Alright, alright the moment of truth has arrived and after months, maybe years, of bad press, mean tweets, ugly internet rumors we the American public are finally getting to see this reboot of one of the greatest comedies of all-time: Ghostbusters. Well let’s start off with the good news; it’s not as bad as I thought it would be. What saves it you ask? Simple, it’s the very thing that so many have been complaining about for so long…the cast.
Yes that’s right sports fans, the cast of ladies, instead of men, are the only things that gave it some form of life. NOT because they are women but because they seem to be legitimately having a good time doing it, the chemistry of the actors is all there most of all goes to none other than Kate McKinnon. She’s the absolute dynamo that kept the show going and going strong. She plays it up as a cross between a punk-rock girl and a mad scientist, just smiling have more fun than anyone should be allowed to have. She won me over almost too easily, bravo! It’s welcome to see someone just not taking anything too seriously as she obviously is. And all actresses with comedy backgrounds just joshing and giggling just having a grand time. I mean let’s not forget that a male cast delivered just an ehhhh sequel, 1989’s Ghostbusters II.
But with all of that happening you might be asking yourselves, well Jason, sounds like you should like it more right? Hold on, here’s the bad news and it’s this, nothing in this movie is anything impressive and it’s all been done and done before. Have any of you seen the original 1984 classic? I mean it’s one of my all time favs! How many of us when we were kids dressed as a Ghostbuster for Halloween? Well, then folks you, I, we have all seen this one before. The plot couldn’t be anymore recycled than just straight up ripping off the same one by Dan Aykroyd and the late great Harold Ramis.
Basically it’s this three scientists who have been trying to prove for sometime the existence of ghosts, or the paranormal, one really quirky, one really smart, one just trying to get tenured. They find their proof and in turn they loose their jobs in academia and are forced to go into business themselves to investigate the paranormal and…..hey wait a minute! Isn’t that the plot of the original? Yes it is. But then they get just an average person not a scientist to help them and….HEY WAIT ANOTHER MINUTE!!! You’re catching on now.
The jokes that you saw in the original have the same set up, the same setting, the same punch line it’s all there as we’ve seen before. And then you have, enter stage left, a good looking, hunky guy who wears glasses (“who ordered the Clark Kent stripper-gram” one person mutters). And with that we get a lot of jokes from ladies who all just make lame joke after lame joke about that we have a good looking guy working for us…whoopee! That gets old fast. Then we have Melissa McCarthy and Kirsten Wiig doing the same old thing as they did in their last team up Bridesmaids same jokes, same quarks, same “oh hey look at me I’m a girl who keeps falling down” and “oh hey look at me I’m facing a mid-life crisis.” Oh just move on already.
Then you have the nemesis, which involves some guy who’s fed up with people and…well just wait you’ll find out. But all of it leads to a final act, which just goes overboard and over the top with c.g.i. that gives you a headache. It still goes back to the original complaint that it’s still the same as the 1984 classic. Same set up, different decade, different kind of effects.
Now I loved the original, it was a glorious example of campy and comedy, and it even when it tried never took itself seriously. It was a wonderful spoof on horror while bringing in a new style of comedy that benefited from having people behind it who knew exactly what funny is. Here all you have are just a bunch of recycled gags that have been done and done and done and done that don’t do much more than just make you say GET ON WITH IT!!!
But like I said it’s not a bad movie thanks to it’s cast but it’s also not a very good movie because of it’s writers and director Paul Feig who don’t even try to pay any homage to the original. They just get members and icons from the original movie to appear here and there to try and appease those of us, like myself, who grew up with it to say, see, see. And the cameos from famous people, and yes the original surviving cast, but they don’t even play their original characters they just appear, say hi and exit. But if there is a sequel, which without to say too much but the ending does set us up for one, as long as Kate McKinnon returns, gosh I just love her, there is always hope.
2 ½ out of 4 stars
Written by: Jason Greathouse
There have been filmmakers over the years whose movies we know from the get go are not conventional. And by that we are not going to get the usual kind of story telling, films whose visual style alone are going to test both understanding and patience and even push the boundaries of conventional artistic film making. I’d have to say Kubrick is the master of this, Israeli director Amos Gital is another but the most recent name to be in this mix is the one and only Terrance Malick. A filmmaker whose films are sights to behold and stories test intellectual boundaries.
How many of us have marveled at the beauty of “Days of Heaven,” been impressed with the allegory of violence and destruction in nature with “The Thin Red Line,” or maybe even saw their jaws drop at the beauty of “The New World” Since then he brought his mix of philosophy and poetry into new realms that mixed science and wonder with his masterpiece “Tree of Life” and the deeply underrated “To The Wonder.” And I have to be perfectly honest his films were some of the films that inspired me to follow or even write films and I honestly thought he could do no wrong. Well nobody’s perfect.
