Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Killer Elite

I wish I was alive during the 1980s. Each year there were movies starring Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Bruce Willis, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Chuck Norris, et al. Let's be honest, we don't really have an action star these days. Now we have action movies that star an actor who goes, "hey, this might be fun." The exception to this rule- Jason Statham. He is British I believe, but he is probably the closest thing English-language cinema has to a bonafide action star. That being said, his movies do somewhat vary in style (more on part of the director than of the performance). For example, I actually really dug The Mechanic. It was a solid "turn-off-your-brain" action movie that I just surrendered to. I got to see a badass, who I'd imagine if given heavier material could totally act the part, interact with an incredible up-and-coming actor named Ben Foster. I was hoping Killer Elite would measure up to that (with Clive Owen and Robert De Niro replacing the presence of Ben Foster twice over), but this isn't on the positive side of my murkily defined "Statham-spectrum".

Set in 1981, Statham plays a hitman whose mentor (De Niro) is held captive until Statham's character can complete a job that involves him killing several members of SAS. This attracts the attention of Owen's character whose job is to be sure that the highest ranking agents of the SAS are protected as they move on in life after a shadowy career. I'll start off by saying that the marketing for this movie is incredibly misleading in a sense. The film isn't crazy no-holds barred action and was surprisingly dialogue heavy compared to what I expected. It kind of goes against its own grain. The film feels like a slow-burn thriller and then all of a sudden Statham and Owen are having an outrageous martial arts fight. The trailer made it look more like The Mechanic, but it might even be closer to what the trailer for Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy promises (I mean the tone/mood of the piece, not the expected quality).

This actually makes the fact that this is based on "true events" have more credibility just because of how un-outrageous some of the plot can feel. Then again, cue some crazy shootout/fight that feels like your usual summer-movie adrenaline rush. The plotting is just very muddled and over-bearing. The film feels way too long. There is in fact so much plot in this movie that it feels like there could be five moments towards the end of the movie where you expect the screen to go black. I'm not even exaggerating, I believe I counted five. Don't get me wrong, the chief problem is that you obviously won't care much for any of these characters (Statham's character, Danny, starts to get some sympathy because of his girlfriend played by the gorgeous Yvonne Strahovski). Hell, I don't even care if I were to end up siding with Statham or Owen at the end of the day.

A disappointment, but I'm still speaking on my "Statham-spectrum." So, be sure to find your own litmus test for his movies before you start to take anything I say all that seriously. I might even start talking about Statham like he's a sub-genre.


There is a scene in Moneyball, about a half hour into the movie, that I feel sums up the film both in spirit and content. Billy Beane (Brad Pitt), manager of the Oakland A's has lost a lot of his star players and is planning on rebuilding his team with what is the MLB equivalent of misfits. He goes to the house of Scott Hatteberg (Chris Pratt) and proposes that he play first base instead of catcher. Why would Beane suggest such a crazy idea? Well, according to Peter Brand (Jonah Hill), the newly minted assistant general manager, Hatteberg does the one important thing that is being undervalued by scouts- he gets on base. Right around that scene, there is flashback to when Beane signed with a scout back when he was much younger. Beane was predicted to have an incredible career and he blew it. He just couldn't measure up on the field.

On a slightly separate note, this brings to mind a thought I have about sports movies. It's incredibly obvious, but needs to be reiterated. In these movies, there is often very little action of the sport itself on screen. Obviously, if you wanted to watch a baseball game, turn on baseball. For sports movies to be successful, they tend to make what is going on outside the field/arena/etc. more important than what is inside. Whether it's Jake LaMotta in Raging Bull or Tony D'Amato in Any Given Sunday, it can be argued that they have a lot more at stake in their lives in relationship to the sport and not in the sport itself.

Moneyball, like many good sports movies, recognizes this. I personally find the script and directing to be incredibly intelligent. The film is directed by Bennett Miller (Capote), written by Aaron Sorkin (The Social Network) and Steve Zaillian (Schindler's List), photographed by Wally Pfister (Inception), and edited by Christopher Tellefsen (Capote). That is a pretty damn amazing collection of talent (and obviously I'm only mentioning their notable credits). The choices they make in the narrative are very unique such as how the film starts out showing the A's lose to the New York Yankees, a team that is worth $75 million more. It just goes to show, a lot of entertainment comes down to money and that applies to everything from sports to movies to even literature. The dialogue that follows this opening is so sharp and to-the-point (the scene where Beane argues with the scouts is a movie in and of itself). To be fair, I'm just very often amazed and how writers can create narratives based on non-fiction (my favorite example being what Gary Ross did with Seabiscuit).

