5 Flights Up

May 9, 2015 by  
Filed under Cody, Reviews

Starring: Morgan Freeman, Diane Keaton, Cynthia Nixon
Directed by: Richard Loncraine (“Firewall”)
Written by: Charlie Peters (“My One and Only”)

After being married for 40 years, Alex (Morgan Freeman) and Ruth (Diane Keaton) decide that it might be time to move out of the Brooklyn apartment they’ve lived in for decades. In making the biggest decision of their lives, however, Alex and Ruth must come to terms not only with getting older and accepting the aging process, but with letting go of the place of their dreams.

If there is a strength to be found in “5 Flights Up,” it is the chemistry between Freeman and Keaton. The moments in which they show affection towards one another are well performed, but it extends further than that. There’s a sense of frustration that Keaton is able to convey with her husband that is entirely set in his ways that is completely believable for a couple that has been married for decades. It’s an acknowledgement that they have been together for years, that they love each other, but sometimes they can be extremely difficult to be with. It’s a subtle note that is clearly amplified by two great actors.

As Alex and Ruth begin to interact with those looking to buy their apartment, nearly every person who walks through the door is a weird caricature of an actual human. Yes, it is supposed to be a satirical look at a “younger” generation, but not every single potential buyer has to have a larger than life quirk or be intentionally off-putting.

Of course, most of these issues can be attributed to a less than stellar screenplay. There are some nice touches, like Freeman’s character being confused about not being able to hear on an iPhone that he is holding backwards, but for the most part, his “crotchety old man” dialogue and frustration with young people is generic and cliché. The most glaring script problem, however, comes from the sideplot of a terror suspect on the loose and the resulting news coverage. It’s a plotline that only serves for a loosely connected metaphor that doesn’t register or resonate on any level.

Though are some interesting scenes that show Alex and Ruth as they came to be,“5 Flights Up” is just about as tepid as a film can be. Though some very mild fun that can be had with watching an intense and ongoing real estate transaction happen, that’s about the extent of the level of enjoyment about the film. When it comes down to it, “5 Flights Up” says nothing of importance, is oddly ageist, and is a giant waste of time for its two talented leads.

Gilbert Gottfried – comedian

April 9, 2015 by  
Filed under Interviews

Comedian Gilbert Gottfried, best known for the scratchy voice work he has used to create such characters as Iago the Parrot in the classic 1992 Disney animated film “Aladdin,” and as the former spokesduck for Aflec Insurance commercials, will be performing stand-up at the Laugh Out Loud Comedy Club in San Antonio from April 10-12. I caught up with Gottfried, 60, earlier this week on the phone to talk about his new podcast, how the entertainment industry has changed over the years, and why he would never accept an offer to eulogize someone.

Do you remember the last time you performed in San Antonio?

God knows. I totally lose track of places I’ve been to. Whenever they show those clips of a politician or rock star yelling out, “I love you, Oklahoma!” and they’re in a totally different state, I completely understand how that happens.

Well, when you think of San Antonio, Texas, what is the first thing that comes to mind?

I think of a tumbleweed going by. (Laughs)

San Antonio sounds like a pretty boring place!

(Laughs) Yeah, maybe an occasional shootout happens, too. I’m used to it though. Usually during my shows someone pulls out a gun.

You started your podcast Gilbert Gottried’s Amazing Colossal Podcast about 10 months ago. So many comedians have taken this route in recent years. What made you want to do it?

I don’t really know. People were telling me to do it and I don’t really give things that much thought. It’s what everyone is doing nowadays, so I thought I would start. I didn’t know what I would talk about, but I really like talking about stuff that has to do with old show business. So, I aimed for that for the most part. So, we’ve had people like Boris Karloff’s daughter on the show. We had [TV and radio personality] Joe Franklin on right before he died. We’ve had Henry Winkler and Adam West on.

Yeah, so far your guests have been pretty diverse. What do you look for when you’re deciding who to bring on?

I look for guests I find interesting to me. Usually the guests that I have on are ones that people haven’t heard of. It was a surprise because I thought no one would like the podcast if they didn’t know the person. But I’ve been getting all these Tweets from people saying, “I had no idea who you were talking to or the people you were talking about, but I loved listening to it.”

Did it ever cross your mind that maybe they love listening to it because you have such a great voice for podcasting?

(Laughs) Yeah, I think I have that classic radio voice. It’s always between me and Morgan Freeman.