The fault of the film isn’t in it’s odd poetic dialogue, that’s a Malick trademark (“where have you gone my son?/the stars, from here, I cry” “Don’t threaten to leave/my love/my heart”) or it’s eccentric acting, jumpy editing all of these are things you expect from Malick. The fault is the story itself. It’s far to drawn, far too off beat and way, way, way too smug for it’s own good.
Basically long time Malick collaborator Christian Bale plays a movie ex who’s caught up in a world of parties, sex, womanizing and excess that draws a wedge between him and his wife and forces him to choose between a life of his wife/ex-wife Cate Blanchett or his world of excess. Along the way he consorts with off beat eccentrics and loose beat L.A. citizens in the form of Freida Pinto, Isabel Lucas, Teresa Palmer and Imogen Poots. All the while trying to reconnect to his estranged brother Barry (Wes Bentley) and father Joseph (Brian Dennehy). And keeping up his love for his girlfriend Elizabeth played by the ALWAYS gorgeous Natalie Portman. All set against the almost ethereal backdrop of the always exotic Los Angeles. Confused yet? You should be?
But what does it mean? What do you think? What is that supposed to say? What do you think? Are you even more confused yet? You should be but you shouldn’t? And that is the biggest problem with this outing by Malick. He’s gotten deeper than normal almost off the wall in a way. Trying to make a film that shows how the material world and desire separates man from the spiritual world but really does every character have to be just so, offbeat that you don’t even care?
Basically Bale is just a sad sack of a man who goes from one place to another, messes with one girl then another, and sees one weird building then another. I know Malick likes to have his narratives subjective, you the audience figures it out, but that doesn’t mean Mr. Malick that every single person has to be eccentric, or every angle has to be seen through a window, or every woman has to be nude. Just witness a scene where someone is on a balcony naked, why……….if even I figure it out, I’ll tell you. But all of this just doesn’t help the story on any level it’s just there to try and make us feel some sort of shame for our lives. Well, that never works doesn’t matter who it is, it just never works.
But credit has to go to another Malick collaborator cracker jack cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki, red hot off his third straight Oscar win who beautifully illuminates the city and landscapes in and around Los Angeles. He shoots with that of a true artist an almost poets eye for finding beauty in the most obscure. From sunlight through a tunnel, to a plane flying from LAX, to a tryst on a beach, everything is breathtakingly amazing and I’m sure this might get him his fourth Oscar. And of course there is my FAVORITE actress the one and only Natalie Portman! Serving to the story what women often serve as in a Malick piece, an angelic Earth mother. She brings warmth, almost sensuous presence it reminds me more and more of Audrey Hepburn. Sadly Malick miscasts her and doesn’t use her till almost the final act of the film. Sad.
But all in all the final fault of the disappointment rests on that of Malick himself. An art director that has let his critical acclaim go to his head thinking we will just eat it no matter what. Wrong, so wrong. Oh well he has another due later this year also with Mrs. Portman, maybe that will redeem him?
2 ½ out of 4 stars
By Jason Greathouse
10. STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON
Can you make a bio-pic about a rap group interesting? Very simple make it about probably one of if not the most influential group in the history of hip-hop that is Dr. Dre, Ice Cube, Easy-E, Dj Yella, and M.C. Ren a.k.a. N.W.A.. A group that shocked the upper class along with the middle class who would have probably have never heard of or listened to hip-hop before them. The film is as incendiary as anything that could come from Tarantino or Spike Lee but it’s meant to be, to remind those of us who are too young to remember what it was like when it was new. And it’s all captured in vivid color, from the late night debauchery, the fights, the disputes, the beatings, everything, it’s all captured. But it goes to an extra length to make sure we care about this group of people that while they are misfits who came from the wrong side of the track it’s more than anything about family. A dysfunctional family but a family none the less. A family that changed the course of music and pop culture forever.
9. STAR WARS: EPISODE 7 – THE FORCE AWAKENS
After being left to wrestle with the question if the prior trilogy, “The Prequel Trilogy,” brought down the polish of the great space opera for almost a decade or if it was even worthy of being included. And then the news came; George Lucas sold his company, and “Star Wars,” to of all the places, Disney. Then would we, or could we get a worthy prequel or sequel to the series that launched more than a thousand dreams into a galaxy far, far away. Well say no more J.J. Abrams to the rescue! The man who rescued and resurrected another “Star” saga, “Star Trek,” from the staleness and blandness that had suffocated it for almost a decade as well. Here we are returned back to when everything was, or looked, real. No cold overdone digital everything that we had gotten, he returns the saga to what made the original trilogy so successful, it’s about good vs. evil, that’s it. The story is simple it’s a hero’s journey, a valentine, a love letter, a return to what made it just so much fun to sit in a crowded movie theater with the lights out and smile with pure, almost childlike joy. And we get an obvious career/star making performances from Daisy Ridley and John Boyega, just as the trilogy made unknowns such as Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill almost 40 years ago, this will do that for them as well.
