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Entries in Ryan Reynolds (4)

Friday
Feb102012

Safe House

It’s always a pleasure to watch Denzel Washington, even when he’s in a movie that fails to live up to his screen presence. If anything, his mediocre films, like Unstoppable, The Taking of Pelham 123 and The Book of Eli, only strengthen that argument. He’s so good in all of them that he makes them better than they deserve to be. Still, one can’t help but long for his glory days of starring in bona fide winners, like Man on Fire and Training Day. His latest, entitled Safe House, isn’t a return to form, but it’s a step in the right direction, easily a notch above his last few efforts, but far below the quality of film he deserves to be in.

Washington plays Tobin Frost, an ex-CIA traitor who has been leaking important government information to a number of various parties for years. He has just been caught and transported to a government safe house in South Africa, which is cared for by an up and coming agent named Matt Weston, played by Ryan Reynolds. However, the safe house is quickly breached by an unknown party and Matt soon finds himself in possession of Tobin and tasked with bringing him in.

Safe House has a pretty simple story, though it tries to cover it with talk of government espionage, encrypted files and the like. It’s little more than an action movie where the characters have to move from Point A to Point B while dodging gunfire and participating in car chases. There aren’t any surprises to be found, including an eventual revelation that someone inside the CIA may be corrupt, but it moves forward at a brisk pace, occasionally stopping for some expositional dialogue, and always manages to entertain.

This lack of story development may be frustrating for some, but in this case, its simplicity is its gain. Many films with government conspiracies and espionage get bogged down in their own confusing narrative, but Safe House doesn’t, instead focusing more on what the characters are doing rather than why they are doing it. With two impressive performances from its leads, including Reynolds who has come a long way since his goofy comedy days, this focus works. Reynolds and Washington manage to keep the audience gripped, even after they’ve lost interest in the overall goal of the film.

Where it suffers is where many action films these days do: its persistent use of shaky cam. When things get hectic in Safe House, so does the camera, which leads to disorientation and the occasional inability to tell what’s going on. Ever since the Bourne movies, this technique has been a go-to for many filmmakers, but it rarely works. Although it may give more of a sense of actually being there, which is a benefit for some movies (most notably “found footage” films like Cloverfield), it prohibits the audience from achieving maximum enjoyment. In Safe House, it’s a hindrance.

With an untested director behind the camera, this ill-advised decision isn’t surprising (though cinematographer Oliver Wood, who also framed the aforementioned Bourne movies, does what he can to make it work). With his insistence on the technique and off-putting lighting filled with dark, dank hues, it’s difficult to say whether Daniel Espinosa has the chops to be a big time filmmaker, but at least he chose the right movie to make his American debut. It’s nothing so special to be out of his talent range, but nothing so dumb that he will be written off. Safe House rests squarely in between. It’s not the smartest movie of the year, nor the most exciting, but given its February release, it’s enough.

Safe House receives 3.5/5

Friday
Aug052011

The Change-Up

Redundancy in cinema is commonplace. There are only so many stories to tell and most films end up regurgitating story points from those that came before, but none seem more worn out than the “body switch” subgenre. It was tired well before now, but still we have The Change-Up to battle against. It’s a movie that requires very little of its audience, but in a marathon day where I sat through four different movies with this being the last one, mentally exhausted by the time it came around, I still found it inane and generally unfunny. Just think how much I could have hated it had I actually thought through it.

Dave (Jason Bateman) is a lawyer who spends far too much time worrying about his job, despite his wife, Jamie (Leslie Mann), and three children (including twin babies) back home who need his attention. His best friend, Mitch (Ryan Reynolds), on the other hand, lives alone, has no job (though he has just lined up an acting gig in a “lorno,” a light porno) and spends most nights with a different woman. One night, after a drunken bar visit, they talk about how great each other’s lives are, Dave jealous of Mitch’s carefree lifestyle and Mitch of Dave’s loving family. While simultaneously urinating in a fountain, they wish they could switch lives. When they wake up, they find their wish has come true. Dave is now in Mitch’s body and vice versa.

Despite its been-there-done-that feel, The Change-Up is not a bad idea. Its two lead stars are charismatic and different enough that it’s relatively fun watching them play each other. It’s hard to keep things straight sometimes when you’re watching Ryan Reynolds play Jason Bateman playing Ryan Reynolds, but if you’re familiar enough with their usual onscreen personas, you’ll get the jokes. Bateman, for instance, is usually typecast as your typical nice guy, but he’s definitely playing against type here. He’s loud, rude and abrasive, not at all like the straight man we’ve come to know over the years.

