Dirty Cinephiles Holiday Round-Up

Esa Keltamaki

Tron: Legacy – 7/10

Tron: Legacy is a visually stunning movie that seems to have gotten caught up in its own hype. First-time director Joseph Kosinski did a terrific job balancing scenes, but the film’s imbalanced plot nearly topples the movie.

The sequel spends too much time showcasing Tron’s mythology—light cycles, light jets, and recognizers zip across the screen with nary a purpose. Tron: Legacy frequently takes breaks from the plot to show off its fancy toys. As a result, the film feels slightly dragged out toward the end. The original Tron worked thanks to its grounded characters and a plot that unfolded alongside a fantastic setting, not despite it.

The characters of Legacy, even Jeff Bridges’ Kevin Flynn, fit nicely into action-movie archetypes. Sam Flynn, the son of Bridges’ Kevin, is a motorcycle-driving, computer-hacking, base-jumping bad boy, while Bridges is reduced to a Dude-like caricature of the once-cool Kevin Flynn. And don’t get me started on Zuse. The filmmakers tried way too hard to force a wow factor into characters and dialogue. Legacy struggles through cardboard characters in flashy suits spouting loosely connected one-liners.

Technically, Tron: Legacy is well done. From set design, to art direction, to makeup, the crew of Tron: Legacy hit their marks. Daft Punk’s score is certainly one of the film’s highlights, but not a legendary accomplishment as some might have you believe. The true strength of the film’s music lies in the work of the sound designer and music supervisor; Daft Punk’s beats are applied perfectly and appropriately to the scenes in which they are featured.

Tron’s sequel is certainly worth watching, but don’t expect a cinematic tour de force.

True Grit – 9/10

Promotional image - "True Grit"

True Grit is the latest in a long run of great Coen brothers films, and it belongs at the top of the list with The Big Lebowski, No Country For Old Men, O Brother, Where Art Thou?

This modern Western is an adaptation of a novel that was previously made into a 1969 film starring John Wayne and Robert Duvall. The Coens have sculpted their own telling, injected their usual dark humour, and finished it off with longtime collaborator Roger Deakins’ frankly breathtaking cinematography. The last half-hour features such strong cinematography that it could succeed as a silent film.

The Coens’ version stars Hailee Steinfeld and Jeff Bridges, and features Matt Damon, Josh Brolin, and Barry Pepper in supporting roles. The cast exercises such resolute control over the screen that tumbleweeds will begin to jostle at your legs.

Steinfeld’s portrayal of Mattie Ross, the vengeance-seeking girl who sets the film’s events in motion, is the Coens’ only indulgence in peculiar characters, but she accents the film well. Bridges’ Rooster Cogburn is impeccable: dark, yet tinged with humour, and in no way overdone.

The story unfolds with well played out, careful balance, but the ending, which is apparently truer to the book than the previous adaptation, is slightly prolonged. True Grit is the Coen brothers – and modern filmmaking – at their best; check it out!

Unstoppable – 7.5/10

Unstoppable is the latest offering from director Tony Scott. That’s right: the man who gave us Top Gun. But wait, it’s pretty good.

The film stars Chris Pine and Denzel Washington as the conductor and engineer behind the controls of a train chasing down a second, runaway train – the unmanned freight train that gives the film its title. Rosario Dawson plays a local rail station coordinator. The characters are somewhat typically hokey, particularly the supporting roles, but a canvas of strong performances more than atones for on-screen limitations.

The action flows along smoothly and quickly and, with a little suspension of disbelief, in an evenly entertaining manner. The technical crew is right on the button with tight pan-shots of zooming trains and harrowing locomotive chugs. The film’s stunts are masterfully coordinated and captured with enthralling dramatic flair. Director Tony Scott’s familiarity with the action genre shines through as closely cut action and a chug-along plot keep the film on track.

Unstoppable plays out as most action movies do, and the limited characterizations may inspire an eye roll or two, but concise presentation and across-the-board canny performances make this film a worthwhile watch.

The Tourist – 4/10

The Tourist plays like the producers cast Angelina Jolie and Johnny Depp as big-draw stars, and everything else came second.