8. THE MINIONS
You could criticize that there really isn’t any humanity or the depth that the other computer/digital animation rivals Pixar put into there creations but the masters of this world doesn’t try to compete with them, they just know what they do and do what they do. They make things that are loveable and likeable and come one, how many of us love those lovable “Minions,” huh? I thought so. It a great big, goofy, unstoppably loveable, sloppy St. Bernard of a film that manages to create more laughs in a frame than many comedies have even tried to do this year, or almost any, for that matter. It’s more Marx Brothers or Three Stooges than anything it harkens back to the day when sight comedy had to truly be watched and followed and set up, and it’s a welcome return and valentine to the old school days of comedy. The kind of comedies that nobody even attempts to create or re-create for that matter. It just wants us to have fun, doesn’t try to change the world and it doesn’t even attempt to, it knows it’s place and it’s a welcome treat.
7. THE AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON
Joss Whedon continues with his ride and trials into the Marvel Universe in his latest and sadly, possibly last outing here. Unlike so many super heroes where we just have to like everyone and everyone has to get along and everyone has to unite, because they just have to, right? Well, not so fast, Whedon’s a popcorn movie’s best friend making sure that he takes his time in development before just handing it to his audience. We must know who each person is, their motives, their back story, enjoy the characters, understand who they are and engross in the story, and believe me we can’t thank you enough. Too long, to get to the action you say, HOG WASH!!! Whedon doesn’t just give us action, he gives us a story he wants us to know this group of people are more than anything than superheroes they’re family. Granted he does leave the ending a bit up in the air, but then again what superhero film is close ended I ask? Exactly. He makes sure nothing is done with shallow resolve everything happens for a reason, it may take time to get there, but in a where were nobody has anytime for anything there is Whedon who makes sure that we take our time that our story is developed. While sadly this is Whedon’s last outing but thankfully it’s a welcome farewell.
6. MAD MAX: FURY ROAD
After spending a few years in the world of kids movies like “Happy Feet,” hey it won him an Oscar, Aussie filmmaker George Miller returns to action. But wait, it’s been almost 30 years since the last chapter and, oh no, “Max” himself, Mel Gibson, is nowhere to be found. Oh no only disaster can come from this right? Wrong, very wrong. Miller returns to action and it’s a welcome return at that. First of all, Tom Hardy, does a more than fine job of filling in for Mr. Gibson, he’s a loner in a lone land void of high tech slickness and cgi silliness. It’s all here, all in front of the camera, real world stunt men, real world toughness, and believe me it’s a welcome departure from all of the crap that so many action directors have tried to shove down our throats. It’s gritty, it’s cool and it’s the kind of action escapism that’s so rarely done that we never see it anymore. And in case you’re wondering did you have to see the others? No, Miller makes sure to honor the old guard that saw the originals and rebuild and continue with a new chapter for young fans. Thank you for it too.
5. KINGSMAN: THE SECRET SERVICE
This year we got a lot of spy movies, some great, some ok, some you could do without but with everyone trying to imitate Bond here’s one that was more Bond than, well, Bond has been. A spy thriller that went back to the days when Bond was more about fun and cool. Yea, it was over-the-top but for those of us who remember the old spy films so were they. And thanks to this little gem of a thriller, which is, not only cool, but also it’s action-packed, funny and surprisingly sexy. Colin Firth, Mark Strong, and Samuel L. Jackson and a group of terrific newcomers all combine to show us how spy films/spy thrillers were supposed to be, just fun. And it does that in spades, when you’re not cheering, you’re smiling and when you’re not smiling you’re laughing, it’s golden popcorn all the way. Thank you to all of you for it so those just looking for something to entertain and nothing more this was, excuse me, this IS the treat we’ve been wanting for quite sometime.
Crime thrillers, gotten boring well at least we still have good old Michael Mann. The man behind the quintessential 80’s TV series “Miami Vice,” the top-notch action thriller/modern day western “Heat,” and the uber stylized dark thrill ride “Collateral” and he brings all his mojo to the world of computer hacking here. Just two people arguing over instant messaging right? Wrong. It’s a top notch cat and mouse chase from one side of the globe to the other and if you loose interest or wonder if you’ll keep it, well thanks again to Mann a film maker/writer who doesn’t just research his scripts he goes into exhaustive detail but doesn’t do it to boredom either. When it’s time to deliver the action, he delivers, he gets more tension and action out of a phone call or a aerial shot than film makers half his age could dream of. And in a world where every young filmmaker just tries to make action films MTV style music videos Mann knows that adding style doesn’t mean flash. It means making sure your script and environment is engrossing and that everyone is riveted by what you see. Thank you for it Mr. Mann.
