Decent, in a standard way.
I am a Denzel Washington fan, and something I learned while watching his best (in my opinion) movie Training Day is he is way more entertaining as a bad guy than a good guy which is why Safe House works for me. However, I think one of the main reasons I like Denzel Washington is he actually has a really good eye for scripts and manages to stay away from obvious dogs. His discriminating tastes is the main reason I will see anything he opts to work on.
That being said, the script for Safe House is on the far end of the good script spectrum for Denzel, almost bordering on the mediocre. Honestly, if this movie hadn’t had Mr. Washington’s precise delivery and perfect acting ability the flaws in the script would have risen up like scum on the surface of a stagnant pond and filled the theater with the odor of decaying organic matter. The story latches onto every spy movie cliche like a remora eel and the events connecting the assorted action sequences are tenuous at best, with plot devices so far removed from what would actually make sense that it sometimes feels like you are watching them through a telescope in another solar system.
As for Ryan Reynolds and his performance, I am torn. On the one hand, in his last few efforts (Green Lantern in particular. Green Lantern shirt image courtesy of the Comic Book T-Shirt category) I have railed against him constantly playing Van Wilder over and over again; the sleezy pretty party boy who can’t help but smarm and sleep with anything remotely attractive in the movie and to be fair in this film he manages to avoid that role completely. He is a serious and career minded CIA operative with a girlfriend he loves deeply. On the other hand, he seems to alternate between looking completely helpless and being a young James Bond. I can’t even say this was the result of a decent character arc, with him being inexperienced at the beginning and developing into a hard case by the end. Instead the movie changes gears back and forth without warning, with his character either hiding in a dark corner (literally) or ruthlessly gunning down whatever gets in his way.
The story is of young Matt Weston (Ryan Reynolds-Green Lantern, the Change Up, Buried), a CIA operative who is basically a hotel keeper at a secret safe house in Cape Town. Tobin Frost (Denzel Washington-Training Day, Man on Fire, Inside Man) is a traitor and super spy who gets himself captured. He is placed in Matt’s safe house where a team of Aryan Army looking CIA guys are going to water board and torture him for whatever he was doing in Cape Town (selling some top secret information, but honestly the actual reasons for most of the movie seem pretty inconsequential). While they are in the process another team of guys attacks and kills pretty much everyone. Watson takes Tobin out at gunpoint and the long, long chase begins. He is being pursued by some bad guys while being ordered by his superiors to do different dumb stuff. Tobin is a master of human manipulation and works on getting into Matt’s head.
Honestly, I can’t get much more into the story without more or less giving it all away. Spy hijinks ensues. Stuff blows up. Guys get shot. There are about as many cliches as bullets fired, including the ending.
The stars. Denzel Washington. Two stars. Denzel Washington playing a villain rather than a hero. One star. The action was all pretty good and exciting, if a little repetitive. One star. The romance subplot, which normally would I find distracting and worthless, actually added a lot to the story. It gave Tobin a real tool to get into Matt’s head and screw with him, which added a lot to the story. One star. The interaction between Tobin and Matt was really well done, and pulled you into the story in many ways that the plot did not. Two stars. Generally entertaining. Two stars. Total: nine stars.
The black holes. Weak script. Two black holes. Inconsistent tone from Ryan Reynold’s character. One black hole. Spy story cliches we have all seen in about fifty movies, including the ending. One black hole. Some pretty gaping plot holes. One black hole. Total: five black holes.
A grand total of four stars. Not bad, but to be honest not what I expect from a movie Denzel Washington chooses to star in. Also, if anyone else had been cast in his role the movie probably would have swung into the black hole zone. Worth seeing? Sure, if you don’t want to follow the plot too closely. The action is the best part after Denzel’s performance, so it might be worth seeing on a big screen. Date movie? Meh. Maybe, if she is into this sort of thing, or Denzel Washington (or, for that matter, Ryan Reynolds). On the other hand odds are you will suffer in comparison to either of those two guys, so consider it carefully.
