Spectre

November 8, 2015 by  
Filed under Cody, Reviews

Starring: Daniel Craig, Christoph Waltz, Lea Seydoux
Directed by: Sam Mendes (“Skyfall”)
Written by: John Logan (“Skyfall”), Neal Purvis (“Skyfall”), Robert Wade, (“Skyfall”) and Jez Butterworth (“Black Mass”)

After the events of “Skyfall,” James Bond (Daniel Craig) finds himself in trouble when causing damage on an unofficial assignment in Mexico. As he disobeys his suspension, Bond tracks down an organization called Spectre, which leads him to people from his past. From there, Bond is sent on a globe-spanning path to take down the leader of this evil organization. Meanwhile at MI6, M (Ralph Fiennes) must fight to keep the 00 program alive when an intelligence operation between multiple countries threatens its future.

After one of the best-received Bond films of all time, Craig dons the Bond suit without much energy this time around. It certainly isn’t a bad performance, but it also doesn’t appear like Craig is having much fun in the lead role. As a villain, Christoph Waltz is still chasing the kind of terror he was able to instill in “Inglorious Basterds.” Rather than develop any true sense of menace, Waltz merely delivers lame monologues as his form of evil. Of course, if the audience ever thought Bond would be in any real sense of danger, perhaps it would play better. The franchise is chugging along, though, and so words are not enough to feel any fear for his safety.

There’s a level of complacency that seems to be running throughout “Spectre,” especially in the sense that nearly everything feels obligatory. Yes, there are giant set pieces and a few scenes of great action, especially in the opening sequence. But there’s also a boring repetition of the same three things that always happen to Bond. He drinks, he beds beautiful women, and he kills people. In one scene of “Spectre,” Bond bangs a grieving widow whilst getting information out of her. That very well may be what diehard fans are looking for, but it makes for eye rolls and more importantly, completely absurd plot development. Frankly, if you take away all of the unnecessary plot contrivances, sex, women, fast cars and guns in “Spectre,” nothing remains.

There’s almost no sense of a ”spy” movie here either. Everything is out in the open and it’s extremely hard to care about what little mystery exists. It’s loud, messy, filled to the brim with pointless secondary characters and agonizingly long. It is also, admittedly, polished, sleek, and stylish. Bond fans should be pleased with yet another “Bond being Bond” film. But for those looking for something with more substance and narrative, there’s little to be found underneath the superficial sheen.

Black Mass

September 19, 2015 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Johnny Depp, Joel Edgerton, Benedict Cumberbatch
Directed by: Scott Cooper (“Out of the Furnace”)
Written by: Jez Butterworth (“Get on Up”) and Mark Mallouk (debut)

As fascinating as the true life story is of one James “Whitey” Bulger, a South Boston criminal-turned-FBI informant (see a better albeit still flawed retelling of it in Joe Berlinger’s documentary “Whitey: United States of America V. James J. Bulger”), one might imagine the intense nature of the narrative pouring out of every scene in “Black Mass.” Alas, what audiences receive is a worthy attempt at a gangster movie that sort of dissolves from memory once you leave the theater. It’s a couple of steps up from Johnny Depp’s last crime biopic “Public Enemies,” where he plays pretty-boy John Dillinger, but still far from anything in the realm of greatness.

With that said, “Black Mass” isn’t a failure by any means. While it doesn’t entirely succeed in transforming Depp’s Bulger into evil incarnate, it is Depp’s vigor and commitment to the more terrifying traits Bulger possesses that keep the film from flat-lining halfway in. Let’s face it. As an A-list actor, Depp makes more bad choices in roles than most. Fault his ambition to try something totally different from anything he’s done before or fault a slew of underwritten scripts he’s been given, but Depp is the kind of actor that seems to be intrigued only by a character’s surface qualities. With a character as complex as Bulger, however, there is a lot more to explore even when the screenplay meanders into territory that never factors into who he is as a person.

