Fast & Furious 6


Release: Friday, May 24, 2013


This is my first time reuniting with the crew of car-crazed criminals since 2003, when 2 Fast 2 Furious riled up critics and seemed even to repel some of the fans of the original. I’ve gotta say, this was a hell of a way to get back in touch with them. With the way Fast and Furious 6 doles out action sequences and adrenaline rushes you’d think these aspects of film were going out of style, and even though this strategy reaches proportions that would have Sir Isaac Newton doubting the legitimacy of his life’s work, there was a surprising ease with which I was able to ignore the implausibility of the action and just enjoy the ride, as well as the views along the way.

The problem with these films is that in any given installment, the magic at any moment can be easily ruined if you were to just take a step back and think about what’s happening. . . particularly in the action sequences. People are able to jump further, survive higher and higher falls, and escape gunfire as if they have just graduated from a class on How To Dodge Bullets, as instructed by Keanu Reeves. Make no mistake, there’s a certain invincibility to these lead characters who have become lovable (or at least a gruff, thuggish approximation to ‘lovable’). Not to mention, their car-handling skills are otherworldly.

Alas, this is what we slap ten bucks onto the box office counter for. By now, those who are going to this film are either die-hard fans or critics just waiting to tear Hollywood a new one for allowing yet another installment to happen. As far as my readings of many reviews have gone, though, there are far fewer detractors of this film than I was initially expecting.

Fast 6 opens furiously, a bird’s eye camera following Dom and Brian as they race along a tightly winding ribbon of road cutting into Spanish cliffside. As it turns out, this brief chase is headed towards a finish line of a different sort. Brian has recently become a father, and Dom cautions him before he goes in to greet his child that this very moment marks a turning point in both their lives.

No kidding.

Of course, the Fast franchise has never been big on subtleties. This one line that Dom says is a huge foreshadowing of things to come; namely, the rest of the film’s mayhem.

One quiet afternoon the Hulk. . . er, rather, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson’s larger-than-life Luke Hobbs appears on Dom’s dapper doorstep, with a simple mission objective: “I need your help, Dom.” It is precariously cliche, but only in its execution do we truly find ourselves buying back into the fantasy of high-priced cars, the chasing and racing thereof, and of the lavish lifestyles that have only become more so as the series continues to expand. Initially reluctant to gather up the crew again, Dom finds himself with no other option.

Armed with the knowledge that Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) is indeed still alive, our crew — which has also expanded to include a few more babes and a few more goofy rapper-turned-actors — converts into some sort of quasi-military operations unit in the hunt for a secretive weapon that can power down an entire military operation for 24 hours. But that mission is second to finding and rescuing Letty from her British captors led by the coldhearted Owen Shaw (Luke Evans).

At this point it’s clear in Justin Lin’s direction that he wants the crew to transcend their affinity for stealing and pimping out their vehicles. The car aficionados (this term will forever apply at least to Dom and Brian) dart from one exotic location to the next, falling into occasional grapples with the enemy in random spurts of street racing. Not having seen the previous several, I had the impression that the street racing segments in this film were less a part of the chase than they were obligatory plot elements to keep the title relevant, even though it’s been clearly expressed that the stakes have never been higher for Brian, Dom and company. Taken by themselves, these extensive scenes are still Fast & Furious-worthy, and are bound to keep the attention for anyone who’s ever been a fan.

As the movie progresses the action is perpetually amplified to the point of becoming mind-numbing. The climax is utterly ridiculous. But this IS version number six we are talking about here. And because it is number six, it is far more surprising to me that there remained this much entertainment value in the story when it could have dived into far inferior, and more well-worn territory. Perhaps this had been the case in a few films in its history, but this time around there is plenty of material worth savoring. The fight sequences are impressive; the locations beautiful.

Performance-wise? Well, given that Ludacris, Tyrese Gibson (whom I’ve never been a fan of), “The Rock” and Vin Diesel all are acting on the same screen together — it could be much, much worse. Thankfully, screenwriter Chris Morgan devotes sufficient time to each of these guys to make them all a part of the raucous conversation about street racing evolving to the next level. I suppose if the stakes are going to be raised for every film, so too should the acting quality. Luckily, the two blend fairly well.

