Day 2 - A photo of a celebrity you would marry if given the chance… Norman!!  Obviously. 

Day 2 - A photo of a celebrity you would marry if given the chance… Norman!!  Obviously. 

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Day 1 - A photo of your favorite band… I was going to pick The Avett Brothers, but who am I trying to fool?  It’s always been Bright Eyes.  

Day 1 - A photo of your favorite band… I was going to pick The Avett Brothers, but who am I trying to fool?  It’s always been Bright Eyes.  

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I guess I’ll do this… 

I guess I’ll do this… 

The Dark Knight Rises

So, here is the problem with the criticisms surrounding The Dark Knight Rises.  Everyone keeps saying, “It wasn’t as good as The Dark Knight” which, I guess, is supposed to mean it isn’t good.  But that’s not true.  As far as I’m concerned, The Dark Knight was the single greatest superhero movie ever made.  It’s the film that all over superhero movies should be compared to for the rest of days.  It’s the film all directors and screenwriters and actors should aim for when making a genre film.  I’ve always said that a superhero movie is only as good as it’s villain, and The Dark Knight features Heath Ledger’s Oscar winning turn as The Joker, and his Joker is the best villain I’ve ever seen in a movie based on a comic book.  So, no, The Dark Knight Rises isn’t as good as its immediate predecessor.  But it’s still pretty damn good, and a fantastic way to end Christopher Nolan’s dark, gritty, epic trilogy. 

The Dark Knight Rises picks up 8 years after the events of the second film.  The Batman is still considered by most to be a fugitive, the monster who killed Harvey Dent, who is now a symbol of peace in Gotham City.  Billionaire Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) is all but a recluse, secluded inside his Gothic mansion, only socializing with his ever faithful butler Alfred (Michael Caine).  That is until a mysterious jewel theif masquerading as a maid named Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway) piques his interest and he starts to wonder what is happening outside his walls.  Meanwhile, a scary, bulging bad guy named Bane (Tom Hardy) is hijacking planes and kidnapping professors and aiming to cause general chaos and destruction in Gotham.  After Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman) is shot, his loyal sidekick John Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) helps persuade Bruce Wayne that Gotham needs The Batman (yes, he somehow knows Wayne’s identity).  Bad ass, cool action scenes ensue as Bane and his legion of followers aims to destroy Gotham and return it to its people. 

Are there flaws in this film?  Absolutely.  As an unabashed lover of Christopher Nolan’s trilogy, even I will admit there are flaws and plot holes.  But who cares?  Ultimately, this movie is epic perfection.  It’s the perfect closing film to an utterly ground breaking trilogy of films.  Watching The Dark Knight Rises, it felt less like an individual film and more like the completion of something much larger.  So, while others might not be able to ignore flaws and plot holes, I absolutely can, when the big picture is as good as The Dark Knight Rises. 

Christian Bale is, as usual, really solid as Bruce Wayne / Batman.  I always preferred him as Bruce because I like his cocky charm as the billionaire, and yes, his Batman voice is just as silly as ever, but the movie mostly featured him as Bruce so I thought that was a big plus.  I’ve long thought that Gary Oldman was the most underrated actor in these films.  He was fantastic in The Dark Knight and if Heath Ledger hadn’t been so good, we all would have left the theaters talking about how damn good Oldman was.  Nothing changes here.  He’s just as great as he’s ever been.  Marion Cotillard shows up as billionaire Miranda Tate and she’s alluring and sexy and great.  Back when this movie was merely casting, I was an advocate for casting her as Selina Kyle / Catwoman.  I didn’t think Anne Hathaway could pull it off.  But, I’ll admit that I was wrong.  Hathaway was easily one of the best things about this movie, playing a bad-ass, authority hating, angry, sexy cat burglar.  I’ve never been her biggest fan, but I’m starting to come around.  I have been a fan of Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s literally since day one.  I think he stole this movie.  In my mind, his ordinary cop John Blake was the main character of this story, a regular man trying to help and save people.  He played Blake with such a childlike wonder and enthusiasm and so much strength of character that it was simply enjoyable to watch my little indie movie guy totally kill it in this huge blockbuster.

Then there is the predicament of Tom Hardy and Bane.  Don’t get me wrong.  I think Bane was an inspired choice as a villain.  He’s smart and scary and you actually feel like the could destroy Batman.  However, I can’t help but compare him to The Joker.  I know I shouldn’t, but I can’t help myself.  While Ledger’s Joker was so much about performance - the actor creating this psychopath that was so terrifying to the audience.  But Bane isn’t about performance at all.  I don’t know what to say about Hardy’s performance because under all the make up and the mask and the crazy voice, it’s hard to even think about it as an actor performance.  It could have been anyone in there, and maybe that’s the biggest compliment that you can give to an actor.  [Also, while I said I could ignore the flaws, I can’t ignore the fact that Christopher Nolan hired the actor with the SEXIEST lips in Hollywood and then covered them with an apparatus for all but 2 seconds of the movie!!!]

