Contraband/Chronicle (2012) Review

Both of these reviews are long overdue and I honestly forgot about both of them so I just decided to combine them into two mini-reviews.

Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Kate Beckinsale, Ben Foster, Giovanni Ribisi, J.K Simmons
Directed by: Baltasar Kormakur 
Rated: R

Here’s a movie that is such major wasted opportunity, the fact that it’s the remake of a foreign film is even more depressing. Mark Wahlberg stars as Chris Farraday, reformed criminal and family man who used to be the world’s best smuggler. Once his young brother-in-law blows a job for the ridiculously cajun-accented Tim Briggs (Giovanni Ribisi) he must perform one last job. (Cue eye roll) I’ll give Wahlberg the benefit of the doubt and defend him as an actor because when he wants to be, he’s charming, likable, and a believable badass, but in movies like Contraband, his character is as flimsy as a sheet of cardboard. His character might as well be named Mark Wahlberg.  The movie is so A to B you know exactly what’s going to happen at the end in Act 1, which leaves the rest of the film devoid of tension and suspense. Wahlberg’s character is so good at what he does and so infallible that I never doubted that everything would work out for one second, even at the end of the film everything works out and Wahlberg walks away unscathed with all his problems solved, no repercussions and coming out ahead even richer than before without even knowing it. Must be nice. Even when there’s a shocking moment involving what might be a lead character’s death, it turns out they are actually perfectly fine. ugh. The movie is so afraid to not please it’s audience it takes no risks and tidies everything in a nice little bow and then bakes a cake on top it. Even the movie ends on the song “Boom Boom Boom Boom.” The film is a remake of the icelandic film “Reykjavik-Rotterdam” starring the director of Contraband. Maybe on a smaller scale with unknown actors the story flourishes but with a bigger budget, and well-known actors the story is just running through the motions. Even with a cast of extremely talented character actors like Foster, Ribisi, J.K. Simmons, Lukas Haas, and Diego Luna, it’s sad to see their teaming up led to something so mediocre and unoriginal. My biggest complaints? I seemed to be the only audience member to recognize a Jackson Pollock painting in the film, and Central America should really get some good sporting goods stores because those duct-tape face masks must be a pain-in-the ass to remove.

Rating: 4/10

Starring: Dane DeHaan, Alex Russell, Michael B. Jordan
Directed by: Josh Trank
Rated: PG-13

It was just a matter of time before the found-footage genre broke away from horror films and tackled other sub-genres.  The superhero genre only seemed like a logical choice. An original superhero story mixed with the found footage aspect by using the excuse that kids document everything is a legitimate reason that works for a majority of the time. Cleverly dissecting superhero and modern teenage archetypes is a testament to Max Landis’ Large scale story told on a smaller budgeted scale. The use of practical effects, the simplistic storyline, and the likability of the three relatively unknown leads is what really pumps the heart of this film. DeHaan as the outcast Andrew and Jordan as the ultra-popular Steve are standouts and actually create a believable friendship between the three leads, making it feel realistic from the discovering of their superpowers to their inevitable downfall. The characters gain telepathic abilities that give reason for the camera floating around at different angles along side them but my biggest question was why? Obviously the film is footage recorded from a digital video camera so you can get away with creative low-budget CGI, but I thought the story was compelling enough on it’s own then always wonder the reasoning for a camera recording an intimate conversation. The last action set-piece is vicersal and clever but becomes too contrived in trying to discover different ways of having footage recorded from obscene angles. Smaller intimate moments like when the three friends pull pranks telepathically and when Dane’s character pulls a spider apart with his mind is when the movie has it’s brightest moments. I enjoyed Chronicle way more than I should have and surprisingly really enjoyed the three leads and where the story went, and serves as an interesting experiment, but please: No sequels, although I wouldn’t have minded a longer cut of the Jessie J – Price Tag singalong.

