CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER (2014)

April 20, 2014

capt america Greetings again from the darkness. Many were unimpressed with the first Captain America movie, though I have always had a soft spot for the most heroic and genuinely pure of the superheroes. This sequel opens with Steve Rogers trying to acclimate after a 70 year sleep … he thinks the internet is pretty cool. It is a bit surprising that the Russo brothers (Anthony and Joe, known for You, Me and Dupree) are the ones who load up on plot lines within a Marvel movie.

Starting off with big time action sequences, the movie then morphs into a geopolitical weave of intrigue between SHIELD and HYDRA. New to this maze of distrust is Robert Redford … proving once again that Hollywood doesn’t trust guys wearing suits in fancy offices. In a twist, Captain America (Chris Evans) and Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) find themselves the target of a manhunt by those they work for. Then they drag Falcon (Anthony Mackie) into this … his flight suit is a nice effect. All of this happens after an unexpected action-packed sequence featuring Nick Fury (Samuel L Jackson).  The titular Winter Soldier provides an identity twist, as well as some intense fighting.

The multiple plot lines and emphasis on trust issues all correlate pretty well to some of the things going on in the world today. That adds an enjoyable element that really brings relevance to the Captain America character. Because of this, the repartee between Cap and Natasha is limited … we get some, but much less than what we have come to expect from other Avengers-related films. And it’s probably a good idea to go a different direction with the Avenger who really is different from the others. Don’t miss the extra scene in the closing credits … it’s the lead in to Avengers: Age of Ultron movie coming in 2015.

**NOTE: there is the always-anticipated Stan Lee cameo, and it adds the usual touch of humor

watch the trailer:

 

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DISCONNECT (2013)

April 14, 2013

disconnect1 Greetings again from the darkness. It’s an impressive cast. The director, Henry Alex Rubin, gave us the excellent documentary Murderball.  Unfortunately the material here is mostly obvious and cliché-filled with no real message, other than our dependency on technology is leading us to be less “connected” to those real life people we live with. Is there anyone who doesn’t know this … other than the characters in this movie?

I’m calling this movie “Crash on the World Wide Web”. Crash was the 2006 Oscar winner for Best Picture. It had multiple story lines andworked extremely hard to appear very important, just like this one does. Disconnect shows us the Boyd’s – a family comprised of a workaholic lawyer dad (Jason Bateman always on the blackberry), a teenage daughter (Haley Ramm), a teenage loner son, and a mom (Hope Davis) who has no close bond with any of them. The boy (played by Jonah Bobo from Crazy Stupid Love) is cyber-bullied by two cruel boys (Colin Ford from a We Bought a disconnect3Zoo, and Aviad Bernstein).

We also meet a married couple played by Paula Patton and Alexander Skarsgard. They learn they are the victims of identity theft and the source could be her online support chat room (grieving the loss of their young son) or his online gambling problem. They hire a cyber-crime expert (Frank Grillo) to help them track down the alleged perpetrator (Michael Nyqvist). This expert also happens to be the father of Colin Ford’s character – the cyber-bully from story 1.

disconnect4Finally we see an ambitious local TV reporter (Andrea Riceborough) who stumbles onto an online sex chat room featuring young stud Max Thieriot. As the trust builds between these two, we know disaster is fast approaching.

The two father-son relationships take a turn after both fathers “invade” the privacy of the boys’ online accounts. What they learn is painful and enlightening. The real point or message of the stories seem to be that technology is killing real communication and human interaction. This is the disconnect that is occurring while online connections are thriving. Did we really need a movie to tell us this?

SEE THIS MOVIE IF: you are somehow oblivious to the inherent dangers of online communication OR if you are unaware that teenagers can be cruel and loneliness is open to all ages OR you want to see why I prefer Jason Bateman in dramatic roles rather than comedies

SKIP THIS MOVIE IF: you have been the victim of identity theft or cyber-bullying … no need to re-live that pain

watch the trailer:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aqCcQOlDM4o


END OF WATCH (2012)

September 24, 2012

 Greetings again from the darkness. Hands down, this is the best cop movie in quite awhile. Not only that, it’s about street cops, not flashy detectives wearing $600 suits. This is no good cop/bad cop dance. These aren’t rebellious, power hungry cops run amok flashing their badges. Taylor (Jake Gyllenhaal) and Zavala (Michael Pena) are simply dedicated cops who are committed to serving the mission and surviving another day.