We then start to meet the characters. Beane is this wise-guy jock that commands attention when he enters a room. He contrasts with Brand who is much more deadpan. The casting of Jonah Hill is a very bold choice. I'm of the mind that if you can act especially with comedy, you can probably transition to more dramatic material much easier (Robin Williams and Jim Carrey anyone?). Hill is such a fixture to me in some of my favorite comedy films that if I'm going to be completely honest, I wasn't sure how much I believed him in the scenes with the mathematics. That being said, it makes sense of how he acts because Beane is obviously the more dominant personalities of the two. Brand is reacting a lot to Beane who is reacting to the information Brand is presenting him. The casting of Hill in this role is no different than seeing Philip Seymour Hoffman as the A's tired and grizzled coach, Art Howe (funny that a week ago I'm thinking similar thoughts of the casting of Albert Brooks in Drive).

Brad Pitt... I'm not sure if this is his best performance, but I thought it was one of his best. The word that came to mind for me was "profound". His character is complex. There is a scene where Beane really opens up to Brand and he mentions how he doesn't care about winning or losing, but that at this point in his life- he just wants to bring about change. Cue another flashback to the beginning of his career. Everything is just starting to come full circle for Beane and he may not be sure how to deal with it.

This is where the film walks a fine line between being over-inspirational and being inspirational if at all. There are various scenes toward the end that place everything into perspective and although some might go on too long, there was one moment that I thought brought a great level of depth if you really get into the moment. Beane is also balancing his life as a father to a young girl and she records him a track that Beane listens to in his car as he drives away (this being more towards the "fall" part of "the rise and fall of Billy Beane" storyline). The moment is up to much interpretation, but I found it to be very moving and indicative of the depth that Moneyball ends up reaching. This movie isn't about baseball. This movie isn't about math. It's really about as human of a movie I've seen in a while.

