Before poor Paul W.S. Anderson made a fatal misstep with Alien Vs. Predator and was maligned, he made a few really excellent genre flicks back in the mid to late 90’s, one of them being the mostly forgotten and excessively fun Soldier, starring a mostly mute and wholly badass Kurt Russell as a genetically bred super soldier who has fallen on hard times. His name is Todd 3465, and he’s from the last line of soldiers who are in fact real humans, albeit altered. There’s a new program moving in, wherein actual replicants are produced, rendering Todd obsolete. The head of the new outfit is sadistic Colonel Mekum (Jason Isaacs in full evil prick mode), who wants to do away with anything that isn’t state of the art. Todd is thrashed in a one on one smackdown with Mekum’s lead soldier (Jason Scott Lee), and then left to die on a remote planet used only for trash disposal and inhabited by wayward crash survivors who scavenge what they can. Todd is immediately the outsider, an unfeeling asset bred only for combat and alien to human qualities. A few among the group, including their leader Mace (Anderson regular Sean Pertwee) and Jimmy Pig (Michael Chicklis) attempt to connect, but it’s gorgeous Connie Nielsen who finally breaks the ice. He may be conditioned to kill, but he’s still a human man after all, and there’s some base instincts you just can’t ignore. Trouble brews when Mekum shows up again, that bastard. Now he wants to vaporize their planet on the grounds that the refugees are essentially squatting. Undermining him is Todd’s former boss Church (an unusually restrained Gary Busey), an honorable military veteran who’d love to put Mekum six feet under and restore order. Todd must help his newfound friends, fight tooth and nail against replicants and win his superiority back. Russell is a tank in the role, letting both silence and action speak volumes, a one man old school ass kicking hero of the highest order. The world building and outer space effects are incredibly fun, the villains are broadly characterized with the force of a western, and the whole film knows what people want for a good time at the cinema. Oohh and fun fact: this takes place in the same cinematic universe as Blade Runner, and you can listen for the brief tie in reference that only die hards will pick up on. Great stuff.
I’m not usually very stoked on Adam Sandler movies, I’ll say that right off the bat. I mean, there’s a lucky select few that are either geniunly funny or have nostalgic value (Happy Gilmore, Big Daddy and the absurdly fascinating Little Nicky come to mind), but he’s just such a ball of cancer onscreen it’s hard to actively see his stuff. The Wedding Singer, however, is a really sweet little movie, and works well thanks to an impressive 80’s soundtrack and the presence of Drew Barrymore, who frequently hangs around in Sandler’s stuff. He plays Robbie Hart here, a singer who belts out the hits of the 1980’s at weddings, parties, you name it. After being left at the alter by his fiance, he spots waitress Julia (Barrymore), who uncannily seems to be working every event she is. The two form a bond, but she is engaged to another dude (Matthew Glave), who quickly is revealed to be kind of a jerkoff, prompting Robbie to go to great lengths to prove, and win Julia’s heart. The film makes the absolute most of its setting, as any period piece should. The music is a delight, right down to the amusing dawn of the ‘CD’, and a great little cameo from a rock legend aboard an airline. Some of the usual troupe of Sandler disciples pop up here, including Christine Taylor, Allen Covert, Kevin Nealon, Peter Dante, Jon Lovitz and Steve Buscemi, who can be counted on to appear in pretty much any Adam flick you can think of. Sandler and Barrymore handle the comedic romance well and have decent chemistry (perhaps while theyre always paired). It’s light, sweet, carried on by the rockin soundtrack and detailed production design.
The Nice Guys is a torrential downpour of laughs, prat falls and lovable idiocracy, a formula which director Shane Black perfected with his super underrated Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. This one is no doubt it’s sister film, and while it has comedy in spades, top tier performances all round and luscious 1970’s production design, it’s just a we bit under-plotted. Having said that, that’s my one and only complaint about it. It’s the funniest film of the year by far, thanks to the rough and tumble pairing of Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling. Crowe is Jackson Healy, a mopey hired thug who will put the hurt on anyone if the dollar is right. This occupation has him cross the path of Holland March (Gosling) an ex cop PI who, according to his daughter (Angourie Rice), is the world’s worst detective. He’s certainly a buffoon, a trait which forms one half of their comedic shtick, the other being Healy’s laid back exasperation everytime March gets them into trouble, which is pretty much throughout the entire film. The two of them unwittingly stumble into a dangerous turn events involving the justice department, murder, the apparant suicide of a porn star (Margaret Qualley), a very scary assassi (Matt Bomer) and one angry goon played by an afro’d out Keith David. It’s tough to make heads or tails of what’s really going on, but like Kiss Kiss Bang Bang it’s not about the plot or the outcome, it’s more about watching the characters trip over each other in style as they get there. Crowe is terrific, a bear of a dude who’s in way over both his head, IQ and pay grade, aghast at Gosling’s antics at every turn. Gosling’s character belongs to that special class of stupid that is so clumsy that he circumnavigates his own ineptitude and ends up falling right into clues, without a clue how he got there. After a string of recent stoic introvert roles, he’s the most animated character of the film and is clearly having a ball. None of what the duo do would be possible without March’s precocious 13 year old daughter, played with uncanny ability by Rice, whose star is going to be solidly on the rise, I’d wager. A reunion of sorts occurs with the arrival of Kim Basinger as the head of the justice department, joining Crowe again after their work in L.A. Confidential. Basinger isn’t given much to do ultimately, but her presence is a welcome addition to the vibe. Black deserves kudos for his gorgeous recreation of L.A. in the 70’s, right down to the sickening lampshades pastel suits and souped up cars it’s a treat to see. The energy from Crowe and Gosling is where it’s at with this one, and they both eagerly tuck in to the dialogue, making this one groovy, delirious riot of a flick.