This film works for two reasons: the performances of Gyllenhaal and Pena, and the amazing writing and directing from David Ayer. Mr. Ayer is best known as the writer of Training Day, but also wrote Dark Blue and S.W.A.T, and directed Street Kings. He grew up in south central Los Angeles, and clearly has a talent for bringing real lifecop action to the big screen.

 Taylor and Pena are long time partners who have familiarity and banter down to a science. These are guys who become brothers based on spending every day together and trusting the other with their lives. These two scoff at the department mandate to write more traffic tickets, and instead find themselves smack dab in the middle of a Mexican drug cartel. That’s not a good place for two street cops and they soon wind up on the wrong list of some really bad people.

We see shootouts, car chases, chases on foot, rescues, traffic stops, house searches and just about anything else that these heroes are subjected to on a daily basis … just trying to maintain some sense of civility on their beat. No matter how frustrated you get with your job, put yourself in their “comfortable footwear” and imagine rolling up on “Big Evil”, who wants nothing more than to make you suffer.

 There is a really interesting thing going on with video cameras. Taylor is filming his daily activities for a class he is taking, while this group of bad guys is also seen filming their nightly crimes against humanity. Also, the supporting cast doesn’t play a huge role, but David Harbour, Frank Grillo, America Ferrera, Natalie Martinez and Anna Kendrick are all solid. The exception is Cody Horn who is way out of her element, and quite a distraction.

Pena and Gyllenhaal are a joy to watch and strike the necessary bond required for this movie to work. We never once doubt that these guys are brothers and fully trust worthy. Good guys doing a tough job in a bad part of the world. This is a gritty, realistic film that, at times, has a documentary look and feel to it. More of this, please.

SEE THIS MOVIE IF: you don’t want to miss the best cop movie in years

SKIP THIS MOVIE IF: your idea of a Buddy Flick is The Other Guys

watch the trailer:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mf2K9GzgiF0

 


THE GREY

January 29, 2012

 Greetings again from the darkness. This is certainly not the typical lame, formulaic action movie that we have come to expect most every January. Director Joe Carnahan teamed with Ian MacKenzie Jeffers to write a strong script based on Jeffers’ original short story. With a touch of spirituality mixed with an excruciatingly intense story of survival, this film is more of an emotional experience than one might expect based on the trailer.  It’s not just Man vs Nature.  It’s also Man vs. Himself.

The film opens as Ottway (Liam Neeson) is composing a letter (and narrating) to his beloved wife (Anne Openshaw). At first we aren’t sure of their story, only that this was a painful loss for him and he is washing away his sins with an apparent final letter. We later learn more through flashbacks as she is the “happy place” into which he retreats in moments of stress … and there is certainly no shortage of those! We also learn that Ottway is a hired sharpshooter to protect the roughnecks on assignment in the Alaska oilfields. We see him in action as he quickly and precisely nails a charging wolf.

 After the first spiritual interruption at a key moment for Ottway, we next see him and a group of the workers boarding a plane to escape the storm. The plane crashes, killing most onboard and stranding the small group of survivors in a barren, frozen wasteland of Alaskan wilderness. If only that were their biggest problem. As if no food or water, and sub-freezing temperatures during a blizzard weren’t quite challenging enough, they are being systematically hunted by a pack of ferocious wolves. Ottway’s experience and personality lead him to the position of group leader as they look for a way out.

There have been many fine survival movies including The Edge (Alec Baldwin, Anthony Hopkins), Deliverance, and The Thing. We even get a wise-crack about the movie Alive, where the plane crash survivors stooped to cannibalism. While I am a fan of all of those movies, none are as full of tension and intensity as this one is, from beginning to end. What really sets this one apart from many is not the action scenes, but the character development. We actually see the character of these men evolve as their plight worsens. Watch for the similarities between man and beast as Diaz (Frank Grillo) challenges Ottway.  Also observe Ottway’s transformation as he goes all out to fight for life.

