The Big Bang


Noir, 21st Century-style.

Noir, 21st Century-style.

(2010) Mystery (Anchor Bay) Antonio Banderas, Sienna Guillory, James van der Beek, Snoop Dogg, Autumn Reeser, Sam Elliot, Jimmi Simpson, Thomas Kretschmann, William Fichtner, Robert Maillet, Delroy Lindo, Bill Duke, Rebecca Mader, Robert Ernie Lee, Rachel Handler, Sean Cook, Khanh Doan, Keith MacGeagh, Chandra Bailey. Directed by Tony Krantz

When you think of film noir, you think of hard-bitten detectives in rumpled suits, gorgeous dames in dresses two sizes too tight and big bruising thugs with brass knuckles. You think of soft black and white, foggy back alleys and sleazy private investigator offices. You think of Bogart, Bacall, Mitchum and Greenstreet. You don’t think of Antonio Banderas and neon colored strip clubs.

But they can be noir too. In this celluloid extravaganza Banderas is Ned Cruz, a P.I. from the mean streets of L.A. A Russian boxer named Anton “The Pro” Protopov (Maillet), freshly release from prison after killing a man in the ring, is looking for a girl. Not just any girl though – you can find one on the Internet – but the lovely Lexi Persimmon. You heard me. Anyway, she wrote him a bunch of letters in the slam but gave the galoot no info to go on, no address, no social security, no phone number – not even an e-mail.

There’s also this stash of $40 million in blood diamonds, a waitress named Fay (Reeser) who loves particle physics, a porn director (Dogg) who loves his product a little too much, a kinky movie star (van der Beek) with a dark secret, a cross-dressing nuclear physicist (Simpson), a crazy billionaire (Elliot) obsessed with finding the God particle and willing to re-create the Big Bang in the New Mexico desert to do it and the billionaire’s wife (Guillory) who might be the key to the whole sordid tale. Oh, and did we mention the three brutal cops (Kretschmann, Lindo and Fichtner) chasing down Cruz to find out where the diamonds are?

On paper this really does sound like my kind of movie – something smart but timeless, using the conventions of a noir detective thriller with a touch of sci-fi and a little bit of black humor mixed in. However, references to physics and science doesn’t necessarily a smart film make although this one is pretty clever in places.

Banderas is an engaging star but I didn’t really believe him in the role. Ned Cruz should have been a lot more badass than pretty boy; in some ways I think Danny Trejo might have been more suitable but of course Banderas is the bigger box office draw so from that standpoint I can’t really blame the producers.

The cast is pretty impressive for a low budget thriller with a tiny distributor but not many of them get the kind of screen time that makes for much of an impression. Most are little more than cameos although Elliot seems to be having the most fun playing the kind of character he rarely gets to play while Simpson camps it up nicely. Reeser and Guillory really don’t have much more to do but look pretty which to be fair they do very, very well – but I suspect if their characters had been given a little more fleshing out they would have risen to the challenge as well.

I don’t think the movie achieves everything the filmmakers set out to do, but it is entertaining enough to be worth a look-see. Although I criticized his casting earlier, Banderas at least does an adequate job of playing the tough guy and of course doing the narration which is a noir tradition. While the movie takes a few left turns too many, it nonetheless at least doesn’t disgrace the genre and given that since its heyday many have tried but few have succeeded in giving us a good noir thriller I have to at least admire the attempt.

WHY RENT THIS: A noir thriller involving particle physics – I can’t make this stuff up. Decent cast.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Goes a little bit off into left field occasionally.

FAMILY VALUES: There is some nudity and quite a bit of sexuality (some of it graphic), a bit of foul language and some violence.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: There was an extended sex scene shot that got the film an NC-17 rating that was removed from the film in order to bring it down to an R rating; director Krantz refers to it on the home video commentary track but the scene isn’t included on the Blu-Ray release.

NOTABLE HOME VIDEO EXTRAS: None listed.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: Not available

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid

FINAL RATING: 6/10

NEXT: The Perfect Host

Henry’s Crime


 

Henry's Crime

Henry looks at life through a constant haze of befuddlement.

(2010) Dark Comedy (Moving Pictures) Keanu Reeves, Vera Farmiga, Judy Greer, James Caan, Fisher Stevens, Peter Stormare, Danny Hoch, Bill Duke, Chris Cardona, Rosemary Harris, Mark Anthony, Carlos Pizarro, Currie Graham, Audrey Lynn Weston, David Costabile. Directed by Malcolm Venville

There is a saying that goes “Don’t do the crime if you can’t do the time.” It has to do with taking risks. Of course, the opposite may well be true – if you’re gonna do the time, you may as well do the crime.