3. INSIDE OUT
For anyone who thinks Disney’s best years are behind them, OH…so wrong! Thank you Pixar! With digital taking over everything in the world of animation there seems to be one, ONLY ONE who knows to not leave it at visual spectacle….STORY COMES FIRST! Yes, I won’t lie visually it was impressive, as anything that could be from Pixar but the true star is the characters. You look inside of them, in their head and in their soul. You laugh when they laugh and even, I kid you not, cry when they cry. It moves you like nothing you’ve seen this year. Who could possibly think that a cartoon, yes a cartoon could do this. Look no further than here, thank you Pixar for reminding us all of the importance of story and character. Make this film, in fact make all of Pixar’s films mandatory for all who have even attempted or dreamed to make a film or write a script.
2. The Hateful Eight
Leave it to Tarantino to return to the western of old-times, the days of Howard Hawks and Sam Peckinpah. Granted neither of them probably could have dreamed of or thought of getting away with the amount of brutal over-the-top bloody violence QT is able to get away with, but who cares. When it comes to knowing how to entertain few have managed to combine top caliber entertainment with such gleeful energy as him. An ensemble ride that’s not just well acted but it’s damn funny! Bringing back regulars Tim Roth, Michael Madson and Samuel L. Jackson along some newbie’s Kurt Russell, Bruce Dern and a wonderful comeback performance from Jennifer Jason Leigh it moves at a better pace than any action film that’s been on screen this year. Some complaints have been made about the length and characters but well, duh, it’s called “THE HATEFUL EIGHT” not the likable eight and it’s length, oh just see it. Like I said it moves fast, so fast you want more when it’s over.
1. BLACK MASS
It’s so rare that we get treated to a knockout of a film, especially a gangster film, I think the last to come to mind was “The Departed” or “Goodfellas,” but now we can add just a sledgehammer of a film in the form of “Black Mass.” It’s as entertaining as it is brutal, as exciting as it is a spectacle, and as well acted as anything that we’ve been treated to in a while. Thank you for that Mr. Depp! With the most spot on, straight ahead, unforgiving complex performance as James “Whitey” Bulger the gangland leader who ruled and terrorized South Boston with an iron fist for years. A film so lush in energy and talent that in a world where everything and everyone is reduced to just imitating everything done by Tarantino and Scorsese that we could have yawned all the way home, not here! No style, no color, nothing pretty we see into their world, their world of bleakness, brutality and even occasionally sadness (witness Deep and a wonderful cameo from Dakota Johnson, scene of the year). Nothing is over the top, here everyone brings their A-game to the table, from Depp dealing with a “rat” to his stare down with someone over something as innocent as a steak, it’s done with terrifying menace and relentless energy. Special extra thanks have to go to director Scott Cooper (“Crazy Heart,” “Out of the Furnace”) he get performances like few have seen out of not only Depp but his cracker jack supporting cast, Kevin Bacon, Joel Edgerton, Benedict Cumberbatch, Adam Scott, and Dakota Johnson (I bring her up again because I was wrong, after seeing this apparently SHE CAN ACT), and also removing all bits of anything that could compare it with anything else. When something violent happens it’s not with a burst of laughter and cool it’s done with coldness. It’s not just a film it’s a roller coaster of power, a film lovers delight, the kind of film that most Hollywood movies wouldn’t have the guts to make. It’s truly worthy of every bit of credit.
Written by Jason Greathouse
In a world of over the top green screen, computer generated everything, filled with fake sets, fake stunts, and even “faker” action scenes, YES I’m talking to you George Lucas and Michael Bay, thank you lord for Quentin Tarantino! A filmmaker who was raised, born and bred on the old-school ways of movie making. Back when you HAD to do it in front of the camera before people just said we’ll get the “computer guys” to fix it. And it’s welcome believe me and he comes back this Christmas with a western that’s more “Reservoir Dogs” than, well anything else since.
And believe me he’s pulling out all the stops, quick-witted dialogue, fast cutting fights, profane laced dialogue, and over-the-top non-stop bloodthirsty violence. Some could argue that he’s gone too far but COME ON it’s Quentin Tarantino, complaining about that is like going to see “Star Wars” and complaining about special effects. And it’s all done right in front of you as if he’s saying, “look Ma no computers!” And it’s welcome believe me. Basically the plot is this a bounty hunter named “The Hangman” (Kurt Russell) is taking in a female murder named “Daisy” (Jennifer Jason Leigh) to collect the bounty in the middle of blizzard in post-Civil War Wyoming. And do we meet some characters along the way…you bet! An ex-slave turned “Confederate Killer” (Samuel L. Jackson), a could be new sheriff and former Confederate officer (Walter Goggins), and then we have a nefarious Mexican (Demian Bichir), a bitter Civil War General (Bruce Dern), a British executioner (Tim Roth), a soft spoken & possibly dangerous cowboy (Michael Madson), and a angry-quick on the drawl coach driver (James Parks). They’re all killers, tough guys, and hombres that would love to shoot first ask questions later, but which is the good guy and which is the bad guy….well you’ll just have to see to find out.
