Sunday, February 26, 2012

Tony Arzenta (1973)

Directed by Duccio Tessari. "Tony Arzenta" is the original title of this Italian mob flick about a professional hitman who wants to retire to spend more time with his son, presumably in order to teach him some manners because this kid's got a mouth on him, let me tell you. Anyway, if you're thinking that this is probably the one movie where the mob shakes a guy's hand, tells him that it's been nice working with him and sends him on his way with a parting gift, you're wrong. Instead their feelings seem kind of hurt and they express this by solving his problem with the mouthy kid in an unnecessarily extreme fashion. As you might expect from one or two similar films you may have seen of this sort, Tony is not just bummed out. And now we've got a movie.

The success of a movie like this depends on a few things. We have to feel Tony's rage, which despite him seeming possibly better off without the child, we do, thanks to a fine performance by Alain Delon (whom you probably enjoyed in Jean-Pierre Melville's 1967 film, "Le Samourai," in which he played...a hitman).

Also, for a movie like this to work there have to be creative methods of enacting revenge. And there are. This is always simultaneously the best part and the least believable part of any movie like this. We never hear or see a protagonist plan out these crazy acts of revenge, we just watch each unfold, wondering what he'll do next with something he's making, or stealing, or by spending time with a person he's taking into his confidence.

Also released under the title "Big Guns" (useless) and "No Way Out" (more telling but really hacky), we know that what drives Tony into this rage is the loss of his son and thus the fact that he no longer had anything to live for. This makes his revenge possible, but the consequences inevitable. He is a martyr for your movie time.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Real Steel (2011)

Directed by Shawn Levy. If you see only one boxing robot movie this year, you should pray on your hands and knees that somebody makes one, so that it won't be "Real Steel." The movie is rated PG-13 for disturbing scenes of Hugh Jackman acting manly. And because of it's graphically violent fight scenes of computer animated robots, one of which -- in a sad scene -- bleeds a puddle of transmission fluid or something.

"Real Steel" tells the heartwarming story of ex-boxer Charlie Kenton, who has no interest in his estranged son until the boy demonstrates his value in the underground gambling world of robot boxing. The movie takes place in the futuristic year of 2020, by when we will have apparently abandoned not only interest in the sport of boxing using human beings, everyone will have forgotten it ever happened. To be fair, this plot is more plausible than the one in Levy's last film, 2010's "Date Night." He also made those "Night at the Museum" movies, so this proves that those could be far worse.

But as disappointing as "Date Night" was, that was still more entertaining than this. Hey, robots have feelings too. Or they don't, and it's important to remember that technology can never take the place of your family. Or technology can bring a family together, if that's what initially tore it apart? Who the hell knows.

Too violent for kids, too stupid for grown-ups. It's all so action packed, you'll never guess that they win the big fight at the end. Whoops, spoiler.

Monday, February 6, 2012

The Enforcer (1976)

Directed by James Fargo. Clint Eastwood IS...The Enforcer! No, wait...Clint Eastwood IS Dirty THE ENFORCER! No, wait...Clint Eastwood STARS as Dirty Harry THE ENFORCER! No, wait...Clint Eastwood is BACK as Dirty Harry THE ENFORCER! Yeah, that's it.

The second sequel to "Dirty Harry" could not help but succeed because the first two films keep him off the screen enough to leave you wanting more. Of course, smart cinema fans are like gourmets, they know when to push away from the table and say, enough. They know that less is more. Too much of a good thing is not good.

I'm not like that. For me, "The Enforcer" is delightful from start to finish, for example, when Captain McKay (Bradford Dillman) yells at Callahan for using excessive force and causing $14,000 in damage ("I've been on the phone with the mayor all morning!"). Hahahahahaha.

But underneath it all this film tells the story of Callahan's struggle with the burgeoning suffrage movement, which by 1976 has apparently reached San Francisco, as real live women are joining the police force...and Dirty Harry is assigned a new partner (Tyne Daly, in a female role).


Meanwhile, a group of scum-baggy terrorists kidnap the mayor, who suddenly has less time to spend on the phone hassling Captain McKay. The terrorists demand $2 million ransom and hold the mayor prisoner on Alcatraz Island, presumably because it makes for better aerial shots than old tenement buildings.

Anyway, a lot of bang-bang-bang, a little c'mon out, one or two ooh you got me's, and suddenly Dirty Harry is a little more enlightened than he was a mere 90 minutes ago. But at what price?! At what price I ask you?!

Recommended! Alongside all four other Dirty Harry masterpieces: "Dirty Harry" (1971), "Magnum Force" (1973), "Sudden Impact" (1983), "The Dead Pool" (1988). One or more of these may be reviewed elsewhere here.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Moneyball (2011)

Directed by Bennett Miller. Can everybody please shut up about how awesome this movie is? It's not. It's fine. There's really nothing wrong with it. But it's just another one of these goddamn movies where people act out something that really happened because most people are too lazy to read a book about it. When are we going to get over being so impressed by how much these kinds of films have improved that each time another comes out we think it's one of the best movies of the year? Yeah, it's interesting. So was how Facebook started. And how Sandra Bullock freed the slaves.

But these are just barely movies. They're like Little Golden Books on DVD. I don't give a shit how good the acting is, three-act structure, character arc, whatever. They still all have some dumb scene that takes place at a party or in a restaurant or in a meeting room where a lot of the characters have a big conversation and then it's interrupted by a phone call or a secretary or somebody who brings bad news, and boom -- we've compressed about a year of events into one 45-second scene. And it wouldn't even be awkward if it wasn't in every damn one of these kinds of movies.

By the way, allow me to spoil one small part of "Moneyball: The Motion Picture." Nobody mentions steroids through the whole thing.


"Directed" by Delmer Daves. One can only assume that a woman who checks her daughter's hymen to ensure her virginity is still intact is bound for a life of self-loathing and self-doubt and in the second half of "A Summer Place," Helen Jorgenson (Constance Ford) does not disappoint. We don't see her as much as we did in the first half, and thank goodness for that because she was driving us nuts with her one-dimensional bitching about everything. But when we do see her, she is dependably batshit crazy.

In place of the front-row seat that we had before to Helen's gradual descent into madness, in the second half of this movie we get scene after scene of Molly (Sandra Dee) and Johnny (Troy Donahue) struggling with their sexuality. This is kind of a riot considering Troy Donahue was 23 when he made this movie. "Let's be good," they say to each other, meaning not have sex. But then they do. Uh-oh.

I've read that when this film was released it received mixed reviews because of its extreme melodrama, which is confusing because it doesn't explain who gave it the good reviews necessary for them in total to be considered "mixed." I'll say this; somewhere buried deep in this 1959 film is a positive message about non-traditional families. It seems to say, even if your family is torn apart by divorce, alcoholism, adultery, bipolar disorder and teen pregnancy, as long as you're rich and white, you can pull through. Recommended.