“THE GREEN HORNET” (2011) Review

“THE GREEN HORNET” (2011) Review

My memories of the costumed hero, the Green Hornet, are pretty sketchy. I can only recall actor Van Williams portraying the character in the short-lived television series from the mid-1960s, with future martial arts icon, Bruce Lee, portraying his manservant and partner-in-crime fighting, Kato. But if I must be honest, I never saw any of the episodes from the series. My memories of Williams and Lee as the Green Hornet and Kato were limited to their guest appearances on the ABC series,”BATMAN”.

When I had first heard about plans to release a movie about the Green Hornet featuring comic actor, Seth Rogen in the title role, I met the news with less than enthusiasm. One, I have never been a fan of the Green Hornet character. Two, I have never been a fan of Rogen’s. And three, the fact that this new version of ”THE GREEN HORNET” was filmed as a comedy-adventure put it completely out of my mind, after I received the news. It was not until the movie was released in theaters and I found myself with nothing else to do for a weekend, when I went ahead and saw the movie.

In a nutshell, ”THE GREEN HORNET” is an origins tale about Britt Reid, the playboy heir to a Los Angeles newspaper owner. Following the death of his autocratic father, Britt befriends the latter’s mechanic and assistant – a technical genius and martial arts fighter named Kato. The pair manages to save a couple from being robbed and assaulted one night, while vandalizing a statue of the late James Reid. Inspired by their act of good deed and some close calls with the criminals and the police, Britt and Kato decide to make something of their lives by becoming a masked crime fighting team called the Green Hornet and his unnamed partner. Due to their close call with the police, Britt and Kato pretend to be criminals in order to in order to infiltrate real criminals, and also to prevent enemies from using innocents against them. Their first target turns out to be a Russian mobster named Benjamin Chudnofsky (Christoph Waltz), who is uniting the criminal families of Los Angeles under his command, and whom James Reed was trying to expose. To get Chudnofsky’s attention, Britt uses his newspaper, the Daily Sentinel as a vehicle to publish articles about the “high-profile criminal” the Green Hornet. Britt hires an assistant and researcher named Lenore Case, who has a degree in criminology, and uses her unwitting advice to raise the Green Hornet’s profile.

What was my opinion of ”THE GREEN HORNET”? Honestly? I enjoyed it very much. I found it funny, entertaining, and exciting. First and foremost, the movie possessed plenty of laughs, thanks to Rogen and Evan Goldberg’s script. I usually do not find Rogen all that funny. But I must admit that his attempts at being the big crime fighter, while Kato saved his ass time-and-again, left me in stitches. Realizing that Britt lacked any self-defense skills, Kato created a gun filled with stun gas for the former to use against their enemies. And I found Rogen’s portrayal of Britt’s egotistical reaction to the gun rather hilarious. Not only did ”THE GREEN HORNET” provide plenty of laughs, but it also had some first-rate action sequences. My favorites include the Green Hornet and Kato’s encounter with a group of street thugs that led them to a meth lad controlled by Chudnofsky, their attempt to extract themselves from a trap set by the gangster at a construction site and the fight between Britt and Kato at the Reid mansion, over the many issues developed between the two. But the major sequence that started at the Japanese restaurant and ended at the Daily Sentinel really impressed me and I have to give kudos to Michel Gondry for his direction.

I suppose that Seth Rogen could have portrayed Britt Reid/the Green Hornet in a straight manner, but I do not know if I would have bought it. A more conventional leading man could have been hired for the role, but if I must be honest, I was too impressed by Rogen to really care. Many critics complained that Rogen portrayed Reid/the Green Hornet as a man-child. And he did . . . at first. But the script and Rogen’s performance allowed (or forced) Reid to face the consequences of his massive ego and his decision to become a crime fighter and grow up in a very painful way. I have never heard of Jay Chou, who is a well-known musician and actor from Taiwan. But I must admit that I was very impressed by his performance as Kato, Britt’s talented and exasperated partner in crime fighting. His acting style seemed to strongly remind me of Clint Eastwood and Steve McQueen’s – very subtle and very quiet. Yet, Chou also displayed a wry sense of humor that I found entertaining. And I was surprised to discover that he managed to convey not only Kato’s resentment and fear that the latter might be regulated to becoming the Green Hornet’s “sidekick”, but also his own egotistical nature. More importantly, his subtle acting style contrasted perfectly with Rogen’s more bombastic style and the two formed a first-rate screen team.

