Monday, May 28, 2012

Labios Rojos (Red Lips, 2009) **

I haven’t seen any of the Tyler Perry movies, but there are a couple of them called “Why Did I Get Married?” and “I Think I Love My Wife,” and from the trailers I have seen, these seem to be formulaic little morality plays about a guy who maybe used to be a real ladies’ man, now trying to navigate the world of monogamy and family. Some new hottie shows up to tempt the guy, and he goes through a light existential crisis before deciding to be faithful to his wife. With these movies, Perry keeps the humor broad, and the acting is no better than it needs to be to present jokes that you can see coming a mile away. I think that “Labios Rojos” is the Mexican version of one of these movies. Jorge Salinas plays Ricardo, a handsome guy turning 40 who is starting to feel the weight of the years and his hectic life. A new job offers new opportunities but an unexpected level of stress. With the increased work hours and worry he finds one night that he can’t get it up for his wife, and instead of just talking to her about how he is feeling really stressed out as well as feeling old, he lets things fester so that their relationship starts falling apart. Meanwhile, a ridiculously sexy new co-worker provides a distraction , and blah blah blah. Like I said, you know how the story goes, and the jokes are broadcast so far in advance that they cease to be funny by the time the punch line hits. “Labios Rojos” has two things going for it. One is gorgeous actresses who display some brief nudity. The other is surprisingly good enunciation of the lines, which was key for me, because my motivation for making this seemingly random movie selection was to help me with my Spanish. I understood the language in this one better than just about any film I’ve seen, so for that reason I would recommend it to anyone who is trying to learn Spanish. One star for the lame story, and one bonus star for the Spanish-lab value. 2 stars out of 5

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Warrior (2011) ***½

“Warrior” simply should not be this good. This story of brothers separated as teens, who both return to MMA (Mixed Martial Arts) fighting and wind up competing in a big-money tournament should be just as trite and unlikely as the concept sounds. Somehow, though, co-writer/director Gavin O’Connor manages to pull the story together into something pretty gripping. Both brothers are estranged from their abusive, alcoholic father (Nick Nolte). When the younger brother, Tommy (Tom Hardy), returns from the Iraq War, he is full of pills, bitterness, and endless rage. Somehow he finds his way back into the boxing gym, where that rage makes him an unstoppable fighting machine and an internet sensation. Meanwhile, his brother Brandon (Joel Edgerton) has his life mostly together, but finds himself in danger of bankruptcy. His job as a high-school physics teacher isn’t enough to make the house payment, so he drifts back into MMA fighting as well. Ultimately the two wind up competing in the same $5 million tournament. Believe it or not, it isn’t the fight scenes that made me like “Warrior.“ I like that from the opening scene on, the characters are fully realized human beings, with great performances by all the lead actors. Nick Nolte wound up being nominated for a Best Supporting Actor Academy Award. As for the fight scenes, they are fun and exciting, but somewhat staged. If you are a fan of actual MMA fighting, you may not find the fights very realistic. Sadly, this film managed to fly below the radar, earning less than its $25 million budget despite positive reviews. This is a damn shame, because the film is a real crowd-pleaser. It feels like sacrilege to call “Warrior” a modern-day “Rocky,” but it comes close. 3.5 stars out of 5

Friday, May 11, 2012

The Naked City (1948) ****

“There are 8 million stories in the naked city.” I had always heard this line and assumed it was from one of the Sam Spade-esque movies set in Las Angeles. Turns out it comes from this police procedural set in New York. The first thing you have to get used to in “The Naked City” is the almost constant narration. I found it grating at first, but got used to it. The reason for it is that the filmmakers used hidden cameras to secretly film thousands of New Yorkers going about their daily lives. This footage lacked sound, so narration and voice-overs were used with these scenes, which lend the story its background. The actors are filmed on location in New York as well, lending the movie a very real feel that quickly distracts from the newsreel-style narration. Rather than a noir story, this is really a police procedural, not unlike one of the “CSI” shows. A young model is murdered, and police detectives Muldoon (Barry Fitzgerald) and Halloran (Don Taylor) hit the streets of New York to catch a killer. Interestingly, the film focuses on the tedious, meticulous nature of their craft. We get to watch as they follow dead ends, deal with crazy, false confessions, and ask the same question hundreds of times until they finally get a lead. I was fascinated, because I didn’t think they made such realistic police movies back in 1948. Besides being an excellent whodunit, “The Naked City” is a fascinating snapshot of a specific place and time. All the shots of 1948 New York and its people are enthralling, especially the climactic manhunt and chase scene on the Brooklyn Bridge. For fans of old movies, this is a must-see. 4 stars out of 5