Monday, March 26, 2012

The Guard

This dark humored Irish movie, starring Brendan Gleeson, was written and directed by first-timer John Michael McDonaugh. If "dark humor", "Irish", "Brendan Gleeson", and "McDonaugh" sound familiar, it's because you might be thinking of In Bruges, which was directed by playwright Martin McDonaugh, John's brother. This led me to sort of go into The Guard with some odd pre-conceptions.

Even from hearing the plot and seeing a trailer, this seemed like some sort of companion piece to In Bruges in that both seemingly featured gallows humor (joking in the face of hopelessness) along with some violent moments followed by wise-cracks about race and gender. From that perspective, the two films are like brothers, but they ultimately diverge into their own styles. Kind of like Ridley and Tony Scott, the McDonaugh bros. have similar tastes, but should both continue making films (and Martin's new film comes out in the fall!) one could expect a sort of "two sides of the same coin" sensibility from their work.

This film follows Irish policeman Gerry Boyle (Gleeson) whose small town is about to become the center of drugs and arms dealing that attracts the attention of FBI agent Wendell Everett (Don Cheadle). The film proves to be a fine character piece for Gleeson. When we first meet Gerry, he watches a group of kids get into a car accident and he then goes over and loots the bodies. Through this and other actions, you start to realize that Gerry isn't necessarily evil, he's just bad at his job. He drinks on duty, sleeps with prostitutes, and doesn't work well with just about anyone.

He isn't lacking in intelligence, he's just naive. That makes the idea of partnering him with Wendell so entertaining. Gerry's statements may seem racist and uninformed, but as Cheadle points out, there is more than meets the eye to Gerry as he can solve crimes with ease, speaks lewdly with his mother, and claims to even be an Olympic swimmer. There is a great line in the movie that Wendell says that completely sums Gerry up- "You know, I can't tell if you're really motherfuckin' dumb or really motherfuckin' smart."

The movie has a nice and leisurely pace to it. Similar to the idea of two hitmen walking around Bruges when there is nothing to do, Gerry and Wendell spend most time trying to overcome the most innane obstacles aside from each other. This is pretty much just your average buddy-cop movie, just a lot more "Irish". So for the first Irish buddy-cop movie I've seen, it was a nice example of independent filmmaking from a first time director.

Saturday, March 3, 2012


Steven Soderbergh loves making movies about deception, more specifically, lies. Characters lying to each other, lying to themselves, being lied to, etc. Out of Sight and the Ocean's movies are about con-men, the characters of Erin Brockovich and Contagion are being lied to by bureaucracies, and many the characters of The Good German and Traffic are living double lives. The characters of The Limey, Solaris, and Che are somewhat an exception as they are having trouble with the truth. The characters of The Girlfriend Experience and The Informant are lying to themselves (although one is doing so because of mental illness). I think the title Sex, Lies, and Videotape is self-explanatory.

Of course some of these categories that I quickly through these films into overlap. My point I want to get to (and this part isn't exactly my words though I agree with them), is that when a character is lying, being lied to, etc., it can raise the tension. Kind of like a variation of the Hitchcockian idea of the bomb under the table not being the centerpiece, but other factors that lead to greater suspense that will play with the expectations of the audience. Espionage/spy-dramas just really compliment a lot of what I'm talking about by the vey nature of their stories. So Soderbergh in all his genre-hopping glory decided to give us his own Bourne-esque story and the result is a film that is unique to stand on its own and frankly just damn fun and exciting.

First thing that stood out, aside from Soderbergh's usual cinematography, was the unique sound design. This is a very quiet film. You hear punches landing and the characters breathing heavily, but when they are in a crowded room or a busy street, you just hear their voices and little else. It puts you right with them in their own little contained world of trust-issues and double crosses. The film had a uniquely jazzy score from David Holmes (Ocean's Eleven) that certainly played on the idea of this being a caper/spy movie in genre only. It made you take note that this was a film of that genre, but a stylized one by an ambitious director.

As for the story by Lem Dobbs (The Limey), it certainly wasn't the most engrossing, but it proved to be entertaining particularly in how it highlights the film's star, MMA fighter Gina Carano, as this charisma-lacking, no-bullshit kind of woman. In a sense, that helps Carano's portrayal of Mallory Kane as it doesn't require her to have lenghthy dialogue and instead it just lets us marvel at her prowess and physicality (the hotel room fight being a great example). The rest of the cast is full of a several notable names- Ewan McGregor, Michael Fassbender, Bill Paxton, Channing Tatum, Antonio Banderas, and Michael Douglas. I kind of like this idea of having such notable actors star in small parts. You could argue they are being under-used, but they do lend a level of credibility and experience to the material when they show up no matter how briefly.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Movies Watched in February

Still have a lot of write-ups to do, but here is what to expect.
*- Means that I've seen it before.

Abduction (2011, John Singleton)
Act of Valor (2012, Dan Lindsay and T.J. Martin)
Another Year (2010, Mike Leigh)*
The Artist (2011, Michel Hazanavicius)
Casa de Mi Padre (2012, Matt Piermondt)
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (2011, Stephen Daldry)
Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance (2012, Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor)
Man on a Ledge (2012, Asgar Leth)
Red (2010, Robert Schwentke)
Safe House (2012, Daniel Espinosa)
Stand By Me (1986, Rob Reiner)*