“The Mechanic” Review

Guest Reviewer: Andrew Walsh

If I have a guilty pleasure, it’s definitely Action / Revenge films. Death Wish, Kill Bill, Taken, Death Sentence, all films with clear good guys doing not so good things to very bad people. Often with simple protagonists with whom the audience can identify with to allow a catharsis for the audience to release pent up anger against the villains. They are simple movies made for simple reasons.  Certainly not made to get the audience thinking, the last time that happened was with The Brave One (and it didn’t turn out so good). I remind you of this because The Mechanic needed to get few things right, but fails so terribly at key moments.
The film follows Arthur Bishop (Jason Statham) who is a “mechanic,” a high-end corporate assassin (yes, he works for a single company) who is given an assignment to kill his mentor and chairman of the company he works for (Donald Sutherland, who appears to be reprising his role from The Italian Job). While reluctant at first, Bishop carries out his mission. He afterwards runs into the man’s son, Steve McKenna (Ben Foster) who decides he wants Bishop to teach him his trade. Steve begins to learn gradually, but proves to be somewhat of a difficult student. After screwing up several hits for the company, the new chairman puts out a contract on Bishop, who decides to return the favor.
Yeah, pretty simple. It’s a remake, but I haven’t seen the original. The only thing I can compare it to is Leon The Professional, but only in the basic premise. The story takes quite a few leaps in logic and is lacking in character development. Luckily, it’s all in good fun and you aren’t forced to take anything too seriously.
One of the few things the movie gets (mostly) right is the action. A lot of it is well done and nicely choreographed. There are two particularly brutal scenes involving Ben Foster’s character. One shows a brawl that breaks out after his first hit goes terribly wrong. What was supposed to be done quietly and quickly becomes loud and violent when Steve is given no choice but to kill the man by force. It’s an incredibly brutal fight scene, with both men throwing each other through walls, shelves and bashing each other against counter-tops and doors. And we see every little thing. Unfortunately, after that all the action sequences are let downs. Most of the blood and violence in other sequences are done with CGI instead of the practical effects of the earlier scenes. This severely lessons the impact and makes the remainder action scenes feel limp and lifeless.
The other thing the movie does get right is Ben Foster. Foster is one of the most talented actors of his generation, but has unfortunately flown under the radar for most of his career. Most audiences might recognize him as Angel from X-men 3, but audiences should instead recognize him as the villains of Hostage and the remake of 3:10 to Yuma. Foster has shown that he can take relatively simple roles and make them memorable, and he manages to do a similar job with this film. Unfortunately, that also leads to the film’s biggest problem.
THIS NEXT SECTION CONTAINS SPOILERS OF THE ENDING! However, the ending is not so much of a twist but more of a slight surprise. If you do not wish to know the ending just skip this last section.

There is meant to be a lot of tension and irony in the fact that Foster’s character is learning to be a killer from the man who murdered his own father. Before getting revenge on the man who actually ordered the assassination of his father, Steve finds that Bishop is in fact the one who pulled the trigger. After they succeed, he decides that revenge is the only reason you would ever get into a trade as an assassin. After “revealing” to Bishop that he knows the truth, Steve offers one last chance of redemption. But Bishop accepts his fate and allows Steve to set off an explosion to kill him. The film seems to end there, but goes on to show that Bishop had already rigged an explosion elsewhere that kills Steve, while Bishop himself escapes the car explosion. What??????

This whole ending renders the film utterly pointless. Due to the fact that Bishop is an enigma, the character we follow and identify with becomes Steve. We identify with him and see him grow as an individual… only to be heartlessly (and pointlessly) killed 30 seconds before the movie ends.

But wait! Maybe this is meant to symbolize how audiences don’t properly connect with onscreen violence, and by killing the one character the audience can identify with is effectively forcing an emotional response from the audience? Maybe it’s all meant to make the audience contemplate the disconnect between onscreen violence and real life violence?!?!?! I might buy that if it weren’t for the fact the man who made this film directed Con Air.

