Category: Movies

Movie Review: ‘A Good Day to Die Hard’

It’s one thing for a movie to be bad – we expect that from Michael Bay and Brett Ratner – but it is an entirely different issue when a movie defecates on the memory of a classic film without the slightest sense of guilt. Die Hard is one of the greatest movies ever made and arguably the greatest action movie ever made. John McClane was the reluctant, sardonic hero audiences needed after a decade of Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger flexing their muscles at every turn while dispatching faceless bad guys. McClane didn’t want to save anyone; he just wanted to reconnect with his wife, probably to spite her more than anything. Read more

Movie Review: ‘Identity Thief’

identity thief

I have decided to coin a new phrase to describe the kind of bland, humorless “comedy” Hollywood continues to churn out which has become the calling card of actors like Vince Vaughn, Kevin James and Jennifer Aniston. From now on, I shall describe these movies as “phantom comedies” because there is very little substance to them, no distinguishing qualities and the only time they should be seen is at 2:00 a.m. when you’re suffering from sleep deprivation. Also, these types of movies will be forgotten soon after they leave theaters as if they never existed in the first place. Read more

Movie Review: ‘The Avengers’

Leave it to Joss Whedon, the creative force behind Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Firefly, to be the filmmaker capable of making The Avengers as successful as the years of hype and marketing have promised it to be. While moviegoers have been hit with a deluge of comic book adaptations in recent years, the movies have been mediocre, on average, with a few being good (Iron Man, X2) but most being terrible (Jonah Hex, Daredevil). Read more

The Summer of the Superhero Showdown

This weekend, The Avengers will open in theaters nationwide, sating the appetites of fanboys everywhere and kicking off the Summer of the Superhero. While superhero movies have become as ubiquitous to the summer blockbuster season as ­­­­bloggers at Comic-Con, no previous year has had as much anticipation and build-up as 2012, with three movies battling to be the king of the Superhero Showdown. With The Avengers (May 4), The Amazing Spider-Man (July 3) and The Dark Knight Rises (July 20), moviegoers will have more than ample opportunity to geek out and unleash their inner-twelve-year-old selves.

While the source material for all three movies are classic comic book lore (The Avengers and Spider-Man from Marvel comics, Batman from the DC universe), the films couldn’t be more different in nearly every other respect. The Avengers, directed and co-written by Joss Whedon (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Serenity), is the culmination of the myriad preparations that Marvel Studios has been getting in order since Iron Man (2008). Whedon, who has shown himself to be one of the most creative and ingenious filmmakers working today, will be tackling his first big budget movie with The Avengers. After assembling a rabidly loyal fan base with television shows like Firefly and Dollhouse, Whedon couldn’t have picked a bigger stage from which to launch himself into mainstream conversation.

If one considers Joss Whedon the perfect director to take over a blockbuster franchise, Marc Webb would probably be considered, by most, to be the least likely. With his witty and charming first feature (500) Days of Summer, Webb was pegged by most critics as a new voice in independent filmmaking. Instead, Marvel Studios selected Webb to direct The Amazing Spider-Man, a re-boot of the not-very-old Spider-Man franchise. After Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man trilogy (2002-2007), each more cartoonish than the last, the studio wanted a Spider-Man who was based more in reality and comic book mythology (i.e. Christopher Nolan’s Batman). Webb, who showed he has a keen eye for impressive visuals and a clear sense of character development, may just be able to give Spider-Man the boost of confidence he deserves.

The film with the most to prove to audiences and critics (not to mention at the box office), is The Dark Knight Rises, Christopher Nolan’s third and final installment of his Batman trilogy. After the success of The Dark Knight, thanks in large part to the dazzling performance of the late Heath Ledger as The Joker, TDKR has a lot of pressure on it leading up to its July 20 release. Though Raimi’s Spider-Man, or more accurately Bryan Singer’s X-Men (2000), may have launched the superhero movie bonanza, Nolan’s approach to the genre proved that movies based on comic books can, and sometimes should, be based in reality. The noir-ish nature of Nolan’s films is both an extension of Batman’s dark history and the style of illustration the stories took on in the 80s. Nolan’s previous two installments, Batman Begins and The Dark Knight, were critical and box offices successes. Hopefully he can pull it off one more time.

