After Dark Films
It seems a bit odd to take on a movie review of Courtney Solomon's Getaway, as only in the loosest terms is Getaway actually a movie. We begin without questions — other than a vague and frustrating "What the hell is going on?" — and end without answers, watching Ethan Hawke drive his car into things (and people) for the hour and a half in between. We learn very little along the way, probed to engage in the mystery of the journey. But we don't, because there's no reason to.
There's not a single reason to wonder about any of the things that happen to Hawke's former racecar driver/reformed criminal — forced to carry out a series of felonious commands by a mysterious stranger who is holding his wife hostage — because there doesn't seem to be a single ounce of thought poured into him beyond what he see. We learn, via exposition delivered by him to gun-toting computer whiz Selena Gomez, that he "did some bad things" before meeting the love of his life and deciding to put that all behind him. Then, we stop learning. We stop thinking. We start crashing into police cars and Christmas trees and power plants.
Why is Selena Gomez along for the ride? Well, the beginnings of her involvement are defensible: Hawke is carrying out his slew of vehicular crimes in a stolen car. It's her car. And she's on a rampage to get it back. But unaware of what she's getting herself into, Gomez confronts an idling Hawke with a gun, is yanked into the automobile, and forced to sit shotgun while the rest of the driver's "assignments" are carried out. But her willingness to stick by Hawke after hearing his story is ludicrous. Their immediate bickering falls closer to catty sexual tension than it does to genuine derision and fear (you know, the sort of feelings you'd have for someone who held you up or forced you into accessorizing a buffet of life-threatening crimes).
After Dark Films
The "gradual" reversal of their relationship is treated like something we should root for. But with so little meat packed into either character, the interwoven scenes of Hawke and Gomez warming up to each other and becoming a team in the quest to save the former's wife serve more than anything else as a breather from all the grotesque, impatient, deliberately unappealing scenes of city wreckage.
And as far as consolidating the mystery, the film isn't interested in that either, as evidenced by its final moments. Instead of pressing focus on the answers to whatever questions we may have, the movie's ultimate reveal is so weak, unsubstantial, and entirely disconnected to the story entirely, that it seems almost offensive to whatever semblance of a film might exist here to go out on this note. Offensive to the idea of film and story in general, as a matter of fact. But Getaway isn't concerned with these notions. Not with story, character, logic, or humanity. It just wants to show us a bunch of car crashes and explosions. So you'd think it might have at least made those look a little better.
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In the schlocky tradition of the venues after which it is named Grindhouse is two separate features—double the terrific badness that is exploitation cinema (or quintuple it if you count the “prevues”). First up is Planet Terror. It opens with stripper er go-go dancer Cherry (Rose McGowan) working the stage her limbs still intact. Later that night she bumps into an old flame bad-boy drifter Wray (Freddy Rodriguez) who is something of a human arsenal. Which soon comes in handy when they along with a select few others (including Marley Shelton Michael Parks Michael Biehn and Jeff Fahey) are warding off townsfolk that have turned into blood-lusting zombies after contracting a virus. Of course Cherry’s machine-gun leg (which you’ve by now seen ad nauseam in the trailer) is also a helpful little gadget for slaying the walking dead. A bathroom break and two fake trailers later we have Death Proof whose chief weaponry is a car. Its owner Stuntman Mike (Kurt Russell) has made the driver's seat death proof; that way whether murdering his young female victims by crashing head-on into their cars or driving at literally breakneck speeds he’ll survive. After taking care of a batch of young Austin Texas scenesters he scouts out his next group o’ gals (Zoe Bell Tracie Thoms Rosario Dawson and Mary Elizabeth Winstead). These ladies however aren’t exactly afraid of a broken nail—or neck. One trick in Quentin Tarantino’s large bag thereof