(there are spoilers all up in this bid'ness, so be warned if you plan on seeing any of these movies and want your viewing experience to be as pure as the driven snow)
The Al Pacino/Robert De Niro movie is actually called 'Righteous Kill,' which you probably weren't aware of because a) it's such a generic title and b) literally everyone just calls it 'the movie with Pacino and De Niro' (or, depending on your preference, 'the movie with De Niro and Pacino'). This is the third time the duo have paired up in the same movie, though RK is the first time they've actually shared any significant screen time together. The first two films that paired both Bobby D and Ally P were Godfather Part II and Heat....thus making Righteous Kill into the red-headed stepchild of the De Niro/Pacino trilogy. It's a shame that such a pairing of actors had to be wasted on such a mediocre film, but then again, given how Pacino and De Niro have pretty much phoned in their roles for the past decade, it's maybe not overly surprising.
The plot, such as it is, concerns a serial killer who's targeting criminals. Hey, it's Dexter! Actually, no, that would've led to a much shorter movie, as Dexter would've been back to Miami before the clueless cops in this movie even showed up at the crime scene. I know I warned about spoilers earlier but I won't reveal the big spoiler of who the killer actually is except to say that it's pretty easy to figure out for anyone with even a rudimentary understanding of mystery structure. DN and P keep their phone-in streaks alive with a pair of cliched cop characters that aren't likable nor interesting, and frankly, you'd have to think that 20 years ago a script like this would've never even gotten into either actor's hands. Seriously, what the hell happened to these guys? De Niro had an epic 1997 with both Jackie Brown and Wag the Dog, but has done almost nothing but self-parodying crap ever since. Pacino's last epic year was 1999 (The Insider and his pre-game speech in Any Given Sunday), but since then has been equally mediocre, with the two exemptions being his role in the underrated Christopher Nolan thriller Insomnia and his critically-lauded role in the Angels in America miniseries. Somebody needs to light a fire under these guys and remind them that they're members of a rapidly shrinking pool of capital-L Legendary actors.
Other notes about the film.....nobody can quite mentally prepare themselves for the spectacle of seeing a scene between De Niro, Pacino and Curtis '50 Cent' Jackson. Words failed me. I was looking for an analogy to describe the Pacino/De Niro series, but this is the best one right here: De Niro and Pacino are to 50 Cent in terms of acting what Godfather II and Heat are to Righteous Kill in terms of quality of film.....De Niro's love interest is played by Carla Gugino. In case you're wondering, yep, 28-year age difference. And there's a love scene. Doggy style, if you're wondering. It took my eyes over five minutes to roll back into place.
You know an actor has officially reached a certain status in your life when you go see what looks by all accounts to be a perfectly generic movie just because they're starring in it. This explains why I actually paid to see Ghost Town; it's a nice enough little movie, but come on, it has five-day rental written all over it. But that's the power of Ricky Gervais. I think I'd pay to see the man read the phone book at this point. Gervais does enough Gervais-esque things to generate some laughs, including a funny scene with Kristin Wiig and a giant lawyer, but overall, unless you're a big Gervais fan, you can probably wait until this one hits the video stores.
Is this really all I have to say about this movie? Just one paragraph? Huh. Told you it wasn't much. Maybe I'll use the space to talk about the current Hollywood scuttlebutt claiming that Gervais is the trendy choice to host the next Oscar ceremony. Brilliant.
Hamlet 2 is the kind of movie that on paper should've been really funny, but it just didn't quite come together to raise itself above the 'average' mark. I'll give Steve Coogan credit, however, he does everything in his power to carry the movie on his back. He tries to wring every drop of comic juice out of his goofy drama teacher character but the material just isn't quite there for Coogan to work with. I did appreciate that we got to see so much of the actual Hamlet 2 play, which was built up so much throughout the film and ended up paying off pretty well, and I also enjoyed the fact that Elisabeth Shue was such a good sport about portraying herself as a complete joke.
You know what's funny? Back in high school, I actually wrote a --- serious --- idea for an actual sequel to Hamlet. The movie makes the obvious point that almost everyone's dead at the end of the first one, but I think my way around that was to have Hamlet's ghost start appearing to Horatio or something. I'm a little embarrassed to admit that upon coming up with this idea, I felt like a real King Crap of Turd Island, thinking that I had come upon an ingenious premise that would go on to be a dramatic masterpiece. I felt so confident about this that I thought they'd dig up Shakespeare's grave and toss what's left of him aside so I could be buried there instead. Then again, for most of that second semester in twelfth grade, I wore sunglasses all the time and that seemed like a good idea too, at the time. In a totally unrelated note, I didn't date much in high school.
Tell No One is probably the best non-Batman related film I've seen this year. It's a mystery/thriller from France, based on a (reportedly terrible) novel by Harlan Coben, and it is the rarest of modern cinematic mysteries --- it actually has a great plot. I've long been a fan of mysteries in all forms, going back to reading Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew books and watching everything from Perry Mason to Father Dowling Mysteries as a child. Perhaps as a result, movie mysteries leave me unsatisfied both because it's hard to fit a complex, crime novel-esque plot into a 100-minute frame, and also because such films lack complexity, it's usually really easy to figure things out. Tell No One suffers from neither of these problems. The plot is thick and dense and wonderfully complicated, as you sort of have things figured out in your head but you don't actually learn the whole truth until the final scenes. Apparently the ending of the film is different than Coben's original novel, a change that Coben himself approved of, and probably with just cause given how little sense the original ending made (at least, according to the afore-link-tioned Kyle review).
