Tag Archives: Maria Bello

Prisoners (2013, Denis Villeneuve)

Director Villeneuve takes a very interesting approach to how a thriller works with Prisoners. He ignores it. During the first act, there are quite a few flirtations with thriller standards. But the film almost always immediately dismisses them–like Villeneuve and writer Aaron Guzikowski are holding up a standard, tossing it away. Jóhann Jóhannsson’s music helps them through these quick examinations, as does Roger Deakins’s photography. Villeneuve gets some truly astounding shots with Deakins. Many are so good one wonders how Villeneuve resisted showing off. He never does.

That restraint carries over to the performances as well. Prisoners is constantly difficult. In theory, the four primary actors should be Hugh Jackman, Maria Bello, Viola Davis and Terrence Howard. They play two couples who have had their daughters abducted, they should be the leads. Well, them and Jake Gyllenhaal as the primary detective.

But no. And there’s another break–Gyllenhaal doesn’t have a partner. When’s the last time a movie cop didn’t have a partner. But Jackman takes matters into his own hands and the film juxtapositions his pursuit against Gyllenhaal’s. They aren’t alter egos; Guzikowski wouldn’t never be so simplistic. The script’s phenomenal.

Both Jackman and Gyllenhaal are amazing. Gyllenhaal wins out. He has a more complicated role and more screen time.

Great supporting work from Davis and Wayne Duvall. Bello and Howard have the least to do in the film, another of Villeneuve and Guzikowski’s plays on expectations. They’re both good. There’s no weak performances.

Prisoners is truly exceptional.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Denis Villeneuve; written by Aaron Guzikowski; director of photography, Roger Deakins; edited by Joel Cox and Gary Roach; music by Jóhann Jóhannsson; production designer, Patrice Vermette; produced by Kira Davis, Broderick Johnson, Adam Kolbrenner and Andrew A. Kosove; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Hugh Jackman (Keller Dover), Jake Gyllenhaal (Detective Loki), Viola Davis (Nancy Birch), Maria Bello (Grace Dover), Terrence Howard (Franklin Birch), Melissa Leo (Holly Jones), Paul Dano (Alex Jones), Dylan Minnette (Ralph Dover), Zoe Borde (Eliza Birch), Erin Gerasimovich (Anna Dover), Kyla Drew Simmons (Joy Birch), Wayne Duvall (Captain Richard O’Malley), David Dastmalchian (Bob Taylor) and Len Cariou (Father Patrick Dunn).


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Payback (1999, Brian Helgeland), the director’s cut

I don’t know if I’d say I’ve been waiting ten years to see the director’s cut of Payback, but I guess I’ve been interested in it for ten years–it’s supposed to be the meaner version. Too bad Mel Gibson, even a good Mel Gibson, is Mel Gibson. Even when he’s being tough and mean, he’s got an element of cute. If you like Mel Gibson, you’ll probably like Payback.

It’s a tough guy movie set in a no name city, the film noir city of the 1950s, only Helgeland wastes a lot of time drawing attention to the city not having a name… (it’s Chicago). Helgeland’s direction is solid, but his establishing shots are really poorly framed, usually because he doesn’t know how to shoot the city. It looks like he doesn’t know how to do establishing shots, making it appear incompetent.

The most impressive thing about the film is acting. Helgeland’s rediscovery of Gregg Henry is something to be seen. Maria Bello’s good. Deborah Kara Unger is good. William Devane and James Coburn’s cameos are both great.

Unfortunately, the film gets to a point where there’s nowhere to go. The film’s philosophy just doesn’t work for making a successful picture. Played straight, it might have been better. Gibson’s character arc fails, as the character inexplicably develops emotional concern.

So, at that conclusion, when Helgeland’s run out of plot, he stops the movie. It’s a downhill slide from a rather strong opening. I suppose it’s a somewhat graceful decision.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Brian Helgeland; screenplay by Helgeland, based on a novel by Donald E. Westlake; director of photography, Ericson Core; edited by Kevin Stitt; music by Chris Boardman; production designer, Richard Hoover; produced by Bruce Davey; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Mel Gibson (Porter), Gregg Henry (Val), Maria Bello (Rosie), David Paymer (Stegman), Deborah Kara Unger (Lynn), William Devane (Carter), Bill Duke (Detective Hicks), James Coburn (Fairfax) and Lucy Liu (Pearl).


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Assault on Precinct 13 (2005, Jean-François Richet)

Assault on Precinct 13 doesn’t remind of an early 1990s action movie because of Dorian Harewood, Kim Coates or Brian Dennehy showing up–or even because of the movie specific end credits song (by KRS-One no less). It doesn’t even remind of that genre because it lifts the icicle shamelessly from Die Hard 2. Even the presence of Matt Craven–in a theatrical release–doesn’t do it. I guess it’s because, even with all these identifiable similarities, Assault on Precinct 13 is a both traditionally solid action movie, as well as very self-aware. The casting is peculiar and I’d like to think the familiar faces were supposed to illicit the warm recognition they did. Assault on Precinct 13 feels like an action movie for people who won’t just recognize the icicle, but Coates as well. It’s a peanut butter and jelly movie.