Have you ever been asked to do any voiceovers like Morgan Freeman? Would you ever eulogize someone, maybe?

I think one time someone ask me if I would do their eulogy. But I’m afraid those gigs don’t pay much.

That’s why you have to ask for the payment before the guy dies.

Oh, yes. As soon as the guy starts coughing, I want to get paid.

You started as a stand-up comedian in New York City when you were a teenager. Are comedy tours still fun for you or does it feel like a job now?

Sometimes when I’m coming into a new town with my suitcase, I feel like Willy Loman. So, it depends. Sometimes I enjoy it. Other times I just have to force myself.

When you come into new cities, do you try to craft your material for those audiences?

Not that much. Every now and then I’ll say something that has to do with the city. It varies if something hits me. I was lucky enough to be booked in Toronto when the mayor, Rob Ford, was in trouble with drugs and God knows what else. So, I was there right on the day that scandal started. So, all you had to do was say his name and people started laughing and applauding. It’s like the jokes didn’t even matter. Hopefully some big official in San Antonio will be found with a dead hooker when I get there.

Well, the only controversy in San Antonio right now is that our city council won’t allow Uber to operate in city limits. Not sure if you can do anything with that.

(Laughs) See, that’s already funny.

Do you ever think about your comedy legacy as your career progresses?

I’ll have these people say to me, “Isn’t it great that years after you’re dead people will still remember you as Iago the Parrot?” I always think, “Well, I’d rather they totally forget about Iago the Parrot and I just stay alive forever.” (Laughs)

You’ve gotten in trouble for things you’ve said or tweeted in the past. You were famously fired from your gig as the Aflac duck for making what the company thought were disrespectful remarks about the Japanese tsunami in 2011. Do you have a filter as a comedian or is controversy not really something you worry about?

Well, now when think about saying something, I think twice and say it anyway. (Laughs) I guess I’d be more gainfully employed if I thought about it.

Do you feel people are too sensitive when it comes to comedy?

Oh, yes, especially on the internet. I always say the internet makes me feel sentimental for old-time lynch mobs. At least a lynch mob had to actually go out and get their hands dirty. (Laughs) Show business used to be separate from everything else. If we had the internet back then, we’d probably see Clark Gable tweeting that “Gone with the Wind” sucked.

As someone who appreciates how Hollywood functioned back in the day, what do you think about people who get YouTube famous?

It’s scary. Show business years ago featured actors and singers who were big stars. There were newscasters and columnists and writers you’d look up to and listen to. Now, it’s everybody. It’s a weird thing. Nowadays being a star means you filmed yourself squeezing a blackhead and 20 million people watched it on the internet.

Now that you have your podcast going, is there anything else you’d like to try or learn about when it comes to new media or technology?

I have a cell phone that I barely know how to make calls and get calls. I still haven’t figured out how to put people on hold. The technology of podcasts or anything like that, I don’t know what I’m doing.

But at least you can work a toaster, right?

(Laughs) I’m starting to get the hang of that, yeah. Maybe when I’m 80 I’ll know how to make a good piece of toast.

Lucy

July 25, 2014 by  
Filed under Jerrod, Reviews

Starring: Scarlett Johansson, Morgan Freeman, Min-sik Choi
Directed by: Luc Besson (“The Fifth Element”)
Written by: Luc Besson (“Taken”)

There are stupid movies that are tons of fun, and there are stupid movies that are a considerable chore to sit through, offensive in their blatant stupidity. Some movies, like the recent works of Adam Sandler, seem fine with being the latter so long as Sandler gets to take his family and friends on a paid vacation to Hawaii or Africa disguised as a movie shoot. Then there are movies like “Lucy,” a brain-dead Eurotrash sci-fi/gangster mash-up filled with laughable pseudoscience, indifferent performances and nonsensical editing infuriating enough to make the swift 80-minute affair feel like an assault on the whole endeavor of movie going, making you question why you even bother leaving the house to watch this stuff.

