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Gangster Squad fails as a “film”, but it can succeed as a movie if you have the right attitude going in… sadly, you’ll mostly get negativity here.
I’m going to keep this rather simple and short, as a negative review need not layer on too much emphasis on the awfulness that is Ruben Fleischer’s Gangster Squad. We’ll start with the fact that I’m not entirely certain that this was directed by just one person, because at times the movie seems to jump from genre to genre, if not from style to style. It is a film that falls short on so many very levels, not the least of which is an utter failure of the production team and the director to present a coherent vision.
Which is not to say that there isn’t one redeeming characteristic of Gangster Squad, because there is: it is, in general, a pretty fun watch. What, say you? Yep, if you’re in the right mindset and can overcome the shortcomings of the whole, you’ll generally enjoy the movie. You’re not going to ever be on the edge of your seat (as you would with Argo, my runaway favorite movie of 2012) and you won’t ever connect with any of the characters (as with In the Bedroom, the 2001 drama which perfected that element), but if you go in to it with the expectation of the violence and historical accuracy of 300 and the seriousness of Leslie Nielson’s Police Squad / The Naked Gun series series, you stand a pretty good chance of enjoying it.
To the extent that I ever get some time to do so, I do intend to write up reviews of a variety of recent things I’ve read and watched. Chief among them are the Game of Thrones books and the HBO series adaptation, which I find to be the best new thing on television in at least a couple of years. HBO just released their new trailer for the second season.
Unfortunately, Captain America was not as bad-ass as this Private Ryan meets Steve Rogers poster portended.
So I broke my normal rule and went and saw a highly anticipated movie on its opening weekend (or at least I think it opened this past weekend). After a full day of playing basketball and sweltering at a Yankees game, I headed out trying to get hydrated and air conditioned at a jam packed theater for Captain America.
I had pretty high hopes for Captain America. It is one of the follow-ons to one of the better superhero adaptations, in Iron Man. Indeed, in some ways this serves as a prequel to Iron Man, with Tony Stark’s father playing a prominent role and edging further toward the awaited Avengers series of films.
Captain America also featured some pretty solid casting. If you thought of one actor who could best serve as an action star and embodiment of what Hollywood would imagine as the truly American look, you’d probably end up with Chris Evans. Toss in Tommy Lee Jones as his grumpy commanding officer and Hugo Weaving (of Matrix Agent Smith fame) as your bad guy and you’ve got a start for some good scenes. Brits Dominic Cooper (as Howard Stark) and Haylee Atwell (as Agent Peggy Carter) rounded out the principal roster.
I’m a bit torn on whether or not I should be looking forward to “Falling Skies” on TNT. I got all jazzed up to relive one of my favorite childhood series in “V” on ABC, which series has been a damning failure in its efforts to recapture that cult series’ feel — even after bringing back the actress who played Diana and the Beastmaster himself, Marc Singer. Then again, “Battlestar Galactica” far exceeded everyone’s expectations with, perhaps, the most intelligent show not named “The Wire” to air in the last decade (sorry my fellow “LOST” comrades, BSG actually was better).
In any respect, “Falling Skies” seems to be a second effort at getting “V” right. Perhaps inspired by Stephen Hawking and his statements regarding the wisdom of attempting to contact alien species (which statements were made on the good, but not great “Into the Universe with Stephen Hawking” documentary series on Discovery Channel), Executive Producer Steven Spielberg adds his considerable heft to this project, making one think that it will at least have a higher production quality than the sometimes lacking ABC venture. The basic premise appears to be jumping from a quick invasion to the development of a resistance, several months after the alien invaders have shock-and-awed the world into relative submission.
It also marks Spielberg’s second Executive Producer jaunt into the alien-horror landscape in 2011. He’s also teamed up with JJ Abrams (of Cloverfield and Star Trek) for Super 8, an unrelated follow-up to Cloverfield. The movie is largely under wraps, but I believe it is shot, like Cloverfield or The Blair Witch Project as a “found footage” movie, involving the escape of an alien being transported through the heartland on a train that derails in rural Ohio.
Click through for the trailers to both. Read more…
The Vicious Kind is a film worthy of a close watching.
The Vicious Kind is a well conceived and well acted tale of revelation and story-telling. While the subject matter is a bit hard to watch at times – the characters and relationships between them are dysfunctional at best and disturbing more commonly – it’s presented in a calm, almost rustic manner that is, above all else, watchable.
Without going into too great detail as to the plot lines, it is a journey that starts with a boy, Peter (Alex Frost) and his girlfriend Emma (Brittany Snow) who come to Peter’s home for Thanksgiving vacation from college. As they are picked up by Peter’s older brother Caleb (Adam Scott), we get our first glimpse into the bizarre world in Norfolk from whence the family came. There the three delve into the confused web of a family torn apart, with the ultimate conflict being between Caleb and his father Donald (JK Simmons).
The film is very well acted and earned Scott and filmmaker and writer Lee Toland Krieger honors on the independent film circuit in 2009. I’m not quite sure what has to flow through the mind of someone to craft a story that is, for lack of a better word, vicious in its depiction of family strife and the means by which attempts to heal wounds can be made.