Along with Depp, there are some other noteworthy performances, specifically from an underutilized Peter Sarsgaard and Julianne Nicholson. Basically, everyone not named Depp or Joel Edgerton is shortchanged, which is why any emotional connection between Bolger and other characters feels incomplete. It’s especially true with actor Benedict Cumberbatch, who plays William Bolger, Whitey’s brother and the President of the Massachusetts State Senate. Why screenwriters Jez Butterworth and Mark Mallouk treat this relationship like a mere blip on the radar doesn’t make much sense.

Still, this is Depp’s movie and he has just enough material to do some interesting things with the character. It’s just unfortunate that no one else was given the same attention. If they had, “Black Mass” might’ve cut deeper.

Get on Up

August 1, 2014 by  
Filed under Cody, Reviews

Starring: Chadwick Boseman, Nelson Ellis, Viola Davis
Directed by: Tate Taylor (“The Help”)
Written by: Jez Butterworth (“Edge of Tomorrow”) and John-Henry Butterworth (“Edge of Tomorrow”)

When making a biopic about a musician, filmmakers have two major options. One is to hire an actor to both act as the artist and to do their own singing, a feat that got Joaquin Phoenix an Oscar nomination for his role as Johnny Cash in “Walk the Line” and won Jamie Foxx an Oscar for his role as Ray Charles in “Ray.” The other option is to hire an actor to just play the character parts and lip-synch to the original recordings of the artist. It’s a risky and potentially distracting move, and certainly one that needs to be backed up with a dynamite acting performance. Luckily for director Tate Taylor, Chadwick Boseman delivers exactly that in his portrayal of the hardest working man in show business, James Brown, in “Get on Up.”

If Boseman was seen as a relative unknown in taking on the role of Jackie Robinson in last year’s “42,” his performance in “Get on Up” will quickly erase his anonymity. Boseman is outstanding as the larger-than-life James Brown and completely embodies everything from his speaking voice to his swagger. Where Boseman really shines is during the performance scenes. Boseman is electric in scenes where Brown is performing; constantly moving, dancing, sweating, and putting everything he has into the performance. Though as previously mentioned, Boseman is lip-synching throughout the entire film, there are only a few moments where it is truly jarring. He’s also able to mine some comedic moments from the film, though those don’t quite land as much as they should.

Beyond Boseman’s performance, “Get on Up” is a pretty comprehensive (sometimes to a fault) look at Brown’s life and career. Brown’s music is present throughout the whole film, giving the picture its pulse and sounding as good as it ever has. The issue, however, comes with the direction. Taylor attempts to cram a ton of content into this biopic and ends up with mixed results. It’s a film that comes in at over two hours, and starts to feel redundant with some of the performances by the end. It’s also told in a non-linear fashion, with stories and moments from Brown’s life ping-ponging chronologically in a way that doesn’t serve any real narrative purpose.

As a look back a James Brown’s life, storied career, and his well-earned place in music lore “Get On Up” is a successful endeavor. Still, somehow, it all feels somewhat surface. Taylor flirts with the idea of racism during the rise of Brown, but never really goes anywhere with it other than a show that happened shortly after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King. Despite the occasional narrative shortcomings, “Get on Up” is a worthy journey into music history, and one that features a fantastic performance from a quickly rising actor poised for a massive breakout.

Edge of Tomorrow

June 6, 2014 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Tom Cruise, Emily Blunt, Bill Paxton
Directed by: Doug Liman (“The Bourne Identity,” “Mr. and Mrs. Smith”)
Written by: Christopher McQuarrie (“The Usual Suspects”), Jez Butterworth (“Fair Game”) and John-Henry Butterworth (“Fair Game”)

Okay, sure, “Edge of Tomorrow” looks like a sci-fi spin on “Groundhog Day” and yeah, that’s the premise in a nutshell. When you have a guy reliving the same day over and over and over again, the Bill Murray classic is instantly top of mind. But more so than that, though, the film is a mildly satirical, exceedingly clever adventure featuring the most accessible and likeable performance by Tom Cruise that we’ve seen in years.