However, the ending seems to be a reshoot of some kind. After Ben Foster is shown to kill Jason Statham, he walks off somberly into the sunset as the screen fades to black… only for the movie to keep on going. Instead, the movie ends with Ben Foster dieing while Jason Statham drives a big manly truck into the sunset. The former would have been a good, contemplative ending. Instead, I have the distinct feeling that some test audiences or executive producers severely screwed this up.

Entertainment Value: 7

Production Value: 5

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Top 10 Films of 2010

By: Andrew Walsh, Guest Reviewer

First, I want to make it clear that I did not see every movie that came out this year. If this list does not include what was your favorite movie of the year, it is quite possible that I didn’t see it, for which I apologize.

We shall get to the full list of my top good movies in a moment, but I must bring attention to one film that stood above all else at it’s own level of crap. The film that was, without a doubt the worst film of the year 2010:

“Legion”

           Seriously, I can’t think of a worse movie made in the past decade. It’s premise: laughable. Story: idiotic. Direction: non-existant. Peformances: more horrifying and awkward than an elementary school version of Angels in America. Every now and again we get films that are “so bad, they’re good,” but Legion had it’s sights set even lower. I could forgive it if it weren’t simply for the fact that it takes itself WAAAAAAAAAAAAY too seriously. The filmmakers seem to believe they themselves are doing God’s work by bringing this film to the people. But make no mistake, they are the Great Tempters. Do not follow them and their mind-numbing dribble of what can only ironically be called “art.” We can not allow them to keep doing this, especially since they have already remade their own film in the form of Priest, set for release later this year.

But now, so we can end on a pleasant note, here are My (not Your) Top 10 films of 2010. 

10. “Hereafter”

           I honestly think the concept and reality of death is often overlooked in films today. It’s very much present, but I feel that it is often glazed over and rarely taken as seriously as it should. In “Hereafter”, Death is an ever-present reality and fear. It isn’t done in the “I’m trying for an Academy Award” way that so many other “serious” films do, but handles the topic carefully and sensitively. I can’t think of another movie that made death feel so serious, and I applaud it for such tact.

9. “Machete”

           On the other end of the spectrum, Machete was a movie that took a very serious topic of recent social/political debate and made a farce of it. While the film certainly has a point of view it never takes itself too seriously and concentrates on simply providing a good, fun time at the movies. While it doesn’t quite hold together for it’s full duration, you’d be hard-pressed to find anything else out there quite like it. 

8. “Splice”

           Last year I said that the Science-Fiction genre of films has kind of been in the crapper for the past decade. Last year we saw a return to form with “District 9” and “Moon” (which, as far as I’m concerned, is one of the best pure sci-fi films since 2001: A Space Odyssey) and now it appears we are continuing the trend. Splice is a bloody disgusting movie, and a lot of people probably stormed out of theaters after they saw one particular scene. But honestly, that was the point of the film: to make the audience feel a sense of unease. I saw all kinds of people make stupid comments about this film like: “if you enjoy bestiality and incest, then you’ll love ‘Splice.’” Those people can seriously piss off. I don’t enjoy crime, war, or murder, but I often love watching movies that portray such things, as do many other people. This film had the courage to put something up on screen that audiences would most definitely not like, and had more than enough reason to do so. 

7. “True Grit”

           The Coen Brothers are possibly the quintessential American filmmaking team at the moment, and many of their films evoke the styles of Westerns. Finally, the duo has made an honest-to-God Western, and it’s been worth the wait. With wonderful cinematography that emulates the landscape sweeping style of the great John Ford, the Coens have reminded me of how much I miss Westerns.