There may not be anything to remember other than how long it takes for a plane to lift-off (this part was perhaps the epitome of how the suspension of disbelief has been taken for granted with these films), or how Vin Diesel can survive so many NASCAR-style crashes, but by the time you get to thinking back on the film, maybe you won’t care too much.

(Oh, and by the way, it pays to stay for the credits.)


3-5Recommendation: For fans especially, Fast & Furious 6 fires on most, if not all cylinders. It is alternately an adrenaline rush and a sentimental story that does a nice job summarizing the places we’ve been thus far. But it is safe to say we are far from the finish line with it all. Go see it on the big screen; your T.V.’s stereo system won’t really do this thing justice.

Rated: PG-13

Running Time: 130 mins.

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The Hangover – Part III


Release: Thursday, May 23, 2013


…..sigh. I suppose the momentum of the party had to slow down sometime. Too bad that it happened when we all needed energy the most. In a trilogy, it’s never a good move to make your third and final installment the weakest in the series, even though that’s usually what happens.

Many Most trilogies spend a lot of time introducing characters, creating atmosphere, and providing a storyline in the first installment that will have us addicted at the get-go. The second film, ideally, is an expansion on what made the first film a success while managing to go to new places and new heights. It is most often where fans of the original, and even some newcomers, will butt heads with their opinions about the direction we’re going in — whether or not these are directed at that particular sequel or the differences/similarities between one and two is a matter of opinion that will widely vary. Regardless, a sequel more often than not bears the burden of living up to a standard. The first is free of such pressure, hence we often think back on the first film with fond memories, more often than not tagging them as THE film in the series to see.

And then we get the finale.

The third film has the most difficult job to do: expand further on where the others were taking us while bringing everything to a logical and fitting conclusion that not only contributes to the overall tone of the piece but satisfies this particular link-up of the story. A lot of the time, either one of these elements do not get met (and in some really bad cases, neither do), leaving us at times wishing they never continued to add to the story.

Todd Phillips’ drunken debauchery comes to a slam-bang close in The Hangover – Part III, but this time he has scrapped one of the major elements that made his previous two so funny: that moment you wake up and have no idea why you’re missing a tooth, parenting a random baby, or you’ve had your face tattooed in the style of Mike Tyson. “The morning after” discoveries really don’t have a place in this film since it is now time to prove what each member of the Wolfpack is made of. Phillips replaces this hilarious shock value with a much more traditional and quite frankly, boring, storyline that caters more to the likes of one Mr. Chow (Ken Jeong) after he escapes prison and is being tracked down by some very mean gangsters indeed (led by none other than John Goodman) when he steals $21 million in gold bricks.

The involvement with our beloved Wolfpack is a bit of a stretch, to say the least. Whilst the gang is minding their own business taking Alan (Galifianakis) to a facility where they hope he can receive the mental help he’s been clearly needing for a long time, they are run off the road by Goodman and company and find themselves with no other option but to help find the missing gold and Chow, otherwise Doug gets killed. At this point, Doug’s gotta be thinking his friends’ shit is just not worth putting up with anymore.

Regardless, the trap has been set and off we go on the third adventure that involves burglary, the defiling of bodies and the use of bath salts. The resultant story to justify it all is nothing more than a mess. Alternately chuckle-worthy and depressing, Part III demonstrates why comedy is not  the best foundation for making a trilogy. Most of this film focuses on Chow’s hijinks, some of which are hilarious, a lot of them not so much. We are no longer truly having a good time here. Part III is far less a comedy than Part II was (if you can believe that), and we really struggle to understand how any of these idiots have become married men.

If they’re not as dedicated to their wives, they are at least dedicated to trying to sell us on the same levels of panic and anguish as they had evinced in Bangkok — because, let’s face it, the stakes were much higher there than in Vegas the first time around. However, when Stu screams “What the f**k is going on?!!” in response to some bizarre sequence of events, the line comes across as more of a film tagline than an earnest reaction. This is but only one example of the many fraying edges we witness as the story goes on.