Thanks for reading. More movies coming out this weekend. I will probably see the Vow, about as chick flick as a movie can get. If I am feeling the need to expel mass quantities of bile I might see Mysterious Island 2 but I can already tell how that is going to suck. I am torn regarding seeing The Phantom Menace 3D. On the one hand I don’t want to give even a dime to support such mediocre movie making or George Lucas. On the other hand, since I did not have this blog going when I first saw it I might enjoy doing the review. I think what I might do is buy a ticket for a movie that I like (Chronicle, for example) and then just sneak in to the other theater. I have some 3D glasses lying around here somewhere. Follow me on Twitter @Nerdkungfu. I’ve noticed I don’t get a ton of comments for specific requests or blog ideas so if you would like to contact me without posting simply email me feel free to do so at firstname.lastname@example.org. Talk to you soon.
Time to get into this. First of all, this is actually the best and worst movies of 2011 that I actually saw and reviewed, for the most part. If I missed something you think is supposed to be here, my apologies. I am going to do this Oscar style by listing the candidates for my fake awards and then let you know the winner. I think each post in this series I will give a few of my bitter joke awards and end up with one or two good one.
The “Who Brought This Guy Award” for the most unnecessary, worthless, or unasked for sequel of the year. The candidates are: the Twilight Saga Breaking Dawn Part I, Johnny English Reborn, Columbiana, and The Hangover Part II. Johnny English seems to be the obvious choice, but when you think about it the reasons for this sequel make total sense: ripping off as many foreign viewers as possible. The bitterness that resides deep in the heart of the voting Academy (one member, me) makes me inclined to go with the Hangover, but I think if the movie going audience had been poled prior to this abortion being released most people would have said a sequel was a good idea. Yes, the winner of the Who Brought This Guy Award goes to Columbiana. It was originally written as a sequel to the Professional, a film that in no way ever needed a sequel. Also it was pretty miserable as a stand alone movie.
The “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” award for the flattest, most robot-like emotionless performance(s) of the year. The candidates are Nicholas Cage for Season of the Witch and Drive Angry, Ryan Gosling for Drive, Robert the tire from Rubber, the dead cosmonaut from Apollo 18, and Atom the fighting robot from Real Steel. The winner, barely beating out the dead cosmonaut, has to be Nicholas Cage. Congratulations.
The “Accidentally drank from the Drano can instead of my beer award” (AKA the George Inman (my father) memorial award) for the movie that I thought was going be great and instead felt like I was being shot naked with a paintball gun for two hours. The candidates are The Green Hornet, The Green Lantern, Conan the Barbarian, Battle Los Angeles, The Hangover Part II, the Killer Elite, and The Adventures of Tintin. In terms of biggest level of anticipation followed by biggest fall, this Nerdy can only go to the Green Lantern. I had so much hope for this movie, and was so bitterly disappointed. (Green Lantern image courtesy of the Comic Book t shirt category)
The “Purposely drank from the Drano can” award for the movie that I totally expected to suck and it did. The candidates are New Years Eve, Jack and Jill, Footloose, Bucky Larson: Born to Be a Star, What’s Your Number, the Change Up, and I am Number Four. This Nerdy is near and dear to my heart, as it is my chance to feel good about how smart and perceptive I am. Bucky Larson was a contender, but I have to give it to Jack and Jill, the movie equivalent of passing a baseball sized kidney stone.
The “Dave is an idiot” award for the movie I expected to suck and turned out great. The candidates are Fast Five, Bridesmaids, Friends with Benefits, Our Idiot Brother, Don’t be Afraid of the Dark, Warrior, and the Thing. Honestly, I am going to have to go with the Thing. I thought it was going to be another mediocre remake of a great movie, and instead it was a brilliant prequel to a great movie. Kudos.
The “I wish I had a hot car and girlfriend” award for the best driving movie. This year there were only three eligible. Drive, Drive Angry, and Fast Five. I am going to have to give this Nerdy to Fast Five. I was really surprised how much I enjoyed it. The other two were retrospectively a boring arsty noir film and a bad grindhouse spoof.
