Sunday, March 24, 2013

Olympus Has Fallen

Everything in Antoine Fuqua's latest film, Olympus Has Fallen, feels calculated -- and I'm not talking just about the impressively staged seizing of the White House and the near immobilization of the executive branch of  the government that opens the film. Fuqua knows his way around chaos and how to communicate the escalation of calamitous improbability without alienating or pissing off the audience. He's smarter than that and delivers here an entertaining 100 minutes of kick-assery. The populist director of Training Day [2001], Tears of the Sun [2003] and Shooter [2007],  Fuqua has cast a host of Hollywood's more likable faces: Aaron Eckhart as the luckless President Asher, Ashley Judd as his even unluckier first lady, Morgan Freeman (the most likable man in the known universe) as House Speaker Trumball and Gerard Butler (who co-producers this testosterone-y feast of grimacing gun play) as uber-agent Mike Banning, the president's sparring partner and hero. It's strategic, as was an early Oval Office confab that rings like the United Colors of Benneton and includes the president, his female Secretary of Defense (Oscar winner Melissa Leo), the black House Speaker, the Hispanic vice president and a coterie of colorful seconds stationed about the room. The film's villain, Kang (played with brilliant iciness by Rick Yune), is Korean but he's aligned with neither the North nor the South. Kang's manifesto, delivered off-handedly shortly after the White House is taken, contains some reference to the re-unification of his country and the alleviation of starvation and devastation among his people. It's not supposed to make sense beyond giving the evil guy some raison d'etre for his bloody badness. The film is mindless with an astronomical body count but it's enormously entertaining. Leave the kids home.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Rust and Bone

Rust and Bone is a powerfully distressing French film about an orca trainer who loses her legs in an aquatic accident and becomes FWB with an aimless bare knuckle brawler and single father. It features two remarkable, anquishing performances by Marion Cotillard and Armand Verdure and amazing camera wizardry that transforms the able-bodied Cotillard into a double amputee. Wonderful cinematic magic. Directed by Jacques Audiard (The Beat That My Heart Skipped).

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Oz the Great and Powerful

Sam Raimi's Oz the Great and Powerful is the latest in a series of A-list directors' forays into top tier cinematic wizardry. The most noteworthy entries have been Scorsese's Hugo,  Spielberg's Adventures of Tin Tin and Ang Lee's Life of Pi, which won Lee the Best Director Oscar this year. Sam Raimi may not be as lauded as that trio but in about 30 years he has grown from low-budget horror flick visionary (The Evil Dead [1981]) to small canvas auteur (A Simple Plan [1998] and The Gift [2000]) and blockbuster craftsman (Spider-Man, S-M2, and S-M3). Oz the Great and Powerful is his latest and it has moment of visual sumptuousness and tender homages to the Victor Fleming original Wizard (1939) but in the end, to me, its Disney-fied one-world sentimentality seemed an odd companion to its outsized technological trickery. In other words, it's a stupendous piece of eye-candy that's just not very filling. To that end, the CGI creations of the flying monkey bellhop (voiced by Scrubs' Zach Braff) and the little china doll (voiced by child actress Joey King) are the most entrancing characters in the whole film, which boasts James Franco as Oz, uber-beauty Mila Kunis as Theodora, the good girl gone bad witch; Rachel Weisz as Evanora, Theodora's thoroughly bad witch sister; and Michelle Williams as Glinda, the sticky sweet good witch in a bubble. Yes, do take the kids. There's no blood but some frightening flying mandrills that might spook the really little ones.

Queen & Slim

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