Some could argue that the film is too long and too slow and unlike past Tarantino outings with all the oddball characters you could at least “like” the characters and their intentions. And if that is your complaint, well you’d be right. Some of the back-stories go on far too long and you just want him to get on with it and stop slowing down the pace. But again it IS called “The Hateful Eight” not “The Likeable Eight” and Tarantino wants to make sure we’re immersed in the world of westerns he grew up on the westerns of Howard Hawks and Sam Peckinpah. There you didn’t know the characters were good or bad it’s just whom you root for, or whom YOU should have rooted for in the end.
But in making sure the film never gets dull well credit needs to go to both Tarantino and his editor Fred Raskin (“Django Unchained,” “Guardians of the Galaxy”) keeping up the pace and when the violence hits, and believe me IT WILL hit it’s done with an almost gleeful release (another Tarantino trademark). In a world where everything just seems fake and nothing is believable anymore, almost where everything is just done inside of a computer hard drive, thankfully there is Mr. Tarantino! A film lover’s prayer answered. And sadly it might not do 1% of what “The Force Awakens” might make in just a day of release, sad. Because as long as Tarantino is out there reminding us of what film really is, an art form NOT to just be done on a computer, a collaboration of many who work to give you something to see right in front of you then there is always going to be a reason to go to the movies! And God bless you Tarantino for it!
Written by Jason Greathouse
After more than 50 plus years of martinis, girls, guns, and gadgets you might think Bond is over and done. Not true, not true, not for a second and it continues with the latest installment “S.P.E.C.T.R.E.,” a direct sequel to 2012’s “Skyfall” and the fourth installment with Daniel Craig.
Continuing with the rebuilding the myth of Bond that began with Craig in 2006’s “Casino Royale,” to rebuild the myth of the hero also meant well, we must rebuild the villains as well. So what is S.P.E.C.T.R.E. you ask? Is it a terrorist organization? Is it a secret society? Does it link all of the past Craig Bonds together? Does it tie in to Bond’s past? Yes, yes, yes, and that’s classified.
Also back on board, becoming one of the few directors to do more than one turn in the director’s chair, Oscar-winning director Sam Mendes (a director who was greeted with mixed reaction until his excellent Bond debut). And does he pull out all the stops you ask? You better believe it! From an over the top chase/fight/shootout in Mexico City, parts of which look like they’re done in one continuous take, an edge of your seat car chase through the streets of Rome, to a plane/car chase through the Austrian Alps. Obviously sparing at no expense to dazzle us all, maybe that’s the explanation as to why the film, according to insiders could be not only the most expensive Bond of all time but THE MOST expensive film ever made. At a rumored $300 to $350 million-dollar budget even James Cameron is shaking his head in disbelief. But not resting on spectacle credit Mendes for making sure that his Bond villains are top notch. Picking the second straight Oscar-winner to take their place as Bond’s nemesis, Christoph Waltz who plays the head of the mysterious S.P.E.C.T.R.E. Franz Oberhauser. Who is he exactly you might ask? Well, you’ll have to see it to know for sure but let’s just say his real name and identity has links to Bond’s orphan past and will have Bond’s many fans fist pumping in the theaters going: YES! And then we have our “Bond Girls” the amazingly sexy Monica Bellucci (yes amazingly sexy at 51, the eldest to play a Bond girl, breaking the record of Honor Blackman, who was 37 upon her Bond debut) and the breath takingly intense French actress Lea Seydoux who is also tied in with this mysterious organization who….RATS ALMOST CAUGHT ME! Not gonna say a word, you’ll just have to see it yourself.
Now the question some will ask is how does it compare with the last outing “Skyfall.” Does it match-up or surpass it? Is it worth the budget? Is it worth the three plus years of waiting to see the follow up to the most successful, in terms of gross, awards, and critical acclaim, of ALL of the previous Bond films? Sadly no, no, and no it doesn’t come close. The plot seems to drag on a bit too long then there’s a subplot involving the new “M,” the always great Ralph Finnes, trying to keep the “00” active and the new head of MI-6 from shutting them all down. It’s a worthy pay off but by the time it comes you just want them to get on with it! Stop the bad guys and blow stuff up already! It walks and crawls when you want it to sprint.
But finally you have what has been my biggest complaint about Bond and I know many of his fans will debate me on this, Craig himself. Finally, after four outings and 9 years showing something that ALL of his predecessors remembered to do with Bond that Craig had forgotten: SHOW A SENSE OF BLOODY HUMOR It looks like he’s finally having fun with the role thankfully, just check out the action/reaction he was with the new “Q (an ever wonderfully droll Ben Whishaw).” But despite of that he still brings his usually beat you with my bare hands approach that made him the obvious choice of the EON producers and execs who were obviously reacting to Bond’s new American competition, Jack Bauer and Jason Bourne. But he still makes you long for the old days of Bond who seemed to manage to save the world with smirk, a vodka martini, and a cell phone that turned into a machine gun. The campiness is gone with Craig; it’s partly welcomed by the new generation but for those who grew up with Bond, like myself, too bad.