Henry Torne (Reeves) is the kind of man who is blown by the wind. He rarely gets angry and stares at life through the glass of his toll booth on the New York Thruway with an expression of a man who isn’t quite sure how he got to that point. His wife Debbie (Greer) has made it clear that she is kind of disappointed in him but he doesn’t seem disposed to changing things and frankly, neither is she – he’s a decent enough fellow.

One day his friend Eddie Vibes (Stevens) asks for Henry to give him a lift to the softball game he and a friend were playing in – Joe (Hoch) was supposed to drive them but had come down with a stomach ailment so they needed a favor. Henry, ever accommodating, agrees to do this not realizing that there’s no softball game; in fact, Eddie is going to rob a bank and needs Henry as a getaway driver.

Of course such well-made plans are bound to go sideways and both Eddie and his accomplice are fouled up by an off-duty security guard named Frank (Duke) who manages to capture Henry, who is then tried and convicted of a crime he didn’t commit. Being the kind of guy he is, he doesn’t finger his friend Eddie for the caper, so he goes to jail alone.

There he meets Max Saltzman (Caan), a con artist who acts as a kind of father figure and mentor to Henry. It is he who plants the idea in Henry’s head  that if he was going to pay the penalty with jail time, he might as well commit the crime. The two form a quiet bond.

Eventually Henry serves out his sentence and is released back into the world. In the intervening time, Debbie divorced him and married his friend Eddie Vibes, who has gone legitimate and has become, well, successful. Henry’s stuff has been relegated to a bunch of boxes which he collects and takes to a cheap apartment which is all that he can afford.

His friend Max has also been paroled and has come into the information that the bank that Henry was convicted of robbing was once connected by a tunnel to a theater next door. That tunnel is sealed off today since it led to the vault but it wouldn’t be too hard to knock down the wall and access it again. The two of them come up with the brilliant scheme of getting Henry a job there, and then during his off hours dig their way to riches.

It so happens that the theater is putting on a performance of Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard which is being directed by the temperamental Darek Milladragovic (Stormare) and stars Julie Ivanova (Farmiga), who Henry has become quite taken with. She had been featured in a lot of state lottery commercials and Henry had already had a bit of a crush on her. When the leading man is fired by Milladragovic, he casts Henry, who had been the janitor, in the role and Henry seemingly against all odds catches the bug, so to speak. Being onstage lights him up.

However, Max is counting on him. Can he get the loot and play his onstage part? The show must go on after all, but can it when so much is at stake?

This is a low-key laid back kind of movie with elements of both a crime caper movie and a bit of black comedy thrown in for good measure. For the most part, the film is pretty well-written with some nice dialogue and  a bit of a quirky nature that isn’t so much indie-quirky as it is just a little bit offbeat.

Reeves has never had a reputation for being a really emotional actor. However, he comes pretty close to it here, particularly during the scenes when he’s assaying Chekhov. He also has some of his best chemistry ever with Farmiga; his character’s attraction to her is very well-portrayed and you get the feeling that these two actors genuinely like each other offscreen.

In fact, the acting is pretty uniformly good and most of the main players get at least one scene to shine. My favorite was one where Duke tells Reeves and Caan the reasons why he is doing what he does. It’s a heartbreaking scene delivered by a reliable actor who doesn’t get the opportunities to show what he can do often and takes advantage of it here. Caan also delivers another winning performance; of late he has perfected a certain kind of role that can best be described as a tough guy with a heart of gold. He nails that here.

The movie’s drawbacks lie in its pacing, which is quite slow, and it’s ending which is a little bit preposterous. I don’t mind laid-back but I do have an issue with comatose. A little more liveliness and passion might have done the movie some good. Still, it’s worth seeing just to watch Keanu Reeves perform a little bit differently than he has previously which isn’t always a bad thing for an actor.

WHY RENT THIS: One of Reeves’ better performances. Kind of a nice dark comedy angle. Fine supporting performances.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Lacks verve. Sometimes too low-key for its own good.

