LOVE IN THE TIME OF THALLIUM – “Edge of Darkness”, reviewed
by Gregory A. Butler
Mel Gibson has not starred in a major motion picture since 2003.
During those 7 years, he’s been the subject of controversy – about his Orthodox Catholicism, his alleged prejudice against Jewish people, his drinking and driving, his having a child with his mistress ect ect ect.
But, you know what?
Despite all of that, Gibson is still a hell of an actor – there is a REASON why this dude has been a movie star for the last 31 years!
We are reminded of why that is in Martin Campbell’s “Edge of Darkness”.
Gibson’s character, Craven is a Boston Police detective who is so estranged from his nuclear engineer daughter Emma (Bojana Novakovik – and no, I never heard of her either, but she’s been in a few movies, just not as the star) that he doesn’t know anybody in her life, not even her boyfriend and he barely knows what she does for a living.
Emma comes home out of the blue to visit Craven one day, but before he can even put dinner on the stove, hitmen have shotgunned Emma to death.
At first, his colleagues on the force think this was a botched hit against Craven – but he knows better. Even though he’s torn with grief over the murder of his only child, Craven deals with it by throwing himself into a one man investigation of her killing.
Craven’s unofficial probe into Emma’s murder manages to open up quite the can of worms – he discovers that his daughter’s employer, a secretive defense contractor, is involved with a shadowy conspiracy with elements of the intelligence community – an evil scheme which they are quite willing to kill to protect.
During his investigation, Craven encounters Jedburgh (awesome British character actor Ray Winstone) a shadowy government troubleshooter (and I mean troubleSHOOTER quite literally) who gives him some unexpected help along the way.
Ironically enough, Craven also becomes closer to Emma while investigating her murder than he ever was at any time in her adult life.
There are action scenes in “Edge of Darkness” – but with a quite remarkable humanistic twist.
When folks get killed, you really get a sense that somebody is killing a PERSON – a human being with hopes and dreams, someone’s child, someone’s parent, someone’s lover – not at all like the typical action movie, where human lives are as disposable as kleenex.
Also, quite surprisingly in a film starring a man widely viewed as a conservative, the politics of “Edge of Darkness” are very progressive.
The film is highly critical of the War On Terror and the secret government it’s spawned – in this picture, the villains are defense contractors, federal agents and a corrupt Republican Senator from Massachusetts
And no, that character’s name isn’t “Scott Brown” – this film was made way before the recent special election – he’s Senator Jim Pine, played with appropriate oiliness by Damian Young.
The anti establishmentarianism of “Edge of Darkness” really isn’t that surprising when you consider that Campbell and screenwriters William Monahan and Andrew Bovell adapted it from British television writer Troy Kennedy Martin’s 1985 BBC miniseries of the same title.
The BBC’s “Edge of Darkness” took place in the Great Britain of the mid 1980’s second cold war, and was harshly critical of the Anglo-American military industrial complex of it’s era – this film shares similar politics.
“Edge of Darkness” hits all the marks – it has compelling political drama, riveting action and it explores the lengths a father will go to for the love of his child.
And we’re reminded of what an amazing talent Mel Gibson is – it’s been a long 7 years, and it’s good to have him back on the big screen!
On a scale of 1 to 10 (1 is unwatchably bad – 10 is incredibly awesome) I give “Edge of Darkness” a 9.84 – you have to see this movie!
ARCHANGEL ISN’T JUST A CITY IN RUSSIA– “Legion”, reviewed
by Gregory A. Butler
2010 is less than a month old, and there are already two different religious themed action adventure films in general release – going to the movies is getting to be almost like going to church (and I have to write these reviews with a Bible next to my computer)!
This week, we have Scott Stewart’s “Legion”, “starring” a bunch of people you’ve never heard of – plus model/actor Tyrese Gibson and a pathetically wasted Charles S. Dutton.
