A couple things about Michael Bay’s new movie “Pain and Gain.”
PRO: Michael Bay FINALLY stops taking himself so seriously.
In one scene, crippled Tony Shalhoub (Monk from “Monk”) tries to pick a bun up off of the floor, insisting he “needs to do this on his own.”
It takes him a long time, and Bay’s choice of music: something sappy with violins.
It sounds simple and a little ridiculous, but I couldn’t stop laughing. Bay must’ve realized he can make fun of himself AND have fun.
Bro. Pass me the juice.
CON: Keep your expectations low.
“Pain and Gain” was awesome because I’ve don’t expect much from Michael Bay movies, and, that definitely heightened my experience.
PRO: The Rock.
Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson plays a born-again ex-con with a penchant for nose candy. He’s a gentle giant, and it totally works. The Rock really shows off his solid comedic timing (in this and “The Other Guys), and I really hope he keeps it up.
CON: It’s based on a true story.
Kinda wish I hadn’t known that before I saw this movie. It get pretty violent, and I couldn’t help feeling horrible for the real-life victims. I eventually eased up and that’s thanks to next up on my list.
PRO: Tony Shalhoub.
I’ve never seen “Monk,” but I’m gonna check it out now. Tony Shalhoub is insanely funny. All of my favorite scenes were with him. (I almost hate to say this about a Michael Bay movie, but) I’ve never laughed so hard at anything that wasn’t a Dave Chappelle sketch. And Shalhoub had a LOT to do with that.
More pros than cons. And, I feel a little gross for saying this, but Michael Bay kinda hit it out of the park with this one. It’s definitely worth seeing.
I saw “The Place Beyond the Pines” and walked outta the theater thinking: “That was the best movie I’ve seen this year.”
I don’t want to give too much away, so here are some spoiler-free bullet points.
Ryan Gosling is easily one of those actors whose work I will see. Every. Time. He gives a hard-hitting performance (as usual), and even though his character, Luke, is robbing banks to support his family in this film, you’re rooting for his character whole-heartedly. (A testament to the writing and acting.)
Eva Mendes plays Gosling’s baby mama, who’s trying to get her life together. Even in stonewash, she’s absolutely luminous, but it’s her performance that stays with you. I haven’t seen her act this solidly, nuanced and subtle, maybe ever. I think she’s arrived.
Ryan Gosling, Eva Mendes and some baby in “The Place Beyond the Pines.”
Bradley Cooper exudes a likability even when he’s playing a jerky jerk, but that didn’t hold true for me in ‘The Pines’. He’s a mega-ambitious rookie cop, who’s “too smart for his own good.” For lack of a better explanation, I was mad at him throughout most of his storyline. (The film’s made up of three interwoven stories.)
I was really taken with Ben Mendelsohn’s character, Robin, who talks Luke into robbing banks. This is the first film I’ve seen with Mendelsohn, and he rocked. In one scene, he runs through a field of geese and retains a childlike enthusiasm even with a cigarette dangling from his mouth. #Talent This scene is a key to his character. He’s a little rough around the edges, but he’s good on the inside. (Yeah, the bank robbing thing, but see it to believe it.)
The characters in “The Place Beyond the Pines” are flawed and sometimes morally ambiguous: a perfect combo for this engaging character study.
I know, I’m late. And I also know I probably missed out on not seeing it in 3-D.
But it was wonderful.
Save for the first 20 minutes, the film was colorful, uplifting and bright: the perfect antidote to North Dakota’s would-be spring. Director Sam Raimi catapults us into a visually striking world full of adorably clad inhabitants, so inviting, I wanted to live there.
Some of the effects did come across a bit cartoon-y. When James Franco (Oz) and Michelle Williams (Glinda, the Good Witch) travel by bubble, the effects seemed to falter, but that may have been a sequence better suited for 3-D.
Even kicking butt, Glinda the Good Witch has a heart of gold.
At first, I was concerned that Franco might’ve been miscast. He’s charismatic and talented, but he brings a very palpable air of modernity, which I thought might not translate.
But it all worked in his favor.
The role of Oz calls for a fast-talking con-man with an ahead-of-his-time charm. And Franco delivers.
Williams, as always, is a delight to watch. I came out of the film wishing Glinda and I could be besties because she’s so positive, encouraging and devoid of petty bad habits.
SPOILER ALERT: I’m not alone here, but I called Mila Kunis’ transformation into the Wicked Witch. Though, I’m no genius because I didn’t foresee Rachel Weisz as evil.
Both actresses bring it, and I was really taken with the backstory of The Wicked Witch. As someone who grew up with “The Wizard of Oz,” it was an insight that stuck with me days after I left the theater.
“Oz” does lack momentum before the end, but it makes for an even more entertaining ‘show’down. The film’s ending mirrors that of its sequel, which some may find cheesy, but for me, it just enchanted me further.