But is this the last outing for Craig as Bond one might ask? Judging by the ending, which I WILL NOT even attempt to say a word about, maybe? And judging by recent comments/interviews with Craig (recently quoted in London’s “Time Out Magazine” as saying “I’d rather slit my wrists than play Bond again, I’m over it at the moment”) I’d say no. But then again…..who knows? His predecessor Pierce Brosnan ousted from the tux and Aston Martins after four films as well. Not many actors have managed to have the impact on the character, so even if it is his last, it’s a worthy exit.
Written by Jason Greathouse
3 ½ out of 4 stars
Once in a while we the audiences get treated to a performance that goes beyond anything that we’ve ever seen. DeNiro’s Jake LaMotta in Raging Bull, comes to mind. Jamie Foxx’s depiction of Ray Charles in “Ray” is another good one. And Heath Ledger’s psychotic depiction of comic book villain “The Joker” makes a noted mentioning. And the most recent to this collection would have to be Bradley Cooper’s portrayal of Navy S.E.A.L. Chris Kyle in American Sniper. But now the latest addition to this is Johnny Depp’s absolutely spot on cold-blooded and terrifying depiction of gangster James “Whitey” Bulger a man who ruled South Boston, MA, or Southie as it’s commonly referred to, like a dictator rules his kingdom with an iron fist and lead law enforcement on a decade long chase. Believe it or not.
Granted this is technically not the first time that Bulger’s story has been brought to the big screen. His story was the inspiration behind the character of Frank Costello depicted with comedic over-the-top darkness by none other than Jack Nicholson in Scorsese crime-classic actionier The Departed. But while that was a stylized depiction based on a Hong Kong action caper there is no tongue and cheek depiction here. And the violence is by no means stylized here. It comes not with a flash of style but with an appropriate burst of brutality. From a behind the head shot to the strangulation of possible informant all of it comes right in front of your face in all its glory. “This is what I do to rats” it’s explained by Depp with just as cold-blooded delivery as that. These are the people who’s world we are in and it’s a dark one. Credit that to director Scott Cooper (Crazy Heart and Out of the Furnace) who removes all color from South Boston. It’s as cold as the characters aiding to the evil of the world we’re engrossed in.
But the real tour de force is that of it’s lead Johnny Depp, he gives the performance of his life here after slipping a bit with a recent string of flops, how many of us would like to forget Transcendence or The Lone Ranger? Well he makes up for it big time here, with a performance that reeks of both evil and terror. From almost shaving his head to appear balding, bleaching his skin, yellow coloring his teeth to giving a stare that when he looks at the camera he looks at you and it’s a stare of brutality that chills your soul. Just witness a scene where he asks for the “secret ingredient” for a steak that just makes you shiver with enough terror that would make Wes Craven himself clap with bravo. Bulger is a wolf with a taste for blood and he goes for blood whenever it’s near from when he guns down two people with no remorse to beating to death someone who could be a “rat.” It’s a performance that sticks with you long after you leave the theater; enough to make you shout “play it again!” It’s the performance of a lifetime from Depp.
But Depp isn’t the only one bringing his A-game to the table without a doubt the biggest surprise is, believe it or not, Dakota Johnson herself in a brilliant cameo playing Bulger’s wife. She wants to give us sympathy for the devil so badly as she shakes off the crust from Fifty Shades of Grey giving intensity and emotion as she begs Depp’s Bulger in the hospital with their sick young son. Bravo to her!
But how did Bulger do this for so long, how did he maintain such a criminal empire for so long? Well, it’s explained from his dealing with an F.B.I. Agent/informant played with both rock-star groupie and edginess by a wonderful Joel Edgerton. He wants to be the right hand to the devil so bad that he does all he can if anything he can to try and kiss up to Bulger. It’s a deal with the devil but to him “that’s just business.” To his younger brother who rises to Speaker of the House of the Massachusetts State Senate played with both remorse and sadness by recent Oscar nominee Benedict Cumberbatch. How or why he does this remains a mystery not even Cumberbatch himself could explain it, nor does he really try, he just shows us a brother who does this out of sheer misplaced loyalty. You understand the sadness in his eyes to a point where we could just nod and say, “I get it” just as simple as that.
But in spite of all of it’s technical achievements and performances it’s going inevitably be compared to other “gangster” films from The Godfather to Goodfellas to Casino to The Departed to The Sopranos. Here there’s no comparison here we’re given a world of cold men who’s acts of violence leave a scare that South Boston will never recover from. It’s a powerhouse of a film that leaves you breathless, just see it.