6. “The Social Network”

           A movie about the founding of a website… sounds pretty dull on paper. But put it in the hands of a director like David Fincher, and you get one of the most engrossing and involving character dramas in years. Few people could make a scene in which a character creates a website exciting, yet somehow Fincher pulled it off. And I must say Jesse Eisenberg deserves so much credit for his performance: after years of being negatively compared to Michael Cera, with one fell swoop he has declared himself as a standalone talent in a way that Cera may never be. 

5. “Inception”

           This has been another good year for Science-Fiction. Instead of creating typical cheese-fests and recycled special effects showcases, we are returning to a time in which sci-fi stories revolve around characters, philosophy, morality, and numerous other mature concepts. “Inception” is the brain-child of Christopher Nolan, who has proven after his success with “The Dark Knight” he can basically get away with anything. There hasn’t been a sci-fi film this original or as richly detailed in it’s conception and execution. Fall asleep during it, and you will awake to realize nothing makes sense anymore… maybe Nolan is trying to tell audiences something?

4. “Shutter Island”

           Here is the master at work. With Shutter Island, Martin Scorsese turns his attention to genre he is not readily familiar with: the psychological thriller/horror film. Few people are as in control of what is on the screen as Scorsese is. As layers of the film begin to fall away, he uses every trick in the book to put you off guard and even make you question what you just saw on screen (did that lady just drink from a glass that wasn’t there?) all for the sake of simply freaking you out. And if you’re complaining about the predictability of the ending just give yourself a cookie and shut up, because you have severely missed the point with this one.

3. “Toy Story 3”

           I have shed tears three times at a movie theater… all three times were watching this film. Having literally grown up with these movies, there isn’t a single film on this list that could affect me on such a personal level. This is easily the darkest of any of Pixar’s films, and being in the same franchise that put them on the map, you knew thay weren’t going to settle for anything short of perfection. The emotional rollercoaster that is Toy Story 3 is sure to affect anyone with a heart. And don’t be afraid to punch any immature middle school brats in the face for laughing at the ending… ARGH! Seriously, I want to break those punk’s noses. Sadness is a powerful emotion, so show it some damned respect. 

2. “Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World”

           You know I’m biased for this film when I say I haven’t had this much fun at the movies since I saw Hot Fuzz (both of these having been directed by Edgar Wright). But I really don’t care, because not only was SPVTW the most fun I’ve had at the movies all year, it’s also one of the best directorial tour-de-force’s in quite a while. Similar to Mr. Scorsese, Mr. Wright is using every trick in the book with this film. However, he is also constantly experimenting with original techniques and frequently switching styles effortlessly at a moment’s notice. Mr. Wright explained the film quite eloquently in comparing the film to a musical, “instead of characters breaking into song and dance they break out into fights.” 

1. “Black Swan”

I’m honestly at a loss with what I can say about this. “Black Swan” is a masterpiece, plain and simple. Every time you think you understand what is happening, the film throws you for a loop. Is it all psychological, is it for real, is it fantasy, is it simple exaggeration? If you saw previews for this you likely thought it would give you the Fight Club twist, but Aronofsky is too good of a director to blatantly copy another film. All of his work has a unique, personal feel to it, and it is usually very down to Earth. However, with “Black Swan” he constantly forces you to question what is happening: how much is real, is any of it real, where is this leading, did I really just see that? Natalie Portman and Mila Kunis both give stunning, multi-layered, complex performances. And special mention must be made for the re-composition of Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake score, which has been re-recorded and mixed in way that it feels very familiar, yet completely different at the same time. This,
people, is great cinema.

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2010 in review

The stats helper monkeys at WordPress.com mulled over how this blog did in 2010, and here’s a high level summary of its overall blog health:

Healthy blog!

The Blog-Health-o-Meter™ reads This blog is on fire!.

Crunchy numbers

Featured image

The average container ship can carry about 4,500 containers. This blog was viewed about 17,000 times in 2010. If each view were a shipping container, your blog would have filled about 4 fully loaded ships.

In 2010, there were 19 new posts, growing the total archive of this blog to 64 posts. There were 27 pictures uploaded, taking up a total of 3mb. That’s about 2 pictures per month.