 The other supporting cast members include Dallas Roberts and Dermot Mulroney, but the strength of this movie stems from the script and the casting of Liam Neeson. Supposedly Bradley Cooper was originally cast, and later replaced by Mr. Neeson. It’s probably safe to say that my comments would not be as favorable if that change had not occurred. Kudos to director Carnahan who gave us another very intense film called Narc. Since then, he has only delivered shallow works like The A-Team and Smokin’ Aces. Here he pays so much attention to detail … like a wolf paw print in the snow as it slowly fills with blood. Don’t be scared away thinking this is just another macho action film. It is much more and, at times, even a very quiet and deep piece of filmmaking … that will leave you exhausted!

SEE THIS MOVIE IF: you are up for an intense story of survival that shows how hard some will fight to keep on living.

SKIP THIS MOVIE IF: you are a member of one of the protesting groups who believe the film portrays wolves in an unfair manner.  If that’s you, I recommend Never Cry Wolf instead (very good movie that shows wolves in a more positive light)

watch the trailer:


WARRIOR

September 12, 2011

 Greetings again from the darkness. It’s always a bit thrilling when a movie catches us off-guard and is much more than expected. Walking in, I was all set for a testosterone fueled fight fest featuring BS bravado and mounds of machismo. While that element is abundantly present, writer/director Gavin O’Connor wraps the fighting around a pretty interesting story about family, bravery, desperation, pride and forgiveness.

The story begins with the convergence of a broken family – two brothers and their father. The split occurred many years ago, and without the details, we are able to piece together that dad (Nick Nolte) was a violent drunken ex-Marine and the mother planned to take the two boys and run. One of the brothers (Joel Edgerton) had fallen in love and decided to stay with dad. The younger brother (Tom Hardy) went with mom and even nursed her through her final days of cancer prior to his joining the Marines. The three men have been incommunicado for years, until one day Tommy (Hardy) shows up on Nolte’s doorstep.

 What sets this one apart is the details of each of the brother’s stories, very little of which I will discuss here. There is a terrific scene on the Atlantic City beach where their demons confront each other and we see that so much pain and bitterness exists despite their having been teenagers at the time of the split. They each felt abandoned by the other. Now one is an angry ex-Marine and the other is a desperate physics teacher with a family. This story couldn’t possibly end any place other than smack in the middle of an MMA (Mixed Martial Arts) cage fight!

 Their Dad (Nolte) had trained the boys as youth wrestlers and now a giant $5 million tournament is being held. Both brothers are carrying secrets and need money to solve their problems. Their secrets drive them to risk life and limb in the cage of this most brutal activity. To best describe these characters, Tom Hardy has the presence and physique of the guy you would never consider confronting in a bar fight. Joel Edgerton is the kind that your buddies would egg you on thinking you could probably take him. Instead you would end up in the back of an ambulance.

 As expected, and shown in the trailer, the MMA tournament ends with the two brothers facing off and guilt-riddled dad watching from the crowd. Despite the rowdiness and violence of the fighting, very little blood is shown. That’s not what this movie is about. Instead we get many adrenaline-rushes from the spectacle of the fights, plus a split-screen montage of the training leading up to the big moment. This is a crowd-pleaser in the vein of The Fighter, but not quite as mainstream given the MMA element.

 The two leads were each on my list of favorite movies last year. Joel Edgerton was in the excellent and under-the-radar Animal Kingdom, while Tom Brady was in the mega-hit Inception and will play Bane in the upcoming Batman film. In this film, Edgerton has more freedom with his character, but Brady does a wonderful job of capturing the quiet intensity followed by roid rage in the ring. Most surprising is the fine job turned in by Nick Nolte. He really showed up for this one. Other support work comes from Jennifer Morrison, Kevin Dunn and Frank Grillo. We also see former Olympic wrester Kurt Angle as the terrifying Russian MMA machine Yoba, and writer/director Gavin O’Connor as JJ Riley, the millionaire sponsoring the tournament.

There will be comparisons made to both Rocky and The Fighter, and both make sense. It is not quite at that level, but don’t mistake this as some dumb fight movie made for teenage boys. There is a story and it provides further proof that men, no matter how hard they try, manage to screw up the whole family thing more often than not … but in the end, they do try their best to make things better!

SEE THIS MOVIE IF: you are up for a high intensity male-centric family drama with an abundance of testosterone OR you want to see the best Nick Nolte performance in years

SKIP THIS MOVIE IF: you prefer slow, weepy family dramas rather than the simmering explosions of male communication OR simply watching MMA is more violence than you care to take on

watch the trailer: