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The Killer Inside Me (2010)

This is an unsettling thriller that takes us into the mind of a psychologically dangerous deputy policeman (Casey Affleck). He patrols the small Texas city by day and kills for pleasure by night. The movie runs into a problem because the character doesn’t have a semblance of any moral code, which sounds contradictory for a serial murderer. He doesn’t kill for profit or to cover a secret or anything that would come across as identifiably rational. He kills because he feels he has to; he’ll even kill the mistress he loves because he can’t control himself. It’s an upsetting premise that keeps the audience at a controlled distance throughout the film. There’s an ongoing theme of extreme sexual brutality, and director Michael Winterbottom (A Mighty Heart) seems to linger on extended sequences of sadomasochistic sex and ugly violence against women. There’s some ugly stuff here, like watching Jessica Alba get her face pummeled for a solid two minutes. You just feel sorry for what Alba and Kate Hudson go through (“voiding a full bladder” is amazingly low on the list of awful these women endure). Eventually Affleck has to keep killing to cover his tracks, and the threat of getting caught provides some moderate tension, a relief from wallowing in cruelty. All of this ickiness would seem worthwhile if it felt like we were learning something about our disturbed lead. Affleck plays his opaque character rather flatly, making him free of charisma, empathy, and sadly, insight. He’s just the same as a masked killer in a slasher movie. That’s the worst disappointment in a film with so much ugliness.

Nate’s Grade: C

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Machete (2010)

Based on a fake Grindhouse trailer comes a tasty Tex-Mex exploitation film that manages to be an incendiary political statement wrapped in the flour tortilla of silly, bloody, and redeemably entertaining B-movie schlock. Only occasionally will the pacing slack, and co-director Robert Rodriguez’s film actually desires to become another trashy B-movie rather than sending them up with a wink, which was also an issue with his half of Grindhouse. All credit must go to the towering lead played by 66-year-old tough guy Danny Trejo. The man is unmistakable with an appearance like he was carved out of wood. His stoic, humorless main character (“Machete don’t text”) that becomes a superhuman enforcer for the rights of illegal immigrants. Machete satirizes xenophobic politics and race-baiting politicians (“If we don’t do something, Texas will become Mexico… again”) with aplomb, notably thanks to Robert DeNiro?s slimy state senator. The film slices up opponents of immigration as outsized zealots abusing immigrants for cheap labor and railing against them for cheap political points. I actually read that some conservative pundits were concerned that Machete would incite a race war, as if any movie had that kind of power today. The reason this movie works and The Expendables doesn’t is all tone. Machete never tries to be a straight movie from the opening seconds. Stuffed with over-the-top violence, slapstick comedy, bodacious babes (Michelle Rodriguez with an eye-patch has never looked more yummy), and Steven Seagal and his hair plugs as a Mexican drug lord, Machete is trashy fun but exceedingly trashy and exceedingly fun.

Nate’s Grade: B

Valentine’s Day (2010)

Imagine every romantic comedy cliché and sappy platitude about love stirred together into one giant gelatinous conglomeration of hollow sentiment. That’s Valentine’s Day. Regardless of your thoughts on the holiday, this movie, which aims to celebrate our national day of love, might have the opposite effect. This movie makes He’s Just Not That Into You look like When Harry Met Sally. It?s a fairly large ensemble with plenty of mega-watt stars, but it’s too bad that nobody knows what to do. Jessica Alba’s character literally runs her course an hour into the film and yet she still makes meaningless appearances. This overstuffed Hallmark card has ridiculously safe, candy-coated storylines sanded so that there is no hint of edge or wit (Anne Hathaway is the most ludicrous PG-13 phone sex operator you will ever find). The resolutions of most of these storylines will be predictable to anybody who has ever read a greeting card. Jamie Foxx is supposed to be a bitter TV reporter popping up everywhere reporting about the ills of V-Day. Think he’ll have a change of heart by the film’s end? The cast does offer their small pleasures (there are SIX Oscar nominees/winners in this movie!), except for the kid who has a crush on his teacher (Jennifer Garner). He was insufferably annoying. So was his movie.

Nate’s Grade: D+

The Love Guru (2008)

While never approaching the realm of good, I’ll admit that Mike Myers’ latest is not the cinematic abomination is has been hailed. I laughed a few times, though rare. Myers’ brand of comedy mixes puns, juvenile bathroom humor, slapstick, celebrity cameos (Ben Kingsley, why?!) and a certain level of self-aware absurdity (I don’t think Myers has found a penis joke that he didn’t enjoy). I feel that the comedy world has moved beyond Myers’ once popular brand of yuks. Thanks to Judd Apatow, we’ve transitioned to smart and tender character-based comedies. The threadbare plot relies takes too many self-indulgent and lazy detours. Why do we have to endure Guru Pitka (Myers) sing “More Than Words”? It’s not funny and just wastes time. Here’s an example of the lack of thought: Pitka wears a chastity belt but he can still get injured being hit in the groin. It’s a movie that doesn’t even remember its own gags. I’m always wary when a movie resorts to extended scenes of the characters cracking up and adding lines like, “I haven’t laughed this hard in a long time.” I have no qualms over crude comedy but it needs to be done with some planning to context and character. Watching someone get hit in the face with urine is not funny. Having pint-sized Verne Troyer get hit in the head is not funny the 80th time it happens. The movie never even satirizes the self-help industry. The Love Guru is too indulgent, too forced, too pun-heavy, too ill conceived, and far too stupid to succeed. I never thought I’d say this in a comedy that includes Myers, Stephen Colbert, Jim Gaffigan, John Oliver, Daniel Tosh, and Romany Malco, but Justin Timberlake is the funniest man on the screen as a daffy French-Canadian goalie, and that probably says enough.

Nate’s Grade: D+

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