Archive Page 2

26
Apr
13

The Company You Keep

Politics, government, and scandals seem to interact more than we’d like to admit.  Power has a way of corrupting even those with the purest of intentions. Luckily, our Founding Fathers provided a system which allows the electorate the opportunity to throw out elected officials thought to be corrupt or motivated by self-interest.  They also gave us the right to assemble peacefully and to petition our government, but what happens when the assembling isn’t quite so peaceful and turns violent?  This is subject of the new Robert Redford directed film, The Company You Keep, starring Shia LaBeouf and Redford.

The Company You Keep has Shia LaBeouf as young, ambitious newspaper reporter, Ben Shepard, looking for his first big story.  When a woman is arrested for crimes committed during protests of the war in Vietnam as a member of the radical Weather Underground group, Shepard digs further into the story. Shepard soon discovers local lawyer, Jim Grant (Redford), isn’t who he says he is at all.  In fact, Jim Grant doesn’t even exist, but has been harboring a dark secret for decades.

Knowing he is close to breaking a big story, Shepard continues prodding around and asking questions of law enforcement and other people connected to the man known as Jim Grant.  Aware of Shepard’s persistent efforts, Grant takes off leaving his young daughter with his brother.  Soon a nationwide man hunt ensues as both the FBI and Shepard pursue Grant.  Unfortunately for the FBI and Shepard, Grant is able to stay several steps ahead with a well thought out, methodical plan. When we do finally learn about Jim Grant, his secret is big enough to destroy the lives of many people.

First of all, The Company You Keep boasts a terrific cast.  There’s Susan Sarandon, Stanley Tucci, Nick Nolte, Chris Cooper, Terrrence Howard, and even Anna Kendrick makes an appearance in a role so small that if you blink, you’re likely to miss it.  Robert Redford shows he has the ability to put together a great cast and the cast turns in great performances.  The person who stills the show is Shia LaBeouf.  LaBeouf is a great young talent and is able to stand his own against some acting heavy weights. He’s great as ambitious reporter Ben Shepard, which reminds of a character played Redford, close to 40 years ago in All The President’s Men.  The performances are definitely a strong point of the film.

With a run time of two hours, the film is a little long.  There’s plenty that could have been easily cut.  For example, most of Redford’s scenes in the film consist of him running from one place to another.  Also, once we learn Redford’s character’s big, dark, secret, the film goes for another 10-15 minutes that just wasn’t needed.

The Company You Keep isn’t for everyone.  Whenever a film injects politics and its characters have a definite political view, it will inevitably turn off some audience members.  Politics aside, The Company You Keep is an intriguing film with some great performances that’s able to keep your attention throughout.

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19
Apr
13

Oblivion

One look at Tom Cruise’s body of work and you’ll notice he’s done it all. With his latest film, Oblivion, Cruise steps into the science fiction genre.

Oblivion is set in post-apocalyptic USA in the year 2077. In a speedy voice over, we learn humans have won the war against the alien Scavs, machines programmed to destroy, but a select number of humans, Jack Harper (Cruise), had to remain behind to clean up the mess.  As a consequence of the war, all humans were subject to a mandatory memory swipe. Memory swipe and all, Jack keeps seeing visions of walking by a beautiful woman in what appears to be New York City.

Main character, drone technician, Jack Harper (Cruise), spends his days going into what remains of Earth repairing drones so they can continue fighting the Scavs.  Jack only has two more weeks left of duty and can then join the other humans on another planet.  During a routine maintenance outing, Jack discovers a spacecraft falling to the ground.  Upon investigation, Jack discovers the woman he keeps having visions of locked into a protective casing.  Before the Scavs destroy her, Jack is able to drag her to safety, taking her to his house.  After hearing who she is and what she was doing, Jack learns not everything is what it seems.

Oblivion is visually stunning.  There are expansive desert landscapes and magnificent sequences of intergalactic matter. The film’s setting is beautiful and you’ll want to keep your eyes on the screen for that reason alone. This is easily the best aspect of the film.