I had been appalled by the news that Christoph Waltz was cast as the main villain in ”THE GREEN HORNET”, especially on the heels of his success in 2009’s ”INGLORIOUS BASTERDS”. The idea of an acclaimed actor in a costumed hero action movie with comic overtones seemed so beneath him. But after seeing the movie, I am soooo glad that he was cast as the Russian gangster, Benjamin Chudnofsky. He was both hilarious and scary at the same time. Most villains featured in comedy action films tend to be either bland or simply ruthless and scary. Thankfully, Waltz’s Chudnofsky was not bland. But he was scary, ruthless . . . and funny as a middle-aged gangster, suffering from a mid-life crisis. Now, how often does one come across a villain like that in action movies? I had assumed Cameron Diaz’s role as Britt’s assistant, Lenore Case, would be a rehash of the Pepper Potts character from the ”IRON MAN” franchise. Thankfully, Rogen and Goldberg wrote the Lenore role as an intelligent woman, whose brains provided plenty of information for the Green Hornet and Kato; and as a no-nonsense woman who refused to replay the Tony Stark/Pepper Potts scenario or be in the middle of a love triangle between Britt and Kato, despite their attraction to her. And Diaz perfectly captured all aspects of the Lenore character with her usual charm and skill. I was also impressed by David Harbour’s performance as the charming, yet morally questionable District Attorney, Frank Scanlon. Edward James Olmos was on board to provide solidity as Britt’s personal moral guide and editor of the the Daily Sentinel.

There were a few flies in the ointment in ”THE GREEN HORNET”. One came from Tom Wilkinson’s portrayal of Britt’s father, James Reid. I realize that he was portraying a negative authority figure – the cold and demanding father. But his performance came off as bombastic and somewhat flat. I also found the pacing in the movie’s first fifteen minutes rather uneven. Britt’s relationship with his father and the latter’s death seemed to move along at a pace that I found a bit too fast. But at the same time, Chudnofsky’s meeting with a local gangster portrayed by James Franco was conveyed with more depth and at a slower pace. Fortunately, Gondry seemed to have found his pacing after this uneven beginning and movie rolled along with a balanced mixture of action, angst, and laughs.

For Green Hornet purists like actor Van Williams that were upset over Rogen’s comedic interpretation of the crime fighter, there is nothing I can say. I do not particularly agree with them that the movie should have been a straight action-drama.”THE GREEN HORNET” could have been another ”BATMAN BEGINS” or even ”DAREDEVIL”. Perhaps I would have liked it. But I did like Rogen’s interpretation very much. Hell, I more than liked it. I enjoyed it so much that I saw it in the theaters for a second time. This is probably the first movie that I have ever enjoyed Rogen as an actor. My enjoyment increased tenfold, thanks to his screen chemistry with musician/actor Jay Chou. And this is the first time I have ever enjoyed the story of the Green Hornet.

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“KNIGHT AND DAY” (2010) Review

“KNIGHT AND DAY” (2010) Review

Once more, Tom Cruise had put himself out on a limb by appearing in a movie, recently released last summer. The movie in question turned out to be a romantic comedy thriller called ”KNIGHT AND DAY”. Co-starring Cameron Diaz, the movie was directed by James Mangold. 

Surprisingly, seventy to eighty percent of ”KNIGHT AND DAY” was told from Diaz’s point-of-view. She portrayed an auto mechanic named June Havens who found herself swept into the adventures of an eccentric man claiming to be a former CIA agent named Roy Miller. Miller also claimed that he was trying to prevent a corrupt CIA colleague named Fitzgerald from finding a brilliant young inventor named Simon Feck and his new invention, a perpetual energy battery called the Zephyr, and selling both to a Spanish weapons dealer named Antonio. Unfortunately, his former director believes he is a rogue agent that has gone mentally off the grid.

