Tuesday, July 27, 2010

The BC Review: Salt

I'm sorry to say that after several months of consistent (and certainly, persistent) media hyping, I was sadly disappointed in the latest addition to the spy-family flicks; Salt.

To be sure, the plot line is intriguing... American CIA officer, blond hair, blue-eyed, Evelyn Salt, is surprised by an alleged Russian defector's arrival and subsequent accusation that she is a Russian spy.

Yes, you read that correctly. Salt hijacks us; bringing us kicking and screaming back to what can largely be considered, an easier, less confusing time - The United States vs. Russia. To the film's detriment, the old adage that it is the democratic powerhouse vs. the red communists, is almost laughable. Of course as eloquently stated in one of my all-time favorite spy thrillers, Sneakers, we all know "They still spy on us, we still spy on them", but must we revert to this premise? Surely, in this day in age, there are more intriguing stories to pen?

Despite taking us on one thrilling action scene after another (really, it is one after another, after another to the point of exhaustion), the film fails to really deliver. For many reasons, but most poignant is its lack of humanity. All of the characters are stiff to the point of robotic. This is particularly apparent when compared to predecessors such as the Bourne Identity (even a trained assassin with amnesia expresses a nominal amount of emotion).

This is especially true with our supposed "heroine". Salt is gruff, to the point of grating. So much so, that it is impossible to believe she would exist in reality, let alone maintain a functioning marriage (being some one's wife is intended to lend credibility to her cover story). Jolie's attempt to portray a strong, intelligent woman comes off as a robotic (yes, I'm using this descriptor once again) imitation of what a strong, intelligent woman, would look and act like. And it is just that; an appalling imitation.

Despite her efforts (and admitted, successes) in transcending so-called "traditional" gender roles; Angelina Jolie falls victim once again to, well, her own fame and fortune. That is, Angelina has become such a force in Hollywood and the world at large (see her ongoing humanitarian efforts across the globe) that it is nearly impossible to see her in any acting role and get past the fact that we are watching Angelina and instead be able to focus on the character she is portraying. Maybe it is her larger-than-life lips? Or just her classically beautiful face? In either case, Evelyn Salt would have fared better played by a lesser-known femme fatal.

The supporting characters, played by Liev Schrieber and Chiwetel Ejiofer, contribute some redeeming qualities. Schrieber plays a tough-as-nails officer with a passion for the mission (and really little else), while Ejiofer gives us a nice portrayal of humanity in the midst of nearly robotic colleagues.

As if this interminably drawn up flick was not enough, the "ending" (if you can really call it that) leaves us on a cliff-hanger with Salt running through the woods of Northern Virginia. Indeed, a Salt 2 is more than an idea; it's a promise.

Salt leaves much to be desired, but for fans of the espionage drama it will acquire at the very least, a luke-warm reception. However, in this reviewer's opinion, you might be better off renting one of several markedly better flicks to include, Spy Game, Breach, and Mission Impossible (the 1st installment).

The BC Review Rating: C-

Monday, July 12, 2010

The BC Review: Knight and Day

The latest expected Hollywood “blockbuster” helmed by Hollywood heavy-weight Tom Cruise and his unexpected female co-star, Cameron Diaz, though apparently failing to live up to its studio’s expectations, far succeeded in not only reaching, but surpassing this reviewer’s expectations.

Catching Knight and Day at our local AMC theatre this past Friday night, my husband and I were pleasantly surprised at the significant audience turn out (though certainly not to the scale of our Twilight Saga: Eclipse premier a couple weeks earlier) as well as our overall enjoyment of the film. Knight and Day gave us exactly what we wanted; a light-hearted, if not completely un-realistic, action thriller with a bit of comedic repartee between the two leads.

The story centers on the mysterious Roy Miller, a super-cool and always composed American secret agent. From the opening scenes, Roy is charming, drawing us in early as fans, willing him to succeed in his mission and ultimately "get the girl". Love him or hate him (I think many of us may fall in the latter category), Tom is undoubtedly perfect in a role like this (think back to his performance in Jerry Maguire). In films like these Tom is his best; simply playing his cocky, smooth, exceedingly over confident self. His portrayal of Roy is no different and is frankly perfect. Roy is everything we believe a secret agent should be: daring, sexy, a bit cocky, and always one step ahead of the bad guys.

