Friday, January 25, 2013

Movie 43: The Whole Is Not Equal To The Sum Of Its Parts

Movie 43 is a complex cat, my friends.  It really is.  It's hard to understand why its actually in existence in the first place.  For those who don't know, Movie 43 is basically an anthology film of a bunch of comedic shorts written and filmed by different directors.  But, what sets this film a part is that it has somehow managed to rope in some of today's finest actors including but not limited to Kate Winslet, Hugh Jackman, Halle Berry, Terrence Howard, Richard Gere, Greg Kinnear, Dennis Quaid, Gerard Butler, Emma Stone, Naomi Watts, Uma Thurman, Kristen Bell, and Elizabeth Banks.  So, for this cast of fine actors, this movie should've been nothing short of painstakingly hilarious.  And yet, the finished product is, well... not.

It began many years ago as an idea from Peter Farrelly (one of the two Farrelly bros, the guys that brought us Dumb and Dumber and There's Something About Mary) about having a bunch of comedic directors make a bunch of really funny, really raunchy, really disgusting short films and piecing them together.  The reason it took so long to make is because it wasn't really more than just that... an idea.  They'd film a segment or two and then a year would go by, another director would be free, film another short and once they had a finished product they could piece them all together to make one large comedic masterpiece.  This was the thought.  But what brings Movie 43 down is not just that the cast brings with it a higher expectation than say, a Scary Movie 5 would bring in, but it's also expected that with these big names comes big laughs.

The problem with making a movie composed of different shorts is that there's no good way to piece together any sort of storyline.  They attempt a poor connection to bring them somewhat into the same universe but it doesn't actually make a whole hell of a lot of sense nor is that funny.  The "story" is a man (Dennis Quaid) has come to a movie producer (Greg Kinnear) to pitch his movie ideas.  His ideas end up being the fourteen separate vignettes that literally have nothing to do with one another.  They're essentially Saturday Night Live sketches that are too filthy to be put on television.  Some of them really hit with the laughs and some of them are painful to watch as the looming anticipation for a big laugh never really pans out.  The first short entitled "The Catch" involves a woman (Kate Winslet) going out on a blind date with a handsome millionaire (Hugh Jackman).  Now, I won't spoil anything for you, but the gross-out factor comes out swinging pretty early.  This sketch, I found to be extremely funny, if not a bit juvenile.  And it may have just been the novelty of seeing Winslet and Jackman doing things on screen you'd never expect from them, but it really did make me laugh.

The second short "Homeschooled" is a funny idea, but unfortunately if you've seen either trailer released for Movie 43, you've seen the entire short for this one.  I think if the people behind the trailer had left a few of the scenes out, it would've added to the funny of the whole.  While I still think it was more funny in the premise than the execution, it was still worthy of being in the film.  Then comes Anna Faris and Chris Pratt in "The Proposition".  I'm still undecided on this one.  There's a big "joke" in this one that made the twelve-year-old in me chuckle, pretty hard actually, but the adult in me shake my head and go "what the hell were they thinking?"  It starts to go downhill after that.  Next up are a couple of short commercials that aren't too extraordinarily funny.  I personally think the commercials on SNL are much more clever.  But, a short entitled "iBabe" starring Richard Gere, Kate Bosworth and Jack MacBrayer really didn't hit hard enough.  Again, it's another case of a funny concept with a poor execution.  Richard Gere was wasted in a part that really could've gone to a nobody.  "Veronica" with Emma Stone was just a little bit too weird and wasn't all that funny with a strange, abrupt ending.

But, I think the biggest disappointments in the film were the two back-to-back shorts "Superhero Speed Dating" and "Middleschool Date".  "Superhero" had the best potential of the entire movie, but actually provided nearly no laughs whatsoever and left you wondering how such an intelligently funny group of actors came out looking foolish.  It's not like they weren't given something to work with... it's superheroes in a coffee shop speed dating.  I truly expected more from Jason Sudekis in this one.  "Middleschool Date", which was actually directed by Elizabeth Banks, really just missed the mark on everything.  Sure, it ups the gross out factor a bit, but the failed attempt at a commentary about how the male sex perceives the female menstrual cycle just felt a little too 90s, a little too archaic for us now.  Same with how many times actors fart in this film.  And, this may be the worst usage of Patrick Warburton, one of the funniest character actors of our time.

Then came Brett Ratner's "Happy Birthday" sketch with Johnny Knoxville, Sean William Scott and Gerard Butler about two friends who kidnap a Leprechaun (Butler) in order to get his gold.  This sketch was sickeningly funny.  It's over-the-top violence and horrifically filthy dialogue lend to one damn funny short.  After that is Halle Berry and Stephen Merchant in "Truth or Dare" which was amusing, but should've been much better than it was.  Terrence Howard's short "Victory's Glory" was another really funny idea that had all of its biggest laughs spoiled by the trailer.  The last short, however, directed by James Gunn and starring Elizabeth Banks and Josh Duhamel, entitled "Beezel" may have been the funniest and best sketch of the film.  Sure, it seemed like a ten-year-old boy wrote it to laugh at how much cat piss he could show on screen... but... it may only seem that way.  This is a short that pushed the boundaries of both vulgarity and grossness.  But, what it also did was bring something new to the table.  It made us laugh at how unconventionally hilarious it was.  While the rest of the sketches seemed like amateur hour, this sketch knew that in a film of comedic vignettes, there had to be something original and unique.

