Tag Archives: film review

‘Thor’ Sets Stage for Long-Awaited ‘Avengers’

By Matt Clyburn

Thor is an arrogant tool. Son of Odin and brother of the mischievous Loki, he is a sure thing for the throne when Odin decides to cash in the 401k and head to Mexico. Odin’s claim to fame is restoring peace after defeating the Frost Giants and taking the source of their power for display at the Asgard historical society.

On the day of Thor’s big promotion, the kingdom is invaded by a contingency of Frost Giants looking to take back their ice-case thing. After getting mauled by a bigger, more evil-looking version of Futurama‘s Bender, Thor foolishly decides to take the fight to their turf and teach them a lesson. Little does he know that they’re about to experience the best action sequence of the whole movie, capped off by an epic Odin appearance who rides in to put the Frost Giants on ice. Ha.

Thor’s bad ‘tude and silly actions get him voted off the island and sent to the bowels of hell: New Mexico. There he meets a few scientists, some local townsfolk and a few SHIELD agents using bureaucracy and underrated performances to defend the planet.

Thor continues the recent American obsession with Australian actors, as Chris Hemsworth (Captain Kirk’s dad in Star Trek) takes on the title character. The part is perhaps the most challenging of the Marvel super heroes because it most eloquently details the rise, fall and redemption of the tragic hero archetype.

The trailer for this film left me scoffing quite a bit at some cliche dialogue and weird-looking costumes. Costuming aside, which was rather strange as godly figures descended to earth, the dialogue was actually on point and seamlessly carried to the audience by an all-star performance from Hemsworth.

Oscar winner Natalie Portman (Black Swan) tries and fails as diamond-in-the-rough scientist Jane Foster searching for something in the cosmos. Portman’s attempt at an understated performance falls quite flat. Despite a handful of poorly written jokes, Kat Dennings (40-Year-Old Virgin, Charlie Bartlett) saves the day by delivering them in a fresh way (think Emma Stone in Easy A).

With all that said, I really disliked the last third of the movie. Bender’s evil twin comes down to earth like a Kraken out of Clash of the Titans and tries to put an end to our hero. A big old hammer and a smooch from the leading lady send Thor off to Asgard to reclaim his legacy and battle the bad guys.

One of my most persistent criticisms of modern film is the forced romantic relationships that randomly pop up in the midst of complex characters and stories. I imagine that filmmakers today sit in a room, pre-production, and decide that the script they’ve created has too much depth for the average moviegoer. This is a tremendous disservice to said moviegoer, as the filmmakers sacrifice a deeper exploration of the aforementioned complexities for a love story that we see in movie after movie after movie…after movie. Thor meets girl? No, thank you.

Anthony Hopkins (Silence of the Lambs) gives his best performance in recent years as Odin, a live-action version of the part he tried to play in Beowulf. Relative unknown Tom Hiddleston is a great cast addition, lending a duality to Loki that will certainly be a point of order for the forthcoming Avengers film.

The best thing about Thor is that it does the best job of its Marvel counterparts alluding to The Avengers. We are granted references to Tony Stark, Hawkeye and the Hulk in some really subtle plot points that made me shriek with gladness. Pile that on to a nice preview of Captain America and we’ve got ourselves a nicely developing franchise.

Netflix It: ‘Invasion of the Body Snatchers’

By Michael Walsh

Donald Sutherland stars in 'Invasion of the Body Snatchers.'

Few science fiction horror films capture the pure essence of paranoia quite like the ones that make a valiant effort to tell the body snatching story first written by Jack Finney.

While Don Siegel’s 1956 version of Finney’s novel The Body Snatchers is quite possibly the best film to tell the story of an alien race that goes about its world domination without metal spaceships and with flowers, Philip Kaufman’s 1978 update holds a much more special place in my heart for a number of reasons.

Although I do love the small-town setting Siegel’s film takes place on, Kaufman moves Finney’s tale of paranoia and identity pandemic to the big city, making the takeover’s initial location San Francisco, a delectable setting for any genre film of the 1970’s.