That’s it for today. Warhammer tonight and I have to compose a new list. More awards tomorrow. Thanks for reading. Follow me on Twitter @NerdKungFu. By the way, I saw the trailer for the Hobbit and, while it looks decent like detecting a lump in my testicles I am starting to see signs that the cancer of remaking great stories to suit Hollywood creeping its way into this film. It’s been years since I read the Hobbit, but I don’t recall Bilbo Baggins spending a lot of time in Elrond looking at the Shards of Narsil. He was there, but it was pretty brief. Also, I couldn’t be sure but I think they stuck a human into the party besides Gandalf with the dwarfs. Also someone told me they managed to crowbar Arwen into the the story. You know, in a story as rich as the Hobbit I think it’s OK to not have a pretty face in there worthlessly. I don’t know if any of this is true, but I hope they aren’t going to ruin this in order to make a few more bucks. I’ll let you know what else I hear.
So I did Captain America last week, and gave it a good review. I stand by that, as it was a decent movie with a good story. Generally enjoyable. However, I was talking to a friend of mine last night about it and he raised a couple points that got me thinking about the problems with origin movies in general.
Really, it all boils down to the fact that origin stories are really cool, but very few directors seem comfortable letting the origin run the entirety of the movie. In other words, about halfway through the movie they have introduced the superhero, told where he came from, explained his powers, and gotten his costume organized when suddenly the thought occurs to them “Oh, crap. What are we doing to do to fill the last half of the movie?”
This is not every movie. Thor more or less ignored the whole origin question entirely and just jumped into the action. X Men First Class let the origin story travel through the entirely of the film with great results. This was probably motivated by the fact that they had a dozen different characters to work with, but the net result was very pleasing. However, when I think back to Captain America I realize that the part of the film I really enjoyed was the first half. Once Steve Rogers got his team together and starting fighting as Captain America it kind of started to grind along.
I have been thinking about how to avoid this problem. Wolverine Origins labored under this (and about 10 tons of other crap). Even Batman Begins kind of had this going on. Green Lantern ground it face first into the ground, with a massive villain pulled out of their ass with all the active malice of a natural disaster, like a tornado. Even Iron Man kind of lagged after the suit was built. Episodes I-III was nothing but a six hour origin story that only focused on Darth Vader.
So what is the solution? Upon reflection I realized that the movies that do the origin story well (Spiderman, X Men, Kick Ass, Unbreakable, Hellboy, etc) all have one thing in common: they didn’t make the origin of a single hero the only thrust of the story. In Spiderman, while we are watching Peter Parker figure out his new powers, we keep cutting back to Norman Osborne transforming into the Green Goblin. X Men First Class had a dozen different characters developing. Kick Ass was mostly about Kick Ass, but at the same time you see Hit Girl and Big Daddy doing their thing. Unbreakable was more about Samuel Jackson’s character than that Bruce Willis, and that made the double origin story really cool. In each case the really good origin movies presents the origin of their hero, but don’t make it the entirety of the script. In other words, when they reach that halfway point and the story is in danger of lagging they have other elements to fall back on.
(Xavier Institute image courtesy of the movie t shirt category)
I don’t know if anyone from the movie industry reads this. In fact, I doubt it sincerely. However, I think that if by some weird coincidence one of my three readers is somehow involved in film production, or perhaps one day will end up working in film, try to remember what I just said. I really think it’s worthwhile.
I guess this is the week of dashed over hyped expectations. It started Wednesday with my purchase of my first Apple computer, a brand new iMac. Having listened to all my friends gush about how all Apple products are I was more or less inclined to believe that this iMac would not only handle my computer needs, but would cure cancer, end world hunger, and turn my tap water into wine. The thing I did not expect was to spend almost four hours on the phone with tech support trying to get all my peripherals running. The learning curve on the new UI is less a curve and more a vertical wall that needs to be scaled by hand while defenders at the top drop rocks and boiling oil on my head. I am sure in the course of a month or two I will become brainwashed like all my friends, but at the moment I feel like Donald Sutherland in Invasion of the Body Snatchers.