There are, however, a few redemptive moments throughout that come close to the spirit of earlier scenes in the trilogy. The house raid scene with Chow and Stu is priceless, as well as the climactic scene in Vegas. . . where it all began. Phil (Cooper) very boldly declares that “It all ends tonight.” Let’s hope so. I’m not sure anyone — the Wolfpack especially — can withstand anymore of this abuse. At the very least, Part III has worn out the comedic element; there’s plenty of drama to still go around. But that’s not why we paid for our Hangover really. And of the drama we really care about here, a lot of it is really just dumb melodrama, spurred on by Alan’s immutable stupidity.

As far as tying together all the loose ends, Phillips manages the job fairly well. The end is not so much predictable as it is appropriate, and may give some of the more hardcore fans of this trip some goosebumps. It would be a stretch to call it a bittersweet goodbye, but I would be remiss in not giving Phillips at least one thumbs-up for wrapping up the story nicely. It’s nothing even close to realistic, but then again, none of these films were! At the heart of The Hangover is a story of brotherly love, of sharing all the good memories one could ever want along with the bad, and surviving it together, come hell or high water. Or hookers. Or Mike Tyson. Or roofies.

Without getting too sentimental (considering this is surely the worst of the three), I’ll miss seeing this group of actors together but it’s good to finally get the hangover out of the way so we can move on about our day and get on with what we were meaning to do before we got so fucked up we couldn’t tell left from right. Shall we toast to that at least? I think we should.


2-0Recommendation: I would try to avoid seeing for as long as possible. Try visiting Vegas this time at your local dollar theater; this is by far the worst in the series and is not worth $10 since you’re not getting nearly the number of good laughs as you did in the first two. It’s a different story structure, which is a commendable risk that the director took here, but it resulted in unfamiliar territory that may take awhile to get used to. It’s less of a Hangover story as it is a drama with some very funny moments peppered throughout.

Rated: R

Running Time: 100 mins.

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Star Trek: Into Darkness


Release: Thursday, May 16, 2013


I still can’t decide whether or not that I wish I was a Trekkie now. On one hand, I feel like I was left out of the loop in terms of fully enjoying what has been largely deemed one of the more successful re-boot sequels ever made. On the other, I did indeed see Star Trek in 2009, and was simply blown away with what was being presented at the time (again, without having any previous experience with the old series), so it only seemed natural that this one would pick right up on where I had left off emotionally with the last. I had high hopes especially since most people I know are raving about Into Darkness.

Despite the glossy finish on this filmstrip, the intense action sequences, and solid performances all around, there was an extra special something this film lacked that truly engaged me in the story. With one exception, characters are not as developed throughout the film this time. That’s because Abrams did a really good job of doing so in the first film, bringing us all up to speed on the revamped cast and crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise in his 2009 phenom of a film. Here, he advances his agenda as he places these characters under further duress, where their entire world is now being threatened by a shadowy, terrifying unknown. It is Abrams’ hope that by now we are running with these fantastic personalities that have been accurately recreated in this new series. Why does it feel like I only went on a short walk with them this time though?

Captain James Kirk (Chris Pine) has recently been demoted from helming his own ship after disobeying the Starfleet’s Prime Directive when the crew are forced to come out of hiding on an alien planet. Spock has taken it upon himself to go down inside the planet’s imminently erupting volcano and implements a technology which freezes the lava instantaneously. The method would surely mean the death of Spock, but Kirk views it as his responsibility to leave no one behind. Unfortunately, this decision comes with a high price to pay. After being relieved of his captainship, Kirk re-enlists with another crew as a First Commander.

But when attacks hit close to home, and Starfleet’s central hub is bombed by a lone man — the one and only John Harrison, a former Starfleet member gone rogue — Kirk makes a strong case as to why he should be put back in charge. It’s a good thing ol’ Scotty (the reliably comical Simon Pegg) has the intuition as to where this man has fled to following the attack. Thus, our trusted crew are on their way into darkness, to breach a neutral zone between our race and the Klingon territory which harbors their home planet, Qo’noS/Kronos.