As I was watching Mr. Right, I started thinking to myself, this is stupid. It’s absurd and silly. So why does it work so well? The premise isn’t unique or original. Girl meets boy. Girl falls in love with boy. Boy turns out to be hitman/secret agent. Boy drags girl on mad escapade against some dastardly villains, the bond between them getting stronger in the process. It’s an ages old formula. It sorta kinda worked with Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz, and elsewhere failed miserably with Katherine Heigl and Ashton Kutcher. So why then does it work so well with Sam Rockwell and Anna Kendrick? Well, exactly that: It’s Sam Rockwell and Anna Kendrick. The two are so suited for each other it’s adorable. The both of them are quirky, awkward, unconventionally attractive and very unpredictable in their work. Neither are what you’d call traditional romantic leads or action stars, and it’s in that sense that the film finds its groove. I’ve heard other critics bash on Max Landis’s script for being to busy or too stoked on itself, but in a studio system that tosses us garbage like the Kutcher/Heigl version, I’ll take anything I can get that puts in an admirable effort, flaws and all. Anna plays a jilted girl who is on a speeding rebound train that has a chance run in with Mr. Right (Sam Rockwell). He’s charming, super into her and the chemistry they have is obvious right off the bat. Soon they’re being appallingly cute and pretty much dating… that’s where the trouble begins. Rockwell is an infamous assassin on the run from several baddies including his former agency mentor (Tim Roth has even more fun with accents here than he did in The Hateful Eight) who has lost his marbles, and a trio of mafia brats played by a volatile Anson Mount, a hammy James Ransone and a wicked Michael Eklund as that nastiest of the bunch. The film tries hard to balance the two tones, and fpr the most part succeeds, blending them with the helpful notes of craziness from everyone. The violence is brutal, stylized and often darkly comical, the romance is sweet but never gushy with just a hint of mental instability from both parties (sounds weird, I know… it works). Rockwell adds shades of his off the rails work in Seven Psychopaths, albeit with less psychosis. Kendrick is endlessly cute, and endearingly klutzy. Throw in RZA as a hapless killer who can’t decide what side of the fence he’s on, and you’ve got a diverse little cast with enough collective and individual talent to make this a good time. It won’t be for everyone; I can picture many people I know big annoyed, or simply finding themselves unable to buy into it. But for fans of Rockwell and Kendrick (even if you’re not, there’s no scoffing at both their skills) it’s a charming blast of fun.
As soon as George Clooney built up enough clout and reputation in the industry to a point where he could make his own projects, he started to send some unique and refreshing stuff down an assembly line that needed some shaking up. Confessions Of A Dangerous Mind is such a curiosity, but it’s so specific and idiosyncratic that I can barely say what makes it so special. I can go over the plot, performances etc. and give the reader a general idea, but to get it you had to be there. I suppose that’s the case with all movies, this one just sort of has its own frequency that you have to be tuned into. For a square jawed leading man, Clooney sure busted the box open with this directorial effort, as well as a few others, all just as distinctive. A screenplay by Mr. Abstract himself, Charlie Kaufman, helps with making an impression as well. Sam Rockwell, who continues to prove himself as one of the best actors of his generation, plays Chuck Barris. Chuck was the brain child behind numerous gaudy television game shows in the 60’s, including the infamous ‘Dating Game’. Flippant creative output was his brand, but there was another side to him as well, a darker period in which he claimed to be recruited by the CIA to carry out cloak and dagger assassinations. Whether or not this was ever a factual part of his life is murky, but he certainly believes it to be true and has written extensively about it in the novel which Clooney based this on. The film deftly intersperses his life at the television network and the genesis of the programs with his training and eventual missions for the Company. It’s an odd contrast, but when you’re treated with Clooney’s dutiful storytelling and an extremely committed turn from Rockwell, it’s hard not to be drawn into it. Not to mention the supporting cast. Julia Roberts is cast against type as a lethal, sociopathic femme fatale who crosses paths with Barris more than a few times. Rutger Hauer mopes about as a loveable alcoholic operative who covers Barris’s back on a few assignments. Drew Barrymore spruces things up as a ditzy love interest, Michael Cera plays Chuck as a young’in, Clooney himself underplays his CIA handler, letting an epic moustache do the talking, and there’s cameos from Maggie Gyllenhaal, Brad Pitt and Matt Damon. At one point the film stops dead in its tracks for the funniest performance which hijacks a scene briefly, in the form of Robert John Burke as a maniacal censorship board hyena. Burke pulls the ripcord and delivers roughly 40 seconds of pure comedic genius that I could watch on loop, and is the only moment of its kind in the film. You’d think it’d offset tone, but in a film this organic and quirky, it simply serves as a garnish of hilarity. The whole thing has a Soderbergh feel to it (perhaps due to Clooney), a sharp, crystalline precision to the burnished cinematography from Newton Thomas Sigel, who previously wowed us with similar work on Blood & Wine, The Usual Suspects and Gregory Hoblit’s Fallen. His lens captures the melancholy accompanying Barris’s very strange path path in life with moodily lit frames, and pauses for the brilliant moments of absurd black comedy which seem to follow him around like the spooks he was always running from. A film with dual aspects that never tries to prove or disprove Chuck’s claims, but loyally tells the story the way he told it, guided by Clooney all the while. A little stroke of genius.
