Welcome to The Mundane Adventures of a Fangirl

I consider myself a Fangirl. What does that mean, you ask? A "fanboy" in the most common understanding is a hardcore fan of 'genre' based entertainment in particular. In my case - science-fiction and comic book based movies and television. Because I'm a chick - it's fangirl, not fanboy. There you have it! I am a big movie fan, however, not necessarily a 'film' fan. And now - I have the forum to present my opinions to the public! These will mainly be movie reviews -that will always be my opinion - repeat OPINION. Just what I think, and in no way do I present my opinion as fact. I hope you enjoy and maybe it will help you decide what to see at the movie theater this weekend!

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Retro Movie Review: Predator (R – 107 minutes - 1987)

This past weekend SyFy did everyone a favor by playing Predator and Predator 2 immediately following.  I had one of those odd experiences where despite the fact that I own both movies on DVD, I instead chose to watch them on TV – mainly because I could switch back and forth between the movies and the Tottenham Hotspur game. 

Released in 1987, Predator is both a very typical example of the over-the-top testosterone filled 80s action movies, and something complete unique.  Following the release of Rocky IV, the joke was that Rocky Balboa had run out of earthly opponents and would have to face an alien.  Jim and John Thomas wrote a screenplay loosely based on this idea and called it "Hunter."  It was picked up by 20th Century Fox in 1985 and turned over to producer Joel Silver. Silver approached Arnold Schwarzenegger with the lead, who felt that the script was lacking because at the time it was one man facing one alien.  He suggested an entire squad of commandos - the movie started coming together as they hired other huge men who could look like a dangerous group of military-types.   The 7'2" Kevin Peter Hall was cast as the Predator.  The movie was shot in the jungles of Mexico, and was a trial for everyone involved due to food poisoning, cold jungle temperatures (cold!), leeches (leeches!), and a Predator who really could not see out of the costume.

Former Delta Force Major Alan “Dutch” Schaefer and his six-man team, consisting of Mac Eliot, Bill Sole, Blaine Cooper, Poncho Ramirez and Rick Hawkins are sent into the Jungle by the CIA to rescue an official who is being held by insurgents.  CIA agent George Dillon is assigned to supervise, so of course, the team does not trust him.  They soon discover the wreckage of a chopper filled with skinned bodies, and Dutch realizes they were US Army Special Forces.  When the team reaches the insurgent camp, Dillon admits that the mission was a setup to retrieve intelligence from captured operatives and the crashed helicopter they found was the first rescue attempt.  Dutch and crew get really upset about getting misled, but before the team can take out their anger on Dillon, they find a survivor in the village, Anna, who is spooked out of her mind.  They take her and head out through the jungle back to their evac site, and the audience starts to realize that they are being tracked by someone or something that is using thermal imaging to watch them.  Anna attempts an escape, and is chased by Hawkins, when the creature strikes for the first time.  
Hawkins is killed and dragged away.  The team tries to look for him, but instead looses Cooper.  They attempt to get information from Anna about what is after them, but all she can say is that the “jungle came alive” and that this type of killing happens regularly in this area with the thing hunting them having been killing humans for decades for sport. However, she states that they did wound it – because it was bleeding.  This leads to the first iconic line from the movie, “If it bleeds, we can kill it.”  
They set up some traps to catch it, but they only succeed in trapping a wild pig, and losing both Mac and Dillon with Poncho badly wounded. The survivors try to escape, but the Predator catches up, killing Billy and Poncho.  Realizing the creature prefers hostile and armed prey, Dutch sends Anna to the chopper alone and weaponless – leading to the second iconic line from the movie, which is really only iconic due to Schwarzenegger’s accent, “Get to the Chopper!”  – “Chop-PAH”!   

In an attempt to escape, he falls off a cliff into the water, ending up covered in mud.  As the Predator pursues, we get the first real look at it, as the water has disrupted it’s camouflage technology.  It walks right past Dutch, and he realizes that the mud made him invisible. 

Finally feeling that he has an advantage, Dutch sets up a series of traps, and then covered in mud and armed with improvised weapons, he lures the Predator with a war cry and a big bonfire, because Predators cannot resist war cries and bonfires.   After some skirmishing, the Predator recognizes Dutch as a worthy opponent and removes his armor and mask – this leads to the third iconic line from the movie, “You are one ugly motherf***er”.  Hey – it was the 80s, that was catchy dialogue.    