So, to which audiences are these three potential powerhouses most likely to appeal? The clear fanboy favorite will be The Avengers, with no less than six superheroes packed into one movie. However, Whedon has already been involved in possibly the most inventive and entertaining film of 2012, The Cabin in the Woods, which he co-wrote with director Drew Goddard. Having garnered attention from both mainstream and indie audiences, The Avengers may see a more diverse audience than it initially anticipated.

The Amazing Spider-Man has three critical things going for it: Webb in the director’s chair; Andrew Garfield (The Social Network) as Peter Parker/Spider-Man; and Emma Stone as Peter’s love interest, Gwen Stacy. (If you count no Tobey Maguire, the movie’s got four things in its favor.) Webb clearly knows how to tell a story that is both humorous and engaging, so it will be interesting to see if his talents lend themselves to the superhero genre. Garfield, who dominated in The Social Network, has been poised to break out as a star for some time. And Stone…well, she’s just fantastic (and not too bad to look at).

The Dark Knight Rises, with its unbelievably talented cast and visionary director, will appeal to both serious film aficionados and general moviegoers. Nolan is known for making “indie-minded” pictures that are staged like big-budget blockbusters (just look at Inception), allowing him to gain the respect of industry execs and true lovers of cinema. With luck, TDKR will be the beginning of a new stage of his ever-evolving career.

By the beginning of August, it will be clear which film will have earned the title of King of the Superhero Showdown. In the long run, though, it may not matter since moviegoers are the ones who will ultimately win since a summer this exciting only comes around about once a decade.

So, which movie are you most excited to see? Leave your comments below.

The Avengers trailer

The Dark Knight Rises trailer

The Amazing Spider-Man trailer

Movies Every Guy Should See: ‘Cool Hand Luke’ (1967)

“Yeah, well, sometimes nothin’ can be a real cool hand.”

With those words, one of cinema’s most iconic characters was born. Among the greatest films to come out of the 1960s, Cool Hand Luke is a sardonic condemnation of pretty much everything that was happening in America at that time. Luke Jackson (Paul Newman) is an aimless punk who gets thrown into a prison camp for cutting the heads off parking meters. He wasn’t stealing the change from them, he just couldn’t think of anything better to do. In the camp, he gains the respect of the other prisoners by his infinitely cool attitude and endless patience.

Luke is a natural born troublemaker, bucking authority of any kind the first chance he gets. Luke escapes from the prison several times, only to be captured and brought back fairly quickly. We get the impression that his escape attempts (like the destruction of the parking meters) stem more from wanting to get a rise out of the guards and warden than from a genuine desire for freedom.  After all, what else does Luke have to do?

One of the film’s most famous scenes involves Luke and the other prisoners laying blacktop on a stretch of gravel road that seems to go on forever. While the others are working at a nice leisurely pace, Luke begins breaking his back to lay the tar as fast as he can. The others join him (because why not?) and eventually they realize they’ve run out of road. The sun is still up, so the men get to enjoy doing nothing for just a little while. The imagery (later echoed in Frank Darabont’s The Shawshank Redemption) is a powerful reminder of the strength and resilience of the human spirit.

Director Stuart Rosenberg allows the film to amble along at its own pace, reflecting Luke’s approach to life and his situation. Filled with dry humor and witty dialogue, Cool Hand Luke evolves from a light comedy into a much more serious film with deeper meanings being revealed as the story progresses. Luke is neither counterculture nor a part of the establishment, so he doesn’t really fit any mold of how a person should act. He makes up his own rules and moves through life as a loner.

What he doesn’t realize (and what soon becomes too much for him to handle) is his laid-back, easy-going attitude is irresistible to the men around him since he doesn’t let any of the world’s negativity affect him. As they begin looking to him as a beacon of hope and inspiration, Luke becomes more withdrawn and reactionary, lashing out to avoid being idolized by the men. The film itself is a manual for finding meaning in one’s own life and not looking to others or society for purpose or reason. Luke isn’t a hero or anti-hero; he’s just a man making his way through life the only way he knows how.