The acting is decent, nothing cringe worthy. However, early on Cruise is robotic and looks uncomfortable. As the film progresses, he relaxes and delivers an average performance.  Morgan Freeman, who’s underutilized, is good in his small role.

Anyone looking to Oblivion for action will not be disappointed.  Almost from the opening scene, there’s someone running from gunfire and continues to right up until the end credits.

Easily the biggest complaint is the story is so hard to follow.  Once you think you know what’s going on, a twist happens and takes the film in a completely different direction.  This happens on several occasions.  If you’re seeing Oblivion, do not leave your seat until it’s over or you will be lost.

18
Apr
13

Django Unchained

Revenge is a central idea in Kill Bill Vol. and as the jilted and buried alive bride searches for, as you can guess, Bill.  To a certain extent, revenge plays a role in the classic and blood drenched Pulp Fiction.  But in Quentin Tarantino's latest film, Django Unchained, starring Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz, and Leonardo DiCaprio, the revenge factor has been cranked up significantly.  Tarantino must not believe revenge is a dish best served cold, but distributed absolutely frozen solid as it is in Django Unchained.

Django Unchained is set in 1858 in the antebellum south, two years before the American Civil War.  We first meet our main character, Django (Foxx), a slave with shackles around his ankles, as he’s led through a forest deep in the Texas wilderness.  Almost immediately, Dr. King Schultz (Waltz) approaches on horseback pulling a wagon adorned with a giant tooth.  Dr. Schultz then attempts to buy Django from his owners for unknown reasons and due to Dr. Schultz’s amazingly quick draw, Django’s owners quickly breathe their last breaths.

We quickly learn Dr. Schultz is a bounty hunter in search of the Brittle brothers who are worth a hefty bounty and enlists Django to help him find them.  The two make a deal; Django helps Dr. Schultz find the Brittle brothers and Django gets his freedom.  Soon after the two locate and dispose of the brothers in rather graphic fashion and the terms of the deal have been completed, Django wants more than his freedom; he wants his wife, Broomhilda.  Dr. Schultz trains Django in the use of firearms and teaches him his unbelievably quick draw and after some investigative work our two heroes are on their way to  Candyland, a planatation run by the evil and sadistic Calvin Candie (DiCaprio)  in search of Broomhilda.

At Candyland, after a series of unfortunate events, the body count begins adding up and the blood begins splattering.

For a film that’s nearly 3 hours long, it sure does not feel like it.  The story and characters are able to keep you interested and engaged the entire time. The story is incredibly original, as evidenced by its Oscar win for best original screenplay as it uses the audiences’ expectations against them and makes for an entertaining and intelligent story.   The film has a quick moving pace that never results in a slow or uninspired moment.

The lack of anything resembling a lull in story is due in no small part to the truly terrific performances.  Christoph Waltz, who won the best supporting actor Oscar at this past Academy Awards, more than deserves the award.  Waltz, who has the best lines in the film, delivers them beautifully as they just roll off his tongue.  DiCaprio, as the highly racist and vicious Calvin Candie, is very good in his own right and was probably deserving of nomination for his performances as well.  Samuel L. Jackson, who has a small, but extremely important role is a thrill and makes the most of his screen time.  Last, but certainly not least, Jamie Foxx is good, but is overshadowed at times, especially by Waltz.

Django Unchained is a violent and brutal revenge saga about slavery with a strong spaghetti western influence.  It’s almost 3 hours long, but you won’t notice it because the characters and story keep you so thoroughly entertained.  If you enjoy any of Tarantino’s previous works chances are you’ll enjoy Django Unchained, but even if you didn’t, you’ll still want to check this one out.

15
Apr
13

42

Athletics is about more than just winners and losers. Sure, every year a new champion is crowned in all of the four major sports in America.  But, there are also those special times where sports have been able to perfectly capture the nation’s mood, like the “Miracle on Ice” in the ’80 Olympics or serve as a catalyst for social or political change, like Billy Jean King defeating Bobby Riggs or Jackie Robinson breaking baseball’s color barrier.  Robinson’s venture as the first African American to don a major league uniform is the subject of Brian Hedgeland’s 42 starring Chadwick Boseman and Harrison Ford.

