The Lookout (2007, Scott Frank)

Watching The Lookout, I never really wondered how Joseph Gordon-Levitt was going to do. I wondered about Jeff Daniels, for instance, since Daniels spent the late 1990s working up his number of excellent performances only to fade from things I watch. Gordon-Levitt… looking over his IMDb, I’m not sure the guy’s ever been bad. He might have even been good on the “Dark Shadows” revival when he was ten. The Lookout presents him with an odd leading man role, the kind actors usually save for Oscar-ready™ movies (oddly, The Lookout‘s from Miramax, king of the Oscar-ready™ movie). He runs the movie–besides the voiceovers, he’s in all but three scenes–and it’s with a really sure hand. Gordon-Levitt’s apparently the child actor with the goods, especially since his character isn’t particularly likable. At a certain point, he’s getting mad at someone for pitying him–and the viewer has been pitying him too, because he’s got a mental condition and it’s hard to identify with him… but he’s also responsible for his particular tragedy. It creates a great situation, keeping the character distant throughout, with the viewer ending the film maybe more unsure of the character than he or she was when it started.

Anyway, the breakout. There’s a breakout performance in The Lookout. I forgot about him because I was going on about Gordon-Levitt. Matthew Goode, who’s got a handful of credits, is fantastic as the bad guy. His character–who’s perfectly awful–might turn out to be honest than Gordon-Levitt’s. Scott Frank, who has done some great stuff, usually adaptations, takes the film noir’s standard deceptions and shrinks them, embedding them in the characters’ relationships from moment to moment. The Lookout‘s success comes from how incredibly emotional the whole thing works out to be.

I had thought it was another adaptation–maybe from something good, just because some of Frank’s choices suggest good source material, but knowing now it wasn’t adapted (it had no opening credits beyond the production companies and a title), it’s obvious. Frank’s in love with four of the characters in The Lookout, four and a half even, and it’s great to see.

I was just thinking this morning–really–about how the wheel doesn’t necessarily need to be reinvented, it just needs to roll as well as possible. The Lookout‘s not a new wheel so much as a nice amalgamation of a couple wheels… it’s sort of a heist slash crime thriller (with a twist–I kept thinking about Jonathan Lethem’s Motherless Brooklyn during the first fifteen or twenty minutes), but it’s really not; it’s a thoughtful character study of an unknowable character, one impervious to examination. Even when he’s doing voiceovers. A good character study always makes the viewer (or reader) wait to get at the character–and here’s where The Lookout‘s borrowing that crime thriller device–but let the viewer get close enough, but not know what he or she is looking at? It’s special.

My only real quibble with The Lookout concerns Frank’s direction. It’s good, not flashy, very matter of fact, but he switches over to a lousy DV for a shoot-out. It’s his cinematographer’s fault, sure, but it’s so obvious, I can’t help but wonder if it was a style thing. It’ll probably look fine on DVD… but it was distracting. Nicely, he follows it with one of Gordon-Levitt’s finest scenes in the film.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Written and directed by Scott Frank; director of photography, Alar Kivilo; edited by Jill Savitt; music by James Newton Howard; production designer, David Brisbin; produced by Walter Parkes, Laurence Mark, Roger Birnbaum and Gary Barber; released by Miramax Films.

Starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt (Chris Pratt), Jeff Daniels (Lewis), Matthew Goode (Gary Spargo), Greg Dunham (Bone), Carla Gugino (Janet), Bruce McGill (Robert Pratt), Isla Fisher (Luvlee Lemons), Alberta Watson (Barbara Pratt) and Alex Borstein (Mrs. Lange).


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Hostage (2005, Florent Emilio Siri)

Hostage, towards the end, plays a little like a Die Hard movie, which isn’t surprising, since Doug Richardson did write it (he also wrote Die Hard 2) and Willis, who’s good in Hostage, is usually best in… well, Die Hard movies, actually. Like those films, Hostage lets him emote and he does a good job with it. When he’s doing the sly, wink-wink Bruce Willis, which he only does two or three times in Hostage, he’s irritating. But this film does contain one of his better recent performances.