Movie Review: ‘The Raid: Redemption’

Drop everything you’re doing this weekend and go see The Raid: Redemption. The film, which blew audiences away at the Sundance Film Festival last year and at South By Southwest this year, is the most adrenaline- fueled and violent film since…actually, The Raid has no predecessors. This action spectacular is in a league all its own and is destined to become a cult favorite in a very short time.

In 2002, The Bourne Identity raised the bar for fight choreography in action movies. Ten years later, The Raid makes Jason Bourne look like Jake LaMotta at the end of his career. Writer/director Gareth Evans constantly escalates the film’s fight sequences until the climax crescendos into an all-out battle where the actors are executing moves no human should be able to accomplish.

The plot is simple (some will say too simple, but ignore them). A group of elite police officers must invade a dilapidated apartment building in order to take down ruthless crime lord Tama (Ray Sahetapy) who lords over the structure and the occupants like a king, untouchable by anyone. Rama (Iko Uwais) is a young officer with a pregnant wife at home. All he wants is to come home safely, even though the mission seems like certain death. However, early in the film, we see Rama’s morning routine which includes unleashing a fury of rapid-fire blows to a heavy bag, moving so fast that the punches and kicks are almost a blur.

As the men ascend the building floor by floor, their progress is going well until one of Tama’s spotters sets off an alarm, alerting Tama, and the rest of the building’s residents, to the presence of intruders, i.e. cops. Tama orders his minions to evict the unwelcome guests in whatever manner they so choose. This involves machetes, machine guns and countless displays of dazzling martial arts skills. Rama and the other men must then decide to either complete their mission or attempt to escape with their lives.

Evans, an Irish native who has lived and worked in Indonesia for the past several years, made The Raid for two reasons. First, he wanted to bring international attention to the martial art known as silat. This style of fighting, which relies as much on speed as it does on strength, is essentially the equivalent of the national sport of Indonesia, but is relatively obscure in other countries.

In addition to highlighting silat, Evans also wanted to make his friend Uwais an international action star. Uwais, who appeared in Evans’ previous film, Merantau, is also one of the film’s fight choreographers, along with Yayan Ruhian, who plays the sadistic Mad Dog. Together, Uwais and Ruhian have created fight sequences so brilliantly arranged and perfectly executed as to be almost balletic. Uwais, both a handsome leading man and a master of silat, is likely to be a marquee name in no time.

The Raid: Redemption is an action picture unlike any other. Evans allows the fight scenes to last well over five minutes at times, an eternity compared to most action movies. The desperation of the characters is felt as the scenes become more and more violent and much more personal. Walking out of The Raid, all you will want to do is turn around and watch it again.

Grade: A-

Movies Every Guy Should See: ‘The Wrestler’ (2008)

In 2008, director Darren Aronofsky released only his fourth feature film, The Wrestler, to critical acclaim, earning his lead actor Mickey Rourke an Academy Award nomination and numerous year-end accolades from professional organizations. The film, which tells the story of washed up professional wrestler Randy “The Ram” Robinson (Rourke), was a surprisingly humble project from a filmmaker whose previous three films had each increased in size and scope. While Aronofsky’s films Pi (1998), Requiem for a Dream (2000) and The Fountain (2006) had each used a distinct visual style, The Wrestler was shot using hand-held cameras and natural light. This low-budget style allowed Aronofsky’s actors to be the film’s main focus, not dazzling cinematography or rapid speed editing.

The story of a man who has fallen from the heights of celebrity to the depths of obscurity contains many themes that connect with viewers on multiple levels. Randy was once the greatest, most beloved professional wrestler in the world, with fans lining up for hours just to get an autograph. But as his fans grew up and new generations became more interested in video games, his career plummeted, leaving him washed up, broken and wrestling in local gymnasiums for chump change.