The busiest day of the year was January 18th with 183 views. The most popular post that day was “Up in the Air” Proves Worthy of Hype.

Where did they come from?

The top referring sites in 2010 were facebook.com, twitter.com, unwrittenlettersproject.com, search.aol.com, and google.com.

Some visitors came searching, mostly for hilary duff, hilary duff teeth, glee cast, up in the air movie, and emily browning.

Attractions in 2010

These are the posts and pages that got the most views in 2010.

1

“Up in the Air” Proves Worthy of Hype January 2010

2

Fox airs “Glee” pilot after “Idol” May 2009

3

Plastic surgery ruins your career..duh January 2010
1 comment

4

“The Uninvited” movie review [spoilers] February 2009
4 comments

5

Truman Graffiti Project a success! April 2009
3 comments

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“True Grit” Movie Review

By Andrew Walsh
Guest Reviewer

Remakes can be tricky things: you make it too similar to the original, and it becomes pointless, change it too much, and it might as well be a standalone film. Hollywood has yet to truly grasp this concept as they have begun churning out remake after remake in recent years, and most of them have fallen into those previously mentioned catagories.
However, this is not the case with the Coen Bros. True Grit, a remake of the John Wayne western classic. The Coen Bros. are masterful filmmakers who know better than most anyone else how to make a truly American film, and there is no more American film genre than the western. We’ve been waiting for the brothers to take this leap for a long time, and it’s well worth it.
True Grit follows young Mattie Ross (Hailee Steinfeld), who seeks revenge for the murder of her father by Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin). She hires rough-around-the-edges U.S. Marshall “Rooster” Cogburn (Jeff Bridges) to help her track down Chaney and bring him to justice. The two of them form a shaky partnership with a braggart Texas Ranger named La Boeuf (Matt Damon) and venture into Indian territory in search for Chaney.
Although the main cast includes three A-list actors, most of the cast consists of much lesser known film actors or character actors. However, there is also newcomer Hailee Steinfeld who, while occasionally bearing the slightly stiff and awkward delivery of a first time film actor, delivers a fine performance as smart-mouthed Mattie Ross. Also, Jeff Bridges disappears into the character of Rooster Cogburn, who maintains his intimidating qualities while also being very lighthearted. This is not the larger than life hero that was John Wayne’s Cogburn. Jeff Bridges’ Rooster is dirty, rude, and very mean, yet also a comic foil to the more straight-laced Ross.
Perhaps the more striking aspect of the film (to fans of the Coen Bros. anyway) is that it lacks many of the eccentricites of past Coen Bros. films. While it retains their trademark dark humor, True Grit is framed as a straightforward genre picture. There are no weird camera angles, strange music choices, outlandish special effects, or wacky characters. This could be because the Coens wished to stay truer to the original instead of creating something more eccentric like the rest of the work.
In the end, there isn’t much to talk about with the Coen Bros.’ True Grit. It’s a fantastic western, a remake that stands on it’s own merits, and great fun time at the movies.

Production Value: 9
Entertainment Value: 9

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“Love & Other Drugs” Review

After going through some recent reviews of mine, you’re all probably wondering if I can not like a film, right? Well, as much as I wanted and purposely strained myself to try to like this film…I hated it. So much so, I do not recommend you spend money on it until it’s in Red Box, and you can get it for $1, and even then, there will probably be better options. Now I am a huge fan of Jake Gyllenhaul and some/most of Anne Hathaway’s films, and they played likeable characters in this film, so I am not particularly disappointed in their performances, per se. I am overall dissatisfied with how Fox publicized this film as a romantic comedy/drama with the “A Walk to Remember”/”The Notebook”-esque feel to it making it the perfect film to see with a friend. FALSE. This film borders on the line of softcore porn and a movie that was forced to use nudity to hide the fact that they hired mediocre actors. The thing is, they had two of the best actors in the business, and a potentially great storyline without having both of them COMPLETELY naked for more than half the movie (not an exaggeration).

