Today's post will be covering the year's first obligatory girl power action thriller, a dark comedy all the more disturbing because its a fantasy we've all had from time to time (usually in line behind the lady who brought forty items with her to the fifteen items or less check out lane), and a Finnish film that is something of a charming, dated fairy tale, yet manages to be originally delightful in a way all its own. If we don't get this hopping, who will?
Haywire - This is a film that just really should have worked. It had Steven Soderburgh (Sex, Lies and Videotape, Traffic, Ocean's Eleven) as a director. It had a terrific supporting cast including Ewan McGregor, Michael Fassbender, Antonio Banderas, Channing Tatum, Michael Douglas and Bill Paxton. It had some interesting moments and scenes, but somehow they never formed a whole that was any greater than the sum of its sparse moments of "really good"ness.
I hate to single out performers, but it's hard to review this movie without placing some of the blame at the feet of American Gladiator turned actress Gina Carano. It's not that she was bad, she wasn't, she was mostly believable and effective in the role of Mallory Kane. However, this was the Lisbeth Salander role, the Hannah role, the Ripley role, for goodness sake. She just wasn't captivating in this role like Rapace/Mara, Ronan, or Weaver were. For a bad ass secret agent action film to work, its leading player must be a much larger than life screen presence. When it's a woman beating the crap out of men twice her size, this blend of power and charisma is even more imperative to the film as a whole.
The script was also unoriginal at best in its entirety, although there were a few bright moments. Most of the supporting players were good but somewhat uninspired. If anyone transcended the material, I would have to say that it was Bill Paxton, who managed to impress in a relatively small amount of screen time. I would give Haywire very faint recommendation, but don't go into it expecting more than that implies. Available on DVD. 3 of 5*
Le Havre - I sort of didn't want to like Le Havre while I was watching it. It was a little too simple, a little too "Old Time Hollywood" convenient in the way that the story unfolded, to not make me almost cringe. The thing is, "almost" was as far as the feeling went. It rode the edge of what was too cheesy for me to take so skillfully that I completely fell for it. By the end of the film, I had to admit that I had really enjoyed myself, and really liked the film despite my own worst prejudicial leanings.
Part of the simplicity of Le Havre comes from the fact that it is about simple people in a simple port town. There is an innocence to all the goings on in Le Havre that it is hard for most of us to imagine living within. It tells the story of a child like man who befriends a young refugee and keeps him hidden until his relatives can be contacted. The three male leads (Andre Wilms, Jean-Pierre Darroussin, and Blondin Miguel) are all believable caricature's that will charm you eventually whether you want them to or not. The leading lady, Kati Outinen, played a part that was more of a plot device than a character, so she can be forgiven for impressing a little less.
Basically, Le Havre was a surprising little Finnish novelty that I actually found quite refreshing. More modern fable than anything else, it rewarded my eventual suspension of disbelief richly. Available on DVD. 4 of 5*
God Bless America - I really thought, while I was watching this movie, that it was the debut of writer/director Bobcat Goldthwait (yes, that one, the guy with the irritating voice in most of the Police Academy movies), but it turns out that this is the fourth time he has held those credits on a feature film. I will have to be forgiven for forgetting the 1991 classic Shakes the Clown. However, it appears that his films have been steadily improving with time, and this was actually quite funny, and clever, and even a an apt social satire.
This film is the story of a middle aged man and a young girl who go on a killing spree across America. Their sole motivation? To winnow the ranks of the tacky, the rude, the spoiled, and the petty. Reality TV stars, wannabe reality TV stars, people who use their cell phones during a movie: all potential (or actual) targets.
God Bless America is a LITTLE derivative of Natural Born Killers and all of its imitators but it is funnier than any of them. Seriously though, thing that sets this film apart is that you don't feel nearly as guilty rooting for Frank and Roxy. America IS full of willful ignorance. The media DOES sensationalize classlessness.
Before I spend the whole review praising Mr. Bobcat's (apologies) impressive script, I should really say a word or two about the pair of actors that brought it to life. Tara Lynne Barr makes Roxy into an unlikely but delightful blend of perkiness, cynicism, and wisdom beyond her years. Joel Murray's Frank, conversely, is reserved and unassuming, sort of a Walter Middy cum Dirty Harry.
If you couldn't tell, this was my favorite film in this set. Unless your personal threshold for violence and DARK comedy dictate otherwise, I would highly recommend checking it out. Available on DVD and Netflix Instant Play. 4 of 5*
And that's it for today. I must get back to tabulating Oscar Buzz. September means it's time for an update and a new set of predictions before we get too far into the Fall film festival season. Look for it soon....... Froggy.
Related posts: Best of 2011 - The Genres, Killing the Dream Contagion