Posts Tagged ‘reviews’

Montiel offers more than meets the eye in “Fighting”

July 15, 2009

Rated R : 1 hour 45 minutes : Rogue Pictures

The critical success of Dito Montiel’s gritty and raw debut feature, A Guide To Recognizing Your Saints, must have given him the leeway to head into a wider venue to expand his knowledge of life on the city streets; for Fighting, his sophomore film that is also set in New York City, ended up playing at popular multiplexes across the nation. Once again enlisting the help of A Guide‘s co-star, Channing Tatum (and just before he explodes into major stardom with G.I. Joe: Rise of Cobra), Montiel keeps the tough realism in his storytelling and cinematography for this story of a twenty-something who resorts to selling generic merchandise on the streets in hope to make even a half-way living.

It is obvious from the title and advertisements of the film that we will follow the lead character on a tour of small, underground fights with dangerous consequences and big money stakes, but what won’t be revealed in any TV spot is that this is actually as much an observant character study as a fighting picture, and it’s certainly in no way similar to possible comparisons/neanderthal-like films like Lionheart. Giving a very good performance opposite the commanding Tatum is Terrence Howard as a down-on-his-luck man who takes on promoting duties for the young fighter and is widely considered a “low-life” among his peers in the business. I admired the way there was an emotional involvement in every single character in the film, so when the inevitably brutal climax of the final bout comes into play we actually care about what might happen to the people involved.

I saw this one in early May, which was a time that I considered full of droughts and empty choices in theaters, so I ended up choosing Fighting out of lack options, but 105 minutes later I was glad I did take the chance. There are certainly things about the film that prevent it from becoming even more of a powerful experience, and I don’t consider it in the same class as Montiel’s first film, but for a semi-transition into a bigger budget experience, Fighting is a solid and recommendable film that doesn’t stray from where he grounded his roots.

***Odd little side note: From the moment I saw an accidental shot of a boom mic at the top frame of a shot early on in the film, I began to keep count. There are over a dozen occurrences of the boom mic dipping in and out of the frame, with some of the times being extremely noticeable. This led me to believe that it wasn’t missed during the editing process and was deliberately kept in without much of a worry. In a film like this, I don’t mind it being there.

3 Stars

Channing Tatum
Terrence Howard
Zulay Henao
Luis Guzman
Brian White
Written by
Dito Montiel
Robert Munic
Directed by
Dito Montiel


Playing catch-up…again

July 14, 2009

As I continue to gather words for full reviews of Bruno, Public Enemies, and The Hangover, I plan to reach back into the early parts of the year and up to the current time in an effort to not leave out any 2009 film I’ve seen. There are going to be a couple dozen abbreviated “mini reviews” as I attempt to get caught up in full. It should be busy around here soon.

The Posting Weapon Has Returned

March 22, 2009

I have finally resolved all the dreadful laptop issues that came out of nowhere over a month ago, so the semi-regular posting should be making its way back very soon.

I have been listening to a ton of new albums that have been released this year already, and among those that are sticking with me in a big way are…

The Pains of Being Pure At Heart: “The Pains of Being Pure At Heart”
Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy: “Beware”
Handsome Furs: “Face Control”
Antony & The Johnsons: “The Crying Light”

Music has been dominating my life lately, and even more-so than film, which is saying quite a lot. However, I have started getting back into the multiplexes again, most recently with my viewing of I Love You, Man. I might get around to letting you know just how funny that was. I expect to see both Duplicity and Knowing by week’s end, and I’m contemplating the idea of starting up music reviews instead of posting all of my thoughts in detail in abundance at the end of the year. I don’t know, we shall see…but I am making a promise to be around a little more often. Repetitive I know, but I like making these promises, for they are more for encouragement to myself than anything else. Hopefully it works this time.

“Tropic Thunder” Goes Above and Beyond All Expectations

November 17, 2008

(On the eve of this film’s DVD release, I finally sit down and make myself write a review…which is tragically three months behind. Better late than never, right?)

R, 107 minutes, Dreamworks Pictures

There’s no question that Ben Stiller has been slipping over the past few years, resorting to strictly physical humor comedies that offer nothing more than cookie-cutter plots and characters. There used to be a more intriguing, risk-taking side to the actor, where he would take on roles in films like Flirting With Disaster, Zero Effect, Your Friends & Neighbors, or The Royal Tenenbaums. However, since being a part of that Wes Anderson masterpiece some seven years ago, the amount of even decent roles Stiller has been in could be counted on almost as many fingers as his character, Tugg Speedman, has toward the opening of Tropic Thunder. Let’s just say that’s not a whole lot. Even throughout the actor’s ongoing attempts to create something behind the camera as a director, there still have been many misfires. The three major films he has helmed in the past; Reality Bites, The Cable Guy, and Zoolander, all had small amounts of promise but never could overcome their mounting flaws. So you can imagine the skepticism I had upon my first thoughts of Tropic Thunder, because I had pretty much lost all hope in Stiller, thinking he had forever gone into the realm of idiot cinema – but within the first two minutes of Thunder, all expectations were blown out of the water. It’s one of the 3 funniest films of the year.