FAMILY VALUES: There’s a lot of bad language.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The building used as the bank is an actual bank; it was built in 1901 and is currently home to a branch of M&T Bank.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $204,940 on an unreported production budget; I’m thinking this wasn’t profitable.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Maiden Heist

FINAL RATING: 6/10

NEXT: The Italian Job (2003)

The Go-Getter


The Go-Getter

Betcha didn't know Zooey Deschanel is a rootin' tootin' cowgirl!

(Peace Arch) Lou Taylor Pucci, Zooey Deschanel, Jena Malone, Maura Tierney, Bill Duke, Jsu Garcia, Judy Greer, M. Ward, Nick Offerman, Julio Oscar Mechoso. Directed by Martin Hynes

An argument can be made that our whole lives are basically about being all dressed up with nowhere to go. Sometimes, the solution is just to get into the car and start driving, even if we only have just a vague plan in mind. Life changing things can happen on the road.

Mercer (Pucci) is a callow young man living in Eugene, Oregon trying to pick up the pieces after the death of his mother eight months earlier. On a bit of a whim, he steals a car in a car wash and drives off east to find his brother Arlen (Garcia), whose very name provokes intense emotional responses in the people that he has wrong (and the list of those is impressive indeed). Mercer has an urge to inform his brother, who has been out of their lives for some time now, of his mother’s death.

The car’s owner left her cell phone in the car and although angry at first, agrees to let Mercer use her car if he keeps her abreast of his travels. In turn he imagines her to be any one of dozens of beautiful faces (as another critic stated, it turns the part into a bit of a Benetton ad) until Kate (that’s her name) unexpectedly shows up and turns out to look a lot like Zooey Deschanel. That’s a really good thing in my opinion, however.

Along the way Mercer meets a collection of oddballs and losers, ranging from Joely (Malone), a middle school classmate with a gigantic libido and a yen for recreational drugs; a liquor salesman (Duke) with the kind of attitude that gives bad attitude a bad name; a group of drug dealers (led by Tierney) whose community service involves playing music – badly – at community events, and a pornographer who has taken the name of Italian spaghetti western auteur Sergio Leone (Mechoso).

Wacky things happen. Some serious things occur. And yes, finally Mercer catches up to Arlen after stops all over the map of the Western U.S. and the meeting isn’t like anything he – or we – imagined.

There is a whole subgenre of indie films that are basically road movies, and there’s a special place in Hell for those who make them. There seems to be this conceit that these movies take place in small towns in the middle of nowhere in the Western United States, and that these towns are full of fun, eccentric people – which makes me wonder if they are teaching kids in film school that all of the small towns of Western America are filled with kooks, nut jobs, losers and head cases, as if there is something in the water that causes brain damage and personality overload all at once.

Now don’t get me wrong. I love quirky indie road pictures just as much as the next guy, but couldn’t we vary the formula a little bit? Does every self-discovery have to be made accompanied by someone with serious mental and/or emotional issues?

For me, any film with Zooey Deschanel in it is worth seeing. Not only is she absolutely gorgeous (never a bad thing when you’re a male), but she is also an amazing actress. She has the ability to take characters that are literally indie film cliches and bring them to life, make them real and not just a collection of personality tics, which so many other actors and actresses tend to make these sorts of characters.

Also of note here is the cinematography which is breathtaking in places. Byron Shah has a knack for taking big empty vistas and making them a character in the scene. Also, indie folk rocker M. Ward contributes a pretty nifty score (and as a kind of grace note, would eventually go on to form a band with Miss Deschanel called Me & Him and make some really good music with her).

Still, it’s hard to overcome the feeling of “been there, done that” that permeates the film, or the kind of self-congratulatory cinema buff references that make Film Geeks absolutely stiff with pleasure in trying to decipher them all. It’s a bit like getting to know an absolute expert on pizza who waxes eloquent about unusual toppings and artisan cheeses, but when it comes time for them to serve a pizza of their own you find out it was delivered from Pizza Hut. In this case, the product is a bit better than Pizza Hut, but I would have preferred more character interaction and less wackiness.

WHY RENT THIS: Two words: Zooey Deschanel. A credible road film with some mighty fine cinematography.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: A little too much indie quirkiness and a few too many cinematic name checks make the movie occasionally too film geek-centric for my tastes.

FAMILY VALUES: A little bit of sex, a little bit of drugs, a whole lot of rock ‘n’ roll and a fair bit of foul language make this more suitable for mature audiences.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The director’s dad makes a cameo as an older man wearing a cowboy hat at the car wash as the film begins.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.

FINAL RATING: 4/10

TOMORROW: Dr. No