Archive | July, 2013

The Wolverine

26 Jul

‘The Wolverine’: It’s claws against ninja blades, without losing the human touch

By Tom Meek
July 26, 2013

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The Wolverine onscreen always was the most intriguing of the X-Men lot. As an enigmatic outsider with a tortured past and taciturn persona he had character and depth, something few of the skimpily sketched circus anomalies in Professor Xavier’s menagerie could offer. If you draped a poncho across his back and put a six-shooter in his hand he’d not be unlike a young Clint Eastwood in Sergio Leone’s “Man with No Name” trilogy. And now that I come to think of it, the man who plays Logan (a.k.a the Wolverine), Hugh Jackman, and Eastwood, thought of at a similar age, look and sound somewhat alike. I’m not sure if their politics or tastes in furniture are akin, but that’s beside the point.

072613 The WolverineGiven the “cool” factor, it’s no surprise that the immortal mutant with a metal-reinforced skeleton and rapier-sharp retractable blades in his wrists got his own franchise. The first installment, “X-Men Origins: Wolverine” didn’t exactly wow, but backstory up ’til “last we left off” tends to do that. Here in “The Wolverine” we’re post the last X-Men chapter (”X-Men: The Last Stand”) and Logan is living (and looking) like a vagrant in the Yukon and depressed about the death of his beloved Jean Grey (Famke Janssen, who comes to him in dream sequences). He’s got a grizzly bear as neighbor, but before we get to all that, there’s the important rewind back to Nagasaki during World War II when Logan saves one of his captors from “the bomb.” That benefactor went on to become a wealthy industrialist and now, on his deathbed, would like Logan to pay him one final visit.   Continue reading

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The Hunt

24 Jul
By Tom Meek
July 22, 2013

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If you’ve seen Sam Peckinpah’s masterfully macabre “Straw Dogs’’ (let’s all please agree to forget the far inferior recent remake) you’re already up to speed as to what goes on in “The Hunt” – a quiet European hamlet, a mindful and reserved intellect with a complex past, slow constant simmer, sexual tension, strong reactions based on false assumptions and a gentlemanly hunt in the woods serving as a ruse for a deeper, more perverse game.

072213i The HuntAnd while the arc, ambiance and elements of the films bear many similarities, the context and articulation could not be further apart. Mads Mikkelsen, whom most U.S. viewers know as Hannibal Lecter in the self-titled NBC TV series or the European badass who bashed in Bond’s balls in “Casino Royale,” plays Lucas, a quiet man trying to gain some degree of custody of his teen son in the aftermath of a bitter divorce.  Continue reading

Only God Knows

18 Jul
Charleston City Paper, Cambridge Day, and Here and Sphere

‘Only God Forgives’: ‘Drive’ team gets bloody red in the grayest of gray areas

By Tom Meek
July 18, 2013

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With “Only God Forgives” Nicolas Winding Refn and Ryan Gosling team up for their second bloody go-round after finding success and acclaim for their 2011 car chase noir “Drive.” The teaming of the pair is a good one – a director with a hyper-stylized eye and a penchant for flourishes of quick bloody violence that would make Sam Peckinpah nod in appreciation; and a laconic actor, enigmatic and bristling, a brooding baby-faced brute, if you will, capable of unspeakable savagery.

071813i Only God ForgivesIn “Drive,” the story was rooted with a true antihero who comes to the aid of the hapless family next door, a simple setup that played out in the darkest recesses of the black and white spectrum. Here, though, there’s not a true right and just corner. Those who seemingly mete out justice by disemboweling others later prove to be morally ambiguous and perhaps even the face of evil.  Continue reading

Pacific Rim

12 Jul

‘Pacific Rim’: del Toro throws a big, sprawling bash for fans of monster fight flicks

By Tom Meek
July 11, 2013

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With Guillermo del Toro’s 3-D visual artistry and the care he’s imbued into every frame of this spectacular homage to the Japanese rubber-suit movies of the ’60s and ‘70s – not to mention a ready and salivating fanboy base – “Pacific Rim” is a $185 million monster mayhem royale that has a fighting chance of winning at the box office and in the hearts of moviegoers.

071113i Pacific RimDel Toro has always been an intricate craftsman. The signs were evident in his quirky first outing, “Cronos” and best showcased in his Spanish Civil War-era films “Pan’s Labyrinth” and “The Devil’s Backbone.” His ventures into larger, more mainstream projects such as “Mimic” never took flight or, like “Hellboy” and its sequel, never forged an audience the way less articulate hero fare such as “The Avengers” have – truly the audience’s loss. But here the Mexican-born auteur with a penchant for horror and sci-fi seems eager to show prospective converts that he belongs, and he takes his shot in a very big way.  Continue reading

The Way, Way Back

3 Jul
Cambridge Day, Charleston Community Paper

‘The Way, Way Back’: Sweet coming-of-age comedy with little, little too much in it

By Tom Meek
July 3, 2013

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“The Way, Way Back” is the kind of summer comedy that throws enough curveballs at you to make what’s old new again. A tad dark around the edges and sophomoric in the middle, it’s a sweetly affecting coming-of-age drama with flourishes of Wes Anderson and even the Farrelly brothers, which should be no surprise; it’s co-written and co-directed by Nat Faxon and Jim Rash, the pair who, along with director Alexander Payne, got an Oscar for penning the droll George Clooney comedy “The Descendants.”