“Lucy” opens in Taiwan, with Scarlett Johansson’s ditzy foreign student title character being forced to deliver a mysterious briefcase to a brutal Korean gangster (Min-sik Choi, channeling Gary Oldman in “The Professional”). Lucy ends up kidnapped, waking up with a plastic bag of an experimental drug sewn inside her abdomen. She and several others are to act as drug mules, smuggling the highly dangerous drug into various parts of Europe. Tied up before she’s to be sent off on a plane, Lucy is attacked by one of her captors, the violence of which ruptures the sac of drugs sending what should be a lethal dose coursing through her body. Only instead of killing her, the drug activates the unused parts of her brain, essentially turning Lucy into a superhero. Somehow unlocking her brain’s potential gives Lucy telekinetic powers, the ability to manipulate radio and TV waves, and the power to change her hair color and length at will. With the Korean gangsters on her tail, Lucy is on a mission to track down the rest of the drugs and contact Professor Norman (Morgan Freeman), the world’s foremost authority on, um, speculative brain power, I guess?

Besson is a long way from the glory days of “The Professional” and “The Fifth Element” here, and, like “Taken” before it—which Besson only wrote and produced—“Lucy” feels like a cut-rate European B-movie with some big Hollywood stars slumming for the paycheck. The difference is that “Taken” powered through its pedigree with a somewhat magnetic performance from Liam Neeson. Here, though, Johansson’s default robotic vacancy and Freeman’s clear disinterest in the material do little to offset the absolute bullshit going on around them, whether its Lucy’s ridiculous escalating powers or Norman’s quackery about just what using 100 percent of your brain would lead to. By the time all the madness culminates in a shootout, a “2001: A Space Odyssey” knock off, and a cosmic thumb drive, you’re more likely to have lost some of your own brainpower along the way.

Oblivion

April 20, 2013 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Tom Cruise, Morgan Freeman, Olga Kurylenko
Directed by: Joseph Kosinski (“TRON: Legacy”)
Written by: Joseph Kosinski (debut), Karl Gajdusek (“Trespass”), Michael Arndt (“Toy Story 3”)

Just like in his last film, the CGI-rich albeit hollow-to-the-core sequel “TRON: Legacy,” filmmaker Joseph Kosinski captures an exciting setting in his second movie “Oblivion.” In this Tom Cruise-vehicle, Kosinski’s idea of a futuristic, post-war Earth is vast and dreary. High-tech drones blaze through the sky with purpose. The planet is lifeless, but Kosinski’s vision isn’t. It’s not until characters actually speak and a plot is brought to the forefront when “Oblivion” becomes just another dull sci-fi genre flash in the pan.

Cruise, who is no stranger to substantial science fiction like “Minority Report” and “War of the Worlds,” tries his best to keep the drama high as the director maintains the fascinating world around him. He stars as Jack Harper, a security expert whose mission is to monitor drones on Earth. Along with his partner Victoria (Andrea Riseborough), the duo is only two weeks away from clocking out and joining their fellow humans who have been transported to another planet after a nuclear war ravaged the world uninhabitable. Hanging out in the shadows of Earth are aliens called “scavs” who are hellbent on attacking machines built to harvest the Earth’s remaining ocean water.

If that read like a jumbled up narrative, that’s because it is. In fact, we haven’t even started to explain why Jack is seeing a mysterious woman (Olga Kurylenko) in his dreams or why an annoyingly southern-accented Melissa Leo is giving him the runaround via video transmission or why the heck Morgan Freeman shows up wearing shades and smoking a cigar. Besides not wanting to ruin some of the surprises “Oblivion” has in store, we also don’t want to dilute the synopsis as much as screenwriters here do with the script. “Oblivion” is a sprawling mess filled with big, muddy ideas. It’s a perfect example of a sci-fi movie that over-thinks its mythology and ends up forcing the viewer right out of the story.

It’s also not very mindful of other recent sci-fi movies that share some of its major twists. Sure, there are plenty of movies out there that cover the same themes and a few of the scenarios seen in “Oblivion,” but it boggles the mind to understand how a couple of them didn’t set off the copycat alarms. And no, we’re not talking about Cruise reliving his fighter-pilot days in “Top Gun.” Here he’s impressive behind the controls of a high-speed spacecraft. Too bad the year is 2077 and not 1986.

Off his Oscar win for the gorgeously shot “Life of Pi,” the work of cinematographer Claudio Miranda is easily the film’s forte. From a shootout inside an abandoned library to the eye-melting landscapes and skyscapes, the images in “Oblivion” coincide with its $120-million price tag. Producers should’ve skimped on a few CGI drones, however, and transferred some of those funds to someone who could’ve tightened up the screenplay with a vise.