The good things about the movie can be counted on one hand: 1. Anne Hathaway’s ability to portray a believable stage 1 Parkinson’s patient. 2. Jake Gyllenhaul is aging well, and actually looks like an adult in this film. 3. The last 10 minutes of the film included no nudity and believable emotion. 4. A Regina Spektor song came on during the credits and saved me from the film. 5. The montages inbetween the “important scenes” included old-school hip 90’s music that allotted time for the guy I went with to dance on the seats and us to entertain ourselves more than the film was.

So the soundtrack is good enough to spend some money on, but I would skip the film unless, of course, you can’t afford porn…this is the next best thing…I guess? The ONLY thing Fox did right was get some good actors. What they did wrong was put them in a horrible storyline of a film that could have been Oscar-worthy without the unnecessary nudity. The end.

Overall rating: 1.5 out of 5 stars

P.S. I just saw a preview for it on TV, no mention or image of nudity or sex for that matter, and they’re calling it “a classic”? False dreams that will never become a reality. Sorry.

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“Black Swan” Review

By Andrew Walsch
Guest Reviewer

Black Swan Review

Okay, lesson time! There is a philosophical theory called “Black Swan Theory,” which tries to explain 3 things:
1.      The disproportionate role of high-impact, hard to predict, and rare events that are beyond normal expectations in history, science, finance, and technology.
2.       The non-computability of the probability of the consequential rare events using scientific methods.
3.      The psychological biases that make people individually and collectively blind to uncertainty and unaware of the massive role of the rare event in historical affairs.

Typically, Black Swan events are identified as being a surprise (to the viewer), having a major impact, and afterword the event is rationalized by hindsight as if it had been expected.

Now, Black Swan Theory doesn’t really have any relation to film in general (as far as I know), but they certainly occur within film, and when they do it affects the audience as well. Take the ending of Fight Club for example (if you haven’t already seen it, then that is your own fault), when Edward Norton’s character suddenly realizes that Tyler Durden (The Surprise) was actually his alter ego this entire time (Major Impact), the film takes you back to show you the way things actually happened (Rationalization).

However, the film does not show you the many, many, MANY clues it leaves to tell you that Tyler does not actually exist. Ever since Fight Club was released we’ve seen a slight decline in psychological thrillers that are willing to take things so far, particularly because audiences are now on the lookout for such a twist to happen. Admit it, if you’ve seen the trailer for Black Swan you’ve already been coming up with your own theory to it’s strange events contained within. You probably aren’t far off, but I guarantee you didn’t figure it all out.

Black Swan follows Nina (Natalie Portman), an up-and-coming star in the New York Ballet. Her company’s director has decided to produce a new performance of Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake, which requires a ballerina to portray the Swan Queen, who must perform as the innocent and elegant White Swan as well as the more sensual Black Swan. While Nina is perfect as the White Swan, she is unable to perform as the seductive Black Swan. When Nina is reluctantly cast as the Swan Queen, she struggles to find her darker side in portraying the Black Swan part. At the same time, a new performer named Lily (Mila Kunis) is said to be perfect as the Black Swan, and Nina begins to see her as a doppleganger.

The film has a lot of fun and pulls many tricks to confuse you whenever Nina and Lily are together. Nina has strange visions, hears things, and Lily always seems to have ulterior motives in their “friendship.” Also, whenever they appear to be talking and sitting across from one another, the two of them seem to physically switch sides infrequently. There’s also the ever-present mirror in most scenes when Nina and Lily are together, even one that makes the two of them appear to become one person (you’ll just have to see it). To the seasoned filmgoer who is paying attention, these subtle hints all seem to be leading to one thing: the Tyler Durden twist. However, this is where the Black Swan Event comes into play as the twist here is certainly more difficult to predict. There’s more going on here than meets the eye, and Darren Aronofsky is too smart to spoon-feed you the same twist again.

