The Movie Buffer

Sunday, April 23, 2006

The Sentinel


If this review doesn't spoil the movie, it has failed


From some of the hype I was hearing this movie was supposed to be like a “24” style cop flick with twists and turns but it ended up a crummy action film with a few cops in it. The studio, 20th Century Fox, fumbled what could have been a huge money maker and now, I predict, they won’t turn a profit. With so many cop shows being produced, the director should have hired someone as a consultant for this movie to say, “Whoa, whoa, now does this make sense? Does this help of hurt the story?”. If this had been the case, the consultant would have nipped this movie in the bud.

The director of this film, Clark Johnson, must be a fan of cop shows because this movie is stylized, framed and shot in exactly the same way ( * I looked it up and apparently he has done several for TV). The only innovation to the genre that this director brings to the table is a bit of fade in/out material with hand scrawled notes about murdering the president and the crazy talk of a madman that is telling us what his next move is. This movie is laden with all kinds of cop stereotypes: The wily veteran, the brash young officer with something to prove, the token black guy, the token Arabic guy, the hot and competent female lead, and the list goes on. Stereotypes like these are omnipresent in film so you come to accept them, but in this case they ring hollow more than ever. As the viewers, we quickly realize what’s what so when the story tries to switch tracks, which happens early and often, the movie comes to a screeching halt. This film was not constructed in a way that could sustain interest for almost 2 hours.

The actors in the film are unconvincing and over dramatic. Every line looks forced and sounds even worse. In terms of dialogue this was one of the worst movies, this year, for building up characters via conversation and interaction. Kiefer Sutherland plays a by the book Secret Service officer who made the lead investigator in a case that balloons from a homicide to treason/attempted assassination of the President of the United States. Sutherland’s foil in this picture is Michael Douglas as a seasoned Secret Service agent who gained prominence as being the guy that took the bullet for Reagan. Douglas becomes tangled in this story because he is having an affair with the president’s wife, played by Kim Basinger. There is apparently tension between Sutherland and Douglas over an event in the past but they never fully explain this or how it changed the character’s relationship other than it made them angry at each other. Eva Longoria plays a rookie agent who asks to be placed under the tutelage of Sutherland. Longoria quickly learns that he is a strict follower of protocol and her sloppy style does not impress him. Bless her pretty face and her courage doing this movie, but she’s just not good at this kind of role. As shown on her show Desperate Housewives, she can do dramatic type roles but in this action movie she barely gets her head above the water. The villains in this flick are a triumvirate of utterly forgettable ex-KGB officers and their mole in the Secret Service. They end up blending into the background noise of the movie.

There are two good parts of the movie, but they won’t impress everyone. The first positive in this movie was the panning shot of Toronto’s sky line. I don’t think I’ve seen a better one. They made the city look half decent. The next was the small section of the movie that was the introduction of Longoria’s character. Sutherland pokes fun at her inappropriate attire and her obvious bookish academic/professional career. It’s worth a giggle, maybe even a chuckle.

Overall, this movie was a dry, disappointing pseudo-action thriller, without the twists or flair of any of other movies in the genre. It deserves 1/10 or zero stars. I went into this movie expecting a more intriguing storyline, with some false leads, a red herring or two and a solid cast playing characters that are interesting if not entertaining to watch. I cannot recommend this movie to anyone on those grounds. Fans of the genre may be able to pull more out of it than I can but for the casual viewer, save your money for “The Inside Man”.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Dvd Review: A History of Violence

I skipped this one in the theatres because it looked like the typical mobster type movie with the benefit of having David Cronenberg as the director. I agree that a big name director can pull in more viewers – Quentin Tarantino, M. Knight Shyamalan, Bryan Singer, these guys bring in people no matter what they make. But this sort of promotion puts me off seeing the movies because it seems like a parlor trick. After the Oscar nods and the critical acclaim that it garnered after it was released, I decided to give it a chance.

My fears were confirmed when I started watching the film, it was a typical mobster movie. Everything about this movie was standard. Cronenberg did put his signature touches in the film but they seem lackluster in the weak narrative. The story revolves around a man, Tom Stall(Viggo Mortensen), who kills two criminals to save his friends. This act of compassion draws the attention of a mob boss from Philadelphia and thus an unsophisticated story of intrigue begins. The mobster from Philly, played by Ed Harris, pursues Mortensen to get him to confront his past and make amends for it. As Harris drops more and more back-story in our laps, any interesting facets of Mortensen are utterly exposed. This movie was billed as a thriller but it spoon fed the viewer with all the pertinent details so that someone that had only a passing glance at the film could understand it. In this respect, the movie fails. Also, the pacing of the film hurts the story because it never gets a chance to build up any suspense.