The film features some serious star power, placing Donald Sutherland in a lead role as a public health worker, Jeff Goldblum as his paranoid friend and Leonard Nimoy as a know-it-all author and psychologist. The female leads are played by the recognizable but lesser-known Brooke Adams and Veronica Cartwright. Between the strength of these five actors, a great sense of paranoia begins circulating early on in the film, as suspicions rise about people who simply aren’t themselves anymore.

What makes Invasion of the Body Snatchers such a treat is sensational sense of paranoia it instills in the viewer, let alone the characters, and how Kaufman so effectively portrays it and pushes it.

“I keep seeing these people, all recognizing each other,” says Adams’ character Elizabeth as she suspects something has changed in San Francisco. “Something is passing between them all, some secret. It’s a conspiracy, I know it.”

This line puts the entire journey in perspective. It summarizes the entire feel and atmosphere of the film. The emotionless duplicate bodies that walk amongst our main characters lack human quality and a sense of uniqueness, yet they communicate so well, almost without a whisper. All human character and identity is lost once the pods take control and birth out a new body absolutely the same as the old one.

Kaufman’s film is delightfully eerie, a true champion of the science fiction horror genre that a very few succeed at. Filming most of its climax at night, Kaufman makes use of shadows and the unknown during running chase scenes across a freaked out San Francisco.

A most remarkable and memorable shot places the camera across the street from our main characters as they try to run away from a group of impostor human beings hoping to change them into emotionless facades of themselves. In this shot, we see giant shadows of the four projected onto the building they run alongside, creating suspense through a simple static shot with a beautiful  eye for aesthetics.

This version of Invasion of the Body Snatchers also has another one-up on Siegel’s already great attempt to tell the story. Forget the technical advancements that allow Kaufman to film his story in grander scope and vibrant color, the team at work here also gets the opportunity to work with some top notch special effects (for the time) that will undoubtedly creep the hell out of you.

There’s a dog with a man’s head, and that’s hardly the epitome of disgusting creature effects Body Snatchers features. The detail of the undead yet dead looking bodies and the pods they grow out of is remarkable to not only the look, but to the touch, and adds a whole heck of a lot to capturing the uneasy feeling the rest of the film strives so hard to attain.

Additionally, Kaufman’s film is home to a few of the most memorable moments in 1970’s cinema. The entire chase sequences is full of emotionless beings screeching at the top of their lungs with unhuman sounds coming from their open mouths and fingers pointing straight at you while they attempt to identify those who haven’t ‘turned’ yet. The film’s ending is shocking and one of the most well-done and well-executed in the genre, something I can only let you discover on your own.

Terrifying for more reasons than just the same old movie scare tactics, Invasion of the Body Snatchers brings forward real concepts of paranoia, that while achieved through unbelievable action of alien infusion via a new species of plant, can be taken as allegory for all sorts of real life paranoia we might have for brain-altering people of certain religions or belief groups.

This story has been told many times, most recently in the Daniel Craig and Nicole Kidman film The Invasion. Before that, the story was told on a military base in 1993’s Body Snatchers. And while the original film adaptation is among the era’s most remarkable science fiction films, the 1978 Kaufman production has that extra push that allows the film to most certainly appeal to all those interested in otherworldly exploration.

‘Fast Five’ Explodes with Action

By Nick Rosa

Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, and Jordana Brewster return to the screen in the most action packed ‘Fast and Furious’ yet.

With big crashes, sexy women and the addition of The Rock (Dwayne Johnson) as a brute federal agent, there’s plenty to bring in the mostly male audience which has helped shell out millions over the last decade since the first installment.

Director Justin Lin, who is back for his third time around (Fast and Furious: Tokyo Drift and Fast and Furious 2009) opens the film up with exploding cars, a passenger bus flipping multiple times and a huge prison break. The film begins where the last film left off, with Brian O’Connor (Paul Walker) and girlfriend Mia Toretto (Jordana Brewster) using matching hot rods to bust Dom Toretto (Vin Diesel) out of a prison transport van. Defying the laws of physics and straying away from the amount of street racing in the series, Lin puts a new edge to Fast and Furious.

All three are now on the FBI’s most wanted list and are on the run. They flee to Rio de Janeiro where you would expect beautiful beach scenes, souped up cars and flashy lights. But no, Lin gives us favelas, back-street garages and has gun-toting drug cartels chasing after the trio. And don’t forget the special group of agents that is lead by federal agent Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) who is after the three.

