random reviews, recollections & reminiscings

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

REEL REVIEW: 16 Blocks (2006) ****

16 Blocks (2006) big release
PG-13 (for violence, intense sequences of action, and some strong language.)
1 hr. 45 min.
written by:Richard Wenk
produced by: Randall Emmett, Avi Lerner, Arnold Rifkin, John Thompson, Jim Van Wyk, & Bruce Willis
directed by: Richard Donner

Ever wake up in the morning and feel like ya just can't make it? I'm not talking ya just can't make it outta bed, I mean ya just. can't. make. it. You're eyes are heavy and dry. You're body just aches all over. Every noise affects you. Well, that's how New York detective Jack Mosely, badge number 227, feels and he looks it too. Mosely is a middle-aged cop who is ready to retire. He feels that "life is too long" and seeks therapy at the bottom of a bottle. He's written off by his peers as a man who has already quit.

Mosely is forced into taking a happy, but down-on-his-luck witness "16 Blocks" from the police station to 100 Centre Street, escort talkative witness Eddie Bunker to a courthouse to testify against other corrupt cops, who obviously don't want him to get there. It's a fairly high concept, but done in a way that allows the characters to really come through. I found the story to be more of a redemptive tale for characters who are polar opposites. Mosely (Bruce Willis), a dark guy and a heart attack waiting to happen, who is escorting this witness (Mos Def) who is a 14-time loser with a "sunny" (as Mosely puts it) outlook.

Bruce Willis and Dante 'Mos Def' Smith in Warner Bros. Pictures' 16 Blocks
From the trailer and because Bruce Willis is in the film, one might automatically think, "Aw, man, here's another action flick," or "What is this a remake of 'The Gauntlet' ?" Well, I'm hoping people will realize that despite Willis being popular for his action roles he's also made some great choices that have brought him roles with quite a bit to work with. Ever seen the movie "In Country" or "Nobody's Fool"? Great character movies that really showed that Willis is more than just either a comic or action star. Just look at all that Willis brings to the role in just his eyes. Every emotion that Jack Mosely feels is right there. He's spent. He's had it. We know he has some kinda dark past that's made him who he is but Willis does such a great job with the roles that we're not concerned with the specifics. He's given up on himself and his assignment to walk this witness (with his gimpy leg) unintentionally wakes him up to that fact.

Writer Richard Wenk doesn't stereotype these characters in any way which breaks it apart even further from any type of action-drama, buddy convention. The dialogue is real. There's no typical lines given for this wino cop as well as there's certainly none for Mos Def's motor-mouth character. What's great is I think we all have known or know, or at least have seen characters like this in real life. Could be a co-worker, a friend, a family member....heck, it could be you. The mile-a-minute, nonstop talker who tells you every detail about their life and assumes you're interested and still listening. Or the grizzled, sardonic, and cynical character unconsciously desperate to reconnect with what is right.

With these two characters being the protagonists in the film there of course needs to be an antagonist. I mean, a 16 block trip with a cheery witness has gotta be a walk in the park, er, I mean....city, right? Nope. Enter the perennial corrupt cop, Frank Nugent (David Morse) who turns out was Mosely's partner for twenty years. Yeah, he's a dirty cop but even he has his reasons for the way he is. His immoral justification adds to the tension he and his crooked-cop-cronies permeate as they pursue and thwart these two on their perilous journey. Just like Mosely's darkness, these cops didn't wake up one day corrupted. You can see this is a character element that is quite dense and layered. Great character for the ever-capable Morse to slide his way into. We've seen him in great character roles such as "The Rock", "Contact", "The Green Mile", "The Negotiator", and "Dancer in the Dark" for years. Always reliable and often taken for granted, I believe.

There's a great scene in a bar towards the beginning of their "walk" that takes place just after the catalyst scene. Mosely and Bunker are joined by Nugent and his gang in a kinda standoff that builds to set the pace of the rest of the movie. Some great expressions from all three of these guys here. Nugent tries to pat Mosely on the back and take Bunker into his own hands but Mosely notices something is up as he sees Bunker's _expression. Def masters this scene where we see just how pure and real his emotional response is to the tension and danger of the moment. What I was surprised about was how much I really liked these characters and their interaction. I wasn't too surprised I enjoyed the movie cuz I'm a huge Richard Donner fan.

