FlixChatter Review: The Gunman (2015)

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Sean Penn has been out of the limelight for a few years, so in order to get people talking about him and promotes his new movie; he decided to tell some lame joke at the Oscars. Kudos to his PR team, after the so-called “offensive” joke, Penn is relevant in Hollywood again. Now it remains to be seen if his off color joke will get people to go see his new action picture.

The movie opens with a flashback to 2006, Jim Terrier (Penn) is a humanitarian working in Congo with his buddies Felix (Javier Bardem) and Cox (Mark Rylance). Terrier also has a girlfriend named Annie (Jasmine Trinka), she’s also part of his team of do-gooders. What she doesn’t know is that Jim, Felix and Cox are a bunch of assassins working undercover. They’ve been assigned to take out an important political figure that their boss wanted to get rid of. After he assassinated Congo’s Minister of Mines, Jim disappeared and told Felix to look after Annie.

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Fast forward to present day, Jim is still working as a do-gooder in Africa, but things got dicey when some armed men came after him, of course being a super assassin, he took them out easily. Alarmed after the attack, Jim sets out to London to see his old buddy Cox, who’s now working as a top executive at some big corporation. Jim suspects that their mission back in 2006 has been compromised and it’s the reason why he’s being targeted. Cox is skeptical but assured Jim that he’ll look into this matter. After a brief stay in London, Jim heads to Spain to see Felix, who’s now married to Annie. Things got messy when assassins showed up at Felix’s house and now Jim and Annie are on the run. The rest of the movie is about Jim trying to figure out who’s after him and keeping Annie safe. This being an action movie, there has to be some shootouts and explosions between the boring scenes. And that’s the problem with this movie, it’s so boring! There’s nothing interesting about the plot or any of the characters, by the time the true villain is finally revealed, we the audience already figured out before the hero did. Not only was the movie boring, it also took itself way too seriously.

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Not known for being in action pictures, Penn was actually decent as an action hero. It’s obvious he worked out for a long time to prepare for this role, because he can’t seem to keep his shirts on in a lot of scenes. He also looked good in fight scenes, particularly a brutal hand-to-hand combat in the climatic sequence. But again he seems to take the role too seriously and doesn’t look like he has any fun with it. Being that he’s also the producer and co-writer, he must’ve demanded that he’s on the screen 99% of the entire run of the movie. I’ve never seen Jasmine Trinka in anything before this movie and she was okay as the damsel in distress, but it’s kind of creepy seeing her as the leading lady to a man who’s old enough to be her father. Bardem pretty much phoned in his role since it’s nothing more than a cameo. Ray Windstone might be the only one who seems to get what the movie should be about and had a lot of fun with his sidekick role. Fans of Idris Elba will be disappointed, he didn’t show up until the last 20 minutes or so of the movie and he’s more like a cameo. Although for those who wants to see him as 007, the filmmakers did give a little wink by naming his character with initials JB.

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I don’t know how much control director Pierre Morel has during the production, but he was going for the 70s espionage thrillers mix in with the Jason Bourne flicks and the result was a disaster. The pacing was very slow, about 20 to 30 minutes should’ve been edited out. What’s worse was that he shot most of the action scenes in that shaky cam up close style that I can’t stand. I still don’t understand why some directors still uses this kind of style, what’s the point of making action movies if you’re not going to show the action? The only good action sequence was the bloody hand-to-hand combat between Penn and an assassin. I won’t even go into the script because it’s so generic that most people can figure out what’s going on.

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This could’ve been a good action thriller if it didn’t take itself too seriously because I think Penn was believable as the action hero. But it’s obvious he has hidden agenda by making this movie. By masking it as an action picture, he probably thought he could get the message out to a wider audience. Unfortunately though, the movie was poorly written and directed. With a better script and tighter editing, it could’ve been good.

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Have you seen The Gunman? Well, what did you think?

Oscars 2015 – Recap, Reflections on Best & Worst Moments

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Quick confession: I’m not a huge fan of Oscars red carpet, or red carpet in general. So I only tuned in a half hour before the show. It’s funny but the second I turned on the TV, Michael Keaton was standing next to the chirpy blond presenter. He seems effortlessly at ease, LOVE that guy and I’m so rooting for him to the end! As I did last year, I went to Zumba, had dinner, then went down to my basement.

Well, first things first…

How did I do on my predictions?

