The Mechanic

When Jason Statham ("Transporter" and "The Italian Job" - 2003) is featured in a movie, action fans form a line at the door! With this one, we are deep in a cleverly crafted but violent gangland assassination before the opening credits roll.

We quickly learn that Donald Sutherland ("Pillars of the Earth") plays Statham's wheelchair-bound mentor, while Ben Foster ("The Punisher" and "3:10 to Yuma" - 2007) is a neophyte hit man.

Any time I see Tony Goldwyn ("Ghost" and "Bounce") on this side of the camera, I brace myself for a nasty betrayal, but that's just me. He DID direct "Conviction," so I'm trying to be more flexible.

Naturally we suspend disbelief as we enter the theater, so we can enjoy a larger than life hit man who doesn't REALLY hurt children and feels sorta bad when he has to kill a friend. ("Not personal, just business...") Our anti-hero is smart, methodical and deadly; Statham brings a certain gravitas to his roles which somehow makes us accept his actions. On the other hand, Foster plays, once again, an edgy, impulsive loose cannon.

Expect stabbings, shootings and stranglings, punctuated by lots of blowie uppie stuff! There is some nudity but surprisingly little profanity. My companion is a big Statham fan, so I can't help but enjoy these goofy things; but make no mistake, it's a guilty pleasure....


The Company Men

This latest outing by prolific writer/director/producer John Wells ("West Wing" and "ER") gives us a contemporary peek at the higher echelons of Corporate America from the inside, and then after a couple waves of downsizing, from the outside.

Wells has assembled a first-rate cast, so let's talk about some of them:
  • Ben Affleck ("The Town") personifies the blindsided young executive who thinks he is ten feet tall and bulletproof; we almost WANT to see him get his comeuppance (how do you spell schadenfreude?). He has a beautiful wife in a leafy Boston suburb, two children, a lovely (mortgaged) house, a Porsche and a great job. Life is good....
  • Chris Cooper ("The Tempest") watched that first wave sweep away many of his colleagues and is terrified that he might be next. When he is, his wife still makes him take his briefcase and leave each day "so the neighbors won't know."
  • Tommy Lee Jones ("No Country for Old Men") is a founding partner but gets the ax, nonetheless. It is his voice that speaks for us as he bemoans America's "product" these days: "Nothing we can see, feel, touch or smell, just numbers." Even the bags under his eyes have bags!
  • Maria Bello ("Grown Ups") is the Human Resources hit man. She delivers pink slips to executives... In fact, she screws them several ways...
  • Rosemarie DeWitt ("Rachel Getting Married") plays Affleck's loyal wife: resourceful, flexible and wise. She keeps track of what's important for her family.
  • Craig T. Nelson ("The Proposal") is the CEO/founding partner. He and his Board of Directors are saddled with stockholders' unrealistic expectations: They want to see a profit on every quarterly report.
  • Kevin Costner ("Swing Vote") is Affleck's blue-collar brother-in-law who has a construction company. He is currently remodeling a house and insults Affleck by offering him a job that entails manual labor.
One tone-deaf executive wife, oblivious to the carnage at her husband's office, wants to use the corporate jet so she can play golf in Florida with a friend.

We see our hapless heroes attend a job search seminar, re-write their résumés, dye their hair, jockey for appointments, and deal with rejection. I found the ending a little too pat, but we feel privy to how today's business world works (and doesn't work), and the cast is absolutely top notch.

No Strings Attached

I wonder if Ashton Kutcher's agent negotiated a nudity clause for this one. If so, it must have been brief (smile) because we see LOTS of Ashton....

A romantic comedy has certain predictable touchstones:

  • Meet cute. Here two kids meet at a grade-school summer camp.
  • Meet again later. Here two young adults go directly to bed.
  • Try to avoid a relationship. Here it is strictly physical because she's very gun-shy.
  • Need I go on?
This little R-rated frolic has several things going for it:
  • Ashton Kutcher ("Killers") plays a decent and upbeat TV producer with aspirations to be a writer. In real life, Kutcher is a producer and a writer, plus he seems to handle celebrity pretty well. In college he studied biochemical engineering, so he isn't a one-trick pony...AND he's nice looking.
  • Natalie Portman ("Black Swan") is an uptight doctor, determined to remain single and self sufficient. Portman is another person who has used her brains (she graduated from Harvard) as well as her uncommon beauty.
  • Kevin Kline ("The Extra Man") is Kutcher's father, a well-known TV personality romping through a mid-life crisis. Besides an Oscar, Kline brings Broadway pizazz to his roles (two Tony awards) so he's only slightly wasted in this role.
You will see other familiar faces and will (I hope) appreciate the insight brought to this script. When three women room together, naturally their cycles synchronize so they all suffer PMS at the same time. Guys in the know understand this and bring cupcakes!

This classic rom-com has a couple of really nice people to root for; I liked it.


The Green Hornet

Maybe I should go back and read those comic books again. Was "The Green Hornet" immature? Petty? Selfish? Racist? Sexist? Or is he just that way in this movie because that's what sells today? The screening audience didn't seem to mind, in fact, it seemed to be what they expected.

Of course it's always fun to watch the genesis of an iconic character. Where the idea comes from... What costume to wear... How to trick out the vehicle... What name to use... And it's fun to see all the misfires... The bad clothes... The lousy names... The misunderstandings between our two wannabe heroes as they cobble together a superhero.

