Tuesday, September 30, 2014

A Walk Among the Tombstones Review

A Walk Among the Tombstones Review
It is hard for me to get excited for Liam Neeson films anymore. It seems ever since his "Taken" days, Neeson has played the same character in every movie. It almost seems like he wears the same outfits in every movie he is in these days. When every character Neeson appears as is just a Bryan Mills knock-off its hard to forget your biases, its hard to open your mind, its hard to mend wounds if they keep opening again and again and again. I did not have a ton of desire to see "A Walk Among the Tombstones," especially after the atrocity that was "Non-Stop" earlier this year. I went in expecting the worse possible thing and I wondered why I would even waste my time.
 
As the film opens, I thought Neeson was back in Mills mode. His character, Matthew Scudder, sits down at a bar and has several drinks as it gets stuck-up by thieves. Scudder, being a police officer, has a shootout with the thieves. It was an event that left an innocent civilian dead, which leads Scudder to leave the force. My bad feeling began to settle in as I watched this scene unfold. Sure, its a well-staged scene, but it feels just as limp and lifeless as all the other Neeson shootouts I have seen within the last three years. I was ready to write this one off, until the title sequence began. As the opening titles begin, we slowly watch as a woman with duct-tape over her mouth is raped by two men in slow-motion. It is a emotionally deprived scene, and once I saw it, I knew this was not going to be the typical Neeson movie. This was going to be a blunt instrument, something with a very sharp edge. When it was going to cut, it was probably going to cut deep.
 
"A Walk Among The Tombstones" maybe a familiar thriller, as there have already been plenty of thrillers involving rapists and ransom money. It doesn't really matter, based upon a novel by Lawrence Block, "A Walk Among The Tombstones" is a smart thriller. It treats its audience with care and with intelligence throughout. It also shines from a abnormal Neeson performance, whose Scudder isn't exactly a master of every skill, but he is smart and he's dangerous, which makes him intoxicating to watch. I also liked that the villains of the movie are smart, and gave a feeling that at any moment, anything could happen. Honestly, anything does happen. Just as you think the movie is going to end in the clichéd cemetery in a shoot-out in the rain. The movie keeps going, keeps selling believable drama, still tries to thrill you. The best thing a thriller could do for its audience is actually thrill. Me personally? I was very much thrilled.
 
After the opening sequence is done, we learn that Scudder has now become an unlicensed private eye. He is contacted by Peter Kristo (Boyd Holbrook) whose brother Kenny (Dan Stevens) has a desperate problem. It is a problem that he can't take to the police and it involves the slow-motion raping we witnessed. Kenny's wife was taken at ransom, and even though Kenny paid on time, the kidnappers killed Kenny's wife in the most horrific of ways. Kenny enlists the help of Scudder to track down the kidnappers. So yeah, its a story we have heard before. But the smart screen writing and the smart characters make up for the familiar territory.
 
The film also benefits from a runway of amazing performances. Watching Neeson play his type-cast character over the years, I almost forgot how effective he can be with a sharp script. Sure, there are moments of his usual character come out, but overall its worth it. The work by Holbrook and Stevens is also quite effective, even though both don't have a ton of screen-time. In movies like these though, it boils down to how rich the villains are. I have to give a ton of credit to both David Harbour and Adam David Thompson for bringing to life two believably creepy adversaries.
 
The style director Scott Frank lays down is addicting enough to sit through and I think genre fans of thrillers and film noir will be overly-satisfied by this splendid, little throw-back. I hope Neeson ventures into territory like this soon, as the film could lead to a possible sequel. Overall, I enjoyed this one and if you are as jaded by Neeson recent run as I am, I say you have nothing to worry about.
 
FINAL GRADE: B



TV REVIEW: "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (Episode 2, Season 2)

TV REVIEW
 
AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D.
 
EPISODE 2, SEASON 2- "HEAVY IS THE HEAD"
I have noticed that with most television shows, each season runs on a similar template. We get to know a core group of characters, there is a specific dilemma troubling them, they research that dilemma and by season's end, the dilemma is resolved. I think what made the first season of "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. a bit tough as a sit-through was that the set-up of the show was very generic. There can only be so many episodes of the team going after a big bad or searching for a McGuffin before it gets stale. Especially since there are already several shows on TV that do that exact thing. While season two has completely changed the direction of the show, it is at least trying new things, seeing what works and what doesn't. You can't argue over a show that is willing to experiment.

This week's episode of "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." picks up exactly where the other episode left off. We have Agent May (Ming Na-Wen) in pursuit of Carl Creel (Brian Patrick Wade) after he took the first 084 from Lance Hunter (Nick Blood). While Agent May wants to help Hunter, he thinks following Creel is more important, which leaves Hunter in the hands of the United States military. Meanwhile, whatever this 084 is, it can't even protect the Absorbing Man, and Creel realizes that it is slowly killing him. Not only that, but Creel and his stolen 084 has captured the attention of Raina (Ruth Negga), yep Raina who worked for John Garrett (Bill Paxton) in season one, the infamous woman in the flowered dress. She seems disinterested in HYDRA now, and is once again working for a shadowy figure and even assists Director Coulson (Clark Gregg) in finding Creel.

What makes this episode of "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." instantly lovable is that there seems to be a lot going on. Sometimes, too much story can kill a show or a movie in some cases. Other times, especially for TV, it is needed for the show to thrive. An "undead" S.H.I.E.L.D. agent being told to rebuild a debunked, corrupted organization would be enough for a satisfying story. But we are also getting the toll being director has on Coulson and Skye (Chole Bennett), we see Lance Hunter contemplating giving up S.H.I.E.L.D. to the military, especially after his friend Hartley (Lucy Lawless) died last week. We see that not only HYDRA has eyes for this mysterious 084, but so does Raina and her new employer. I also love that with this season, nobody is quite who they seem and that adds more to the drama. It seems ABC is willing to juggle several interesting and interweaving storylines. It seems ABC is a good plan on how to play out these storylines and if they hit every note, boy, this is going to be a great season.

Oh, and we also got a glimpse of the shadowy figure Raina is working for, it is the one and only Kyle MacLachlan. I have known for a couple weeks now that MacLachlan is playing the mysterious "doctor" who happens to be Skye's father. MacLachlan is not in much of the episode, but what we do see of him is intriguing. One thing is for sure, this is not the nice guy MacLachlan played in David Lynch's "Blue Velvet." There is a stern coldness to his portrayal tonight, and I am already maddeningly excited to see more of him, and I am already rabid to discover he is playing somebody well-known to the Marvel canon.

One thing I can also say I liked was that we don't know if Carl Creel is dead or not by the end of the episode. One thing I didn't mention last week that I flat out could not stand was the death of Isabele Hartley. Marvel is rich with characters, and it seems this show has barely taken advantage of it. I couldn't stand that they killed off Victoria Hand last season, a potentially interesting character, or Blackout or any other Easter Egg-type characters they killed off. I hope this season continues to dabble and play with the characters of Marvel and I hope they are willing to create significant storylines with them. I don't want them to spout out a couple lines and then die. These are cool characters and they should be used.

Still, so far, this season is off and running. It seems that we are in for a very different type of season compared to season one. Honestly, that is not a bad thing, not by a mile. I will see you back here next week for more. After that look at next week's episode, I can already feel my brain neurons firing over what will happen.


Monday, September 29, 2014

The Essentials- "Chinatown"

The Essentials-#76
 
Chinatown
 
It is a shame that Jack Nicholson is done acting. Sure, many know him from his "Crazy Jack" persona, but he was much more than that. Nicholson was a legend, a god among actors. I believe "Chinatown" is one of his biggest highlights, something that proved how special he was as a performer. Not only that, the movie itself is impeccably engaging, richly imagined and lovingly addicting. It is the grandest example of a neo-noir and it wears that as a badge of honor.
 
Nicholson plays J.J. Gittes, a private eye who investigates pretty much anything. He is asked to shadow Hollis Mulwray for possible infidelity. It turns out to be true, and Gittes solves the case and goes on about it business. The person who hired Gittes to shadow Mulwray claimed to be his wife Evelyn. But a few days later, the real Evelyn Mulwray (Faye Dunway) appears and gives Gittes a lawsuit. This just leads Gittes down a road of events dealing in political corruption, murder, corruption and one of the craziest endings to film ever. Oh, and also along the way, Nicholson's character gets his nose cut open, and wears an obscene bandage nearly the entire movie.
 