  1. Best picture: Boyhood  Birdman
  2. Best director: Richard Linklater (Boyhood) Alexandro G. Iñárritu (Birdman)
  3. Best lead actor: Eddie Redmayne – The Theory of Everything
  4. Best lead actress: Julianne Moore – Still Alice
  5. Best supporting actor: J.K. Simmons –Whiplash
  6. Best supporting actress: Patricia Arquette –Boyhood
  7. Best animated feature: Song of the Sea Big Hero 6
  8. Best feature documentary: Citizenfour
  9. Best adapted screenplay: The Theory of Everything The Imitation Game
  10. Best original screenplay: Birdman
  11. Best original score: The Grand Budapest Hotel
  12. Best cinematography: Emmanuel Lubezki – Birdman
  13. Best original song: “Glory” from Selma
  14. Best Make Up and Hair Styling: Foxcatcher The Grand Budapest Hotel
  15. Best Production Design: The Grand Budapest Hotel
  16. Best Visual Effects: Interstellar
  17. Best Costume Design: The Grand Budapest Hotel

Well, I got 12 out of 17 predictions right. I’m actually surprised to be surprised by the winners, if that make sense at all. I mean, I honestly thought Boyhood would sweep the awards, well at least in Best Director and Best Picture. I haven’t seen the film yet so I’ve been #TeamBirdman from the start. I literally screamed at the top of my lungs [sorry neighbors!] when I heard Iñárritu‘s name called out… I was ecstatic still, I did NOT see Birdman‘s Best Picture win coming …

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Red Carpet Stuff

Firstly, can someone explain what the heck is going on here?? John Travolta is feelin’ frisky tonight eh? Scarlett Johansson‘s post-baby figure is PHENOMENAL! Dayum girl, and that haircut is bad ass!!

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These two dresses are my two favorites of the night:

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Lupita Nyong’O was my red carpet fave last year too. Wow she’s still the reigning queen of the red carpet with this amazing custom-made pearl gown. YOWZA!! Can’t beat her pearl dress, but it’s her elegant swagger that makes her so dazzling.

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Yet another gorgeous new mom,Rosamund Pike just had a baby back in December!! She’s wearing the color of blood for her first Oscar nomination, how appropriate! She looks absolutely stunning and I LOVE the rose textures all over her gown.

A few other favorites …

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Dapper men on the red carpet!

Look at the three dapper Chris-es in the center (Evans, Pratt & Pine), hmmm where’s Hemsworth??

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Forget best-dressed peoples…  these two ladies WON the red carpet with their unabashed display of affection. LOVE the spontaneity of this shot, I didn’t know Emma StoneJennifer Aniston are best buds, VERY cool!

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Favorite Speeches:

“We made a film, black and white, about the need for silence and withdrawal from the world and contemplation, and here we are at this epicenter of noise and all the tension… Life is full of surprises” — Pawel Pawlikowski, director of IDA

By far the funniest speech of the night, can’t blame him for his exuberance. I kind of feel guilty for not having seen IDA yet.

The disclosures that Edward Snowden reveals don’t only expose a threat to our privacy but to our democracy itself,” – Citizenfour’s Lauren Poitras

.@johnlegend moves the crowd to tears with his powerful Oscars speech. pic.twitter.com/UhmNezO1zN

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Now, I wasn’t rooting for him but I have to admit I was moved by Eddie Redmayne’s ecstatic and his can’t-believe-I-actually-won reaction when he gripped his Oscar tightly in his hand. I predicted he’d win and I knew that no matter how much I wanted Michael Keaton to win, it just wouldn’t be in the cards. But hey, the dude seems cool about it. I think Eddie wanted to win more badly than anyone else.

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Hilarious nod to his pal Alfonso Cuarón who deservedly won last year for Gravity, in case some of you forgot.

What a great come back to Sean Penn’s uncalled for ‘green card’ comment [see below under WORST moments]. Seriously, I thought I couldn’t dislike a guy more, but Penn is relentless in being so unlikable.

Fave Moments

The LEGO Movie‘s Everything is Awesome musical number is so exuberantly fun and joyful! Some of the dancers came out carrying the LEGO version of the Oscar statuettes in response to their egregious snub. Take THAT the Academy!

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Common and John Legend‘s performance of GLORY… it was a glorious performance. Common_Legend_Oscar2015I know people are mocking the standing ovation and people tearing up over that song, but it’s uncalled for. The song is genuinely moving rendition of an important and VERY timely film. It’s a well-deserved win and followed by a defiant speech.