Written by Jason Greathouse
4 out of 4 stars
It’s been sometime since we’ve seen a really original, or even a, sex comedy of any kind well now we have one in the form of “The Overnight.” Basically a new to L.A. repressed couple from Seattle Emily and Alex (Adam Scott and Taylor Schiling) are out with their young son who meet another couple Kurt and Charlotte (Jason Schwartzman and Judith Godreche) with a young son who invite them over for a playmate for their kids. Well once the kids are asleep the adults start to play.
And when they play they do play, from the men being shown art work of rectums (just see it), to the women sneaking away to a massage parlor…OH RATS…anymore it’s a spoiler! To the men stripping down by the pool when they…OH RATS AGAIN…anymore and it’s another spoiler! Things go from bad to weird as the visiting couple starts to suspect that their hosts have something nefarious up their sleeves and it goes from dark to funny on a moment’s notice.
Credit all of this to writer/director Patrick Brice, who on a shoestring budget and shot in less than two weeks at a friend’s house he created a comedy that throws back to the days of films like Mike Nichols’ “Carnal Knowledge” or Woody Allen’s. Everything You Every Wanted To Know About Sex…But Were Afraid To Ask.” Also giving able time so the talent to ad-lib and improvise as they go along. It’s a story and film that isn’t about gags or effects it’s entirely character and dialogue driven. And, sadly, it’s the kind of film that people snuff at on their way to see “Fantastic Four,” which is sad.
But credit for helping it all move to it’s talent and there is a good bunch on display here. One of course is Adam Scott (“Parks & Recreation,” “The Aviator”) for giving his usual mix of both smart-alecy charm and smarminess to a role that could have just been another wiseacre part of Ryan Reynolds. But the true scene-stealer has to be that of Taylor Schiling herself. Displaying the same kind of naivety and vulnerability disguising what could probably be a ball of rage underneath just as she does week after week on her series “Orange is the New Black,” she goes from suspicious to deadpan without missing a beat.
It’s a comedy that’s totally dialogue and actor driven, no special effects, no over the top stunts, no gimmicky editing work, it’s all here for you to just watch and see for yourself. Do yourself a favor just try to pass by for just one day the loud disposable and give this little gem of a film a chance, who knows you just might remember what films used to really be about. Stories on display told by artists.
3 out of 4 stars
Written by Jason Greathouse
First off here’s the good news Seth MacFarlane’s latest uber-immature yet funny, New England style of over the top humor is still delivered with plenty of style and wit. And few could deliver it better I mean how many can just make the sound of a Boston/New England accent funnier than MacFarlane? Exactly.
And thanks to some new additions/faces in the form of Amanda Seyfried, as a new suitor for Mark Walhberg’s “John” (the original’s Mila Kunis bailed out due to pregnancy) and the always wanted and likable Morgan Freeman he builds on his buddy-stoner comedy series. Seriously how many of us still smile at the “Thunder Buddies” song? Be honest. And they are back in full force and still just as likable as always when it comes to MacFarlane’s characters. Let’s see there’s a “Breakfast Club” montage, tons and tons of pop culture and cult film and comic book jokes, and without a doubt, one of if not the best “Jurassic Park” weed jokes that will make the hardest to impress roll with laughter.
But sadly, with all of that here’s the bad news and it’s this, for every good joke there’s about two or three that just get old fast or fail all together. In fact some of the gags used in this one have already been done on “Family Guy” everything from a semen spill, just see it, to a cut away to making bad suggestions at a comedy improve group. Again like I said just see it, you’ll understand. It gets old and makes this one just feel like a been there, done that film with used up, eye rolling gags that just get tiring making this one just a sad shell of it’s predecessor.
Now that doesn’t mean MacFarlane is done and finished, not by a long shot. If he really wanted to continue making live action films he really could be this generations Woody Allen or Mel Brooks, but just recycling old gags from his prior work is not what made them great. They found new ideas and new ways and went on with that which is why I was just so down to see MacFarlane seeming to just throw a bunch of old stuff together thinking that’s creative or good and we’ll all just take it with a grin and like it. Wrong, Wrong!
Already there’s talk of a “Ted 3,” won’t surprise me, I just really, really hope MacFarlane doesn’t just rehash what he did and try to make something original or build on what he did for the next time around. Seriously, I really do.
Rating: 2 ½ out of 4 stars
Written by: Jason Greathouse
After the tremendous success, and I use that term loosely as the movie stunk, “After Earth” you would be forgiven if you thought that Will Smith would be quick to comeback? I mean he did manage to rebound from “Wild Wild West” with “Ali.” And he did give us a string of action/sci-fi adventure films that have helped produce a string of sequels. Well sadly it can get worse for the guy, and the proof is this caper/con-artist/romance/thriller, whatever you want to call it trap, I mean film, that is “Focus.”