42 chronicles the life of Jackie Robinson on and off the field as he breaks into Major League Baseball with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947.  The film begins with a brief overview of life in America in the 1930s and 40s.  Then, almost immediately we meet Branch Rickey (Ford), the Dodger’s top executive, and his two associates as they put together a roster for the upcoming season.  Rickey soon makes a startling statement; he wants an African American to play for the Brooklyn Dodgers.

As the search begins, we first meet Jackie Robinson (Boseman) as a member of the Kansas City Monarchs in the Negro League.  After displaying his superior baseball ability, Robinson joins the minor league affiliate of the Dodgers, the Montreal Royals.  After just one season in the minors, Robinson makes history as he breaks baseball’s color barrier in ’47 with the Brooklyn Dodgers.

The biggest complaint against 42 is that early on, the film is all over the place.  It has a hard time finding a balance between Jackie’s personal life, life on the field, and Branch Rickey.   But, once the film gains momentum and the pace is a lot less frantic, everything is smooth sailing with little to nothing to criticize.

The performances are outstanding.  Chadwick Boseman is great and as you see during the end credits, a dead ringer for Robinson.  As good as Boseman is, Harrison Ford is even better.  Ford steals every scene he’s in with a rough, gravelly voice and an almost unrecognizable look.

42 is everything you want in a film and then some.  There’s the inspiring and heartwarming story, excellent performances, and terrific set design.  42 is in the same league as Field of Dreams, Miracle, and Ray.  42 swings for the fences and connects!

08
Apr
13

The Host

 

The past weekend provided us with yet another rather uninspiring line up of new releases at the theater.  Jurassic Park, a film in theaters twenty years ago and the hyper violent and gory Evil Dead, made their way to the multiplex.  Watching a film that perpetually plays on television or being subjected to a 90 minute nonstop blood and gore fest didn’t appeal to me.  Instead, I decided to give Andrew Niccol’s The Host, starring Saoire Ronan and Diane Kruger a try.

The Host, based on a book of the same name, is penned by Twilight author Stephanie Meyer.  The central story revolves around an alien invasion of Earth where the aliens implant an alien soul into human bodies.  The number who are human is slim and is dwindling fast as the memories in the humans lead the aliens to other humans.

In the opening scene, Melanie, the main character, jumps through a window in order to kill herself and evade capture from the aliens.  Miraculously aside from a few cuts Melanie is perfectly fine.  Melanie’s will to survive is so strong that after being implanted with an alien host, we see her memories and hear her thoughts throughout the film. Wanting to find and protect her brother, Melanie sends the alien residing in her on a wild goose chase in the desert.  Soon after and before dying in the desert, Melanie is taken into an isolated campsite with the few remaining humans.  Melanie’s presence is met with an expected apprehension because of being a human with an alien host.  Melanie must fight survival and try to convince aliens and humans to peacefully coexist.

For a romantic, scfi-action film, there wasn’t a whole lot of either romance or action.  The film is on cruise control for the most part.  There’ll be one scene of action and then several minutes with nothing that moves the story forward.  I’ve never seen a film that meanders in places for so long like The Host.  However, when the story does move forward, it’s not half bad.  It’s a fairly interesting concept.

The acting in this film is ten times better all-around than anything in the Twilight series.  These actors don’t make you cringe with every word that comes out of their mouth.  It’s not great, but did exceed my expectations.

The Host is not a perfect film, not by a long shot. It meanders terribly, some cheesy lines, and some questionable acting.  However, it did exceed my low expectations.

31
Mar
13

Admission

 

The box office has seen better weekends.  Such new releases as another Tyler Perry film, a sequel to the awful 2009 G.I. Joe flick, and the Twilightesque alien picture, The Host, really didn’t have me running to the multiplex.  So, given those less than stellar options, Paul Weitz’s romantic comedy Admission starring Tina Fey and Paul Rudd is what I decided upon.