Peter Farrelly, God bless him, will always have a soft spot in our hearts for being the guy that brought us great comedies in the 90s.  That's it.  Just the 90s.  The guy hasn't made me laugh since Me, Myself, and Irene.  Dumb and Dumber and Kingpin are two of the funniest movies of all time.  Why?  Because they pushed boundaries.  They showed us something we've never seen before.  They made us laugh and they grossed us out.  But, that's what that time was.  The mid to late 90s was gross-out humor.  That's why American Pie, Scary Movie, and There's Something About Mary are remembered.  However, when that era runs dry of laughs, the comedy style evolves into something new.  It used to be the slapstick Jim Carrey/Steve Martin/Eddie Murphy, then it was the gross-out, then it was the era of "smart" vulgar Apatow comedies.  But, what people like Farrelly (and Adam Sandler) forget is to evolve with the rest of them.  If you keep making the same movies, and keep trying to shock the audience, chances are you'll hit with a laugh or two, but you'll never make another movie again with the same lasting power as you did fifteen years ago.

What really made Movie 43 such mediocre film is how disjointed it is.  None of the shorts connect and none of them really have anything to say.  There's no messages in any of them, there's no commentary, there's nothing even a little bit intelligent or clever about any of the shorts in the film.  They're immature, deliberately offensive, one-joke ponies by immature directors that got lucky enough to land the best cast of all time.  The movie is actually better off as a trailer than as a movie because that's all it is... one big preview.  When I first saw Jimmy Kimmel's fake trailer for Movie: The Movie it almost made me long for the actual thing. But I realized that it's only funny because it's a trailer.  Because there's no need for plot or character or theme or any other conventions that make movies good because it's just there for the sake of a couple of quick laughs.  That's what Movie 43 is in a nutshell.  It's a very funny movie trailer, but a very mediocre movie.  Yes, it will definitely make you laugh.  But, there are such long lulls of silence between the laughter that you actually start to realize the wasted potential.  It's probably the first movie that would've served better to have a laugh track behind it, and that's a pretty embarrassing thought.


Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Big Peck's Cineflex Awards Edition: Oscar Winner Predictions

Okay, so, the Academy Award Nominations have been released for a couple weeks now and I've held on to writing about them for awhile now.  I had to let them sink in and really reflect on what I wanted to say about them.  So, I'm going to break them down category by category and give you my two cents on how I feel about each.

Best Picture:
Beasts of the Southern Wild
Django Unchained
Les Miserables
Life of Pi
Silver Linings Playbook
Zero Dark Thirty

This is a pretty decent list of Best Picture nominees.  There are quite a few great movies on this list that I actually agree are Best Picture worthy.  However, there are a couple that I don't.  Now, I haven't seen Amour yet, but it sucks that it knocked out other worthy movies.  It's a shoo-in to win the Best Foreign Film category, so why did it get nominated twice?  Why did movies like Moonrise Kingdom and The Impossible have to get snubbed so this movie could take its place, not win, but win another category?  Also, (and I will update this once I've seen it) I haven't seen Life of Pi.  There are some real lovers of the book, but I personally hated it and have no desire to see the adaptation.  That being said, I'll always see movies nominated for Best Picture, so we'll have to see.

What's Going To Win: Lincoln
What Should Win: Argo

This was a hard decision to make about what should win.  Because, those who know me know I absolutely LOVED Les Miserables, but I can look past my own bias and see that there are other films out there more worthy of Best Picture.  If comedies stood a chance in Hell, Silver Linings Playbook  would be a great choice.  It was a fantastic movie very deserving.  Zero Dark Thirty, Django Unchained  and Lincoln were all fantastic movies, each deserving, but it was Argo to me that really stood out as what the Academy should and could consider the Best Picture of 2012.

Now, Lincoln is going to win.  No doubt in my mind.  I say this because, well, it's Spielberg and Daniel Day-Lewis.  It's hard to say Ben Affleck was better than that.  Also, and this has only not happened a handful of times.  Nine times out of ten whoever wins Best Director will win Best Picture.  Well, with Ben Affleck's name (undeservingly) off the list, as well as Tarantino's, Bigelow's and Hooper's... that pretty much tells you who the Academy already knows is the lock.

Best Actor:
Bradley Cooper (Silver Linings Playbook)
Daniel Day-Lewis (Lincoln)
Hugh Jackman (Les Miserables)
Joaquin Phoenix (The Master)
Denzel Washington (Flight)

This is where I smile and tip my hat to the Academy.  This is the perfect list of the five actors with the finest performances in 2012.  Each actor took it to new heights and showed off just exactly what makes them great.  Bradley Cooper showed us he can actually play someone different then cocky douchebag.  Joaquin Phoenix can show us he's not just insane, but knows a thing or two about the acting game.  Denzel Washington showed us that when he wants to he can branch out from his typical Tony Scott-esque written roles.  Hugh Jackman showed us a different side other than Wolverine.  And Daniel Day-Lewis, well... he showed us he's still the best damn actor on the Earth.