A film that test both the audience’s patience as well as its tolerance to see just how far it’s going to aggravate us. Basically Will Smith is a con/identity thief/thief/hacker whatever it is he does but let’s just say criminal who just steals and steals and bores and bores and manages to get a sexy blonde to help bore us some more. Because what’s a caper without a sexy blonde right? SIGH
The fact that we, the audience is supposed to find some kind sympathy or even like this guy who, preys on average people, is almost as insulting as thinking this was a good idea. It’s one thing to try and find a film with style, especially a caper film but where Guy Richie and Steven Soderberg succeeded with “Ocean’s Eleven” and “Snatch” here directors, and yes I used plural because one person isn’t enough, Glenn Ficarra and John Requa just figure make every cut flash, every shot a weird angle, and every bit of lighting blue and purple well that’s just gonna be so cool that we’ll all love it right? Oh stop insulting our intelligence.
Now I guess a possible bright spot, if any, is there is Australian beauty Margot Robbie, who manages to bring all the sultry sex appeal she presented in her breakout role in “Wolf of Wall Street” along here as well. But where as “Wolf” there was something for her to do here I guess the direction is “Stand still, look hot, look pretty.” It gets old fast.
And the ending, which I won’t spoil, but I’m tempted to do in order to keep people from wasting their time here too, but it’s a yawner. A contrived, clichéd, just get over with it as you could expect from this horrid film.
But, let’s not cry a river for Mr. Smith why he’s supposed to have “Bad Boys 3” and “Men in Black 4” coming in the next two years. And if he keeps making crap like this that might be all he makes, too bad.
1 out of 4 stars
Written by: Jason Greathouse
Too, too, too often we use the term new classic and even more often we use the term American classic as well but now there is a film that has truly earned this title. The film is “American Sniper,” Clint Eastwood’s harrowing and complex character study of Navy S.E.A.L. sniper Chris Kyle. There’s no politics in this film, there’s no posturing, there is no pretentious sentiment, this film is Eastwood displaying a man, and people, he gives us a portrayal of what they are up against, what the stakes are on both a personal and survival level.
Right away the film begins with Kyle and his unit in the middle of Baghdad with Kyle overlooking the area when someone out of nowhere begins walking toward them with an “object.” Is it a bomb, is it flowers, we don’t know yet, but he puts us in the middle of the heat of combat with him where he has to make a decision that nobody could easily make. It’s tense, heart wrenching, but we know he has to do it. Eastwood wants us to understand that this is the sacrifice he has to make, the decisions and he explores the impact on everyone and everything around Kyle. Working with long time, cracker-jack editor Joel Cox Eastwood inter-cuts raw emotion between unflinching and un-watchable bursts of violence. But it’s never glamorous, it’s never cool, it’s never stylish. It’s there because we need to know the odds, what’s at stake and what the outcome could be. Just witness a scene where Kyle receives news from his wife about his upcoming child and then just as soon bang, there someone dies while his wife is still on the phone. It’s takes the wind out of the theater it helps us to understand that not one of these people are about violence given the choice they would rather not but if this is what we must do to survive then this is what must be done. We see it all unfold just as quick as it hits us.
But more than anything we see in the star Bradley Cooper putting life and humanity into Kyle. It’s a performance unlike anything you’ll ever see anywhere, he fills Kyle’s shoes in a way to you forget when and where Cooper ends and Kyle begins and vice versa. From humble beginnings to the endurance he undergoes to become an elite sniper in the Navy S.E.A.L.s. Cooper’s physical transformation is incredible, putting on over 40 pounds of muscle to transform himself to match Kyle’s intimidating presence, all the pretty-boy baggage from films like “The Hangover” are gone. Eastwood and Cooper take us on a journey as we see the effects of his duty as a solider has on both himself and his family. The balance he tries to strike between his children, his wife and his duty to God and country is almost impossible. But under Eastwood’s direction we’re able to go along with Kyle, witness his transformation, experience his journey, understand his pain so much to a point to where we can almost see into his soul. It’s a performance unlike anything that has ever been witnessed, it’s incredible to watch that if there is any justice, we’ll hear Cooper’s name after the phrase “and the Oscar for best actor goes to” at the Academy Awards.
But to a more important issue, the politics of the film is there a statement being made. Being as a conservative I can honestly say that there is none. Eastwood leaves all of that at the door it’s a tribute to the men and women and the sacrifice they do for you, me, them, for us all. It’s a moving experience that will make audiences try to find a reason not to have a better more profound appreciation for these men and women. We see them go through their duty, we experience them breath, sleep and live in a world where none of us would dare to go. They don’t do it out of politics they do it for each other and for us.
Already this film has become the highest grossing film of Clint Eastwood’s legendary 60’s plus year career and well deserved. There is nothing stylish or over done it’s a tribute both to Chris Kyle and our service men and women and what they do everyday and how they balance the duty to their country and each other and their family with duty, honor and courage. If there is even more justice this film will not only be the year’s best picture but one of the best films at the Library of Congress. It’s an incredible experience that must be witnessed.
Written by: Jason Greathouse
5 out of 4 stars