Monday, January 17, 2011

The Green Hornet

Reposting to correct error. Kato was not John Cho (of Harold and Kumar) but Jay Chou (of ....) .

The problem with Michel Gondry's The Green Hornet is not Seth Rogen's now familiar schlubby self-centeredness (which pretty much is the extent of his character portfolio). The problem with the movie is its length, loudness and loutishness. I thought Rogen's Pineapple Express (which he also scripted with Evan Goldberg) had the same problems, even though that film was crafted by a different director. That's not to say The Green Hornet has no entertainment value. It has piles and piles of it, if you enjoy visually arresting martial arts battles (courtesy of Jay Chou's Kato), high-speed vehicular crack ups and the destruction of urban architecture. It also features Christoph Waltz, the menacing Nazi interrogator from Inglourious Basterds, as a sartorially challenge criminal mastermind. For a former newshound like myself, the picture packs some clever insights into contemporary journalism, and the final (endless) shoot-out actually takes place in a newspaper press room. (The first time that's been done, I bet.) In the end, if you like Rogen's schtick (and not everyone does) and you enjoy your jokes evenly divided between smart and snark (ditto) and your gun-play deafening, then The Green Hornet is the ticket. P.S., I saw it in 2D and don't think I missed much.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus

Terry Gilliam is an auteur with a singular vision so you know what you're going to get before the first reel starts rolling: fish-eyed lenses, dream(y) sequences, enormous puppety heads, slapsticky pratfalls and a bit of moralizing and vanquishing of evildoers. In other words, you get Monty Python on steroids but that...'s a really good thing. I enjoy Gilliam's films, mostly, but often they leave me feeling like that enormous diner from The Meaning of Life ... just one more clever cinematic device and I'll explode.
The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus is a Gilliam picture through and through with the mixed blessing of also being Heath Ledger's last film, the one during the filming of which he died. Ledger is wonderful as a mysterious conman who is taken in by Doctor Parnassus's traveling troupe of fantasy merchants who are on the run from a thousand-year-old deal with the devil. (Yes, Dr. Faustus.) The recasting of Ledger's unfinished scenes didn't feel as gimmicky as I had feared and considering the story is about getting lost in the fertile imagination of the title character, played sportingly by Christopher Plummer, having Johnny Depp, Jude Law and Colin Farrell step in wasn't at all jarring.
I was also delighted to see Andrew Garfield, who delivered a sparkling performance in this year's Social Network, as the film's lovelorn protagonist and Lily Cole, a striking young British actress with whom I was unfamiliar, as the good / bad doctor's daughter. Rounding out the principals in this entertaining picture was Verne Troyer (Austin Powers' Mini-Me) as Parnassus' trusted company foreman.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Tron: Legacy

Some films get a pass for sheer audacity, even if their weaknesses are tough to overlook. I think Tron: Legacy fits that category. It's an audaciously visual and aural (thanks to Daft Punk) experience that is much more captivating and mind-bending than the over-praised Inception, IMO. The weaknesses of the Tron sequel, however, are the story and the mystic logic of the universe that computer ubermensch Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges) created back in the day (read Tron [1982]). His son, Sam, played with brio by Garrett Hedlund, enters his "dearly departed" dad's digital world and reunites with his father, now a zen master of sorts, to battle the elder Flynn's digital clone, Clu (played by a digitally younger Bridges). Both Sam and the picture are aided immeasurably by the presence of the winsome Olivia Wilde (Dr. House's 13) as Quorra (pronounced Cora), the last surviving member of a race of "beings" that miraculously appeared one day and was nearly exterminated in short-order by the maniacal Clu. The movie's fight scenes are beyond spectacular but they all culminate, more or less, with Kevin Flynn admitting that maybe he'd made a mistake in reaching for perfection. Yes, it's all nonsense but it's a beautiful ride.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Valhalla Rising

Mads Mikkelsen (the bleeding-eyed Le Chiffre from Casino Royale) plays One-Eye, a mute and half-blind escaped Viking slave from some unidentified Nordic outpost who, along with his towheaded child interpreter, hops a ship bound for the Holy Land to rescue Jerusalem from the infidels but doesn't quite make it. This is t...he premise of Nicolas Winding Refn's Valhalla Rising, a curious episodic film that's more a collection of striking tableaux than an actual motion picture, IMO. The script contains little actual dialogue, mostly burly unwashed men (they're Vikings but they sound like they're from the Scottish Highlands) sitting in a longboat or on a boggy shore essentially waiting to die. That is to say, the film is beautifully shot (despite the bloodletting) and even though it makes motions toward heavier philosophical questions about the divine and the sacred it doesn't offer much to think about.

Queen & Slim

In the soon to be iconic photograph from Melina Matsoukas's distressing Queen & Slim, stars Daniel Kaluuya and Jodie Turner-Smith...