I am being unfair. Already I have gotten more used to it, but my typical curse of causing things more technological than a microwave try to find all the weirdest problems possible (how is it I have the one HP printer out of the literally thousands that Apple supports that they don’t? What are really the odds of that?) manifest themselves. Also, I just had a guy at the Apple store inform me that the absolutely-different-from-the-control-key Command key is actually the mysterious free alt-tab Microsoft key. I wish someone had told me that four days ago. If you are wondering why I just don’t use the keyboard that came with the iMac it is because I have large hands and need adult sized keys, not Smurf (or just skinny hipster kid) sized covered with Chiclets.
So the next big over hyped disappointment was, of course, Green Lantern. Was it bad? Not really, but on many levels actually yes. Was it worth all the hype and marketing? No. It is, like almost all DC comic book movies, painfully lacking in many regards while having a few cool elements. I am sure you could really enjoy it, especially if you are dumb, stoned, or 12 years old. However, I think I am going to have to start looking at how much marketing the studios throw at the advertizing as a sign of how much they feel they need to work in order to get people into the theater. X-Men First Class had hardly any and ruled. (Ferris Aircraft image from the new Green Lantern t-shirt category).
Anyway, the movie, without any spoilers that you wouldn’t pick up from the trailers. I think it safe to assume most of you have read a couple GL comics too. Hal Jordan is a test pilot working for Ferris Aircraft along with his super hot fellow test pilot (Blake Lively, who apparently was in the Gossip Girl). Hal is played by the remarkably inappropriate Ryan Reynolds, and he has an on screen romance with Ms. Lively that throughout the movie seemed forced, awkward, unnecessary, distracting, and lacking in all forms of chemistry. Sorry Martin Campbell. Just putting two hot people on screen together does not make for onscreen magic. The chemistry wasn’t as bad at that in Water for Elephants, but it was on par.
Anyway, the alien Green Lantern gets mortally wounded in a criminally short action sequence (a pattern that would unfortunately repeat itself throughout the movie) and travels to Earth to have the ring pick out his replacement, which is of course Hal Jordan. Hal gets the ring, another dorky guy who actually was in his own way cooler than the entire rest of the cast gets infected with yellow power and becomes a minor super villain, green action ensues, and the movie ends feeling about 20 minutes short.
I am going to do something a little different with this, in that I want to expound upon a few of my black holes in detail here and then list them later. I have some serious issues with a lot of stuff and feel the need to get into it more specifically. First of all, this entire movie felt like the third in a series, not the first. You know, the episode where the studio has made a ton of money on the first couple and now is just grinding them out by the numbers in order to milk the fans for as much money as we can stand to part with? The one where the director feels the need to shove as much CGI and as many villains in as possible in order to make up for the fact that he doesn’t really have a story? The episode where he feels comfortable leaving all forms of character development or exposition out because all that back story nonsense was covered in the first one? That episode? This is that one. I understand the studios see franchises as the real way to make money, but is the need so overpowering that you feel you can just jump into a franchise mid stream and still make your dough off the unwashed masses?
Secondly, the movie felt really 20-30 minutes short. All the action scenes ended before you really got into them. If you have read the real GL story you know he spent a long time in training, and developed a mutual respect and friendship with Sinestro before returning to the field. Here he spends about two minutes getting his ass kicked while Sinestro is nothing more than a dick to him. Also, a felonious amount of screen time is wasted on his so called romance with Blake Lively and a bunch of other crap I could care less about.
Finally, Ryan Reynolds as Green Lantern. The guy is a romantic comedy actor. Sure he pulled off looking good in the suit (although I think he is a little too weedy for it) but if I recall Hal was a responsible, dedicated military officer, not a smirking, irresponsible reprobate. Also, is it written into every movie contract Ryan Reynolds has that his character has to be seen as the guy who sleeps with every hot woman character withing a 50 mile radius? Hooking up with local sluts made sense in Van Wilder, but does he have to play the same character in every single movie? I lay blame for this firmly in the director’s lap. Had Campbell taken two minutes to explain to Ryan that he really shouldn’t smirk at the camera in every scene we might have gotten a much more tolerable performance.
