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

The Adventures of Tintin


The Adventures of Tintin

Tintin maps out his next move.

(2011) Family Adventure (Paramount) Jamie Bell, Andy Serkis, Daniel Craig, Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Toby Jones, Tony Curran, Gad Elmaleh, Mackenzie Crook, Daniel Mays, Kim Stengel, Sebastian Roche, Cary Elwes, Phillip Rhys, Ron Bottitta, Joe Starr. Directed by Steven Spielberg

 

The children of Europe may be more familiar with Tintin than the children of the United States but growing up he was a favorite of mine and my sister’s. Created by Hergé (the nom de plume of Belgian cartoonist Georges Remi) in 1929, Tintin became a European sensation and a symbol of Belgian national pride until his run came to an end in 1976. Tintin continues to be hugely popular across the pond and while he did make some impact here in the States, his popularity is essentially centered in Europe.

Tintin (Bell) is a young reporter with a nose for news and an aptitude for trouble. He and his dog Snowy are roaming a local market when a model ship catches Tintin’s eye. When he buys it, a pair of gentlemen attempt to buy it away from him with one giving him a dire warning about danger from people “who don’t play nice.” That proves to be true.

The two buyers turn out to be Sakharine (Craig), a professorial and urbane villain and Barnaby (Starr), an Interpol agent who gets shot on Tintin’s doorstep. Tintin’s detective buddies, Thomson (Pegg) and Thompson (Frost) are on the case but they seem more interested in finding a serial pickpocket (Jones) than anything else.

Shortly thereafter Tintin gets kidnapped by Sakharine’s flunkies Alan (Mays) and Ernie (Crook) and brought aboard a dilapidated freighter where Tintin meets Captain Haddock (Serkis), the nominal master of the vessel whose ship has been stolen by Sakharine who paid off his crew and the crucial piece in the puzzle of the location of a fabulous pirate treasure and a centuries-old grudge.

This movie has been long-gestating with Spielberg, a long time avowed Tintin fan. Spielberg approached Peter Jackson of the Lord of the Rings movies to see about creating a CGI Snowy; Jackson in turn persuaded Spielberg to go the motion capture route (although ironically Snowy is a CGI creation). Jackson, also a Tintin fan from childhood, remained involved as a producer, a role he will exchange with Spielberg when the sequel is made once Jackson is through filming the two Hobbit movies he’s currently involved with.

Motion capture has had a checkered box office history with such films as The Polar Express, Beowulf and Mars Needs Moms. Tintin is already a box office success after doing tremendous business in Europe where it was released in late October 2011. American box office has been, in its first weekend of release somewhat tepid although it was never expected to be greeted with the same enthusiasm it was elsewhere in the world.

The look and feel is very much of an Indiana Jones film (which kind of brings Spielberg full circle) with a side dish of The Goonies and a heaping helping of Pirates of the Caribbean. Some people dislike motion capture because of the lifeless look of the human characters (whose faces are often masklike and the eyes lacking spark) but that’s not a problem here; the facial expressions are realistic and there are even times that you forget that you’re watching something generated by a computer.

Spielberg took great pains to make sure the characteristic look of the Hergé drawings are retained here, but they are certainly given three dimensions and are fleshed out (the opening credits, reminiscent of Spielberg’s Saul Bass-esque opening credits on Catch Me If You Can, look more truly like the original comics) which has also caused some purists to grouse.

The plot isn’t anything fans of the series will be unfamiliar with. It might be old hat for some, but to me anyway it never gets old to see an intrepid reporter up to his eyeballs in danger, beset by goons and involved in thrilling chases as they seek a fabulous treasure. This is what the old serials were all about and why I love them so much (and I’m not alone in that).

Bell makes an enthusiastic Tintin and does his job adequately; Serkis, however as the bumbling and alcoholic Captain Haddock is absolutely amazing. He is alternately comic relief and pathos, a man who lives with the burdens of his ancestry on his shoulders and finds himself lacking. There is a good deal of subtlety in his performance that is surprising in a film like this.

The point of this movie is entertainment and on that score it delivers big time. Kids are going to love this movie even if their sights are set on movies that have gotten more hype on the Cartoon Network or Nickelodeon. Tintin may not have the cache in the kid community that Shrek or Pixar might have but once kids give it a chance, they are going to be delighted. Adults will also find this fun and energetic enough to keep their interest. This isn’t quite as good as, say, Hugo but it makes for a great holiday movie to take your kids to.

REASONS TO GO: Nonstop action and adventure and the motion capture is photorealistic enough to make you forget from time to time that you’re watching computer-generated images.

REASONS TO STAY: Runs a little long and might be too intimidating for little kids.