Who's Going To Win: Daniel Day-Lewis
Who Should Win: Hugh Jackman

I realize, yes, I have a bias towards Les Miserables.  But, when the hell are we ever going to see a performance that stellar from Hugh Jackman ever again.  The guy put everything he had into the role.  He put all his cards down on the table and came up with a jackpot.  He lost weight, he shaved his head, he sang for three months straight.  He did literally everything in the film and literally blew me away with his performance.  And while I agree that Daniel Day-Lewis was fantastic as Abraham Lincoln... the guy could've done it in his sleep.  It wasn't exactly out of his wheelhouse.  Yes, Bill the Butcher took a lot of method acting.  Even Daniel Plainview was a difficult role.  But, Lincoln...?  I don't think it really took that much other than changing his voice and putting on a lot of make-up.  Don't mistake me and think that I'm saying it was a safe performance, because for anyone else it wouldn't have been.  But, Daniel Day-Lewis is a whole different caliber of actor.  I felt Hugh Jackman was far superior than anyone else this year.

Best Actress:
Jessica Chastain (Zero Dark Thirty)
Jennifer Lawrence (Silver Linings Playbook)
Emmanuelle Riva (Amour)
Quvenzhane Wallis (Beasts of the Southern Wild)
Naomi Watts (The Impossible)

I'm not as confident about this category as I am the others.  I haven't seen Amour or The Impossible yet, but the other actresses are definitely right calls from the Academy.  Chastain was fantastic, Jennifer Lawrence, while not really taking on as stressful a role as the rest still does fine work here.  And Wallis... man, for a nine year old was amazing in Beasts.  I wouldn't be too heartbroken if she won, actually.

Who's Going to Win: Jessica Chastain
Who Should Win: Jessica Chastain

And even though I haven't seen a few of the other movies, I am confident that Chastain is the most deserved of the Oscar.  Her character, while not overtly complex, is not without her convictions.  I believed Chastain every second she was on screen.  I desperately rooted for her not to fail each instance I knew she would.  I wept with her when she suffered loss and I felt the stress and anxiety that was hardly ever shown to the audience other than when looking into her eyes.  Her performance was fantastic and there is no one more deserving this year than her.

Best Supporting Actor:
Alan Arkin (Argo)
Christoph Waltz (Django Unchained) 
Philip Seymour Hoffman (The Master)
Robert De Niro (Silver Linings Playbook)
Tommy Lee Jones (Lincoln)

Well, Academy, you almost had it right in this category as well.  However, you failed to recognize the better supporting actor in Django Unchained as Leonardo DiCaprio.  Why do you hate him so much Academy?  What can he possibly do to garner your respect?  Change his voice? Done.  Change his appearance?  Done.  Have every movie released by him be fantastic?  Done!  Why would he be so overlooked when he's truly one of the best actors of this generation?  Other than that... great choices.  Alan Arkin is always a great choice and it was here again.  Philip Seymour Hoffman showed me some of the best acting I've ever seen from him... ever.  Robert De Niro was great maybe not so much because he actually showed us he's gotten bored with stupid comedies with Ben Stiller, but because the guy used to be an amazing actor.  And, let's not forget, Tommy Lee Jones.  Yes, he's a prick.  But, he stole the show in Lincoln.

Who's Going To Win: Tommy Lee Jones
Who Should Win: Tommy Lee Jones 

Best Supporting Actress:
Amy Adams (The Master)
Anne Hathaway (Les Miserables)
Helen Hunt (The Sessions)
Jacki Weaver (Silver Linings Playbook)
Sally Field (Lincoln)

Okay, this one perplexes me just a tad.  I understand most of the picks.  Amy Adams was fantastic in The Master which just goes to perplex further that with all three of the main stars of that movie getting nominations, well-deserved nominations, then why was the movie so... meh?  Anne Hathaway brought the house down with her portrayal of Fantine.  I have yet to see The Sessions but the general consensus is Helen Hunt was great in it.  Now, this is the one that confuses me... Jacki Weaver.  Okay, yeah, sure, she was... good... in her film, but was she great?  When you walked out of Silver Linings Playbook did you think to yourself, "man, that mom was so good, she's gonna win?"  No.  So, now another fantastic performance was overlooked.  Both Eponine (Samantha Barks) from Les Miserables and half the cast of Moonrise Kingdom were overlooked in favor of a role that any middle aged actress could've played. Sally Field was also remarkably annoying in Lincoln, but that just means she did a great job.

Who's Going to Win: Anne Hathaway
Who Should Win: Anne Hathaway

This is a no-brainer.  I know I just bitched about Jacki Weaver getting a spot, but really the five nominations should've looked thusly:
Anne Hathaway (Les Miserables)
Anne Hathaway (Les Miserables)
Anne Hathaway (Les Miserables)
Anne Hathaway (Les Miserables)
Anne Hathaway (Les Miserables)
She was beyond amazing in that film.  If you didn't try to hold back tears during her "I Dreamed A Dream" rendition, then you are a robot.  A soulless, lifeless robot that wasn't given a chip implanted in your brain that signifies emotion.  This is a 100%, no doubt in my mind, guarantee.  