LadyGaga_Oscar15WHOA!! I didn’t see THIS coming …

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I can’t say I’m a big fan of Lady Gaga so I had no idea she could sing so beautifully! What’s even more beautiful is the Dame herself Julie Andrews coming on stage looking genuinely verklempt over Gaga’s performance and hugged her. LOVE it!

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Glom Gazingo! Idina Menzel, aka Adele Dazeem got her revenge on John Travolta. But this hilarious moment is also one of the creepiest. What’s w/ all the face-touching John??

Hands down my favorite moment ever from last night:

 

So how did NPH do as host?

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 Can’t say I’m impressed with Neil Patrick Harris. I think I only laughed a couple of times as he seemed so self-aware all night that the joke just seemed off. Even when he showed up in his tighty whities as a spoof to Birdman, it didn’t feel all that spontaneous compared to last year’s pizza delivery thing. I definitely like Ellen more as host, I just think she is funny without trying too hard. Oh and I didn’t care for his subtle-not-so-subtle ‘treason’ jab against Ed Snowden after Citizenfour won Best Documentary.

I did enjoy his ‘Oscar prediction’ bit but I think that’s due to the Oscar writers kind of summarizing the most amusing moments of the night.

Oh and THIS moment with David Oyelowo is pretty cute.

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Worst Moments:

Sean Penn making us wait for the final award of the night, Best Picture, only to be followed by a distasteful *joke* about green card, sheesh! Yes I know he worked with Iñárritu on 21 Grams so the two are likely friends, but still, it’s just inappropriate and offensive.

Seeing this pic of Robin Williams… still can’t believe he’s gone 😦

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So did you watch the Oscars last night? Thoughts on the winners and what’s your pick of best/worst moments?

‘You Gotta Start Somewhere’ Films: TAPS (1981) Review

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Greetings, all and sundry!

Given the breather for the last fainting gasps of summer. Adapting to a wrist brace due to a late furniture move. And given time top ponder, roam, root around, unearth and play with one of the great concepts, mysteries and axioms of cinema. Its mystique and long time purveyors. Every film career has to start somewhere. Creating fodder for many night long discussions amongst those who take cinema seriously. Clint Eastwood, Jack Nicholson and Gene Hackman all got their starts in less than stellar, nor top of the line, B-Movies. As did Scott Glenn, Kevin Costner and Jennifer Aniston. And occasionally. Usually, once in a generation. A film comes along that introduces a sizable number of talents to swing for the fences. Or crash and burn.

My generation had The Magnificent Seven and Bonnie and Clyde. While later contenders could easily include M*A*S*H*, The Big Chill, The King of New York and The Usual Suspects. Which sent me digging even deeper. Back to a film that came and went within its prescribed two weeks. Made a respectable return on its medium sized investment. While bring ignored or completely misunderstood by elitist critics. And offered some intriguing first glimpses into a decent handful of today’s heaviest hitting talent.

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TAPS (1981)

Which begins on a warm early summer afternoon with Valley Forge Military Academy filling in for Military Academy Bunker Hill outside Philadelphia, Pa. It’s tall stone, brick and concrete walls enclosing many stoic and storied dormitories and barracks. And that years’ graduating class is going through last minute inspections and repairs to full dress uniforms. Sashes, sabers, epaulets and all as they prepare for their graduation parade and soiree.

Cadet Captains Alex Dwyer (Sean Penn) and J.C. Pierce (Giancarlo Esposito) trade fantasies about future sexual exploits that see a bit raunchy. Cadet Captain Brian Moreland (Timothy Hutton), every inch a leader goes over his gleaming low quarters and checks his gig line for a meeting with the Commandant. Retired Brigadier General Harlan Bache (George C. Scott). While up the stairs and down the hall the Drill Team and Honor Guard march behind Cadet Captain David Shawn (Tom Cruise channeling Marine Colonel Lewis B. “Chesty” Puller from his Silent Drill Team days. Chest thrust out. Ramrod straight with an unblinking determined gaze). Prior to heading off to the prom’s Receiving Line.

Captain Moreland’s meeting with the Commandant fares both well and bad. With General Bache promoting Moreland to Cadet Major. Then informs him that the Academy’s Board of Trustees will be selling the school and its land to real estate developers. With a year before the deal is done and the Academy will be deactivated. That’s year’s Seniors and the following year are in the clear. Though those under classes will have to fend for themselves find other schools to matriculate.