The Predator takes issue with being called ugly, screams at Dutch (this is what will become Clay Matthews's sack celebration stance), and beats the hell out of Dutch.  Dutch eventually moves the fight near one of his prearranged traps and drops a log on the Predator.   This pretty much does it, and as Dutch moves in for the kill, the Predator is coughing up his day glow blood (created by cracking open glow sticks and mixing that liquid with lube - seriously) – repeats Dutch’s question about what the hell he is, then punches some buttons on his arm gauntlet, which Dutch quickly recognizes as a bomb.  The predator lays back and laughs hysterically as Dutch runs away, narrowly escaping the explosion.  The chopper sees this and swings back to pick him up.

Directed by John McTiernan (who also did Die Hard - the best action movie ever made), the movie opened #1 at the box office on June 12, 1987 – and ended up making $98 million.  Critics took issue with the thin plot (shocker!), but fans  enjoyed the idea of several huge soldiers (who are used to being the ‘top of the food chain’) surprised when they are hunted by something else, who seems to be able to take them out with ease.  McTeirnan also made great use of the lessons learned from the original Alien movie and made sure to not reveal the predator too soon.  Using the thermal vision, and the camouflage technology, we really do not get a good look at the Predator until three-fourths of the movie has gone by.  The Predator design by Stan Winston (with suggestions from James Cameron) was also key to this.  Here was a sophisticated and intelligent alien hunter, with far superior technology, and presented itself as a genuine threat, and was really unlike anything we had seen on screen up to that point.  Also - he seemed to be wearing a fishnet shirt - which was also big in the 80s.

  • Arnold Schwarzenegger at the very height of his popularity is the perfect man to play Dutch.  Again, try not to worry about why this giant Austrian is leading a group of American commandos.  He says very little in this movie, but does a fine job of making his eyes really big and doing some non-verbal prep to fight at the end of the movie.

  • Carl Weathers, who I still refer to as Action Jackson – no matter how many times he’s on Arrested Development - is perfect as Dillon.  The team does not trust him, but he slowly earns their trust by being as ripped as they are.

  • Elpidia Carrillo plays Anna, and yes – she does suffer from woman-in-80s-action-movie-itis, which basically means she’s two dimensional and has nothing to do.  She makes the most of her opportunities, providing some exposition about the creature, and acting terrified.

  • Bill Duke plays Mac, and he seems to not be aging, as he looks the same now.  He has some pretty great scenes as he slowly starts to go crazy – and snaps a razor on his face.

  • Jesse Ventura (yes, that Jesse Ventura) plays Blain, and is basically around to be another giant dude.  He was also in the Running Man, which is another great Arnold 80s movie.

  • Sonny Landham – who was also in Action Jackson – plays Billy – the native American in the group.  He has a pretty great scene in which he attempts to make a stand against the Predator on a log.  It does not go well, and he ends up getting his spine ripped out, but he sure looked tough for a minute or two.

  • Richard Chaves plays Poncho, and while he did the rounds in the 80 TV show circuit, (Miami Vice, MacGyver, L.A.Law), his movie career was more limited.

  • Shane Black is now mostly known as a director – and I will say it one more time, if you haven’t seen Kiss Kiss Bang Bang yet, check it out.  It’s pretty great, and while there were pieces of Iron Man 3 that pissed me off, he did a good job directing it.

Chances are you’ve seen it, but if you haven’t, rent Predator and watch it again.  My dad used to joke that they played it on TV every year right around the start of deer hunting season, just to give hunters an idea about what would happen if something else was hunting them as they were after deer.

Predator 2 came out in 1990 – (R – 108 mintutes) and starred Danny Glover (who was already "too old for this shit" at that time, but to be fair - I think that he always has been).   In this one, a Predator stops by L.A. during a heat wave and massive gang war in the not so distant future of 1997.  

Since Predators hunt those who are heavily armed, it proceeded to hunt heavily armed drug gangs.  The cops aren’t sure if that’s a good thing or a bad thing – including Maria Conchita Alonso (from Total Recall) and Bill Paxton (who seems to basically be playing the same dude from Aliens).  