Best Director:
Ang Lee (Life of Pi)
Benh Zeitlin (Beasts of the Southern Wild)
David O. Russell (Silver Linings Playbook)
Michael Haneke (Amour)
Steven Spielberg (Lincoln)

This is the category that angered me the most, Academy.  There are only two directors that deserve to be on this list.  Ang Lee... eh.  I haven't seen Pi, but I can already tell you just by looking at the film that he MIGHT deserve to be on here for the ability to film an unfilmable book.  Zeitlin... no.  While he did make a beautiful movie, I wouldn't call him the best director.  O. Russell, yeah.  Okay.  He deserves to be here.  Haneke... no.  This just goes to show you that it's a bunch of old men in the Academy with no eye for what actually makes a movie or a director superbly great.  And, obviously Spielberg will always deserve to be on the list.  But who got robbed?  Well, Katheryn Bigelow for Zero Dark Thirty.  Quentin Tarantino for Django.  Oh, wait, how about the best director of the last five years, Ben friggin' Affleck?

Who's Going To Win: Steven Spielberg
Who Should Win: Ben Affleck

I don't take anything away from Spielberg.  He is obviously a fine director and he's proven himself time and time again.  He's just gotten a little stale as of late.  War Horse, Tintin, and even moments of Lincoln.  But, Affleck has now proven himself a third time that he's a competent director who knows what to do behind a camera.  And he gets snubbed for it???  This is how I know Lincoln is going to walk away with the most gold.  Spielberg isn't going to just win director and turn around to see something else get the Best Picture trophy.  It's already been spoiled by the Academy.  All we can do is watch it happen.

Best Animated Feature:
The Pirates! Band of Misfits
Wreck-It Ralph

Okay, Academy, I'll let you have this last one.  You did it right once more.  I've grown tired of them nominating the Pixar movie and then throwing out random shitty other cartoons just to fill up the space.  This time, Pixar has a lot up against it.  Brave may not actually be the Best Animated Feature.  In fact, I've seen all of the films and they're all great. I don't know if I truly liked one of them more than the other and I'm honestly stumped on which one will win.

What's Going To Win: Brave (?)  This is a safe guess, I suppose?
What Should Win: Wreck-It Ralph

Wreck-It Ralph just really stands out for me this year.  While Frankenweenie was extremely creative, it didn't pack that long-lasting punch for me.  ParaNorman was a fun horror movie for kids, a movie that broke a lot of boundaries, I believe, but I still don't think it was up to the caliber of Ralph.  The Pirates! was actually the closest to being my favorite animated movie of the year.  It's incredibly fun and hilarious.  And Brave, well, while I thoroughly enjoyed it and I tip my hat to Pixar again... it didn't feel like a Pixar movie.  It felt like a Dreamworks vehicle and Wreck-It Ralph had that true Pixar feel.  That's why I feel like it should win.

It looks like it's going to be another Spielberg year for the Oscars.  He tends to sweep it up every few years or so when he makes some big historical epic to cleanse his palate of all of the "fun" movies he makes in between.  But wouldn't you love it if it won nothing big?  Like, I have this little thought in the back of my mind that either Argo or Silver Linings Playbook could steal it away.  It's highly possible, though the Academy doesn't have a penchant for shocking viewers.  But, I'd love to be wrong in (almost) every category and see either of those two movies steal everything away that Spielberg holds dear.  If there was a way that DGA, WGA, SAG, etc., members could write in winners on their ballot, I have a feeling Ben Affleck would still have a decent shot.  But, February 23rd will come and Lincoln will take home the statue and we'll wait for the next movie that isn't necessarily the best movie of the year next year, but one that just has that feel of an Academy favorite to win once more.

Monday, January 21, 2013

The Last Stand: Ah-Nuld's BACK!

I have almost an unhealthy love for Schwarzenegger films.  For some reason his movies have a personal connection to my childhood, my father, past friendships, etc., and watching him in theaters after a ten year hiatus was momentous.  I still remember the first time my father showed me Terminator 2, one of the first R rated movies I ever watched.  I still remember saving up my own hard-earned allowance money and buying a VHS copy of Kindergarten Cop from Costco and watching it over and over and over.  I still remember staying up all night with a friend, the night before he had to have his wisdom teeth pulled, and having an Arnold marathon consisting of Commando, Raw Deal, Predator, and even that shitty one with Jim Belushi where Arnold is Russian.  And while most may have a sour outlook towards him due to his politics or personal life or whatever, I will always watch fondly as Arnold, aged as he is, kicks some righteous ass.

The biggest worry I had about this film is that it wouldn't feel like an Arnold movie.  There are certain qualities every Arnold movie has that makes it so.  You've got to have the cheesy one-liners.  I'm not talking about "I'll be back."  I'm talking like when Arnold snaps a guy's neck on a plane, sits him in a seat, rests his head on a pillow and tells the stewardess, "don't mess with my friend here... he's dead tired."  It also has to have the classic Arnold grunting noises.  And lastly, it can't take itself too seriously.  Arnold knows who his audience is.  He's not there to make good movies, he's there to make movies that are so damn entertaining you want to watch them over and over.  Thankfully, The Last Stand didn't disappoint in any of the aforementioned criteria.