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A wet blanket to be sure. As the two finish their brandies. Bache removes the magazine from his Colt Commander .45. Holsters it. Adjusts its belt and Moreland leads off to the festivities. That are fine well into the night. Until some local “townies” decide to crash it and hurry things along. A fight ensues. Bache draws his weapon, but it is taken during the fight. It goes off in the hands of a townie that kills another townie. Bache falls victim to a heart attack after he is arrested. And all Hell nearly breaks loose.

The Cadets and the cops intervene as Bache is taken away in cuffs. The townies start screaming to the Board of Trustees and local and state cops. While Major Moreland confers his upper cadre. Discussing strategies for a possible siege. Going over TO&Es (Tables of Operations and Equipment). Inventories. And making shopping lists for the immediate future.

Which arrives the next morning. The local and state police arrive with every intent of confiscating the Academy’s armory of rifles, pistols, ammunition and anything else that isn’t nailed down. Major Moreland receives them. Calmly attempting to negotiate to them and hopefully arrange a meeting with the Commandant and Board. The cops and Sheriff (James Handy) are polite, but really don’t want to hear it. Entering the armory. Only to be baffled by the suddenly missing weaponry.

It all appears suddenly. In the hands of the Cadets along the upper gang way as a trap is sprung and a Mexican Standoff soon develops. Escalation is slow. With a clutch of cadets sent out in a Deuce and a Halves and pickups for provisions. Which are purchased and stowed in the larger truck. As townies intervene. Only to be sent scrambling by Captain Shawn emptying a magazine of his M-16 into the air.

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Electric power in the Academy is cut off later that evening. And it’s shades of Waco, twelve years early from there on out. The cadets have back up generators, but not a lot of diesel to run them as perimeter guards are set. The National Guard arrives with an M-48 Patton tank and loud speakers are set up. As the parents of the cadets, led by Major Moreland’s father are called in.

The parents are quick to quash the idea that their sons are being held against their will. As the cadets unanimously decide to stay where they are. Defending their home while quite aware of the consequences. The National Guard’s Colonel Kerby (Ronnie Cox) comes forth and cons, cajoles and palavers with Major Moreland to no avail. Both are aware that things very well could end badly.

And that begins a few hours later. As one cadet is badly burned trying to re start a generator. An ambulance under a white flag enters and Major Moreland assembles the commanders and cadres who hold their ground as the ambulance leaves.

The following morning does not bode well. The troops are reassembled. Lead by Cadet Captain Ed West (Evan Handler), the ranks are asked if they would like to leave. Easily half stack their rifles and head for the tank protected gates. In the interim, Major Moreland ask for a meeting with General Bache. Only to be told that the Commandant expired from a heart attack after his arrest.

A memorial service is held for the Commandant as cohesion slowly slips. Egged on as the M-48 rolls up to the gate. A young cadet, “Bug”, (Billy Van Zandt) panics. wants to surrender. Drops his rifle as he runs forward. It goes off and the “fur ball of battle” makes itself known.

Disheartened, Major Moreland again assembles the troops and orders them to lay down their weapons and surrender. The cadre obeys. Except for Cadet Captain Shawn. Who takes a perch in his room with his rifle.

I’ll leave it right there for Spoliers’ sake…

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Now. What Makes This Movie Good?

A decently developed and executed look at life at fictionalized, though very close to home Military Academy or Institute. Who train young men for the rigors of West Point, V.M.I, or the Citadel in North Carolina. Teaching the fundamentals through recitation and discipline. While opening minds to histories of armed conflict and its great leaders.

And the cast offers a serviceable, at the time across the board pallet of candidates to fill future ranks. Sean Penn excels at being Tim Hutton‘s right hand man and sub rosa Executive Officer. Surprisingly level headed, though with an energy that is just waiting to burst out. While Tom Cruise is all smiles and charm. Until the only life and family he has known is threatened.

Each has their own scenes to steal and show an early master’s touch. Under the deft control of Harold Becker. Who would acquire lessons learned from this and earlier films, The Onion Field and The Black Marble. And apply them to later projects, Sea of Love and City Hall. Director Becker and screenwriters Devery Freeman, working from his novel, Father Sky. And Daryll Ponicsan (The Last Detail, Cinderella Liberty) make the film appear and feel much more than its disjointed, then quickly assembled parts.

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What Makes This Film Great?