All the performances in the film are great. Admittedly, there is a fairly small cast of characters, but they hold your attention and interest throughout the film. Natalie Portman has given the best performance of her career, it’s definitely not one to miss.

The cinematography is mostly a lot of cinema verite’ (what you could sometimes call “shaky cam”) which is actually a very delicate film technique: hold the camera too steady and the effect is lost, hold it too loosely and it becomes unwatchable (see: The Hurt Locker; action scenes in the Bourne trilogy). The camera work keeps you grounded to reality for most of the film, helping the audience to question the plausibility of the seemingly supernatural events that are occurring to Portman’s character. But the handheld camera becomes particularly effective in the ballet scenes, in which the camera almost becomes a dancer itself. I’ve never been interested in ballet, but Black Swan showed me not only the struggles that dancers must go through, but also the beauty that is shown through their hardships.
Also of note is the score of the film. Most of the music is actual Tchaikovsky or rearrangements of his work, particularly from Swan Lake of course. The beauty of the music frequently contradicts the many horrors faced by Nina, and becomes particularly effective in both the film’s climax and ending.

Black Swan is actually only my second Aronofsky film. His only other film I’ve seen is The Wrestler, which I honestly just couldn’t get into. It lost my attention very quickly, but at the same time I recognized how much care and work went into it’s making. In the end, I was happy when the credits finally rolled. Going from that, it would be quite difficult to predict just how much I enjoyed Black Swan. It is an absolute must-see and easily one of the best films of the year.

Production Value: 10
Entertainment Value: 9.5

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“Morning Glory” Review

So, I half paid attention to the previews for “Morning Glory” and, honestly, a majority of the reason why I wanted to see it is because I was a journalism major in college, but this film pleasantly surprised me.

I knew Rachel McAdams could pull off carrying a feature film after her amazing performances in “The Notebook”, “Red Eye” and “The Time Traveler’s Wife” among others, but I really think she mastered this film. It was a high energy character, and I can’t think of another actor who could have performed quite as well as she did. I mean, aside from tranforming from a pushover to being assertive as the new executive producer at Daybreak, the only journey her character took us on was how to turn 90’s bangs into a sophisticated side sweep. However, she nailed the quirks and constant look of being exhausted and irritated of working in a news room.

The film itself dragged a bit at first leaving me wondering if it would be a drama or a comedy, which bugged me because I want to know what I’m getting myself into before the climax of the plot. But right when I started wondering, a series of hilarious (and I mean HILARIOUS) montages happened. As McAdams (Becky Fuller) began to pick up the news and mesh everyone in the studio into a family, she put them in hilarious situations that made me teary eyed I was laughing so much. I can’t remember the time I laughed that hard during a movie … seriously… and it’s a movie about a producer of a morning news show… yeah.

Even though Harrison Ford’s character was suppose to be synical and uninterested, I still expected Ford to make the audience, at least, interested in him being that character. However, McAdams really stole the show. I actually only paid any attention to Ford during the last ten minutes of the movie when he showed some other emotion than indifference. Diane Keaton, however, was hilarious as usual. I seriously love anything she does. “The Family Stone” is one of my favorite movies, oh and “Because I Said So”. Jeff Goldblum deserved more screen time, but when I did see him, I liked him, as always… “Nine MOnths” anyone? lol I also really loved how they portrayed Patrick Wilson in this film. Watching him and McAdams together and the way he treated her really made me long for that type of relationship where the guy really appreciates you for everything you can offer, not just your body… maybe when pigs fly, right? Did you know Wilson is also a singer? Nice!

Well, if you appreciate Rachel McAdams, journalism, a fabulous ensemble cast of great actors and a heartwarming, hilarious story, I would recommend you see this film. If you’re more like Harrison Ford’s character… stay home. 🙂 Bye for now!

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