Definitely watch it if you’re curious. Save for some moments, it’s worth it.
I’m no Joss Whedon expert, but after watching his newest project, “The Cabin in the Woods,” I can say I’m a fan. The movie’s a postmodern homage to the horror flicks that we grew up with. But it turns the genre on its head.
Dude, when a cellar door opens on its own, you DON'T investigate.
We’re all familiar with horror’s archetypes: the jock, the whore, the nerd, the comic relief (joker), the saint. Whedon’s familiar too and his film gives us an “explanation” for the genre’s stock characters.
We’ve got Chris Hemsworth (sans the blonde locks and Thor hammer) starring alongside relative no-names, Kristen Connolly, Anna Hutchison, Fran Kranz and Jesse Williams as the five victims, with great performances by Richard Jenkins (Step Brothers) and Bradley Whitford (The West Wing) as the guys behind the scenes.
Without giving too much away, I will say, if you’re a horror fan, I think you’ll love and at least appreciate “The Cabin in the Woods.” The clown from “It,” Pin Head from “Hellraiser” and a murderous unicorn (I have no idea) all have cameos in a graphic sequence that, at one point, made me look away.
Whedon’s penchant for great dialogue shines. I was equally amused and horrified in between laughs. All those times you’ve screamed at the TV with the obvious questions: “Why is she running upstairs instead of out the front door?! Why are they needling around in a creepy basement anyway! Didn’t they see “Evil Dead!”
Whedon has his characters questioning, and he gives us a gory, horrific, twisted answer.
“Contagion” opened at midnight today, and I was pumped. The trailer is action-packed, thrilling and promises thrills and chills (no pun intended), but the movie doesn’t follow suit. It opens to a black screen and the isolated sound of coughing. (Kudos to director Steven Soderbergh and screenwriter Scott Z. Burns.) It all starts with one contact.
The movie’s jam-packed with Oscar winners and star power, (Matt Damon, Kate Winslet, Marion Cotillard, Laurence Fishburne, Jude Law) but there’s little time for them to shine. The movie bounces between story lines and loses momentum.
Jude Law, sporting a false tooth, does a great job as a blogger intent to cash in on hysteria; Kate Winslet is convincing as a selfless medical investigator running to the front lines of a lethal pandemic; and Laurence Fishburne (who arguably hasn’t had such a strong role since “The Matrix” trilogy) slam-dunks as the CDC front-man who’s not immune to bending the rules when his loved ones are concerned.
Oh, Gwynnie! I wouldn't do that if I were you...
We witness hysteria as food and meds dwindle, men knocking down pregnant women, looting mobs and a band of modern-day cowboys who, we can deduce by the sound of gunshots, murder a family to steal supplies. Matt Damon calls 911 only to find an automated message. “Press 4 if you need to dispose of a body.”
We get it. When the fear of apocalypse rears its ugly head, civility is the first casualty. But that seems to be the meat of “Contagion.” (Spoiler) When a vaccine is discovered (thanks to the Nobel-prize seeking courage of a lone doc), we’re on to the next point: “Who will get the life-saving meds first?” And thus begets social commentary Round 2.
The movie is very present-day with talk of pharmaceutical company conspiracies and H1N1, but it might have been better-suited in the sci-fi genre. It’s a suspense film that loses suspense, but it does a good job of showing that there are no purely good guys or bad guys, especially during a pandemic.
It’s worth seeing if you’re curious. I was at the edge of my seat for the bulk of it, and in the vein of “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” or “Night of the Living Dead,” nobody, rich or poor, was safe in “Contagion.” The movie’s true to its tagline: Nothing spreads like fear, but in the end, you can easily wash your hands of it … though sanitizer will do.
The definition of “jezebel” per dictionary.com is: a wicked, shameless, scheming woman. I didn’t know that going in, which made the movie of the same name starring Bette Davis all the more alluring. Had I’d known, my experience would have lacked.
In 1938, Davis won her second and (amazingly) last Academy award for her role as tempestuous schemer from the south, Julie Marsden in “Jezebel.” (She would have 8 other Oscar nominations in her career.) The film was based off of a play and was written with Davis in mind, and after watching it, I know why.
JEZEBEL MOVIE POSTER
Davis in many ways paralled her character in that they both aimed to challenge authority and tradition. The film is set in 1856, where unmarried women were expected to always wear white. (I imagine to symbolize their virginity.) Davis’ character creates a scandal when she orders a brazen scarlet gown to wear to the Olympus Ball. You can guess where it goes from there.