The film's twists and turns are well handled and fit the context very well. Never does "Chinatown" feel like several different movies. The twists are not just production notes cobbled together. It feels real, it feels vital to the story. I think fans of film noir will be flabbergasted by the choices made in this script and be engaged the entire running time.
 
Like I said before, this is not a typical Jack Nicholson performance. It is well reserved, well-utilized, and well timed. Sure, there are a couple of times when we see the crazy come out, but those moments are far and in between. There are countless reasons why Nicholson was so well-respected in Hollywood even though he was a crazy guy onscreen, the guy had raw talent. This shows a inspiring portrait of Nicholson at his best. It is complimented by a wonderful cast that includes Faye Dunway, John Huston, Perry Lopez, Diane Ladd, John Hillerman, and Roman Polanski. It is a great supporting cast and each of their characters is instantly iconic.
 
I am being secretive again this week. Because "Chinatown" is a movie that is going to work better for you if you know less. There is a gut-wrenching mystery hidden within the frames of this classic film, and I think you'll be flattened by how it unravels. Guided by a great Nicholson performance, "Chinatown" has everything we love from the film noir genre. 



Sunday, September 28, 2014

Overlooked Film of the Week- "Quantum of Solace"

Overlooked Film of the Week- #76
 
Quantum of Solace
So far, in the career of Daniel Craig as James Bond, it seems everybody always shits on "Quantum of Solace."
 
I never quite understood all the hate. Sure, it feels like another half of "Casino Royale," but I never found that to be something bad. I liked that, for the first time in this series, that Daniel Craig's run at the character felt like something coherent. I have the entire James Bond movie collection, and while I love watching every adventure, the series is disjointed as a whole. There is absolutely no effort put towards making anything stick together. The James Bond movies have always felt like one long television series. When Daniel Craig got the part, it started to feel like a story was starting to take shape and I liked that a lot.
 
"Quantum of Solace" begins minutes after the conclusion of "Casino Royale." James Bond has Mr. White (Jesper Christensen) locked in his trunk, waiting to be interrogated by M (Judi Dench). Bond is trying to understand just what Mr. White's organization is, and what it wants to do. He still feels determined to understand what happened to Vesper Lynd, his lover from "Casino Royale" played by Eva Green. The secrets to unlock Mr. White's shadowy organization proves less than easy, and soon enough Bond is on an adventure. This thrill-ride brings Bond to Bolivia where environmentalist Dominic Greene (Mathieu Amalric) is making a deal with a Bolivian general for a piece of desert, the general gets the government. There is something much more sinister planned for the desert and it is up to Bond to figure it out. He receives the help of Camille (Olga Kurylenko), who watched the Bolivian general kill her parents as a child, and now is seething with revenge.
 
I have heard many complaints that "Quantum of Solace" has no plot, I can always feel my eyes roll when people say that. It may not be the flashy kind of story-telling we are accustomed to when we watch Bond movies, but "Quantum of Solace" has a plot. I think what throws people off is that Quantum was never a stand-alone story like all the other Bond movies. "Quantum of Solace" is a continuation of the events from "Casino Royale." Bond is finishing the mystery of that story and it boils into "Quantum of Solace." "Quantum of Solace" feels like "The Two Towers" of the Bond franchise and I never got why that was so terrible. Plus, I never understood how Quantum wasn't cool as an idea. If we don't see more of Quantum in the future, I fear it might be the biggest missed opportunity for this franchise. I think the organization would be the perfect way to update SMERSH or SPECTRE. Plus, the organization presents something terrible, that there might be a point to the world financial problems, wars, terrorism and the other world issues. It presents the idea that if one group controls all of the goods and services in the world, then they indeed rule the world. I find that more interesting than a mad scientist creating a death ray that blows up the White House. I hope we see more of this organization in the future.
 
Daniel Craig gives a great Bond performance. I also love the smirky, sleazy work by Mathieu Amalric. He is a wonderfully creepy presence in the movie, and he seems to love the idea of playing a murky villain. I like that he is a Bond villain with no particular gimmick, that it wouldn't seem that he would be criminal mastermind but he is. Kurylenko may not be playing the usual Bond girl, but she sure does look good. I like that she has some badass-ness up her sleeve and that she is not some nameless girl that Bond sleeps with. She is given some depth, some real thematic meat and I loved that.
 
So while many find "Quantum" to be the worst of Craig's Bond films so far, here is how I beg to differ.
 


Saturday, September 27, 2014

Bill and Ted 3 Happening?

It has been a great while since I saw both "Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure" or "Bill and Ted's Bogus Adventure." But I do remember enjoying what I saw. Sure, they are both very strange and very silly movies, but I always found some sincerity in that. Plus, it has always been the best performance by Keanu Reeves to date. It was this series where Reeves was not a blank slate, a face full of boredom. I don't know what he saw in that script to act so unlike himself, but I dug it. It seems that perhaps I will be able to pick those movies up on Blu-ray soon, as it seems another Bill and Ted movie is in the works.

Alex Winter, co-star of the franchise, had something to say about it yesterday.

“[Bill & Ted] will be 40-something and it’s all about Bill and Ted grown up, or not grown up,” Winter tells us. “It’s really sweet and really f—-ing funny.
“But it’s a Bill & Ted movie, that’s what it is. It’s for the fans of Bill & Ted. It fits very neatly in the [series]. It’s not going to feel like a reboot. The conceit is really funny: What if you’re middle-aged, haven’t really grown up and you’re supposed to have saved the world and maybe, just maybe, you kinda haven’t?”
“There’s many versions of ourselves in this movie,” he continues. “[It’s] answering the question: ‘What happened to these guys?’ They’re supposed to have done all this stuff, they weren’t the brightest bulbs on the tree, what happened 20 years later? To answer that question in a comedic way felt rich with possibility.” 

That sounds great, it sounds like progress and evolution, not a treading of water.

It will be great to see Winter and especially Reeves back in these roles, I wonder if Reeves still has the power to be off-the-wall silly still. Definitely more on this story as it progresses.

SOURCE:
http://www.aintitcool.com/node/68934

Friday, September 26, 2014

TAK3N International Poster

I just don't get it.

If I were Bryan Mills, the ex-CIA agent played by Liam Neeson, I'd probably re-evaluate my status as a father. Whose family gets abducted this many times?

I thought the first "Taken" movie was fun. It wasn't awesome, it wasn't great, but it was fun. There is a certain itch that comes around every once in awhile as an action genre geek, and "Taken" certainly scratched that itch. I didn't feel we needed a "Taken 2" and I thought the finished product was completely forgettable. Which is how I arrive at "Taken 3," or "TAK3N" as it is being stylized, what is the point of this? Do we really need a third entry in this franchise, I mean do we really? Isn't Liam Neeson just playing a variation of Bryan Mills at this point? Whether he's on a plane, or solving a whodunit mystery or fighting wolves, has he not just turned Bryan Mills into a caricature? Honestly, who was abducted this time. I figured after "Taken 2," he would have put the most state-of-the-art surveillance on his entire family around the globe for 24-hours straight? Will Bryan Mills get abducted and it is up to Maggie Grace and Famke Jenssen to save him?

I have a bad feeling about this third entry, especially since the second entry was not that special. Moving the franchise to Hollywood isn't very promising to me either, as I liked that the first two films were abroad. Plus, after being burned in the past way too often, if your sequel has a stylized number in the title where a letter should be, something is very wrong.

But apparently Forest Whitaker is onboard for this one, so maybe it all won't be bad, we shall see. We will find out in January.

SOURCE:
http://www.joblo.com/movie-news/bryan-mills-goes-to-hollywood-in-the-international-poster-for-tak3n-142

Frank Review

Frank Review
"Frank" opens with Jon (Domhall Gleeson) standing on a beach in England, desperately trying to find inspiration for song-writing. He has an unclassified desk-job, but he badly wants to be a musician. Watching Jon try to write lyrics is humble and fascinating. Within the first few minutes, I knew there was going to be something special about "Frank." Luckily, the movie was just getting warmed up.
 