Arnie plays Ray Owens, the Sheriff of a hick ass town on the border of Arizona and Mexico.  An escaped convict, Gabriel Cortez, a huge cartel boss, is heading to the border, with a hostage in tow, and has to pass through Arnold's town to do it.  Needless to say when the FBI (led by Forest Whitaker) calls Ray to warn him of the impending death and destruction heading his way... he snaps into action.  Unfortunately, most of the town is gone all weekend for a football championship game.  The only people left are a few deputies (Luis Guzman included) and a few screwball townsfolk willing to lend a hand (Johnny Knoxville).  That's it.  That's the plot.  And it's perfect.  It doesn't have to get all convoluted with intricate plot twists and a huge Ocean's 11 escape plan.  It's simple, it's fun, it's Arnold.

Arnold is getting old.  Yes, this is a fact.  It's been a long ten years since we last saw him in a leading role, but his return makes it seem like it was no time at all.  It's like riding a bike.  He's still the same hammy Arnold who knows exactly what his fans want.  Granted, there may not be a whole hell of a lot of fans left, but for those of us seeking mindless action this certainly fills the void.  And, it's not too stupid, either.  There's actually a very entertaining movie unfolding.  It's not just entirely mindless Expendables action.  These are characters and a town that you genuinely want to watch saved.

Korean director Jee-Woon Kim does an excellent job at turning a podunk little town into the scene of an epic battle remniscient of all the old westerns that led to greatness of the action genre.  And yeah, there is a lot of spaghetti western tropes in this film.  It reminded me of a slightly stupider, a little more corny, and a lot bloodier version of High Noon.  Each supporting character lends to the fun of the movie despite the pre-inclinations that they would weaken it.  Even Johnny Knoxville, who's only in it for about twenty minutes tops adds to the fun.  He's not looking to cheese it up and get the cheap laugh, he's there to blast some fools as well.

You already know from the trailer whether or not you're going to see this movie or not. I don't have to post a review to change your mind.  There are three types of people in this world: those who like Arnold, those who don't like Arnold, and those who like Mel Gibson.  If you're one of the latter two... well, stay the hell away from this movie.  But, if you're like me, and you still have that soft spot for Arnie, and you enjoy being entertained to the utmost... check out The Last Stand.  Because, I'll tell ya, it's damn fun.


Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Zero Dark Thirty: Hurt Lockerin' Osama Bin Ladin

It's difficult for me to stay objective and unbiased of Zero Dark Thirty because, personally, I don't really approve of the movie being made in the first place.  Just as I think United 93 and World Trade Center were just as unnecessary and a little bit "too soon".  Here's the thing... they're exploitative movies that capitalize on horrific tragedies that have occurred in our country.  You can give me any bullshit you want about how it honors the people who were involved or killed or whatever.  But, guess what, any of that profit you made... didn't go to honor the families, did it?  I realize I might be overreacting and a bit cynical but I think exploiting something like the killing of Osama bin Laden is a bit of a cheap shot.  It screams Oscar bait.  And, what's that, let's get that chick from The Hurt Locker to direct it! (Does anyone still remember Kathryn Bigelow got famous for directing Point Break)?  I'm just a little bothered by the suits in Hollywood looking to make a significant profit off of national tragedy.  However, after doing a little research I discovered a few things... Zero Dark Thirty didn't actually begin as this film.  It was originally fully written about the decade-long unsuccessful manhunt of bin Laden, but as luck would happen, we ended up smokin' dat foo and voila! a better ending fell right into their laps.  So, it was rewritten to focus all the efforts on how we actually found him. It's kinda like that movie Fever Pitch where a dude loves the Red Sox and they never win but after they filmed it the Red Sox won and so they re-shot the ending?  Right?  Isn't it totally like that?  Like, totally?  Am I to blame Bigelow and her cohorts for taking advantage of an ending that miraculously occurred whilst the other script was being greenlit?  Of course, I could.  But, I will not.

I figured I'd get all my bitching out of the way first because after having seen the movie, there's not much else I can complain about.  As much as it pains me to say it, as much as I hate having to admit when I'm wrong, Zero Dark Thirty is a really good movie.  Cheap exploits aside, I'm impressed at how engaged I was the entire time.  I'm impressed at how even though I know a significant amount of information regarding the SEAL Team Six raid of bin Laden's compound... I was still nervous as balls.  Much like Argo, this film was wholly intense almost through its entirety, even though you're very much aware of the ending.  This is what I call superior filmmaking.  Bigelow has found her niche, I believe.  She has a way of making overtly long films, yet never letting it drag on too long before something equally intense or suspenseful is flung at the viewer.  She excelled at this in The Hurt Locker, and she excels here.

Zero Dark Thirty follows Maya (Jessica Chastain), a CIA operative working incessantly, for several years on locating the whereabouts of Osama bin Laden after the 9/11 attacks.  Along with CIA member, Dan, they work to accomplish successful interrogations of known associates of bin Laden and his crew.  Eventually, and after countless lives are lost and relationships broken, she finally receives a lead that winds up putting bin Laden in the compound where Seal Team Six invades.  Though Maya isn't given much of a background and there isn't much time given to provide the viewer information about her social life outside of work, we know everything about her.  She wears herself on her sleeves.  We can see the pain and torment and frustration weighing heavily on her just by looking into her eyes.  She's unyielding, even when the "interrogations" aren't exactly kosher.  Her entire being is dead-set on her pursuit of Osama, even when America's attentions are focused elsewhere.  There's a scene where almost ten years after the 9/11 attacks, she's still presenting her superiors with leads and she's shot down because who really cares about bin Laden... he's probably dead anyway.  But, it's her unrelenting pursuit that led to one of the greatest manhunts in history.