I might as well be frank. ”KNIGHT AND DAY” did not strike me as an exceptional action film. The movie featured a series of minor scenes in which a drugged and semi-conscious June found herself being moved from one location to another by Miller. And since these scenes were shown from her point-of-view, I suspect this gave Mangold and screenwriter Patrick O’Neill the opportunity to move their characters around without any real detail. Personally, it seemed like a lazy way to progress the plot along. I was also confused over how Peter Sarsgaard’s character, Agent Fitzgerald, managed to arrange for other CIA agents to appear on the Wichita-Boston flight at the beginning of the movie as the entire crew and group of passengers. Nor did I understand why he bothered to keep June on that flight after Miller tried to ensure that she would miss it. Also, Mangold’s direction failed to infuse the movie with any special energy that could have made it memorable. Despite the somewhat eccentric plot, ”KNIGHT AND DAY” moved and felt like a typical action film.

But the movie also had its virtues. It featured some beautiful photography of Boston, Jamaica (which served as the Azores, off the coast of Portugal), Austria and Spain; thanks to cinematographer Phedon Papamichael. The movie also featured one hell of a plane crash, supervised by Chris Brenczewski. O’Neill wrote a solid plot that I could easily understand – something that has been lacking in a good number of action films (comedy or otherwise) recently. ”KNIGHT AND DAY”also provided some first-rate action sequences. My favorites included Miller’s fight against his former CIA colleagues aboard the Wichita-Boston flight; the gunfight on one of Boston’s highways; and Miller’s fight against a young German assassin named Danny, aboard a train bound for Salzburg, Austria. Humor proved to be another one of the movie’s virtues. Not only did cast members such as Cruise, Diaz, Paul Dano and Marc Blucas provide some excellent comic performances, O’Neill’s script provided them with plenty of material to work with. At least two scenes struck me as particularly funny – Miller’s ”with me, you survive” speech; June’s encounter with Feck and Danny, the assassin, aboard the train; and her encounter with the arms dealer, Antonio. But my favorite scene turned out to be the encounter between Miller, June and her ex-boyfriend, Rodney inside a Boston diner. I really found that scene hilarious.

There were no bad performances in ”KNIGHT AND DAY”. But I must admit that not all of them struck me as impressive. Both Viola Davis and Jordi Mollà gave solid, yet humorless performances as the CIA Director and Antonio, the arms dealer. Peter Sarsgaard, who portrayed Agent Fitzgerald, seemed amusing at times. Otherwise, he came off as distant and slightly stiff. But the movie had its share of good performances. Dale Dye and Celia Weston provided plenty of laughs as Miller’s parents, who believed that their son was dead. Paul Dano proved that he also have a talent for comedy in his goofy and funny portrayal of Feck, the brilliant young scientist that created the Zephyr battery. But of the entire supporting cast, my favorite performance came from Marc Blucas, who portrayed June’s ex-boyfriend and a Boston fireman. Thanks to his two-season stint on television’s ”BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER”, I have always been aware of the actor’s talent for off-beat humor. But Mangold’s direction and O’Neill’s script provided him with a role that truly exploited his comedic talents. Blucas portrayed Rodney not only as a compassionate and duty-bound man, but also a self-absorbed and shallow jerk. And he managed to achieve this balance with great subtlety and skill.

But what really made ”KNIGHT AND DAY” work for me were the two leads, Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz. They had worked together before in the 2001 movie, ”VANILLA SKY” and it was easy to see that they both had a very good screen chemistry. Once again, Cruise proved his talent for both comedy and action as the slightly eccentric Roy Miller, whose idea of keeping his new companion safe was too keep her in a drugged state, as he carted her around the eastern United States and Europe. The actor also effectively conveyed his character’s self-assured nature without allowing it to be tainted by any signs of cockiness. This would not have been the case with a younger Cruise. What I liked about Cameron Diaz’s portrayal of June Havens was that she did an excellent job of conveying her character’s progression throughout the movie. Her June started as a reserved woman just recovering from the end of a trying relationship, progressed to the confused and frightened innocent caught up in intrigue and betrayal; and finally developed into a more confident woman who was self-assured about her love for Miller and what she needed to do to keep him safe.