While people may be upset with the much less street racing and flashy toy cars contained in the film, Lin serves up new heights with never ending scenes with metal flying everywhere.

This was the most expensive installment so far and you can see the budget wasn’t used on acting lessons. There was one too many corny one-liners and quick switches in the plot of the film that you wouldn’t normally see, especially in a Fast and Furious film. But overall, Lin did a great job making it work.

After making enemies with the city’s reigning drug lord, Reyes, Dom and the others are constantly on the run and find themselves in a pickle that makes illegal street-racing look minuscule. With Agent Hobbs and his group of special agents and Reyes’ henchman close on behind them, Dom decides the only way they can get their freedom back is to buy it with $100 million of Reyes’ money.
Dom assembles more original cast members and franchise favorites including Tej (Chris “Ludacris” Bridges), Roman Pierce (Tyrese Gibson), Han (Sung Kang) and Gisele (Gal Gadot) for “one last job.”

It’s a basic plot but has a clever Ocean’s 11 bank heist strategy thrown in that leads to a climax that will get your blood pumping through the unimaginable obstacles they have to tackle to buy their freedom.

This film is something that audience members probably have never seen before, with a giant steel bank vault careening through the streets of Rio strapped to muscle cars with steel cables, it’s something new to the Fast and Furious series.

The film had non-stop action throughout and delivered as a good Fast and Furious film. If you’re a fan of the series I recommend seeing it, even if it can be corny at sometimes, but the explosive action and original cast members does more than make up for that.

With the climax leading into a sixth installment, the series seems to not disappoint its fans.

‘Hobo with a Shotgun’ Demands Change, Recreates Exploitation Genre

By Michael Walsh

He doesn’t want your pennies, nickels and dimes. He wants your blood.

Exploitation film has come a long and twisted way. What was once a genre that had ‘grindhouse’ theaters dedicated solely to the down and dirty film style on street corners across America’s best-known cities has gone wayward. With the oversaturation of disappointing home video quality horror and exploitation that lack the charm of the 1970’s productions, it’s becoming rare to find a film that breathes the same love for the cinema the successes of past year’s did.

Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez got it right in their excellent, albeit it overproduced, Grindhouse double feature, a film that spawned two excellent fake trailers turned honest and excellent exploitation film. The first of those was Rodriguez’s own Machete, the second is the recently released Canadian venture Hobo with a Shotgun.

After drifting into Hope Town, Rutger Hauer (Blade Runner), the titular hobo, witnesses the depraved crime and violence the town has to offer its citizens. Backed by a corrupt police force, the sinister Drake (Brian Downey) reigns supreme over the dirty streets of the city along with his sons Slick  (Gregory Smith) and Ivan (Nick Bateman) and some kind of unhuman force dubbed ‘The Plague.’ Doing his best Death Wish impression, the unnamed hobo vows to clean the city streets of the scum Drake terrorizes it with and if blood has to be the number one cleansing ingredient, so be it.

No, he isn’t asking for monetary change anymore. Our unlikely hero wants society to change instead. Exploitation films have always been a genre that often was able to speak on messages directed towards society whether intended or not.

Rodriguez’s recent Machete was timely enough to comment on border control issues between America and Mexico and most of the ultra-violent classics, like I Spit on Your Grave, The House on the Edge of the Park and the entire Blaxploitation genre, as depraved, disturbing and sexual as they were, opened discussion, sometimes unintentionally, on race and humanity in general, exploring just what truly despicable acts are possible of those that make up our strange society.

Hobo with a Shotgun does that. It ever so slightly turns the table on its audience. The homeless man and his prostitute friend Abby (Molly Dunsworth) are the most levelheaded and honest characters in the film. Corruption runs rampant through the police force and the town’s citizens are bribed and commissioned by Drake to exterminate all the street’s homeless. Both are unfortunate characters more commonly seen on the other side of things in the history of film, but in director Jason Eisener’s film they’re the odd voice of advocacy for change.

