I had the opportunity to see some interesting movies lately:

16 Blocks

This movie was pretty good. The premise is that the washed-up alcoholic cop (Bruce Willis) has to escort the important witness (Mos Def) from police station lockup to court 16 blocks away so he can testify. Along the way, someone tries to kill the witness, and the washed-up cop re-awakens and does his best to protect the witness. It turns out that some dirty cops want the witness dead because he’ll testify against them. Willis must get Def to the courthouse in a couple of hours before the jury is excused and the case is dropped.

There was a heavy theme of redemption throughout the movie. I enjoyed the frantic pacing and Mos Def’s performance as the witness, whose quirkiness verged and often overspilled into annoyingness, yet somehow remained endearing. Mos Def has got a real talent for playing a wide variety of oddballs. He won me over in Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and has become one of my favorite character actors.

The only thing that bothered me about 16 Blocks was that the bad cops seemed to be telepathic. The two fugitives were constantly hiding in dark and abandoned building basements, but the cops always found them within minutes. It made for exciting action, but struck me as slightly ridiculous.

Without Mos Def’s performance, this movie would be a 6/10, but he brought it up to a 7/10.

The Matador

Usually I don’t like Pierce Brosnan. His Remington Steele character was like a parodied precursor to the worst Bond ever. I have to admit that I loved this movie, and I don’t think anyone could have played the part of the burned-out professional assassin as well as Brosnan. He was coarse, dysfunctional, and lonely, and played all of these traits convincingly. I won’t say much about the plot, because it was pretty simple, and I don’t want to give it away. More than anything, it was about Brosnan’s character’s flaws, how he is oblivious to what is appropriate and normal, and how all of it collides as he realizes he’s at the end of his career. I give The Matador 9/10.

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

I haven’t watched a Harry Potter movie in a while. I think I missed a couple in the middle after the first one. I have read all of the books though, and found them brilliant. Maybe that’s what made me so disappointed with this movie. I really felt like it was a very sloppy summary of the book. I expect a lot to be missing, because it’s not possible to include everything from a book into the movie, but somehow The Goblet of Fire just felt cheap. They skimmed over and omitted some of the most exciting moments. For example, the World Series of Quidditch scene and attack on the wizard camp at the beginning of the film should have been far more detailed because it is essential to establishing an understanding of the evil of the movie’s villain. I felt cheated when they glossed over the Tri-Wizard dragon challenge and went straight to the end. As a consequence, I never got a feeling for the important characters surrounding Harry, and couldn’t form any kind of emotional attachment to them. To make matters worse, bad writing and editing sabotages Harry’s relationship with Cho. She is supposed to be his first love, and their interaction is limited to about 30 seconds on screen and about 10 words. It was barely enough time to realize that this Asian girl had a Scottish accent. The editing of the entire film was extraordinarily abrupt and I was always getting the feeling that the best parts were lying on a cutting room floor somewhere.

The Harry Potter series is arguably one of this century’s most successful literary franchises. Each of its movies should be treated like gold. Given their profit-making potential, Warner Brothers should be giving these movies the same kind of consideration that The Lord of the Rings series received. I don’t understand why they feel like they can get away with such a sloppy rendition. Maybe it’s because they’re practically assured of success that the effort was so lax. I curse this one with a 3/10, not because it’s entirely that horrible, but because it wastes the enormous potential of its source material. I sincerely hope that there’s a redeeming director’s cut somewhere in the future.

Running Scared

I can honestly say this was one of the most pleasantly surprising movies I’ve seen all year. I went into it not knowing much about it, and left wanting to know so much more. The concept is a basic “race against time” kind of thing, much like 16 Blocks. The main character is a thug whose boss instructs him to dispose of a few guns used to kill some dirty cops. Of course, things go horribly wrong, and son’s friend ends up stealing one of the guns and using it to shoot his abusive father. The rest of the movie is mostly about the thug trying to locate the kid and the gun so it can’t be traced back to the murder of the cops. He runs up against some of the most foul and evil characters I’ve ever seen on stage, including gangsters, pimps, and child pornographers.

Running Scared constantly treads into new territory, and pushing the limits of what we can bear to watch. The child pornography scene drove me right to the edge of my comfort level, and then beyond. I was on the edge of my set through the entire pivotal hockey rink scene. Running Scared is brutal, callous, and emotionally over-the-top. Yet, miraculously, it never feels like it’s too much.

Visually, Running Scared is brilliant. Writer and director Wayne Kramer pulled out all the stops on this one, with gritty, close-framed shots and frenetic, dizzying camera work. This can be a pet peeve of mine, when this type of camera work becomes the star of the show, but the film is so strong in its acting, writing and pacing that the outrageous visual style compliments rather than overpowers.

For what it is–gritty, fast-paced crime drama–Running Scared is perfect. I give it 10/10.