This movie looks like the perfect mix of Michael Bey and entertainment gritty enough that you don’t wish you could watch Michael Bey get… well… Bey-ed. It has a very District 9 look to it, which is cool.
For a movie billed as "near perfect" and a directorial performance considered a front runner for the Oscars, I was a bit disappointed in "Hurt Locker".
I caught Hurt Locker late night at my buddy’s on the first night of my Los Angeles vacation last February. Given that it was competing with drunken viewing of Olympic curling off his DVR on the other nights I spent during my vacation there, it should come as no surprise that Hurt Locker just didn’t stand up. The film had garnered a whopping nine Academy Awards nominations, so I was genuinely excited to give it a look-see. Unfortunately, the film just doesn’t do enough to warrant the awards season hype. This remains true as a complete this review almost a year later after watching it on DVR and gritting my teeth as it cleaned up at the 2009/10 Oscars.
The most notable nomination always is for Best Picture and Best Director. Hurt Locker took home both awards with Katheryn Bigelow becoming the first female Best Director award winner. It also took home the award for Best Original Screenplay (from embedded journalist Mark Boal, who spent part of 2004 with an Iraq-based bomb disposal unit), Best Sound Editing, Best Sound Mixing and Best Film Editing. While the three technical awards are more than well-deserved, even when up against the formidable technical accomplishments of Avatar, the three creative awards were probably less spot-on.
This is not to say that Hurt Locker isn’t very good or that it isn’t a film (this most certainly isn’t a “movie” like Avatar). I just take the position shared by veterans and military-aware reviewers that the film lacks authenticity and presents itself as “gritty” and realistic, even though the story is grossly ridiculous at times.
Read more of why I didn’t fully enjoy being stuck in the Hurt Locker. Read more…
In the world of “I Cannot Fracking Wait” debuts, AMC’s The Walking Dead, based on the graphic novel series by Robert Kirkman is pretty much atop my TV list… at least since the premiere of ABC’s V. Well AMC just debuted a four and a half minute trailer for the series and announced it’s start date: 10 PM on Halloween night, this October. Can… not… wait….
Does Extract stand a chance at getting a laugh out of you?
On a recommendation from my boss, I checked out Mike Judge’s Extract. I actually was quite jazzed to watch it, as I am a big fan of Jason Bateman and his work on Arrested Development, as well as Judge’s prior workplace comedy. Office Space was one of the funniest movies of the 1990s and perfectly encapsulated the tedium of cubicle life. Its cast was very well chosen, featuring an oft-overlooked, likable guy (Ron Livingston) and a beautiful female lead trying to break out of TV (Jennifer Aniston).
Extract has a similar formula, with Bateman and Mila Kunis headlining the cast. Judge managed to surround Bateman and Kunis with a stellar supporting cast including SNL standout Kristen Wiig, headliner Ben Affleck and top notch character actors JK Simmons and Clifton Collins Jr. With a great supply of human capital to work with, Judge tried to tap back into the winning formula he struck with Office Space.
Bateman plays Joel, the owner and operator of a flavor extract manufacturing and packaging company. Although he’s hardly the cog in the wheel that Livingston’s Peter Gibbons was at Inetech, Joel suffers from a sort of middle age malaise. He’s ready to sell and get out of the extract business, hoping to retire and be able to spend time filling his life with something to enjoy. Unfortunately, his home life is stale and his friendships consist solely of a relationship with local bartender Dean (Affleck). When Kunis’ Cindy, a serious bid on the business and various other pratfalls enter his world, Joel’s life gets turned upside down.
In television, a viewer might often feel a pawn, not being handed anything by a fellow pawn, but rather shifted from one board to the next. Never long to last in the fight, as the milieu of a series loses its shine and the successive attempts at new shows turn into just another run of short-lived games. Rarely does a pawn cross the board and become the queen, engrossed with and empowered by the board itself.
With a few shows I have felt myself as substantively more than a pawn in the game of television programming; in those handful of shows I have lastingly and fully been engrossed. I can really check them off with the fingers of one hand:
“The West Wing” for its political acumen. A show that reminded us both of what we most wanted in our leaders and the forces which prevent that ideal from being manifested.
“Battlestar Galactica” for its social commentary. In an era when America was redefining itself both at home and on the world stage, no television program so boldly captured our internalized national struggles.
“LOST” for its Joycean depth. Bad Robot’s ambitious efforts to challenge viewers made expecting more of one’s viewers a reality and opened the door to the difficult-to-navigate world of what might aptly be termed televised literature.
“The Wire” for its simple poetry. It is, after all, this epic, five-part poem about the decline of the American empire that gave us the inspired scene in which D’Angelo explains chess to Bodie and Wallace.
There have been other great shows. “Mad Men” gave us attention to detail and historical fiction as a commercial winner. “The Shield” offers a level of grittiness that is hard to turn from. But with most television, it’s as D’Angelo explained to Bodie, “The pawns, man, in the game, they get capped quick. They be out of the game early.” In most television, it’s easy to just sit back and play dumb. Only in the best shows are the pawns challenged to be “some smart ass pawns.” It’s those shows that challenge the viewer that interest me most. In “Rubicon”, I hope we have one such show.