I saw the film for director Siri and from that aspect, it was a little disappointing. There are some great shots, but Hostage‘s story constraints (hostage situation in a mountain house) don’t really allow for much. The scenes when the story’s away from the hostage situation, especially at the beginning, are much better. The house scenes are all nice and fine, but they aren’t interesting, much less dynamic.

The film attempts to complicate a hostage situation with a couple quirks–first, Willis is a burnt-out hostage negotiator turned small town police chief and second, the hostage is a mob accountant so the mob takes Willis’s family hostage. Obviously, the latter is going to affect the story a great deal, but Willis’s traumatic experience, shown in the opening, has absolutely nothing to do with the rest of the film, or even his character. He could have just given up on L.A. because the small town has good fishing and it wouldn’t have made a difference. The problem with the second situation–which makes it feel like that Die Hard sequel–is Serena Scott Thomas, who plays Willis’s wife. She’s so inept, it’s impossible to feel any empathy for her. The rest of the cast is fine. Ben Foster’s great as a psychopath, even if the role is a little undercooked, writing-wise. Of all the people in the film, he’s the one who gets the most to do and he takes advantage of that situation.

As far as mediocre, harmless Bruce Willis thrillers (that lost 1990s genre) go–Hostage is a fine return to form. Its greatest fault is when, scene-to-scene, there’s some potential and then the film doesn’t follow through. Usually, all that potential’s from Siri, but there are some really nice character relationships in the thing, and the finite story-time–maybe ten hours–don’t let them resolve. But, still, it’s harmless, even if the opening credits are an unbelievably stylized eyesore.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Florent Emilio Siri; written by Doug Richardson, based on the novel by Robert Crais; director of photography, Giovanni Fiore Coltellacci; edited by Olivier Gajan and Richard J.P. Byard; music by Alexandre Desplat; production designer, Larry Fulton; produced by Bruce Willis, Arnold Rifkin, Mark Gordon and Bob Yari; released by Miramax Films.

Starring Bruce Willis (Jeff Talley), Kevin Pollak (Walter Smith), Ben Foster (Mars Krupcheck), Michelle Horn (Jennifer Smith), Jimmy Bennett (Tommy Smith), Jonathan Tucker (Dennis Kelly), Marshall Allman (Kevin Kelly), Serena Scott Thomas (Jane Talley), Kim Coates (The Watchman) and Rumer Willis (Amanda Talley).


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Resident Evil: Apocalypse (2004, Alexander Witt)

Trying to figure out how to start this post was incredibly difficult. As far as sequels go, Resident Evil: Apocalypse is, tonally, a terrible sequel to the first film, but it’s still a perfectly reasonable b-movie. The first film, visually, is classy compared to this one, which has lots of quick cuts during fight scenes. The cuts aren’t distracting, since they’re about what’s expected from a movie like this one, and this stylistic difference is probably the least of all the differences between the two films. Apocalypse features, actor for actor, the worst cast in a film I’ve ever finished watching (at least in the last seven years). Besides Milla Jovovich, who’s good again but she’s not the protagonist–she runs all of her actions scenes, but none of her other ones–the cast of Apocalypse is unbelievably, almost uniformly terrible. Sienna Guillory is terrible, Razaaq Adoti is terrible, Mike Epps is actually just real bad, and Sandrine Holt is unspeakable. There’s not even an adjective for her acting prowess. The rest of the principles, besides Oded Fehr, who’s fine, are made up of European actors who stumble over their lines.

The reason Apocalypse works is because, even with the terrible actors, lots of stuff happens in different sets. More than any other film (except the monster who’s a cross between Robocop and The Toxic Avenger), it reminded me of Escape from New York. People running through a burnt-out city, battling zombies. It’s a fine way to spend ninety minutes, especially since Jovovich has some good scenes and I got to appreciate them, how shiny they were amid the rest of the film. Writer Paul W.S. Anderson, who didn’t direct and probably shouldn’t have, since the film plays to none of his “strengths,” actually makes her the only character with any depth, which makes the bad acting of the other principles so much worse. They’re caricatures of caricatures and, if the film appreciated that one, it’d probably be the best b-movie ever made.