The chance to see young talent. Either fresh from television or its movies given the chance to ply their accumulated craft and strut their stuff. And they do! As mentioned above, Penn and Cruise show complete familiarity and calm with this newer, larger medium. And what young aspiring actor wouldn’t jump at the chance to share lower billing with Actor Emeritus of the day, George C. Scott?

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Though, it is Tim Hutton and his Major Moreland who carries the film. Earning a Golden Globe Nomination for his performance. Showing all the requirements of a leader. Calm in discussion. Listening intently to every word before rendering a decision. Everything an officer and leader should be.Then revealing a hidden and very strong aptitude for negotiation, guile and tactics with the older, wiser uniformed “adults”.

His discussions with Colonel Kerby and later his father (Wayne Tippitt), an Army Master Sergeant (“God” to all lower enlisted) are worth close attention. Both elders want a peaceful resolution. Though both understand Major Moreland’s position and tenacity. Quietly reinforced by Giancarlo Esposito’s Cadet Captain J.C. Pierce. Who ramrods the younger perimeter guards and shows an extreme inner calm and cool as numbers grow beyond the closed main gate to slowly dwarf his own.

Cinematography by Owen Roizman shows a distinct appreciation and use of shadow and light touched on in his earlier Straight Time and True Confessions. While editing by Maurey Winetrobe is first rate. Making no one scene too long or too short. Solidly enhanced by an original soundtrack by Maurice Jarre.


Check out Jack’s other posts and reviews


Thoughts on TAPS and or the ensemble cast? Let it be known in the comments.

FlixChatter Double Reviews: Gangster Squad

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Ted and I went to this film screening last Tuesday and once again we pretty much agree on our take on this one. Is it worth a watch? Well, read on.

Ted’s Review

Gangster Squad is a film that has big ambitions and it tried hard to be something more than it was. With a pretty good size budget ($75mil) and a solid cast, you’d think this could be a great period gangster film, unfortunately the people behind the cameras didn’t know what they were doing. The script is full of clichés from other better films, while the direction was all over the place.

The film starts out with a rogue LA detective John O’Mara (Josh Brolin) who is sick of crimes in his city and wants to clean it up. Being a WW2 veteran, he knows combat and will sacrifice himself to get rid of the bad guys. Unfortunately he’s a one man army going up against a ruthless mobster Mickey Cohen (Sean Penn) who’s trying to create his own empire in the west. O’Mara is one of a few cops who are not on Cohen’s payroll and it’s difficult for him to even get help from his fellow detectives. One day he got call in to the chief of police office, Chief Parker (the not-aged-well Nick Nolte), Parker also wants to take down Cohen and gave O’Mara the freedom to do whatever it takes to do so. The only down side is no one will know about his mission and O’Mara won’t get any credit for it. O’Mara agreed and with the help of his wife, they started recruiting his team of rogue detectives.

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The film then becomes a generic good guys versus bad guys fill with shootouts and explosions. O’Mara’s team consists of misfits including a young detective Wooters (the totally miscast Ryan Gosling), electronics genius (Giovanni Ribisi) and three officers (Anthony Mackie, Michael Peña and Robert Patrick). Their plan is to take out Cohen’s operations one by one, sound familiar right? Yeah it’s the same plot as The Untouchables. As mentioned earlier, the script is full of clichés and a forced-romance between Wooters and Cohen’s lover Grace Faraday (Emma Stone) just didn’t fit into the plot whatsoever. The film is supposed to be about Brolin’s character and his mission to take down Cohen but by forcing these two characters into the plot, it just didn’t make sense to me.

Performances wise, I thought Brolin did a good job and his token characters (Peña, Mackie, Patrick and Ribisi) were pretty descent too. Sean Penn look bored, I’m not even sure why he accepted this role since he doesn’t like to star in big-budgeted films. Again I thought Gosling was total miscast and his character is totally unnecessary, while Emma Stone was on the screen for pure eye candy.

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Director Ruben Fleischer must’ve watched a lot of Sam Peckinpah’s and John Woo’s films before started working on this film. I love slo-mo action sequences but when a director decided to glamorizes those sequences then I think they don’t add anything to the film or even look exciting. Fleischer even followed the formula of action film to the teeth. Rouge heroes, check. Big car chase, check. Explosions check. Big climatic shootouts, check. The hero goes mano-a-mano with the villain at the end, check. Now I don’t mind if a film is very generic, heck I thought Jack Reacher was a pretty generic action thriller but it was well made and I enjoyed it quite a bit. I can’t say the same about this film, I think Fleischer just doesn’t have enough experience or talent to make this kind of genre; remember his previous two films were comedies.

