25 July 2010

Movie Review: Salt

It seems like such a simple recipe, take a big charismatic star, make them a sympathetic character, put them in jeopardy visa via some unexplained mystery, and have them hunted by what on paper at least should be clearly superior forces. (Think Bourne Identity, Mission Impossible, the Prisoner, etc.) It’s a simple formula, but it seems like only one in a hundred movies are actually able to cook up something worth watching when they attempt this recipe.

With their new movie Salt writer Kurt Wimmer and director Phillip Noyce manage to pull off it off with just the right pinch of originality and the result is outstanding summer movie fare. Angeline Jolie is cast perfectly as Evelyn Salt, the hard to read CIA agent accused of being a Soviet mole. She is beautiful, mysterious, and as hard as nails. (Did I mention beautiful? The filmmakers try hard to pretend that they don’t notice, but it quickly becomes a conceit. The camera absolutely loves Jolie.)

The movie moves at the perfect pace, it gets the ball rolling with few preliminaries, opens up the throttle, and then never slows down or makes the mistake of giving you time to think. If something preposterous happens, there’s no time for the audience to dwell on it, there is already something else exciting going on.

The role was originally written for a man and there is some visual irony in seeing a character being played by Angelina Jolie being physically treated like a character being played by Bruce Willis. (And there is a lot in this movie that reminded me of Die Hard, another great action hero, hunted, up against overwhelming odds  movie.)

It’s interesting that the movie had to be completely rewritten in order to let Angelina Jolie step into a role originally meant for a man. According to the Jolie it allowed the movie and her character to become “harder and darker.” Although we like to see Angelina Jolie acting almost hyper-masculine at times, I am not sure we’d be willing to accept a man in the same role without lightening him up, making him warmer, or making him more sympathetic. There is definitely no lightness to Evelyn Salt and there’s more than a touch of the Dark Knight.

One particularly refreshing thing about the movie was a return to real stunt work and a switch away from the heavy use of CGI, which easily overwhelms my ability to maintain the suspension of disbelief necessary to enjoy a film.

Is it great cinema? Not even close, but for a summer action movie it’s an unexpectedly well-seasoned treat right out of the oven.


11 July 2010

Despicable Me: A Movie Review

Despicable Me gets a thumbs up from me for summer fun. It has super villains, a super scientist, a super weapon, a super rivalry, a super evil plan, and not one, not two, but three super cute orphans to tug at your heart strings. And what would a super villain's life be without a lot of minions? MUHAHAHAHA!

The minions in question belong to Gru, voiced by Steve Carroll, is an evil doer extraordinaire who is in danger of being shown up by a Johnny-Come-Lately by the name of Vector (who for some reason kept reminding me of Bill Gates). Vector steals a super weapon from Gru that he needs for his big come back. In order to retrieve it, Gru adopts three orphans as part of a plan to steal it back. The danger, if you are a despicable super villain, of getting to close to super cute adorable orphans is they might start having a deleterious effect on your cold calculating evil-minded despicability.

This movie is strictly a comedy. It has a smaller dose of pathos and wit than you will find in the really great animated movies that can capture an adult audience along with the kids. It's just out to have a good time which it succeeds at completely. If I was going to overanalyze it looking for some kind of message, and why don't I just take a minute to do that, I could make the case that it's all about the importance of having minions. Gru's life is greatly enriched by the presence of his minions and his unexpected feelings for the orphans. Vector on the other hand is strictly a solo bad guy. He might have power on his side, but is power any match for an army of minions?

If you are interested, I strongly recommend finding a kid to take with you to see this movie. There are movies you can enjoy watching as an adult, and then there are movies that you enjoy vicariously through the kid you brought with you. I think Despicable Me would definitely fall into this latter category. It was fun seeing it with a friend, but I thought it would have been better if we had a kid to borrow and take.

05 July 2010

Cyrus: A Movie Review

Good actors are fun to watch and I think that is what makes the movie Cyrus so much fun. John C. Reilly, a terrific character actor, plays John a sort of beaten down everyman whose wife took a turn for the worse seven years ago that culminated in being left by his wife who early on in the movie announces she ‘s getting married. Spurred on by his ex-wife and her new fiancĂ©, John goes to a party and disastrously, at first, tries to mingle. Despite the odds, and they are steep odds, he meets Molly, a beautiful and sweet woman played by Marisa Tomei and falls heads over heels for her.

At this point, if you didn’t know anything about the story you would be asking, “Where’s the catch?” The catch turns out to be Molly’s twenty two year old home schooled live at home son who has had an exclusive monopoly on mom for the last twenty two years and who isn’t above using a little emotional manipulation on mom to try to keep that  monopoly.

There is some genuine humor here in patterns that get established in families that seem perfectly normal to those that are in them, but look completely different when seen from the perspective of an outsider.  I found a lot of cringe-worthy moments, the kind only induced believable situations and characters. The movie respected its characters and never crossed the line into cheesy for the sake of the cheap laugh. From the previews I was a bit leery that the movie would do exactly that. There was one brief visual that went for the cheap laugh which I found both annoying and striking a false note, but otherwise the movie was consistently funny.

 The film resonated with me on a couple of personal levels, the biggest being that I am now of the age and marital status that it’s not inconceivable that I could find myself dating a single mom with a son or daughter that age.  And I am not too ashamed to admit it, I love Marisa Tomei.