A cop played by Rueben Blades gets caught in the crossfire, and his partner - Danny Glover’s Lieutenant Mike Harrigan – decides to go after what is taking people out.  He does have to deal with a group of government agents, who know about the “incident in the jungle” and that this thing hunts thermally.  The leader of this group – played with the perfect level of crazy by Gary Busey – and his second in command - (a surprisingly young Adam Baldwin) fail to capture it (shocker).  

Basically Harrigan has to go after it alone.  After a rooftop battle, it attempts to set off its wrist-bomb, but Harrigan steals its slicey-boomerang-disc weapon and cuts off its hand.  He then trails the wounded Predator back to its ship, which it was hiding in the tunnels under the city, because no one looks there?  

Once inside, we, along with Harrigan, are treated to a glance at the ship's ‘trophy wall’ and we realize that these Predators hunt everywhere and all over.  We’ll come back to that.  Harrigan battles the Predator – and finally wins.  Exhausted, he collapses, but then realizes that he’s being watched.  There are many other Predators in the ship, and the carry away their fallen compatriot.  Since they are all about battling, they actually respect Harrigan more since he defeated one of them, and the older leader of the group (you can tell because he has a cape) gives Harrigan a pistol dated from the 1700s as a parting gift.  They take off as a befuddled Harrigan stumbles out of the ship.  

Let’s go back to that trophy wall in the ship – as a bit of a lark, the set designers threw in the skull from one of the Alien Xenomorphs from the ongoing Alien movie series (rewatch the first by Ridley Scott, which was a phenomenal close-quarters creature horror movie; and the second by James Cameron, which was a phenomenal sci-fi action movie featuring one of the greatest lines in cinema history “Get away from her, you BITCH!” – ignore the others in the series).  Just like that, there were suddenly Alien Vs. Predator comics and books. 

In 2004, Paul W.S.Anderson was brave enough to take on the AVP franchise and release an AVP movie (PG13 – 101 minutes).  Much was made of it being PG13, everything else from both franchises were a hard R, thanks to the gratuitous violence, and fans felt the PG13 was a letdown.  

However, I loved it – and felt like the story was fantastic.  Ice climber Alexa Woods is hired to come lead a time in Antarctica for millionaire Charles Bishop Weyland because his satellites have found something.  This is presumably before he hooked up with Yutani, because Weyland-Yutani is the company that Ripley's ship is working for in the first Alien movie.  This also explains the 'synthetic' in Aliens looking like him, because of course his company would make synthetics that look like their founder (if you think the first android Bill Gates creates won't look exactly like Bill Gates, you're wrong).

It’s an ancient pyramid, which has just recently ‘heated up’.  It’s heating up because three juvenile Predators are on their way for a ritualistic hunt.  The pyramid lures the people in, then stimulates a trapped Xenomorph queen to lay eggs.  Eggs lead to facesuckers, which stick larve inside people, which turn into chestbursters which grow into the aliens.  You know, standard xenomorph life cycle stuff.  Very quickly, the pyramid fills up with the Aliens, and the people start dropping like flies.  The Queen gets pissed as hell that she's been trapped there and escapes, looking to head up to the surface.  Two of the Predators get wiped out, and eventually Woods demonstrates to the last one that she is a badass, and they work together to escape and defeat the Queen.  

They succeed, but only after the Predator gets attacked by a face sucker, and is mortally wounded by the Queen in battle.  As Woods kneels by the body of her fallen partner, a large Predator ship arrives, and the leader (you can tell he's the leader because he has a cape) gives her a Predator spear as a gift, reminiscent of Predator 2.  They take the body of the fallen Predator into their ship, not realizing he still has that larve inside, and head home. 

Before they get very far, the chestburster pops out of his chest, revealing something that had only appeared in the comics up to this point – the PredAlien hybrid. 

In 2007, The Brothers Strause released AVPR (Alien vs. Predator Requiem – 94 minutes), which went back to the hard R rating and picks up immediately after the end of AVP.  

The PredAlien gets loose, causes chaos on the ship, and it crashes in a rural Montana town, then sets about creating a bunch more Aliens as the Predator home planet responds to the crashed ship and sends one Predator in response (just one? they could have used a team, but these guys seem to be really solitary hunters).  