Jon takes a seat on a bench outside of his office as he watches two policemen try and stop a man from drowning himself in the ocean. The man in the ocean happens to be the keyboardist for an eccentric band called "Soronprfbs," which is lead by the unusually mysterious Frank. Frank is a man that wears a paiper-mache helmet almost the entire movie. The character is brought to magnificent life by Michael Fassbender (more on Fassbender in just a minute here). After Jon wistfully expresses he plays keyboards, he is invited to the bands gig in the place of their old keyboardist. Before long, Jon becomes apart of the band. Jon accompanies the band to a secluded cottage, deep in the English countryside where the band will record their first album.
 
This is where the movie gets wickedly unique and just as wickedly funny. Frank pushes his band members to be as good as they can be. He finds sounds and samples from the most odd of places and he always seems to be inspired by the most subtle of places. Jon secretly records the group and posts his videos on Youtube, desperate for some big exposure from this whole experiment. Although the band believes that they should love what they do, and do to the best of their ability before they begin to become popular. That sets a riff between Jon and the rest of the group and each party seems to be clamoring for the acceptance of Frank.
 
Its the performances that really drive this movie. First, let's get into the work by Michael Fassbender, because he is a tour-de-force in this movie. Even though we barely see his face in the movie, he creates a whole character just from his body language and his voice. He uses a unique accent that only aggrandizes everything he does in the movie.  This also happens to be the best role for Fassbender yet. He has never played somebody this damaged, this free-spirited, this playful. It seems director Lenny Abrahamson allowed Fassbender to let loose and tear it up in this movie. It shows, and it is good, very good.
 
Gleeson does strong work as Jon, he has the most sincere material in the whole movie and he also anchors the entire movie. It is a big part and Gleeson runs with it, relishes it, nurtures it to perfection. Maggie Gyllenhaal appears as Clara, one of the core band members and I can only describe her character as a hipster version of Martha Stewart. Gyllenhaal is quite funny in this movie, and much like Fassbender she seems to be allowed to do whatever on-screen and it works. I feel Scoot McNairy is quite underrated in Hollywood and he has a substantial role as the band's manager. Once again, McNairy displays a fantastic performances.
 
There are several awesome pieces of music in the movie and while it is all very weird, I'd totally buy a Soronprfbs record. I am going to immediately look for this film's soundtrack and I can't wait to blast it out of my car. In movies about bands, it is all about the music and this movie has some groovy sounds. Mix that with titular performances and sincere story about how fame can cripple us, "Frank" is treat.
 
FINAL GRADE: B+



Thursday, September 25, 2014

Jupiter Ascending international trailer





This. Movie. Looks. Ridiculous. In the best possible way, I assure you.



That seems to be The Wachowski brothers' M.O. though. They create a novels-worth of cool images, clash them with big ideas and come out with a thought-provoking movie with big action. Not everybody in Hollywood can make a movie that is both wonderous and imaginative, which is why I wish The Wachowski brothers worked more often. Even though I hate "Speed Racer," it shows in their lesser material how much fun a movie can be.



"Jupiter Ascending" has been a movie I have had on my radar for what feels like forever. It was a movie that was supposed to be released over the summer, but then got pushed back to February 2015. There are many rumors to why the movie got pushed up. No matter, this is a movie I cannot wait to see and this new international trailer confirms it. It seems The Wachowski Brothers really went big with it and I hope this leads to another smash hit like "The Matrix."



The Second trailer for "Big Hero 6"

I have been front and center for all of the marketing of "Big Hero 6." Simply because it is the first animated Marvel film from Disney. I have liked all the images so far and I dug the first trailer.

This new trailer reveals some new secrets about the plot, mainly where the big, white, Stay-Puffed, robot comes from. We get a small glimpse of the group meets up and how they assemble into a team. There is still very little known about the bad guy and his motivation, which I definitely like. There are big colors, big energy and big action in the trailer and it all looks enticing.

The only thing that bothers me is that the trailer goes out of its way to show us it was made by the same team that made "Frozen." A movie I can no longer support due to how quickly and systematically it got old and clichéd. The inspirational song in the trailer is a little off-putting too. Disney has the access to one of the richest comic book worlds ever written, and I don't want the studio to stuff their old, fabeled traditional themes into a Marvel movie. Many animation studios have proven that you can just make a fun movie, and audiences, child and adult alike will respond. Not every movie has to have a huge life-lesson, not every movie has to be a morality fable, not every movie has to be about finding yourself. Sometimes all animation needs to be is fun, but Disney rarely understands that.

I am still hopeful though, and I can only wait to see if that hope gets fulfilled. Look for "Big Hero 6" this November.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

WHO PLAYED IT BEST? SPOCK

WHO PLAYED IT BEST? SPOCK
That picture honestly just kills me.
 
When I first started this column, one of the first characters I looked at was Captain James T. Kirk. I have to be honest that I was surprised by the results. That is part of the reason why I started this column. I wanted to see upsets, I wanted to see breaks in the status quo. Plus, I just love when you guys comment on my blog, it makes the experience a whole lot richer. I also just like hearing your thoughts and see how they differ from mine. I have already begun to cypher through the results of our "Top 250" list already, and I am sure readers are going to be excitedly shocked by what made the list and what didn't. But that is all part of the fun for me.
 
The Nimoy/Quinto match-up is a lot different compared to the Shatner/Pine match-up. One reason is that Spock and Kirk are hardly comparable as characters, one is from a completely different planet for crying out-loud. Then there is Leonard Nimoy and Zachary Quinto, these actors got to play the same character from two conflicting time continuums, that is nuts. It is completely unlike anything I had ever seen before. So who played the part best?
 
My Two Cents
I think this week is a no-brainer, and that I would personally give the edge to Nimoy. Nimoy created the blue-print for the character of Spock. As good as Quinto is in the new "Star Trek" franchise, he didn't breathe new life into the character, he didn't just borrow a couple quick tidbits from Nimoy's playbook, he imitated the playbook. I don't want that to sound like a smack at Quinto, but a very particular actor has to play Spock. I am sure the casting for the new franchise was grueling, absolutely grueling. Each time I watch the new franchise, I can't help but see the Nimoy similarities in Quinto's performance, therefore I give the edge to Nimoy.
 
Disagree? Let me know in the comments section below or email me. (bloggershawn@gmail.com). You have until next Wednesday to deliver your votes.
 
LAST WEEK: WHO PLAYED IT BEST? JEAN VALJEAN
Last week, I delved into the land of the musical. Two great actors have taken on one of my personal favorite characters in all of musicals. Here were the results for best Jean Valjean.
 
Looks like there is a whole lot more to Mr. Jackman than just metal claws.



Tuesday, September 23, 2014

"The Interview" Red-Band Trailer

Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg were the mad geniuses behind "Superbad." I recently re-watched "Superbad" and found that it still holds up after almost ten years. It was a film that did a good job of relating to a certain time and a certain attitude we all felt and making something raunchy yet sincere with it.

I am not sure that is what they are aiming for with "The Interview," but that maybe the point.

I have liked what I have seen from "The Interview" marketing so far, and this new red-band trailer for the movie is awesome. Rogen and Franco will be playing two journalists recruited by the CIA to assassinate Kim Jung-un during a faux-interview. This premise has been so lucrative that North Korea has threatened war with us if we should release the movie. My only question is, why didn't North Korea get all steamed after "Team America: World Police?"

It is a good-looking, funny trailer. I hope we have another comedic winner from this duo.

TV REVIEW: "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.- Episode 1-Season 2)

TV REVIEW
 
AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D.
 
EPSIODE 1- SEASON 2-"SHADOWS"
Welcome to my first ever television review. I have been flirting with this idea for awhile now. Starting tonight, I am going to slowly but surely begin adding TV commentary on this blog. In approaching this task, I thought to myself, "this might be harder than I thought." Television is a much different animal compared to film, which means it needs to take a different approach to master it. This first recap and review maybe rocky, but I hope you enjoy what I have to say.
 
This being a movie blog, I thought there was no better place to begin than with "Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." a series that actually takes place, and feels the effects, of a current movie franchise. Not only that, but I am starting in a place that I love, and I feel it is always important to start at a place you love. I watched all 22 episodes of "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D's." first season. Much like the general consensus, I felt the first half of the season was mediocre, but then after the affects of "Captain America: The Winter Soldier," the show got better, much better. It made some big choices and it made some big gambles. I love what they did, and I predicted that by season two, "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." would have found its footing.
 
