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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.

Read on after the jump.  Read more…

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: Mountain Goats @ Bowery Ballroom

April 12th, 2011 Comments off

The Mountain Goats are fronted by singer/songwriter John Darnielle.

So I ventured downtown a couple of weeks ago for a concert by an indie rock band I really hadn’t heard much about before. That’s partly because I just don’t do enough indie tunes or live concerts to get around. On a friend’s enthusiastic recommendation, I got tickets to see the Mountain Goats.

The Mountain Goats are fronted by John Darnielle, who in the past actually performed as a literally-solo act, acoustically and still under the plural Mountain Goats name. He did play solo for a few songs in the middle of the concert. He’s known as one of the truly great indie songwriters and I can say that, going in with no background of listening to the band, I was impressed with the concise, interesting story-telling accomplished by the songs.

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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: Hurt Locker (2009)

December 31st, 2010 Comments off

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…

Review: “The Walking Dead” by Robert Kirkman

October 28th, 2010 Comments off

Books one through six have been released, with seven soon to come.

This Sunday, AMC will debut their brand new series The Walking Dead, based on the Robert Kirkman comic book series of the same name.  I don’t actually know if you’re supposed to call them graphic novels or comics.  It is more sophisticated that the cartoon books of my youth and it is easily closer to literature than one would associate with an Archie or X-Men book, so I’ll go with graphic novels.

I don’t quite recall what drove me to pick up TWD for the first time.  It may have been on a recommendation from G4TV’s Blair Butler or some interweb publicity, but I’m darn glad I did.  I’ve had a long-time fascination with the zombie genre of film-making that has extended beyond the George Romero staple to be highlighted by recent movies (be they comedies such as Shaun of the Dead or Zombieland, or action thrillers such as 28 Days Later) and even the under-exposed Max Brooks tome World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War.

The Walking Dead is a tale that starts off a bit like your typical zombie fare, but it evolving rather quickly into something more akin to literature.  That is not a knock on any of the movies in the genre (particularly 28 Days Later, which film’s beginning is quite aped by Kirkman in Book 1), nor is it a hack at World War Z, which very much so is a piece of unique literature, trading the oral history motif from the documentary to the sci fi.  The key, distinguishing element of TWD is that it doesn’t focus on the zombies.  The story is, instead, about the humans in their endeavor to survive.

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Quick Hits: Rubicon E1.12 — “Wayward Sons”

October 17th, 2010 1 comment

This Sunday is the finale for Rubicon. Here's to hoping for a re-up for season 2.

So Rubicon has finally started to pick up, putting a little umph into the faith I’ve had that the show has what it takes to grow into a real winner and a hit. To read prior Quick Hits for the show, click here on my posts tagged #Rubicon.  Here are my Quick Hits for Episode 1.12, “Wayward Sons.”

This episode was a bit unique in how it was shot. Unlike the dark, stuffy character of most of the Rubicon episodes, we were treated to more wide shots showing off views or airy spaces. Even in Katherine’s safe house, it was a light atmosphere. And the shots from the Harbor High, New Jersey field command were sweeping in nature, both in the windowed cafeteria and looking over the gym headquarters. The technology, too, was eye popping, something that had been missing from the old-research library feel of API.

That style of cinema played through to the plot, as well. This was the most ambitious episode since the premiere, with legitimate action and endpoints reached in advance of the finale. True, much of the action remained off-screen, but it was a bit thrilling nonetheless. You had confrontation, an active chase of conspiracy on two fronts, and the great reveal of at least two key elements to the seasons plot arcs.

The scene with Kale and Katherine in the safe house (accompanied by a still useless Maggie) was well done and reflective of the grander vision of the episode. In the first interaction between Kale and Katherine, they played well off each other, particularly as Kale spoke of the show’s namesake. He told the story of Cato the Younger, an opponent of Julius Caesar who, upon Caesar’s legion crossing the Rubicon and with defeat inevitable, took his own life so as to permit his family’s reconcile with Caesar. The parallel, of course, is that Rhumor took his own life as a way out that permitted the escape of his wife Katherine from the consequences of his sins. That’s all well and nice, of course, but the historical accuracy is somewhat dubious. Cato killed himself while on the run in Africa after repeated stands and defeats at the Thirteenth Legion’s hands. The historical record hardly seems to look too kindly on his act, indicating that Cato chose to kill himself rather than to seek mercy and a pardon because of his pride. Historical accuracy aside, there’s a nice element of literary ties therein. And I’m not going to beg accuracy from a show that loves its Mercator Projection Maps.