The lone Predator attempts to clean up and hunt down the missing hybrid with the unofficial assistance of a soldier just home from war and trying to reconnect with her family (Reiko Aylesworth).  

It’s bloody, it’s ridiculous, and it’s super fun.  There’s a Yutani tie in at the end, which allows this movie to function almost as a prequel to the Alien movies. Plus - PredAlien!

Then, in 2010 – Nimrod Antal (best name for a sci-fi director ever?) released Predators, which was Produced by Robert Rodriguez, and features a bunch of heavily armed mercenaries kidnapped from earth and released on a Predator hunting planet for sport - because, why not?  It's definitely easier for them then coming here.  

The group of mismatched mercenaries attempts to figure out how they got there, what they are doing there, and how to get home.  They also have to deal with being hunted, being trapped, and figuring out what's up with Laurence Fishburne, who has apparently been on this sport planet a really long time.  Oh - you also find out that the species of Predator that we are used to is not the only type - there's a higher species, and they are bigger and more brutal.  

That’s about all you need to know, except that it’s awesome.  If you haven't seen it - you really need to, if only for Topher Grace, who is fantastic, and for Laurence Fishburne’s crazy.

They vary in quality – and none of them are really as good as the original, but I do like all of them.  If you are in one of the crazy places that is celebrating spring with more heavy snow, and you’re inside all weekend, do yourself a favor and have a Predator-a-thon.  Break out the popcorn and leave your brain at the door.

Predator from 1987 gets 10/10...Predator 2 from 1990 gets 8/10...AVP from 2004 gets 9/10...AVPR from 2007 gets  8/10...Predators from 2010 gets 8/10.  
Here's hoping there are more!

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Movie Review: Run All Night (R – 114 minutes)

Liam Neeson is a 63 year old Northern Irishman, and prior to 2008, he was primarily known for dramatic actor-y type award movies like Schindler’s List, Nell, Husbands and Wives, Michael Collins, etc.  Occasionally he would throw in a genre actioner here and there, like the original Darkman and playing the “Guiding or Training figure” in Star Wars Episode 1, the Chronicles of Narnia, and Batman Begins.  He was living a pretty normal life with his wife Miranda Richardson and their two sons.  In 2009, Richardson suffered a fatal head injury during a skiing accident.  Neeson took a shift in his career path just around that time with the release of Taken in 2009.  It allowed the world to see him completely as an action movie star, as opposed to a mostly dramatic actor.  
After developing his ‘certain set of skills’ in Taken, he did the Clash of the Titans remake (he was the best part – it wasn’t very good), the A-Team (he was one of the best parts, and he loved it when the plan came together), The Unknown (he forgets that he’s a kick ass agent!), Battleship (better than you thought it would be!), Taken 2 (stop getting taken!), and Wrath of the Titans.  You should watch Wrath of the Titans just for the scene at the end where Neeson as Zues and Ralph Finnes as Hades work together and kick some ancient Greek ass. 

Neeson was as surprised as anyone else with his sudden action re-birth.   He had originally be convinced that Taken would be a straight-to-video release, but wanted to try it all the same for something just a bit different.   For the last few of his gritty actioners - his character does seem to be on a steady decline.  In Taken, he was capable, and had a job, but had lost his family, and was trying to rebuild that relationship.  In Nonstop, he had a job, but had lost his daughter to cancer, and was an alcoholic.  In Run All Night – he’s a huge alcoholic, has lost his family and is completely estranged from his son, and has no job – can’t get much worse!