I think with a better script and director, this could have been a very good period gangster film. But unfortunately the talents behind the cameras aren’t great and what we got here is a forgettable turkey that belongs in the dead winter season.

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2 out of 5 reels


Ruth’s Review

When I first saw the poster above, I thought boy, it couldn’t get any cheesier. Everybody looked like a mannequin doing corny poses and paired with an even cornier tagline. Well, it certainly sets the tone for the movie.

The story can’t be more straightforward, made even more mind-numbingly simple by Josh Brolin’s narration explaining things. Basically Mickey Cohen (Sean Penn) is the arch villain, a Brooklyn-born gangster who owns Los Angeles in the late 40s. Practically all of the town’s politicians and cops have been bought with the money from all of Cohen’s shady businesses of drugs, guns and prostitution. The Gangster Squad is formed in order to stop Cohen’s quickly-expanding empire, led by Sgt. John O’Mara (Josh Brolin). The start of the movie is basically a long exposition on how the squad was formed, how O’Mara recruited each member of the squad.

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Inspired by a true story (Cohen is like the Al Capone of the West Coast), there’s a lot of wasted potential here. Seems to me that director Ruben Fleischer is so enamored by the gangster era that he glamorizes everything about it, forgoing character development and a biting story. As one would expect in a gangster movie though, the violence is pretty brutal and there’s a constant onslaught of shootout after another, filmed in the most exasperating slo-mo style that lessen the impact of what’s going on instead of enhances it. Thus, despite the amount of violence, I feel that the characters don’t seem to be in any real danger. Even when they’re in peril, such as being burned alive, the way its depicted on screen is so stylized it’s hard to really feel anything. It also doesn’t help that most of the characters are so one-dimensional, which is such a waste of the talents involved.

Truth be told, to say that I’m not a huge fan of the three main actors (Brolin, Penn and Gosling) would be putting it mildly. But I realize they’re quite popular and most people consider them very talented actors. Not that this movie would actually change my mind about any of them, well except for maybe Brolin who’s actually pretty good here as his character was given the most to do. Still it could’ve been developed better to rise above being a one-dimensional hero. My bafflement about Gosling’s popularity continues as his supposedly-suave ladiesman style annoys the heck out of me. Reportedly he deliberately uses a higher-pitched voice for this role, for what purpose I’ll never know! He’s pretty much just the pretty boy here, whose romance with Emma Stone‘s Grace Faraday is so cheesy and utterly unnecessary. I generally like Stone, but though she looks good in her period gowns, she’s lacking any kind of believability or conviction to portray a femme fatale. I wish they’d just focus on the love story between O’Mara and his wife Connie, played by Mireille Enos. I’ve never seen Enos before but she impressed me here and Connie is perhaps the only character I give a hoot about.

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As for Sean Penn… oh, where do I begin? As if the characters weren’t cartoon-ish enough, his make up is just plain bizarre. I mean he’s already looked pretty scary on his own anyway, what’s the point of all that goop? I was thinking that if they wanted an actor with a ‘boxing face,’ they should’ve just hired Mickey Rourke! Anyway, I think The Huffington Post sums it up nicely in this article, Penn’s overacting style is off the charts.

It’s the supporting actors who actually manage to ingest some fun, even if they’re all as stereotypical as they come (but hey, they fill the ‘diversity’ quota). Anthony Mackie and Michael Peña, two supporting actors who should get more lead roles as they’re always so fun to watch, plus Giovanni Ribisi as the ‘brain’ of the squad operations and Robert Patrick as the no-nonsense gunslinger. Nick Nolte was appropriately grizzled as the only police chief who hasn’t been bought by Cohen.

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Ultimately, Gangster Squad is just a sleek but soulless and shallow endeavor. Every single thing one associate with the gangster lifestyle is on display here as if we’re going into some kind of Gangster ‘Disneyworld’ of sort. The production design and 1940s costumes are great to look at but in terms of depicting the real demons and darkness of the gangster world and what’s really at stake, this movie falls way short. I wouldn’t even call this movie a suspense thriller as there’s barely any real tension and the deluge of stylized violence grew increasingly dull. Heck, the scene where the toys tried to cross the highway in Toy Story 2 has more nail-biting moments than this entire movie!