Following poignantly bad publicity of late (recall Oprah’s couch jumping incident, assorted pro-Scientology sermons, and his latest flop as the Nazi turncoat in Valkryie) at this point it should surprise no-one, Cruise desperately needs this film to succeed. I’m not sure to what level he expects Knight and Day to revive his career, but it seems a good start.

Of course, as this is a Tom Cruise vehicle, I will not lie to you and tell you there were not several actions scenes involving motorcycles, planes, trains, and automobiles featuring death-defying stunts (in the truest sense of the phrase). But in the vain of his Mission Impossible movies (at least the first and second installments), we found ourselves delighting in every minute of it!

In all fairness, Cameron Diaz’s contributions should also be noted. As my husband can attest; a fan of Ms. Diaz’s I am not, surprisingly, she is able to hold her own in this flick. She gives a charming performance as June Havens, the, at first, unwilling participant in Roy’s assorted spy games. I will echo other movie review critics and say, Diaz is starting to show her age (and the obviously over-done spray tan in this flick is certainly not helping), but she still exudes natural beauty and does appear to be growing into herself more of late (I can say I actually enjoyed her in The Holiday and My Sister’s Keeper).

Akin to notable comedies like Wedding Crashers and American Pie, it is difficult to say what kind of staying power the film may have on its own if viewed in the comfort of one’s home (I find the success of comedies are often at the mercy of the live audience viewing experience). Therefore, this reviewer recommends making a trip to the theatre to catch this one in its full glory (if not for the $11.00 or $12.00 evening ticket, at least the $8.00 matinee price).

The film, Knight and Day, provides a fun-filled, action-packed, and comically-proficient summer film and is recommended for fans of both the Action and Romantic Comedy genre. Fans of Tom Cruise should also be pleased with his return to the big screen in a comfortable role.

The Bee Charmer Review Rating: B+

Thursday, July 8, 2010

The BC Review: Valentine's Day

Despite being the subject of some utterly toxic critical reviews, the Garry Marshall directed, Romantic Comedy (RomCom), Valentine’s Day offers a delightful compilation of short vignettes depicting intertwining relationships in various stages. Although similar to the British Romantic Comedy, Love Actually (Valentine’s Day also goes for the built-in popular appeal utilizing a heavy star-laden cast), the film also shies away from the sugary sweet RomCom-style and shows a darker side of love and relationships.

Set on the day of all days for lovers, boyfriends and girlfriends, fiancées, husbands and wives, and in one case, a mother and her son, Valentine’s Day gives us an at times amusing (and at times depressing) story of individuals experiencing the Hallmark-created and singleton-shunned holiday.

In the first scene we are introduced to two young lovers, Reed Bennett (played by Ashton Kutcher) and Morely Clarkson (played by Jessica Biel). As the sun rises Reed excitedly hops out of bed and prepares himself for the biggest question he will pose to someone else in his life; “Will you marry me?” to his still sleeping fiancée. Fortunately for Reed, Morely graciously accepts. Soon after, Reed runs to his best friend Alphonso (played by a somewhat comedic, George Lopez) to proclaim his joy. Much to his (and our) dismay, Alphonso appears surprised upon learning of Morely’s acceptance (this then becomes a recurring theme throughout the film).

Fast forward to another couple, we see two people sharing a shoulder and an armrest on a plane. It is not long before we learn the man is Holden (played by Bradley Cooper), a well-dressed and charismatic sulking soul suffering the remnants of a broken affair and the woman (expertly using his shoulder as a pillow) is Kate Hazeltine (played by Julia Roberts) a soldier making a 14-hour trip home to see someone very special for Valentine’s Day .

A third couple gives us two young people in the midst of no-less-than two-week old relationship. Liz (played by Anne Hathaway) and Jason (played by Topher Grace) demonstrate the utter awkwardness of celebrating a holiday built around the public expression of love. Additionally, of course, as this is a romantic comedy, there is something peculiar (and quite funny) about Liz. I won’t spoil that one for you – just suffice it to say, she is a struggling actress who utilizes her talent for impersonations in the evening hours.

For the sake of brevity, the three scenarios above are just the tip of the ice-burg. The film includes several more vignettes; each complete with its own unique twists and turns.