Structured like a labyrinthine video game. Packed with loads of paranoid suspense and style. Tuned with the hazy thick atmosphere of a bad dream. A diabolical guessing game from scene to scene. Triangle is one of the most enjoyable mind benders out there, a funhouse of a thriller that sails into murky metaphysical water and doesn’t let either it’s protagonist or its audience off with a cheap resolution. Imagine Dead Calm crossed with Memento and you’ll begin to have some notion as to where this film will take you. It’s a freaky voyage, as star Melissa George finds out after a yachting expedition with friends hits a nasty patch of storm weather. Soon a massive, deserted ocean liner crosses their path, and they are forced to board it after the typhoon wreaks their smaller craft. The rest of her crew just seemed puzzled by the derelict vessel, but Melissa has an eerie, gnawing feeling that she’s been on this boat before, a feeling that something is very wrong. Suddenly there’s a mystery person hunting and killing them, and if I just made it sound like a run of the mill slasher flick, please be assured that it’s anything but. What I’ve described happens in what is maybe the first quarter of the film, and everything after that point is a trip into a dizzy, seafaring twilight zone of psychological mystery and reality warping uncertainty that makes George unsure if anything, including her own perception of reality, can be trusted. Events repeat themselves, characters dart in and out of the wormhole of a narrative arbitrarily yet with a hidden purpouse that managed to scarily elude me for much of the film. It’s scary in the way that ducks usual horror trends. There’s violence and even some ghastly gore, but the real fear here lies in the unknown, the idea that forces beyond what we perceive as reality are messing around with us, and indeed they do mess around with her and then some, right up until the last frame of an ending that’s commendable, haunting and difficult to process. George makes great work of the confusion that morphs into terror and then outright existential panic, keeping us on our toes with the way she handles her character arc. Keep an eye out for a young Liam Hemsworth too. For psychological thrillers, it don’t get much better than this, and it’s off the radar enough that you’ll be able to recommend it to your friends who chances are, haven’t even heard of it.
Titan AE is one of the best 2D animation ventures out there that isn’t Disney. Science Fiction and animation just seem to inherently go hand in hand (affirming my belief that Treasure Planet is the best one that Disney ever churned out, but that’s another story), perhaps because of the dazzling possibilities in a form of creation like that, tools which make the visual patterns of the artist’s dreams and beautiful renditions of the cosmos a reality. This one nails the visual aspect, but it was story that hooked me ultimately. Along with the artwork there is a boundless creative surge, a very human plotline that’s relatable to anyone who’s ever felt lost or like they don’t fit in. In the year 3028 A.D., a marauding race of aliens called the Drej decide that us humans are a threat, and obliterate earth, leaving few survivors. Dark way to kick off an animated movie, amirite? That’s another great thing about it, it’s not exactly for kids and reaches for themes that are a little more than your standard animated flick, getting fairly intense in the process. One of the few human survivors is young Cale (later played by Matt Damon), whose scientist father (Ron Perlman) was working on an idea that could have greatly advanced our civilization. In the years following the destruction, Cale has been left to wander the galaxy with the sparse, impoverished remains of the human race, now looked down upon by other alien tribes for essentially being homeless. When human Captain Joseph Korso (Bill Pullman) comes to him telling of a mysterious device created by his father long ago, Cale is reluctant, resenting his him for disappearing on the Titan ship so many years before. Soon it becomes clear that Perlman’s device is the key to creating a new earth, and reuniting humanity. Thus begins an epic race across the universe to find it before the Drej do. Drew Barrymore lends her sassy voice talents to Akima, Korso’s tough lieutenant, and there’s also work from John Leguizamo, Nathan Lane, Janeane Garofalo, Charles Rocket, Alex D. Linz and rapper Tone Loc who has a perfect voice for this kind of thing, playing a kindly alien mentor named Tek. This one is timeless, feeling fresh and vital with each passing decade it’s allowed to age through. A celebration of imagination and the creative force of will that lies inside each and every one of us humans, no matter how dire our situation. Classic stuff.