The other major change from the novel is that everything is shifted to France, which immediately adds much more flavour and personality to the story. Director Guillaume Canet --- who was, inexplicably, as the guy who played DiCaprio's buddy in The Beach --- really keeps everything taut and suspenseful and throws in a few beautiful little shots here and there just to keep us visually as well as mentally entertained. The acting is uniformly terrific, and a quick check to the IMDB confirms that the actress who looked like a dead ringer for Kristin Scott Thomas actually was Kristin Scott Thomas. Huh. Who knew she spoke fluent French?
Oh yes, just a warning, the movie is in French. With subtitles. This really offends some people, and let me just put on my film student hat here for a second....there we go. Now, where were we? People who hate subtitles? You're fucking idiots. It's words on a screen, who gives a shit? For a lot of modern action movies I find myself actually using the DVD captioning anyway due to either overly loud background music or shitty sound editing, so really, captioning in some ways can enhance a picture. The only thing lamer than people who won't watch subtitled movies are people who won't watch black-and-white movies; not to sound judgmental, but such people shouldn't be allowed to procreate. Whew, good thing I said 'not to sound judgmental' or else that might've come off as really judgmental.
My friend Jordan probably had the best summation of Burn After Reading. He said it was the kind of movie that didn't seem like much after you first watch it, but the more you think about the amusing parts, the more amusing they seem, and the film would probably improve in subsequent viewings. I tend to agree with this verdict, so I guess I probably shouldn't properly review Burn until I've seen it a second time.
.....uh, well, I've already started the review....so....um....never mind, I'll just post my reaction to the second viewing in a blog post coming your way in, say, 2011. Burn After Reading follows the classic Coen formula of adding layers (both comic and confusing) to what is basically a very simple plot. This is just the first time they've actually ended a movie with two characters actually detailing everything that happened, and acknowledging that everything was confusing. That scene, by the way, was hilarious. I think I'd pay to see a regular series just of David Rasche trying to explain things to a confused J.K. Simmons. I've been a fan of Rasche ever since his days on the shitty ol' NBC sitcom Nurses --- now THERE is an obscure reference --- and it's good to see him finally get a good part in a good movie.
The main criticisms of Burn After Reading are that nothing really happens, but come on, whatever really 'happens' in Coen movies? Take their three most famous pictures: a guy loses his rug and a trophy wife skips town, then complications ensue. A hitman is after a guy who finds some money in a truck in a desert, complications ensue. A car salesman hires two goons to kidnap his wife, complications ensue. Everything ends up being a clusterfuck sooner or later, and it's just a question of who is left standing in the end. Life is messed up, these stories are messed up, and you might as well burn them after watching because they won't make any logical sense anyway --- that's the Coen motto.
It's quite possible that if Brad Pitt had been born just a wee bit uglier, he might be hailed as one of the finest comic actors in Hollywood today. Pitt (and Clooney as well, in fairness) really hit home runs when given funny material to work with. Clooney has a running gag about running after sex that....oh lord, it just hit me as I'm writing the words down, it's literally a 'running' gag. Goddamn you Coen Brothers and your wit. I also wouldn't dream of telling you about the contraption that Clooney's character is building in his basement. Rest assured that it's totally out of nowhere and its revelation will make you laugh, then you'll be silent due to shock for a few seconds, then you'll start laughing again due to the WTF-ness of it all. Stay tuned for upcoming book, "The WTF-ness Of it All: The Films of Joel and Ethan Coen" coming to bookstores in 2011, just as soon as I finish that blog post about my second viewing of this movie.
Death Race was just a mistake. My buddy Dave was in town for a visit, and given that he is a connoisseur of terrible movies (particularly those with Jason Statham), I figured it would be right up his alley. It ended up being a turgid mess that left both of us feeling down about. It wasn't even laughably bad enough to generate some good sarcastic comments. The only two people more disappointed than we were must've been Joan Allen and Ian McShane, two quality actors who must've sat around their trailers throwing back shots of Jack and wondering aloud why they ever signed on for such a piece of crap. I'll bet McShane threw down more f-bombs over picking this script than he did in the entire series of Deadwood. The only thing that could've saved Death Race is if it had featured a tricked-out Toyota Echo as the main vehicle.
Body of Lies reminded me of Burn After Reading, in a way. Big stars, a big director, seemingly important premise...yet whereas Burn After Reading's point was to be pointless, Body of Lies just ended up feeling a bit pointless. It's a perfectly solid 7/10ish kind of movie, but when you bring together DiCaprio, Crowe and get Ridley Scott directing, one thinks the bar would be raised just a little bit more. At the very least, it's always good to see Crowe sink his teeth into a good role, and Mark Strong's bad-ass Jordanian intelligence chief character almost steals the whole movie. The guy is basically a Jordanian version of James Bond, a man so well-dressed that even I (whose idea of high fashion is to not wear sneakers) was impressed by the quality of his suits. Also, 'Mark Strong' happens to be one of my aliases if I ever become a porn star. In fact, 'Body Of Lies' was also going to be the working title of my first porno flick.
Porn Actress: Wait, I thought you said you had a nice body.
Me: Baby....all lies.