The movie does cover a large span of time only stopping to pinpoint specific moments that were important to the pursuit.  Most of the characters save for Maya are only on screen for a brief period of time.  Two hours pass before the SEAL team even enter the film.  But, each piece of information is vital to the flow of the story in order to show the near impossible path each person takes to retrieve it.  It's difficult to watch some of the scenes when you know that failure or death is the inevitable path.  It's also difficult to watch some of the torture the CIA implements because even though I am very aware that it's still a movie, try to prove to me that the guy wasn't actually being waterboarded.  The film is actually very unapologetic about its portrayal of the use of torture as a means to get information from these known associates.  I liked it because it shows America in an imperfect light.  If you bomb our country or know someone who did, we will torture the fuck out of you until you give us what we want.  "If you lie to me, I hurt you..."  Well said.

And I wouldn't go so far as to say that this movie is PrObama, but it's certainly very unabashedly anti-Bush.  The WMD's fiasco during Bush's reign is mentioned several times and actually hinders Maya's pursuit, setting it back months because the Government no longer allows room for error.  They only deal in certainty and an 80% chance they know where bin Laden is hiding may just not be good enough because it could backfire just as the WMDs did.  Most people aren't going to the movie to see the road traveled to get to the blasting of Osama, they're here for the last thirty minutes.  And while the first two hours of the film are masterful, the last thirty takes the cake for fantastic filmmaking.  Devoid of a soundtrack, we watch as the SEAL team land two "stealth" helicopters next to and on the compound.  The whole landing itself isn't exactly stealth, but they're not there to be secretive.  They're there for one reason: make sure Osama bin Laden ain't breathing by morning.  It's half shot in almost complete darkness spliced with shots of nightvision from the point of view of the Navy SEALS.  And like I've stressed before, even though you know exactly what's going to happen, even though you know nothing really goes wrong, even though you know not a single Navy SEAL is killed or left behind... you're scared.  You're on the edge of your seat anticipating anything going wrong at any moment.  And, it's quite a sight to see.

Yes, this movie should not have been as good as it was.  Yes, America should almost be embarrassed that they can and will exploit any tragedy or occurrence they feel will generate a significant profit.  And yes, this movie should've just been your run-of-the-mill Lifetime TV movie starring Rob Lowe... it's not.  It's a sleek thriller that just so happens to be a [mostly] true story.  It's certainly deserving of an Oscar nomination and though I'm sure it won't win, it's a movie that's deserved of being watched at least once.


Friday, January 11, 2013

Gangster Squad: Every Actor In This Movie Has Been In A Better Movie

I feel like Gangster Squad was doomed from the beginning.  It's a period piece that I, personally, don't think is meant to be taken extremely serious.  But, it's going to be compared to the likes of L.A. Confidential and The Untouchables.  It also was made very closely to another period piece that was taken seriously and was, in fact, a much better movie, Lawless.  Then, unfortunately, the Aurora movie theater shootings happened, sending this film back into production to remove a scene in which gangsters ambush police by shooting up a movie theater.  There's really no coming back from that.  Now, whose to say it would've resonated better had fuckwit mcgee not killed some people in a theater.  If Gangster Squad had come out in September like it was originally scheduled to do, would it have been looked at as less serious and more of a popcorn-flick?  Who knows.  The cast is so theoretically great that there's almost no way expectations wouldn't be high.

Gangster Squad tells the (somewhat) true (but probably not) story of the Los Angeles Police Chief Parker (Nick Nolte) covertly putting together a team led by Sgt. John O'Mara (Josh Brolin) to take down notorious L.A. gangster Mickey Cohen (Sean Penn).  O'Mara leads a team of caricatures, not cops.  You've got the cute, but tough one (Ryan Gosling), the one that throws knives (Anthony Mackie), the gunslinger (Robert Patrick), the smart one (Giovanni Ribisi) and the Mexican dude (Michael Pena).  The fact that director Ruben Fleischer was able to pull together such raw talent for a single movie, with a lackluster script is impressive all on its own.  And, most of these actors really do attempt their best with what they've been given, but it's difficult to make an impression when there's not much to work with. Emma Stone is also in the film, but there's not much of a reason for it except to give Gosling a little bit more to do. (Get it?)