But perhaps more important than the shallow message the film does send, Hobo with a Shotgun fits itself snug inside the genre it belongs in and lays claim to being one of the best in recent years by hitting all the appropriate buttons of the unofficial ‘How to make an exceptional exploitation film’ checklist.

Eisener creates a disgusting, anarchy-filled world of its own and that can only be read as a compliment. Somehow, someway, he turned locations into hopeless, unsightly areas overgrown with depravity. The streets are littered with yesterday’s garbage and the retro looking clubs, arcades and buildings are layered with graffiti. A necessary sense of location inside a depressed world is created, an absolute necessity for any film trying to create circumstances as unlikely as Eisener’s.

But Eisener then does one better by using a stylish and unnatural color tone that helps instill a dreary but oddly appealing visual atmosphere to his film. Opening credits claim the shooting was done with the help of Technicolor, and whether the entire film was actually shot that way or not, it sure appears to be. The oversatured colors help Eisener give his film that unique flair that a great exploitation film needs in order to separate itself from the pack of copycats.

The true plight of modern genre films has been the increased use of CGI effects. Nothing looks as raw and real as handmade special effects, something Hobo with a Shotgun has lots of. Exploitation films know they’re silly, campy and unrealistic, but at the same time a not so strange amount of attention to detail is paid to what is often considered the saving grace of some genre films: the violence.

Relying on the concept of a hobo killing off scum because the scum tortured and killed the hobos and innocent citizens of Hope Town, it’s obvious that Eisener needed to have an absurd amount of death and mutilation happen to its characters. The violence is creative and unique, a must for any film relying so heavily on it, as toasters, hockey skates and lawnmowers are just some of the objects that join the titular shotgun as other weapons featured in the film. The blood is plentiful and the amount of decapitated limbs and heads is up there with the best of them.

Hobo with a Shotgun is a delightfully crude, funny and violent film full of camp and over the top performances from a few actors we’ve seen before. Adding all that to the bright future Eisener clearly has directing this kind of slop and you’ve got one of modern cinema’s best attempts at creating something of the past.

Netflix It: ‘A Serious Man’

By Nicholas Proch

Michael Stuhlbarg. Many of us didn’t know that name before he appeared on Boardwalk Empire. Before he played Arnold Rothstein on the HBO series, who famously rigged the 1919 world series while betting on the Chicago White Sox, now dubbed the ‘Black Sox’, he had only landed minor roles.

It was his work in A Serious Man that opened the door for Stuhlbarg to take larger roles.

The 2009 film, written and directed by the heralded Coen brothers [No Country for Old Men, Fargo], is another masterpiece in the eyes of those who really work to understand their dark level of comedy.

Stuhlbarg, who plays lead character Larry Gopnik, nails it. He’s a physics professor in Minnesota in 1967, who happens to be a very tight-wound jew. Gopnik is nervous, unsure and now being left by his wife for the much older Sy Albeman.

His life unfolds on the screen during the two hour piece. Gopnik’s son is experimenting with drugs while he’s supposed to be getting ready for his bar-mitzvah, his brother Arthur (played by Richard Kind) is an unwanted house guest who is convinced that he has found the key to the universe through his math and he is being forced out of him home by his wife and Sy. It’s these elements, and many more, that make this film a pleasure to watch.

You can’t say enough about the direction from the Coen brothers. They have a complete vision for their work, which they carry out to the fullest. There are scenes in which Gopnik is searching for the answer to his troubles from his faith. The level of awkwardness created between the rabbi and Gopnik is captured through clever editing and strong flashbacks and cut scenes.

A ‘get’. What is a ‘get’? Before you watch this film you might have no idea what a ‘get’ is. It’s a recurring plot device which shows up throughout the movie. Sy Ableman and Judith Gopnik, are asking Larry for a ‘get’. ‘Get’. ‘Get’. ‘Get.’ It’s mentioned in the film enough times to make you nauseated. But what is it? That’s the humor in it. It’s never fully explained to Gopnik, making your time spent watching even more frustrating.

This frustration is what should make you want to watch this movie. It’s not frustrating in the sense that you’re going to get pissed off, but in the sense that you’ll be grabbing your sides as you feel bad for Gopnik and his trail of misfortunes.