Episode one of season two is called "Shadows," and it is an action-packed thrill ride. There is a lot more action in this one episode that almost half of the first season. I was hoping for that though, we already know the characters, we remember a lot of the big players from first season, so we could jump right into the action. I also liked that this first episode used a lot more visual effects, which further elevated the experience. One of the major complaints I remember about the first season was how cheap it looked. That never bothered me, of course Marvel was not going to give their first TV show the same budget as one of their blockbusters. Especially when the fate of their first show was generally unknown, and there were several times during the first season's run where the show could have been cancelled. I have to say, with this first episode of season two, the effects seem more realized and some of the fun tech we have seen throughout the Marvel franchise was seen. That will make any Easter Egg archeologist happy.
 
The episode begins in 1945, and we witness Hydra agents stealing tons of unknown items from a defeated military base. Whose base it is was never revealed, however, whatever it was they were experimenting on (and whatever Hydra is obtaining) got the military personnel killed. Just as Hydra plans to make their getaway, we see Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell) bust onto the scene with none other than the Howling Commandos from "Captain America: The First Avenger." It was so cool to see Carter and especially Dum Dum Dugan in action again and I hope we see more of the Howling Commandos in the upcoming "Agent Carter" show. Carter arrests the Hydra agents and re-captures the items, marking them as 084's.
 
We then move to present day, and we see the new S.H.I.E.L.D. that director Coulson (Clark Gregg) is trying to create. It is a rag-tag organization made up of older S.H.I.E.L.D. agents like Agent Koenig (Patton Oswald) and mercenaries like Lance Hunter (Nick Blood) and Isabelle Hartley (Lucy Lawless). Nobody, new or old, sees much of Coulson, who is busy trying to gain resources, recruit new agents, build an entire uncorrupted organization from scratch. Add in the dangerous Hydra group still at large and you have more stress than any human could manage. We re-connect with Skye (Chole Bennett), Tripett (B.J. Britt), Melinda May (Ming-Ne Wen) and even Grant Ward (Brett Dalton). That's right, Ward has been imprisoned under the watchful eye of Coulson, and Coulson will be using Skye to get information from him. There is a juicy scene between Ward and Skye, the only scene Ward has in the whole episode. Skye is still hurt and she is not willing to trust Ward, but he does give Coulson valuable information and he wants to rekindle with Skye. She is not having any of it. I remember people complaining about Ward not dying at the end of the first season. But if they keep him as a Hannibal Lecture-type character, I think I could dig it.
 
Another character still reeling from the events of the first season is Leo Fitz (Iain De Caestecker). This was a character I didn't really care for in the first season. I felt him and his gal-pal Simmons (Elizabeth Henstridge) were just two walking cliché's. Do we need to British, wisecracks who know tech well on the team? Really? I warmed up to Fitz by the end of the first season. When we meet him in season two, he is damaged from his injuries. He is not quite as gifted as he once was, but he's getting there. By the end of the episode, when we see just how "damaged" he really is, I couldn't help but feel for him. I think Fitz could be an instantly absorbing and rich character this season and I am hoping for the best.
 
My biggest complaint about the first season was how disconnected it felt to the rest of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Sure, they'd do some name-dropping one episode, and make a casual joke another episode, but that got mind-numbing after awhile. It seemed the cinematic universe was there for window-dressing and nothing more. In this first episode of season two, we spend time with characters like Carl Creel and Glenn Talbot, and all my Marvel nerds know those guys and where they come from. I like that this is beginning to feel apart of a bigger universe and I think the show will only benefit from that. This first episode also laid down some more minor groundwork, which will begin to answer the questions we had at the end of the first season. I liked it, and I can't wait to learn more.
 
This was a solid start, I can't wait to learn more about Lance Hunter and how Nick Blood portrays him. I can't wait to see more of the 084's and how they relate to season one. I can't wait to spend time with the characters I fell in love with first season. More so than last time, I am wildly excited to see what happens next week.
 
Begin to expect a new recap and review for "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." every Tuesday night. There is another show beginning in October, which is connected to an unrelated movie franchise. That show will also get its weekly recaps and reviews as well. I hope you like what I have done, and I ask to please be patient. I am a new kid on the block of TV criticism and it will take some getting used to. I hope you enjoyed what I have so far.


Sunday, September 21, 2014

The Essentials- "Taxi Driver" (1976)

The Essentials- #75
 
Taxi Driver
 
There is no question that Martin Scorsese is a legendary filmmaker. What many people don't realize is how universal his palette as an artist can be. Sure, we know that Scorsese is the master of gangster films, he even made a movie that I feel outdoes "The Godfather." While movies like "Mean Streets," "Goodfellas," and "The Departed" maybe his bread and butter, there is no denying that films like "The Last Temptation of Christ," or "Raging Bull" or "The King of Comedy," or "Shutter Island" or "The Age of Innocence" that really makes his career special. I would put "Taxi Driver" on the latter list, and not the former.
 
It is hard to categorize "Taxi Driver." It has revenge elements to it, it has drama elements to it, it has comedy elements to it, and on the other hand, it gets extremely violent near the end. The film plays like a day in the life of a guy who just made it to New York City, and has taken a job as a taxi driver. This guy is Travis Bickle, a discharged Marine who is lonely and depressed in New York City. He spends his nights driving people around New York City, coping with his depression and insomnia. He tries to date a girl named Betsy (Cybill Shepherd) which goes disastrously wrong. Then he meets a child prostitute Iris (a young Jodi Foster) and soon befriends her. He tries to dissuade her from being a prostitute, which she agrees too. All of these subplots eventually come ahead in one of the most bizarrely addictive movies ever made.
 
What makes "Taxi Driver" great to watch is the work by Robert De Niro. His portrayal of Bickle is so strange, yet it is hard not to identify with the man. He seems like a guy who was greatly affected by being discharged in the marines. He also seems deeply affected by the crime in the city, and it seems to haunt him dearly. We see all of these emotions clearly in De Niro sporadic performance. I also like Foster quite a bit in the movie. This was one of her very first roles and she made it seem like she had been doing it for many, many years.
 
I don't want to get too much further into the movie. "Taxi Driver" is a movie you are supposed to exerpience, a movie you are supposed to feel. This is one of Scorsese's classic films and it is clear to see why.



Overlooked Film of the Week- "American Psycho" (2000)

Overlooked Film of the Week- #75
 
American Psycho
Someday, I'd love to discuss the thought process with Christopher Nolan on why he decided to hire Christian Bale for Batman. I know he wasn't the only actor in the running, and I know Bale had been acting prior to Batman since he was a kid. Yet, Bale has had such a strange career before he put on the nipple-less Batsuit that I wonder what Nolan saw in him. I'd say Bale was more suited for The Joker over Batman. Nonetheless, Bale became Batman five years after he played Patrick Bateman in "American Psycho," a disgusting thriller about a Wall Street yuppie who has some pretty blasphemous hobbies when he's not at work.
 

Christian Bale's Bateman narrates this tale has he leads us through a world of overused wealth and power. We see Bateman at work, but never doing any work. Appearance and look are all that drive him, not family or friends, but appearance and wealth. Bateman is freakishly sociopathic, willing to use and discard relationships as he pleases. On the contrary, he loves and has a deep knowledge of 1980's pop songs, as the movie takes place in the late 1980's. Oh, and he also happens to have an addiction to killing people at night.
 
I would definitely qualify "American Psycho" as a horror film. It is quick and pretty sad when people die. There is nothing stylized about it, there is nothing exciting or thrilling about it. When people die in the film, it is very matter-of-fact, which makes the violence onscreen very effective. This is not the typical slasher movie, where people are not looking as a silent killer sneaks up on them while spooky music plays. Bateman discusses incredibly normal topics before killing, and he does so with enthusiastic glee. The film was directed by Mary Harron. Yep, you read that right, Mary Harron. It shocks a lot of people that "American Psycho" was directed by a woman. Not to sound stereotypical, but it was shocking to see a woman make something so deranged, so disturbing, so crude and make every moment in the film absolutely flinching. Harron takes this material all-the-way, never looking back, never making anything by half-measures.
 