Donner and Wenk make this movie into something so much more. With Donner's eye we taken to busy Chinatown, densely layered buildings, and streets. Similar to the city feel of his great "The Conspiracy Theory" we see the city as a character as well. Donner has developed at great shooting style as well. He has honed his craft on film classics like "Superman: the movie", The Goonies", "Ladyhawke", as well as the "Lethal Weapon" movies. If Donner had not directed this I may have been hesitant to see this. Combined with Wenk's superb script which drops any conventional norm and instead and character and depth. When Bunker enthusiastically tells Mosely that he has plans to open up a bakery specializing in birthday cakes in Seattle where his sister lives, he asks Mosely, "What kinda cake you like, man." Mosely looks at him in annoying disbelief and replies under his breath, "I don't like cake." Bunker is dumbfounded, "What? Who doesn't like cake?" It's moments like these that balance out the tension of the story and give these great actors opportunities to shine through these wonderful characters.

Ultimately, the movie is less about police corruption and moreso about what good can survive in a bitter and corrupt world and how redemption can be available when you least expect it. I saw this movie last night with my wife and Faith and they enjoyed it just as much as I did. The crowd at this premiere had a great time. Donner delivers!

Bruce Willis interview
Richard Donner & Richard Wenk interview

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

REEL REVIEW: Firewall (2006) **

Firewall (2006) poster 1

PG-13 (for some intense sequences of violence)
1 hr. 40 min.
written by: Joe Forte III
produced by: Armyan Bernstein, Basil Iwanyk, & Jonathan Shestack
directed by: Richard Loncraine

Alright, okay, I got suckered. I shoulda learned from the last time I went to a new Harrison Ford movie on opening weekend. It's just that, well, I grew up with the guy. Yeah, he was my hero. When I was 5 years old he was a Corellian space pirate. At age 9, he got me into archeology. The next year he had me dreaming of electronic sheep. When I was 13, I saw that being Amish could be cool. The next year how a man's obsession can overcome him to the point of losing his family. At 21, I saw him wrongly accused and on the run in the Windy City. But, Harrison, ya lost me at, "Get off my plane!" Since then you've had this grimacing, constipated look with a deep growl for almost every movie. Alright, it's not like he's gonna be reading this. But, man listen to your fans ya curmudgeon! Ah well.

So, me and Donzell went and saw Ford's latest attempt at staying afloat "Firewall" and it was....good. It didn't surprise me. It didn't necessarily reveal anything new to the whole thriller genre. My theatre experience was revealing though. Growing up, Harrison Ford films meant big crowds and lots of people....my age. Not any more. As I sat down in the theater and looked around at the balding, blue and white-haired crowd I realized that wasn't the case anymore. Has my generation given up on Ford? Am I seeing this with his peers? Am I just seeing his films now for nostalgia in an attempt to relive the Ford experience of my youth?
Well, it is what it is. "Firewall" is a formulaic thriller with not a whole lot of new elements (funny, considering the movies title was originally "The Wrong Element") to offer. As far as comparing this with other Ford's other films, it's currently being called a cross between "Patriot Games" and "The Fugitive." I guess that's about right.

Harrison Ford and Mary Lynn Rajskub in Warner Bros. Firewall

It's "24" season....30! Chloe still helping Jack-any Jack!

Ford plays a computer security expert named Jack Stanfield who works for a large Seattle bank. Jack's got a great job and he has Beth (Virginia Madsen) his beautiful architect wife and his two children, 14 year-old Sarah (Carly Schroeder) and 9 year-old Andy (Jimmy Bennett). Turns out the bank he works for is about to merge and he doesn't get along with the corporate guy,Gary Mitchell (Robert Patrick) from the other company. Jack and his partner Harry Romano (Robert Forster) meet a tall young guy by the name of Bill Cox (Paul Bettany) after work for drinks on a typical rainy Seattle night. Aware of the impending merger Cox offers them both consulting jobs.