So if you’re into this genre, don’t expect any kind of depth, complexity or nuances of L.A. Confidential or Untouchables. It may resemble those two in terms of story, but the similarity ends there. It’s a gritty story without any grit in its depiction, there’s just no immersive quality nor sense of realism as the whole thing feels like one giant ‘gangster-ized’ set.

2.5 out of 5 reels


So, do you agree or disagree about our assessment? Well, let’s hear it!

Musings on Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life

Well, I feel like I’m the last person who saw this film. I had been so intrigued by this from the first time I heard about it. When it won Palme d’Or at Cannes, I said I couldn’t wait to see it, alas I finally got around to seeing it.

I’m not a Terrence Malick fangirl but I do respect his work and enjoyed three of his films in the past. However, all of his films seem to fit into the one-time-viewing-is-enough category — with the exception of the last half hour of The New World as I adore Christian Bale as John Rolfe — and this one is included.

The concept of a tree of life, a many-branched tree illustrating the idea that all life on earth is related, has been used in science, religion, philosophy, mythology, and other areas. (per Wikipedia) Now, Malick started the film with a verse from Job 38: 4 & 7 of God’s response to Job’s complaint:

“Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation … when the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy?”

The verse seems to suggest that it’s leaning towards the Judeo-Christian worldview, but I feel that this is not so much a Christian film as a spiritual one… the gospel a la Terrence Malick if you will. It’s so deliberately vague that whatever message you want to take away from this really depends on your own worldview.

I’ve been warned of the lack of coherent narrative in this movie, but even with that in mind, nothing could prepare me into what I’m about to experience. I guess all of Malick’s movies are something of an enigma, but this is perhaps his most obscure and cryptic work to date. There is barely any dialogue in this film. I even joked to my husband that the whole script probably consist of a single page, front and back, and that’s about it.

The point of view we get is mostly from the eldest son Jack (Hunter McCracken), though there is female voice over narration that seems to suggest a mother mourning the loss of a son… at times questioning God… “Lord, Why? Where were you? Did you know what happened? Do you care?” and other times she’s letting go… “I give him to you. I give you my son.”

Triggered by a tree being planted outside his skyscraper office building, the adult Jack (Sean Penn) who’s now a successful architect begins to reminisce on his childhood memories growing up in 1950s Texas. He and his two brothers were raised by a stern father (Brad Pitt) and loving mother (Jessica Chastain). That is pretty much all Malick let on in the way of plot… we’re on the outside looking in as we observe scenes of family life — kids playing, mothers comforting her child, kids being disciplined by his father, etc. Those scenes are interspersed with breathtaking imagery that seem to symbolize life’s origins and origins of the universe.

I find it impossible to properly review this film, nor can I find an appropriate rating for this. In fact, even after this film sits with me for 48 hours, I’m still trying to process just what it was that I saw. So what I’m going to tell you is how this film makes me feel. At first I was really intrigued by Malick’s direction and oohed-aahed at the overwhelmingly beautiful nature and cosmic imagery, but about three-quarters of the way in, I actually almost dozed off, spurred by the lack of action on screen and the sweet-sounding classical score by Alexandre Desplat.

In the end, the whole thing left me rather um… indifferent. Even now I don’t have any strong feeling one way or the other, which is odd considering how polarizing this film is. I think the only character I feel some sympathy with is Jack when he was a kid, as he seems to suffer the most from the way his dad treated him, but the rest of the characters fail to engage. Not that the actors’ performances weren’t good mind you, it’s just that these I couldn’t really connect with them. I think Pitt and Chastain are effective in their roles, though Penn is utterly wasted here as he wasn’t given anything to do other than looking lost and forlorn.

I’m also surprised that I didn’t shed a single tear even though I’m a crier. I mean, I bawled my eyes out watching Wall-E! With all that said though, I’m still glad I saw this film. In fact, I recommend people to actually take a chance with this film even if you have trepidation about this based on what you may have read. It’s definitely worth a watch even just to marvel at the cinematography and Malick’s keen eye of capturing nature in its most delightful way.

My husband liken this to seeing a piece of fine art in a museum, sometimes you might not understand what you are looking at in front of you, but it may have the power to touch you in a profound way… but then again, maybe not.


Well, that’s the best way I can ‘review’ this film. So what’s your thoughts about this film? I’d love to hear ’em.

Upcoming Local Event: Twin Cities Film Fest Coming Sept. 28!