Stiller’s film opens in a way that will later be understood as not only perfect, but the only way to rightly introduce the three main characters; with trailers of the latest films they are to be starring in. Each actor is at a different level of stardom at this point in their careers, whether that be Kirk Lazarus in the award-winning spotlight, Jeff Portnoy making dough from cookie-cutter comedy sequels to feed his drug addiction, and Tugg Speedman in the desperation stage, once-heralded as Hollywood’s action hero but now merely forgotten and in need of a comeback. Stiller plays Speedman with all the right tones to turn in his best performance in a very, very long time and really holds his own (as best he can) alongside the brilliant Robert Downey Jr., whose Kirk Lazarus is one of the most memorable comedic characters ever. The two are both hungry for an Oscar win, but the difference is that Lazarus is looking for another gold statuette to add to his mantle that is already full of them, and Speedman, now middle-aged, is wondering what he has to do to even get a nomination sometime in his life. Pitted together with Jack Black’s Jeff Portnoy, who is a semi-parody of Eddie Murphy in his “I play every character in my films” stage, the three headline an ensemble cast of characters in Tropic Thunder, a war film based on the book written by “real-life” war hero Four Leaf Tayback, who is played by Nick Nolte in a hilarious performance. Problems arise immediately as the film begins production, with the deadly combination of actor’s egos fighting against each other from scene to scene, not to mention it all trying to be orchestrated by a first-time director, Damien Cockburn, who is played by the always impressive Steve Coogan.

Once Cockburn is threatened to have his job taken away by the ruthless executive producer, Les Grossman, he ponders what he must do to take control of the movie and the actor’s. With a little influence from Four Leaf and an entire bottle of Patron one night, Cockburn decides to drop his cast right into the middle of an actual war ground. With hidden cameras set up throughout the area, the actor’s are unleashed into the jungle with nothing but the screenplay and their clashing beliefs, senses of humor, and ideas. When what certainly doesn’t appear to be a freak accident occurs within minutes of them arriving, the majority of the people involved are led to believe that what they are doing is no longer making a film of any kind, and their lives are in danger. Of course, Tugg Speedman thinks all of it is an elaborate prank to try and get the best of their abilities out of them, and since he is in charge the show must go on. Tropic Thunder is filled with extremely original bits and pieces throughout the entire thing, and kudos must go to a trio of screenwriters here, including Justin Theroux, Etan Cohen, and even Stiller himself. It’s about time that Stiller delivered a complete follow-through on the small promise he has shown with each film he’s directed so far…and it helps that his cast was terrific all around. Also giving excellent supporting performances are Jay Baruchel as the quiet, timid little actor, Brandon T. Jackson as Alpa Chino, a shameless self-advertiser/rapper, Danny McBride as the film’s trigger-happy pyrotechnics specialist, Matthew McConaughey as Tugg’s faithful agent, and Tom Cruise in a turn that cannot even be even slightly given away in any review. It must be seen to be believed.


Del Toro and Perlman Bring “Hellboy” Back With A Vengeance

November 9, 2008

PG-13, 120 minutes, Universal Pictures

With each passing summer season, and especially over the course of this current decade, Hollywood has made it their mission to unleash as many sequels as American audiences can handle, and then some. It’s almost as if each movie studio is in a weightlifting competition that lasts during one season every year, and the ones falling at the bottom of the box-office bin one year, begin to look for ways in the off-season (fall/winter) to pump enough steroids into their onslaught of blockbusters to make a comeback. It’s all about the money, and in sequels they obviously find their biggest avenue for profits – because no matter how ludicrous, pointless, or flat-out awful the idea of certain sequels are, the majority of people are going to pay $10 to go see them. Anyway, where I’m going with this is that the reasons for making sequels in today’s world of cinema have ultimately become up to the studios themselves, even if there is clearly nowhere else more interesting to go with a certain subject, characters, etc. There are very few that can put anticipation into a thinking audience member’s mind, to make us get excited about wanting to invest more of our time and presence in the progression of certain matter.

What was extremely impressive about the summer of 2008 was the amount of anticipation that I felt for the arriving sequels, and for good reason. All of the original cast and crew were coming back for the two most significant sequels of the year, both Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight, and Guillermo Del Toro’s Hellboy II: The Golden Army. Both of those directors put such a stamp on the film’s before their follow-ups, that if they were to not be at the helm for the next addition it would be utterly pointless to green-light into production. It’s obvious that Del Toro’s comic book character (and film, for that matter) is on much more of a small scale than anything in the Batman world, so in a way Hellboy II could appear to be an independent Hollywood blockbuster when sized up against The Dark Knight. This doesn’t make Del Toro’s film any less grand. In fact, when we’re talking about film-making on a grand scale, especially when it comes to creatures, makeup, art direction, costume design, etc. – is there really anyone working today that can match Del Toro? I would have to say no, and that he is in a class of his own.  With that being said, his sequel here is an enormously entertaining experience, surrounding Hellboy’s world with an even bigger world of unique creatures that exist exclusively in the mind of the director himself. He packs the kind of deserving wallop that needs to come with a second film in a franchise, upping pretty much everything on the majestic end of his style, with no holding back. But unlike Sam Raimi’s disastrous attempt to pack Spider-Man 3 tight with a ton of different things, Del Toro orchestrates his world from potential madness into beauty. His films are wonderful to admire, to see multiple times in an effort to take in all of the gorgeous images.

Ron Perlman once again proves to the world that it’s not always necessary to cast a million-dollar man in a main superhero role like this, and he plays the part with such a balance of sarcastic tones, inner doubt, and just plain confidence, that it’s impossible to imagine anyone else doing it now. The original Hellboy was a fascinating experience and one that I didn’t think Del Toro could top with the sequel, and although I don’t really consider The Golden Army a better film than its predecessor, I cannot say it’s any less of a film. the cast is having an even bigger ball together here, and the script calls for it. There are love triangles that emerge in unexpected places, which prove to be the most intriguing thing about the film in my opinion, even with the spectacular action sequences – which there are plenty of and will not disappoint. Just like the first installment of this franchise, it comes within inches to complete perfection. I had a terrific time watching this film, as I always do with any Guillermo Del Toro film.