“Legion” is a theological mishmash, combining elements of the birth of Jesus Christ and the End Times – mixed in with zombie movie clichés and sub par John Woo-style gunfights.
It seems that God has lost faith in humanity (again) and, as He did in Genesis, he’s going to test us.
The first time, of course, it was with water – but, this time, it’s going to be with – people possessed by angels who turn into zombies, grow shark teeth and black eyeballs, develop a taste for raw meat and like to use a lot of swear words?
Hey, wait just a minute here – that wasn’t anywhere in Revelations!!!!
Apparently it is in screenwriter Peter Schink’s version of the Bible (can we get a ruling from Pope Benedict XVI on this?)
In any case, God decides to send his two archangels – Michael (Paul Bettany – who actually does a pretty good job, considering the material he was working with) and Gabriel (Kevin Durand) with His army of angel/zombie/shark toothed demons to wreak havoc on humanity (or at least the State of Arizona) and – most importantly – prevent the birth of the fetus being carried by pregnant roadside diner waitress Charlie (Adrianne Palicki – a basic cable television actress much of who’s work has been voice acting on Adult Swim cartoon shows).
Apparently, if Charlie gives birth, her son (you knew it couldn’t be a DAUGHTER, right?) will grow up to be some sort of messiah or something.
The Joseph to Charlie’s not quite so virginal Mary is her coworker/roommate Jeep Hanson (Lucas Black) a hapless short order cook/car mechanic who is trapped deep in Charlie’s “friend zone”.
The truck stop they work at is destined to be the site of the final battle between Good and…. Good? Again, the theology is kind of fuzzy here, so I’m not quite sure.
Michael has problems with God’s plans, so he comes to Los Angeles and kills some random Korean-American toy store owner who, conveniently, has a huge stockpile of automatic rifles in his warehouse (why exactly a toy warehouse would be filled with firearms is never explained)
After arming up and carjacking a police car, our archangel goes out to the desert to defend Charlie and the savior/messiah whatever inside of her uterus.
You know what comes next.
The desert diner will have a plentiful supply of stock characters, who will, all too predictably be killed off in various odd ways by the angel/demon/zombie whatevers.
There will also be lots of what film folks call “exposition” – that is, the action stops so the actors can explain a bunch of stuff to you, the audience (instead of actually SHOWING YOU – because, of course, if they actually showed you it would be, oh, I don’t know too entertaining – hell, the film might actually be exciting and you might actually get some fun for your $ 12.50, and we can’t have that, now can we?)
There will also be the usual stereotypical stuff with the Black characters too – and they get to die heroically saving White people.
And, of course, there will be the typical John Woo-style firearms that never jam, have bottomless clips which never run out of bullets, do not have any recoil and have all of the other physics-defying characteristics that you see far too much of in Hollywood movies.
At least this film actually had safety catches and bolts on the guns – they didn’t just fire like magic, like they usually do in films like this.
This film has some of it’s own special forms of suck as well – like an exposition scene with Charlie and Jeep that turns into – an editorial against abortion!
What is this – Fox News?
Bottom line, if you can only see just one Christian-themed action adventure movie this year …let it be “The Book Of Eli”!
On a scale of 1 to 10 (1 is unwatchably bad – 10 is incredibly awesome) I give “Legion” a 4.53 [and that’s with a 1.44 bonus point for casting Charles S. Dutton – cause that brother deserves to get work more often!]
MATTHEW 10:34 – “The Book of Eli”, reviewed
by Gregory A. Butler
When we first enter the world of Allen and Albert Hughes’ “The Book of Eli”, it’s 30 years after a great war where, according to our hero Eli (Denzel Washington, in one of his best roles), “they ripped a hole in the sky”.
The great solar flash that came through that hole killed most of the world’s population, blinded many of the survivors (a plot point which will become very relevant later on in the film) and reduced the visually impaired and sighted alike to a state of illiterate barbarism.
But in this harsh world where reading is unknown, Eli has spent the last 30 years roaming the ruined byways with a book in his backpack.
