More movie reviews, all for films of recent vintage, so you weird people who don't like older movies, yee-ha.
American, The (C, 2010) George Clooney is a burnt-out operative for some secret agency, and he's sent to an Italian village to construct a custom-spec rifle, which will be used in an assassination. He's a lonely guy who's haunted by the results of some of his previous actions, and is seeking some kind of redemption. His life is all business; he tries not to make friends, and his relationships are all business transactions with whores. But as he puts the weapon and its supressor (handled realistically) together, he is befriended by a local priest, and a prostitute likes him and starts seeing him off the books. Their romance leads him even further toward wanting to give up the life he's been leading... but in his business he may not be allowed to quit. Great-looking film that takes its time and aims to be much more than just an espionage/action film; it's short on action but Clooney maintains the intensity through his acting, and there's always a sense that something could start going off at any time. The film reminds me a bit of The Conversation. Rewarding.
Death Race 2 (C, 2010) aka Death Race: Frankenstein Lives. Dumbed-down straight-to-video prequel to an already-pretty-dumb movie explains how the motorized mayhem got its start. A comparatively-honorable bank robber (he tries to avoid anyone getting hurt) is sentenced to a maximum security prison which -- being a private-sector enterprise and geared toward making a profit -- uses convicts to fight to the death for the cameras in a reality show run by an evil bitch. Seeking higher ratings at the cost of all else, she comes up with the death race, pitting drivers of armed cars against each other. There's not as much auto-action as the first film and it's not even close to being as well done, and the cast isn't nearly as good (except for Danny Trejo, who's always a welcome presence even if they only use him as part of a pit crew), and the filmmakers don't know what's cool -- the sound effects are especially bad, with farty-sounding cars and weak gunfire. But I like the concept enough that even a half-assed handling of it is pretty entertaining, so if you like the first you'll find this worth watching, if inferior. This seems more aimed at pleasing dumb teens, but it's fun if you don't expect too much. Good enough where I'd show up for a third, anyway.
Can't be legal, but the whole thing's online starting here. Someday people are gonna learn that you can't have everything for free, but until that time comes... knock yerself out, I guess.
Drag Me To Hell (C, 2009) After disgracing himself with Spiderman 3, Sam Raimi comes slinking back to the horror genre... but still doesn't quite get it right because he can't let go of his love of the Three Stooges. Essentially taking Stephen King's Thinner and changing a few things, the story involves a Reese Witherspoony bank official whose ambition leads her to treat a repulsive old gypsy woman with less compassion than she might've in a foreclosure deal, and she ends up cursed. The curse dictates that after three days of supernatural torments she'll be dragged down to hell by a lamia, which here - for some reason - is a goat-demon instead of a snake-woman. Our not-terribly-likeable heroine (the movie tries but she still comes across as a shallow nothing) and her boyfriend (who cloned David Schwimmer? And why?) try everything to get rid of the curse or turn it around, but there's not much luck. Raimi was aiming for that PG-where-all-that-teen-money-is sweet spot and that's why this Goosebumps-type story doesn't have a whole lot of violence, but he still throws in as much gross-out as possible in the form of corpses vomiting worms or embalming fluid, out of control bloody noses, or I'd've-happily-lived-without-that close-ups of diseased old ladies coughing up wads of phlegm or taking out their dirty false teeth. Total look-at-my-chewed-up-food stuff. There are a couple of creepy bits (the shadow of the goat-thing) but mostly he goes for the teen-pleasing jump scares; try doing a shot every time that old lady's face is suddenly thrust into the camera and you'll get a symptom known as "Drag Me To Hell elbow," just before your liver falls out your ass. It's not completely terrible for a "comedic horror film, but that's a genre and a concept I despise, so I'm an admittedly harder sell than most. It too often plays like a cartoon (some of the stuff that happens is very slapstick) so it's unsteady on the fence, but it's not boring. But if you didn't guess that "surprise plot twist" at the end, you're pretty gormless.
Expendables, The (C, 2010) Experiment in action movie supremacy brings together most of the genre's headliners and gives them plenty to do. It's simple, but so's a hammer, and what works better for its intended purpose than a hammer? Sylvester Stallone (who has no trouble making you forget how damn old he is, but paid for it in injuries) leads a commando team (consisting of Jason Statham, Jet Li, Dolph Lundgren, and a couple of UFC guys who aren't bad actors) which - more out of a sense of nobility in trying to save a girl than for money - take on a mission against a South American dictator who's teamed with an American drug lord (Eric Roberts). Roberts has Steve Austin as a sidekick just to add even more beef to the stew. There is a plot, but really only enough to chain together the action scenes, which are always frequent and, eventually, constant. It's totally a BDAM (Big Dumb Action Movie) but it's better than I expected, because it does include some characterization and motivations, rather than just completely coasting the way it could have afforded to, and it's also not played for laughs, which would've screwed it up; there's humor, but it comes from the interplay of the team rather than from the business of shooting and blowing stuff up. Mickey Rourke's also on hand as a former member of the team turned tattoo artist, and there are cameos for Bruce Willis and Arnold Schwarzenegger just for completeness's sake.
Orphan (C, 2009) Kinda like a Bad Seed twist on The Stepfather. A family with some troubles (the wife became an alcoholic after a miscarriage, the husband has a history of infidelity) decides it would help matters if they adopted another kid. They find Esther, a nine-year-old girl from Russia, who's very smart and artistically-talented, and she seems a little bit odd because of her advanced maturity and the old-fashioned clothes she likes to wear. but she's actually a whole lot odder than that -- she's capable of murder, and an expert manipulator. Soon she's controlling her new little sister Max (who's a deaf-mute; the kid who plays her, Aryanna Engineer, is one hell of an actress for 8 year old, especially in a silent role), waking her new brother up in the middle of the night to inform him that if he ever tells on her she'll "cut off his little hairless prick before he even knows what it's for," pushing mean girls at school off the sliding board, setting her parents against each other, and - oh yeah, hammer-murdering a nun (the brilliant CCH Pounder). The mother soon figures out something's wrong with the new addition to their family, and Esther does not like being figured out, and does some pretty extreme things in response. But being a murderer isn't even Esther's biggest secret. Surprisingly good little horror movie boasts some impressive acting and takes the hard route to its scares -- using plot instead of gore or jump effects.
Town, The (C, 2010) Ben Affleck co-wrote, directed, and stars in this top-notch crime film based on the Charlestown section of Boston, where armed robbery is a profession handed down from generation to generation. Affleck is part of a crew that knocks over banks, armored cars, and even Fenway Park. During one bank robbery they take a female manager hostage and they're worried that she may have picked up information that could implicate them, so to find out how much she knows, Affleck starts a relationship with her. The relationship turns real, though, and since one of his partners has been becoming more violent (which isn't Affleck's scene), Affleck decides he wants out of the life. Some higher ups have too much use for Affleck's skills, though, and they threaten to hurt his new girlfriend if he doesn't do their bidding. But the feds are after her, too, so Affleck has to find a way out of the situation, for her and himself. Very nicely-done, action-packed crime drama. Usually I don't push Blu-Ray because I think it's an overhyped format, but in this case you should probably go for Blu-Ray, since it includes an extended cut of the movie that's about an hour longer.
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