What makes the movie so addictive is the performance by Bale. If Bale was not good in this movie, the movie just plain would not work. There were people like Leonardo DiCaprio and Ewan McGregor considered for this role before Bale, but Bale as Patrick Bateman falls in the same category with Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark, Mickey Rourke as Marv and Javier Bardem as Anton Chigurh as actors who collided with material in the most perfect of ways. I cannot picture any other actor in this role, and I never want to see this movie remade by anybody, ever. Add a supporting cast that includes Reese Witherspoon, Josh Lucas, Justin Theroux, Chloe Sevigny, Willem Dafoe, Jared Leto and Bill Sage, and you've got a thriller worth making.
 
There are not too many slasher movies, that mix humor with horror, but "American Psycho" features both in spades. One thing that throws audiences off is the ending. Some people hate the big reveal at the end, while others truly detest it. I can say that the film's ending is contextually sound, and if you pay close attention throughout the entire film, you can see clues to this ending throughout the film. "American Psycho" might be the perfect cup of mayhem tea as the Halloween season begins to settle in.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Batman: Assault on Arkham Review

Batman: Assault on Arkham Review
 
It is broken record time once again.
 
I am in love with the DC animated movies. I think there are a select few that outdo the live-action superhero movies being made each year. They embrace the comic book realm, yet still articulate well-told stories. They are thematically and contextually sound with the characters they bring to life. I have been saying it for years, if the crews behind these animated movies were to ever make a big budget, live-action DC movie, it would be one of the best movies ever made. If "Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice" is anything like the DC animated movies, or if it is anything like "Batman: Assault on Arkham," then we will be in for a treat.
 
In a lot of ways, "Batman: Assault on Arkham" is my favorite DC animated film. That is saying a lot because I adore almost all of them. This is a movie that revolves around Batman and The Suicide Squad. If you are unfamiliar with the latter, they are a team of super-villains who have been forced to work for the United States government. The government drops these squads into the most dangerous and unthinkable missions. If they succeed, they receive smaller prison sentences, if they do not succeed, they die. If they try to evade the mission, an implant planted in their bodies will go off, killing them as well. Hence, the name Suicide Squad. Many smaller-time villains from the DC pantheon have been recruited for the Suicide Squad. In this movie in particular, we are dealing with Deadshot; a deadly assassin and usual Batman nemesis, Harley Quinn; Joker bubbly female sidekick, King Shark; regular Aquaman enemy, Captain Boomerang; someone who could put Marvel's Bullseye to shame, Killer Frost; a usual enemy of Firestorm, and Black Spider; another lesser-known enemy of Batman.
 
These super-villains are brought together by Amanda Waller (voiced by C.C.H. Pounder), the leader of the government agency who created the Squad. Their mission is to break into Arkham Asylum, the infamous prison in Gotham City to steal a hard-drive that The Riddler stole from the government. This hard-drive carries very important information about the whereabouts and possible recruitment of Suicide Squad agents. The team has to complete this mission under extreme cover, not alerting the police or Batman. Since Arkham Asylum is the most heavily guarded prison in the world, and Quinn having anxiety of seeing The Joker again, this is a little bit more than a walk in the park, and I haven't even begun to discuss the twists, turns and double-crosses the film features.
 
I like this movie more than the other DC animated movies because, since we are dealing with a team of super-villains, things are rough around the edges. The action is rougher, grittier and messier than in usual in these movies. The language and style is completely different, fitting into the context of the characters. There are a couple of nice winks and nods through out the film that I really dug. Consider a scene where Harley Quinn stands outside a toy shop, looking into the store from the window. She has both hands on the window and her face is parallel with a big doll-face on the window. Can anybody remember that movie? I also liked the scene where Quinn was riffling through Joker's old junk and comes across the clown mask Joker wore in "The Dark Knight." There are many characters in the Batman mythology who show up in this movie, so many that will make even the smallest Batman fan happy. Despite a huge presence by the Suicide Squad, this is a Batman story at its heart, and a darn good one at that. But it also makes good use of the Squad, and each member of the team has something to do, a certain moment that makes their character stand-out.
 
The voicework in the film is great all around. Kevin Conroy, who has been the voice of Batman for as long as I can remember, does legendary work once again. Neal McDonough does stand-out work as Deadshot. When I heard the voice of The Joker, I could have sworn it was Mark Hamill. So color me surprised when I read that it was Troy Baker. Baker has an exceptional voice style and it certainly tricked me. Matthew Gray Gubler, Chris Cox, John DiMaggio, Greg Ellis, Gincarlo Esposito and Jennifer Hale all do good work too. I have to personally single out the amazing work done by Hynden Walch, who voices Harley Quinn. It has been awhile since I could it felt an entire character came together through once voice, and Walch made it happen. It is truly stupendous work.
 
Once again, I am championing another DC animated movie. Hopefully the WB will get a hint soon.
 
FINAL GRADE: A



Big Eyes Trailer

Big Eyes Trailer
The early days of Tim Burton were always immensely fascinating. From "Beetlejuice," to "Batman" and from "Ed Wood" to "Edward Scissorhands," Burton created a world of sincere strange-ness. It was a world I loved. Then, as I got older, it seemed Burton was bit by the Hollywood bug. Not only that, but it seemed he had a competition in himself to see how many weird roles he could conjure for his buddy Johnny Depp. Sure, I enjoy weird Johnny over normal Johnny, but it got to the point of being absolutely droll and strenuous to watch.
 
It seems his new trailer for "Big Eyes" seems like a return to form, in both atmosphere and mood. It's a Depp-less movie that stars Christoph Waltz, Amy Adams, Jason Schwartzman and Danny Huston. It tells the true story of Walter Keane, a successful painter from the 1950's and 1960's. A painter who became famous for his wife's paintings, and the Keane's themselves became hugely notorious for it. Waltz will play Walter and Adams will play his wife.
 
From my standpoint, it looks like "Big Eyes" will hopefully be a great way to re-introduce Burton's old style. I can't wait to see what this cast does under Burton's eye.
 
Check out the trailer below:


Friday, September 19, 2014

Tusk Review

Tusk Review
 
I never quite knew what to make of the idea of Kevin Smith venturing into the horror landscape. This is the guy that brought us "Clerks," "Dogma," "Mallrats," "Chasing Amy," "Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back" and to lesser degrees, "Cop Out" and "Zak and Miri Make A Porno." The idea of this overall funny-man suddenly casting over to his dark side seemed odd. His first horror film; "Red State" is a bit of a mess, but an interesting mess. While it was ultimately uneven, there was a gleam of hope for Smith, a hope that could be of use if he ever returned to the horror genre.
 
I wouldn't classify "Tusk" as a horror movie. I think "Red State" is more of a full-fledged horror movie. Its tone, its atmosphere, its style...there is nothing about it where I felt Smith was clowning around. "Tusk" feels more like a "horror-comedy." There is much brighter cinematography in "Tusk," there are fair share of scenes where you are going to bust a gut laughing. The premise of "Tusk" is so ridiculously silly that you won't believe the fact that you can get into your car and pay to see this movie in a theater. Yet, despite its crazy premise, there are moments in the film that you won't be able to figure out if you should laugh or throw-up. It seems with his second attempt, Kevin Smith has found somewhat good footing with "Tusk."
 
Justin Long plays Wallace Bryton who runs a famous podcast called The NotSeeParty (say that ten times fast, and you'll get the joke.) with his best friend Teddy Craft (Haley Joel Osment.). The podcast is dedicated to ridiculing the weird and the strange people that inhabit our world. Long has always done a good job portraying an asshole, and as "Tusk" opens, he really builds his character just right. Bryton goes around the country meeting these people then reporting back to Teddy, Teddy doesn't go on the trips because he is afraid to fly (hence the title of their blog). Bryton travels to Canada to meet The Kill Bill Kid (a parody of The Star Wars Kid), and learns that he has killed himself. Down on his luck, he sits in a bar looking for a plane ticket home when he sees an invitation in a bathroom. A man named Howard Howe (Michael Parks) has decided to tell the stories of his life in vivid detail to whomever comes to his house to rent a room, they just must work around the house since Howe is elderly. Bryton just wants the stories, and is successfully able to talk Howe out of renting him a room. Very soon, Bryton is drugged and it turns out Howe has very ugly plans for him.
 