Olympus Has Fallen

March 22, 2013 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Gerard Butler, Aaron Eckhart, Morgan Freeman
Directed by: Antoine Fuqua (“Training Day”)
Written by: Creighton Rothenberger (debut) and Katrin Benedikt (debut)

Yes! Yes, Gerard Butler, “Olympus Has Fallen” is exactly the kind of film you should be making nonstop! Enough with the horrible romantic comedies. They absolutely do not work with you in the lead, and society is general is worse off for having to experience them. Stick to action and we’ll all be golden, okay? Even if the screenplay is utter crap. We can deal with that as long as there are some cool explosions and fistfights and such.

In “Olympus Has Fallen,” Butler stars as Mike Banning, a dedicated Secret Service agent tasked with protecting President Asher (Aaron Eckhart), First Lady Margaret Asher (Ashley Judd), and their young son Connor (Finley Jacobsen). After a terrible accident leaves Banning disgraced, he is moved from the President’s detail and reassigned to a desk job at the U.S. Treasury. Eighteen months later, when a rogue C-130 gunship soars over Washington, DC, mowing down citizens and law enforcement alike in a hail of bullets, Banning springs into action. The target is the White House (code named Olympus). When the building is taken by foreign terrorists, Banning slips inside and becomes the last hope for saving President Asher–and the nation itself.

If you aren’t the kind of moviegoer who can sit back and let the testosterone and jingoism of a political action film just wash over you, then “Olympus Has Fallen” makes an easy target for scorn. The script from first-timers Creighton Rothenberger and Katrin Benedikt is overflowing with action movie cliches and is unashamedly aping “Die Hard.” Butler delivers another meathead performance, complete with an American accent as shoddy as the special effects on display. And Morgan Freeman (as the Speaker of the House pushed into action when both the President and Vice-President are held captive) is clearly phoning it in after having played roles like this seemingly dozens of times. Throw in unstoppable super-weapons, genius computer hackers, and a sneering foreign villain along with everything else and you’ve got the recipe for Generic Action Movie #876, right?

Well, yeah. But in spite of it all, it still works. The “what if?” scenario of the White House succumbing to a terrorist assault is juicy stuff, and it’s hard to get tired of Butler tossing out curse-laden one liners while stabbing bad guys in the brain. And as the Secretary of Defense, Melissa Leo is having a blast as she gets to spit foul-mouthed venom in the face of her captors. When she’s dragged down a hallway screaming the Pledge of Allegiance (as corny as it may be), it’s hard to not be on the edge of your seat waiting for Butler to come to her rescue and put a bullet in someone’s face.

The Dark Knight Rises

July 21, 2012 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Christian Bale, Anne Hathaway, Tom Hardy
Directed by: Christopher Nolan (“The Dark Knight”)
Written by: Christopher Nolan (“The Dark Knight”) and Jonathan Nolan (“The Dark Knight”)

In full scope, “The Dark Knight Rises,” the third and final installment of director Christopher Nolan’s Batman series, feels epic. From its majestic production value to its incredible IMAX-worthy set pieces, Gotham City has never looked so grandiose. Look beyond the technical and artistic achievements of this inevitable summer blockbuster and there are flaws. Despite the narrative’s overall maturation over the last seven years, Nolan has lost sight of just how 2005’s “Batman Begins” and 2008’s “The Dark Knight” successfully redefined the comic-book movie through intelligent design. Here, the bloated 165-minute superhero marathon is frustrating, especially with a script embracing a diluted story about the current financial crisis instead of actually entertaining moviegoers.

Picking up eight years after the last film ended, billionaire Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) has gone into exile after the death of Harvey Dent. Wayne’s retirement, however, is only temporary and Batman reemerges when a hulky mercenary known as Bane (Tom Hardy) marches into Gotham with plans to sever the city’s economic lifeline, thus causing civil unrest. As Bane, Hardy joins the cast with big clown shoes to fill after Heath Ledger won an Oscar posthumously for his role as the rageful Joker. Sadly, Bane is better suited for a pro-wrestling ring than as a substantial villain with real purpose. New to the franchise are Anne Hathaway as Selina Kyle (aka Catwoman, although the name never comes up), a saucy jewel thief who fights alongside the caped crusader, and Joseph Gordon-Levitt who plays rookie cop John Blake, the most interesting character of the DC Comics lot.

Where the Batman franchise goes post-Nolan remains to be seen, but whoever takes the reigns has a tough act to follow — even if this final chapter doesn’t necessarily reach its full potential.