The problem is that the characters, no matter which body they are in, are unlikable. Before the switch, Dave complains about his life, defining his marriage to his wife and having their three children as a mistake. As he says, he “pissed away” his life. Mitch is despicable in another way. He’s a vulgar, misogynistic loser who disregards others and treats Dave’s children like dirt. After the body switch, he tells Dave’s daughter to always solve her problems with violence and he carries around the twins by the back of their necks like cats. His abusive tendencies towards those around him make him hard to sympathize with or, most importantly, laugh at, despite Bateman giving it his all. Of course, as is par for the course in these types of movies, both characters learn valuable life lessons that any viewer will be able to see coming from a mile away, but these late movie redemptions don’t forgive its mean-spirited attitude.

This particular body switch is the most interesting since Nicolas Cage and John Travolta in Face/Off, or at least it would have been had it not been assumed the film could be carried solely off watching the two actors play exaggerated versions of each other. I could complain about the unnecessary side story that has something do with Mitch’s father, played by Alan Arkin of all people, getting married, but I don’t think that matters to this movie’s target audience. If you’re wondering if that’s you, here’s a quick test. Within the first five minutes, one of Dave’s babies shoots poop into his mouth. Did you laugh?

The Change-Up receives 2/5

Thursday
Jun162011

Green Lantern

Ok Hollywood, that’s enough superhero movies. Over the past few years, we’ve had to sit through so many, they’ve lost their novelty. It has become wearisome watching these characters in their tight spandex fight an enemy hell-bent on destroying Earth. We get it. Good prevails over evil. This is my plea to give it a rest for a while, especially if your movies are going to be as atrocious as Green Lantern. In a year that has already been sullied with the inconsistent The Green Hornet and disappointing Thor, the last thing we need is a movie so bad it makes those two look like comic book masterpieces. While I’m sure this plea will go unheard by the bigwigs in their ivory towers, if I can convince you, dear reader, to skip this, I’ll have done my job. In an attempt to prevent a franchise from spawning, here goes nothing.

Green Lantern, in what amounts to one of the silliest, most inane stories to come around this year, follows Hal Jordan (Ryan Reynolds), a test pilot who never finishes anything he starts and is haunted by memories of his dead father. After crashing his jet one day, he is absorbed a giant green ball which takes him to an alien crash site where he is told that “the ring” has chosen him. This ring gives him extraordinary powers and is limited only by his imagination. You see, for eons, a band of protectors from each realm of the galaxy has worked together to confront evil. They call themselves the Green Lantern Corps. Now, a new enemy named Parallax has reared its ugly head and is on its way to destroy Earth. New recruit Hal must overcome his fears and harness the power of the ring if he wishes to become the Green Lantern and save his planet.

And so begins a movie so sloppy it makes Ryan Reynolds’ Van Wilder look like a masterfully pieced together work of art. The script is so bad it jams together different genres, styles and tones like a two year old putting together a 10,000 piece puzzle. It does such a poor job establishing the histories and personalities of its characters, it leaves no leeway for emotional resonance. It shoves its drama in your face with maudlin flashback scenes where we get to see Hal’s father, in a string of hilarious shots, blow up while climbing out of his jet. Its dialogue is knowingly cutesy, like when Hal’s love interest, Carol Ferris (Blake Lively), compares him to an alien right after he just found and buried one. The film’s problems are scattershot (which evidently translates over to my criticisms), so pinpointing exactly where it goes wrong becomes near impossible.

Similar to this year’s Thor, the characters in Green Lantern are uninspired and boring, a problem which I can only assume stems from the original comic books. The alien creatures are unusually bland and have only one or two distinguishable attributes, like a fish head, red face or pointy ears. That those character designs are created almost entirely by shoddy CGI is the final slap in the face. One could argue the obvious artificiality was done to keep with the colorful style of the comics, but the poor visuals pervade even real life scenarios, like an early scene where Hal and Carol go head to head with a new automated aircraft. For a movie so heavy-laden with special effects, it comes off as surprisingly unconvincing and amateurish.

