 Days Later,” which to me is a masterpiece of the zombie film genre.  2009’s “Zombieland” is the most enjoyable zombie flick to come out since “28 Days Later,” and while it is far from a serious, dramatic view of a zombie-infested world, the characters are very likeable, the story moves along well, the zombie deaths are creative and plentiful, and at a quick 88 minutes, it’s a fun romp through the comedy/horror genre.

The opening credits let us know this won’t be a run-of-the-mill horror film, with its extreme slow-motion shots of terrified citizens being pursued by deranged, carnivorous cretins.  “Zombieland” is narrated by and stars the relatively unknown Jesse Eisenberg, who does a great job playing the naïve, nice-guy role (akin to Michael Cera in “Juno”).  He explains to us that Mad Cow disease has ravaged the planet, turning all infected people into raging, bloodthirsty zombie-like creatures (they’re not technically zombies because they aren’t “undead,” just very very ill).  He knows he is among a very scant number of survivors, and he has created his own set of rules to live by, literally.  He decides to journey to Columbus, Ohio to see if any of his family is still alive, but we can tell he is already resigned to the fact that they’re all gone; he just needs something to look ahead to.  Along the way he runs into a spitfire dubbed “Tallahassee” (the only names the survivors have are the cities where they’re from), played by Woody Harrelson.  At first it seems that Tallahassee is going to be one of those cookie-cutter no-B.S. kick-ass warriors typical of the genre, but Harrelson brings wealth of humor and sensitivity to the role; the interactions between “Columbus” and Tallahassee are well done and fun to watch.

The journey continues, and they come across two young ladies (known as “Wichita” and “Little Rock”), who dupe our male heroes into giving up their guns and vehicle.  Wichita, played by Emma Stone (Superbad, House Bunny) and Little Rock, played by Abigail Breslin (Little Miss Sunshine) have bonded together and trust no one.  We learn that they are trying to get to an amusement park in California; as Wichita says, Little Rock had to “grow up too fast,” and the park would be a great way to feel young again. Plus they heard it was zombie-free (you can imagine how that turns out).

Our four protagonists run into each other again, and this time they decide to stick together for survival’s sake.  They make it to California and decide to hole up at Bill Murray’s house (they get a map of the stars’ homes and Harrelson insists they go to Murray’s house).  The ensuing scene is fraught with hilarity, as we learn Murray is not dead or infected.  During the layover in Murray’s spacious mansion, a romance begins to develop between Columbus and Wichita, and we learn about each of the group’s pasts before the epidemic.  These mildly dramatic scenes are not corny or irrelevant; we get just enough info to care about the characters and hope they survive.

Eventually the cadre ends up at the amusement park and a final showdown with the throngs of the infected takes place.  The film does begin to lose some momentum by this point, but it’s been a fun ride.  There is a great scene inside a roadside souvenir shop where everyone lets loose and destroys everything; it begs the question that if you were among a handful of survivors of a worldwide apocalypse, what would you do?  Certainly consequence-free destruction might play a part.  The sets are great – abandoned cars along endless stretches of highway, the spooky amusement park straight out of Scooby-Doo, and a scene on Hollywood Boulevard, where, ironically, the confused and sick bodies of the infected souls don’t seem too out of place.

As I mentioned, there is a lot of humor, but “Zombieland” is not a spoof of genre – it’s a smart, funny and entertaining zombie film with good characters…and that’s a rarity.

Final Grade for Zombieland: B+