has always been casting. In that vein career reinvention seems one of his favorite pastimes and Kurt Russell is Tarantino’s latest pet project—that is his latest “cool” makeover. Russell wasn’t a lost puppy like a pre-Pulp Fiction John Travolta but the former Snake Plissken—a favorite character of Tarantino’s—needed intervention. In Death Proof Russell reminds us of his roots and that movies such as Dreamer are forgivable offenses. Because here he’s psychotic pathetic and humorous in a role that although it doesn't actually amount to a lot of screen time is frankly more believable than Travolta's gangster. By default then Rose McGowan is the Kurt Russell of Robert Rodriguez’s Planet Terror and what an impeccable bit of casting that was too. (She also appears in Death Proof.) Having never quite been paparazzi material McGowan still has an ounce of mystery to her and as an actress she’s devilishly appealing. Thus she was perfect for the role of gun-legged Cherry and once you mop up your own drool after the opening scene you’ll see why—but it’s mostly because she’s game for anything! Par for the course there are countless other big names (i.e. Nicolas Cage Bruce Willis Dawson Tarantino himself and Fergie) between these two movies and three trailers. But as always with these two directors the more obscure the better. Freddy Rodriguez (HBO’s Six Feet Under) is an impossible sell on paper but makes his drifter work somehow; Brolin is surprisingly the creepiest between the two movies; Shelton's performance seems more like an audition to someday take over the reigns for Uma Thurman and she passes with flying colors; and possibly the best performance comes from Thurman’s Kill Bill stunt double Zoe Bell. The best thing about directors Tarantino and Rodriguez is that they're every bit as enthusiastic as the fanboys that will devour this (double) movie—they’re film gods and yet mere film geeks. They know what it’s like to sit in a theater and be blown away by the power of the movies they love and Tarantino is probably doing that right now in his own movie theater with his own movie. If so he’s earned it. Not that Rodriguez is some sort of slouch. His Planet Terror is what any proper zombie movie should be: no-holds-barred nastiness. It’s also damn good fun while paying homage to its predecessors. His story is mostly meat-and-potatoes—after all zombie cinema doesn’t allow much wiggle room for writers—but McGowan’s arc and uh limb deficiency is pure gore genius. Otherwise it’s all blood-and-guts geysers all the time which depending upon your tolerance level is great! After the hilarious gruesome and jaw-dropping fake trailers—from Edgar Wright (Hot Fuzz) Eli Roth (Hostel) and Rob Zombie (The Devil's Rejects)—you realize the first feature was but an appetizer. Tarantino is quite bold with Death Proof in that he dares to tamper with his homage to slasher-type exploitation films by mixing it with another genre—his own. Which is to say long talky takes that each time set a comfortable mood—a mood tailor-made for him to put a bullet through. It's somewhat subtle prior to the sheer eruptions of violence. And even though Tarantino’s dialogue is as always nothing short of entrancing viewers will have to be more patient in waiting for action to emerge in Death Proof but once it does they’ll be either rewarded or sorry. In those “action” sequences Tarantino delivers one of the great car-chase scenes in recent history and ultimately dispels any charges of misogyny. That'll make sense after you see the movie.
As Love Actually begins we are told that perhaps the world isn't such a dire and hateful place that "love actually is all around." Around London anyway. The film explores no less than seven different romantic scenarios within the bustling British capital--all of which interconnect and eventually resolve on Christmas Eve. There's the newly elected dashing Prime Minister (Hugh Grant) who is smitten with his secretary the earthy Natalie (Martine McCutcheon); Karen (Emma Thompson) whose husband Harry (Alan Rickman) has strayed with his seductive secretary Mia (Heike Makatsch); Sarah (Laura Linney) the American wallflower who has a crush on her colleague Carl (Rodrigo Santoro); Jamie (Colin Firth) who falls for his pretty Portuguese housekeeper Aurelia (Lucia Moniz)…there are lots more but you get the gist. As love goes things may not get tied up neatly in brightly colored packages for everyone but there's still enough good cheer to spread around.