What worked in Gangster Squad: The characters, first off.  Even if the script is clunky and leaves more to be desired, when you put a group of fine actors together, there's still going to be fun.  Robert Patrick nearly steals the show with every moment of screen time he's given.  Anthony Mackie is always damn watchable.  And Ribisi will never let you down.  Secondly, the violence.  There's some pretty gnarly violence in this film.  Mickey Cohen is no softie.  You will be reminded of this several times throughout.  I mean, in the first two minutes of the film a man is ripped in half by being tied to two cars speeding off in opposite directions.  There's dozens of shootings, stabbings, even a power drill to the head.  The ultraviolence really seems to lend to the fact that maybe this was supposed to be more of a summer release popcorn flick.  Third, the humor.  The script wasn't very delicately written with each character fleshed out and properly given a chance at inner growth, but the banter plays.  Some of the conversations these guys have, in the midst of all the violence, is really quite witty and lends a bit of a relief before more stressful situations arise.  That's the one thing I can applaud screenwriter Will Beall for is his knack for wit.

What didn't work in Gangster Squad: pretty much everything else.  While the movie definitely had the look of the 40s and 50s, it was just a little too glossy and pretty and 2012 to be believable.  When watching a movie like L.A. Confidential, you're sucked into that time period and you completely believe everyone else is there too.  But, because Gangster Squad relies a little bit too much on 2012 film conventions, you're aware you're watching a movie.  It's like one of those shows on Discovery where it's very clear it's a reenactment.  Josh Brolin, who actually is very likable in the film, is still very hollow and stiff.  And while that's fitting for his character... it never changes.  He stays hollow and stiff, plagued by memories of the war, unable to give up honor and justice, even when his wife is shot at.  He can't let it go... and he never does.  He stays the same the entire film... like every character in the film.  I didn't see a single person arc at all except possibly Gosling, but I still don't actually know.

Now, I know I'm going to get in a little bit of trouble for saying this but I think Ryan Gosling was the wrong choice for this film.  Don't get me wrong, I love the guy.  I think he's a fantastic actor whose proven himself time and time again, but... he's just not right in this movie.  While he's incredibly watchable, he just seems to be floating through each of his scenes.  Every line of dialogue spoken by Gosling seems as though he's just woken up from a nap, throws a little olden-days accent to his lines, speaks them, and goes back to sleep.  I can't blame the guy... with a script like this.  And it's true, most of what doesn't work about Gangster Squad can be attributed to the writing.  It's set up like every other gangster picture you've seen before, but it's like it knows its not original.  There's a shoot-out on a large stair case a la The Untouchables.  There's the montage of "putting the team together" a la every heist movie you've ever seen. There's even a scene where Brolin and Gosling sit outside Brolin's bullet-hole riddled house at Christmastime that looks identical to Lethal Weapon. But what those movies succeed in doing that this one does not is after putting together a team, they successfully enact a plan.  There is no plan here.  They somewhat put together a plan, then when arriving at the destination basically say fuck it, pull out their guns and smash shit.  Nothing ever goes right and each time the squad barely escapes alive.  They're supposed to have thrown their badges away because when they're taking down Cohen's crime syndicate little by little, they're not supposed to be cops.  Yet, everything they do is exactly what cops on a bust do!  Other than one rare instance, no one is killed by the squad.  Nothing really that illegal is committed by anyone.  They're still caricatures of old movie characters who are based on real people.  Third string should never get this much playing time.

One of the biggest disappointments for me, however, is Sean Penn as Mickey Cohen.  You're given the gift of playing the evil head gangster in a mafia-esque film... you've received the best role.  You are allowed to have as much fun with it as you can dream of!  And yet, Penn is just whatever as Cohen.  Sure, he's evil.  Whenever he gets even a little pissed off, whoever had anything to do with anything that when awry gets killed.  Okay, but see, there's no depth there.  Then, he's just an animal who gets cranky and kills.  Yeah, that's about it.  There's not much to Mickey Cohen here and not much added by Penn as an actor.  A good example of someone to look at who played the evil boss and had the utmost amount of fun with it is Jack Nicholson in The Departed.  I realize his character is fictional, but most everything in Gangster Squad that happens is fictional-ish as well.  Penn just didn't have any fun with it.

There were some really great moments in Gangster Squad which is a shame because the finished film is mostly a mess.  For each really good moment there is another right after that knocks it back down.  The last fifteen minutes of the movie are the absolute worst.  The raid on Mickey Cohen in his hotel.  There's cheap lines, slow-mo bullets flying, shit exploding, a really awkward fist-fight, a guy on a beach literally chucking his badge into the ocean, an overtly, yet unintentionally hilarious death, etc.  The last fifteen minutes are so back-loaded with cheese that it's hard to leave the theater with a good taste in your mouth.  I just think the movie was doomed from the start.  It had a great cast, which led to high expectations.  A great story, which led to even more expected from the writing.  And a release date so near the Oscars that people forget that January is the dumping ground of studio runoff until summer when we get the first of the good movies back.  If you can turn off your brain for two hours, it's still enjoyable.  But, if you think about it for longer than a few seconds, the quality of the film immediately starts to diminish.


Friday, January 4, 2013

Texas Chainsaw: "Do Your Thing Cuz!"

Texas Chainsaw is stupid.  With a bit of dumbass sprinkled in.  And a pinch of derp.  Let me just put this out there... of all the Horror Movie staple characters (Freddy, Jason, Michael Myers, etc.) the only one who ever really creeped me the funk out was Leatherface.  But that fact that I was more scared of Leatherheads is a testament to how not frightening this movie was.  I'm going to try to break this down without losing you, but if I just trail off or decide to talk about a different movie... you'll probably understand why.