In Run All Night we learn fairly quickly that Jimmy Conlon is at rock bottom.  He used to be the number one hitman for an Irish mobster named Shawn Maguire, who is also his best friend.  He was so good; he got the nickname the Gravedigger.  However, the faces of everyone he has killed are starting to haunt him, he’s not sleeping anymore, and his son refuses to see him.  Meanwhile, Shawn’s son, Danny, is attempting to get his father (now a legitimate businessman) on board with smuggling heroin from some Albanian mobsters.  Jimmy’s son, Mike, is attempting to hold his familiar together – a young wife and two small girls with a baby on the way.  Mike is working driving a limo, and picks up the Albanians en route to Danny’s house.  Shawn has refused the deal, so the Albanians need their investment back.  Danny doesn’t have the money, and instead decides to kill them, after first hilariously giving them a bag full of Monopoly money – well, it was hilarious to him, they did not find it funny.   Mike (and the kid who he mentors at the boxing gym) unfortunately witnesses the murders.  Danny then decides not to listen to his father and stay put – but instead heads over to Mike’s to kill him.  Meanwhile, Shawn calls Jimmy and asks him to ask Mike to not go to the cops.  Jimmy goes over to Mike’s, and while there, kills Danny just as he was about to kill Mike.  Jimmy calls Shawn to tell him he just killed his son, and Shawn tells him he’s coming after him with everything he’s got.  This includes another hitman named Price and some dirty cops that Shawn owns.  They spin the story to make it look like both Mike and Jimmy killed a whole bunch of people and are on the run, prompting them to go look for the kid so he can clear their names.   Basically, that’s it – Mike has to get over his hatred of Jimmy enough to work with him for a night so that Jimmy can try to keep him alive while Shawn and Price come after them. 

It’s a tight, quick story that plays out in a really intense, gritty, action movie.  I like the format of it all taking place over the course of one night.  It’s directed by Jaume Collet-Serra, the director of two of the other two recent Neeson movies, Non-Stop, and Unknown, both of which were great.  At this point he and Neeson have really developed a great relationship and he knows how to get the best from him.  The cast is all really good in this, but especially keep your eyes peeled for the fantastic Nick Nolte cameo - yes - Nick Nolte is in this, although he has apparently turned into an old crusty sea captain type guy.  He pops up as Jimmy's brother:
  • Liam Neeson excels at Jimmy – but honestly, it’s the same as Brian Mills again – just a little more drunk.  I did enjoy the extremely uncomfortable scene at the beginning where Danny forces Jimmy to be the Santa at the Maguire house Christmas party in order to get a loan.  Jimmy drunkenly snaps at the kids and comes on to one of Shawn’s other buddies’ wife.  It’s horribly uncomfortable, and Neeson does a great job at it.  He’s so perfect in this type of movie as a grimly determined man knowing the situation is doomed, but convinced he can save his son.

  • Ed Harris – who suddenly looks way older than he should – is playing Shawn Maguire, and he’s exceptional.  The scenes between he and Neeson are fantastic, and you really believe they are two best friends that will destroy each other over their sons.  Harris is particularly good in the scene where he needs to tell his wife that their son is dead.  There was a small part of me that wanted him to realize that his son was no good, and Jimmy had to do what he did to protect Mike, and while Shawn does seem to know that, he is still determined to get vengeance.

  • Joel Kinneman (new RoboCop) plays Mike Conlon, who spends the entire first half of the movie proving how great a guy he is compared to how terrible his father was.  He works down at the local boxing gym, mentoring young kids with no fathers (because his father was so terrible).  He works really hard as a limo driver for his girls (because his father was so terrible).  He takes work on a night he was originally scheduled off to get more money for his family (because his father was so terrible).  You get the idea, right?  They really hammer that home that Mike is really pissed at how terrible a father Jimmy was.  Jimmy does attempt to explain that later, but Mike doesn’t really hear him until the very end, when he does seem to forgive him.

  • Boyd Holbrook plays Danny Maguire, and boy is that kid a screw-up.   He’s so determined to impress his father that in a cocaine-fueled daze, he thinks making heroin smuggling deals with Albanians is a good thing.  He is wrong, and his father knows he’s wrong, but that won’t stop his father from seeking crazy vengeance for his death.

  • Bruce McGill (who will always be MacGuyver’s buddy to me) has a small, quiet role as Pat, Shawn’s right hand man.  He doesn’t seem to do anything but hang out next to Shawn and nod when he says something.  Also – Danny proves how much of a dick he is by snapping at Pat for no reason.

  • Genesis Rodriguez plays Mike’s wife Gabriela (rent Man On A Ledge for a better thriller with her in it).  She has even less to do, basically it’s all “take the kids and get out of here!”  Also – pregnant with a third child even though they are clearly struggling for money?  I did like they she and the girls head to her brother’s house to hide once things start going down.  Of course, the bad guys go there first to look for them, but you know how that goes.  The kids make it through the movie okay – just in case you were worried about that.

