Sunday, January 30, 2011


(PG-13 theatrical release, unrated director's cut, and unrated extended cut on DVD.)

Stars: Angelina Jolie, Liev Schreiber, Chiwetel Ejiofor
Director: Philip Noyce
Genre: Action/Thriller

Angelina Jolie stars as CIA agent Evelyn Salt, who goes on the run when she is suspected of being a Russian sleeper spy. As if we didn't have enough enemies around the globe these days, Salt dredges up the cold war again--an unintentional (you'd think) spoof of the old James Bond versus the Evil Genius bent on taking over, or destroying the world... whichever comes first.

Agent Salt karate chops her way through scores of big, heavily armed men--half a dozen at a time--as if they are so wimpy they can't take a punch from a 120 pound woman, and just drop to the floor, out cold or dead. (The most blatant kind of patronizing and pandering to the rage-against-men fantasies of the hormonally out of control set!)

Funny...I remember some of those fight scenes in movies like Roadhouse, where dudes are repeatedly getting lambasted in the kisser by 250 POUND GUYS, and they just get back up and keep coming back for more! Weird.

Jolie performs these outrageous stunts--each more humanly impossible than the next-- that a real person would end up as flat-as-a-pancake roadkill if she attempted even one. The movie obviously wants you to take this seriously, otherwise she'd be wearing a mask and a cape. I suppose if you're in the right mood, you can just go with it--willing suspension of disbelief and all that--and I've been slap-happy enough to do that with many films, where it's obvious they're winking at you and asking you to just play along. But there is nothing tongue in cheek here, and to buy into Salt on any kind of serious level, you'd at least need a modicum of believability.

Nearly everything about this film is ridiculous...and naming the main character "Evelyn Salt" should be your first clue.

Grade: D -

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

I AM LOVE--2010

Rated: R

Stars: Tilda Swinton, Flavio Parenti, Edoardo Gabbriellini, Pippo Delbono, Alba Rohwacher
Director: Luca Guadagnino
Genre: Drama

A woman of Russian lineage marries into a wealthy Italian family. Emma (Tilda Swinton) now has grown children, and to outward appearances it seems like a good fit--a life where everything is ordered and meticulously laid out like the seating arrangements and place settings for the birthday gathering to honor the Recchi family patriarch--where we are introduced to the large ensemble cast of I Am Love. But something is missing. We can see it in Emma's eyes, her facial expressions, her body lauguage.

I Am Love is a fill-in-the-blanks, draw your own conclusions kind of movie, where certain questions remain unanswered from the beginning. Emma's young adult son, Edoardo, (Flavio Parenti) loses a race. We are not privy to whether it's a foot race, a bicycle race, or a soap box derby. We only know that he was bested by a young chef named Antonio (Edoardo Gabbriellini) . In a family of so much privilege, the expectation of excellence is the norm. But Edoardo isn't sweating it. There is great camaraderie between the two young men--and maybe something more--which is hinted at but never spelled out. Further speculation is fueled by Edoardo's reaction upon the discovery that his mother has entered into a passionate affair with the young chef. (No surprise that THAT'S what was missing in Emma's life!)

A subplot involves Emma's daughter, Elisabetta, (Alba Rohwacher) who has recently come out of the closet, and is the only one who seems to understand her mother's heart-rending decision in the climactic scene.

I Am Love is like one of those old steam locomotives that chugs along slowly at first, gradually picking up steam and momentum...then suddenly out of control...until the inevitable derailment involving casualties, precipitated by the karma these characters have drawn to themselves. A film that seems to be telling us to follow our instincts, and to go for love--DAMMIT--no matter how inappropriate, destructive, or doomed it may appear to be.

Pay the karma off in installments.

Tilda Swinton shines in this cinematically gorgeous movie--except for women getting their beautiful long hair whacked short--becoming rather plain looking as a result--the usual consequence of a type of capriciousness that often plagues the fair sex.

Grade: A -

Wednesday, January 5, 2011


Rated: PG-13

Stars: Angelina Jolie, Johnny Depp, Steven Berkoff, Paul Bettany, Timothy Dalton
Director: Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck
Genre: Romantic Thriller

Who could blame one for thinking that The Tourist might be just another vehicle designed to showcase a couple of mega-stars--Angelina Jolie and Johnny Depp--and little else? HOWEVAH...I'm happy to report that was not the case! Here is a film with intrigue, romance, gorgeous scenery, (in addition to Ms. Jolie) and a mesmerizing score from James Newton what's not to like? (Okay, there's no with it!)