One of the things that the Coen brothers do especially well in all their films are their written dialogues. Every line seems unplanned and surprising, but this is only due the combination of the script and talented actors. There are long scenes which rely on conversations and nothing else. There is sometimes no movement and no action, but it works. However, what works well is the book ends to these dialogue-heavy scenes. They’re entertaining, fast and they often have kick-ass 60’s music playing.

If you’re a fan of the Coen brothers and their work, then you should absolutely check out A Serious Man. It’s a strong effort from the pair that doesn’t get enough attention. That’s surprisingly simple considering this work is sandwiched by No Country for Old Men and True Grit.

Suspenseful ‘Scream 4’ Delivers Polished Horror Mockery

By Nick Rosa

It was a popular trend in the 80s to make a horror film which could be defined as a ‘slasher’. As we progressed, so did the genre. The 90s brought a cinematic and slightly more elegant horror back to life. The capstone example of this is ‘Scream.’

‘Scream 4’, with original director and master of horror, Wes Craven, and original screenplay writer, Kevin Williamson, who worked together on the previous three Scream films team up once again and go back to what has made ‘Scream’ so effective. By keeping the clean simple plot of hiding the killer’s identity, murder mystery, a high school set, ‘Scream 4’ was a slasher-comedy that worked.

While working in the new cast members: Emma Roberts as Sidney’s cousin, Jill, Hayden Panettiere as her tough horror-geek friend Kirby, with the original cast: Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell), who has returned to Woodsboro to promote her new ‘Out of the Darkness’ novel of her experiences; the awkward lawman Dewey Riley (David Arquette), once a deputy, now the town sheriff, and former newswoman Gale Weathers (Courteney Cox), now a bestselling novelist with a hard case of writer’s block, mesh together unlike many other horror film sequels.

Even within the film they use some small humor to get the point across on how you never mess with the original.

Williamson is known for his, and a fiend for, the red herrings. The movie is wall-to-wall red herrings, with shots held on characters long enough to make you think, He’s the killer! No, she is! No, it’s both of them, aspect. You have that feeling till the terrific but utterly outrageous climax of the film. The way character portrayal is played it will have you guessing till the very end.

‘Scream 4’ opens with the predictable shot of a ringing telephone, that can’t compete with the original, but Craven gives you an opening that shows this is not going to be a just average sequel like ‘Scream 2 and 3’. It will probably be better if you pretend this movie kicks off 15 years after the original and forget about the crap in the middle. The witty opening with the added meta-joke works all too well for its first 15 minutes.

Once again, like the original, the ‘rules’ of horror films are brought to audiences attention. The film occasionally mocks horror film clichés and refers back to the original rules of horror. But what makes this different from the already different ‘Scream’, is just like what the movie poster says, “New Decade, New Rules.” This makes it more interesting, now, instead of a killer nobody knows terrorizing the town of Woodsboro based on a set of rules, it changes to where there are no more ‘rules’. Along with a modern feature added in, which is an Iphone app that can duplicate the Ghost face voice, with the aspect of ‘no rules’, it’s hard to pin-point which characters are actually in danger or are causing the killings. Anyone and everyone have the tools to play this game now.

I’m going to stay clear of actual plot points because the movie all together would be best seen not knowing what’s going to happen right around the corner. For this film, the element of surprise is plays a pivotal role. Williamson brings out the best in Craven as a director: He knows how to work amazingly for wide-screen, allowing the killer to jump from unexpected places over and over again. Even at points where you know you shouldn’t jump, you’ll jump.

Wes Craven is also known for his blood, and this slasher has plenty of it. From his original horror films like, ‘Last House on the Left’ or ‘Nightmare on Elm Street’ there will be disturbing images. You see knives go through doors, skulls, and hearts. Even a gruesome scene of disembowelment Craven adds to spice things up.

The opening, story-line and climax all fit together to make one of the better horror films I’ve seen in awhile, in theaters. Guessing who will be killed next or the identity of the psycho behind the infamous ‘Ghost Face’ are two questions that last for the entire film. Neither question is easily solvable, to the credit of the director and filmmakers.