070313i The Way, Way BackThe surprise here is Steve Carell, who plays against his usual big-screen persona as a feckless nice guy and is more like his irritable jerkwater boss on the NBC series “The Office.” His Trent, a middle-aged divorcee, decides to bring his new girlfriend Pam (Toni Collette) down to his summer house on the shore of some idyllic and fictional Massachusetts beach town. (“The Way, Way Back” was filmed in Wareham, Onset and Marshfield.) In tow are Trent’s diva daughter (Zoe Levin) and Pam’s introverted son, Duncan (Liam James). “The Brady Bunch” this is not.

From the onset, Pam feels out of place among all of Trent’s boozing beach buddies and Duncan wanders about an eternal outcast, though he harbors an adoring eye for the slightly sassy girl next door (AnnaSophia Robb) whom he feels is out of his league because she pals around with his prospective stepsister. As the pat vacation has it, Pam cooks, Trent invites his gang over and they all drink until they pass out. On top of all that Trent has a wandering eye and a penchant for belittling Duncan. In short, the adults are the ones behaving badly while away.

Duncan covertly takes up a job at the Water Wizz amusement park, where the other half (townies and the cheap seat vacationers) roll in to find their slice of summer Eden. The wacky park manager (Sam Rockwell) fills in as an unconventional but effective older brother figure and instills Duncan with the necessary self-esteem to approach Susanna (Robb).

Susanna and Duncan are awkward and moving as they try to find a connection and navigate their youthful angst, which is exacerbated by their parents’ dysfunctions and need for alcohol. Pam, as a lonely single mother looking for her chapter two, also affects. Collette, always on her mark,  gives a subtle but nuanced performance in the fairly thankless role, and her two younger stars, Robb and James, also shine. Their work here should bear greater fruit down the line, especially Robb, who’s a gifted young actress imbued with a splash of Lolita.

If there’s any shortcoming to the film, it’s that the two first-time directors try to do too much. You can almost imagine their excitement during bull sessions while penning the script, but when it came time to shoot they just didn’t have the impartial eye of an third party to help shape, hone and cut. Ultimately the film settles on Duncan and his quest to find himself and some solace during the summer from Hell, yet it is also about Pam and her desires and the arrogant Trent and his freewheeling beach crowd and their antitheses over at the Water Wizz, which has its own set of zany characters (Maya Rudolph, Faxon and Rash in bit parts) and that’s not even mentioning Trent’s perennial partners in crime Kip (Rob Corddry) and Joan (Amanda Peet) who have truckloads of baggage and closets full of skeletons – and Betty next door (Alison Janney, who pretty much walks off with every scene she’s in), Susana’s mom and a widow, who wakes up making margaritas before breakfast and ridicules her son’s lazy eye openly in public. It’s just too busy, and the rompish silliness over at the Water Wizz sometimes feels like a stilted vignette from the woeful “Grown Ups,” which also was shot in Massachusetts and has a sequel coming out this summer.

“The Way, Way Back,” which refers to the rear-facing seat of Trent’s classic station wagon, has big ambition, lots of heart and a tricky knee.

The Heat

1 Jul
Cambridge Day, Here and Sphere

‘The Heat’: Feig’s funny, filthy-mouthed buddy cops are going to clean up Bahston

By Tom Meek
June 30, 2013

“The Heat” is funnier than it should be. Part of that’s because director Paul Feig has a way of taking flimsy ideas and strong comedic actors and creating lightning in a bottle. He did it with Melissa McCarthy and Kristen Wiig in “Bridesmaids” and does so again here. If there’s any doubt that it’s more the actors than Feig, I’ll simply point to McCarthy’s recent woeful outing in “Identity Theft.” It’s not so much what he does with the material but the chemistry he educes between his stars and how they build something infectious from thin setups.

063013i The HeatThe premise behind “The Heat,” which was shot in in our glorious city of Boston, though it doesn’t look so much like the Boston you and I know, is pretty much the same old comedic cop buddy story popularized by Eddie Murphy and Nick Nolte in “48 Hrs.,” and later, Mel Gibson and Danny Glover in the “Lethal Weapon” series, except here, the oddball pairing is women and the focus is more on the funny than the dark and grim, though people do get shot in the head enough and blood does spurt.  Continue reading