Friday, January 11, 2013



Written by Will Beall
Directed by Ruben Fleischer
Actors: Josh Brolin, Sean Penn, Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, Anthony Mackie, Robert Patrick, Giovanni Ribisi, Nick Nolte, Micheal Pena.

All "The Gangster Squad" had to be was a campy, violent and fun riff on "The Untouchables" and "L.A. Confidential". It is campy all right but not in a fun way. I was thoroughly bored by this lifeless gangster movie that has a lot of action but no personality. That is a shame because this is a great cast but when Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone come off as the dullest I have seen them you know this movie has a problem. I don't mean to compare it to something as majestic as "The Untouchables" but I wanted to have a good time at least, I wasn't expecting a masterpiece.

Like the best movie of 1987 "The Untouchables", "The Gangster Squad" builds a team of lawmen to battle an infamous gangster, in this case Micky Cohen. With that set up I thought of a few things this movie fails on. First of all none of the gang have individual personalities. There is a nerdy wire tap officer who is the exact type of character that Charles Martin Smith played in "The Untouchables". The difference is we loved that character. I couldn't care less of what happened to the Ribisi character or what happens to his family. I also know that Gosling is playing a character too cool for words but Gosling has no chance to bring any life to him. There is a romance between Gosling and Emma Stone and this hot couple should have created sparks. The movie doesn't let them, their affair bored me too.

I was actually rooting for Sean Penn's Micky Cohen who comes off as a shallow stereotype but at least he is alive and having fun. Sean Penn's performance is the only great part of this movie. The make up looks awful and Penn is required to chew scenery and it could have gone wrong but Penn makes it new and exciting. I also thought that Josh Brolin as the lead squad member makes a great hero. Though he would be better used as maybe the new Elliot Ness in an "Untouchables" remake? The action scenes and shootouts her run into each other and there is really no set up, they are just a mess. I only liked a really cool fist fight between Penn and Brolin near the end.

I know the screenplay here is not supposed to be the highlight of the movie but I did concentrate on the dialogue a lot because I was bored with the characters and action. The dialogue is terribly cliched and I know it is supposed to be but was it too much to ask for the dialogue not to sound like it was coming from a bad 1940's gangster "B" movie? After awhile I expected a "You'll never catch me "Copper" you see because I am smarter than you, you see?" Though there is a few lines that come close to that goofy "B" movie type crud. "The Gangster Squad" is a major dissapointment and a waste of great talent. I think I will go watch something way better like "The Untouchables" to remind me that a gangster movie can be a lot of fun.

Friday, January 4, 2013



Written by Mark Boal
Directed by Kathryn Bigelow
Actors: Jessica Chastain, Jason Clarke, Joel Edgerton, Mark Strong, Chris Pratt, James Gandolfini, Terry Kinney, Jennifer Ehle, Kyle Chandler.

"Zero Dark Thirty", Kathryn Bigelow's follow up to her Academy Award winning Best Picture "The Hurt Locker", is coming out with a lot of hype attached to it. I wish Hollywood and critics would calm down and stop over hyping a movie when you under hype and neglect wonderful movies like "Silver Linings Playbook". Like me, movie goers will come in expecting the best movie ever made. That is unfair to the movie and the audience for some might come out a tad dissapointed even though "Zero Dark Thirty" is a very great movie. This is a very well made, thrilling and very well acted movie and Bigelow's direction is superb. I just don't think it is the best movie I have seen this year and is not as great as the hype.

You know that this is the movie about the tracking down and assassination of Ossama Bin Laden. I will not spoil the movie's pristine and very detailed telling of all the moves or how the mission was completed step by step. It is simply a movie that does a wonderful job of taking you on a journey and then keeping you on the edge of your seat during the final half hour. This is not a movie where you are asked to like any of the characters. It is not a movie that will make you laugh or cry or feel deep emotion. It is a great exercise in showing us the detailed planning, obstacles and execution of the mission of finding and killing Bin Laden.

I was surprised though by the movie focusing first and foremost on the woman C.I.A. agent who sticks her neck out directing this mission, played by one of our best new actresses Jessica Chastain. Her name is Maya and she is a very smart, strong and tough woman who I absolutely loved following. Bigelow's last movie "The Hurt Locker", which I found a tad over rated and not Best Picture material, was from a male's perspective. I liked this movie much better because I love strong female characters and I am very sad that strong female characters are not written half as much as male ones are these days. Finally a story focusing on a mission that will be carried out in the end by male Navy Seals takes time developing this fascinating female character Maya.

