Quick Takes: The Lego Movie, Machete Kills, Only God Forgives

lego_movie_ver9The Lego Movie (2014)
twohalfstar

Starring Chris Pratt, Will Ferrell, Elizabeth Banks, Will Arnett, Alison Brie, Nick Offerman, Charlie Day, Liam Neeson, Morgan Freeman, Channing Tatum, Jonah Hill, Cobie Smulders, Jadon Sand
Directed by Phil Lord & Christopher Miller

So pretty much everyone loves this movie, but I just thought it was OK. I also found it ironic that the song Everything is Awesome became so popular among fans of the film, but yet it’s the butt of many jokes about the conformity of the mainstream Lego people in the movie. Whatever. The jokes largely fell flat for me, and while I enjoyed the premise and the imagination on display, it was all too loud and abrasive for my tastes. I did love the little Star Wars cameos and Batman’s hilarious song, though, and I wish the film had more of that kind of comedic brilliance.

machete-kills-new-poster-and-13-new-photos-1Machete Kills (2013)

Starring Danny Trejo, Mel Gibson, Demian Bichir, Amber Heard, Michelle Rodriguez, Sofía Vergara, Charlie Sheen, Lady Gaga, Antonio Banderas, Walton Goggins, Cuba Gooding Jr., Vanessa Hudgens, Alexa Vega, Marko Zaror, Tom Savini, William Sadler
Directed by Robert Rodriguez

This, on the other hand, was pure entertainment for me. Robert Rodriguez makes fun B-Movies, and I love him for it. Machete Kills feels like more of a James Bond spoof than a sequel to Machete, but as long as you like both Machete and Bond (like me), that isn’t an issue. Charlie Sheen is wonderful as the US President, and Mel Gibson definitely makes for a fun asshole villain. The film is somewhat spastic with its ultra-long list of characters, though, which doesn’t allow many of them to get much screen-time. I understand this allows for a long list of celebrities to fill the poster, but quality is usually better than quantity. But this is a B-exploitation flick, so more is better, right?

only_god_forgives_ver6Only God Forgives (2013)
onehalfstar

Starring Ryan Gosling, Kristin Scott Thomas, Vithaya Pansringarm, Gordon Brown, Yayaying Rhatha Phongam, Tom Burke, Sahajak Boonthanakit, Pitchawat Petchayahon, Charlie Ruedpokanon
Directed by Nicolas Winding Refn

There are times when I am a film masochist. Despite thinking Refn’s Drive was an overrated, boring mess of staring people, I felt compelled to watch Only God Forgives. I guess being set in Thailand was a big enough draw to pull me in, regardless of my misgivings. Anyway, this one probably has more staring than Drive. There’s even a whole scene where an entire room of people sit and stare, all while a man has his eyes cut out… Refn is clearly preoccupied with all things ocular. Even still, I think I liked this one a hair more than Drive because the exotic, urban Thai locations and the bold uses of color are pretty to look at. It’s also interesting to see what is basically a B-movie all dolled up in artsy clothes, but it’s not something that really works for me. At least in these clothes it doesn’t. For some reason, I still feel compelled to see more of Refn’s work. Like I said, sometimes I’m a film masochist.

White House Down (2013)

whitehousedown_1Starring Channing Tatum, Jamie Foxx, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Jason Clarke, Richard Jenkins, Joey King, James Woods, Nicolas Wright, Lance Reddick, Jimmi Simpson, Kevin Rankin, Michael Murphy, Rachelle Lefevre

Directed by Roland Emmerich

Expectations: Pretty low, but I like the leads enough to watch them in a dumb action movie.

threehalfstar


To call White House Down a variation on Die Hard is an understatement. White House Down IS Die Hard in the White House, but while shameless rip-offs and recycling of storylines is usually a bad thing, White House Down is so much fun that I hardly cared that I had seen this same setup before. Besides… Die Hard is awesome. There are definitely times when the nods to Die Hard are too on-the-nose (such as using Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony instead of the Ninth, with no other context but as a Die Hard reference), but even these moments made me smile instead of groan. And that’s the key thing in a dumb action movie like this: the tone is light enough and the action is furious enough for all those little annoyances to simply roll off your back. White House Down is definitely a whole lot of dumb, but that never stopped ’80s action movies, and it shouldn’t stop you from enjoying one of the best modern “old school” action movies I’ve seen in a while.

As you might expect from the title and the poster, White House Down is about a terrorist capture of the White House and one man slinking around and messing up the bad guy’s plans. Doesn’t get much more simple than that. Unfortunately, because this is 2013 it takes a while to actually get to the plot that matters. Director Roland Emmerich spends nearly 40 minutes setting up the characters and the inevitable takeover of the President’s home. Modern films just can’t seem to get down to business so I expected this, but what I didn’t expect was that once the pin is pulled, this grenade of a movie explodes into pretty much non-stop action and thrills. It’s intense, ridiculous and incredibly enjoyable.

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Side Effects (2013)

sideeffects_1Starring Rooney Mara, Jude Law, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Channing Tatum, Vinessa Shaw, Ann Dowd, Polly Draper, David Costabile, Mamie Gummer

Directed by Steven Soderbergh

Expectations: High. I’m becoming quite the Soderbergh fan.

threestar


Side Effects is ultimately a thriller, but you’d never know it by the way the film sets itself up. Emily Taylor (Rooney Mara) is a depressed woman whose husband (Channing Tatum) has just been released from prison. He was locked up for insider trading, but now that he’s back on the right side of the bars, he’s trying his best to set their lives back on course. Meanwhile, Emily is having a hard time dealing with her mental issues, and one day while exiting a parking garage she decides to take the exit sign painted on the brick wall literally. She drives her car straight into it, and thus sets into motion the twisting that must occur for any thriller to be successful.

But those expecting a thriller right out of the gate will be disappointed by the slow, dramatic crawl towards the thriller content in Side Effects. It’s there, and it’s rather intriguing and interesting to unravel, but less patient viewers will definitely feel the urge to switch the film off before it gets there. Even acknowledging this fact, the film is a little slow in places, and the some of the second half isn’t as strong as it could be. Regardless, Side Effects is largely a successful film.

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Magic Mike (2012)

magicmike-onesheetStarring Channing Tatum, Alex Pettyfer, Matthew McConaughey, Cody Horn, Joe Manganiello, Matt Bomer, Adam Rodríguez, Kevin Nash, Olivia Munn, Gabriel Iglesias

Directed by Steven Soderbergh

Expectations: High. I’m becoming quite the Soderbergh fan.

threehalfstar


The greatness of Magic Mike is not immediately apparent. On the surface, it’s something of modern, male stripper version of Boogie Nights, but to simply write it off as that is to miss the point of Magic Mike completely. Its power lies in its characterizations of Mike (Channing Tatum), Adam (Alex Pettyfer) and Dallas (Matthew McConaughey), but I only really cracked it in the minutes following the film, as I tried to put into words what I liked about how screenwriter Reid Carolin and Steven Soderbergh had constructed the movie.

The surface story is your classic tale of a young kid being brought into the rich, alluring world of a moneymaking business where all his wild dreams can come true. You’ve seen it all before. This makes parts of Magic Mike predictable and somewhat obvious, but the film is really well-paced so you won’t mind so much, as long as you’re invested in the characters (and you love hot male action :)).

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Haywire (2012)

Haywire (2012)
AKA Knockout, Agent Mallory

Starring Gina Carano, Michael Angarano, Channing Tatum, Michael Douglas, Antonio Banderas, Ewan McGregor, Julian Alcaraz, Eddie J. Fernandez, Anthony Brandon Wong, Michael Fassbender, Mathieu Kassovitz, Bill Paxton

Directed by Steven Soderbergh

Expectations: High.


Why make the same tired genre film with the same tired genre conventions when you can do something different? This is essentially the Soderbergh manifesto, and he continues to display his ability to subvert the genre film with Haywire. I really haven’t delved deep into Soderbergh’s filmography, but I always think of his movies as either “the big A-Picture” or “the low-budget B-Picture”. He seems to like to bounce back and forth between the two, with the low-budget ones being somewhat experimental. His last released film, Contagion, definitely feels like the A (while still being somewhat daring and experimental), while Haywire definitely feels like the B. I don’t mean that as a slight in any sense, merely as a point of reference for fans that might be seeking a way to classify this somewhat hard to peg movie. The cast would suggest a giant ensemble movie, but it’s really much more reserved than that.

Gina Carano plays a black ops contractor tasked with rescuing a Chinese hostage in Barcelona. The job is a simple one, but as the film unfolds we find that there is more going on under the surface than it would appear. The film’s story is not told directly, requiring the viewer to piece it together themselves. It’s rather simple when you boil it down, but Soderbergh’s editing and somewhat fractured storytelling help it from getting too clichéd. On the flip side of that, the presentation of the story also gives the film an aloof quality that makes it hard to connect with. It’s not a spy picture, and it’s not a Bourne movie, but it is a bit of both. I just think that it’s in your best interest to leave any and all expectations at the door that this will be an action film, because in reality it’s something truly different.

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