Cronenberg doesn’t take any chances with this movie. He makes all the safe moves with the plot and he ends up leaving the viewer unfulfilled. It seemed like he really tried to make a stylish movie but he doesn’t succeed. The acting was equally dismal. Mortensen was stiff and unconvincing as the main character whose past is sketchy at best. Maria Bello looks like she’s aged about 10 years since “The Cooler”, which was made only 2 year before. Her portrayal of a concerned wife came off as clumsy and amateurish. I know she can act. She could have tried to make it look like she actually gave a damn. The whole section of the film that dealt with the kids was laughable. Sure, bullies don’t need a reason to pick on the nerd, so catching that ball is enough of a reason to set him off. The bully and his motivations bring up so many unanswered questions that it drags the whole movie down.

The only redeeming factor of this move was the cinematography. The shots were very well composed and conveyed the weak story in a straightforward way. The locations looked how I would imagine a small town in the heartland of America would look. The cuts between scenes and the mixing of the shots were done very well. It was a very good looking film.

This movie deserves about a 3/10 or 1 star mainly because there was nothing story-wise that was interesting, the characters and the acting were bad and the key to “twist” of the movie was brought up so early that there was nothing to build up. Though the cinematography was good, but it could not save this train from coming off the tracks.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006



'Tis a fine review, English but spoilers, thou hast.


There are two approaches to viewing this movie and both are supported by the movie’s plot and tone. The first way to see this film is as a monster horror movie that doesn’t take the genre to seriously (similar to the Godzilla movies or any “lighthearted” horror flick). The plot is rigorous enough to support this premise easily. Monster maggots from parts unknown invade a small town and by using their mind control powers the maggots enslave or devour the townsfolk. Next, you can look at the move as a smart parody of monster horror genre (like Shaun of the Dead or any parody movie pre-Scary movie). The dialogue and the story are strange and clever enough to draw a few laughs. When the forced horror clichés start coming out, someone is ready to answer back with a piercing insult rather than the predictable “I’m okay and praise the Lord we survived”-type line. I went into this movie with apprehensions because the trailers had advertised this movie as better than the Shining and the Exorcist and how the aforementioned films were for pansies. So, when I clued into the “joke”, I laughed pretty hard.

Rookie Director, James Gunn, tells us the predictable story of monsters that invade and enslave the human population of a small town. Though the story may be old and tired he wrings out one last hoorah, if you subscribe to the first interpretation of the film, or he makes a masterful parody that incorporates many standard techniques from other monster movies. His range of influences are as wide as they are ludicrous – he made use the “Evil Dead” zooming through the forest shots, he makes the slugs fast like the “fast zombies” from 28 days later and he uses the “love conquers all” plot device that’s used in practically all comic horrors. His style is difficult to characterize using this movie because of the nature of parody; he may have inadvertently hit on some of these stereotypes without even noticing. But as far as the shot composition, cinematography and plot progression there was nothing to complain about nor anything great.

The actors that were cast in this film all come from the “cult” flick Hall of Fame: Nathan Fillion from “Serenity”/”Firefly”, Michael Rooker from “Mallrats” and “The Bone Collector” and Elizabeth Banks from “40-year Old Virgin” and the remake of “Shaft”. These three drive the story as a tortured love triangle. Rooker plays the rich old guy who woos Banks, the poor young hottie of the town, while Fillion plays the awkward best friend from high school who pines for her while drowning his sorrow in booze. Don’t expect any Academy Awards but you can see that these guys are really trying. The have an on-screen chemistry that brings out the comedy in all of them. The story was paper thin as any movie of this genre but it does the most it can with the scant details that lie within.

The movie deserves a 5/10 (1 star) pre-revelation of the true nature of the movie and a 6.5/10 (2 stars) post-revelation. Why the increase? Once you realize what is going on then you can look back and say well that’s why they did this and that. The main flaw was that the villain tried to be menacing but couldn’t with such a limited amount of time for character development. In the end the story ends up being warmer than I would have expected and I liked this movie more than I would have thought. It will be seen as a renter for some but those who go to see it on the big screen will not be disappointed.