This is where the movie begins to get really deranged, even when the film is funny, it is still so deranged that I can't believe Smith made the movie. Comedy and horror walks on a tightrope of disturbing, and it is weird how both genres seem cut from the same cloth. If you have read about "Tusk" online, then you already know Howe's plans for Bryton. If you haven't, I'd wait to see the movie, you'll be glad you did. I like that Smith didn't try to make something serious or genuine, "Tusk" is exactly what it is, and what Smith does, he does well. You will definitely see what Howe is transformed Bryton into, and even though it is a tremendously funny sequence, I couldn't help but feel disturbed by what I was seeing. The make-up effects are top-notch, and make what you are seeing incredibly effective.
 
There is also a plot where Teddy, along with Bryton's girlfriend Ally (Genesis Rodriguez) go to Cananda looking for Bryton. This puts them on the path to meet Guy LaPointe, a private detective that has been investigating Howe for years. I don't want to list the actor who plays Guy La Pointe, because it is just too awesome to put into words. Don't look up who Guy LaPointe is, just let the film play for you, because once he reveals himself, it is uncannily glorious. He's an actor I have felt has become overblown and overrated, but when he connects with a piece of material, he is a God. Guy LaPointe is a marvelously weird creation from an actor who specializes in the world. Once I and the rest of audience finally figured out who was playing Guy LaPointe, we couldn't help but laugh until we cried. This is this actor with his A-Game on, without the daunting oversell from Hollywood markets. I love his chemistry with Osment and especially Rodriguez, who gives a performance that is better than it needed to be.
 
If I could describe Kevin Smith's new film with one word it would be "shocking." Yet, if it is true, I hope Smith continues with this slew of horror films. I hope he keeps challenging the balance between funny and scary. "Tusk" is huge fun, and if you like concepts for films that give "fucked up" a brand-new meaning, then "Tusk" is definitely for you.
 
FINAL GRADE: B


Thursday, September 18, 2014

Deadpool Movie Coming!!

For many years, it seemed Deadpool was going to be a movie we would never see happen. There was much buzz about a Deadpool movie after the character finally made an appearance in "X-Men Origins: Wolverine." Sadly, that appearance seemed like a nod to fans instead of anything worth merit. Despite the tedium work on "Wolverine," Ryan Reynolds made a big enough impression with the Merc with a Mouth that Fox pushed for a stand-alone Deadpool movie.

So, of course, it never happened.

"Deadpool" was in production hell since 2009, with seemingly no end in sight. Ryan Reynolds really wanted to do it, but nothing ever got going. Tonight, that has changed, as a "Deadpool" movie is finally set, coming to us soon. When I say soon, I mean really soon. As in February 12, 2016 soon. Sure, it is still a few years away. But a "Deadpool" is more than just some exciting chatter right now, it is something we are going to see soon. That is thanks in large part to Tim Miller, whose leaked footage of a possible "Deadpool" movie came to us weeks ago. That footage has been making a name for itself, and I think there is no doubt that it helped the deciding factor to greenlight this movie. Tim Miller is still attached to direct and Ryan Reynolds is still attached to reprise the role.

I know many people are jaded by the idea of a "Deadpool" movie. That is mainly due to his hazardous usage in the Wolverine movie. Deadpool is a unique character, an incredibly cool character, a character worth watching for. Looking at the test footage Miller put together, he really highlighted what sets Deadpool apart from other comic book characters, and demonstrated an immense understanding of the character. It seems this character is in the right hands, that is sweet music to my ears.

Everything is still static right now, but let's hope that Miller returns to direct and Reynolds comes back. Definitely more on this story as it progresses.

SOURCE:
http://insidemovies.ew.com/2014/09/18/deadpool-movie-ryan-reynolds-x-men-2016/

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Our Own Top 250...Three Days Away

Nearly a month ago, I threw out an ambitious dare to all my readers. I asked everyone who cared to generate a list of their favorite films. These lists would be added to a mega-favorites list that was exclusive on my blog. It was going to be called "Our Own Top 250," giving a nod to the helpful, inspiring IMDb.com. The placement of the movies would depend on how many people listed them on their lists, as well as how high. This could also be list that gets updated every year, much like the IMDb list, as well as other lists on other movie websites.

I have been very excited about all the feedback I have received so far. I wanted to thank you for giving your time to my blog, I never knew what to expect when I sat down to write on this thing. The feedback I have received, both good and bad, has been tremendous. I love the little group I have formed here, I can only hope that it continues to flourish.

To everyone else who has claimed they want to participate with this list, you have three days left. Get your lists in ASAP and I will begin calculating the results. Once all the lists are in, I will begin calculating immediately, it could take a day or two. But I also have to add in my Dad's birthday celebration, work, and a laundry list of other personal requirements, so it could be a little bit. Don't fret though, this will be something we will be proud of.

I gave you month to get lists in, I began on August 20th, September 20th is on Saturday. Think hard, jot a list down, pass it to me. Thanks for your consideration.

Who Played It Best? Jean Valjean

Who Played It Best? Jean Valjean
Taking French class since 5th grade as well as singing in the choir all four years of high school gives you lots of knowledge. Putting those two experiences together led me to "Les Miserables" frequently. Yes, even I love a good musical every once in awhile, and I find "Les Miserables" to be quite the overwhelming experience. It is a powerfully realized tale and when done right, it can be quite emotionally demanding. I know there have been several adaptations of the classic story, but I can say with honesty that the Jackman and Neeson versions of the story have flattened me every time I watch them. I actually want to grab the Blu-ray for Jackman's version of the story, simply because I feel I may just upgrade my Top 10 of 2012 list. Jean Valjean is an absorbing character, he's lead to a life of crime simply for wanting to feed his family, he gets an unsuspecting second chance from a priest, and the rest of his life he is on the run, even though he doing good in the world. Nobody could bring this character to more potent life that both Jackman and Neeson. So who did it better?

My Two Cents:
Its difficult for many to imagine a time before Liam Neeson became an action hero icon, but there was indeed a time. Neeson really got his start playing good-natured, mentor type roles. Look back at "Schindler's List" or "Rob Roy" or "Chronicles of Narnia," or "Kinsey," or "Star Wars: Episode One, The Phantom Menace" or "Love Actually." Those movies are nowhere near the same pool as say..."Taken," "Batman Begins," "Kingdom of Heaven," "The Next Three Days," "Unknown," "Battleship," "The A-Team" or "Non-Stop." There has always been a double-edge to a lot of Neeson's work, which is why he's an actor I admire quite a bit. With that said, "Les Miserables" is a musical and the version Neeson starred in was a regular movie. In the version Hugh Jackman made, Jackman sung. Jackman has theater experience, so when he sings, he really does sound quite good. This is part of the reason why Hugh Jackman gets the edge this week from me personally. "Les Miserables" works as a musical because the lyrics of the songs elevate the story being told, it is just not the same without the songs. As good as Neeson was, I feel Jackman's version was better-written, felt more authentic and Jackman just completely nailed it.

Disagree? Email me (bloggershawn@gmail.com) or simply sound off in the comment section below. You have until next Wednesday to get your votes in.

LAST WEEK: WHO PLAYED IT BEST- THE PUNISHER
Last week, I took a look at everyone's favorite comic book vigilante. Here is how the vote shook out for the best Punisher.
No surprise there



Tuesday, September 16, 2014

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part I trailer

So a new trailer for "The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part I" came out yesterday

I watched it, and I liked it.

I liked it quite a bit.

I have enjoyed the fact that "The Hunger Games" is not your typical young adult fiction adaptation. Sure, there is a cliché love triangle, and we get ourselves a nice dystopian future. But Jennifer Lawrence, Liam Hemsworth, Josh Hutcherson and all the other heavy-hitters working with them have created a human story with heart and soul. They make big adaptations look easy, and I am more than willing to sit through whatever they throw at us.

Once again, the second trailer for this movie is short, but it is all kinds of sweet.

Life After Beth Review

Life After Beth Review
Imagine if you lost a loved one tomorrow? A girlfriend, a parent, a sibling, a relative, anything of the like. What if you were tormented by that loss so bad that you would do something to write that wrong? What if the last conversation you had the deceased loved one wasn't a particularly great one? What would you do to go back in time and say what you wanted to say, what you meant to say? These are those forbidden questions we ask ourselves when we sit down to horror movies. These questions literally haunt us as we think about them.
 
