This low budget wonder is easily one of the most entertaining and memorable films of the year. Star Bradley Cooper also produced it and for the tiny sum (by Hollywood standards) of $6 million. This is a complicated story deftly told. Three layers of the tale stack one on top of the other and each layer of storytelling is compelling, engaging and penetrating.
In story one we have Bradley Cooper and his wife, the talented and popular Zoe Saldana (she gave her voice and her image to the alien in Avatar among many recent roles). Cooper is an aspiring writer who can’t find his groove. He comes upon a 60-year-old manuscript and publishes it as his own. There is plenty of ethical and emotional tension to make this a perfectly good basis for a successful movie.
The second tale begins when the elderly author of the manuscript visits the sham author, not to expose him as a fraud, but to tweak his conscience. Jeremy Irons as the old man is a spectacular explosion of acting. The old man tells the sham author the story of the manuscript. That story is enough for a successful movie.
The couple in the second tale is played by French actress Nova Arnezeder (Safe House) and the brilliant young Ben Barnes (he played Prince Caspian in two episodes of The Chronicles of Narnia sage). Barnes is wonderful as the old man when he was a young man in Paris after the end of World War II.
Dennis Quaid and Olivia Wilde (TV’s House, she also played Kirk’s mother in the recent Star Trek) are the couple in the third tale. This tale is murkier than the other two, but just as well written and acted. Quaid of course is reliable and Wilde is talented and adorable, both good qualities in an actress.
The writing credits as well as the directing credits go to Brian Klugman and Lee Sternthal, both first time directors. The pair did co-write The Tron Legacy. This is an amazing script. The imagination that went into making this film is beyond the ordinary. I am still thinking about it two days after seeing it. I am not sure that I fully understand it. I can say that I was engaged from the opening cut, a view of a book called “The Words” sitting on a desk. At the end of the film I was just as engaged. What more can we ask of movies than they hold our interest, our intelligence and take us out of ourselves for a while? The while in this case is one hour and 36 minutes. It is not very long by usual standards, but it is long enough to give us three interesting and ultimately mysterious stories. It is just terrific.
This is a PG-13 rated drama. If other people like this as much as I did, brave producer Bradley Cooper will be well rewarded. I say brave because Bradley the producer arranged for Jeremy Irons to have what may be the capstone role of his career. Irons outshines all the other performances including Cooper’s own performance. I highly recommend that movie lovers see this excellent three and a half spinning saw blade film.
The Expendables 2
Mindless and blood-soaked
I referred to the first in this two movie series as “The Explodeables”. If we call this one “The Explodeables 2” readers would get the right idea. If your idea of good entertainment fun is watching most of the movie action heroes of the last 30 years all together in a single film cracking jokes and shooting people, this is the one for you.
Right at the beginning of the film Arnold Schwarzenegger says to Sylvester Stallone, “This is embarrassing.” Stallone replies, “You got that right.”
There is a more or less constant referral to other movies the actors have starred in. The actors clearly have no problem with tongue in cheek mayhem. Also appearing in short scenes are Jet Li, Bruce Willis, Chuck Norris and Jean-Claude Van Damme. Van Damme is from Belgium, the land that has given us Smurfs, waffles and a B grade action hero but not much else. Still, it is a small country. Van Damme is the evil mastermind in this one.
Stallone, Terry Crews, Jason Statham and Dolph Lundgren make up the core of the Expendables with the other actors coming in and out at more or less random intervals. Young Liam Hemsworth, late of The Hunger Games, has a brief appearance as a teammate and the courageous victim of evil-doer Van Damme. When the scriptwriter, Stallone, writes himself into a predicament, Norris or Schwarzenegger magically appear, slay a bushel or two of bad guys and then vanish again. It is very convenient. My movie buddy doesn’t go to see flicks that have “less than seven pages of dialog.” I saw this one solo.
In terms of movie goodness, there is almost nothing here to attract the interest of the movie buff. The story is largely incoherent (I once saw a Portuguese zombie movie that made less sense, but I put that down to bad translation). The actors recite their lines and most of them show up only long enough to make a pay day. But the directing is competent, as we should expect form Simon West. West directed Con Air and Lara Croft: Tomb Raider. He at least did a professional job. This kind of film is almost to movies what mime is to acting. It is something that people in any culture and any language can appreciate. Good guys shoot bad guys. But it is not subtle and not very interesting.
In spite of many s’plosions and a huge body count this blood soaked comedy/action flick rates a sub-par two saw blades. The “R” rating is deserved for death dealing on a Biblical scale, but no naked people. This $100 million extravagance has already brought in over $132 million worldwide and may well creep into the profit zone eventually. It runs a tiresome one hour and 42 minutes.
September is a lull month between Summer and Christmas. Things will get better.