Sunday, July 25, 2010

What's New in Blu? (Week of July 27)

“Johnny Handsome” (R)
Starring Mickey Rourke, Ellen Barkin, Elizabeth McGovern, Morgan Freeman, Forest Whitaker, Lance Henriksen
Directed by Walter Hill

A largely overlooked 1989 film from director Hill (“48 Hrs.”) is a violent, but entertaining take on the classic film noir genre. Rourke plays a disfigured criminal who is betrayed during a job by his gang, leading him to seeth in prison, where he receives plastic surgery to rebuild his face. This sets him out on the opportunity to craft a new identity and slowly plot his revenge. The tale of a wronged person getting revenge is hardly a new concept, but the good cast, led by Rourke in one of his last good performances until “Sin City,” (where he played another disfigured character) lifts the material, while Hill keeps the story moving forward swiftly.
Grade: B

Other releases:
“Clash of the Titans” (PG-13)
Starring Sam Worthington, Gemma Arterton, Mads Mikkelsen, Ralph Fiennes and Liam Neeson
Directed by Louis Leterrier

“Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” (PG-13)
Starring Chow Yun Fat, Michelle Yeoh, Zhang Ziyi, Chang Chen
Directed by Ang Lee

“Lock Up” (R)
Starring Sylvester Stallone, Donald Sutherland, John Amos, Darlanne Fluegel, Frank McRae, Sonny Landham
Directed by John Flynn

“Repo Men” (R)
Starring Jude Law, Forest Whitaker, Liev Schreiber, Alice Braga, Carice von Houten
Directed by Miguel Sapochnik

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

What's New in Blu? (Week of July 20)

“Cop Out” (R)
Starring Bruce Willis, Tracy Morgan, Adam Brody, Kevin Pollak, Guillermo Diaz and Seann William Scott
Directed by Kevin Smith

“The Losers” (PG-13)
Starring Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Zoe Saldana, Chris Evans, Columbus Short, Oscar Jaenada and Jason Patric
Directed by Sylvain White

“Mother” (R)
Starring Kim Hye-La, Won Bin
Directed by Bong Joon-Ho

“The Runaways” (R)
Starring Kristen Stewart, Dakota Fanning, Michael Shannon
Directed by Floria Sigismondi

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Movie Review: "The Messenger"

Starring Ben Foster, Woody Harrelson, Samantha Morton, Jena Malone
Directed by Oren Moverman

There’s a early scene in “The Messenger” that quietly and powerfully conveys the duties of what must be an incredibly difficult, yet undeniably important job in the military. Two Army officers, Captain Tony Stone (Woody Harrelson) and Staff Sergeant Will Montgomery (Ben Foster) exit their vehicle as a playground full of children and their parents are at play. As they begin to walk away from the vehicle, Tony glances over at the playground. Playtime is suddenly over and everyone is standing quietly at the fence, watching the two soldiers begin to walk toward a house in their neighborhood. They realize that the men are not there for a social call, but to inform someone of the passing of a loved one.

Indeed, soldiers such as Tony and Will deliver solemn news all across the country every day, as the death toll in Operation Enduring Freedom currently numbers over 1,100 for U.S. soldiers alone. “The Messenger,” an emotionally resonant film that expertly avoids becoming a depressing experience, doesn’t focus on the conflict overseas. It’s the emotions of the families left behind and the soldiers whose job is all about delivering bad news where its loyalties lie.

Oren Moverman, a first-time director, wisely lets his actors have a wide berth to work their way through the occasionally tough dramatic narrative. The small-budgeted film primarily keeps its focus on the two soldiers, who are brought together grudgingly. Will, a war hero in Iraq, is wounded physically and emotionally. He’s basically forced into becoming part of a fatality notification unit as he serves out the last three months of his tour while recovering from his wounds. He’s paired up with Tony, a longtime Army veteran who has been part of the unit for a long time – maybe too long. He has a no-nonsense approach to the job, which is heavy on staying by the book and resisting consolation to the people the bad news is delivered to.

“In case you feel like offering them a hug or something – don’t,” warns Tony to Will in an initial discussion of the job. While Will replies that he won’t, you get the sense that he’s not wired emotionally the same way that his new partner is. That sense gets reinforced as the film progresses, particularly when it comes to the notification of Olivia (Samantha Morton), the soft-spoken widow of a soldier, who also now faces raising her son alone. She initially surprises the soldiers with how gracefully and respectfully she accepts their solemn news. Will is emotionally struck by her, perhaps with romantic feelings, as he recently learned his former girlfriend is about to marry someone else.

While the movie isn’t on quite as solid ground in this subplot, it basically tiptoes through the development of their potential relationship. By doing so, it thankfully avoids the clich├ęs and potentially preposterous turns of the story that lesser films might have taken. Morton brings a quiet dignity to her character, who faces an uncertain future with seemingly few people to turn to.