Showcasing some of Britain's finest actors Love Actually doesn't have a bad banana in the bunch. Floppy-haired Hugh Grant turns in an endearing performance and proves there isn't a romantic comedy he can't handle. He has an uncanny knack for connecting with any actress he happens to be romancing; in this case it's the adorable McCutcheon best known for the hit British TV drama EastEnders. Rickman and Thompson are quite good as the couple whose long-term marriage is beginning to crack; Thompson especially does a nice job trying to hide her pain while being a happy mom. Linney too shines as Sarah who glows with excitement when she finally gets what she so ardently wished for. Veteran stage and film actor Bill Nighy (Underworld) however steals the show as a carefree aging rock star desperate for a comeback. His Billy Mack smacks of Mick Jagger Keith Richards and Rod Stewart all rolled into one.
"I'm worried that we don't have the word 'massacre' in the title " writer/director Richard Curtis fretted to Entertainment Weekly referring to how horror-loving American audiences might not take to his new romantic comedy that is already a huge hit in Britain. True perhaps a romantic comedy starring a multitude of A-list British actors might not bring in the required masses. But who cares about the money (did I just say that)? Curtis who has written some of the best romantic comedies of the last decade including Four Weddings and a Funeral Notting Hill and Bridget Jones' Diary steps behind the camera for the first time here and is able to give each story a unique point of view from the lovesick to the wacky. There actually may be too many stories in Love Actually but it's a small gaffe. Love Actually is a refreshing good old fashioned warm and gushy movie that takes your mind off the bad things for the holiday season and Curtis should feel confident about his directing debut.
How to Kill Your Neighbor's Dog is the story of acerbic curmudgeonly Peter McGowan's enlightenment a renowned critically acclaimed playwright fallen on hard times. Having knocked out a trio of Broadway blockbusters during the 1980s he is going through a dry spell though he is still considered the movie capital's most dynamic (and perhaps only) playwright. McGowan's beautiful wife exacerbates his problems putting real pressure on Peter to have children which he couldn't care less about. (He also has to deal with living with his rapidly declining mother-in-law.) And McGowan's attempts to fix up his latest production (directed by a maniacal young savant who favors old show tunes as a means of communication) are being jeopardized by his new neighbor's noisy dog which is keeping him awake at night. Ultimately Peter learns to like children thanks to the neighbor's mildly handicapped daughter fixes his play and the dog is dealt with--though not by Peter.
Kenneth Branagh playing a wordsmith is given too many words to say in the film. Most are funny some are not but Branagh is the film's comedic center and he performs that function more than adequately. Robin Wright Penn is fine as Branagh's wife/foil though she isn't given too much to do other than be happy or sad--there seems to be no in-between for her. Other actors shine brighter: David Krumholtz is hysterical as the loony director of Branagh's new play Jared Harris is too funny as Branagh's modern-day Falstaff and Suzi Hofrichter who plays the cerebral palsy-stricken Amy is a real find. (Unfortunately the laconic Peter Riegert and dumbfounded Jonathan Schaech are underused.) The highlight of the film however is Peri Gilpin's performance as the vapid TV talk show host-turned-Mike Wallace who gets her comeuppance from Branagh. Simply brilliant acting by both Gilpin and Branagh or....
...is it more wonderful writing and directing by writer/director Michael Kalesniko? That interview scene with Gilpin and Branagh is just one instance of the skillful stylized parody he uses to tell the story of a man's life in the theater in a highly theatrical style. During the course of blaming McGowan's slump on anyone but McGowan Kalesniko skewers the usual suspects: nagging wives troublesome in-laws TV news shows neurotic intellectuals lovable bums insane co-workers cynical doctors and of course the ubiquitous barking dog living next door. As Kalesniko allows McGowan to grow closer to his adorable troubled neighbor Amy the movie almost edges into predictability. Fortunately the mostly witty dialogue saves the film from too saccharine an ending rendering it a potent comedy. Ah if only Kalesniko had found someone to edit the film a little more to make it sharper and more biting.