Friday, September 23, 2011

2nd Annual Top 100 Performances List

1. Roy Scheider (All That Jazz)
"It's show time, folks!"

2. George Clooney (Michael Clayton)
"I am not the enemy."

3. Ulrich Muhe (The Lives of Others)
"The best way to establish guilt or innocence is non-stop interrogation."

4. Johnny Depp (Finding Neverland)
"Young boys should never be sent to bed. They always wake up a day older."

5. Nicole Kidman (Rabbit Hole)
"Does it ever go away?"

6. Paul Newman (The Verdict)
"I can't do it. I can't take it because if I take the money, I'm lost."

7. Al Pacino (The Godfather Part II)
"I know it was you, Fredo."

8. Jack Lemmon (The Apartment)
"Save it. The old payola won't work anymore."

9. Kirk Douglas (Paths of Glory)
"And you can go to hell before I apologize to you now or ever again."

10. Kevin Spacey (American Beauty)
"You don't get to tell me what to do, ever again."

11. Marlon Brando (On the Waterfront)
"You want to hear my philosophy on life. Do it to him before he does it do you."

12. Peter Finch (Network)
"We'll tell you anything you want to hear. We lie like hell."

13. Orson Welles (Citizen Kane)
"Sure, we're speaking, Jedediah. You're fired."

14. Marlon Brando (The Godfather)
"Never tell anyone outside the family what you are thinking again."

15. Robert De Niro (Taxi Driver)
"Thank God for the rain to wash the trash off the sidewalk."

16. F. Murray Abraham (Amadeus)
"My plan was so simple. It terrified me."

17. Imelda Staunton (Vera Drake)
"Right then dear, first thing we've got to do is put the kettle on."

18. Liam Neeson (Schindler's List)
"All you have to do is tell me what it's worth to you. What's a person worth to you?"

19. Tim Robbins (The Shawshank Redemption)
"That's the beauty of music. They can't get that from you."

20. Al Pacino (Dog Day Afternoon)
"I don't want to talk to some flunky pig trying to calm me, man."

21. Henry Fonda (12 Angry Men)
"You don't really mean you'll kill me, do you?"

22. Kevin Kline (The Ice Storm)
"Libbets? What sort of name is Libbets?"

23. Meryl Streep (Adaptation)
"I want to know what it feels like to care about something passionately."

24. David Strathairn (Good Night and Good Luck)
"We will not walk in fear. One of another."

25. Jack Lemmon (Glengarry Glen Ross)
"You're a fucking secretary. Fuck you."

26. Choi Min-sik (Oldboy)
"Laugh and the world laughs with you. Weep and you weep alone."

27. Ralph Fiennes (Schindler's List)
"You're giving them hope. You shouldn't do that. Thats cruel."

28. Nicolas Cage (Adaptation)
"I have to go right home. I know how to finish the script now."

29. Tom Cruise (Born on the Fourth of July)
"I want to go to Vietnam and I'll die there if I have to."

30. Johnny Depp (What's Eating Gilbert Grape?)
"You don't hurt Arnie, you just don't."

31. Kate Winslet (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind)
"Maybe you can find yourself a nice antique rocking chair to die in."

32. Susan Sarandon (Dead Man Walking)
"It's not faith, it's work."

33. Jim Carrey (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind)
"Constantly talking isn't necessarily communicating."

34. William Holden (Network)
"Music up with a swell, final commercial, and here are a few scenes from next week's show."

35. Sean Penn (Dead Man Walking)
"Only three days left. Plenty of time to read my Bible and look for a loophole."

36. Jim Carrey (The Truman Show)
"You can't get further away before you start coming back."

37. Tom Cruise (Magnolia)
"What am I doing? I'm quietly judging you."

38. Timothy Hutton (Ordinary People)
"Can't break anything in a bowling alley and that's what I like about bowling alleys. Can't even break the record."

39. Daniel Craig (Casino Royale)
"I thought one less bomb maker in the world would be a good thing."

40. Sharlto Copley (District 9)
"Could you go a bit slower with the clicks there?"

41. Tony Leung (Happy Together)
"Turns out that lonely people are all the same."

42. Viggo Mortensen (A History of Violence)
"I should have killed you back in Philly."

43. Haley Joel Osment (A.I.: Artificial Intelligence)
"I'm sorry I'm not real. If you let me, I'll be so real for you."

44. Alec Guinness (The Bridge on the River Kwai)
"You have turned defeat into victory. I congratulate you. Well done."

45. Gene Hackman (The Conversation)
"I'm not afraid of death, but I am afraid of murder."

46. Robert Duvall (Apocalypse Now)
"Bomb that tree line about a hundred yards back. Give me some room to breathe."

47. Tom Hulce (Amadeus)
"Forgive me, Majesty. I am a vulgar man, but I assure you, my music is not."

48. Michael Stuhlbarg (A Serious Man)
"There's some mistake. I'm not a member of the Colombian Record Club."

49. Sean Penn (Mystic River)
"You do death alone, but I could've helped her with the dying part."

50. Clive Owen (Children of Men)
"I can't remember when I last had any hope."

51. Shirley MacLaine (The Apartment)
"I like it that way. Makes me look the way I feel."

52. Melanie Laurent (Inglourious Basterds)
"I am going to burn down the cinema on Nazi night."

53. Morgan Freeman (The Shawshank Redemption)
"So you can go on and stamp your form, sonny, and stop wasting my time. Because to tell you the truth, I don't give a shit."

54. Joaquin Phoenix (Walk the Line)
"You are afraid to be in love, you are afraid to lose control. And you know what, June Carter? I think you are afraid of living in my big fat shadow."