Jessica Chastain is amazing here in a tough role that requires her to be tough but also show some emotion. Maya's job is extremely hard and frustrating and I love how her determination is the main reason this mission is successful. She has to go in and sell to a room full of powerful men why this woman has the right answers. If the movie dropped Maya and focused on the men this would be uninteresting to me and would turn into something dull and cheesy like this year's earlier "Act Of Valor". Director Kathryn Bigelow is the perfect director to drive this movie because she wants to show us the frustration, hard work and chances Maya has to take building up to a powerful final shot.

The direction here is excellent and the movie will never bore you but don't expect a edge of your seat type thriller until the final half hour. Though there are two middle scenes that jolted me and were very suspenseful. One great scene deals with another female operative that hits you with it's perfect set up and final jolt. If you love to see the nuts and bolts, roadblocks and process of a mission like this depicted you will not be dissapointed. If you are expecting a major thrill ride there is a lot of talk and you might feel a little let down.

I wish the movie's first 45 minutes would have cut down on some of the focus on the torturing of a supsect. I could not get fully invested in this movie until about an hour in. That is where my slight dissaapointment lays but don't get me wrong, I loved this movie. I loved the writing, the detail, the finely written Maya character and the beautiful, measured and great performance by Jessica Chastain. I also was on the edge of my seat and fascinated by the final half hour where the action and suspense is really let loose.

"Zero Dark Thirty" is being messed with by critics who say it fails in some ways and others who think it is the best picture they have seen all year. I even messed with whether it should be on my ten best movies of the year. For movie goers and especially me sometimes you just want to see a solid movie that entertains you. I really loved this movie after I blocked out all the hype and just saw it for what it is. To me, it is a competent thriller with one of my favorite female characters of the year, a great performance by a very talented actress and a great film making job by a extremely talented director making another solid movie. Yes, "Zero Dark Thirty" is one of the best movies of the year. It is a great movie, pure and simple.

P.S. In my last paragraph I was going to say that the movie was directed by a great female director. I am glad I stopped myself because shouldn't we be at a point where it doesn't matter what a director's gender is?

Thursday, January 3, 2013



Written by Matt Damon and John Krasinski
Directed by Gus Van Sant
Actors: Matt Damon, Frances McDormand, John Krasinski, Rosemarie DeWitt, Scoot McNairy, Hal Holbrook, Titus Welliver, Tim Guinee, Lucas Black, Terry Kinney.

"Promised Land" might look like a good for you, preachy, enviornmental message movie by it's previews. It is actually an entertaining, clever and well written movie that a Frank Capra could have made in his prime. It is also a fun movie because of the warm and charming actors playing good people that we like right away. There is also a neat plot twist half way through that caught me by surprise and made sense. It is not a cheap trick, it brings out the moral stances of all the characters involved here.

This is a very smart screenplay by actors Matt Damon and John Krasinki. Damon and Frances McDormand play corporate salesmen Steve and Sue who come to a small rural town to try to convince the landowners to sell the rights to drilling on their properties. Th drilling is to retrieve natural gas that could make the owners rich. To get the gas there will be a proccess called "fracking". That process could find riches for these people but it could also harm their land and kill off livestock for example. That is what young Dustin proclaims and Dustin is an enviornmentalist that is trying to stop Steve and Sue from their quest.

Steve will get involved with a pretty school teacher who also may have eyes for Dustin. I was anticipating a love triangle that would come off as phony but it is actually handled really well. The movie is directed by Gus Van Sant who has done a great job of picking very different type projects. He does a great job filming in real locations in Pittsburgh. The town feels real including the waterhole that the townsfolk go to where Steve will meet Alice, the school teacher. The movie also has characters we like, there are no clear cut good guys or bad guys. Everyone is trying to do their job and stand by their principles.

There will be a plot twist that could have ruined the vibe of this movie but I liked how it made sense and how it seemed like it could have actually happened. I like how writers Damon and Krasinski flesh out these characters instead of making them stereotypes. Matt Damon is such a likeable actor who always seems real plus you never see him acting. He gets great support from Frances McDormand as his partner and McDormand is very funny and steals the movie like she does a lot of times in other movies. Also John Krasinski as Dustin seems very likeable and I look forward to more of his big screen work. Rosemarie DeWitt is also very natural and sweet here as Alice. DeWitt is building up a nice career and I find her always a natural beauty who has an easy going charm about her.

"Promised Land" has good intentions and it is never a preachy movie trying to teach you a boring lesson. The screenplay is solid and Krasinski and Damon do a good job even though it is not on the level of Damon and Ben Affleck's work on "Good Will Hunting". Though I will say that this story has some of that movie's charm, humor and characters that we like following and rooting for. It might seem like a cookie cutter drama but I was surprised a lot by how entertaining and different it turned out to be.