Rating: 7/10


The Best Films of 2010

2010 was overall a pretty mediocre year at the movies for me. Did I become old, bitter, and a harsher movie critic? Completely possible. But we also saw a year where 3-d became the big selling point for the cinema, attaching itself to nearly every film possible and ending up being underwhelming for the extra dough cashed out. I, only saw two 3d films this year, one featuring human feces (Jackass 3d) the other featuring, exploding body parts (Saw 3d). Summer, usually the high time for films, were more derivative, more remakes, reboots, and sequels, and many of them failed on all accounts. The best movies and majority of my favorites were ones I saw near December, towards Oscar season. Maybe Hollywood should focus on putting more creative energy into original ideas, which could bode successful and still be a moneymaker i.e. Inception. I still haven’t seen many acclaimed films of 2010 such as 127 hours and The Kids are All Right. There are still a number of acclaimed foreign films that I have yet to see, or wait till Netflix streaming for. My list, this year is pretty predictable. If you have seen most critic’s top ten lists, I have many of the usual suspects. Like I said, not the most exciting year for film.

10. The Ghost Writer:

This movie was a last minute addition to the list and one of the last films I saw in 2010. I watched the movie knowing I’d like it, with Roman Polanski directing and Ewan McGregor starring how could you not? After it ended, I had no idea I’d be as sucked in as I was. Ewan stars as an unnamed Ghost writer, helping write the memoirs of the Tony Blair-esque prime minister aptly played by Pierce Brosnan, but the movie doesn’t stop there with memorable performances, even small supporting roles, by well-known actors feel three dimensional. The story moves briskly, with little action, but relies on suspense and paranoia, calling upon thrillers of the 70’s. Leaving out little details about Mcgregor’s characters puts the viewer in his shoes, never getting ahead of him, always in his mindset. The movie’s best kept secret is Olivia Williams as the minister’s wife, who takes a role that could be generic and excelling it above and beyond. The most Hitchcockian movie I’ve seen in quite awhile. Haunting final shot.

9. True Grit:

This is a film that I had huge expectations for. Jeff Bridges is one of my favorite actors, The Coen Brother’s are pretty much infallible directors in my eyes, and the movie sported one fantastic trailer. The result wasn’t as good as I thought, and not one of the Coen’s best, but still one of the best of the year. It’s hard for me to compare to the original, having never seen it, but the best part of this western is not the gunfights, but the relationship between Bridges’ grizzled Cogburn and newcomer Hailee Steinfeld as Mattie Ross. Both of these performances are so memorable and so real it makes up for any faults in the movie. Newcomer Steinfeld stands above many of the actors in this film, with a whip-smart, vulnerable and driven character. Damon, Brolin, and Pepper also pull in great performances, but young Steinfeld is one of the best of the year, she is a wonder to watch on screen in a movie not so much about revenge, but redemption, and how time sometimes slips away from us. Quite the existential western.

8. Blue Valentine:

It’s hard for a movie to get me choked up and emotional, but usually it’s the relationship movies that affect me most. Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams, two wonderful actors who give powerful performances, as a normal couple, who through shifts in time are shown as they meet, fall in love, and have their downfalls. The results are intimate, brutal, and realistic. The strength of the movie is how real the situations feel to yourself or people you know. The Beatles say All You Need is Love, is but love enough to withstand the realities of day to day life? You may find yourself questioning your own relationships after seeing it. This movie doesn’t provide any easy answers, but if there were easy answers for love in life, the movie wouldn’t feel quite so real.

7. Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World:

OK everybody stop hating on Michael Cera, because if there is one role he was ever born to play its Scott Pilgrim. Fantastically shot and directed by Shaun-of-the-Dead creator, Edgar Wright, the movie is a quick-witted, inventive look at the hipster, Super-Nintendo generation aka My Generation. Cera, plays the titular Pilgrim who falls in love and must battle her seven evil-exes boyfriends to win her heart (arcade game style.) This movie has one of the best casts of the year, and probably the best and funniest group of young actors in the business. The movie is full of quips and sight gags galore that demand repeat viewings. The film is a living, breathing comic-book/video game that is visually stunning and rewarding. Grossly overlooked by audiences this film is bound to find a whole new generation of audiences through the years.

