Thursday, February 04, 2010

Reel Low: Four Capers & I'm Only Out Two Bucks

A dollar theater has taken root in one of the run-down movie houses in my little town, which I love because its sparsely attended and a boon to my wallet. Only recently have I made a point to place it on my radar and see a couple of picture shows.
Last night I sought out the unabashed B-movie Armored [2009] at the dollar theater. The heist flick was in and out of regular theaters this fall and I never got around to see it despite wanting to. The trailer oversold the overall quality of the movie, as its supposed to, but it's still an above-average crime thriller, only not for the reasons I was initially hoping for.
In any heist story, I crave an excellent breakdown of the robbery itself. The more hands on it is, the better. I hate the involvement of the weaselly tech guy who has to hack into a computer system to open the vault. Give me James Caan in Michael Mann's Thief any day over that bullshit.
Regardless, technological advancements have advanced security to the point where the idea of the tech guy on the heist team is plausible. In fact, technology is why this group of thieves acts on their plan in the first place.
Armored is the story of a cabal of armored truck guards at a private security firm. The company is about to equip all their trucks with GPS enhancements. The five veteran guards convince the newly hired Ty Hackett, played by Columbus Short, to join them in their plan. The normally noble Gulf War vet is not initially seduced by their offer because of his predictable money problems, but does succumb once complications with his family situation escalate.This pedestrian background takes up a little too much time, and is an especially noticeable drag during the first 30 minutes or so because there is little particularly likable, humorous or otherwise interesting about the other five guards shown to us. That's kinda odd because unlike Short, who I had never seen before, the others have all been in things that I really enjoy: Jean Reno (The Professional), Skeet Ulrich (Jericho), Amaury Nolasco (Prison Break -- before it became unwatchable), Laurence Fishburne and Matt Dillon as the de facto leader. There are some attempts at humor amongst the group, and while those sequences may have been really funny in a real-world setting, they don't translate to the screen.
Unfortunately for me, the heist itself is undeniably dull. Fortunately the aftermath is anything but. I'll stop short of any spoilers, but once the action gets going, it's downright impressive. Director Nimrod Antal, along with the help of cinematographer Andrzej Sekula who has worked on Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction and American Psycho among other films, shows some serious film-making chops here. The angles and tracking of the shots aren't your standard fare. It doesn't go as far as, say, the Matrix movies did to rewrite the rulebook on action-movie expectations, but these guys didn't shortchange you on anything visually, which is all too common in movies of this sort. I have to admit I said "oh, shit!" a few times aloud.
The sad thing about Armored is that it wraps up a bit too quickly, but at least concludes completely. Since you've probably missed this bad boy in the theater, no worries; it's much better served for a lazy, mindless viewing as a rental anyhow. But it is unapologetic in what it is, and I respect it for that.
The other three capers took place on another dollar-theater adventure of mine from a few weeks ago, each of which was marvelously presented in Wes Anderson's Fantastic Mr. Fox [2009].
Mark previously hailed this as one of the best films of the year, and I wholeheartedly agree.
Mr. Fox, as voiced by George Clooney, is the charismatic thief who can't stay retired despite promises he made to his wife. He moves his family into a home he can't really afford that just happens to be located nearby three farmers who have poultry and other unique goods that Mr. Fox can't restrain himself from plotting to steal.
The story is filled with colorful characters and sophisticated humor that would likely go over the head of most kids. This is a children's movie for adults.
As opposed to Armored, Fox allows each riveting heist to unfold before you on screen. You see Mr. Fox and his cohorts sidestep security and evade capture at every turn.
But this is a fully developed world and feels entirely real despite the intentionally herky-jerkiness of some of the animation. And it's the emotional dynamics between the Fox family and their furry friends that ultimately drive the film forward.
Other than Rushmore, I can't say I've really enjoyed any of Anderson's films (of the ones that I've even bothered to see), so I was quite surprised at how much I liked it. Easily his best work to date.
Fantastic Mr. Fox is a delight of a film. Completely satisfying in every way, and I'd say it also just happens to be one of the best heist movies to come out in the last few years to boot. Not bad for a stop-motion animation adaption of a classic children's book. A must-see at the earliest opportunity.

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