So, yes, I loved the action.  I loved the plot line.  I loved the ending (all of it, every single twist and detail and even though I figured most of it out, I loved it).  All in all, Christopher Nolan has crafted a trilogy that will stand the test of time and be revered as, hopefully, the greatest superhero trilogy of all time. 

Grade: A-

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Savages

Savages is a strange kind of movie for me.  It’s a really well done film, both dark and gritty and kind of funny.  There’s sex, drugs, violence.  It has an actual plot, which is pretty odd for summer movies.  Plus, the cast is universally pretty great.  So, then why didn’t Savages live up to my expectations?  This isn’t to say that I didn’t like it, because I did.  I was just somehow expecting more.

The movie follows a strange and new age love story - O (short for Ophelia, played by Blake Lively) is a free spirited rich girl who starts sleeping with the slightly damaged ex-Army guy Chon (Taylor Kitsch)… and his best friend and business partner, the sweet and peaceful Ben (Aaron Johnson).  Said business happens to be that these two guys grow the best pot in the entire world.  In fact, Chon smuggled back pure seeds from Afghanistan which helps make their stuff the best.  It’s so good, that a Mexican drug cartel wants it real bad.  The shady cartel lawyer (Damien Bachir) makes them an offer they eventually refuse.  This angers cartel leader Salma Hayek who gets her sociopathic goon (Benicio Del Toro) to kidnap O in order to convince the boys to do things her way.  Well, this backfires, of course, and lots of back stabbing and double crossing and hijacking and gun fights ensue.  Also, Emile Hirsch shows up as some sort of hacker who only seemingly wears cyclist clothes.  This only bothers me because I remember a few years ago when Emile Hirsch was THE BIGGEST THING.  What happened to his career?  I genuinely like him and 3 or 4 years ago, he totally would have been playing the Ben role, right??? 

Anyway, the plot and script of Savages is mostly great.  It’s engaging and interesting, thrilling and intense.  Sure, some of the dialogue (especially O’s voice overs) is a bit cheesy / corny / dumb, but maybe that’s nit picky.  The cinematography is great.  Director Oliver Stone is superb, dialing down his weirdness just enough.  He makes a strong mainstream drug cartel movie that is only a little quirky (I’m looking at you U-Turn, for being just a bit too weird… and I like weird).  Still, there was just something missing for me.  Perhaps it was the cop out / preposterous / ridiculous / stupid ending.  I mean, come on!  There had to be a better ending in there somewhere.  In fact, I could have written a better ending (I know how I wanted it to end anyway). 

The acting was all around great.  I mean, the weakest link is obviously Blake Lively.  I like her and I thought she showed so much promise in The Town.  She definitely looked the part here, all blonde and gorgeous - the perfect California beach girl.  Maybe it’s not entirely her fault.  Remember the terrible bits of dialogue I mentioned?  It didn’t help that she was saddled with most of them.  I don’t think I’ve enjoyed John Travolta (as a backstabbing DEA agent) this much since… Pulp Fiction??  Salma Hayek completely and utterly owns her role, but I expected as much from the trailers.  She’s having an absolute blast and she’s so hammy without going too far over the top that she just nails it.  In a movie with a hammy Hayek and an even hammier Travolta, Bichir manages to keep things subtle with his great and quiet performance as the slightly creepy lawyer.  Speaking of hammy and creepy, Benicio Del Toro is also great as the cartel muscle.  He’s delightfully evil and so much fun to watch.  Johnson is definitely a star on the rise.  I read a review online that talking about nothing but his hair for an entire paragraph.  He’s got great hair!  But also, he’s soulful and manages to create a truly likable character, someone we really care about and are completely invested in.  Then there’s Kitsch.  I absolutely loved his quiet and gritty performance on Friday Night Lights.  It seems like after that film, he focused too much on trying to become a huge summer tent-pole movie star.  I think that was the wrong move.  These are the types of roles he should be seeking.  He’s absolutely superb as the aggressive, intense Chon.  You cannot take your eyes off him (for other reasons too!) and he absolutely proves he’s a force to be reckoned with here. 

Also, I’d just like to officially call 2012 the Summer of the Hot Dude Ass.  I’ve already seen the asses belonging to: Alex Pettyfer, Channing Tatum, Matt Bomer, Matthew McConaughey and now Kitsch and Johnson.  And it’s only the beginning of July!