By the way, I will give a star or two for really good special effects and CGI, but the days of those things carrying a movie are gone. CGI is so easy and accessible that we really need to get into a good story and acting. I honestly don’t find it interesting. In fact, good special effects now is the norm and is only really noticeable it it’s absence.
Anyway, the stars. Comic book movie. One star. Generally good special effects. Two stars. Blake Lively looking hot. One star. Sinestro was cool and well acted. One star. Hector Hammond was cool. One star. Tim Robbins as Senator Hammond. One star. Ummm. That’s pretty much it. Seven stars (and I forced one. The special effect weren’t really worth two stars).
Now the black holes. Really, really bad direction. Two black holes. The movie felt short. One black hole. Too much completely pointless Hal Jordan as a social misfit (including but not limited to his romance and a dumb ass birthday party for his 11 year old nephew that included an even dumber reckless driving sequence to show what a wild man Hal was, not to mention a “heartwarming” scene between Hal and his nephew. In fact, I was going to give this point one black hole but now that I have written in up I am again incensed and will ramp it up to two. ). Two black holes. Not enough of the other alien Lanterns, or of the planet Oa. They are cool looking aliens. Why can’t we see them? One black hole. Ryan Reynolds. One black hole. Every action sequence was painfully short, and the final epic fight felt less like a conclusion and more like the movie makers were running out of film and wanted to wrap it up. One black hole. The whole I-was-a-normal-human-but-now-have-super-powers-let-me-show-you scene is cool as exposition once (unless, of course, we had just seen a whole training sequence detailing all the powers) but there is no reason to shove it down our throat twice, especially when one of the two people is a minor character who’s only function was to pick up Hal at the beach and give him a ride home. One black hole. For every cool alien Green Lantern I wanted to meet or see more of they managed to find a minor human character to introduce and have vanish like excrement flushed down a toilet. Is it absolutely necessary that we be introduced to Hal’s two brothers, his sister -in-law, and his nephew for four painful minutes before they disappear, never to be seen again? How about some more of Kiliwog, or Sinestro, or Bzzd, or Galius Zed? One black hole. The Guardians literally looked like Pez dispensers. One black hole. While the special effects were generally good, there were a couple scenes where I was looking for wires. I think they forced some of the perspectives in order to make it look good for 3D and since I saw it in 2D (or, in many other ways, 1D) they looked really stupid. One black hole. A complete lack of arc for Hal Jordan. One minute he is Van Wilder and can’t make a green powered back scratcher, and the next he is captain responsible and creating miniguns. Overall the pacing was horrible. One black hole. Some other major holes in the plot. One black hole. The writers took the actual Green Lantern story, murdered it, and then spent 105 minutes desecrating it’s corpse. One black hole. They forcefully crowbared in the lead in for the sequel. One black hole. And finally, one black hole for making a sequel movie to a franchise that hasn’t even started yet. Total: 17 black holes.
In the irksome-but-not-black-hole-worthy category I only have one, and that is it is established early on that the universe literally has millions of sentient species. How is it every alien is not only 100% aware of humans, but knows enough about them to be surprised that the ring would pick a race so young? Minor but kind of irritating.
So a miserable final score of 10 black holes. I didn’t start writing this planning to dump all over it, but I stand by my scoring. Ultimately completely forgettable in all aspects, at least as soon as the next movie that relies on special effects over writing and direction comes along. If you are the type that is easily distracted by string or shiny objects by all means go see it. It is fun and entertaining, and when you get bored you can play with your laser pointer. If you find being pandered and catered to on lowest levels offensive and actually want a movie that will evoke an emotional or intellectual response, go see X-Men First Class for a second time.