”KNIGHT AND DAY” was not the best movie I had seen last summer. It certainly did not knock my socks off. But thanks to James Mangold’s direction, a solid script by Patrick O’Neill and an excellent screen team in the form of Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz made it an entertaining movie.  It is not a perfect film, but it is certainly better than I had originally assumed.

“KILLERS” (2010) Review

 

 

“KILLERS” (2010) Review

Before the 2010 summer movie season had began, I saw the previews for two movies about an innocent blond woman that becomes entangled in the life of a super spy. One of them happened to be a movie that was released around the same time – ”KNIGHT AND DAY”, which starred Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz. The other is the romantic action comedy that stars Katherine Heigl and Ashton Kutcher called ”KILLERS”

Directed by Robert Luketic, ”KILLERS” is about an over cautious American woman named Jen Kornfeldt who meets a mysterious stranger, while vacationing with her parents in Nice, France. After a whirlwind romance, Jen and her new beau, Spencer Aimes, get married; despite her father’s reluctance. Three years later, Jen discovers two things – someone has placed a $20 million dollars contract on Spencer’s head and that he is a former spy/assassin. Apparently, Spencer had become disenchanted with his profession and gave it up after meeting Jen. Despite her anger over her husband’s deception, the pair spend a harrowing day trying to avoid the series of assassins after him and discover the identity of the person who had placed the bounty on Spencer’s head.

It is possible that I had been wrong to compare ”KILLERS” with the recently released Cruise/Diaz movie. I now realize that the film’s premise and plot bore a strong resemblance to the 2005 movie, ”MR. AND MRS. SMITH”. And as much as I hate to admit this, I believe that this is not a good thing. Despite being a first-rate movie, ”MR. AND MRS. SMITH” ended on a weak note. Unfortunately, ”KILLERS” suffered from the same fate – but on a bigger scale. In fact, I would probably say that the movie’s last twenty minutes managed to spiral into a weak and rather silly finale. Too bad.”KILLERS” had begun with such promise.

Screenwriters Bob DeRosa and Ted Griffin did a solid job with the movie’s first half – which featured Jen and Spencer’s first meeting, the latter’s attempted hit on a target picked out by their boss, a look into their marriage after three years, and Spencer’s birthday party. It ended with an exciting sequence that featured Jen walking in on the first assassination attempt on Spencer inside their living room and her discovery of his past profession. But once other assassins (pretending to be neighbors and Spencer’s co-workers) began appearing one after the other, the movie became a parody of itself. It eventually took a serious nosedive and ended on a weak note when Jen and Spencer learned the identity of the person behind the hits.

There is one positive thing I can say about ”KILLERS” is that it has a top-notch cast. Katherine Heigl and Ashton Kutcher made a pretty solid screen team. Mind you, I found their chemistry rather awkward during Jen and Spencer’s courtship phrase. But once the pair became more truthful with each other, the sparks began to fly and the chemistry between Heigl and Kutcher became a lot stronger. And judging from what I have seen on the screen, I believe that Kutcher should seriously consider working in more action movies.

Tom Selleck and Catherine O’Hara gave interesting performances as Jen’s parents, Mr. and Mrs. Kornfelt. Selleck was completely in character as a humorless and controlling man. And O’Hara provided plenty of humor as his long-suffering wife who not only loves him, but deals with his controlling personality with heavy drinking. Martin Mull shed his comic persona to portray Spencer’s intelligence boss, Holbrook. And he gave an impressive performance as a ruthless, manipulative and morally questionable man. To my utter surprise, my favorite performance belonged to a U.S.M.C. Reserve officer/comedian/actor named Rob Riggle. He gave a hilarious and first-rate performance as the Aimes’ witty and slightly crude neighbor, Henry.

I wish I could say that I loved ”KILLERS”. Honestly. It had a solid cast. The two leads – Katherine Heigl and Ashton Kutcher seemed to have a solid chemistry. And the movie’s first half struck me as promising. But Bob DeRosa and Ted Griffin’s screenplay ruined that promise with a second half that sank and ended with a great deal of silliness and on a weak note. Not even Heigl, Kutcher or Robert Luketic’s direction could save it in the end.