Not just any book.
Yes, THAT book – “the Holy Bible”
And not just any old Bible – but the last bible left in America (all the other copies were burned after the war – because that globally lethal conflict was caused by Christian fundamentalists)
But Eli’s no soft-spoken librarian – he comes not with peace, but with a machete.
And a sawed off shotgun.
And a 9 mm pistol.
And he is more than willing to use those arms against the many vile hijackers who roam the deserted roads, seeking to rob, rape, kill and eat (yes, you read that last part right) any travelers they encounter.
In his travels, Eli encounters a town run by the amoral warlord Carnegie (Gary Oldman – in a role that reminds you why he has played so many villains in so many films).
As it happens, Carnegie is seeking out the last copy of the Bible, to give a religious justification to his tyrannical rule, and he and his “road crew” goon squad are more than willing to kill for it.
Kill – or do other immoral stuff, like forcing his twentysomething stepdaughter Solara (Mila Kunis) to offer herself sexually to Eli.
But since he’s a decent man, who’s old enough to be her father, Eli turns the offer down – and instead shares a meal with her, teaches her how to say grace and gives her a glimpse of a moral world that she’s never known.
Eli flees town soon afterwards – with Solara as his first disciple – and continues his flight west, with Carnegie in hot pursuit.
I won’t spoil the rest of this very deeply moral martial arts adventure, because you really do need to see it “cold” with as little information as possible to appreciate it the most, but there is a plot swerve coming, hinted at by Eli quoting II Corinthians 5:7 to Solara – “for we walk by faith, not by sight”.
There is a whole lot to like in this film.
Like the fight scenes (reminiscent of the old 1970’s TV series “Kung Fu”) where Eli, a gentle and reluctant warrior, gives his enemies plenty of chances to back down and just let him leave in peace – but when his antagonists insist on fighting anyway, he dispatches them with fierce intensity.
And the decent and respectful way the Hughes Brothers – and screenwriter Gary Whitta – treated their female characters, most notably Solara.
There is no gratuitous nudity or soft core porno here – the female characters are here to move the story forward, not to titillate the male half of the audience.
Don’t get it twisted – I’m far from prudish and there is definitely a time and a place for sex and pornography in films (just not in moral allegories like this one).
Thankfully, the Hughes Brothers and Whitta understood that, and kept their female characters fully dressed.
I really enjoyed this film and I think you will too (even if you’re not a Christian).
On a scale of 1 to 10 (1 is unwatchably bad – 10 is incredibly awesome) I give “The Book of Eli” a 9.81
BLOOD SIMPLE – “Daybreakers”, reviewed
by Gregory A. Butler
The best dramas – the only REAL dramas, in the classical Greek sense – are the ones that take the hero out of his normal environment, sends him on a journey and, in the end, the journey fundamentally transforms him.
Those dramas are even better when the writers create a whole new world, on the surface totally different than the one we live in, but in a real way fundamentally the same – and, despite the many surface differences, the writers actually make us believe in that world.
Australian auteur twin brothers Michael and Peter Spierig succeeded in creating just this type of drama with their film “Daybreakers”.
We enter the Spierig’s world in April 2019, a decade after a virus – spread by bat bites – has infected most of the world’s population with vampirism.
And yes, folks, these are classic Bram Stoker-style vampires – they catch fire if they are exposed to sunlight, they cannot see themselves in mirrors and, most importantly, they subsist on human blood.
That blood thing is getting to be a bit of a problem.
95% of the world’s human population is extinct (from the whole blood drinking thing, of course) and the world’s vampires only have one month’s worth of drinking blood left.
And that’s kind of a big deal, since, in this universe, vampires who go more than a few weeks without human blood devolve from civilized nocturnal goth-types who are partial to 1940’s style fashion into horrible violent monsters (monstrous even by vampire standards) who will destroy every one and every thing in their path.