Now, granted, the opening moments of this film really could not have been handled any better. Forget about a gentle exposition. It’s a jarring jolt, and a violent one at that. From here on out the pulse-pounding action rarely seems to let up, save for a few lectures Captain Kirk inevitably receives for being the type of captain that he’s chosen to be — fearless, or reckless, that description I’ll leave you to decide upon. Most of the movie barely finds the time to explain itself — stuff is just happening. Abrams takes the Michael Bay approach and uses action in virtually every moment where there seems to be the risk run of having a lull in it. God forbid he bores a few ADHD members of the audience who need something loud and booming occurring constantly.

Half of the action — heck, maybe even three quarters of it was a necessity, sure. But like those Michael Bay CGI orgies, Abrams makes a bit of a mistake by cramming big explosions and crashes and fight sequences together to the point of saturation. I eventually became numb to what was ostensibly meant to be the climactic element when the Enterprise crash-lands on Earth. (That’s not a spoiler, this scene is in the trailer.)

And certainly Benedict Cumberbatch was a highlight as the dreaded villain. His voice could literally move mountains, or maybe at the very least, straighten out a Vulcan earlobe effectively.

So I still don’t know. To be a Trekkie, or to not be one. As many have validated, this re-boot is not meant to be 100% committed to every detail that made the old series dear to the fans of yesteryear. But. Would this film be better as a long-time follower? Would I have had more gripes with it if I were a 50-something-year-old viewer? Would I have laughed more at the expense of Spock in one of the many ideological scuffles he has with Captain Kirk’s methods? What have I missed in my viewing when I am not a fan for many, many years — aside from what is made obvious with the many self-referential jokes and quips?

Regardless, the answers to any of these come second to my question as to why this film is so intensely hyped. I have to say, maybe now I know what it feels like to not get swept up on the bandwagon. It kind of hurts, but I have to express myself honestly here. I was rather disappointed with the final result.


3-5Recommendation: Star Trek: Into Darkness is undoubtedly a good film. Great, even. But it lacks the “oomph” necessary to boost itself to warp speed in order to go beyond anything else that any one has ever done, which is precisely the impression I carried with me into the theater. Hoping for some revelatory experience is a wasted expectation, it seems.

Rated: PG-13

Running Time: 123 mins.

Quoted: “You misunderstand. It is true I chose not to feel anything upon realizing my own life was ending. As Admiral Pike was dying, I joined with his consciousness and experienced what he felt at the moment of his passing. Anger. Confusion. Loneliness. Fear. I had experiences those feelings before, multiplied exponentially on the day my planet was destroyed. Such a feeling is something I choose never to experience again. Nyota, you mistake my choice not to feel as a reflection of my not caring. Well, I assure you, the truth is precisely the opposite.”

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A Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charles Swan III


Release: Friday, February 8, 2013 (limited)


Okay. First of all, anything with Charlie Sheen’s name on it should be taken with a huge grain of salt. Actually, make that an entire shaker’s worth. If you ever saw the former-hit sitcom Two & A Half Men, you’d know his character in it was ridiculous and that a good portion of that show’s misogynistic leitmotif stemmed from it. He’s a boisterous womanizing drunkard, and he knows it. He even publicly fuels controversy over it:

“I was banging seven-gram rocks, because that’s how I roll. I have one speed, I have one gear. Go.”

Or how about this:

“I will not believe that if I do something then I have to follow a certain path, because it was written for normal people. People who aren’t special. People who don’t have tiger blood and Adonis DNA.”

Ah, well then that explains everything! Tiger blood is to blame for several stints in rehab (questionable completion, I might add…), the removal of his kids from his own custody and put in the care of an actual adult (who unfortunately is lacking in tiger blood), the aftermath of the fall-out with Chuck Lorre, and more than likely, its A Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charles Swan III‘s only reason for being.

