Safe House

And now for a most novel idea in motion picture plotting: The CIA and other foreign government intelligence are corrupted by several bad bad bad agents.  These agents are so bad that they’ve killed innocent civilians to cover up their own double dealings and double crossings within these agencies.  Pure genius!

I’m hooked, right?  Right?

Enter Ryan Reynolds working for the CIA as Matt Weston, a young housekeeper of a ‘safe house’ designed for suspected terrorist interrogations.  He’s never even seen live field duty because he spends his time monitoring empty rooms while waiting for an interrogation party to come his way.  He also lives with a French lady friend who knows nothing of his secret government occupation.  Matt dreams of getting out of the watchdog business and into some real field work, but his mentor, operative David Barlow (Brendan Gleeson), instructs him to be patient.

His days of tossing tennis balls against a bare wall come to a halt when suspected double-agent Tobin Frost (Denzel Washington) finds himself captured by the American government.  These armed men attempt to torture Frost for information on his recent shady activity involving the interception of a very important flash drive.  Frost keeps hush and smiles for more abuse.

Suddenly the safe house is breached.  Cue the large shootout.  Everyone dies except for Frost and Weston.  Weston, not knowing what to do, trusts the hierarchy above him, and attempts to transport Frost to the next safe house.  Things don’t go as planned and Weston must attempt to figure out why Mr. Frost is wanted dead by so many people if he wants to stay alive himself.

As swiftly stylized and edited as Safe House can be, almost completely mimicking a Tony Scott film, writer David Guggenheim and director Daniel Espinsosa (both first-timers) find little excitement in developing a ho-hum story.  They are preaching their ‘ideas’ as though they haven’t been sitting stale in a fridge for several weeks.  Instead, Safe House best functions as a Bourne copycat, resorting to the now-standard slice-and-dice editing style that replaces the need for believable fight choreography.

Not to say that action in Safe House is bad—it’s not.  In fact, it can be particularly thrilling.  But why?  The filmmakers have given us a Denzel Washington thriller that unwisely focuses on a boring Ryan Reynolds-played character who offers nothing in the way of audience attachment.  Since he’s not remotely interesting, and his motives for ushering around Washington’s dangerous character are purely a means of furthering the narrative, we only have the great Denzel to root for.  And I’m sorry to say it, but his villain/anti-hero fence walking never had me convinced that he was anything but a hero, despite fractured motives.  I won’t even get into his age issues—as good as he still looks for late 50s, I don’t buy him snapping necks like Bourne and dodging machine gun fire from multiple assassins.  He and Liam Neeson should think about Expendables 3.

The film is also saddled with supporting actors in Vera Farmiga, Brendan Gleeson and Sam Shepherd.  These names have side-splitting talent, and wouldn’t you know they’re wasted on one-note characters?  Perhaps Gleeson gets a little more to do here, but ultimately this megawatt cast has been assembled to deliver by-the-numbers action and story that is only elevated by the fact that we have these actors that are far better than the material would have you believe.

If I’m making Safe House sound awful, I apologize.  It’s not.  Since I recognize that I’m continually veering into negative-town here, I will attest I didn’t have a bad time at the film.  It’s adequately shot, very violent, gritty, just not for any particular engaging reason.  The movie gets a pass because the actors elevate it and make it plenty watchable, even if it’s plenty forgettable.  Ignore the ads.  Safe House is plenty safe, but you won’t have a bad time.

 

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Green Lantern

Let’s get one thing straight: DC Comics does NOT suck. Superman and Batman were starting to look a bit burried under a landslide of Marvel movies. Marvel Comics built its own film studio and every, single Marvel character (even the really stupid ones) had to have his or her own movie. People were starting to say that DC couldn’t hack it, or that they had Batman, but that was their only decent francise. The truth is, DC has been very much alive during Marvel’s decade of dominance at the box office. It simply stayed in the realm of animation. A TV series called Justice League ran from 2001 to 2006, and spawned a large number of hour-long movies. (By the way, Kevin Conroy’s Batman from the animated series is still going strong.) But finally, DC has had the courage to step into the
big leagues with one of their less-recognized characters.

The Green Lantern is a much maligned superhero. People are quick to dismiss him because *snort!* “His weakness is yellow! How pathetic is that?” The thing you have to remember is that Green Lantern mythology is not meant to be taken at all literally. While many superhero stories fit pretty well into the science fiction category, Green Lantern is thoroughly fantasy; it seeks to make sense only in a metaphorical or symbolic way. And while the events on screen are impossible to take seriously, they still capture the universal human experience. A good example is the GL-centrered espisode of Justice League Despero,” which takes place on another planet, but spells out the very earthly themes of  seduction by power and the spirit to resist oppression. It’s the same with this movie. Green
is the color of will. Yellow is the color of fear. As Corps General Sinestro (Mark Strong) explains, “it is fear that stops will; stops you from acting.” That’s why yellow can stop green.

This film does a really good job of bringing Hal Jordan (Ryan Reynolds) and company to the big screen. The origin story is, of course, the necessary evil of every super hero film, and like many films this one has been criticized for being light on action. There’s some truth to that, but, to be honest, I really didn’t notice. Writer Greg Berlanti draws the audience into the story so well, and the cast (especially Reynolds) fills out their roles so well, that mind-blowing action isn’t really necessary.

One interesting development: for obvious reasons, a few years ago, DC began to think that GL creating tanks and tigers from his ring to chase the bad guys was a bit … cartoonish, and so Justice League
limited his power to creating energy shields, lasers and the like. In Green Lantern, the cartoonishness is back, with Hal whipping out gatling guns and roadsters at every turn. But the biggest surprise of all is probably that they make it work pretty well. The story centers around the Corps’ battle with an entity known as Parallax (oddly named after Hal’s eventual super-villain identity from the comics) and Hal’s struggle to be accepted by the Corps. It also has a few goodies, such as a nod to Sinestro’s inevitable slide into super-villiandom, and one absolutely priceless moment that backhands the secret identity complexes of superheroes everywhere.

So how does Green Lantern stack up? It doesn’t have the gritty reality of The Dark Knight, the heart-warming inspiration of Iron Man, or the powerful iconography of Superman Returns. But it’s still a solid adaptation of an under-rated franchise that’s worth checking out.  Incidently, so is the animated Green Lantern: First Flight. Green Lantern is clearly better than:

Electra

The Fantastic Four

The Fantastic Four 2

The Punisher

Spiderman 2

Hulk.

And probably at least as good as:

Ghostrider

Daredevil

Spiderman 3

X2: X-Men United

Iron Man 2

Wolverine

So stop knocking it. If nothing else, the color green has been proven to reduce stress, and this movie has it in spades.

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