Dolphin Tale

September 23, 2011 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Nathan Gamble, Harry Connick, Jr., Cozi Zuehlsdorff
Directed by:  Charles Martin Smith (“Air Bud”)
Written by:  Karen Janszen (“Free Willy 2: The Adventure Home”) and Noam Dromi (debut)

Suspected to be among the planet’s most intelligent animals, dolphins offer humans the opportunity to interact with what is essentially a wild animal that can actually understand us. While we don’t share a language or opposable thumbs, things like the concept of compassion seem to be a common trait. That notion is at the center of “Dolphin Tale,” loosely based on the true story of Winter, a bottlenose dolphin found trapped in a crab net off the coast of Florida. The ordeal results in an injury to her tail so severe that amputation was the only option.

After rehabilitation at a local aquarium, Winter is fitted with a custom-made prosthetic tail, enabling her to swim in proper dolphin fashion once again. While the bones of that story remain in place, the movie piles on the fiction in an effort to craft a family-friendly inspirational film.

The movie’s story centers on an introverted 11-year-old named Sawyer (Nathan Gamble), a lonely boy who retreats into gadgets and Game Boys instead of making friends or taking part in his cousin’s send off to the military. A bike ride to summer school results in the discovery of a beached dolphin. Sawyer cuts her free before a team from a local aquarium, led by Dr. Clay Haskett (Harry Connick, Jr.) and his young daughter Hazel (Cozi Zuehlsdorff), arrives to whisk the injured cetacean away for emergency care. His curiosity piqued, Sawyer sneaks into the aquarium to check on the dolphin, now christened “Winter” by Hazel. Initially turned away by Dr. Haskett, Sawyer is ultimately allowed to stay after Winter seems to react positively to his presence.

The first half of the film makes for decent if typical family film fodder, even if it features a mugging pelican you’ll want to punch in the beak. But then you realize you’re almost an hour into a movie you’re supposed to see with restless children and you haven’t met Morgan Freeman’s character yet or seen a single prosthetic tail. Yikes.

The second half of the movie slows to a crawl, stretching the story and the audience’s patience with a hurricane, a combat injury, and a lengthy series of artificial fluke beta-testing sessions. Like the similarly-themed “Soul Surfer,” the movie takes an intriguing real-life story of inspiration and smothers it in schmaltz.

Red

October 15, 2010 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Bruce Willis, John Malkovich, Helen Mirren
Directed by: Robert Schwentke (“The Time Traveler’s Wife”)
Written by: Jon Hoeber (“Whiteout”) and Eric Hoeber (“Whiteout”)

Never mind the swift hand-to-hand combat skills Zoe Saldaña shows off in “The Losers” or the way Angelina Jolie leaps off highways and onto the tops of big rigs in “Salt;” nothing says sexy CIA spy like Dame Helen Mirren playing shoot-’em-up behind a semi-automatic.

In “Red,” an action-comedy adapted from a limited DC Comics series short for “retired, extremely dangerous,” gray hair proves to have a correlation not only with experience and ingenuity, but also an itchy trigger finger when a team of former black-op CIA agents reunite for one last cross-country firearms romp before their Social Security kicks in.

Playing a tough old dude again (most recently in a forgettable “Expendables” cameo), Bruce Willis has a little fight left in him as Frank Moses, the youngest of the retirees who has been spending his free time watching his avocado plant sprout two measly leaves and making excuses to phone flirt with Sarah (Mary-Louise Parker), the woman who cuts his pension checks.

When Frank becomes the target of a group of hit men, he kidnaps Sarah to ensure her safety (worst way to get a date ever) and rallies his squad of former colleagues, including retirement home resident Joe (Morgan Freeman), paranoid spook Marvin (John Malkovich), and hobbyist/freelance contract killer Victoria (Mirren), to break into CIA headquarters and expose a major political cover-up.

The mission isn’t all that challenging for director Robert Schwentke (“The Time Traveler’s Wife”) and screenwriters Jon and Erich Hoeber (“Whiteout”), who allow the geezers to come and go as they please with tons of firepower but precious little explanation. More importantly, the script maintains a playful tone and rarely takes any shortcuts by harping on the obvious, like in 2000’s “Space Cowboys,” meaning no jokes about MediCare, wrinkly asses, and drinking Ensure.

Instead, “Red” relies on its talented cast to deliver the shrewd sarcasm and a few far-fetched action sequences that make most of the film so enjoyable. While Freeman and Parker are underutilized for the most part, Malkovich is able to chew up scenery effortlessly (grenade baseball should be an Olympic sport), and Willis gives Die Hard fans reason to expect more yippee-ki-yaying before it’s all said and done.