Let's talk about the cast:
  • Seth Rogen ("Pineapple Express") is Britt Reid/Green Hornet. Until he inherits a newspaper from his suddenly deceased father, he has lived the life of a dissipated wastrel. As with most Seth Rogen characters, he is self-centered and rude...particularly to his indispensable sidekick, Kato.
  • Jay Chou ("Curse of the Golden Flower") is Kato, martial artist extraordinaire, impressive mechanic, explosives expert and firearms developer, plus he makes a mean cappuccino. He can only be patient just so long, then look OUT!
  • Christoph Waltz ("Inglorious Basterds") is Chudnofsky, the kingpin of the bad guys, protecting his turf and inventing a supervillain of his own.
  • Cameron Diaz ("Knight and Day") is Lenore Case, hired as a temporary secretary, but quickly promoted to a permanent post. I like the way she handles Reid when he automatically tries to put the make on her!
  • Tom Wilkinson ("Duplicity") is Reid's father.
  • James Franco ("127 Hours") has an early cameo as a drug lord.
Written and directed for a specific audience, this one is loaded with dazzling martial arts, oodles of fist fights, CGI-loaded vehicular mayhem, endless gunfire and impressive blowie uppie stuff! There is plenty of comedy and everything is cartoonish. It is what it is....a comic book.


Country Strong

Gwyneth Paltrow has tried before to sell herself as a singer ("Duets"). This time, despite the able assistance of Writer/Director Shana Feste ("The Greatest") and durable co-star Tim McGraw ("The Blind Side"), I've decided I'll just keep waiting.

The real star of this film is newcomer Garrett Hedlund ("Tron: Legacy"). He is either a singer who can act or an actor who can sing, but either way, he carries the entire movie on his broad capable shoulders. He almost made up for the fact that Country music superstar Tim McGraw didn't sing one single solitary note! Aarghhh.....

This is the oft-told soggy tale of the country singer who dulls the pain of super-stardom with drugs and alcohol a la Loretta Lynn; but Paltrow is no Sissy Spacek. In a tip of the Stetson to reality, Paltrow's mascara runs every time she cries, which is often, but I found myself out of patience with both her and her husband, played by McGraw. The big-eyed ingénue who desperately wants to take her place in the limelight is played by Leighton Meester ("Gossip Girl").

Characterizations are broad:
  • Paltrow passes off her lover to her husband as her 12-Step sponsor.
  • McGraw has devolved into more Business Manager than husband.
  • Hedlund shows his heart of gold when he rescues a singer frozen with stage fright.
  • Meester just wants to be a contestant in the Miss America Contest.
The authentic country music is provided by Michael Brook, and one of the executive producers is Tobey Maguire; I guess he really DID hang up his Spiderman leotard...

I didn't dislike this movie, but I was mighty weary before Paltrow finally did cut loose and sing some songs.

Season of the Witch

"We're gonna need more holy water!"

Spoiler alert! That was the best line in the whole movie.

Here we go again:
  • Nicholas Cage ("The Sorcerer's Apprentice") a disenchanted crusader,
  • Computer Generated Imaging,
  • Ron Perlman ("Sons of Anarchy") his disenchanted companion-at-arms,
  • CGI,
  • Christopher Lee ("The Golden Compass") a dying bishop,
  • CGI,
  • Stephen Campbell Moore ("Lark Rise to Candleford") a sincere priest,
  • CGI,
  • Robert Sheehan (lots of BBC TV) a wannabe knight (he's a cutie),
  • and LOTS more CGI, in this medieval horror film.
This time we are in the 14th century and a young woman is accused of being a witch that caused the Black Plague. Prepare yourself for crunchy sounds when necks break, slurpy thuds when swords pierce flesh, "Don't go in the basement!" -type suspense as torches flicker in corpse-strewn catacombs, and shrieks as gruesome demons attack from the air.

Both Cage and Perlman have a host of devoted followers, so as you can see, this movie is custom made for them. I am not one of their number...

Oh, did I mention that there is a lot of CGI?


Black Swan

I can't say I wasn't warned. Between calls from JayFlix folks and a general impression from the trailers, I knew Darren Aronofsky ("The Fountain") was going to subject us to another one of his artistic endeavors. This is guaranteed to be an Academy Award nominee, so I should at least be conversant about it, don't you think? Billed as a psychological horror film, we watch the process as a sweet, virginal White Swan explores her dark side and manifests her inner Black Swan.

Like other Academy favorites, "The Wrestler," "No Country for Old Men," and "Monster," this one is unsettling in many ways. We start small: a split toenail, a truly icky hangnail, fingernails clipped too close, and pinfeathers growing out of our heroine's shoulder; but we graduate to hallucinations, delusions, and murderous nightmares, plus echoing hallways, darting shadows, and lots of mirrors...you know the drill.

A quick word about the principal actors:
  • Natalie Portman ("The Other Boleyn Girl" and much admired since her 1994 debut in "The Professional") is our insecure but ambitious ballet dancer.
  • Mila Kunis ("The Book of Eli") is our heroine's principle rival for the spotlight.
  • Winona Ryder ("Star Trek") is the aging star our ballerina replaces.
  • Vincent Cassel ("Mesrine") is the company manager whose job is to release and showcase our heroine's dark side.
  • Barbara Hershey ("Albert Schweitzer") is a faded diva, trying to recapture past glories through her daughter.
Much has been said about Natalie Portman's year-long transformation into a credible ballerina; we are treated to many scenes that feature her from the waist up, but I would be more impressed if the full-length shots of dancers weren't viewed from a distance or with Vaseline on the lens.

According to an interview I read, they knew it would be hard to attract men to a ballet movie, so they threw in a fairly explicit lesbian sex scene. I guess that does the trick, although I can't be positive.

As to the plot, by the time this thing is over, we aren't sure what is real, but not to worry; just don't say you weren't warned....