Regard, the one and only Charles Swan III. As the main character, he’s meant to be a little bit different than Charlie Sheen himself. In the film he’s a graphic designer, and a pretty interesting one at that (hence the eggs and bacon on his car). But please, cut the bullshit. We see right through it in Roman Coppola’s film when it becomes apparent how much he (Coppola) wanted the film to have an organic, semi-unscripted and “real” feel to it. And truth be told, this director forces his hand in the opening shots.

The script is extremely basic, the dialogue too, and there’s virtually no distinction between a likable and unlikable character throughout the entire thing. Of course, I knew that I should be expecting such low brow film-making when the entire feature would revolve around the tiger blooded Chuck Sheen. Still, I figured it would at least be a chance to see a more 3-dimensional version of the guy who went viral due to his insane interviews, or it could at the VERY minimum be an trashily entertaining way to spend nearly 2 hours.

Trashy was right — consider me the anti-fan of anything Roman Coppola at this point. Despite some interesting visual effects and “distractions,” a high school film student may as well have shot this. (No offense to you, high school student, this would have been a great first project. . . )

We begin with a therapy session where we learn that Charles Swan has recently been rendered single after his long-time girlfriend Ivana (Katheryn Winnick) breaks it off with him suddenly. Distraught but moreover drunk, Charles reacts by throwing his ex’s shoes — all gathered in a single garbage bag — down a steep hill. Or at least he tries to. It gets caught in a tree, and when he tries to move it and re-attempt the act of good riddance, he again fails. You might consider this one scene to be a microcosm of everything he does in the movie — and if you are particularly bitter, like me, it could be representative of this guy’s entire public life. Everything he tries to do to fix something becomes more epic than what had just happened, and with his attempts to “fix” things, the problems only get worse.

And so is the case with Charles Swan, who now feels the need to try and get back in contact with Ivana to tell her he’s sorry and that he wants to change, and prove himself worthy of love and worthy of being considered a “man.” Jason Schwartzman plays Kirby Star, a stand-up comedian and Charles’ best bud, and Bill Murray tags along (inexplicably) as Swan’s business advisor, Saul. Even though both of these central characters are similarly dysfunctional in some way or another, neither compare to Charles Swan and both are ultimately wastes of the actors’ talents through and through. I cannot understand why Murray was involved at all. At. All.

Maybe this was a favor Murray was paying Chuckles. . .

Whatever the case may be, all that really matters is that we get the Charlie Sheen preening I was anticipating; the film is his own private kingdom for grooming his already well-groomed, slowly fraying image. In his own terms, he is “winning” for some of the movie, then he goes very quickly in the opposite direction when he pursues his ex using the world’s most ridiculous tracking bug, a device that was more complicated than the entire premise here.

I would say there’s one other reason for this film to exist — to feed Charlie’s ego and make him feel better having just been fired — but you know as well as I that he probably doesn’t need it

For awhile there, I was appreciative of an actor who would simply go off the rails for the sake of making themselves a public spectacle (and I know how pretentious that sounds, trust me) — when the first interviews were televised and Charlie was heard saying certain things, I was a mix between excited and disgusted by the guy. I felt the movie might cater to this same hopeless curiosity, but what I got in return for my tiger-blood loyalty was a tiger bite in the ass. It’s a stupid flick, but in order to fully mine the depths of Sheen’s recent stupidity and depravity, the film lacked full-bore commitment to being stupid. Maybe instead a better description would be lazy and stupid.

You might ask why I should be so surprised by the quality of this picture. That’s a good question, but I’ll counter with the fact that you just never know what he’s going to be up to next. And for some strange reason, I believe the guy really thinks he’s winning still. I like the positivity!


1-0Recommendation: If you are infatuated by his antics, pick this up to rent and quickly forget about — not voluntarily so, either. It’s just that the movie is literally a camera following Chuck in a day-in-the-life kind of fashion. If this is even possible, this was a squandered opportunity to show off a deeper part of the inner workings of Charlie Sheen’s mind. Turns out, it could be better (cheaper definitely) to just look him on YouTube for some of that.