Grade: B-

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The Amazing Spider-Man

Do we really need a reboot of a movie that’s barely a decade old?  Christopher Nolan’s final segment of his Batman trilogy isn’t even released yet and they are already talking about rebooting the Batman franchise.  So, it’s been a few years since Tobey Maguire wore the Spidey suit, but already we’ve gotten a brand new Spider-man.  So, do we need it?  When it’s as fresh and exciting as Marc Webb’s The Amazing Spider-Man is at it’s best, then I would say that yes we do.

The Amazing Spider-man wastes a lot of time with a first act that doesn’t necessarily go anywhere (although, I’m assuming they are going to pick up on it in the inevitable sequel).  Peter Parker is a little boy when his house is robbed and his scientist dad freaks out and takes Peter to live with his Uncle Ben (Martin Sheen) and Aunt May (Sally Field).  Peter’s mom and dad disappear and eventually die and there’s hints and talk about the parents for most of the movie but then it just stops.  Peter grows up to be played by Andrew Garfield, and he’s sort of an outcast, loner in high school, bullied by the class jock and too shy to talk to the adorable girl of his dreams, Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone).  Peter eventually finds some of the formulas his father was working on before he took off and this leads him to Oscorp where he meets Dr. Curt Connors (Rhys Ifans) and gets bitten by a radioactive (or something!) spider.  What entails is the best scene in the movie: Peter is riding the subway home, falls asleep and wakes up to discover his new-found powers in a very hilarious way.  After getting a grip on his powers, he enjoys seeking revenge on the school bully and excelling at skateboard tricks.  However, after a personal tragedy (and I’m sure everyone saw the original Spider-Man or read the comics so we all know what it is but I’m guessing it could be classified as a spoiler, so I won’t get specific), Peter turns a bit to the dark side, seeking personal revenge.  However, when Dr. Connors mistakenly turns himself into a giant lizard, aptly named, The Lizard, Peter decides he better use his powers for good and not evil.  He begins to fall in love with Gwen, despite her hardened captain of the police force dad (Denis Leary) disapproving of Peter AND Spider-Man. 

Like I said earlier, when The Amazing Spider-Man is at it’s best, I’m very glad they decided to reboot it.  Second time director Marc Webb (he also directed one of my favorite movies of recent years, 500 Days of Summer) lends a certain indie credibility to the film and during the scenes with Peter and Gwen, it’s almost like watching a really good, quirky, cute, adorable indie love story about two awkward high schoolers falling in love.  The 3D aspect of the film also ratchets up the fun quoitent.  I’m not the biggest fan of 3D but if ever there was a superhero who deserved the 3D treatment, it’s most certainly gotta be the guy that swings through the streets of Manhattan.  The action scenes are exciting.  The movie is genuinely action packed and fun and funny.  The writing, the directing, the performances - they are all really damn great.  Still, I can’t say this was a perfect film by any means.  As I mentioned before, the first act of the movie takes forever.  I know this is an origin story, but the editors could have picked up the pace a bit.  And that sort of goes for the whole film too.  It clocks in at under 2 and a half hours, which isn’t really long at all by superhero standards but it feels a lot longer than that.  Plus, I sort of felt cheated out of a villain.  It takes the Lizard nearly two thirds of the movie to even show up and once he does, you really get the sense that he’s not a true villain, just a scientist, who is a little shady but basically good, who maybe went a little crazy with the experiments.  Like I always say, a superhero movie is only as good as it’s super villain (which is why nothing will probably ever top The Dark Knight). 

Now I love Tobey Maguire, not just in Spider-Man but in most things he does.  What I’m about to say has nothing to do with him in the slightest but… I thought Andrew Garfield did a better job.  Garfield nails Peter Parker / Spider-man.  Absolutely, 100% kills it.  Garfield is perfection, combining the shy, outcast Peter of the first half with the almost cockiness of the second.  It’s a thrill watching him as he discovers his powers.  This is a boy who felt lost and lonely and probably afraid for most of his life, and suddenly he’s all but invincible.  The pure joy that Garfield portrays is infectious, as is his chemistry with Emma Stone.  You probably can’t teach chemistry, but if you could, these two should teach a class.  They heat up the screen and are more adorable than a dozen kittens.  Stone is sassy and witty and adorable as Gwen Stacy.  Sheen and Field are great, stoic, reliable, sweet as Peter’s aunt and uncle.  Leary nails the tough yet caring dad role.  The only problem I really had with the acting was Ifans.  He was great for the most part, playing it a little creepy, but I thought he started to overact near the end. 

