Traitor

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Lakeview Terrace

 
The funny thing about cops is that they are as scary as they are comforting. I get nervous around them, even when I know I’ve done nothing wrong. Give the wrong guy a gun and a badge, and you’ve got a real problem on your hands. Lakeview Terrace taps into this fear with mixed results.

The movie features Samuel L. Jackson (Black Snake Moan) as police officer Abel Turner, and Kerry Washington (I Think I Love My Wife) and Patrick Wilson as Chris and Lisa Mattson, Turner’s new neighbors. Abel is a disciplinarian to his teenage daughter and young son, and their sole provider. Although the movie begins with him behaving in a relatively normal manner, there is a hint of menace beneath his authoritarian demeanor. He takes an almost instant dislike to his new neighbors, particularly Chris. Chris seems like the kind of guy who’d have a “kick me” sign stuck to his back, and Abel takes full advantage – screwing with Chris enough to rattle him, but not enough to do serious harm or amount to an actionable complaint. For example, after pretending to be a carjacker under the guise of teaching neighborhood safety, Abel tells Chris to turn down the rap music playing from his car radio. Chris complies, and at the end of their exchange, Abel tells Chris that no matter how much he listens to that music, “he’ll still be White.” Yep. Oh yeah. Make no bones about it, the reason Abel dislikes his new neighbors is because he’s not down with the swirl, at all. No ebony and ivory. No salt and pepper, get it? Lisa is Black and Chris is White, if you didn’t know that already. And if you’re offended by my corny references to interracial dating, then I suggest you avoid Lakeview Terrace, because much worse is said in the movie. Abel refers to Lisa as Chris’ little “chocolate drop,” and numerous disparaging references are made to the couple’s racial makeup throughout the movie. It’s kinda funny at first, in an uncomfortable way. Sam Jack has a way of making everything sound funny, you know it’s true. But after a while it becomes trite and a little gimmicky. It’s fine to deal with the interracial marriage aspect in an intelligent manner, and we see glimpses of this when Chris and Lisa argue about having a child and their relationship with each other’s families, however; I think some of Jackson’s lines were rather low-brow. All that aside, there were some good moments in the movie. Jackson is great as the villain. He goes from mildly unsettling to vengeful to homicidal, and it doesn’t feel extreme until the movie is almost over.

I like Kerry Washington and thought she had good chemistry with Patrick Wilson, but some of their scenes just annoyed me. I hate when couples do the whole kissy-face smoochy smoochy thing. Just get it on, or cut it out. I predict this movie will not be a favorite amongst the brothers for the very same reason Sam Jack’s character had beef with Chris: a lot of people still dislike the idea of Black women dating White men. There, I said it. Right or wrong, it’s true. Now how’s that for life imitating art and vice versa?

This article first appeared on Poptimal and can be found at http://poptimal.com/2008/09/welcome-to-the-neighborhood/. The article was reprinted with permission.

 
Posted by Ms. Lane at 6:43 PM 0 comments

 
 
 
 

Igor

 
Yikes. I’m glad my mom didn’t take me to see a movie like Igor when I was a kid. Bambi was traumatic enough, and the star of that one was a sweet little deer. Imagine if I’d laid my innocent young eyes on a movie like Igor, which features hunchbacks and monsters whose sole purpose is to inflict evil upon the world. No thanks. Parents should heed the PG rating of this one. It’s not meant for younger kids and with good reason. This is a pretty dark movie, its title referring to a legion of hunchbacks reminiscent of the character immortalized by Lon Chaney. The movie is set in the (obviously) fictional country of Malaria, a desolate and depressing place where the sun never shines and clouds perpetually fill the sky. In Malaria the hunchbacks A.K.A. igors serve the evil scientists. Think of it as a slave/master relationship. Each year there is a contest to see who can come up with the most evil invention. You see, Malaria’s king sustains the country’s economy by terrorizing the rest of the world by accepting money for NOT unleashing these evil inventions on them. The main character, named Igor (of course), dreams of being an evil scientist but his station in life will not allow him to aspire to greater heights. When his master is killed in a laboratory mishap, he seizes the opportunity to show his stuff. He creates Eva, a giant monster who is supposed to unleash unparalleled evil, winning the contest and liberating Igor. The only problem is that Eva’s “evil bone” doesn’t work, rendering her quite harmless and very kind. This is disastrous for Igor, because in Malaria evil reigns supreme. With Eva’s help Igor realizes that he is good, and they fight to overthrow Malaria’s king, along with their friends Scamper and Brain. Igor had its sweet moments and it definitely tried to teach a few lessons, but I think it’s too dark for the average little kid. First of all, Eva looks scary as hell, period. She’s one of the good guys, but if I were 5 years old I’d probably have nightmares. There was also a scene that I think was blatantly racist, but I won’t get into that because if you blink you’ll miss it. It was almost like subliminal messaging, it happened so fast – but I saw it! There were a few other moments that left me shaking my head, like at the end when a group of blind orphans sang “I can see clearly now the rain is gone.” That’s just wrong.

