Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Movie review: Legend of the Guardians

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Shot on location inside the part of Zach Snyder’s brain that’s addled by owl opium, The Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole certainly has its share of owls. Nice owls, mean owls, owls who can fly, owls who can’t, and owls who start off not being able to fly but can once the plot requires it to be so.

The cinematic equivalent of the meme “I like turtles,” the movie is director Zack Snyder’s way of saying just how much he loves owls. Well, not just any owls, mind you.
The owls of Ga’Hoole. The ones who can talk like Agent Smith from The Matrix, and dive bomb and carry around magical blue things that make other owls freeze. Those owls.

The most exciting drama had little to do with what was going down onscreen – you know the drill: mean Nazi-like owls kidnap nice impressionable owls and preach to them about “purity,” only to have their whole system torn asunder by Coalition Forces – but what was going on in the aisles.

This is the first movie to which I took my 1-year-old, and she was fine watching the movie for the first 70 minutes before deciding to pretend she was an owl herself and hooting while running back and forth across the sides of the theater. It must have just felt like the thing to do. While chasing her likely caused me to miss key moments of visual splendor late in the movie, I’m not going to lie to you. By then I was willing to start running around the theater as well. There’s only so much owl-on-owl violence, owl philosophy and owl arguments you can take before you need to start running around the theater like a crazy person, you know?

From what I saw and listened to of the movie, I was reasonably entertained but a little disappointed by the weird but not-so-weird-it’s-awesome CGI puppet show.

Director Zack Snyder is one of the most exciting, unpredictable filmmakers around, and after watching this one, well, you can still say he’s unpredictable, if not always exciting. Here’s hoping his next effort is something akin to the subversive madness of his Dawn of the Dead remake, the unassailably brilliant 300 or the underappreciated Watchmen.

My 3-year-old sat calmly with my wife throughout, enjoyed the movie, then when he saw a commercial for it the a few days later, asked what movie that was for. He’d completely forgotten about The Legend of the Guardians. It’s best of Snyder and all of us follow suit and pretend this never happened.

Starring the voices of Jim Sturgess and Hugo Weaving. Written by John Orloff and Emil Stern, based on the novels by Kathryn Lasky. Directed by Zack Snyder. Rated PG. 90 minutes.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Movie Review: The Town

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And the Academy Award for most generic title goes to… The Town! One can only guess Ben Affleck and his team of writers came up with that gem only after discarding The Departed But Not Quite As Good, The Bank Robberies, The Movie and The One Where Ben Affleck Sexes A Drugged-Out Blake Lively.

The title is a work of unsurpassed genius in bland insignificance, much like Affleck’s acting career after Chasing Amy. But lo and behold, the writer-director-star makes a comeback worthy of the 2004 Red Sox in the stunning crime thriller. The movie is nearly mesmerizing enough to wipe away painful memories of Affleck leaping rooftops in red tights as Daredevil or stinking it up in Jersey Girl.

Chiseled down, bulked up and bursting with a fiery, I-may-not-be-Matt-Damon-but-I-still-got-skills screen presence, Affleck seizes the moment and re-establishes himself as a lead actor capable of carrying a film. And his dark horse Oscar-caliber performance as Doug, the ringleader of a Boston bank robbing gang melds as part of an elite commando force. Mad Men’s John Hamm is smoothly authoritative as an Inspector Javert-like FBI agent who tracks the gang’s every move.

Jeremy Renner brings a block-headed toughness as Jim, Doug’s best friend/sidekick who’s bitterly protective of his trashy single-mom sister (Lively), but not protective enough to keep Doug from stomping all over her heart. And Chris Cooper is chilling as Doug’s bitter, incarcerated father.

The only weak point is Rebecca Hall, who does what she can in the thankless role as Doug’s oblivious girlfriend, who also happens to be a hostage the gang seizes in the opening-sequence robbery. It’s a dopey, contrived character who is little more than a device to infuse Doug with some humanity.

The character is unnecessary because Affleck’s torrid storytelling and heartfelt acting make it easy to root for him and his brilliant-yet-ignorant cronies as they pull one ill-advised heist after another, begging for Hamm and his rules-bending gang of feds. The cat-and-mouse game succeeds despite its predictability, thanks much in part to the authenticity of the setting. The dialect, distinctive slang, Beantown delivery and distinctive city architecture meld together to create a tapestry reminiscent of the scary-yet-invigorating Bostons of The Departed and Good Will Hunting.

There are two or three jaw-dropping car chases in the movie, one of which Jim punctuates with the line “Now that’s how you f-ck-n’ drive a car.” Affleck shows this is how you f-ck-n’ direct a movie.

Starring Ben Affleck, John Hamm, Jeremy Renner, Rebecca Hall and Blake Lively. Written by Ben Affleck, Peter Craig and Aaron Stockard, based on a book by Chuck Hogan. Directed by Affleck. 125 minutes.