The film is incredibly powerful for many reasons. The most obvious is the physically and emotionally raw performance from Rourke, a former Hollywood star who has more than a few things in common with Randy. Not only did he do most of his own stunt work (including having a dollar bill stapled to his forehead), he gave an incredibly vulnerable performance as a man who is desperate to connect with just one person, whether it is a fan, a stripper for whom he has feelings (Marisa Tomei) or his estranged daughter (Evan Rachel Wood). Rourke shows us that being a man is rarely about being tough or strong; most of the time it’s about doing right by those closest to you.

Few filmmakers working today are capable of creating the type of cinematic experiences which have made Darren Aronofsky one of the most inventive and interesting directors in modern cinema. Aronofsky consistently dissects high-minded, philosophical concepts through universally recognizable characters and stories which are accessible to every type of moviegoer. The Wrestler is not only a terrific film and a modern classic, it is also an excellent depiction of one man’s desperate attempts to escape overwhelming loneliness.

Movie Review: ’21 Jump Street’

In the past few years, we’ve seen an influx of movies based on old television shows, many of which have been awful. Even though Starsky & Hutch had an amazing cast (Ben Stiller, Owen Wilson, Vince Vaughn, Jason Bateman) and a talented director (Todd Phillips), the movie fell flat with audiences who expected so much more. Get Smart suffered the same fate, despite starring Steve Carell and Anne Hathaway. And did anyone even see The A-Team?

Now we have 21 Jump Street, based on the campy drama that ran from 1987-1991 and made Johnny Depp famous. The movie is not only hilarious, but deceptively intelligent. It works because the filmmakers acknowledge that a movie version of 21 Jump Street is an absurd idea. They even go so far as to have one character, Deputy Chief Hardy (Nick Offerman), admit, in reference to two grown men passing as high school students, that the “the guys who come up with this stuff have run out of ideas.” Brilliant.

In the movie, two less-than-capable rookie cops, Schmidt (Hill) and Renko (Tatum), are assigned to an undercover operation to infiltrate a high school drug ring. Even though they are yet to make an arrest, they are chosen for the assignment because they’re some young-looking, “Justin Beaver motherfuckers.” When they arrive at their new school, Schmidt and Renko, who pretend to be brothers, begin looking for the source of the new synthetic drug that has caused at least one death already. As they do, their fake high school experience draws them apart as they fall into drastically different social circles.

Directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller and screenwriter Michael Bacall have made 21 Jump Street exactly what it should be: a ridiculous, implausible movie for a ridiculous, implausible concept. Lord and Miller are having a blast just letting their incredibly talented cast run wild. Hill gives one of his funniest performances yet, while also showing some growth as an actor. Tatum is equally impressive, scoring some of the movie’s funniest lines while also creating a believable character with some depth.

The crux of the film, though, is the relationship (“bromance,” if you must) between Schmidt and Jenko. In high school, Schmidt was a dorky, Eminem wannabe and Jenko was the popular jock. Though they bond during the police academy (Schmidt helping Jenko study, Jenko helping Schmidt get in shape), their second go around at high school opens another chasm between them as Schmidt falls in with the popular kids and Jenko is befriended by the Chemistry nerds. The back and forth never feels forced and there are even some genuine moments of honest emotion.

Almost overshadowing the two leads are supporting cast members Rob Riggle and Dave Franco. Riggle plays Mr. Walters, the high school track coach who you know has crossed the line with many of his female students. Franco, always a great douchebag, plays Eric, the leader of the cool kids and an eco-friendly, green crusader. We also get a terrific performance from Ellie Kemper (The Office) as the sexually-charged teacher who throws herself at Jenko.

Bottom line: Go see 21 Jump Street. Then, go see it again to catch all the jokes you missed the first time because you were laughing so hard.