The style of the episode wasn’t always more poetic, though. In many ways it was simply more cinematic. The way it was shot and the action therein reminded me immediately of two terror-related movies: The Siege, in which Islamic fundamentalists hold New York hostage in fear, and The Jackal, in which the criminal justice and intelligence communities track an assassin across the country. I liked both movies and I loved this episode.

Dang, Rubicon is finishing strong. Click on through for my quick hits. Read more…

Quick Hits: Rubicon E1.11 — “A Good Day’s Work”

October 16th, 2010 2 comments

Not much in the way for production stills from this episode. So back to the trusty credits logo.

So Rubicon has finally started to pick up, putting a little umph into the faith I’ve had that the show has what it takes to grow into a real winner and a hit. To read prior Quick Hits for the show, click here on my posts tagged #Rubicon.  Here are my Quick Hits for Episode 1.11, “A Good Day’s Work.”

Alas, twelve episodes in, Rubicon realizes its potential. Good grief, that was good television. In a season dominated by the best episodes Mad Men has to deliver, finally Rubicon held it’s own on a Sunday night. You had outstanding acting, particularly from Miranda Richardson. You had legitimate action, even if not always of the traditional sort, until the episode’s end. You had the piecing together of the conspiracy, deftly done so that the audience is permitted to follow along, neither ahead nor behind the API team. Heck, you even had a near “Sheeeeeeeet” moment from Clay Davis, himself, Isiah Whitlock, Jr.

In sum, this was the first real time where so many of the pieces with potential in the show all came together and made the whole greater than the sum of the parts.

I’m a couple weeks late in getting this review up, so I’m going to keep it concise and shoot it right through with the Quick Hits.  Click through to read. Read more…

Review: Fitz & the Tantrums @ Mercury Lounge

September 29th, 2010 Comments off

If you have a chance to see them, definitely take it.

This past Saturday some friends and I dropped on down to Mercury Lounge on East Houston in Manhattan for an early show by Fitz & the Tantrums.  The band, fronted by Michael Fitzpatrick and Noelle Scaggs has been burning up my iPod of late and was featured in a player post linked here.

Needless to say, I knew I was going to love the music, but I was bringing along two newbies as well.  The sound is relatively unique and hasn’t gone mainstream yet.  It is somewhat of a revisit to 50s soul music, but with a decidedly modern hipster vibe.  While I normally want to punch most things hipster, that’s not the case for Fitz & the Tantrums.

The show was sold out, but the venue was not so crowded as to make the concert uncomfortable or getting drinks impossible.  In fact, the only complaint could be some issues with the bass levels and our choosing to stand too close a bank of speakers.  It took a good day for my right ear to clear up fully.

All in all, the show was outstanding and the crowd was lively.  The band played near studio quality tunes, true to the CD and the only real hiccup is when Scaggs fell off the stage into the crowd.  After getting up with little more than her pride hurt, she claimed her tussle with gravity was a failed stage dive with nobody catching.  As a note, I’m not sure being found unworthy in a trust fall is any less embarrassing than catching an edge of the stage.

All in all, I could not recommend the show more highly.  This is an opportunity to catch a rising artist before they hit it big.

Some additional thoughts and videos from the performance after the jump. Read more…

Quick Hits: Rubicon E1.10 — “In Whom We Trust”

September 29th, 2010 Comments off

Spangler, Roy and Bloom met on their surveillance of Will and Katherine, and attempted to discern if there paranoia had merit.

Although I’m apprehensive about its somewhat slow pace, I still think Rubicon has what it takes to grow into a real winner and a hit. As such, I’m putting some faith in it and am anointing it with instant recap status.  To read prior Quick Hits for the show, click here on my posts tagged #Rubicon.  Here are my Quick Hits for Episode 1.10, “In Whom We Trust.”

I stated in my review of episode 9 that the addition of Annie Parisse was a genius stroke and really worked.  I hadn’t really wondered as to the probability of Andy being a spy or anything other than what she says she is/was. A friend expressed that he thought she was suspect and a little too perfect / trusting. I think that there are certain characteristics which don’t really add up about her reaction to Will’s activities – in fact, it wasn’t really until this episode’s sister call fallout that you had her acting in any way normal – e.g., her expression that she was happy he had a gun, instead of being weirded out by the paranoid guy she assumes is lying about being a spy and even his name… and who shows up with a concealed firearm.

In this episode, we see a more honest character in Andy. She chats with her sister about Will and playfully owns up to that. She also gets peeved when he withdraws and then tries to steal her phone to see who she’s been calling. The only unnatural thing about it was the fact that she didn’t throw him out. And the only real bullshit comment she made was the suggestion that she had three-way calling in high school.

Anyways, I’ve been swamped at work, so I’m going to jump right into the quick hits, after the check. Read more…