  • Vincent D’Onofrio steals all the scenes he is in as Detective Harding.  He is the cop who has been after Jimmy and Shawn for years and years.  He keeps harassing Jimmy for the list of names of all the people he’s killed.  They have a tense relationship, but as Jimmy starts to second guess his entire existence, he knows that Harding is the one good cop he can go to for help.

  • Common plays the other hitman, Price.  He has no facial hair in this, which creeps me out, normally he’s one of the most beautiful men on the planet, but without the beard – he looks a little strange (he looks a little like an egg).  I think it’s because during a fight with Neeson, his face gets burned, so he has to wear a prosthetic burn on his face for the rest of the movie, which would have been really difficult with a beard.  He’s menacing and evil and non-stop, it was a little different for him, but he was really good.

Overall, the movie is quick and entertaining.  It’s well-acted and well-shot.  It’s a hard R for the language and violence – there are some really bloody gunshots.  It’s very New York without hitting you over the head with New York as some movies do.  The scenes between Harris and Neeson alone were fantastic, and really – don’t you just love watching Neeson take out punks?

7 out of 10 – Gained points for D’Onofrio, and the Neeson/Harris restaurant showdown.  Lost points for the lack of Common beard, but gained points for Common.  Lost points for Danny being such a loose cannon and for Mike non-stop berating Jimmy for being a terrible dad.  We get it!  He was a terrible father!  Now shut up and listen to him, he’s trying to save your life!  

Bonus Video 1:  Just to prove that Liam Neeson does have a sense of humor about being Liam Neeson - What about Non-Stop, though?

Bonus Video 2:  The Taken Honest Trailer.

Bonus Video 3: Cast Interviews

Friday, March 13, 2015

Movie Review: Hot Tub Time Machine 2 (R – 93 minutes)

Listen – if you go see this, I will assume you saw the first one.  Hot Tub Time Machine was released in 2010 – and it was exactly as stupid as it sounds – but had some funny moments.  Four friends stumble across a hot tub time machine, and go back in time to their high school ski trip.  They make some changes in their lives, and come back to a future where they are rich and famous.  It was made for $36 million, and made over $50 – so it was enough of a profit for a  sequel.

That brings us to 2015 – and the sequel (which I am positive no one was asking for).  

Lou has used the time machine to become a legendary rock start and the inventor of the internet and of Google – now known as Lougle.  Nick used his trip to the past to become a legendary songwriter and singer – writing and performing songs that he remembered before they happened.  Jacob, Lou’s son (that’s a bit confusing, but you can research the details in the original if you find it necessary), is basically hanging around in Lou’s mansion, occasionally acting as his butler when required.  Adam – John Cusack’s character from the original – is missing.  Seriously – no one knows where he is, but his jacket makes an appearance.  Well, Lou is holding his annual party, at which he talks about how great he is, when suddenly during an electrical blackout, someone shoots him.  In order to save him, Jacob and Nick drag him to the hot tub and go back in time, except that they make a mistake – and head to the future, to 2025.  Hijinks ensue.  These hijinks include finding Adam’s son – but still no sign of Adam, realizing that Nick sold out several years ago with something called the “Nick Webber Strut”, finding that Jacob now runs Lou’s empire, and that Lou is still around, but seems to look like a drunk homeless person.  Lou begins to flicker, and through some really convoluted logic, they realize that the person who shot him and would become his killer came back in time to kill him from 2025.  They set out to solve the murder that hasn’t happened yet, encountering parties, weird game shows, and Adam Jr.’s wedding in the process.

I won’t lie to you – it’s not good.  It has some funny spots, and I feel like it is not any more or less funny than the original.  It’s directed by Steve Pink – who did the great Accepted, the 2014 remake of About Last Night, which I loved, and The original Hot Tub Time Machine.  The movie’s biggest virtue is that it is very self-aware, and the second best virtue is the cast, and their ability to improv with each other.
  • Rob Corddry continues to add to his list of characters that you hate by managing to make Lou even less likeable in this movie than he was in the first one.  He’s only tolerable when he’s with Nick.

  • Crag Robinson continues to play Nick as a loveable miscreant.  He eventually wants to use the time machine to do something better.

  • Clark Duke plays Jacob, and I’m really a fan of his – he has such a sarcastic sense of humor, and I do enjoy how in these movies, he’s more the straight guy to Nick and Lou’s craziness.  I also really enjoy when he says something nerdy and they sing at him that he’s a nerd.

