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At The Movies

By Tony Sheppard

The Mechanic

Directed by Simon West
“The Mechanic” has a mixed heritage, starring action hero Jason Statham, co-starring the fine young actor Ben Foster, and directed by Simon West (“Con Air,” “Lara Croft: Tomb Raider”). Comedian Dennis Miller once said that Sylvester Stallone had “all the range of a Daisy air rifle.” Statham seems to fit that school of acting. But that isn’t necessarily a bad thing if one limits a production accordingly. Here we have an actor that seems like he’d have a hard time acting his way out of a paper bag, very carefully given a large enough paper bag to excel in.

Statham plays an experienced assassin (or “Mechanic”), and Foster plays the young man who is eager to learn the secrets of the trade. The preview for this seems like yet another film that relies on shooting and explosions to find a young male audience, but the surprise is that the film is really quite tight, with a very efficient and well-told story. It’s also nice to see things actually explode rather than just watching a post-production CGI artist’s digital explosions added in later.

I watched this at a screening after which there seemed to be a general consensus that it was far better than people expected, albeit that those expectations seemed to have been pretty low. But I walked away having enjoyed it and feeling like the story and the talents were well-matched.  

The Rite

Directed by Mikael Håfström
I actually left this movie feeling somewhat awkward about trying to judge it. It’s another film about exorcisms, but is based on reported experiences of real people. Michael, a young seminary student, is close to his ordination but also questioning his faith. So he’s sent to the Vatican to learn exorcism rites as, apparently, there’s a shortage of exorcists.

In many respects, compared to other films that tackle this subject matter, this film is very restrained. As Anthony Hopkins’ character, the mentor figure, says (from memory) “What were you expecting, spinning heads and pea soup?”

As a non-believer, it seems like a low-key and rather dull creature feature. But I couldn’t avoid thinking that for many people, this is part of a sincere belief system and I found myself wondering how different the experience might have been for them. Still, on balance it is pretty dull, albeit occasionally more informative than entertaining.

From Prada to Nada

Directed by Angel Gracia
“From Prada to Nada” is the latest film in a long line of modern adaptations, with up-to-date language and circumstances, based on literary classics – in this case Jane Austen’s “Sense and Sensibility.” Rather than going from one grand estate to a cottage on a cousin’s estate, in this version two (not three) sisters move from their lost mansion in Beverly Hills to their aunt’s crowded home in East Los Angeles, in a neighborhood that prompts one sister to ask, “Are we in Mexico?” They also move without their mother, who is dead in this adaptation, although many other details, like the characters‘ names, are still close to their origins.

Nora, the older sister, is a bookish, sensitive, and emotionally-guarded law student, while Mary is a shopaholic social butterfly for whom a loss of status and income is far more traumatizing. At one point she laments the things she will lose and remarks, “Goodbye high-protein diet. Poor people only eat carbs.” The film as a whole screams low-budget, but there are neat little comments like this, along with cultural commentary that is often quite appealing. The sisters had Mexican parents, but that heritage was largely ignored. However, in their new home there’s no avoiding it, and they are rapidly immersed in events and customs that would mean more to them if only they spoke Spanish. (Recurring joke: How can you grow up in L.A. and not speak Spanish?)

I enjoyed this on a moderate level, although I would recommend waiting for a video or television release. Unless you have Mexican heritage and a large family, with internal culture clashes, which might cause you to enjoy it, much as some Greek families might enjoy “My Big Fat Greek Wedding.” But the overall quality of the film just seems somewhat out-of-place on the big screen.

Sanctum

Directed by Alister Grierson
So there’s this extremely large hole in the ground – or, more accurately, an extremely large system of interconnected holes in the ground.  There’s also an assorted group of folks who dig exploring caves and underground rivers, including the serious caver and his team, the billionaire adventurer who is financing it all, and the caver’s reluctant but competent son.  The problem is that none of them are very interesting, the rich character is an American being played by a British actor, and I never found myself caring about any of them or anything they did.

Like “The Rite,” it’s occasionally more informative than entertaining, but it ends up feeling like a two-hour commercial for a particular brand of wetsuit.  It’s also heralded as coming from producer James Cameron, and it utilizes some of his technological expertise, some of which looks impressive – but that doesn’t help the story.  It didn’t help “Avatar,” either.


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