The only real complaints I had were the easily recognizable Botox injections Courtney Cox had in her lips and some iffy acting from Emma Roberts, but that is as expected from a former Disney star. Not bad for a first horror film though. Overall, nothing to second guess the money you spent on the ticket.

If you are Scream fan I recommend you see the fourth installment of the series and, if you’re a person who loves a good twist with a guessing game all the way through, ‘Scream’ is 4 you.

Delightfully Crude ‘Your Highness’ Works Well on Low Level

By Michael Walsh

James Franco and Danny McBride star in 'Your Highness.' Photo: Universal.

When David Gordon Green finished making his independent masterpiece George Washington, I’m not even sure he himself knew where his career was going.

The filmmaker and writer spent time slipping out of serious films like the aforementioned drama and other early career highlights like All the Real Girls and into silly world highlighted by Pineapple Express. But none of Green’s adventures to the new genre has been sillier than Your Highness.

Working with writer and actor Danny McBride, part of the creative company that turned out HBO’s hit comedy series Eastbound and Down, Green is paired up with McBride and Ben Best for this delightfully crude and immature medieval tale of revenge and genitalia jokes.

While I gained much euphoric and pleasant pleasure from my time spent with Your Highness, the film probably wasn’t as laugh out loud funny as it should have been given its all-star pedigree that matches James Franco up with the successfully funny minds of McBride and Best.

Franco plays Prince Fabious, a most successful man of the medieval world, who must quest to save his kidnapped princess with the help of his lazy brother Thadeous (McBride).

Those who enjoy watching McBride portrayal controversial relief pitcher Kenny Powers on Eastbound and Down will have a good time watching him quest the way he likes. If you’re anything like me, then McBride just speaking makes you giggle, and you’ll enjoy this film. Add in the lowbrow crude, dirty and immature humor amassed by this cast and there’s enough to smirk at.

Where the film meets it’s struggle is with the lack of actually constructed jokes. The film tries hard to be a Mel Brooks-esque spoof on Hollywood’s medieval age films and relies very heavily on the deadpan delivery of a charismatic Franco and the whimsical, fun-loving McBride to make ends meet in the comedy business. If the idea of those two fantastic men talking about profusely dirty situations, drugs and sex makes you want to laugh you’ll find Your Highness to be on a certain level of funny that those unfamiliar with McBride’s past work won’t be on. It’s a low level, but it’s funny nonetheless.

The idea of an entirely dwarf village is a riot and the attention of detail paid to the penis of a minotaur is worthwhile of anyone’s appreciation. The wise wizard is a pervert and the catastrophic magical event the two questing men quest to stop is dubbed ‘The Fuckening.’ What’s there to not like again?

Despite the assortment of solid gold humor and comedic situation there’s a sense of slight disappointment that unfortunately comes with the film. There’s no way a cast and creative team this strong should meander along the ‘okay’ line, especially when it’s wit is matched by such a great concept as this. Franco and McBride are helped only a small degree by the strong-named supporting cast of Natalie Portman, Zooey Deschannel, Justin Theroux and the relatively unknown Rasmus Hardiker. I laughed enough, but my gut didn’t hurt as much as I thought it would.

Your Highness is a shameless film. It isn’t afraid to let it’s mature guard down and it obviously wasn’t created to impress those critics that only accept highbrow entertainment. Those who are willing to put their shame away for nearly two hours will find themselves on the inclusive side of a huge inside joke by Green, McBride, Best and Franco.

There’s no doubt in my mind that these four witty and smart men created what they wanted and while Your Highness wasn’t quite the same film I had in mind I still appreciate the grand effort and the willingness of successful and Academy Award-winning and nominated actors to take part in such a product that is clearly the result of a couple of brilliant deviants.

Netflix It: ‘Mesrine: Killer Instinct’

By Michael Walsh

Vincent Cassel furthered his notoriety among North American audiences in 2010 with his incredible performance in the Oscar-nominated Black Swan. While his exploding performance wasn’t nominated for an award itself, it could have been.