Sure, comic-book-inspired movies don’t necessarily get better with age, but just because our heroes are on the wrong side of the half-century mark doesn’t mean things have to go downhill fast. With “Red,” it feels good to pump the brakes a bit and revel in the ridiculousness of it all.

This review originally ran in the San Antonio Current Oct. 13, 2010

Invictus

December 11, 2009 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Morgan Freeman, Matt Damon, Tony Kgoroge
Directed by: Clint Eastwood (“Gran Torino”)
Written by: Anthony Peckham (“Don’t Say a Word”)

Rather than give us a straightforward biopic about Nelson Mandela, two-time Oscar winning director Clint Eastwood (“Million Dollar Baby”) takes the spirit of the former President of South Africa and captures the essence of his political achievement and activism in the affecting film “Invictus.” More than an inspiring story, it enhances the definition of “inspirational sports drama.”

Starring Oscar-winner Morgan Freeman (“Million Dollar Baby”) as Mandela, “Invictus,” which is based on the John Carlin book “Playing the Enemy: Nelson Mandela and the Game that Made a Nation,” tells the story of how the former President used the sport of rugby to help unite a nation split by anger and resentment.

The film begins with the release of Mandela from prison in 1990. Mandela, who had been incarcerated for 28 years for crimes committed as an anti-apartheid activist, returned to the political spotlight soon after his release and was elected the country’s first black President four years later. After 46 years of apartheid, South Africa was at a turning point and Mandela was at the forefront of managing civil unrest.

To impede the racial power struggle in his homeland, Mandela, who recognized the passion his fellow countrymen had for rugby, recruits rugby captain Francois Pienaar (Matt Damon), to lead the national team to victory. Mandela’s theory was that their success on the field would bring a sense of pride to South Africa everyone could share together as a unified country.

Mandela, however, didn’t want the team, which was known at the Springbok, to simply improve. He wanted them to win the 1995 World Cup. Doing this would not only pose a challenge for the fairly average rugby team. Mandela would have to sell his idea to black South Africans, who preferred soccer and viewed the almos all-white Springbok as a sad reminder of their segregated past.

In a classic and low-key performance, Freeman encapsulates Mandela with conviction although screenwriter Anthony Peckham doesn’t explore multiple layers that make up the iconic leader. Instead, “Invictus” plays more symbolically especially when Freeman’s Mandela uses respect and kindheartedness in attempt to realize to his political aspirations.

There might be a bit of an emotional disconnection since Eastwood and Peckham don’t explain much of anything when it comes to apartheid (study up before you come to the theater to understand the historical significance), but overall “Invictus” is all about precision and heart both on and off the rugby field.

The Dark Knight

July 19, 2008 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Christian Bale, Heath Ledger, Aaron Eckhart
Directed by: Christopher Nolan (“Batman Begins”)
Written by: Christopher Nolan (“Memento”), Jonathan Nolan (“The Prestige”)

Is it possible for a film so saturated in hype to be blinding even to the most objective of viewers? With “The Dark Knight” sure to break a few box office records this weekend, it’s no surprise that a visionary director like Christopher Nolan can create such an immensely dim and entertaining crime drama masked as a superhero movie. It’s easily the best comic-book movie of the summer, but to call it more than that is the overstatement of the year.

The accolades, of course, start with the late Heath Ledger’s fiendish and amazing performance at Batman’s nemesis the Joker. Ledger is right on cue as the soulless clown who robs banks alongside his gang of criminals. It’s a completely different portrayal than that of Jack Nicholson from the 1989 version. It’s not better or worse, but it is distinctive and memorable.

Christian Bale returns to form as the most ruthless Batman of any that came before him. Torn between his responsibility as a vigilante crime fighter in Gotham City and settling down with Rachel Dawes (Maggie Gyllenhaal), who is now more interested the newly elected district attorney Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart, who is later burned to become Two-Face) than billionaire businessman Bruce Wayne.

As in “Batman Begins,” Nolan has recreated the denseness of a city on the brink of chaos in “The Dark Knight” and it permeates through the entire film. It’s a real-world story with comic-book tendencies and Nolan is the one that is able to mold the two genres together to produce a sort of hybrid crime thriller.

