My Week: January 21, '12

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
Tomas Alfredson, 2011
I don't believe I'll ever get enough of cerebrally conflicted men wrestling their way through an urban stroll while a melancholy trumpet fades and swells in the background. Though purportedly dry and prohibitive, Alfredson's "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy" update took me by surprise with quietly riveting scenes highlighting pent-up tension and subtle paranoia, a mood to die for and drool-worthy cinematography all anchored by a characteristically stellar but uncharacteristically sober Gary Oldman. Regardless of story - which is intriguing and adroitly woven, to be sure - I simply want to bask in the film's definitively convicted aura. We don't see timeless classics like this very often, anymore.

Steven Soderbergh, 2012
"B"-grade action and intrigue (but mostly action) gets a pedigree with the help of Soderbergh's expert eye and pacing sense and a Soderberghian indeed all-star cast. When the director said he had crafted a film around the essence of MMA star Gina Carano, he meant it - as Carano is lethal and sexy, so goes the arbitrarily titled film with more than a share of superbly crafted sequences highlighting tense and practically minimalist chases focused on, well, focus, to tenser siege, Carano's beautifully intricate to harshly blunt physical tactics allowed to poetically inhabit the wide shot... and one fairly lame yet easily forgivable computer animated deer. Here's to one heck of a solid dose of fun, and here's to more Carano in the near future! More, I say!

Baltasar Kormákur, 2012
If Michael Mann went the route of the now all but creatively emptied Dario Argento, he might make something exactly like Baltasar Kormákur's American directorial remake of his 2008 Icelandic production, "Reykjavik: Rotterdam". That's not to imply, however, that "Contraband" is anything but pure wall-to-wall entertainment that works to worthily earn your ticket price while using a premise seemingly inspired by every 1970s Pam Grier picture. I would find it very difficult to have anything but a grand ol' time watching this hyper-grittily shot flick that thrives on unfiltered Marky Mark energy. When Mark is grilling an adversary in true Wahlberg fashion, I always want him to say, "So I'm gonna be nice... now where the fuck is Ringo?" There's even a scene when he comments on the wolfishness of a smuggled canine; if only he'd knelt down to calmly offer, "Hi there wolf, I'm Mark Wahlberg. You know you're in my movie 'Contraband' right now? Okay, say hello to your mother for me." And that's just a fraction of the fun. The cinematography's appealing grime lends a sense of realism to the proceedings no matter how preposterous they become as things go from bad to worse to totally-off-the-handle-Giovanni Ribisi-ness while always retaining a whimsical nature - you can genuinely laugh amidst the true tension and thrills. Speaking of the supporting cast, it's tough to assemble better quartets of talent and good looks, and once "A Good Day to Die Hard" hits people are sure to look back and wonder why in the world Ben Foster wasn't a bigger star sooner.

Further first-time viewings:

The Limey - Steven Soderbergh, 1999
Tough to hate on a film that opens with a sequence edited well under one of my favorites songs by one of my favorite bands, but as it trudges on there's really very little for me to get out of "The Limey", which feels like Soderbergh to be sure, but Soderbergh on a suffocating budget, and not in the boldly experimental "Bubble"/"Girlfriend Experience" kind of way. Terence Stamp's pretty nuts, though; I've always enjoyed the words "sod" and "toss".

Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close - Stephen Daldry, 2011
Just like with "The Tree of Life", --no, no, I can't keep a straight face through such a sardonic likening. "Extremely Loud" is an ugly, overlong and frequently obnoxious exercise in the insignificance of individuality, contrary to what could have been a nice series of vignettes about various people across the five boroughs. The longer it goes on without feeling like it's going anywhere (added to its few points of actual - yet meager - substance being predictable down to the letter) the less and less it becomes possible to so much as care why any of it is going on. And why even bother with 9/11? Oh, because there is indeed nothing else to actually care about on this unfocused journey relegated to blunt and misinterpreted snapshots of unimportance. Why not exploitatively show the towers crumbling to cloy some modicum of relatable emotion? A fictional, even smaller scale disaster would have sufficed, but then it really may have been an impossibility to give the tiniest crap about the annoying, pseudo-philosophical Tom Hanks character's catalytic death (prior to which he weaves an out-of-place crack on religion along the lines of "If it can be believed, why not believe it?") while Thomas Horn - playing the gratingly awkward and suggestively named Oskar - appears to mug for box cover every time he's in frame. And people say "A Clockwork Orange" is weird. Now it kind of makes sense as to why a Hanks/Bullock awards bait movie featuring 9/11 was so hidden away by an unexpectedly limited release. Daldry's lowest moment? So far, anyway. At least he'll always have "The Reader" (wonder if Hugh Jackman's seen that yet).

Total: 5

Rewatches (2): Young Adult (Reitman, 2011), Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (Alfredson, 2011)
- Managed to catch the second-to-last showing of "Young Adult" at the last venue in town still screening it. I... am satisfied.

Episodic Television (New!): High School of the Dead (Spring of the Dead - Escape from the Dead)
- "High School of the Dead" carries all the panache of a fleetingly carefree seventeen year-old lip-synching to contemporary hard rock in the womb-like privacy of his shower. I mean to say, it's pretty awesome! Anime can get away with so much, and my own tastes lean unashamedly toward the more fan-servicey of the broad style (with the endearing East-meets-West of "Burst Angel" ever holding my ultimate favorite slot), so when blood is delectably splattering from decaying flesh in every direction yet the artists choose to focus on jiggling breasts and shiny up-skirt shots, that's fine, just fine. Hilariously so, at that - as of yet, though I don't doubt it may grow more serious as it progresses, this program is one to be taken with tongue firmly in cheek and is proving a comfy spot to simply escape to.

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