On the surface, Johnny Depp may seem an excellent co-star to Angelina Jolie. Depp, whose performance consisted of a typical series of bewildered faces and awkward smiles, is a nice foil to a strutting, smug Jolie. But the film repeatedly breaks down into cinematic ego-stroking for Jolie, as countless crowds double-take and stare.

The direction and choreography are mediocre to the point of being indistinguishable from a number of other similar genre films. The ridiculous plot plays out in such predictable fashion that you’ll be groaning ahead of the constant stream of terrible one-liners. And just when the movie is drawing to a close and you’re imagining the worst possible ending to pass the time, your imagination is one-upped.

The action is accompanied by a percussion-heavy score that tries too hard to emphasize dramatic moments with sudden swells. The film also accomplishes the impressive feat of making terrible use of Parisian and Venetian settings.

The Tourist relies too heavily upon Depp and Jolie in making something of nothing. Don’t expect much, and you might enjoy it as a cornball flick.

The Next Three Days – 6.5/10

The film’s cinematography is unspectacular, but solid. Similarly, Danny Elfman’s score blends seamlessly into the background. Haggis’s direction is clean and scenes are well framed, but more work could’ve been put into editing. The plot suffers lulls in development, the kind that have you screaming at the screen by the movie’s conclusion.

Canadian filmmaker Paul Haggis’ latest offering is centered upon the events leading up to and immediately following a jailbreak.

The Next Three Days stars a solid cast, including Russell Crowe and Elizabeth Banks, and the acting is nearly flawless. Unfortunately, the film does not follow suit. The strong performances are not enough to balance the film’s ridiculous characters. And in typical Paul Haggis fashion, minor supporting characters are endowed with a variety of bizarre quirks masquerading as depth.

The film’s cinematography is unspectacular, but solid. Similarly, Danny Elfman’s score blends seamlessly into the background. Haggis’s direction is clean and scenes are well framed, but more work could’ve been put into editing. The plot suffers lulls in development, the kind that have you screaming at the screen by the movie’s conclusion. The film ends with everything completely resolved in an almost condescending way– ambiguity can be a good thing.

The Next Three Days is well cast and well acted, but the film’s pacing gums up the works. With a bit of patience, though, the acting makes this film worthwhile.

Faster – 6.5/10

Faster is a textbook action film starring Dwayne Johnson, the artist formerly known as The Rock, as a revenge-seeking ass kicker.

The film plays out in a rather predictable manner, but action movies typically aren’t lauded for their fantastic plots. However, the film does suffer from too much plot digression. Faster’s side stories are numerous and time consuming, and lulls in action result. Had the filmmakers taken further note of the film’s tagline, “slow justice is no justice,” Faster would be a stronger movie.

Dwayne Johnson, who fits as a believable action star, does a good job of playing a limited character. In addition, the movie features a strong cast including Carla Gugino, Moon Bloodgood, and Billy Bob Thornton, all of whom do a great job creating exaggerated, largely one-dimensional characters while avoiding over acting. Thornton in particular does a great job portraying the conflicted, and emotionally dynamic (if not imaginatively named) “Cop.”

The action scenes in Faster are stylistically fast and crisp, with strong choreography that’s unfortunately quite limited. The cinematography is stylistic, like a poor man’s Tarantino film. The extraordinary Clint Mansell composed the score for Faster, and, though not his best work, it is still a fantastic accompaniment.

How Do You Know – 5.5/10

How Do You Know, the holiday season’s requisite romantic comedy, weaves together the lives of an aging baseball star played by Reese Witherspoon and a failing executive played by Paul Rudd.

The movie features occasionally refreshing cinematography and interesting editing, but a nice frame can’t make up for an ugly picture.

The film’s bumbling plot stretches the loose connections Rudd and Witherspoon share. How Do You Know introduces plot developments, then prolongs and draws them out, attempting to disguise plot revelations as development of the one-dimensional characters.

However, How Do You Know features solid acting considering the depth of the characters, but for a romantic comedy featuring Witherspoon, Rudd, Jack Nicholson, and Owen Wilson, the movie sure seems short on the comedy aspect. The normally solid Rudd, try as he may, doesn’t draw many laughs with his overdone performance.

Fortunately, Owen Wilson gives a strong, irreverent performance that nearly carries the comedic side of the film.