Before he was dancing alongside Natalie Portman in Darran Aronofsky’s latest, Cassel was one of France’s hottest upcoming actors. Performances in heralded films such as 1995’s minimalistic La Haine and 2002’s intense Irreversible cemented Cassel among the most brightest young actors in the business, a title he oddly enough regains with his arrival to North America with appearances in the second and third films in the Ocean’s series and a major role in David Cronenberg’s Eastern Promises, where the French-born actor gave a rousing performance alongside the Oscar-nominated Viggo Mortensen.

You might wonder why I speak so much of one actor in Mesrine: Killer Instinct, the first of two films about well-known French gangster Jacques Mesrine.

Cassel, who plays the titular gangster, does so with an explosive energy and fire unseen of the genre in years. His performance is the most important aspect of the entire film, which shouldn’t come as a surprise considering the fact that it’s at heart a bio-pic about the bank-robbing and murderer that Mesrine was.

Jean-François Richet’s film is a good one itself. It breathes to life the work of Jean-Pierre Melville, who made gangsters priority number one through a stretch of filmmaking in the 1960’s and 1970’s in France. Like Melville, Richet’s film focuses it’s eyes on a particular gangster and the world exploding around him. Richet isn’t Melville, and that’s clear by the film’s unbalance between being a character study and action, something Melville had a clear grip on in his best-regarded films Le Samourai and Le Cercle Rogue.

Richet’s film instead relies heavily on Cassel’s worthwhile performance. The arcing story covers a lot of ground in a little time, despite having the life story of Mesrine spread over two films (part two is subtitled Public Enemy #1). Richet may jump from a scene of consequence for Mesrine – a murder, a robbery, something that leads to his next prison sentence. The painful prison aspects of the film are well-covered, but the film quickly jumps to a future life where Mesrine swears crime away to live happily ever after with his wife and children.

But the erratic nature of the film’s story-telling ability is nothing to worry about when it comes to turning the film on. It’s still a well-told vision of Mesrine, highlighted by high-octane action sequences, but defined by Cassel’s explosive performance of moral debauchery and elevated crime. It’s an intense portrayal of a man who hardly has any moral ambiguity and Cassel explores it intensely and well.

Richet’s film also gently straddles the border between the slight moral ambiguity found inside Mesrine’s mind. When he turns ‘soft’ and becomes a family man, there’s an open possibility that allows the viewer to explore the hardened criminal’s other side. But note the title of the film: it won’t last long. Mesrine, proven by Cassel’s beyond great performance, finds the killer instinct inside himself to accurately portray the lifestyle of Mesrine.

Style abound, Richet’s film fits within the classic lexicon of French gangster films. While it won’t be a classic on Melville’s level and doesn’t exactly have the best narrative balance, Mesrine: Killer Instinct is a worthwhile film in a revived genre.

‘Hop’ Flops on Big Screen

By Nicholas Proch

Despite having a complete grasp of the Aldous Snow character, from Forgetting Sarah Marshall and Get Him to the Greek, Russell Brand doesn’t have a whole lot else to say for himself on his resume. Hop is another attempt by Brand at the animated feature (with his last being a smaller role in Despicable Me as Dr. Nefario).

He performed well in his first work, but it was only a supporting role. Brand lends his voice to Universal Pictures again, in his first true lead, as EB. EB is walking, talking, Kurt Cobain-inspired wardrobe wearing rabbit. And, oh yes, he’s also the son of the Easter bunny. For as cool as this role should have been, it wasn’t very fun for the audience to watch these performances.

Combining live action with animation is always a struggle, but the studio did a good job at making it look real. The real issue lies in James Marsden, the other lead role in the film. He’s supposed to play a mid-twenty year old who hasn’t flown the coop. While Matthew McConaughey made his role in Failure to Launch believable (he has a knack for playing someone who doesn’t have a purpose or future), Marsden always looks like he has his life in control, which takes away from the role.

The supporting cast, in general, isn’t great. They brought in Hank Azaria [The Simpsons, Dodgeball]  to play the head of the ‘chicks’, but his role wasn’t as funny as it should have been. Even Hugh Laurie [House] gets lost as the character of the easter bunny.

It’s about 73 minutes into the 95 minute film that you can hear restlessness in the theater. There’s a point when the story stops, and I’m not sure where exactly it is (I’m not willing to re-watch it in order to find out the exact moment), but it happens and ruins the movie for most in the crowd.