As a remake of John Carpenter–one of Carpenter’s most distinctive features no less–Assault on Precinct 13 feels like they got the idea from a TV Guide description. With the exception of Laurence Fishburne’s character’s name, there isn’t any reference, isn’t any homage. There’s no urban uncanny here, the villains are all clearly defined (it’s Gabriel Byrne no less)–dirty cops instead of a street gang. Ethan Hawke (who would have thought, Hawke’s greatest commercial success comes from being an action guy) is a tormented cop who doesn’t know if he can make it. The psychological ramifications are trite and time wasters (the remake runs twenty minutes longer than the original), but they do allow for Maria Bello to be in the cast so I can’t complain too much. From her first scene, Bello and her acting quality seem rather out of place in Precinct 13, which is sturdily performed and all… but most of the cast members get about half their goofy dialogue out without it sounding cheesy. Bello gets it all out (to be fair to screenwriter DeMonaco, all of Bello’s scenes are the best written in the film). Hawke’s fine, but any acting ambitions he seemed to once have are very clearly gone. Fishburne’s fine too, but I was expecting more (he often just goes cheap with a Matrix delivery). Byrne’s lousy, but Currie Graham’s good as his sidekick. Dennehy’s good. John Leguizamo, in what should have just been a repeat of his annoying characters, adds some real texture to his performance. Drea De Matteo runs real hot and real cold.

But it’d be hard for Precinct 13 not to work. It’s a siege action movie and, as such, it’d have to be incompetently made to be bad. Director Richet is anything but incompetent. His composition isn’t startling, but it’s quite good and there isn’t a scene–even the poorly written first few–he doesn’t make compelling.

There’s one obvious, but not bad, CG shot. In the opening, Hawke’s at his desk (tortured, of course) and the camera pulls through the window and out into the sky until the precinct building becomes small. It reminded me of Curtiz’s use of miniatures in the 1930s. It’s a cool shot, sets the mood and all, but it’s nowhere near as interesting as it should be.

Anyway. The film’s certainly got me looking for more of Richet’s work.

But they never use the music. Carpenter’s theme to the original is one of his more recognizable compositions and it’d have made a great closing number… apologies to KRS-One.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Jean-François Richet; written by James DeMonaco, based on the film by John Carpenter; director of photography, Robert Gantz; edited by Bill Pankow; music by Graeme Revell; production designer, Paul D. Austerberry; produced by Pascal Caucheteux, Stephane Sperry and Jeffrey Silver; released by Rogue Pictures.

Starring Ethan Hawke (Sgt. Jake Roenick), Laurence Fishburne (Marion Bishop), Gabriel Byrne (Capt. Marcus Duvall), Maria Bello (Dr. Alex Sabian), Drea de Matteo (Iris Ferry), John Leguizamo (Beck), Brian Dennehy (Sgt. Jasper O’Shea), Ja Rule (Smiley), Currie Graham (Mike Kahane), Aisha Hinds (Anna), Matt Craven (Officer Kevin Capra), Fulvio Cecere (Ray Portnow), Peter Bryant (Lt. Holloway), Kim Coates (Officer Rosen), Hugh Dillon (Tony), Tig Fong (Danny Barbero), Jasmin Geljo (Marko), Jessica Greco (Coral) and Dorian Harewood (Gil).


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Butterfly on a Wheel (2007, Mike Barker)

Besides opening with that long, awkward and confusing title, Butterfly on a Wheel opens a lot like a 1980s thriller would. Robert Duncan’s score is quite effective throughout the film, but during the opening titles–knowing very little about the movie–I think I got a little more hopeful than I should have. Butterfly takes place over a long night (except the first act, which summarizes the day before) and running the present action limits the movie’s potential. With a couple exceptions, the movie doesn’t do anything wrong, it just doesn’t set its ambitions high. As a ninety minute diversion, it’s pretty good, but only because it’s got a couple nice surprises at the end. I’m not a fan of trick endings… but for a ninety minute, second and third acts over one night narrative, I could care less.

Except it’s Pierce Brosnan in the heavy role. Brosnan doesn’t have to quell his accent–though I have no idea, having never seen him interviewed, if he still has a strong Irish accent–but since his character’s deceiving the other characters and the viewer, it’s not like there’s much potential for acting. Brosnan’s good when he does get to act, but it’s only a couple times. It’s a waste of time for Brosnan, the kind of silly role one would take in a vanity project… oh, did I forget to mention he produced Butterfly too? His participation makes a lot of sense with that detail taken into account.

Maria Bello is good, even though the specifics for her character are real sketchy. The first act, the brief establishing of her backstory and the ground situation… it’s too abridged. But she does have some really excellent small moments. They don’t really contribute to the movie, just showcase Bello’s acting.

As for Gerard Butler–and it’s the first time I’ve ever see him in anything–he’s awful. His performance, if it deserves that term, is a disaster. He can’t emote, he can’t sit still. He can’t even walk convincingly. He does bring Butterfly down. Due to his performance, the end is less significant. He’s terrible. There aren’t words for how terrible.

The direction’s competent, bordering on good. It’s a thriller without many set pieces, which is odd, so Barker doesn’t have much chance for flash. There is one terrible scene–the camera is spinning around Bello and Butler, but instead of doing it practical, it’s an effects shot. Except the backgrounds keep changing and it all looks bad. And the effects shots at the end are bad too. But the direction’s inoffensive.

Butterfly‘s engaging in the worst way–it’s actually all about watching to find out what happens. There’d be nothing to see on a second viewing. But for one of those movies, it’s not bad.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Mike Barker; written by William Morrissey; director of photography, Ashley Rowe; edited by Guy Bensley; music by Robert Duncan; production designer, Rob Gray; produced by Pierce Brosnan, Morrissey and William Vince; released by Lionsgate Films.

Starring Pierce Brosnan (Tom Ryan), Maria Bello (Abby Randall), Gerard Butler (Neil Randall), Emma Karwandy (Sophie Randall), Claudette Mink (Judy Ryan), Desiree Zurowski (Helen Schriver), Nicholas Lea (Jerry Crane), Peter Keleghan (Karl Granger), Samantha Ferris (Diane), Malcolm Stewart (Dave Carver), Callum Keith Rennie (Det. McGill) and Dustin Milligan (Matt Ryan).


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