Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The Round-Up#39 (Bumper Film Edition)

Film Review: The American: You've got to hand it to star and co-producer George Clooney. The American is a daring experiment. Sure, it isn't a great film, or an original one at that. But it's a good one, and it brings back memories of a time when movies focused on stories, performance, and filmmaking, rather than marketing, glitz, and music-video techniques that appeal to the lowest common denominator. The American is a film that tells a simple story and tells it well.

The story: An aging killer for hire moves to a small Italian town after a botched attempt on his life that resulted in the death of his lover. By his own hands. He tries to maintain a low profile and only takes simple, non-violent jobs. But, to his surprise, he falls in love with a local call girl, which leads to treachery, double-dealings and, ultimately, tragedy.

As mentioned above, the story is so simple, so cliched, that it almost borders on trite. But screenwriter Rowan Joffe (adapting Martin Booth's novel A Very Private Gentleman) and director Anton Corbijn keep things moving at a slow yet hypnotically seductive pace, while Clooney's effectively subdued portrayal of the cold killer having a crisis of faith, keeps us watching, intrigued.

But what makes this film a success, however minor, are two things: Its boldness and the supporting players. The film's boldness lies in its unwavering belief in the power of its story, with Corbijn and the performers reining themselves in, letting the story unfold, breathe, and hold us in its grip till the predictable yet haunting climax. Corbijn (better known as a music-video director, and who previously directed the Joy Division bio-pic Control) keeps the visuals clean, the editing smooth, and the use of music to a minimum. While the supporting players - especially a wonderfully touching performance by Paolo Bonacelli as the priest who tries to steer the hitman back to the grace of God, and Violante Placido as the romantic call girl - make the story come to life.

Although it needed a stronger actor in the lead role, and the story could've used a couple of twists, The American is a potent drama/thriller that feels like one of those classy, minimalist Euro-American thrillers made in the Seventies.

TV Review: Happy Town: The Complete Series: A blink or you'll miss it run on TV, a handful of episodes, and a pilot that fails to entice, are the reasons why you've probably never heard of this TV series. Well, you should have. This is a marvelously bizarre, intriguing, and haunting TV series, that, once it gets going, almost fires on all cylinders, and is one of the most original TV series of the past decade.

Centering around the small American town of Hapelin a.k.a Happy Town, its cast of weird characters, and a series of unsolved kidnappings allegedly committed by a mythical figure dubbed "The Magic Man", Happy Town sure has a few things going for it. Its central mystery is intriguing, the overall atmosphere creepy, and the series gets better as it moves along. But what seals the deal, makes this series unforgettable, is the character of Merritt Grieves, played to perfection by Sam Neil in a career-best performance. Grieves, a sort of sleazy, creepy Van-Helsing surrogate, is a character to die for: Mysterious, mischievous, and endlessly appealing. Canadian actor Peter Outerbridge also gives a career-best performance as Dan Farmer, an unhinged State Cop looking to catch "The Magic Man" anyway he can, even if it involves terrorizing, drugging, and torturing civilians.

But the series is far from perfect. Geoff Stults and Lauren German are two of the most unappealing leads I've ever come across, and some of the storylines, like the one involving Big Dave Duncan, misfire. But the series has lots of great moments, a variety of intriguing characters, and the final episode is thrilling and endlessly creepy.

Here's hoping that Happy Town, the best TV mystery since Twin Peaks, gets a DVD release soon.

Film Review: Resident Evil: Afterlife: If you're reading this review, then you must be a fan of this series. And if you're a fan of the series, then, by now, (since this is the fourth film in the franchise) you know what to expect: Milla Jovovich, kick-ass action sequences, zombies getting blasted to smithereens, more Milla Jovovich, and more action.

Resident Evil 4: Afterlife, written and directed by Paul W.S. Anderson (the writer/director of the original), is, by far, the least intelligent of all the films in the series. The story is almost non-existent, the characters two-dimensional, and the pacing off. But, strangely, it is one of the most entertaining. Why, you ask? Well, this is the ultimate post-The Matrix eye-candy action film. The film, shot in Digital 3D, features one superbly orchestrated action sequence after another, with an overdose of slow-mo zombie mayhem, and there are monsters galore. This is a brainless action movie to the max, utilizing state-of-the-art technology to thrill and entice the senses if not the intellect. Your eyes and adrenalin glands will love it. The ending, too, isn't half-bad, promising more brainless action to come.

Yes, it is disappointing to see the continuing storyline get the short end of the stick, but the Resident Evil films were always about effects, action, and flash, and this sequel has all of that in spades. So put on your 3D glasses, grab some popcorn, and buckle up for the ride. It sure is fun.

Film Review: Devil: The first in a planned trilogy of thrillers focusing on the supernatural, all based on stories written by M. Night Shymalan (The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable), Devil is an effective, if cliched, little thriller.

The story, focusing on five strangers trapped in an elevator, with one of them being The Devil, is intriguing and a hell of a concept, excuse the pun. But Brian Nelson's script (based on the story by Shyamalan) is by the numbers, the performances barely effective, and director John Eric Dowdle's approach pretty conventional. It has a couple of effective suspense sequences and an interesting message about the nature of faith. But the lackluster final reveal doesn't pack the punch it should.

Overall, this is an entertaining little film that knows exactly what it is. And herein lies the problem. With its intriguing central concept, this film could've been so much better. But it seems everyone involved wasn't ambitious enough.

Extra! Romeo Is Bleeding: This edition's Extra! selection is the film Romeo Is Bleeding, starring Gary Oldman and Lena Olin, and directed by Peter Medak. It is a bizarre, Gothic/Crime thriller, that is so weird, so stylish, that one can't help but keep on watching. It's messy and incoherent, but the trippy atmosphere and Lena Olin's superbly demented performance make it worth your time.

That's it for me. Till next time, keep browsing those shelves.