  • Adam Scott plays Adam Jr. and  I’m a fan of his, and while his role in this was similar to his role on Parks and Rec – he was really funny, and future-innocent.

  • Gillian Jacobs plays Adam Jr’s finance Jill.  She has very little to do, but gets some pretty funny scenes, and one really unfunny scene where she hooks up with Lou.

  • Jason Jones from the Daily Show plays Gary Winkle, who was their friend in high school, but missed the fateful ski trip – so now is just trying to make ends meet. 

  • Kumail Nanjiani, who is brilliant on Silicon Valley, plays Brad, who works for Lou – and becomes the number one shooting suspect.

Overall, the movie is terrible, the characters are really unlikable, and the movie has way too many dumb jokes.  Honestly – I did laugh from time to time.  If you need to shut your brain off for a couple hours and watch something silly – it will fit that requirement. 

4 out of 10 – Gained points for the compilation over the end credits of the other places they go with the hot tub.  Lost points for having no strong female characters at all – but it’s a dude-centric comedy, so I expected that, but still….  Lost points for the PTS - lost points for all the drinking and drug use – lost points for Lou being annoying - lost points for the game show sequence – lost points for Lou’s tiger painting – lost points for Lou’s parking, and what he wears to the office – but gained points for Nick’s music career and the Lisa Loeb cameo as he records as much of her song as he remembers (which is not much).

Bonus Video 1:  I did love this version of About Last Night from the same director last year.

Bonus Video 2: In case you still can't believe John Cusack was in the first one:

Bonus Video 3: Cast Interviews

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Movie Review: Focus (R – 104 minutes)

Everybody loves a good caper movie, right?

Remember the first time you saw the remake of Ocean’s Eleven in 2001, and how unbelievably cool that movie was?   Every part of it was cool - the cast, the story, the shooting-style, the jazzy soundtrack, and the Vegas setting.  

Remember how since then, movies have been trying to recapture that level of cool?  Even Soderburgh tried twice with two Ocean’s sequels, and never quite got there.  Haywire is the closest he got, and in term of other heist-type movies, I’m not sure anything has gotten quite there.  The Italian job from 2003 is really fun, but not the same level of cool.  Heist from 2001 is close, but way too Mamet-y to be cool. 

I guess we’ll keep trying.  Focus certainly does try, but doesn’t quite get there.  Nicky is a con man, who starts the movie in New York City – getting the drop on a young amateur con-artist named Jess, who tried to set him up.  He teaches her a few things, then she trails him to New Orleans where he is running some scams during “the big game” (the movie is clearly not NFL sanctioned, who are those teams playing again?  The Sharks and somebody else?).  Here we as the audience get a tour of Nicky’s operation as he shows it to Jess.  He has a crew of almost 30 who are robbing and stealing from everyone and everything they can while the city is teaming with tourists for the game.  The most notable are Farhad and Horst who occasionally give Jess little hints at Nicky’s past and upbringing.  We learn that he was raised by con-artists, so of course, that’s who he has become.  We also get a hint that Nicky has a gambling problem, or does he?  Nicky and Jess grow closer over the course of a weekend?  A week?  A month?  It’s not really clear, but they get really close.  The multi-cons finish out just as the game starts.  Nicky takes Jess to the game, where they hang in a really high-roller suite.  They start making little bets about this and that, but then a Chinese business man starts gambling with them, and Nicky promptly gets in over his head – or does he?  He finally wins, and while driving away from the stadium, abruptly leaves Jess in the limo and disappears from her life.  She seems heartbroken about it. 

We then pick up three years later in Buenos Aires during a car race.  There’s this race team owner that has developed a big time gas-saving formula that will guarantee him a win, but he and his enforcer want to make sure – so they hire Nicky to con the other teams into getting a false formula.  Nicky is just fine running the con until Jess shows up and seems to knock him off his feet – or does she?  In any case, they circle around each other a bit – because she is with the guy who just hired Nicky – or is she?  She claims she is not really into Nicky anymore, but because he’s so head over heels about her, he keeps trying to woo her with random meets and gifts – and by sending in Farhad.  She tries to fight against it, but feels herself being pulled to him.  Nicky is getting paid millions by the race guy – and the enforcer stops by to lecture Nicky while dropping off the false formula, or did he?  In any case – spoiler alert here – Nicky ends up playing the guy who hired him, and giving the true formula to every other race team and getting paid millions from each – then he grabs Jess and makes it out of town before everyone finds out, or do they?