The cast couldn’t support the weight of the awful script at hand. There’s some kind of rabbit lair on Easter Island? They can travel the earth through magical rabbit holes? What? It’s obvious that this movie is a fantasy, but it’s too unbelievable. The fact that David Hasselhoff isn’t shocked by the appearance of a talking bunny in his talent show auditions is bizarre.

It can’t all be bad for this fairy tale, can it? It is. Brand doesn’t have a particularly memorable performance. It doesn’t feel like his usual effort and is almost forced. James Marsden is terrible. Need I continue?

The bright spot in this film might be the end credits. They’re a relief to see. While it may be a good movie to watch when you’re babysitting your eight year old cousin, stay far away from this if you’re planning on watching this for any individual enjoyment.

‘Source Code’ Wisely Combines Thrill with Taste for Humanity

By Michael Walsh

Jake Gyllenhaal stars in 'Source Code.' Photo: Summit Entertainment.

I have faith in a few things. One of those things is that everything a Bowie touches must be good. Duncan Jones, son to performer extraordinaire David Bowie, kept that faith alive with his debut film Moon.

While Source Code wasn’t Jones’ own project (Moon is the first of a few films that Jones says will live amongst one another in its own ‘Mooniverse’), the film seems like it could have been.

Putting aside fears that the film’s trailer that made Source Code look like a poorly acted action thriller and nothing else was only an adventure in mismarketing, Jones and screenwriter Ben Ripley combined to make a very human science fiction thriller that engages and interests the viewer with its concept and execution but also manages to tap into emotion by exploring character and the human side of things, rather than focusing solely on big ticket action.

The film doesn’t reach the level of humanity explored in the three-hour science fiction films by Andrei Tarkovsky, and it doesn’t have to. It’s still a film that has some semblance of a Hollywood feeling. Regardless, Jones takes control of the film and turns Ripley’s slightly unique concept into a film worth watching and remembering for some time after.

Jake Gyllenhaal is more than good as Captain Colter Stevens, an American soldier who awakes to find himself with the mission of stopping terrorist attacks in Chicago. The mysterious figures at the head of the mission are Vera Farmiga (Up in the Air) and Jeffrey Wright (Casino Royale) and the two do their best to be the secretive, on-point and tough-willed military employees they’re supposed to be.

Ripley’s screenplay wisely allows Jones’ cameras to explore Stevens as a character rather than just a hero. Without this extra effort to dive somewhat deep into the ethics and morals surrounding Stevens situation and the people in control of it inside the military, I’d be afraid that Source Code might just be another mindless popcorn flick. Instead, the film explores what it means to be alive and as corny as it may sound, the importance of valuing each and every small worldly detail and day.

It’s because of this that it’s very important to be able to pull both societal and humanity aspects from the film while watching it. I’m sure that for some this film can be watched without rendering a thought towards humans and still be impressive, but there’s a lot more to get out of Source Code than watching Gyllenhaal’s character try to find out who the bomber of the Chicago commuter train is.

I’d be remiss to not mention that the science in the film doesn’t matter. It’s not the point and there’s a reason Ripley’s screenplay hardly breathes a word about how the technology works or trying to get you to buy into the concept of creating parallel worlds that allows Captain Stevens to try to go back and prevent a future attack by spotting the bomber. In fact, I’d say a bigger theme that resonates with both the viewers and the characters in the film is the ability to have a suspension of disbelief along with being able to question what we think and have been told is absolute. It’s clear that Ripley and Jones want their audience to take part in this process.

Jones’ directing isn’t on isn’t really daring and some might have a problem with the more restrained techniques used, but I thought it was fine. He  was able to make nice use of a small setting in the repetitive train and kept the film’s Groundhog Day-esque scenes fresh and interesting each and every time. And since Source Code wasn’t an auteur-like film from Jones, he didn’t treat it like one. It’s a perfect case of knowing your audience and not going over their heads.

Only three months have gone by in 2011 but Source Code takes its place as one of the best films released so far. I wouldn’t be surprised to see it hold that title through the summer as I can’t see one of the many soon to be released comic book films doing a better job at giving a dual sense of entertainment and a thoughtful story.