There are moments in “The Dark Knight” where the screenplay has some opportunities to really sideswipe the audience, but chooses some easy way outs of a few intense situations. Where the film could have ended up becoming macabre and transformed the Joker into an incarnate of evil, it bows out and leaves him on a level of likability.

Overall, “The Dark Knight” wowed, but didn’t have a lasting effect despite it’s full-package delivery. That’s usually what happens with summer blockbusters, even when there as impressive as this.

Wanted

June 27, 2008 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: James McAvoy, Angelina Jolie, Morgan Freeman
Directed by: Timur Bekmambetov (“Day Watch”)
Written by: Michael Brandt (“3:10 to Yuma”), Derek Haas (“3:10 to Yuma”), Chris Morgan (“The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift”)

A fast-paced and mostly ridiculous adrenaline rush through the streets of Chicago, “Wanted” tells the story of a bored-out-of-his-mind account manager who finds out that his life is about to get a little more exciting because of his bloodline.

Wesley Gibson (James McAvoy) hates his job and his vicious boss, hates his nagging girlfriend for cheating on him with his best friend, and hates the fact that when he Googles his name, the Web site produces “No Results,” which basically tells him he hasn’t done anything with his life.

But when Wesley meets an assassin named Fox (Angelina Jolie) and discovers he was born to follow in his father’s footsteps as hired killer, he says goodbye to his 9 to 5 job and joins an underground fraternity where he is assigned to execute the man who ended his father’s life.

Reminiscent of the sharp narration of “Fight Club” in the film’s early scenes, “Wanted” is visual escapism at its most hyperactive. Beside aerodynamic sports cars and assassin maneuvers that defy the laws of gravity, which can be fun when they’re not too frenetic, a thin plot is what keeps “Wanted” stuck in neutral.

The Bucket List

January 6, 2008 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Jack Nicholson, Morgan Freeman, Sean Hayes
Directed by: Rob Reiner (“Rumor Has It…”)
Written by: Justin Zackham (“Going Greek”)

Not even cinematic cornerstones like Jack Nicholson (“As Good as It Gets”) and Morgan Freeman (“Million Dollar Baby”) can save a film without enough substance. Between both of them, they hold four Oscar wins and 16 nominations, yet their illustrious careers are no match for first-time screenwriter Justin Zackham’s syrupy and ultimately empty movie “The Bucket List.”

As a lonely billionaire hospital owner who recently finds out he has cancer, Edward Cole (Nicholson) is frustrated when he is placed in the same room as cancer patient Carter Chambers (Freeman), a family-man who has spent his entire life providing for his children and wife by working as a mechanic.

You would think in his own hospital Edward could get a private room, but with a stringent “two beds to a room, no exceptions” policy preached by himself before he becomes sick, his personal assistant Thomas (Sean Hayes of “Will and Grace” fame) thinks it would be PR suicide if he was not following his own rules. Thus, he is stuck with a roommate.

Although their personality clash from the onset, Edward and Carter begin a friendship between card games, chemotherapy, and Carter’s history lessons, which Edward seems to get used to after a while.

When both find out they only have a year or less to live, their bond becomes stronger and the two decide they are not going to spend their final months in a hospital bed waiting to die. Instead, they create what Edward refers to as a “bucket list,” a list of things they want to do before they “kick the bucket.”

Soon, we’re on a road trip with Edward and Carter through the countries of France, Egypt and India looking at majestic backdrops and pushing their physical limits to the extreme. Also on their list are skydiving, getting a tattoo, and driving a racecar. As the two cherish their final moments, Carter suggests Edward make amends with his estranged daughter. All the while, Carter’s wife Virginia (Beverly Todd) worries about her husband, who has never done anything spontaneous like this in his life.

There in lies one of the many problems with “Bucket List.” The trip never feels like a conjoined effort for both men. Despite the duo sharing a few life stories with each other, there is really no connection or chemistry between them. Blame Zackham’s inability to tie scenes together accurately on that. Most of the dialogue while they’re on their journey is from Carter, who cannot experience anything without verbalizing how much he knows on the topic. His cleverness – although harmless – wears on the nerves after a while.

Directed by Rob Reiner, whose career high points happened between 1986-1992 (“Stand by Me,” “The Princess Bride,” “When Harry Met Sally,” “Misery” and “A Few Good Men”), “The Bucket List” has the occasional smile-inducing scene but falls short of anything more than a collection of pleasantries. It is the film equivalent of a pat on the back when what you are really looking for is one of those embraces that last forever.