I am a huge Stephen King fan and I am saddened that so few of his works have been screened accomplishments. One of my favorite adaptations of one of his stories was for "Pet Cemetery." It is a story that you would expect from the title. A cat dies near the beginning of the story and its owners bury it in a mysterious cemetery, and the cat comes back to life, but its not the same cat. Soon enough a family buries their deceased child in the cemetery, and the kid comes back, just not the same child. I found "Pet Cemetery" to be one of King's most crippling works, something I feel doesn't get enough love.
 
I bring up "Pet Cemetery" because I feel "Life After Beth" is a comedic version of that story. "Life After Beth" is much more too, it is an insanely clever take on the zombie movie. In a world where we just as many zombie movies as we do superhero movies, it is normal to believe that we are over-saturated. We need movies like "Life After Beth" to show us just what can be done with the genre. Underneath it all, "Life After Death" tells the story of a boy who wishes desperately for a second chance, and that chance is much more than he bargained for.
 
Dane DeHaan plays Zach and when we meet him at the beginning of the movie, he is going to the funeral of his dead girlfriend Beth (Aubrey Plaza). The night after the funeral, Zach spends time with Beth's parents (John C. Reilly and Molly Shannon) and learn that their house-maid is from Haiti. Zach turns to Beth's parents for comfort, but they soon begin to shun him. What are they shunning him from? Zach soon discovers that Beth is alive, and just as long as Zach keeps his mouth shut, Beth's parents will continue to let Zach see Beth. If he wants to take her out, he can only do it at night, so that nobody gets suspicious. Zach sees this as his second chance, Beth and Zach were on the verge of breaking up when Beth died, and now she has no recollection of that conversation.
 
Think this will end as a happily ever after? Sorry, think again.
 
I am beginning to believe that DeHaan will go down in history as one of the best actors of his generation. Zach is a funny, quirky, anxious character and DeHaan adds a human quality to each of those traits. If you don't know the name already, DeHaan is an actor you should all begin looking for. I have heard many complaints about Aubrey Plaza and how she seemingly plays the same role in everything. I disagree and I think she is given her best role of her career so far, and she completely nails it. Her transformation in this film turns ugly, and its not a role you can probably picture Plaza playing, but she sells it. Every minute of it.
 
The rest of the supporting cast is great, with Reilly and Shannon turning in wonderful supporting performances. I also like the appearances by Anna Kendrick, Paul Reiser (from "Mad About You!"), and Cheryl Hinds. Who really stole the show for me was Matthew Gray Gubler, who plays Zach's older brother. He's the typical older brother, fitted with older brother syndrome and works as a neighborhood security guard. I love the way Gubler brings this character to life. He paints his character with humor, with ticks and mannerisms and the genuine zing of inspiration.
 
I love that this is a zombie movie that is a slow burn. Too many times in the past, zombie movies throw us right into the action. While that is a smart move, it gets old after a while. "Life After Beth" really shows the developments day-to-day, and it surprised me how effective that set-up was. It was slow getting started, but it worked for the film rather than against it.
 
There are some minor script issues, but overall, there is never a dull moment in "Life After Beth." I will state that this is a very funny movie, and a lot of the humor is quirky and offbeat. If that isn't your type of humor, I'd say skip this. I was surprised too that when stuff gets crazy, it is not treated like a joke and the transitions never seem forced. Overall, what won me over was the sweet story of desperation, and how we wish for second chances, never really thinking about what those second chances will bring. "Life After Beth" is crazy, delirious entertainment.
 
FINAL GRADE: A-


Sunday, September 14, 2014

The Essentials- "Ghostbusters 2" (1989)

The Essentials-#74
 
Ghostbusters 2
I can understand why people don't like sequels. Heck, I will be the first to tell you how much I dislike the sequel culture. I could tell you how silly I find the need to turn everything into a franchise. I also hate how if something doesn't stick, its okay, we can just reboot it twenty years later. Why do we spend so much money on movies that are just reflections of films we have seen already. So many sequels do nothing except tread that I just don't understand the need to make them sometimes. Every once in awhile though, we get a sequel worth talking about, something that improves or even entertains us, just like the first film did.
 
I would say that "Ghostbusters 2" did tread some water, and at times it does feel like the first movie all over again. But, there is something entertaining about it. I love the scene where the Ghostbusters are traveling through New York City inside the Statue of Liberty. I think the scene when slime starts coming out of the bathtub is ultra-freaky. I think Harold Ramis, Dan Aykroyd and Bill Murray make this film, and I love that Ernie Hudson was given more to do with Winston Zeddemore. I like that this film has more personal stakes, not saying that saving a city (and the world) isn't important, but when you can relate to greater stakes, it makes the film better. "Ghostbusters 2" may not be able to compare to his predecessor in many ways, but it sure was entertaining.
 
When we meet the Ghostbusters in the sequel, they are being sued for property damage and forced by the city to close shop. They each find different occupations and Peter Venkman (Murray) in particular keeps up with Dana Barrett (Sigourney Weaver) who has a son named Oscar from a previous marriage. The original Ghostbusters are living their lives until Oscar is harmed by the paranormal. Dana has no other choice but to turn to the Ghostbusters for help, throwing them back into anther adventure.
 
The source of the evil comes from Dana new job at the city museum. She is no longer a cellist, because she needs to take care of Oscar, daddy is not in the picture. Vigo the Carpathian is a 16th Century tyrant and magician who is trapped in a painting at the museum Dana works at. Vigo has possessed Dana's collegue Dr. Poha (Peter McNichol) and forces him to find a baby Vigo can transfer himself into, so that he can walk the Earth again.
 
Once again, the cast is colorful and awesome. The work by Ramis, Aykroyd, Hudson and Murray is diabolically good. These guys made this franchise, and they made it special. I love that Rick Moranis returned and was given a particularly wonderful scene. The work by McNichol is silly at times, but he find the quirkiness of character and carefully etches in the details. I liked Weaver once again this time out, as I did Anne Potts. Kurt Fuller shows up as Jack, a Walter Peck stand-in for the movie. He does well here, and does his best to not come off like a cliché.
 
Mix great performances with some uncanny humor and crude special effects work and you've got a sequel worth being proud of. I can't wait for these movies to hit the bluray stands.


Overlooked Film of the Week- "The Lincoln Lawyer" (2011)

Overlooked Film of the Week- #74
 
The Lincoln Lawyer
 
There was a long period of time when Matthew McConaughey was an actor I respected more than I liked. I found him charming in his roles and I could understand why peopled liked him, but the films he chose to star in were real head scratchers. McConaughey respeatedly put himself in sappy soap operas and cringe-worthy romantic comedies. It seemed that this career would never be salvaged, it seemed McConaughey would always be an actor full of potential, but no drive to become better, bigger or respectable. Then as the 2010's hit, it seemed that a new life was breathed into his career, coming like a breathe of fresh air. It is popularly being referred to as "The McConaissance" because it literally feels like a rebirth. He's still charming, he's still handsome, and he's still popular, but it seems like he is beginning to take his career seriously, not worrying about branching out.
 
I always that "The Lincoln Lawyer" was the beginning of "The McConaissance," the movie that started McConaughey on the beaten path to righteousness. It was the movie allowed McConaughey to become the actor he was always supposed to become. "The Lincoln Lawyer" is a fierce thriller, the type of movie I feel we don't see enough of these days. There is something about the courtroom drama that I find myself gravitating to. Maybe I like the way they feel like stage-plays with wonderful ensembles, maybe I like how much extreme tension can be created in a room, or maybe its because I have always enjoyed cops-and-robber stories, no matter how much they vary. No matter what, I find "The Lincoln Lawyer" to be a modern classic, yet another shining example of why 2011 was one of the decade's best film years thus far. The only mistake I can think of is, in a world of sequels and franchises, I can't believe a sequel to "The Lincoln Lawyer" hasn't been at least discussed yet.
 
Matthew McConaughey plays Mickey Haller, a quick-witted, somewhat cocky defense lawyer who specializes in criminal defense. It can be said that Haller maybe slightly corrupt as well, telling from the opening scene as Haller does business with a biker gang. (The gang is actually led by country music star Trace Adkins.) Suddenly, a high-profile case lands on his lap. Haller is hired by Louis Roulet (Ryan Phillippe) a Beverly Hills playboy whose mother is a famous estate mogule (Frances Fisher). Louis Roulet is being charged with the beating of a prostitute. While this is not Haller's typical M.O., he takes the case. The case reminds Haller of another case which put an old client (Michael Pena) wrongfully in prison. Haller soon finds out that Roulet may not be who he seems and this could possibly put Haller in danger.
 