Overall, The Amazing Spider-Man is, indeed, amazing.  If they had to reboot a franchise that’s only been dead for a few years, then they picked the right people to be a part of it.  What could have been a disaster, was a fun, exciting, and ultimately, sweet summer movie.

Grade: B

Ted

Certainly, I am in the minority here.  It definitely seemed like everyone in the audience loved this movie.  It was number 1 at the box office over the weekend.  I, however, has less than impressed.  Sure, it had a few funny moments, but overall I was highly disappointed.  No, that’s not even the right word.  That would mean I thought it was going to be good.  I didn’t really expect anything at all and that’s exactly what I got.  So, expectations met.

Ted is the story about a little boy in a Boston suburb who has no friends so on Christmas, when he receives a stuffed teddy bear as a present, he makes a wish that the bear could talk and be his friend forever.  Wish granted!  This is cute when little John Bennett is a child but as John grows up, the bear just keeps moving with him.  Ted even becomes famous for a while, appearing on Johnny Carson and having his picture plastered on tabloids with his drug problems.  Flash forward to the current day when John is a 35 year old man (Mark Wahlberg) who dates a hottie named Laurie (Mila Kunis), works at a rental car company and spends most of his days smoking weed and watching Flash Gordon with Ted, his best friend and stuffed teddy bear (voiced by Seth MacFairlane as an “adult”). 

Yes, it is ridiculous but I got through the ridiculousness by pretending that Ted was just a stand in.  He represents that childhood friend everyone has that just won’t grow up and get their own life and keeps trying to drag you down with him.  And that’s exactly what Ted does, partying and doing drugs and tempting John, which jeopardizes his job and his relationship with Laurie.  When Laurie gives him an ultimatum, John makes Ted move out on his own (where, in one of the only funny reoccurring bits, he gets a job at a grocery store and manages to get promotions even though he could really care less about his job), but he still spends all his time with him, which just makes Laurie angrier and angrier.  Throw in Joel McHale as Laurie’s horn dog boss and Giovanni Ribisi as a hilarious creeper who wants to steal Ted for his weirdo son (and also enjoys a good dance routine while watching Tiffany videos). 

[Sidenote: Giovanni Ribisi has got some MOVES!!!  He totally should have been in Magic Mike!]

Anyway, the performances are fine, I guess.  Kunis is winning as the sweet Philly girl John falls in love with and I’ve always enjoyed when Walhberg gets funny and silly because even though he’s a tough guy, I think he’s also genuinely funny.  Ribisi steals every single scene he is in, which is usually the case.  It’s just a shame he’s not in much of the movie because a piece of junk like this movie really could use all the help it can get.  Ribisi is so good at playing a weirdo creep that it’s almost poetic.  I guess if you are a fan of Family Guy (disclaimer: I am not), then you’ll love this movie.  I just didn’t get it.  It seems the humor here seems to just be a bunch of people yelling at each other and that’s supposed to be funny.  I don’t think so, but, again, I was in the minority, for sure.  The audience (nearly sold out) ate it up and loved it and laughed the entire time.  Ted wasn’t without laughs for me.  There were a few parts I found funny but mostly I can’t say I enjoyed it.

Grade: D-

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Magic Mike

Yes, Magic Mike is a male stripper movie. But it is also so much more than that. It’s a funny workplace comedy. It’s a buddy picture. It’s a fish out of water story about a kid trying to find his place in the world. And it’s a romance. So, really, there is a movie here for everyone.

Channing Tatum stars as Magic Mike, the star of a Tampa all male revue, which also features the hot bods of Matt Bomer and Joe Magniello and is emceed by a particularly energetic Matthew McConaughey. Mike also spends his time making custom furniture and working on a construction crew and the latter is where he meets Adam (the ridiculously sexy Alex Pettyfer). Adam had a football scholarship but wasn’t a fan of college so he dropped out and now has little direction, so much so that he is not all that reluctant to start taking his clothes off for money, despite the trepidation showed by his over protective sister (Cody Horn).

Under the direction of Steve Soderbergh, Magic Mike becomes so much more than a movie about strippers. The dialouge is rich and flows realistically. It’s also genuinely funny and has a lot of heart. The filmmaking is just great and I especially loved the way the film seemed so vivid at night, but was sort of muted and washed out during the day, looking how you feel with a hangover.

The performances are all great. Tatum, this story is loosely based on his life, is clearly the best dancer and is so charming and charasmatic that he just keeps begging his haters to find faults with his improved acting. Horn is a great find and has great chemistry with Tatum and Pettyfer. Speaking of Pettyfer, this is his finest performance to date (especially during his second half unraveling) and proves he is more than just a pretty face. Then there is McConaughey so is so dirty, grimy, slimy, hilarious as the perverse father figure to this group of lost boys.