As a TV-friendly officer charged with selling a land war with aliens to the world, Cruise’s Major William Cage is ordered to the front lines with a camera crew to record the great victory over the so-called Mimics. When Cage resists, General Brigham (Brendan Gleeson) cooks up a conspiracy to bust him down to private. Cage is assigned to J-Squad under Master Sergeant Farrell (Bill Paxton) where no one cares if he lives or dies. The next day, after some hasty training and brutal hazing, Cage suits up in his futuristic exo-skeletal armor and is dropped in the middle of a massacre with the rest of the infantry. Cage manages to survive the firefight long enough to come face to face with an “Alpha,” one of the rarer Mimics, only to be burned to death by its blood. Immediately upon dying, though, Cage awakes to relive the previous day, destined to fight and die again. This happens over and over and over, with Cage improving his skills every re-lived day with the help of military superstar Rita Vrataski (Emily Blunt), the one person who understands what he’s going through.

“Groundhog Day” memories aside, “Edge of Tomorrow” brings a fresh and funny perspective to what, on the surface, looks like another futuristic snoozer on par with last year’s “Oblivion,” also featuring Cruise. Director Doug Liman never leans too heavily on the overarching gimmick, instead using the days Cage relives that we don’t see to move the narrative forward. When we think we’re seeing progress toward the goal of defeating the Mimics, Rita slowly discovers she and Cage have been in this situation dozens—if not hundreds—of times before. You absolutely feel Cage’s frustration, doubly so if you grew up playing video games without save features in the ‘80s, when a lengthy quest could come to a maddening end just to leave you back at the very beginning. Like Cage, all you’re left with is the accumulated knowledge of what you went through. And, like lots of ‘80s video games, “Edge of Tomorrow” falters near the end, foregoing creativity for mindless action. But truthfully, getting there is all the fun.

Fair Game

November 19, 2010 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Naomi Watts, Sean Penn, David Andrews
Directed by: Doug Liman (“Mr. and Mrs. Smith”)
Written by: Jez Butterworth (“The Last Legion”) and John-Henry Butterworth (debut)

Moviegoers on the more conservative side of the aisle might snicker when they hear others call “Fair Game” a fact-based political controversy about former CIA operative Valerie Plame, the internal leak ending her career in the agency, and the grand jury investigation that followed, but the film is compelling, thought-provoking cinema nonetheless.

For those who believe Plame’s memoir “Fair Game: My Life as a Spy, My Betrayal by the White House,” from which the screenplay is adapted (along with her husband Joe’s book “The Politics of Truth”), “Fair Game” just might a maddening experience when you piece the narrative together.

“Fair Game,” directed by Doug Liman (“Mr. and Mrs. Smith”), tells the story of Plame, whose identity as a member of the CIA is printed in a 2003 article of the Washington Post. Added to this disclosure of top secret information is the supposed reason behind it. Plame’s husband, Ambassador Joe Wilson (Sean Penn), who was sent to Africa to investigate a possible nuclear weapons deal between Niger and Iraq but found no evidence of such, wrote an op-ed piece in the New York Times degrading the George W. Bush Administration for invading Iraq and using the intelligence he gathered (in this case proved false) on his trip as a component of the motive for the attack.

Again, “Fair Game” is from one point of view, so depending on your politics (and depending if you judge a film based on those politics) the film might feel as fictional as a fairytale. Leave the politics off the table, however, and you’ll find an intelligent, well-written and sometimes heavy-handed account of the events that may or may not have taken place.

Aside from what went on inside the White House, “Fair Game” also examines the personal life of Plame and Wilson as their marriage is tested and professional careers are dragged through the mud during the ordeal. These elements of the film give a nice balance between the ugliness of the political world and what a controversy like this can actually do to a family.