Monday, March 08, 2010

Suburban DVD fare

...meantime, I continue to watch movie after movie with my Mom. If it's got a big enough budget and name stars and seems like it might be amusing - I'll rent it, or buy it from the local pawnshop that pays 50 cents a DVD and sells them for 10 for $35. We're averaging one movie a day. Most are unexceptional: The Recruit, say, with Al Pacino and Colin Farrell, is about your baseline "average" Hollywood spy thriller, with a few clever mind games, but nothing to really make it praiseworthy, and Pacino giving one of those broad-as-a-barn-door performances that dot his later career. The trouble with watching these sort of formula films is that there's really no way to tell the good ones from the bad at the rental shop.

So here's the fruit of my wisdom: a few Hollywood films that are worth a look as entertainment:

Lakeview Terrace and The Cleaner: I'll basically pick up anything with Samuel L. Jackson in it, since, his brief appearance in Iron Man aside, he seems to have some sort of baseline level of integrity in agreeing to do a project that keeps him out of total dogs. Even films he's in that fail (Freedomland, say) have a few interesting things in them (at the very least a good performance by Samuel L. Jackson). Best two I've seen: Lakeview Terrace, in which Neil Labute brings his patented stripe of nastiness to bear on race relations in an affluent California suburb, with Jackson as a cop, embittered by the loss of his wife, who takes his hatreds out on the young mixed-race couple next door. It's perfectly wrought - the sort of film that knows you'll see the end coming, so just tries to make sure you have a fun journey down. The Cleaner is not quite as good, because it thinks it's actually going to surprise you with its twist (Ed Harris did it; you will see this coming from his first scene in the movie, since there's no other reason to have his character in the movie, so let me assure you, your intuitions are correct). The first half of the film, before it gets down to the business of resolving the story, is great, however - nice, detailed and vaguely sickening images of Jackson's job as a crime scene cleaner - basically mopping up blood. He's an ex-cop with all too much experience of police corruption in his past - which, of course, catches up with him and presents him with some difficult choices.

Fracture and Untraceable: both directed by Gregory Hoblit, who made some awful Satan-is-alive film called Fallen some years ago. Nice surprise to discover that two of the best thrillers I've seen lately are by the same person. In the previews, Fracture LOOKED like an awful vehicle for the hammy Anthony Hopkins to play Hannibal Lecter again, so no one with any degree of intelligence or discernment went to see it, missing thus a surprisingly nuanced little thriller about law and justice, with Ryan Gosling as a smarmy-but-likable lawyer determined to solve a "perfect" murder. It's a bit better than Untraceable, with Diane Lane hunting a serial killer who uses the internet as a murder weapon, but that film too is a fine entertainment, not without ideas. In a world with Michael Bay and Roland Emmerich in it, it's actually damned hard to know which films on the wall at Rogers or Blockbuster will keep you amused and engaged throughout. Try these four.

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