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Review: Gangster Squad (2013)

January 10th, 2013 Comments off
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.

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.

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Review: Captain America – The First Avenger (2011)

August 1st, 2011 Comments off

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.

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Review: The Vicious Kind (2009)

February 13th, 2011 Comments off

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.

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Review: Extract (2009)

August 9th, 2010 Comments off

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.

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Review: Daybreakers (2010)

July 12th, 2010 Comments off

Daybreakers is really nothing close to The Matrix or 28 Days Later, even though it too rests on an interesting an unique idea.

Some movies just have not a whole lot going for them when I’m about to watch them.  Daybreakers is one such movie. I watched it earlier in the week while (i) suffering from a crummy stomach virus which both left me miserable and unable to really appreciate popcorn and (ii) reading “The Passage” by Justin Cronin, which is a book that, quite simply, puts most vampire stories to shame. But this isn’t a review of that brilliant book (which ranks as Amazon’s top book of the first half of 2010), that review will follow shortly when I finish it (it’s “War and Peace” long… well, not really, but darn close).

Anyway, Daybreakers is a movie I should have really liked.  It actually does meld a few different themes to create an interesting back story and milieu.  The basic premise is that a viral outbreak of vampirism (not the neutered “Twilight” kind, but the more Stokerish Blade variety) has led to a shift such that vampires have simply slid into and displaced humans in modern society.  Humans have become farmed for their blood and those that run free are hunted, but never killed.  The story somewhat expands on the idea from Blade of vampires as a back room clan with Catholic Church style resources, but no public face.  This has expanded to vampires fully running the show.  It’s actually a pretty interesting departure from the standard tale of viral apocalypse.  Pretty much every interesting fiction about viral apocalypse (be it “The Passage”, “World War Z“, I Am Legend, 28 Days Later, or even Zombieland) involves a mindless destruction of the world as we know it.  In Daybreakers, humans are really just displaced.

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Review: Primer (2004)

April 19th, 2010 Comments off

Primer is a complex and, at times, very confusing film that earns a hearty recommendation from me.

The best way to watch a movie is almost always when you have no idea what to expect.  Going in with little more than a two line plot mini-summary leaves you open to surprise and, occasionally, that surprise is pleasant.

It was so with Primer, a 2004 independent film that was a darling of the Indie Film Circuit.  It won the Grand Jury Prize and Alfred P. Sloan Prize at Sundance, the Best Writer/Director at Nantucket and the Best Feature at the London/Sci Fi.  It was also nominated in all the major categories for which it was eligible at the 2005 Independent Spirit Awards.  For a film made on a budget of about $7,000… well, let’s just say that newcomer writer, director, producer and lead actor Shane Carruth has got some game.

I do feel that going into the movie with very little background was important in my enjoyment, so I’m certainly not going to play too much of a spoiler herein.  I’ll keep this review pretty high level and light on detail.  And with a film that was as dense on the scientific jargon, keeping it high level is sometimes a necessity and not simply a luxury.

Primer is a mix between a sci fi feature and a thinking-man’s thriller.  As a bit of a science nerd, I think the thing I appreciated the most was Carruth’s dedication to maintaining at least a modicum of scientific integrity in his draftsmanship.  The film definitely has a gritty and perhaps even realistic feel.

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The Reality and Realism of Zombie Apocalypse

December 4th, 2009 2 comments
No word on whether the living dead will have the franchise in 2012.

No word on whether the living dead will have the franchise in 2012.

OK, I must admit that I have a completely immature interest in the genre of zombie entertainment.  I love the movies, the video games and even the literature.

Sure, I enjoyed Night of the Living Dead as a kid, but it wasn’t until the modern additions to the genre that I really started to get into it. Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later, in particular, opened my eyes to how intriguing the zombie (and zombie apocalypse) genre could be.  It wasn’t just the fast zombies, it’s the more evolved understanding of zombies.  Since then we’ve seen even more forays that challenged the genre, such as the recent low-budget UK film shot from the perspective of a zombie.

Well, despite the need to have some suspension of disbelief, there’s been some effort to actually look at the science of zombie apocalypses of late.

This post will examine some of the ways the zombie genre has turned more serious with looks at how new examinations review Historical Perspectives, Human Experience, Scientific Analysis and Finding Parallels to Actual Conditions.

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