Admission is the story of Princeton college admissions officer Portia Nathan (Fey), a straight- laced, by the book type who has everything in her life just the way she likes it.  As Portia and her colleagues began gearing up for her department’s busy admission season, John Pressman (Rudd), the head of an experimental school, contacts Portia with startling news. Pressman believes Portia is the biological mother of one of his students, an odd, but clearly gifted young man.  Having given up a baby for adoption in college and seeing his birth certificate with date, time, and place that coordinates with her child’s birth, Portia soon becomes convinced.  Portia becomes more and more involved in her believed to be son’s life as she tries to find the right time to tell him that she is his mother.

As a rule, expect for Judd Apatow’s films, comedies are generally no longer than 90 minutes.  At nearly two hours, Admission is just too long.  The last third of the film really loses steam, but up until that point it is really enjoyable.  The film would have been much better if it had been 15-20 minutes shorter. The ending will probably leave most wanting more as you almost feel cheated with its conclusion.

The performances in the film are pretty standard.  Lilly Tomlin, who plays Portia’s mother in film, serving as the comic relief, tends to get on your nerves as she yells a lot of her lines.  Other than Tomlin’s occasional screeching, the complaints with performances are limited.  Tina Fey delivers another typical Tina Fey performance with customary wit, intelligence, hilarity, and charm.  Paul Rudd also gives another good performance.

Other than the story being somewhat slow and being a tad too long, Admission is a charming and pleasant story about adoption, motherhood, and reconciling with the past.  It really is sad when pleasant, intelligent films like Admission struggle at the box office, when bad, dumb films like Olympus Has Fallen rake in the cash.

25
Mar
13

Ted

 

Growing up every child has imaginary friends, a particular article or item they tend to latch onto for comfort, security or for a number of reasons.  Whether you were like Linus and dragged around a blanket or went the more conventional route and lugged around a teddy bear, more than likely you also had an attachment to some object.  However, Seth McFarlane’s first feature film, Ted, starring Mark Wahlberg and Mila Kunis, takes the whole childhood attachment to an object thing to a whole other level.

For John Bennett (Wahlberg), clinging to his teddy as a child wasn’t just for comfort, but for friendship.  John was the one child who always had problems making friends.  He spent most of his childhood indoors and alone until one Christmas morning when he would open a gift that would change his life forever, a teddy bear.  Soon, Teddy magically comes alive and John and Ted become inseparable.  Flash forward 30 years, John and Ted now spend their time together watching 80s television shows, sharing joints, and taking hits off a massive bong.   John’s girlfriend of four years, Lori (Kunis), becomes annoyed and  feels neglected with how much time John and Ted spend together and gives John an ultimatum; either Ted moves out or her and John are over.

Ted, which is directed and co-written by McFarlane, is filled with the trademark Family Guy crassness, wit, and clever pop culture infused humor.  The first two thirds of Ted are extremely enjoyable with John and Ted delivering offensive joke after offensive joke.  It’ll have you offended and laughing yourself silly at the same time.  The last third of the film only disappoints because McFarlane has to include some resemblance of a story.  Much like Family Guy, the momentum comes to a screeching halt whenever the random jokes stop because the story has to move forward.  Also, the film suffers anytime the focus is taken off of John and Ted’s relationship and put on Lori.  The story is average, but the relationship between John and Ted is enough to keep Ted enjoyable.

The acting is very average.  The big surprise, however, is Mila Kunis.  It’s not that she’s even really good either.  In most things, she usually ranges from bothersome to absolutely dreadful, but in Ted, she’s not given too much and really doesn’t have the chance to become appalling.  McFarlane understands what his audience wants and it’s not extensive screen time for Mila Kunis.

Ted isn’t a perfect film by any stretch of the imagination.  Is it funny?  Absolutely.  Does it know what its audience wants?  Yes and it delivers in droves.  Is the story Family Guy paper thin?  Yes, but Ted is still a whole lot of fun and was last year’s best comedy.




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