All in all, I think Igor was wonderfully voiced by a very good cast featuring the likes of John Cusack (1408) and Steve Buscemi (I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry), but the movie was too morbid and offensive for me to recommend. Who thought this would be a good idea for a kid’s movie?

 
Posted by Ms. Lane at 6:40 PM 0 comments

 
 
 
 

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Righteous Kill

 
For a movie buff, the thought of Pacino and DeNiro teaming up on the big screen is like a fantasy fulfilled. You’ve wondered about it, you’ve been teased (The Godfather II) you’ve had a small taste to whet your appetite (Heat), and now you’re gonna get the full monty, because here comes Righteous Kill. Pacino and DeNiro, what could be more perfect, what could go wrong? Well sometimes a fantasy is best left unfulfilled, because it can never live up to the great expectations you’ve created in your own mind.

The two star as veteran police detectives who are pursuing a serial killer who is murdering criminals that have been allowed to slip through the cracks of the criminal justice system. The evidence points to a cop being the culprit. The killer leaves a poem at the scene of each crime, explaining the victim’s offense. DeNiro is the hot-headed one and Pacino is more even-keeled. Good cop/Bad cop all day. You wanna know my problem with Righteous Kill? Look no further than writer Russell Gewirtz, a guy who was clever enough to pen Inside Man but managed to squander his opportunity with Pacino and DeNiro. Director Jon Avnet didn’t fare much better, and made Al Pacino look every bit as ridiculous here as he did in 88 Minutes, which he also directed and which sucked. I can never truly criticize Pacino and DeNiro, and I feel so bad for not loving this movie – believe me I really wanted to! I’m not saying it was bad, I’m just saying that you should lower your expectations. The only reason anyone is gonna see this movie is because of Pacino and DeNiro, and if people are really honest with themselves they will admit that once you get over the initial hype of seeing them on the screen together, the movie will start to raise questions. And I don’t mean the provocative kind of questions; I mean the “why the fuck did he do that?” type of questions. I hate when writers try to hide the ball with audiences, when they deliberately mislead viewers. If I’m outsmarted, I want it to be like The Sixth Sense or The Usual Suspects,not on some dumb shit. I didn’t like the set-up, I didn’t like the script, and I didn’t like a lot of the dialogue. Oh, I feel so dirty, like I need a shower. How can I not love a movie starring two of the greatest actors of all time??? Again, I’m not saying it was bad – it just wasn’t as good as you’d expect. You should check it out off GP, but don’t say I didn’t warn you.

 
Posted by Ms. Lane at 11:11 PM 0 comments

 
 
 
 

Burn After Reading

 
The Coen Brothers (No Country for Old Men) are back, this time on a much lighter note with Burn After Reading, a dark and funny movie depicting what happens when idiots try to smarten up and rise above their social standing. Brad Pitt (Babel) and Frances McDormand (Almost Famous) are two personal trainers who are thrust into a world of blackmail when they stumble across a confidential disc belonging to one Osborne Cox (John Malkovich, Rounders), a disgruntled recently demoted CIA operative. They contact Cox and are astounded when he is not amenable to giving them a financial reward for returning the disc. They are clearly out of their league and their attempt to muscle him is hilarious. Meanwhile Cox’ wife, played by Tilda Swinton (Michael Clayton) is having an affair with George Clooney’s character, who is also sleeping with Frances McDormand. Yeah, it’s a little wacky. This movie seemed like it was fun to make, and Pitt and Clooney have good comedic timing. There’s not much else I can say about it, because I really don’t think it was meant to be taken seriously. This is only the third film I’ve seen from the Coen Bros, and the first comedy. I noticed that despite the obvious humorous interpretation, there were a couple of really violent moments too. Somehow these scenes were also funny when viewed in a certain context, which was interesting, to say the least. Even a guy getting his head bashed in with a hammer is played for laughs, and it somehow works. Those crazy Coens. I wonder what their childhood was like. They probably pulled the wings off flies, but instead of growing up to be serial killers they became filmmakers. Lucky for us.