The bad actors actually made Apocalypse a worse experience than it should have been, since most zombie movies have a watchable quality about them. Watching the film, marveling at the acting incompetence, I couldn’t believe it wasn’t a worse film, but something needs to be said for the Paul W.S. Anderson genre. He can make perfectly fine bad b-movies, which is a rare quality these days.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Alexander Witt; written by Paul W.S. Anderson, based on the Capcom computer game series; directors of photography, Derek Rogers and Christian Sebaldt; edited by Eddie Hamilton; music by Jeff Danna; production designer, Paul D. Austerberry; produced by Don Carmody, Jeremy Bolt and Anderson; released by Screen Gems.

Starring Milla Jovovich (Alice), Sienna Guillory (Jill Valentine), Oded Fehr (Carlos Olivera), Thomas Kretschmann (Major Cain), Sophie Vavasseur (Angie Ashford), Razaaq Adoti (Peyton Wells), Jared Harris (Dr. Ashford), Mike Epps (L.J.) and Sandrine Holt (Teri Morales).


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Seoul (2002, Nagasawa Masahiko)

An action slash thriller requires a couple things… action set pieces and, well, thrills. Seoul‘s got a couple action set pieces, beginning and end, and not much in the way of thrills. There’s a mystery angle and there are scenes with the cops inspecting crime scenes, but there’s no real investigation at any point. Both the main characters sit and deliberate on the case at hand, but never come to any realization until, obviously, the last possible moment. It’s okay, actually, since Seoul‘s a fish out of water, cop comedy… kind of like a tame Beverly Hills Cop.

Young Japanese cop Nagase Tomoya, who’s all exuberance and little else. I suppose he’s a good shot, as the lack of investigative success certainly doesn’t show any detection prowess. The boss in Korea–so, following the simile, Japan is Detroit and Korea is Beverly Hills–is played by Choi Min-su, who’s the haunted, seasoned cop who’s seen it all. Will the goofy cop make the haunted one laugh again? No. In fact, the film never really gives in on the Choi as a hard-ass front, which was surprising until I realized there wasn’t time for them to do it, since the film’s focus for the first hour is on Nagase hanging out with a Korean noodle-peddler and his nephew. There’s also some hints at investigation and a lot of comedy, but whatever… the most resonant scenes are the noodle-stand scenes, just because Nagase’s a great lead and those scenes give his character a chance to relax and listen and develop.

Seoul‘s a pleasant experience throughout, it just doesn’t have much going in any particular direction. It’s not action-packed, it’s not a straight comedy, it’s not a mystery. I was expecting a romance, but no, not a romance either. It’s a pleasant package. Choi spends most of the film sitting around and looking grim, when it’s apparent he’s a charismatic actor (which he eventually gets to show off, but it takes a long time).

The end gets long fast, as it gets real self-important being about Japanese and Korean foreign relations (in an earlier scene, while Nagase is waxing on about the same thing, the nephew whacks him in the head with a basketball to shut him up), and it seems in danger of losing the comedic aspect. It doesn’t, but it gets it back in frugal way. But still, it’s a pleasant diversion.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Nagasawa Masahiko; written by Hasegawa Yasuo; director of photography, Yamamoto Hideo; edited by Okuhara Yoshiyuki; music by Sumitomo Norihito; produced by Kotaki Shohei, Matsuno Hirofumi and Ogoshi Hirofumi; released by Toho Company Ltd.

Starring Nagase Tomoya (Hayase), Choi Min-su (Kim), Kim Ji-yuon (Yun), Jang Hoon (Min-Cheol), Choi Seong-Min (Kang) and Choi Sung (Lee).


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