In the world of intrigue--as in life--there are assumptions, and there is often a reality that blows our assumptions out of the water. Speaking of water... we're in Venice, where the elegant Elise (Angelina Jolie) is being tailed by agents from Interpol who believe she's getting ready to hook up with her lover, the elusive Alexander Pearce, wanted for ripping off a ton of money from the brutal gangster Reginald Shaw (Steven Berkoff). Previously, when Elise received a note from Pearce instructing her to board a designated train from Paris to Venice and pick out a guy about his build and height to glom onto so as to bamboozle the British agents...there sits the hapless looking Frank Tupelo, (Johnny Depp) a math teacher from Wisconsin, who is immediately taken with Elise...and then taken BY Elise to her fancy hotel suite and...suffice it to say that Frank is now caught up in everything that Elise is caught up in...and WE are caught up in one spellbinding movie!

There are two plot twists in The Tourist that (unless you're Sherlock Holmes) will dispel the major assumptions you've drawn about each of these characters. The one at the end stretches the bounds of believability like the elastic on that one pair of undies you've been wearing now for the last five years. WHO CARES? It's the movies...remember?

Johnny Depp gives what must be the most understated performance of his career, but the reasons for that will fall into place at the end, at which point you'll be able to appreciate it for what it is. ( want him to be the swashbuckler every time? Hey--he's run out of eyeliner!)

Jolie, who is about to be inducted into the BIG LIPS AND MOUTH HALL OF FAME (along with Carly Simon, Mick Jagger, Steven Tyler, and Lisa Rinna) is elegant, playful, witty, daring, and self-confident as Elise.

The Tourist was a fun ride that I will likely take again--the second time knowing what I know, and watching for subtle hints in facial expressions that may give more away than what I was able to catch onto the first time around.

Grade: B +

Monday, January 3, 2011


Rated: R

Stars: Aaron Johnson, Chloe Moretz, Nicholas Cage, Mark Strong
Director: Matthew Vaughn
Genre: Action, Dark Comedy

We've been conditioned to the same formula for comic book superheroes ever since Clark Kent ducked into that phone booth, donned those form-fitting tights, and went out to kick some ass. So when a comic-adaptation film like Kick Ass comes along where this nerdy kid gets a mail-order superhero costume, hits the streets to engage the bad guys, only to discover that he has no latent super-normal abilities and is running only on bravado--and, of course, sheer stupidity--we keep expecting SOMETHING to kick in to give him an edge when some truly bad dudes start mopping the floor with his sorry ass. This endears him to us all the more, because he's just like most of us everyday stiffs who are trying to live an honorable life and are appalled by some of the stuff that goes down in the world (only his cojones are bigger than most!)

When his exploits make the headlines, Kick Ass--which is what hapless teen Dave Lizewski (Aaron Johnson) has dubbed his alter-ego-- spawns a couple of more effective caped crusaders in the dad/daughter duo of Hit Girl, (Chloe Moretz) and her somewhat off-kilter father, Big Daddy, (Nicholas Cage) who come to bail Kick-Ass out when he has drawn the attention and the ire of ruthless crime syndicate boss Frank D'Amico (Mark Strong).

The violence and the splatter-gore of Kick-Ass (based on the comic by Mark Millar) can only be described as cartoonish--it's so over the top it makes Sam Peckinpah look like Walt Disney, and can't be taken seriously. And yet, one could make a case that it's just one more milestone on the to-hell-in-a-hand-basket road of numbness and moral decay our society is headed down.

Another controversy-sparking milestone in Kick-Ass has to be what comes out of 11-year old Chloe Moretz's mouth--and yet she's adorable as Hit Girl, even when the F-bombs and other choice epithets begin to fly. After a while it occurred to me that yeah, that IS the way eleven-year olds (and younger) talk. Anyone who doesn't believe it hasn't listened to the kids who pile off the school bus in front of my house on a daily basis.

Despite all that, Kick-Ass is a movie that will bring out the latent superhero in you...all you'll have to do is decide which silly looking costume to wear.

Grade: B +