6. The Fighter:

The Fighter is your typical underdog movie. It’s a by-the-numbers sports movie, with the usual melodrama of a failed athlete who is held back by certain restrictions in his life, in this case it is loyalty to a selfish family, and gets a second chance at redemption, and its all based on a true story. In this case, what could be a generic sports movie is actually a surprisingly involving, funny, and touching family drama centered on boxing. Mark Wahlberg is always likable but Christian Bale completely disappears into the role of the drug-addicted brother Dickie, and gives one of the best performances of the year, tough, vulnerable, caring, and crazy all at the same time. Melissa Leo and Amy Adams take the roles of mother and girlfriend and elevate them beyond cut-out roles into dimensional characters. What could have been an even more predictable true sports movie is actually less about sports and more about the value of family and all the better for it!

5. Toy Story 3:

I was a kid who still played with toys when the first movie came out. The first and second were longtime favorites, and now right as I am in college, young Andy is as well. Myself and many friends loved this movie, partially because it’s a fantastic film, but also it is a nostalgic feeling for most of us to see Buzz Lightyear and Woody, ride off into the sunset for the final time. So watching it we find a movie that is still hilarious and heartfelt. The third is the most polished looking and I’m not sure if it’s the funniest, but it’s definitely the most mature. Just like us, just like Andy, and just like the toys, we all inevitably face change in our lives and have to move on. The movie is an emotional one, not only because we sympathize, but we realize that we too were once that kid in the cowboy hat, playing for hours with toys, who as we grew older we forget, those toys were once the most important thing in our lives too. A fantastic send-off for a perfect trilogy of films.

4. Black Swan:

I’ll get this out of the way right now, I have a huge crush on Natalie Portman. I’ve always found her adorable and charming. She is actually the epitome of cute, which why it is great to see her portray an innocent, repressed, childish character descend into madness and darkness. Darren Aronofsky has always been a ballsy filmmaker and if you take the dark emotional core of Requiem for a Dream, and mix it with the singular character striving for greatness of The Wrestler, you get Black Swan. The film is part horror, part drama, a film hard to categorize but always interesting. Natalie Portman gives the role of a lifetime. Much like Requiem, we share in her psychological free-fall rendered completely helpless. A mindfuck of a movie to be sure, it is one that resonates long after the breathtaking climax. A little freaky lesbian encounter with Mila Kunis doesn’t hurt either.

3. The King’s Speech:

The King’s Speech is a underdog sports movie like the Fighter, but instead of an athlete rising to the top overcoming pitfalls, it is a historical drama about A king with a speech impediment. The movie is about King George VI, born with a stammer, whom became King right around the time of World War II and the birth of radio, exactly when a King’s words would have to inspire a nation. Colin Firth is a phenomenal actor with a great character. He makes a stubborn, snobby character into a unassured, heartfelt character. Every time he stammers a part of me cringed, talk about good acting! Geoffrey Rush, the speech therapist Lionel, brings his A game, who is hilarious as he is fascinating. In a way the two characters are two halves of a whole, which makes the friendship they share, the most endearing part of the movie. Firth and Rush play off each other beautifully and gives the movie a realistic heart not found in many films this year. A movie doesn’t always have to have a character win the big fight or race at the end of the film, because we all aren’t athletes, but we all have our own moment, where we had to rise up to the occasion. Did you do it alone? Probably not. Neither do Kings.

2. Inception:

Christopher Nolan is a smart dude. He made the perfect comic book film “The Dark Knight” and used his infinite resources to bring to the screen his own original work. A movie about a group of thieves who steal ideas from people’s dream, and now have to plant an idea in a wealthy businessman’s mind. This is the most philosophical big-budget action movie since “The Matrix.” The movie is defining in that a movie can be just as entertaining as it is thought-provoking. The effects, acting, score, and story all combine into a perfectly constructed thriller. This movie showed audiences that is just as exciting to put together a puzzle in your mind then just sit back watching mindless explosions. It’s hard to say anything new about this movie, it is one that demands repeat viewings and discussions. Just like how Nolan took the superhero genre and 360’d our expectations with Batman, he does the same with science fiction, creating something memorable and fresh. Personally, I think the top fell over, but there’s another time to discuss that.