That’s where Edward Dalton (Ethan Hawke) comes in – he’s a hematologist for the corporation that has monopolized the extraction and distribution of human blood.
As you might imagine, scientists who specialize in the study of human blood are pretty damned important in a world ruled by vampires.
Dalton, a vampire with a soft spot for humans, is hard at work on a blood substitute – not just because a bloodless world would spell doom for his species, but also to save the last humans from being driven to extinction.
The story takes off when Dalton encounters a hardy band of human survivors, led by Lionel “Elvis” Cormac (Willem Dafoe) a former auto mechanic (he used to customize cars so vampires could drive them during the day) who now is organizing the human resistance to the vampires.
As we discover, Elvis has the solution to the twin dilemmas of vampires and humans within himself – literally.
Incidentally, this film has a subtle critique of modern American consumerism hidden inside of the science fiction/action adventure story – this diseased vampire world has spawned a whole consumer culture to help the vampires normalize their bloodlust and it’s consequences – from Chrysler sedans with tinted windows and video monitors that vampires can drive during the day to a Starbucks like chain of coffee stores (where they add blood, instead of milk, to your drink).
It really makes you think of how dehumanizing our society’s consumer culture is – again, another mark of good storytelling, put a social message in a film, without beating the audience over the head with it.
“Daybreakers” is one of the best vampire films I’ve seen in a long time – it succeeds not only as a genre picture and as an action film, but also, in the most fundamental classical sense, as a drama.
On a scale of 1 to 10 (1 is unwatchably bad – 10 is incredibly awesome) I give “Daybreakers” an 8.65
I LIKED YOUR GOOD MOVIES, NOT THE FLOPS – “Nine”, reviewed
by Gregory A. Butler
When you adapt a movie from a musical that was adapted from another movie, that in turn is a thinly veiled biography of a real person, then things might tend to get a bit rough around the edges.
That’s kinda what happened with director Rob Marshal’s “Nine”, a musical about the self inflicted midlife professional and romantic crises afflicting fictional Italian director Guido Contini (Daniel Day-Lewis – playing a character modeled on real life Italian director Federico Felini).
We meet Contini as he’s driving into Rome’s famed Cinecita studios back in 1965, and he’s about to make his 9th major motion picture (unfortunately, he hasn’t yet written the script!)
But you can kind of understand the oversight – after all, Guido’s got a VERY complicated life – a beautiful wife, Luisa (Marion Cotillard) who used to be his leading lady, a high strung married mistress, Carla (Penelope Cruz) and his current leading lady, the very demanding American movie star Claudia (Nicole Kidman)
So, even with his costume designer/surrogate mother figure Lilli (Judi Dench) – and the ghost of his actual mother, (Sophia Loren) trying to keep Guido on the straight and narrow, this production is not quite going to work out as planned.
This is a musical, so there are song and dance routines throughout the movie – all of which are actually very well done, at least technically speaking (my personal favorite was Carla’s “call from the Vatican” number).
Problem is, they really don’t move the story forward that well – it’s kind of like you take a break from the movie to see a music video.
And that’s a damned shame, because Guido’s personal and professional crisis (and the fact that he brought it all upon himself by taking his art and the women in his life for granted) is very compelling and heart touching material.
There’s also a fascinating subplot about how the Catholic hierarchy publicly condemn Guido’s films – but are secretly his biggest fans.
The film would have benefited from more exploration of that part of the story, and how it relates to how Guido’s innocent childhood sexual curiosity was fiercely punished by his parish priest, and how that may have figured into his later conflicts with the women who love him – but, unfortunately, Marshal and screenwriters Michael Tolkin and Anthony Minghella didn’t go there.
And the imbalance between strong musical numbers and weak plot development is what really weakens this film and flaws what otherwise could have been a very powerful motion picture.
On a scale of 1 to 10 (1 is unwatchably bad – 10 is incredibly awesome) I give “Nine” a 7.1