21 Jump Street

Rated: R

Run time: 109 minutes

Directed by: Phil Lord & Chris Miller

Written by: Michael Bacall, story by Michael Bacall & Jonah Hill, based on television series 21 Jump Street

Cast: Jonah Hill, Channing Tatum, Nick Offerman, Brie Larson, Dave Franco, Ice Cube, Rob Riggle, Ellie Kemper

Movies Every Guy Should See: “Unforgiven” (1992)

One of the greatest Westerns of all time and arguably Clint Eastwood’s best film as a director, Unforgiven is as powerful today as it was when it was first released 20 years ago. Part tribute to the genre which made Eastwood a movie star, part groundbreaking filmmaking, Unforgiven is both a masterfully made film and a superb depiction of responsibility, friendship and honor.

In the film, former hard-drinking gunfighter William Munny (Eastwood) is enlisted by the brash and cocky Schofield Kid (Jaimz Woolvett) to help collect reward money for killing a man who cut up the face of a prostitute named Delilah (Anna Levine). Munny gave up his gun slinging ways for his wife many years ago, but picks up his rifle one last time ostensibly because he believes Delilah deserves justice. As the audience, we know he just wants to feel like a man again having failed miserably as a pig farmer and being a poor provider for his two children.

The film features a plethora of fascinating characters, all of whom exacerbate the self-reflective nature of Unforgiven within the Western genre. Munny’s best friend and former partner-in-crime, Ned Logan (Morgan Freeman), is just as domesticated as he is and willingly goes along with the plan. In the town of Big Whiskey, where the attack happened, sheriff Little Bill Daggett (Gene Hackman) rules with an iron fist, not allowing any guns within the town’s limits. He himself is probably the film’s biggest hypocrite and least likeable character. We also get to know English Bob (Richard Harris), a notorious gunslinger who is accompanied by W. W. Beauchamp (Saul Rubinek) to write his biography. All of these characters, in one way or another, serve to highlight how Unforgiven operates outside the standard Western archetypes.

Eastwood’s film makes more than a few winks to his own work in the Western genre. His reputation precedes him everywhere he goes and his name is spoken over and over almost with reverence. This is in stark contrast to Eastwood’s most famous character, The Man With No Name from Sergio Leone’s spaghetti Westerns Fist Full of Dolars, For a Few Dollars More and The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.  The film is also staunchly anti-violence, a sentiment rarely, if ever, addressed in classic Westerns.

Unforgiven is a movie every guy should see because of its amazing storytelling (thanks to an excellent script by David Webb Peoples), brilliant performances and wonderful contribution to the Western genre. Plus, the next time you watch Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds (another movie every guy should see), you’ll appreciate the numerous nods Tarantino makes to Eastwood’s masterpiece.

‘This Means War’: Fun For Guys and Girls

Ah, the eternal battle of finding a movie that will appeal to men and women alike. They are few and far between to be sure, but occasionally Hollywood gets it right and releases something that can appeal to both sexes. Though most guys can be talked into watching Die Hard any day of the week, few women are going to sit through John McClane fighting European thieves and wisecracking about his estranged wife. On the flip side, can any guy honestly say he enjoys The Notebook?

This past week, This Means War opened in theaters and it is one of the rare films that both men and women will likely enjoy. Though the movie is filled with plenty of action (and one very bad ass car chase), it also features a decent romantic plot as well. Tuck (Tom Hardy) and FDR (Chris Pine) are CIA operatives and best friends who both fall for the same girl, Lauren (Reese Witherspoon). What ensues is the greatest show of one-upmanship ever seen since the men have every toy in the government’s artillery at their disposal.

The bromance between Pine and Hardy is not only believable, but pretty damn funny. Hardy, this century’s Bruce Willis, has become one of the Hollywood’s biggest stars after appearing in Inception and Warrior (last year’s most underrated film). If nothing else, hope that your girlfriend or wife falls in love with Hardy which might convince her to go see The Dark Knight Rises when it comes out in July.

It’s also nice to see Witherspoon back doing a decent comedy and, let’s be honest, she’s not bad to look at. Plus, you’ve got Chelsea Handler really pushing the PG-13 rating as Witherspoon’s sexually frustrated married friend.

So, if you need something to see this weekend and can’t decide on anything, give This Means War a shot. It’s not the greatest movie ever made (not by a long shot), but maybe the minimal action sequences in this movie will prepare her to one day sit down and watch Die Hard from beginning to end.