Happy Monday all! Hope your weekend was a good one. It’s been a hectic but fun one for me as I participated in two local events back to back yesterday. My hubby and a bunch of my friends did the annual St. Paul Classics Bike Tour (the new Lilydale loop was absolutely gorgeous!), followed by a hearty brunch buffet, and then off to a volunteer meeting for the first ever Twin Cities Film Fest with my pal Becky (a.k.a Prairiegirl).

I’ve only attended ONE film festival in my life, which was Toronto International Film Festival or TIFF for short about five years ago, but it left a big impression on me. I remember wishing I could be a part of an event like that, you know, as a volunteer or what not, but I don’t know why I never got around to until now. And the opportunity sort of presented itself early this Summer. I was part of a video shoot for a product launch at work, and the actor we happened to hire was none other than the festival’s executive director, Jatin Setia! My co-workers was the one who told me that he’s working on this event, knowing that I’m a movie blogger. So I emailed him that I’d be interested in blogging about and volunteering for the event and so here I am!

I’m so excited to be a part of this grassroots happening that the Minneapolis mayor called “… a [celebration] of cinema on a larger scale than previously seen in the region.” Another board of directors member, seasoned actor/producer/member Bill Cooper, gave us a spiel about the vision of the festival and said how this event has exceeded everyone’s expectations. They had wished for one studio film and they’ve got FIVE (i.e. the Sean Penn/Naomi Watts thriller Fair Game, the John Lennon biopic Nowhere Boy), totaling 30+ features with an eclectic mix of studio and independent feature films and shorts. This is just exciting stuff, and I can’t agree more with what he said to Becky and I afterward: this city needs it! There have been other festivals in town, but these guys have big dreams, and they, as well as we avid MN moviegoers want to see it come true. And that is, in the years to come, we’ll be the festivals movie bloggers and watchers would be buzzing about the way they do Tribeca, Sundance, TIFF, etc. Didn’t I mention they have big dreams? 🙂 But hey, why not, as a wise man once says, “we are limited, not by our abilities, but by our vision,” TIFF wasn’t THIS big 34 years ago when it first premiered. In fact, according to this site, “TIFF had a setback in its first year when Hollywood studios decided to withdraw their contributions, apparently considering the Toronto audience base too parochial.”

So, I will be blogging more about TCFF up until and during the film festival, in the meantime, please peruse the official site for the films featured in the 5-day event. Stay tuned for more!

Btw, has any of you have had experience covering for or being a part of a local film festival?

Random Thoughts: Today I Celebrate Being Alive

Sixteen Candles
Molly Ringwald and Michael Schoeffling in "Sixteen Candles"

Hello folks, the title of my post isn’t meant to be anything philosophical. It’s simple really, today is my birthday 🙂

I was hoping to post my Inglourious Basterds review but I didn’t have enough time to finish it, and I kind of want to watch Adaptation that just arrived from Netflix. I realize there aren’t too many movies about birthdays. The most famous one is probably Sixteen Candles, that 1984 John Hughes classic about a girl whose 16th birthday didn’t turn out to be exactly what she expected. I guess I can relate. Nearly a couple of decades ago, I lost my mother on exactly my 16th birthday. In fact, one minute I was in the kitchen cutting cakes to bring to school the next day (it’s a cultural tradition where I came from), and the next we’re in the emergency room. Suffice to say, there was no candles nor cake that day, let alone some cute boy like Michael Schoeffling sitting across from me 😦

In any case, now that I think about it, there was one flick about birthdays that I remember liking. It’s called The Game, directed by David Fincher (Se7en, Fight Club), about a wealthy businessman who gets a strange birthday present from his rebellious brother which turns out to be a live-action game that consumes his life. It starred Michael Douglas and Sean Penn, prior to his critically-acclaimed projects and Oscar win as he didn’t get top billing in the posters. If it had been released now, he’d surely be featured equally as Douglas.

Check out the trailer:

It’s a gripping mystery that kept me on the edge of my seat. One twist after another kept you guessing the entire time, it’s like a giant puzzle packaged in a nifty thrill ride. Sure, it’s got plot holes the size of Texas, but Fincher’s a gifted filmmaker that pulls you just so that you’re willing to suspend your disbelief. But beneath all the action and bizarre sequences, it carries a message about appreciating one’s life and that the best things in life money can’t buy. Not a bad birthday message, don’t you think?