As I mentioned earlier, Valentine’s Day is jam-packed with stars, giving us no less than nineteen "A" Listers, including: Julia Roberts, Patrick Dempsey, Shirley MacLaine, Bradley Cooper, Topher Grace, Jennifer Garner, Anne Hathaway, Kathy Bates, Ashton Kutcher, Emma Roberts, Jessica Alba, Jessica Biel, Eric Dane, Taylor Swift, Taylor Lautner, Jamie Foxx, George Lopez, Hector Elizondo, and Queen Latifah.

Reviewer’s Note: Keep an eye out for the impressive comedic performance of Country singer/songwriter, Taylor Swift. The novice actress gives quite a performance as a giddy love-sick teenager fawning over real-life teen heartthrob Taylor Lautner (Twilight Saga’s Jacob).

Valentine’s Day is not for the faint of heart (as the film depicts, not all love stories are meant to be), but is recommended for fans of compilation films (i.e. Coffee and Cigarettes, Love Actually) and the romantic comedy.

The Bee Charmer Review Rating: B

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

The BC Review: The Twilight Saga: Eclipse

For those of you who are not previously aware, I am happy to report that indeed, I have fallen victim to the latest teeny-bopper craze; Stephanie Meyer's Twilight Saga. I've read all four books and up until the other night, saw the first film adaptation of Book 1 via Netflix (and subsequently purchased the DVD), and took my husband along with me for the ride opening night of Book II: New Moon.

For the recently released third adaption, Twilight: Eclipse, we really went out of our way and made an entire evening/night/morning out of it. As it were, on opening night of Eclipse (for an extra special treat) Regal Cinema theatres played a double feature of Twilight and New Moon at 6:30pm, followed by the premiere of Eclipse with a 12:01 am start time. Needless to say (as I'm quite sure you've already surmised), my husband and I were indeed included in this group of so-called "Twihards" and made our way to the theatre for the triple feature.

As the storyline goes, the third in the series brings us back to the love-sick Bella. We continue to follow our heroine through her struggles to hold onto her life's love; Edward Cullen (a literally blood-sucking, but "vegetarian" vampire) while at the same time desperately trying to figure out her feelings for her best friend, Jacob Black (an attack-driven, vampire-hating Werewolf). Throughout the film Bella is torn between the two and of course, must ultimately make a choice (of course, it is pretty obvious who she favors as she desperately tries to persuade Edward into "changing" her, but we go along for the ride!).

As we watch the three struggle through an intense love triangle, an interesting sub-plot develops. When scenes are directed away from the three love-stricken teenagers, an old enemy; a flame-haired, vengeful vampire by the name of Victoria, serves to complicate things... eventually breeding an army of vampires set to destroy the Cullen coven (or at the very least, make a dent) in her desperate attempt to kill Bella. The sub-plot and accompanying battling vampire scenes are perhaps the best of the film and achieve minimal anticipation from the audience. But as this is not the primary storyline, it is no surprise as all ends well at the film's conclusion.

Fans of the Stephanie Meyer books will always see something worthwhile in the film adaptions. Although, despite no-less-than-three different directors for each theatrical adaption, the films pale in comparison to the riveting and utterly indulgent written words of the originals.

However, to rate the three adaptions that have been released so far, Eclipse is decidedly the best. This may be the result of a couple key factors:

1. The "characters" portrayed by the film actors (Kristen Stewart as Bella, Robert Pattinson as Edward, and Taylor Lautner as Jacob) appear to have grown into their roles and thus present a more authentic/organic depiction of the heroine and her two heros

2. The Eclipse storyline itself lends itself better to big screen adaptation than the prior films due to its intense action scenes (vampires not only fighting werewolves, but other vampires makes for some intense reading/viewing)

3. A bigger budget/more "hype". It is very apparent in the newly released film that more money has been thrown at this project (better action sequences, better make-up, etc).

Of course, the less-than-stellar film does not lessen this reviewer's anticipation of the fourth and final adaption of the series. Much to a "Twihard's" delight, Twilight: Breaking Dawn is slated for release as two separate films (Fall of 2011 and undetermined in 2012).

Twilight Saga: Eclipse comes recommended for fans of the series. This point I cannot stress enough. For those uninterested in teen romance and epic battles, this one is best left for the self-described (or as the case may be, self-denied)"Twihards".

The Bee Charmer Review Rating: B-