“Jezebel” was released in 1938, and two years earlier, Davis was involved in a lawsuit brought on by the big wigs at Warner Bros. Back then, actors were signed to 7-year contracts, which meant exclusivity with that studio and suspension if they declined roles. Davis felt accepting mediocre parts was damaging her career. She was one of the first female actresses to fight to choose which parts to play. The lawsuit didn’t end in her favor, but it paved the way for the 1940′s, where Olivia de Havilland (her co-star in “Hush … Hush, sweet Charlotte) fought and won. It was a major breakthrough for Hollywood.
During the lawsuit, Davis was portrayed by the media as ungrateful and greedy; she underwent much scrutiny but stuck to her guns — just like her character in “Jezebel.” At one moment, Julie Marsden is plotting catastrophe, the next, she is remorseful and yearning for redemption. Davis portrayed this with such acute grace and skill.
(Spoiler alert:) In “Jezebel,” Davis’ character martyrs herself as a way to atone for her indiscretions (i.e. manipulating a man to his death, attempting to seduce another married man). She uses her will to fight as fuel to seal her fate on an island overrun with lepers and an epidemic of yellow fever. As she’s driven away on a carriage of those nearly dead, she seems to finally be at peace — confident and comforted by her decision. (Eerie.)
With all that Bette Davis and Julie Marsden share in common, it was as if, Davis harbored her own regrets, and it was only through her craft of acting that she could or would allow herself to let them float to the surface.
Pride in self-sacrifice. Never in life for Bette Davis, but she had the will and skill to knock it outta the park in the realm which she ruled: acting. If you want to see one of Hollywood’s greatest in one of her most acclaimed roles, “Jezebel” is well-worth your time.
“Fast Five,” the fifth installment in the “Fast & Furious” franchise that’s captivated car lovers and action movie fanatics for the past decade, delivers a fast-paced shot of adrenaline that, somehow, makes you forget that this movie is more than two hours long (that’s a bit too long for almost any movie if you ask me).
It’s not going to garner any award nominations for Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, Jordana Brewster or Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. Well, I suppose they can expect to pick up a few Teen Choice Awards. And “Fast Five” is hardly an innovation in the action genre, borrowing heavily from the plots of big budget heist films over the past few decades.
Paul Walker & Vin Diesel looking like action stars
But despite the odds, and my utter lack of hope that I would enjoy the experience of watching a movie about cars and the people who drive them, “Fast Five” works really well and actually is the best action film I’ve seen in years.
The film starts with Dom Toretto (Diesel) being sentenced to life in prison for his crimes (I’m not quite sure what he did because this was the first “Fast & Furious” movie I’ve seen). Soon he’s on a bus being transported to the cell he’ll be locked inside for his remaining days, but it doesn’t take long for his sister Mia Toretto (Brewster) and former cop Brian O’Conner (Walker) to pull off an amazing stunt to rescue their leader and make off on a fast escape.
This sets up the philosophical conflict in the movie, if you can even call it that. Toretto and his accomplices are now “free,” but in exchange are now fugitives from the law who are being hunted across the globe.
Their money soon runs out, and with Toretto mysteriously missing. Conner and his (SPOILER ALERT) pregnant girlfriend Mia Toretto find themselves starving, exhausted and broke in Rio de Janeiro. They reluctantly agree to get involved in a shady car heist on a moving train, but realize the job isn’t quite as advertised just as Toretto arrives to bail out.” Conner in a really cool scene that involves a looming train bridge, a perfectly timed jump and a 1,000-foot freefall off a cliff into a lake.
With a new member of the Toretto family on the way, the trio realizes they need to change their ways and find a way of achieving real “freedom” which, in this film, involves lots of money, so they can start new lives outside the reach of the law.
Getting the crew together
They decide to take on an impossible “one last job” to get enough cash to be set for life, get out of crime and finally find the”freedom” they’ve been seeking since the beginning of the movie. But they can’t do it alone, and they summon characters from the previous four “Fast & Furious” movies to fly down to Rio and help them in what surely seems to be a suicide mission to take down the biggest crime lord on the continent and steal his wealth.
It won’t be easy: he has the Rio police department in his back pocket, plus the U.S. has sent over badass federal agent Luke Hobbs (Johnson) to track down the fugitives after they’re unjustly tied to several murders.
On the surface, “Fast Five” is a derivative film that borrows heavily from movies with better plots and better character development. The dialogue, which hardly exists to begin with, is bogged down with cheesy writing delivered by actors who aren’t really known for their acting. And the plot includes (SPOILER ALERT) a token sacrifice as one of the Toretto clan, but not one of the main characters, is shot and bleeds to death in the arms of his estranged brother after bravely leading a gunfight with the corrupt Rio police.