FAMILY VALUES: There’s some action-adventure violence, a fair amount of drunkenness on the part of Haddock and some smoking here and there.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Spielberg became a fan of Tintin after a review comparing Raiders of the Lost Ark to Tintin piqued his interest enough to investigate the artwork. He has had the rights to the series since 1983; this is the first time he has made a movie based on a comic book character and is also the first animated feature he has directed.

HOME OR THEATER: I think this should be seen in the theater if possible and yes, in 3D if you can.

FINAL RATING: 7/10

TOMORROW: The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (2011)

Saw IV


Saw IV

Betsy Russell finds out she's been cast in a Saw film.

(2007) Horror/Torture Porn (Lionsgate) Tobin Bell, Costas Mandylor, Scott Patterson, Betsy Russell, Lyriq Bent, Athena Karkanis, Justin Louis, Simon Reynolds, Donnie Wahlberg, Angus Macfadyen, Shawnee Smith, Dina Meyer, Bahar Soomekh. Directed by Darren Lynn Bousman

There are storms in life that are particularly vicious, doing damage to property, life and limb. We can only hope to ride out those storms and hope to escape if not unscathed, at least mostly unscathed. There are storms however that when we think they’re over, we come to the sick realization that they may only be beginning.

John Kramer a.k.a. Jigsaw (Bell), the notorious serial killer, is dead. His reign of terror is at an end. At least, that’s what everybody thinks. During his autopsy, a micro-cassette player is found in his stomach, the contents of which are heard by Det. Mark Hoffman (Mandylor). You just know what’s on the tape isn’t going to be Perry Como. It’s just not going to be a very good thing at all.

When a missing detective (Meyer) is located, Hoffman cautions Lt. Rigg (Bent) from entering an unsecured door but he does anyway and the girl is killed. Rigg is hoping that he’d find information about his missing partner, Matthews (Wahlberg) whom Rigg is convinced is still alive. The murder brings FBI agents Strahm (Patterson) and Perez (Karkanis) into the picture. They quickly discover that the late Jigsaw and his apprentice (Smith) couldn’t have been responsible for the death of the detective since neither one of them was strong enough to load her into the machine she’d been left in. It becomes increasingly likely that Jigsaw has another apprentice.

It isn’t until Rigg is attacked at home that he discovers that Matthews is still alive, but held by the new apprentice of Jigsaw. Rigg has 90 minutes to find Matthews or he will die horribly. Rigg must make terrible decisions that will cost people their lives in order to save the innocent Matthews…but can he negotiate the tricky moral currents of a Jigsaw puzzle?

Bousman, who helmed the second and third installment of the series, was reportedly ready to turn down directing this film but the end twist really grabbed his attention. He brings to the table a solid understanding of who Jigsaw is and what the man is all about.

Which makes this movie all the more mystifying. Throughout the series to date, Jigsaw was about having people confront their own sins but there is much less of that here. We do get much more of Jigsaw’s backstory – what drove him to psychosis (the death of his unborn son at the hands of a junkie, leading to his wife divorcing him) and what kept him there.

Still, the series is written into a corner. With its most iconic and compelling character dead and available only in flashbacks, what we are left with are the lethal traps and while they are fun and interesting, they aren’t enough to carry a movie. For the most part, you know that nobody is going to escape – why would any competent Hollywood horror director give you that kind of building only to have nothing happen – and after awhile it becomes just torture porn. I don’t have a problem with that per se, but I’m finding myself getting more and more jaded when it comes to the genre.

That isn’t to say the movie is without its merits. The traps are clever and Jigsaw’s backstory does help fill in the blanks. The next movie in the cycle is set up nicely and while we know the series ended with a total of seven films in it (although I wouldn’t be surprised if the series got resurrected in a few years), the fourth one gave the series enough impetus to continue on course for awhile, both creatively and at the box office. This isn’t the best film in the series, but it isn’t the worst either – it’s just a solid horror movie to liven up your next Halloween.

WHY RENT THIS: If you like the first three films, you’re gonna adore this – much the same as the other three with a nice twist here and there.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: There really isn’t much here you won’t find in the first three movies. There’s only so many ways to be shocking. The plot is a bit convoluted and you’re going to have a hard time if you haven’t seen the first three films, particularly Saw III.

FAMILY VALUES: Ummm, its Saw IV…just what kind of family values are you expecting exactly?

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The first film in the series not to be written or co-written by franchise creator Leigh Whannell.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: There is a music video and a video diary from director Bousman that’s pretty amusing.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $139.4M on a $10M production budget (unconfirmed); the movie was a blockbuster.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

TOMORROW: Letters to Juliet