Thursday, July 19, 2012

Quick Takes: "Rock of Ages", "Jiro Dreams of Sushi", "Haywire", "The Godfather"

"Rock of Ages" (***)
Directed by Adam Shankman

I teased this property feverishly in reference to Tom Cruise's film-owning performance as Stacie Jaxx, the rock star icon who serves symbolically to represent the dying light of rock and roll. What this film quite fervently and ridiculously protests is that while the time of rock and roll may be past, it is certainly not dead. Adam Shankman is the cinematic spokesperson for people foolishly chasing their dreams, having directed "Hairspray" and a couple episodes of "Glee", even. He's covered plenty of varying ground cinematically, given that most of his films do hold his staple gullible optimism against logic branding.

This film genuinely speaks for Shankman trying to find a leg into different, perhaps something darker waters, while sticking to his fun-seeking code. "Rock of Ages" does find its way into the story through a small town girl and a city boy, both of which are seeking stardom, but the music and adult characters take the baton from there. Tom Cruise is the exceptional piece of insane devotion that gives this film such a strong beating heart, but Alec Baldwin, Russell Brand, and Paul Giamatti['s mustache] all nail their high-on-rock-fumes comic beats perfectly. File this one in the growing pile marked "shouldn't work, but joyously does!"

"Jiro Dreams of Sushi" (***)
Directed by David Gelb

Documentary film has had a rather innocuous year thus far, though I can't yet speak for "This Is Not a Film". I've heard much positivity in the way of this study of acclaimed sushi artist Jiro Ono, and I can't say I disagree. David Gelb does an admirable job portraying Jiro and his family fittingly to the rest of the world, with the only problem perhaps being that admiration. Too many documentaries get stuck by their own fascination with a subject to realize there needs to be more to it. While "Jiro Dreams of Sushi" doesn't come close to where other greater docs have gone before, you do care about this artist who is still seeking to master his craft further, while also fearfully trying to prepare his sons for the shadow that could ominously loom over them once he passes. It's a magnificent idea that feels stretched a tad too thin.

"Haywire" (***)
Directed by Steven Soderbergh

Soderbergh may be making the rounds recently for his top-tier work on "Magic Mike", but take this as evidence that the man is constantly operating above the stylistic standard. Taking a rather simple, straightforward plot of a government agent getting set-up and betrayed, decking it out with top actors in all roles except the lead, giving that to a legitimate Mixed Martial Arts fighter, and putting on all the thrilling tools he has to his disposable, "Haywire" becomes something next-level by not overreaching. An experimentation of how to make an action flick with absolute focus on the action, the lack of music in fights makes it all the more of a spectacle. I can only hope action filmmakers take the cue and try, maybe, I don't know, doing something new! Not just give us another loud and obnoxious superhero remix!

"The Godfather" (****)
Directed by Francis Ford Coppola

Confession time? Until earlier this week, I had not seen "The Godfather" all the way through. I've had it in the works, but for some reason it never occurred to me how necessary it was. It actually proved rather fortunate to watch it with "Jiro Dreams of Sushi" in the back of my mind, because this is about the most powerful of family dramas cinema has to offer. Marlon Brando play Don Vito Corleone, not the biggest and most powerful family leader, but simply the one we focus on. The crime business is shown to be just that: business. The police aren't a threat that's bearing down upon them, but simply another factor in the mix; an occupational hazard.

This isn't the sort of careful crime thriller that holds its precious blows until the end, as tragedies and attempts at murder are scattered throughout the film. The hatred builds like the sickness that is slowly taking hold of Vito Corleone, and he can't help but worry for the world he is leaving behind for his children. This may be a realization that I'm much late to the party in establishing, but "The Godfather" really does play all the cards at the right moments, only becoming slightly repetitive towards the close, and that doesn't stop what we're seeing from getting the same impact. It's the dream of American success taken to brutal and bloody extremes.

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