But the film stands out in a field of mediocre action movies simply because of how well it embraces its purpose: to give the audience a two-hour break from reality. It’s hard to match the adrenaline rush that comes from watching Vin Diesel and The Rock going head to head once the two bitter rivals finally are in the same place at the same time. The driving scenes totally defy the laws of physics, and I’ve never seen cars with a bumper strong enough to come out untarnished after ramming a bus off the road, but they’re so much fun to watch that I didn’t care about the realism of the plot. And the last 20 minutes is Conner and Toretto ripping up the streets of Rio as they try to pull off the ultimate heist using two fast cars, some chain and an unbreakable safe in what I’d consider to be among cinema’s top car scenes of all time.
“Fast Five” is an action movie that doesn’t try to be anything else. Why worry about coming up with an intriguing plot or compelling character development when you have top action stars who can drive fast, shoot well and throw punches strong enough to break brick walls?
I went into the movie theater expecting to get a few laughs from the film, but I can honestly say “Fast Five” is actually a good movie that’s worth watching if you need a break from the real world. It’s not going to make you think, but it’s everything you’d want from a “Fast & Furious” movie.
Have you seen “Thor” already? Are you excited about “Hangover Part II”? Have you read The Help by Kathryn Stockett, and are you pumped for the movie that comes out Aug. 12?
This might be the summer of sequels with all of these releases: “Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides,” “Kung Fu Panda 2,” “Cars 2,” “Spy Kids 4: All the Time in the World,” “Final Destination 5,” and of course, the much-anticipated “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part II.” We’re all going to have a lot of movies to choose from.
I’m looking forward to the “X-Men: First Class,” a prequel to the movies. I grew up watching the TV show on Saturday mornings and I was disappointed with the way the movie trilogy ended, but I’m going to give it another go. The prequel has a star-studded cast: James McAvoy, Rose Byrne, Jennifer Lawrence of “Winter’s Bone, Kevin Bacon, Oliver Platt, January Jones of AMC’s “Mad Men” and Zoe Kravitz. Here’s the trailer.
X-Men isn’t the only movie based on a comic book that’s coming this summer. “Green Lantern” will be out in theaters June 17 and “Captain America: The First Avenger” out July 22.
In the Herald’s Friday Arts section, we asked for you movie-goers to talk about what you’re looking forward to seeing, what sequels you think shouldn’t be released or how well you predict they’ll measure up at the box office. Here’s your platform. Please feel free to comment. Let’s get a discussion going.
Click here for a list of this summer’s flicks, click here to read a summer movie guide.
Wes Anderson hit a home run with his movie “The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou,” and one of the striking elements of this production is the music. Brazilian singer/songwriter Seu Jorge covered several David Bowie hits in Portuguese.
Director Anderson is known for his meticulous shot composition, costumes and characters. The music added a reminiscent air to “Life Aquatic.” You recognize the songs, but they’re in Portuguese and you’re paying attention to the plot. Many people make parallels between this movie and literary works “Moby Dick” or “The Great Gatsy.” (I agree more with the former.) Anderson’s spin on a story you’re familiar with is mirrored in musician Jorge’s cover songs.
Bowie himself said:
“Had Seu Jorge not recorded my songs in Portuguese I would never have heard this new level of beauty which he has imbued them with.”
Anderson’s the writer/director of “Rushmore,” “The Royal Tennenbaums,” “The Darjeeling Limited” and “Fantastic Mr. Fox,” but “The Life Aquatic” is my by far my favorite, and Jorge’s take on David Bowie definitely doesn’t hinder my choice.
Here’s the song list for The Life Aquatic Studio Sessions Featuring Seu Jorge. All works were composed by Bowie except where noted. Click the links to listen and click here to watch a trailer for “Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou.” (It’s worth watching!)
Theme Song Thursday is a weekly look back at memorable, not-so-influential, nostalgia-inducing theme songs by the Herald’s Melinda Lavine and Ryan Johnson. Click here to read earlier entries, and feel free to share!
We’re finally getting “Win Win” starring Paul Giamatti and Amy Ryan!
It’ll begin its run Friday in East Grand Forks’ RiverCinema 15, with a midnight showing tomorrow night. It was written and directed by Thomas McCarthy (Dr. Bob from the “Meet the Parents” movies). From what I can tell, he’s a better writer/director than actor. He conceived of “The Station Agent” and “The Visitor.” (Click here to read my review of “The Visitor,” it’s good!)
Here’s the IMDB synopsis:
Disheartened attorney Mike Flaherty (Giamatti), who moonlights as a high school wrestling coach, stumbles across a star athlete through some questionable business dealings while trying to support his family. Just as it looks like he will get a double payday, the boy’s mother shows up fresh from rehab and flat broke, threatening to derail everything.
WIN WIN also stars Jeffrey Tambor (of “Arrested Development”), Melanie Lynskey, Bobby Cannavale and Burt Young. I’m in.
Click here to watch the trailer and check back for a review!