This newest instillation of the Texas Chainsaw series is actually a follow-up of the first movie.  No, not the Jessica Biel remake of the first one or the prequel to that remake... but the actual first one.  The first Texas Chainsaw Massacre made back in 1974.  The film begins by showing all the death snippets from the classic, then showing the events immediately following the last scene of the movie with the derp'd up redneck hick-ass gun-toting townsfolk of Texas outside the murder house where the Sawyer family is holed up, armed up the ass, hiding Jedediah (Leatherface).  The Sheriff is calling to take ol' Jed to jail and as the family is about to comply, the townies in their hillbilly nature start throwing Molotov-moonshine cocktails and blasting the family up.  The Sheriff only just stands there watching this ironic turn of events.  I say ironic ironically, of course because any chance of the writers of this film being purposefully ironic would be the most ironic thing of all.  But the unironic ironic turn of events have now led to this family being massacred at the hands of those pissed off at the Sawyer's little short-bus-ridin' Chainsaw murderer.  This is some messed up stuff right here because now it looks like the townspeople are evil.  Oh, and they steal a baby and dropkick an innocent, helpless woman in the face.  But, that's neither here nor there.

Flashforward... uh... I'm not sure how many years because this little detail seemed to have been overlooked on purpose.  The events in the first film transpired in 1973, so that would make the stolen baby 40 even though she's only 26 in the film and it would also make Leatherface like 75 (a detail that takes a lot away from the frightening factor).  But, let's just pretend these dimwits knew exactly what they were doing and I'm just the asshole for noticing.  The grown-up baby, Heather, who has no knowledge of her real family or the past, has now received word that her "real" grandmother has died and left her a house in Texas.  So, her and her fuckwit friends take a trip to Texas to check out the house.  Oh, and along the way they hit a hitchhiker with their car and take him along but he's not actually a hitchhiker he's just a douche.  But, that's neither here nor there.

So, once they reach the property, the estate lawyer hands over the keys and a letter written by ol' granny that gives details about the house.  But these geniuses are too smart to look at the letter, of course.  After some drinking and smokin and sexin the hitchhiker goes down to the basement to steal shit.  I'm not talking money of course, but silverware.  Apparently, this half-brain has a good silver guy who pays good money for fine china.  Anyhoo, he finds out that Leatherface lives down there and ends up getting beaten to death with some sort of hammer-like object.  This leads to a chain of events in which these friends are all killed off one by one.  Except, of course, Heather.  She escapes him five or six times, which is strange because each time she's chased, her brain apparently evacuates all knowledge of how to run properly or jump over fences that are less than a foot high or how to dodge oncoming traffic.  But, that's neither here nor there.

Well, she goes to the police to let them know all her friends are dead.  Guess who's still Sheriff???  Yep.  Same one from earlier?  Guess who's Mayor?  The hillbilly mudslinger who led the riot against the Sawyers in the beginning?  Well slap my ass and call me Sally!  Once the Mayor finds out who this girl really is, she, of course, finds out what this town did to her and who Jed really is... you guessed it... her cousin.  Leatherface is this chick's cousin!  Apparently, Granny was keeping him hidden and feeding him scraps of bread and cow and boot all these years.  So, instead of being reasonable about the whole situation, the Mayor decides he's got to take some action and kill this chick because she's found out what a douchenozzle he really is!  Oh, and the Sheriff is apparently helpless about all this, not able to wield a weapon correctly and letting the Mayor lead a pack of inbred trailer-trash in, once again, another coup, to which the Sheriff is helpless, once again, leading to a lot more murder under his watch.  But, that's neither here nor there.

This is where the movie takes a huge right turn!  Once she explains to Leatherface that they're related (because the common sense he understands is: oh, she's my cousin, that means we're related, that means I shouldn't kill her.  But not: oh, look, a human being, I should disembowel him with my fifteen different brands of chainsaw and piss on their corpses), Heather and Leatherface team up to fight the town!  It becomes a buddy movie!  I see the TV spin off now!  "This week on Heatherface, Heather and Jed go on a double date!  But when Jed accidentally kills his date with a chainsaw to the face, it's up to Heather to clean up the mess!"  The fact that the people behind this film make it so that these cousins are now allies and totally let Heather forget the horrific ways her Cuz just destroyed her best friend's/boyfriend's internal organs or how he, ya know, cut off the faces of people he killed to sew them together to make a new face for himself is, ya know... derp!  But, that's neither here nor there.

I thought it was quite fitting that every time Heather tried to get away from anything she would trip, or fall, or stumble, or get hit by a car.  It was the perfect metaphor for the way this movie went.  Every time it would look like the writers would find a sweet path to take the movie, they'd trip and do something completely asinine.  Then, when they mostly had their bearings back, they'd get hit by a car and totally screw any possibility of a coherent and even mildly scary movie.  It was nice to know that I wasn't the only person cracking the hell up during most of the film.  Each time something "scary" would try to happen, me and the entire theater would erupt into laughter.  If there's one good thing I can say about this film, it's that we already have one of the best comedies to come out for the next couple of months.  Don't see this film because if you do, a little bit of the intelligence you have now will float away never to return.  I saw mine go halfway through.  But, that's neither here nor there.