Yes, I realize that’s a lot of twists, but that’s what the movie feels like.  It feels very much like it is trying just a bit too hard to keep you guessing.  The direction by Glenn Ficarra and John Requa is certainly decent, and style-wise, it did feel like Crazy Stupid Love, which is another movie directed by Ficarra.  I did love all the travel from New York to New Orleans to Buenos Aires.  The movie looks good, and everyone in it is decent.  It just seems to come up just short of its goal.  The cast is decent, and believable.

  • This is definitely a Will Smith movie – I don’t know about you, but the first few commercials I saw for this, all I could tell was that it was a Will Smith movie, and had a chick in it – I could not tell what the plot was, or what was happening.  Will Smith is fantastic – and easily one of the most charismatic actors working today.  In this, he’s a bit subdued, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.  
  • He looks great, I’m in no way arguing that (I certainly appreciated the gratuitous shirtless scenes), but he is 46, and Margot Robbie is 24, and that age difference is significant (are there no actresses his age?).
  • Speaking of – Margot Robbie plays Jess.  She was in Wolf of Wall Street, and has just landed the Harley Quinn role in Suicide Squad (let’s not start discussing that, that’s an entirely too long discussion).  She’s actually Australian, but for some reason in this movie is playing American.  In a movie that prides itself on the global-ness of its story and characters; I cannot imagine why they did not simply let her be Australian.  She could have then used the American accent as a part of her con-game.   Again – Will Smith looks great, but the love scenes between them just kept making me think about the age difference.  She’s good in this, for sure, and her star is definitely on the rise, so be on the lookout for more of her.  It is a little off-putting that she looks like a tall Jamie Pressley.

  • Adrian Martinez plays Farhad, and the truth is – he was one of the most interesting characters.  He is sort of the comedy relief (there’s not much of that in the movie), and he’s really watchable. 

  • Brennan Brown is one of those guys you’ve seen in everything but never really knew his name.  He plays Horst, the ringleader of Nicky’s crew – he’s all business.

  • BD Wong plays the gambling Chinese businessman with the worst mustache ever that they encounter at “the big game”.  He has a really small role, which is a shame, because BD Wong is awesome.  I don’t care how many years of Law and Order he did – he’s always going to be that doctor from Jurassic Park who got snarky with Dr. Malcolm about breeding dinosaurs.  Here’s hoping he’s in the new one this summer!

  • Xerxes, I mean, Rodrigo Santoro, plays the race team owner Garriga.  He’s basically just there to get played, but he looks good while doing it.

  • Gerald McRaney plays Garriga’s enforcer Owens.  He does  a really good job, and I loved the scene where he lectures Nicky about “his generation”, and I just kept thinking that Will Smith was probably too old to get a “your generation” lecture from Gerald McRaney.  It doesn’t matter, I still enjoyed that.

Overall, the movie is entertaining, but falls just a bit short of what it could have been.  For an R – rated movie, I didn’t see much in it that warranted that rating.  It’s slick and interesting, but not cool like Ocean’s Eleven, which is the best heist movie of recent times.  Also – I did have an issue with buying Nicky as the ‘hero’ of the movie because of the thievery they show him taking part of in New Orleans.  I mean, he ripped off a ton of people.  That’s not cool.  People are going to want their luggage back.

6 out of 10 – it was okay, not bad, but not great.  Will Smith was fine, but really – what was the last Will Smith movie you saw that you loved?  Gained points for Farhad, and for BD Wong.  But – lost points for the age difference between the leads, and for the constant trying-too-hard-twists.  Also – lost points for the car crash at the end, because while the guy is driving, we see all the things that Nicky mentioned earlier, but then they do not seemed to be used!  That’s cryptic, but will make more sense when you see the movie.

Bonus Video 1:  Heist – the aforementioned Mamet caper.  If you haven't seen this - check it out.  It's pretty good.

Bonus Video 2:  Italian Job – the aforementioned Marky Mark caper.

Bonus Video 3:  Cast Interviews.