After the fan backlash from the comical trailers for Green Lantern, Reynolds made an announcement, promising that the movie was not a comedy and was actually serious in tone. He lied. There is drama (or at least attempts at it), as already mentioned, but Green Lantern tries hard to be funny. Aside from one good cliché-busting bit where Carol recognizes Hal in his get-up (“You didn’t think I’d notice you because I can’t see your cheekbones?” she says to him), it fails on all accounts. Reynolds has proven himself to be a charming, whimsical person, but the jokes here are forced and, more often than not, contextually inappropriate.

If you’re going for the action (and I imagine most of you are), you won’t find many thrills either. Most of the action scenes are abrupt and uneventful, like one where a band of Green Lanterns decide to take Parallax head-on. Prior to the scene, the decision is played up as a major turning point, but it lasts what seems like no more than 30 seconds. The Corps does little more than throw a net on the creature, which breaks free almost instantly, before the scene ends and the film moves onto something else.

Green Lantern is a bad movie, perhaps the worst based on a superhero since 2003’s disastrous Hulk. In some areas, it tries too hard, and in others, it doesn’t try hard enough. It never hits that middle ground where the magic happens, a magic films like The Dark Knight and Iron Man know all too well. Even mentioning those movies alongside this train wreck is laughable, but to outright compare them is cinematic blasphemy. Green Lantern doesn’t do as well as the worst aspect from those films and is practically guaranteed to be one of the worst movies of the year.

Green Lantern receives 1/5

Friday
Oct012010

Buried

To call Buried depressing would be like calling a pool wet. The very idea of being buried alive is inherently distressing and while not all suffer from taphephobia, there’s no denying how intense it would be if caught in the situation, however unlikely. There’s no hope for escape, no way to contact the world above and a limited amount of air depleting with each passing breath. All you can do is lay there and wait for death. That is Buried in a nutshell, a riveting thriller seemingly of Hitchcockian descent, one that the Master of Suspense may have enjoyed watching himself.

The film’s one and only star is Ryan Reynolds, who plays a man by the name of Paul Conroy, a civilian truck driver for a contractor in Iraq. He has just woken up in a wooden coffin bound and gagged with only a lighter and a cell phone. With a dying battery and diminishing oxygen, he must quickly figure out where he is if he hopes to make it out alive.

Thrillers come in all sizes. Some are massive in scope while others are small, tight and calculated. My favorites tend to be in the latter category. Movies like Hitchcock’s own Rope and Rear Window have always appealed to me because they are able to take so little and make something big. They are set in one small area and the characters are dealing with an immediate threat, which gives you a chance to connect with them and care about what they are going through. Buried is like this. With not a single frame of the picture existing outside of the coffin, you feel like you come to know Paul, even if only limitedly.

Most effective, however, is the intense feeling of claustrophobia, the likes of which I haven’t felt since Neil Marshall’s terrific little 2005 monster movie The Descent, but what that movie accomplished pales in comparison to the feeling of being trapped in Buried. You’ll feel the walls surrounding Paul and choke at the thought of losing your air supply. It’s the type of movie that forces you into discomfort and doesn't let go until you walk out of the theater, a feeling of freedom that you’ll most surely enjoy after experiencing this.

Even so, some questionable decisions lighten the grip. Non-diegetic music and unnecessary zooms in rapid succession do nothing more than displace you from the coffin, a feeling some viewers may welcome, but most will find frustrating. For the purpose of the movie, I wanted to stay there, trapped by those wooden walls, but sometimes my suspension of disbelief and connection with the events on screen were pulled right out from under me, reminding me that I was indeed in a theater.

Despite my affection for Buried, it’s still a gimmick and like many gimmicky movies—Paranormal Activity and The Blair Witch Project to name a couple—it wears pretty thin by the end. Although I can see it working wonders as an old school radio program, given that the majority of the mood and tension derives from the audio, it does little as a visual experience. Director Rodrigo Cortés does a serviceable job of keeping the flow of things diverse, but there’s nothing that can offset the inherent monotony of watching somebody talk on the phone.

Still, Reynolds is marvelous in the role, conveying emotion even when unable to move and he, much like John Cusack in 1408, puts on an effective one man show, a true testament to his underrated talent. Sure, it’s depressing and doesn’t necessarily hit any real insight on the human condition outside of our natural will to survive, but Buried is nonetheless an interesting experiment that’s worth checking out.

Buried receives 3.5/5