"The Lincoln Lawyer" could be describe as a neo-noir. Haller may not be a hard-boiled detective, but there is no arguing that Haller is a troubled man from a past case that went wrong. He feels bad for his old client and he must try to set things right. There are no femme fatales in this movie, but there are enough double-crossings and twists to make any fan of film noir happy. The film definitely works as acute courtroom drama. I think McConaughey does outstanding work as Haller, and is easily the most human performance McConaughey has ever portrayed. I also like the work done by Phillippe, Fisher and Pena; all of whom do strong work.
 
The movie features an all-star cast, which includes Josh Lucas, Maris Tomei, Bryan Cranston, William H. Macy, John Leguizamo and Shea Whigham. If that supporting cast doesn't make you raise an eyebrow in delight, I am not sure what will. This cast, mixed with Cliff Martinez' pulsing soundtrack and Lukas Ettlin's bright cinematography, is a dense new thriller. Enjoy your cinematic rebirth, Mr. McConaughey, this was only the beginning.


Saturday, September 13, 2014

The 11 Most Underrated Actors

The 11 Most Underrated Actors
My girlfriend and I were reading articles on the internet a few weeks ago, and we came across a list that crowned the ten most underrated actresses working right now. While I didn't completely agree with the whole list, I was impressed with it overall. I have been thinking about it for awhile now, and it inspired me to make a list of my own. I originally wanted to make a list of 10 actors, but had trouble shrinking my list to 11, so this is 11 actors.
 
In a few weeks, I will make my own list of underrated actresses, but right now, here you go.
 
11. Miguel Ferrer
Where do you know him: original "Robocop," "Star Trek III," "Iron Man 3," "Crossing Jordan," "The Stand," "Traffic," remake "The Manchurian Candidate," "Rio 2," and "Mulan"
 
I don't understand how an actor can be working on films and television for over 40 years and not be better known. Ferrer is somebody to look for because he can be a brute tough-guy as well as a sentimental gentlemen. His unique, rugged voice lends a surprising talent for voice work as well. Ferrer is guy who has been around for years, and it just doesn't feel like it.
 
10. Michael Jai White
Where do you know him: "Spawn," "Black Dynamite," "The Dark Knight," "Never Back Down," "Mortal Kombat: Legacy," The CW's "The Arrow" season 2.
 
You know, it kills me that Michael Jai White's scene was deleted from Quentin Tarantino's "Kill Bill" saga, because it was a great scene and if there is anybody working in Hollywood who is a career doctor, its QT. Appearing in a host of dynamic roles, White is never the close to the first person at the top of list to head an action movie, which is something that needs to change. And no, me meeting him in August had nothing to do with him being put on this list.
 

9. Titus Welliver
Where do you know him: "Gone Baby Gone," "The Town," "Man on a Ledge," "Argo," "Transformers: Age of Extinction, "Marvel One-Shot: Item 47" 
 
Perhaps Welliver has typecast himself as being Ben Affleck's go-to guy when Affleck is sitting in the director's chair. But at the same time, it seems Welliver is finally coming out into his own. He's got a couple television shows being made by Amazon Prime which could up his cred a little bit. Let's hope so because he's an exciting talent who could easily lead a film effortlessly.
 
8. Cliff Curtis
Where do you know him: "Training Day," "Whale Rider," "Live Free or Die Hard," "Runaway Jury," "Sunshine," "Blow," "10,000 B.C." Colombiana" "Push" and "The Last Airbender"
 
It is pretty impressive that Curtis is an Australian actor of Maori decent who has been able to convincingly play Arabs, Hispanics and many other ethnic races onscreen. You'd think that would open many roads for him, but sadly, he's a name that doesn't get tossed around much, which is sad. He's always stealing scenes in his movies, and he's a name that deserves to be bigger than it is.
 
7. William Sadler
Where do you know him: "The Shawshank Redemption," "The Green Mile," "The Mist," "Die Hard 2," "Iron Man 3," "Machete Kills" "Bill and Ted's Bogus Adventure" and "August Rush"
 
Maybe I am little bit biased, since Sadler has appeared in two of my favorite Stephen King adaptations ever, but I think Sadler's talents have a wide range. He's been around a lot in a variety of roles and should be on everyone's radar.
 
6. Kevin Durand
Where do you know him from: "Walking Tall," "The Butterfly Effect," "X-Men Origins: Wolverine," "Smokin' Aces," "Real Steel," "Legion," "Robin Hood" and "3:10 To Yuma"

Until I met Chris Hemsworth, I felt Durand was the one and only choice to play Thor for Marvel. I mean how many insanely tall, muscle-bound actors can you think of that can actually act? Honestly, there are not that many, which is why Durand has a rare flair that should make him famous. He's perfect to be the next action hero and he just needs the right push.

5. John Hawkes

 
Where do you know him: "Miracle at St. Anna," "The Perfect Storm," "Contagion," "Martha Marcy May Marlene," "Identity," "American Gangster," "Miami Vice," "Lincoln," "Winter's Bone" and "Me and You and Everyone we Know"
 
John Hawkes is one of those guys that has experienced it all by now. He has been apart of blockbusters, he has done Oscar-bait films and he has done independent work that barely anybody knows about. How this guy hasn't won some type of award is frightening. Much like everybody on this list, Hawkes captures your eye in all of his movies, no matter how big or small his presence maybe.
 
4. Thomas Jane
Where do you know him: "Boogie Nights," "Face/Off," "I Melt With You," "The Mist," "The Punisher," "Stander," "Magnolia" and "The Last Time I Committed Suicide"

Watch all the movies I listed above. In fact, watch any movie Thomas Jane has ever starred in. Jane is so high on this list because he's got a particular talent. None of the characters he plays feel like the last. Sometimes, it feels all actors are kind of typecast. They play the same styles, same tones, same types of characters. With Jane, that is not close to true. His character in "Boogie Nights" is nothing like his character in "Stander" or "The Mist" for that matter. And none of those characters can begin to compare to Frank Castle. It seems Jane is constantly adjusting, re-working his style with ease. A great talent to look for.

3. Ethan Hawke
Where do you know him: "Training Day," "The Purge" "The Before Trilogy (Before Sunrise, Before Sunset and Before Midnight)" "Gattaca," "Sinister," "Reality Bites," "Asault on Precinct 13" "The Newton Boys" and most recently, "Boyhood."

Yes, Hawke has been around for awhile. Yes, he seems very recognizable. But at the same time, I think Hawke's work goes underappreciated, year after year after YEAR. He proves at least once every year that he can lead a charge, he proves that he can shine unexpected light on a character that seems rather one-dimensional on-paper. So honestly, why isn't this guy on the same level as say George Clooney or Brad Pitt? Give this guy an Oscar for "Boyhood" already!

2. Frank Grillo
Where do you know him: "Warrior," "End of Watch," "Zero Dark Thirty," "The Grey," "Homefront" "Captain America: The Winter Soldier," "The Purge: Anarchy" and a blink-and-you'll-miss-it appearance in "Minority Report."

I have heard that Grillo plays a good asshole. While I agree he is a great asshole, I think Grillo is capable of lots more. I mean, just look at him in both "Warrior," "End of Watch" and even "The Purge: Anarchy," the guy's range is not just limited to uncanny, tough-guy roles. Grillo is a guy who I think we are just beginning to see all of and I think he is slowly but surely revealing himself.

1. Sam Rockwell
Where do you know him: "Confessions of a Dangerous Mind," "Moon," "Iron Man 2," "Conviction" "Seven Psychopaths," "The Way, Way Back," "Matchstick Men," "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy," "Frost/ Nixon," and "Everybody's Fine"

The biggest question for me that came from making this list was how in the world do we not see Sam Rockwell in at least three movies a year? How has he not been nominated for a role every other year? When I first started seeing Rockwell in films like "Confessions of a Dangerous Mind" and "Matchstick Men," I had a feeling. I thought Rockwell was going to become someone truly special. I still see that specialty in every movie he's been in since, so why isn't everybody else seeing it? Why isn't Rockwell crushing the box office, the awards circuit, or anything else that remotely resembles Hollywood? I don't know, but it needs to change now.

So here's my list. Thoughts?