But the movie is at its strongest when it follows Tony and Will through their job, as the viewer practically serves as a fly on the wall to moments when people’s lives forever change. Emotions ranging from disbelief to rage to hysteria are expressed in front of the two, as they stoically explain to strangers why they have arrived. There’s no denying the difficulty in watching some of these scenes play out, but it’s in so doing that you come to the realization that moments like this have happened as long as wars have existed.

The screenplay by Moverman and Alessandro Camon doesn’t seek to make the two messengers into noble soldiers we should all admire. In fact, both Tony and Will are deeply flawed men. Harrelson (who received an Oscar nomination for his performance) does a great job as Tony, a lonely man on the razor’s edge from falling back into alcoholism. He’s matched by Foster, in a rare leading role, as a soldier coming upon a crossroads in his life, with no real clear idea of what to do.

It would seem difficult to understand how someone could serve in such a job in the military for an extended period of time, as the stress and emotional weight would have to be extreme. But there’s a quiet dignity to the job that “The Messenger” conveys that shines a light where few have thought to look before.
Grade: A-
(Rated R for language and some sexual content/nudity.)

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

What's New in Blu? (Week of July 13)

“Alpha Dog” (R)
Starring Ben Foster, Shawn Hatosy, Emile Hirsch, Sharon Stone, Justin Timberlake, Anton Yelchin and Bruce Willis
Directed by Nick Cassavetes

Taking on a docu-drama filmmaking approach with “Alpha Dog,” a cautionary tale about young criminals getting in over their heads, director Cassavetes (who also wrote the screenplay) certainly veers far from the romantic territory staked out in his 2004 directorial effort “The Notebook.” The subject matter, based on actual events, is tough to watch at times, and certainly not uplifting. The story is well served by some solid turns by Stone and Willis as self-absorbed parents of questionable abilities. But it’s the younger cast that generally takes center stage, with Hirsch playing Jesse Truelove (Jesse James Hollywood in real life), the ringleader of a small drug ring. When the gang (which also features Timberlake in an effective supporting role) decides to kidnap a teenager to force payment from a customer of a $1,200 debt, things begin spiralling out of control.
Grade: B

Other releases:
“The Bounty Hunter” (PG-13)
Starring Gerard Butler, Jennifer Aniston, Jason Sudeikis, Christine Baranski
Directed by Andy Tennant

“Chloe” (R)
Starring Amanda Seyfried, Julianne Moore, Liam Neeson, Max Theriot, Nina Dobrev
Directed by Atom Egoyan

“Greenberg” (R)
Starring Ben Stiller, Greta Gerwig, Rhys Ifans, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Mark Duplass
Directed by Noah Baumbach

“In Bruges” (R)
Starring Colin Farrell, Brendan Gleeson, Ralph Fiennes, Ciaran Hinds
Directed by Martin McDonough

“Insomnia” (R)
Starring Al Pacino, Robin Williams, Hilary Swank, Maura Tierney, Martin Donovan, Nicky Katt
Directed by Christopher Nolan

“Our Family Wedding” (PG-13)
Starring Forest Whitaker, America Ferrera, Carlos Mencia, Lance Gross, Regina King, Taye Diggs, Fred Armisen
Directed by Rick Famuyiwa

Sunday, July 04, 2010

What's New in Blu? (Week of July 6)

July 6
“Ladybugs” (PG-13)
Starring Rodney Dangerfield, Jackee, Jonathan Brandis, Ilene Graff, Vinessa Shaw
Directed by Sidney J. Furie

The 1980s were quite good to Rodney Dangerfield, who had established himself as a noted stand-up comedian who had successfully crossed over into movies. He headlined funny films, including “Easy Money” and “Back to School” during the decade. But the 1990s weren’t nearly as kind to the aging comic’s film career, as the 1992 stinker “Ladybugs” demonstrated. While it does have a few laughs in it, purely from Dangerfield one-liners or reaction shots, the movie’s premise is tired and far-fetched. Hoping to impress his boss, Chester Lee (Dangerfield) agrees to coach a girls soccer team. But upon learning how terrible they are, he coaxes the son (Jonathan Brandis) of his fiancee to pretend to be a girl to help the team win. Hilarity ensues (or in this case, not so much). But if you’ve ever longed to see Dangerfield in drag, then you’re in luck. For everybody else, you’d be better off catching a World Cup match.
Grade: D

Other releases:
“Brooklyn’s Finest” (R)
Starring Richard Gere, Don Cheadle, Ethan Hawke, Wesley Snipes, Ellen Barkin, Lili Taylor
Directed by Antoine Fuqua

“The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” (R)
Starring Lena Endre, Noomi Rapace, Michael Nyqvist
Directed by Niels Arden Oplev

“Jimmy Hollywood” (R)
Starring Joe Pesci, Christian Slater, Victoria April
Directed by Barry Levinson

“A Single Man” (R)
Starring Colin Firth, Julianne Moore, Matthew Goode, Ginnifer Goodwin, Nicholas Hoult
Directed by Tom Ford