55. Albert Finney (Big Fish)
"Truth is, I've always been thirsty."

56. Faye Dunaway (Network)
"I don't like the way this script of ours has turned out."

57. Benicio Del Toro (Traffic)
"Last night, I had an ugly nightmare."

58. Reese Witherspoon (Walk the Line)
"You should try to take credit for something every once in a while, John."

59. Warren Beatty (Reds)
"The workers do all the work, don't they? Well, what if they get organized?"

60. Jack Lemmon (Missing)
"I just thank God we live in a country where we can still put people like you in jail."

61. Tim Robbins (Mystic River)
"Maybe some day you forget what it's like to be human and maybe then, it's okay."

62. Chris Cooper (Adaptation)
"Sometimes bad things happen and darkness descends."

63. Christoph Waltz (Inglourious Basterds)
"And that Monsieur is what a Jew shares with a rat."

64. Diane Keaton (Reds)
"No, you love yourself. Me, you fuck."

65. Alan Rickman (Die Hard)
"Benefits of a classical education."

66. Al Pacino (Glengarry Glen Ross)
"Hey, let me buy you a pack of gum. I'll show you how to chew it."

67. Gene Hackman (The French Connection)
"All right. Popeye's here! Get your hands on your heads, get off the bar, and get on the wall."

68. Anthony Hopkins (The Silence of the Lambs)
"Quid pro quo. I tell you things, you tell me things. Not about this case, though."

69. Ray Winstone (The Proposition)
"I will civilize this land."

70. Daniel Day-Lewis (Gangs of New York)
"Get back to your celebration and let me eat in peace."

71. Martin Sheen (Badlands)
"Suppose I shot you. How'd that be?"

72. Heath Ledger (The Dark Knight)
"I believe whatever doesn't kill you, simply makes you... stranger."

73. Javier Bardem (No Country for Old Men)
"And it's either heads or tales. And you have to say it. Call it."

74. Sissy Spacek (Badlands)
"Sometimes I wished I could fall asleep and be taken off to some magical land, and this never happened."

75. Jodie Foster (The Silence of the Lambs)
"They don't have a name for what he is."

76. Faye Dunaway (Bonnie and Clyde)
"To a few, it'll be grief. To the law, a relief. It's death for Bonnie and Clyde."

77. Al Pacino (Serpico)
"When I come home, I want to come home to a clean house."

78. Orson Welles (The Third Man)
"Look down there. Would you feel any pity if one of those dots stopped moving forever?"

79. Warren Beatty (Bonnie and Clyde)
"I ain't good, I'm the best."

80. Sergi Lopez (Pan's Labyrinth)
"You'd do better to tell us everything, but to make sure it happens, I brought along a few tools."

81. Sidney Poitier (In the Heat of the Night)
"They've got a murder they don't know what to do with."

82. Elliott Gould (The Long Goodbye)
"He's got a girl. I got a cat."

83. Chris Cooper (Lone Star)
"I'm just a jailer. I run a sixty room hotel with bars on the windows."

84. Laurence Fishburne (The Matrix)
"Stop trying to hit me and hit me."

85. Jack Nicholson (The Departed)
"You can learn a lot, watching people eat."

86. Frances McDormand (Fargo)
"I'm not sure I agree with you a hundred percent on your police work there, Lou."

87. Gene Hackman (The Royal Tenenbaums)
"Anybody interested in grabbing a couple of burgers and hitting the cemetery?"

88. Ruth Gordon (Harold and Maude)
"Vice. Virtue. It's best not to be too moral."

89. Will Ferrell (Anchorman)
"You're like a miniature Buddha, covered in hair."

90. Brendan Gleeson (In Bruges)
"It's called sight-seeing."

91. Peter Sellers (Dr. Strangelove)
"My conclusion was that this idea was not a practical deterrent for reasons which at this moment must be all too obvious."

92. Sigourney Weaver (Aliens)
"This bullshit that you think is so important, you can just kiss all that goodbye."

93. Colin Farrell (In Bruges)
"The view of what? The view of down here? I can see that from down here."

94. Jeff Bridges (The Big Lebowski)
"Oh, the usual. I bowl. Drive around. The occasional acid flashback."

95. Sacha Baron Cohen (Borat)
"Please come and see my film. If not success, I will be execute."

96. Mia Farrow (The Purple Rose of Cairo)
"I just met a wonderful new man. He's fictional, but you can't have everything."

97. Sissy Spacek (Missing)
"Charlie always says guilt is like fear. It's given to us for survival, not destruction."

98. Vincent D'Onofrio (Full Metal Jacket)
"Sir, a jelly donut, sir!"

99. Jason Schwartzman (Rushmore)
"My top schools where I want to apply to are Oxford and Sorbonne. My safety's Harvard."

100. Rod Steiger (In the Heat of the Night)
"Are you a northern boy? What's a northern boy doing down here?"