After the meeting, they all walk out in the rain. Jack gets in his car and Cox quickly jumps in his back seat and tells him, "You're wife has beautiful eyes," and then shows him an image of his panicked, screaming wife on his cellphone. He tells him he's kidnapped his family and he must do whatever he says to ensure their safety. They both go home to Jack's house where he finds his family bound and gagged by some of Cox's armed lackeys. Jack still has no idea what Cox wants him to do.

He is eventually told that they will be using him to loot his own bank. They wire-and-camera him up and see him off to work the next day and let him no they will be in touch with him. He must do exactly as they say or his family dies all while making it seem that everything is fine. His bow-tied boss Arlin Forrester (Alan Arkin) gets suspicious and also asks him to kiss and make-up with Mitchell which makes Mitchell kinda suspicious. Even Jack's assistant Chloe, er, Janet (Mary Lynn Rajskub) finds his behavior peculiar.

After Jack makes attempts to secretly alert others for help, Cox shows up at the bank unannounced for a meeting with Jack. He tells him to stop screwing around and give him a tour of the bank. Meanwhile the wife and kids are at home with their uninvited guests making themselves at home. Cox tells Jack to go home and await further instructions. No matter where he turns he is being watched. They've wired him in such a way that they can here what he's saying at anytime. He's trailed anywhere he goes.

Back at home Jack is told to figure out a way to make this theft happen. He eventually engineers some escape attempts for the family that go horribly awry and put them in greater danger. The family is developed more than you might expect, which is not to say that they ever get beyond the cut-out stage. Madsen is so much the loving wife that I was immediately suspicious that she was behind the plot. Oh well. I guess that was "Presumed Innocent".

While Jack is jumping through Cox's hoops, his family is now being taken from his home with Cox away from the city. We know of course that Jack strikes back as he finally figures out how to flip the tables and tells Cox, "You'll get the money, when I get my family." The line is delivered in such a Ford way. With the help of Chloe, er, Janet, he eventually finds where his family is with the help of Rusty, the family dog's trusty GPS collar. What a plot device as is little Andy's peanut allergy.

Jack and Janet drive out to some cabin by a lake where they find his family and Cox and a coupla lackeys. Janet stays at the car with Rusty (who they find walking around) and calls 911 while Jack opens up a brutal can of 'whup-tushy' on the baddies. Cox and Jack wrestle in the cabin. They fall down wooden stars. They're thrown out a windows. Thrown on the ground. Kicked, punched, & stabbed. Felt like I was watching a Peckinpah film. Sheesh. It all ends quite typically with happily-ever-after.

So, the movie delivered. It wasn't great. It was all that ya saw in the trailer. There was plenty of product placements for Chrysler, Dell, & Equifax which I'm use to nowadays. Just not used to it in a Harrison Ford pic. It was funny to see Rajskub play basically the same role she plays in Fox's "24" where she helps out Kiefer Sutherland's Jack Bauer as Chloe O'Brien. Hmmmm. Overall, the acting was solid. Bettany is great. It's just that there wasn't much to it. No, it doesn't necessarily have to be believable I guess. But, it should be a lil more thrilling, surprising, and not so plot device laden.

In a recent interview, Ford was asked why it took three years between his last flop, uh, I mean, film "Hollywood Homicide" and this one. He said something to the sort that they had to another director and get the script right and blah blah blah. Okay the director thing I can understand but be real. The final script was not that good. He was probably just too bust flying his planes and playing with Calista. Feh.

Is Ford getting to old for this? Well, he's older and in pretty good shape. He did all his own "physical acting" as he likes to call it. He says he doesn't do "stunts." Okay. Think about this, at 64 years old, Harrison Ford is the same age Sir Alec Guinness was when he played the role of Ben 'Obi-Wan' Kenobi back in 1977, when Ford was 35. Interesting. Yes, there will be another Indiana Jones which will most likely come out in 2008. Next up for Ford is a movie called "Manhunt" based on a Civil War book that was just released this month. Ford will play a Colonel Everton Conger who leads the hunt for Abraham Lincoln's assassin. Guess that's why he currently has that goatee.

Firewall (2006) poster 2

Moving Pictures


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