1. The Social Network:

Many have said that this movie defines our generation. I agree. This is the movie that pretty much defines our generation right now, the twenty-thirty year olds who grew up in the 80’s and 90’s and have lived thinking that we are entitled to everything in life, and second place is the same as last place. The story is a Greek tragedy masked in the part fiction/part non-fiction story of the creation of Facebook. The story of how Facebook came to be seems like it would be something of a teen comedy about Harvard students who became overnight billionaires. However, the movie pulls its dramatic weight and becomes an enthralling motion picture. David Fincher’s direction, Aaron Sorkin’s writing, and Trent Reznor’s score are individual works of brilliance that mesh into a trinity of awe-inspired film-making. This is a movie that consists mainly of dialogue put me on the edge of the seat for the entire duration, that wasn’t a one-man job doing either. Technically, it is brilliant, but it would be nothing without the manipulative genius of Jesse Eisenberg’s Mark Zuckerburg or Timberlake’s charismatic Sean Parker, or Andrew Garfield’s nice guy Eduardo Saverin. Especially underrated is Armie Hammer’s Winklevoss twins, who he played dually with cgi. The brilliance and complete irony of this movie is that it is people around my age who are worth and have billions of dollars are not fighting over so much as getting money but getting credit, getting recognition and acceptance from their peers. Zuckerburg is a brilliant person who changed the entire social networking experience online, but even worth billions he is just like us, checking his facebook, hoping he gets his friend request accepted by someone else. Don’t agree? Dr. Frankenstein had a brilliant idea for a creation too, and it didn’t fare too well for him either.

Runners-Up (Great films that didn’t make the top 10):

I am Love, Book of Eli, Expendables, Edge of Darkness, Get Him to the Greek, Greenberg, How to Train your Dragon, Kick-Ass, Winter’s Bone, Shutter Island, The Other Guys, Monsters, Harry Brown.

Biggest Disappointments: (Decent movies that I had higher expectations for but disappointed me ultimately)

Due Date, The Town, Predators, From Paris with Love, Green Zone, Grown Ups, Knight & Day, Robin Hood, Machete.

Worst of 2010:

Jackass 3D – Instead of the high-risk stunts and random pranks in the first two, the third brings them back as a bunch of older guys, who do less death-defying stunts and focus on throwing more shit and piss at the audience in 3D. Good for a few laughs, but ultimately a waste of time. Watch the high five sketch and forget the rest.

Cop Out – I love Kevin Smith films, but instead of his snappy dialogue we get an awkward assortment of bad cop cliches and jokes that struggle to be funny. A bad plot, predictable storytelling, a comatose Bruce Willis, and a loud Tracy Morgan, whose way funnier on 30 rock. I wish i would paid to see “Who Dat Ninja.”

Faster – What could have been a fun grindhouse, gritty action flick starring The Rock, turns into an overlong bore, trying to give three dimensional arcs and back-stories to characters named killer, cop, and driver. I just wanted a mindless action movie starring The Rock, it is mindless, but in all the wrong ways.

Saw 3D – I’ve been a longtime fan of the series, so I was excited to see the 7th after, the better than should have been 6th film. This movie could have been a great send-off for the devoted fans in the series, but it was a film focused on it’s cheesy 3d gimmick, and without it, the movie is a flat, low-budget, direct-to-video plotted horror film, whose gore has become boring instead of shocking, and twists can be telegraphed a mile away. A nice cameo was also spoiled by the promotions and terrible script. Game Over for the audience.

The Bounty Hunter – A romantic comedy that is the epitome of a terrible rom-com. Action that’s not exciting, comedy that’s childish, and chemistry between the leads that virtually nonexistent between two otherwise charismatic actors. Had potential, but was ultimately just an easy paycheck for everyone involved.

Nightmare on Elm Street – A boring, almost shot-for-shot take on the original minus scares, engaging characters, and creativity. I enjoy Rooney Mara and Jackie Earle Haley, but everyone was sleepwalking in this piece of shit, waste of time remake.