All in all, I loved Magic Mike. As a woman, it was nice to see a movie objectify men for a change. These men are hot and sexy and that is worth the price of admission alone. But luckily, there is so much more here and Soderbergh and this tremendously talented cast created a film that is downright good.

Grade: B+

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Rock of Ages

So, apparently Blogspot doesn’t like me anymore since it no longer allows me to post updates to the movie blog I’ve kept there for so many years. So I have abandoned http://shootingwithoutascript.blogspot.com/ and moved to greener pastures here on Tumblr.  On with the review…

Rock of Ages is about a small town girl living in a lonely world who took a midnight bus going to Hollywood.  Julianne Hough plays Sherri, a wanna be singer who shows up in L.A. in the late 1980s with a love of metal and desire to be a singer.  Soon after she gets mugged and falls in love with Drew (Diego Boneta).  Drew also gets her a job at the legendary Bourbon Room, a seemingly raucous bar owned by Alec Baldwin and his little chum Russell Brand.  Drew is also a wannabe singer and both Drew and Sherri are uber excited about an upcoming gig by their favorite band Arsenal.  Arsenal’s front man is Stacee Jaxx, played by Tom Cruise, and he’s about to announce that he’s leaving the band.  Arsenal’s farewell performance has to help save the Bourbon Room from financial trouble because the mayor’s uptight wife played by Catherine Zeta-Jones is trying to find a way to close them down for good.  Throw in Bryan Cranston as the mayor, Paul Giamatti as Stacee’s oily manager, Mary J. Blige as a madame, Malin Akerman as a mousy/horny Rolling Stone writer and a monkey, and you’ve got yourself one hell of an 80s rock musical.

If it all sounds a little similar to Burlesque, that’s because the plot is basically the same except I’d rather watch Cher and Stanely Tucci forever than have to watch Diego Boneta and Julianne Hough and their lack of anything resembling charisma.  Hough fares better than Boneta here, since he is all but completely forgettable.  When watching Boneta try his best to be a rock star, I just kept thinking about the missed opportunity for casting Jonathan Groff who has more charisma and charm and talent in his toes than this other guy.  Hough, at least, has potential.  The girl can dance, sing and act (and her level of talent goes in that order too).  She’s a better dancer than anything else and her acting wasn’t great but it wasn’t terrible either.  You start to think she’s all right and then someone like Catherine Zeta-Jones comes on screen and even though her role was one dimensional, she proves why she’s a huge star.  She should only be making musicals because that’s how powerful she is at the whole singing / dancing thing.  (See also: Chicago).  Akerman is fine although she has little chemistry with Cruise.   Russell Brand probably came out of the womb looking like a rock star, but the costume and hair people somehow managed to make him look too ridiculous to be taken seriously.  Baldwin, who I love, was forgettable at best.  Giamatti was fine as an unlikeable jackass. 

Then there’s Tom Cruise.  Tom Cruise.  Tom Crusie.  Tom Cruise.  If you are going to go see Rock of Ages, see it for Tom Cruise.  Now, I’m not his biggest fan.  In fact, beyond Jerry Maguire, I can’t even think of a Tom Cruise movie I genuinely loved.  But he literally becomes Stacee Jaxx here.  As this Axl Rose clone, a rock star who makes his entrance in assless chaps, Cruise is all in.  His dedication to this character is ridiculous and he parades around this movie like peacock, so showy and vain and just damn good.  And just like I said in my review of Snow White and the Huntsman (see my old blog!), like Charlize Theron, it’s a shame that such a fantastic performance is stuck in a mediocre movie.   He deserves better.

If you love 80s music then this is the movie for you.  The music is super fun, of course.  And there’s a lot of it!  I read somewhere online that there is 23 songs, or something like that.  The standout number belongs to Cruise, of course, who can actually sing really well and absolutely kills it on Wanted Dead or Alive.  There’s Pat Benatar, Journey, Foreigner, and so much more.  The cast is all willing and able and does a solid job on all of the songs. 

So what didn’t I love about Rock of Ages?  I’m not quite sure.  It just didn’t jive for me.  Something was lacking and missing.  It’s not that it was cheesy, even though it was.  Maybe it was the terrible direction.  Maybe it was the way it seemed no thought at all was put into the cheoreography.  Maybe it was the lack of chemistry between the two young stars.  I’m not sure.  The movie itself isn’t the greatest, but it is a good time and Tom Cruise alone is worth the price of admission. 

Grade: C+

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