 
Posted by Ms. Lane at 10:26 PM 0 comments

 
 
 
 

The Family That Preys

 
Tyler Perry has taken a tiny step backwards with The Family That Preys. I thought he turned the corner with Why Did I Get Married, but his latest movie shows that he still relies heavily on the mainstays of his filmmaking style: melodrama and one-dimensional characters. Having said that, I still found The Family That Preys to be an entertaining movie, but it simply is not up to snuff in comparison with most other dramatic movies. I think the title is clever, but I can’t say the same about the actual film. I respect Perry’s Hollywood hustle, and the man is clearly at the top of his game in terms of financial success. He also seems like a genuinely nice guy, which is why I hate to find fault with his movies…but hey, it is what it is. Spike Lee, he’s not. Not saying he has to be or should try to be…I’m just sayin.’

Regarding The Family That Preys, Perry assembles a very good cast, comprised most notably of Kathy Bates (Misery-sorry it’s the first thing that comes to mind when you think of her, admit it!) and Alfre Woodard (Something New). They turn in fine performances, and I was particularly impressed with Bates, mainly because her character was the only one that wasn’t totally flat. Bates portrays Charlotte Cartwright, a wealthy magnanimous CEO and best friend to Woodard’s character, Alice Pratt. The movie opens with the wedding of Alice’s daughter Andrea, played by Sanaa Lathan (Something New). Charlotte is footing the bill for the wedding, and it is here we are introduced to the main players, including Charlotte’s son William (Cole Hauser, Higher Learning). Upon their first meeting, William and Andrea share an awkward exchange, with William suggestively telling Andrea to come see him about a job. Cut to four years later, and it’s obvious that the two are sleeping together. Andrea is a total bitch to everyone around her, especially her devoted husband, played by Rockmond Dunbar. I like to call her the dream crusher. She is belittling and mean-spirited to the point of absurdity. Once again Perry goes overboard. In a way, I feel like he’s trying to dumb it down. Does he think that his audience won’t be able to appreciate subtlety? Whatever the reason, the movie felt very implausible and contrived. I will give Perry credit for his depiction of the friendship between Charlotte and Alice. It was a warm and caring friendship that came across as authentic. Both actresses showed their pedigree, and I wish the rest of the cast had the opportunity to do the same. Overall, the quality of the storyline was comparable to what you’d see on daytime TV, and it was very predictable. I’m glad the brother is doing well, but there is always room for improvement and I hope Tyler Perry continues to evolve as a filmmaker.

 
Posted by Ms. Lane at 9:37 PM 0 comments

 
 
 
 

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Traitor

 
I like Don Cheadle (Talk To Me) a lot, which is why I was looking forward to Traitor, which I thought would be an interesting hybrid of The Bourne Identity and Enemy of the State. Oh, if only it had been that good. Cheadle, while very talented, did not save this movie in my humble opinion. Traitor was smart and suspenseful, but something about it left me feeling inexplicably depressed. It was just a downer of a movie. I definitely don’t mind serious movies, in fact I prefer them quite often, but when the closing credits rolled I felt unfulfilled and dissatisfied.

Traitor
opens with a young Samir (Cheadle) playing chess with his father in their Sudanese home. The game concludes and Samir’s father leaves in his car. As he enters the vehicle it explodes, the flames searing his flesh as the image becomes seared in Samir’s memory. Fast forward to the present day and Samir is selling explosive technology to terrorist groups in the Middle East. Here is where everything gets all sketchy. The natural inclination is to root for Samir as the protagonist, but…he’s a bad guy, right? Maybe, maybe not. When a deal goes wrong and Samir and his cohorts are imprisoned, he is accused of being a traitor, hence the title of the movie. Of course double entendres abound, and I won’t spoil the movie for you. It’s too complicated for me to spoil because several moments left me confused – which is either proof of my own stupidity or a convoluted script – take your pick. Cheadle’s performance was great, and he effectively captured the conflicted duality of his character, but something was just missing from this movie. It’s a great one to add to your netflix queue or to catch on pay-per-view – but it was not a very memorable movie, despite being well-acted. I’m also unsure of what agenda Traitor tried to advance. Some parts felt very anti-American, but other aspects of the film seemed to feed into negative stereotypes about Islam. Go figure. Maybe this was a good thing since it mirrored the complexity of religion and real world politics, but I couldn’t make heads or tails of it. Cheadle doesn’t really give bad performances, so it won’t be a total waste if you decide to check it out – I just can’t give it an unmitigated stamp of approval.

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