Rated: R

Running Time: 86 mins.

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The Great Gatsby


Release: Friday, May 10, 2013


A colorful cast and crew give F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic novel its most contemporary treatment yet in 2013, with The Great Gatsby refocused through the lenses of Baz Luhrmann. With an alignment of stars that immediately gives its characters life, and a costume/make-up department that rivals (and could possibly be superior to) that of Les Miserables, the film is an unsatisfying mixture of style over substance. It looks terrific, but the pizzazz is clearly indicative of a film that, script-wise, is dangerously insecure — just like one of our lead characters here.

I suppose one of the more important things to note is that the acting is not to blame for a general lack of engagement in the storytelling; Leo first and foremost, fully embodies the essence of Jay Gatsby and is thankfully not a disappointment, so you can breathe a sigh of relief there. As well, Carey Mulligan (as Daisy Buchanan) and Joel Edgerton (as Daisy’s brute of a husband, Tom) are at their best and Tobey Maguire manages Nick Carraway fairly well.

It is unfortunately with Mr. Maguire that I found one of the film’s larger, and ultimately, more frustrating, structural flaws that prevented Gatsby from becoming the emotional spectacle it truly could have been. We are swept into the story with a narrative from Nick Carraway, who’s setting up time and place of the events that would ultimately fill the actual story. This was a completely unnecessary layer and if anything seemed to diminish the significance of the story of Jay Gatsby and his parties. Not only that, but the narrative — which is not limited to the opening five or ten minutes, either — keeps us at an arm’s length of the characters stuck inside Fitzgerald’s vision of the Roaring 20’s. Each time we hear the voiceovers from Maguire’s slow, labored delivery, we’re taken out of the moment a little. This happens more than a few times.

When the narrative isn’t there dictating the story to us, like getting rid of the subtitles, we get a story about the great and mysterious Jay Gatsby and of his travails finding his long lost love, Daisy, with innocent “ole sport” Nick Carraway merely getting caught in the crossfire. The heart of this passionate love affair — from what I recall of reading the book in high school — remains faithful to the sequence of events Fitzgerald penned in 1925, and thanks to a select few scenes, it succeeds at times to strike at the emotional core of what made the novel of so long ago, so mesmerizing and dramatic.

Alas, these moments were sporadically popping up throughout the film, whilst a camera guided us haphazardly throughout the land that constituted the narrative perimeters of the story  — the serene waters, the sweeping forested lands, the city skyline set against the filth and grime of city workers shoveling dirt and coal.

A variety of wide-angle shots, sudden deep and dramatic zooms, and wide scans and panoramas were utilized, which actually succeeded in trapping us inside this world and giving the impression that we were being physically moved from one distinct location (where something happens) to another (where something else happens).Going with the 3D glasses, however, might make you a little nauseous after awhile, since Luhrmann is intent on moving throughout this landscape as though he were on board a roller coaster.

So it is, again: the special effects get in the way.

Here’s the thing you ought to know about this recent adaptation: it’s not a ‘bad’ film in the general sense that it fails to entertain or engage on any level. I mean for crying out loud this is a Leonardo DiCaprio picture, after all.

But it did have a standard to reach, and unfortunately for me, this was not met.

Beginning with the aforementioned wild editing in places, there was far too much emphasis on explaining the development of the relationships among our main cast, when the film would have benefitted far more from simply doing the developing. In other words, they could have done without half of the narration and the meat of the story would have still made perfect sense. Beyond this issue, though, lay a host of others.

The costumes looked great — Carey Mulligan is simply dazzling as Daisy and is pretty much exactly how I imagined her to look; the partiers all spectacularly clad in exquisite Golden Twenties fashion. The look is so overwhelming that we forget we are here to watch a story being told. And the use of Jay-Z, Will-I-Am and Florence & The Machines (to name a few) in the soundtrack was seriously out of sync with the feel of this particular re-imagining.

As well, the big reveals are not all that revelatory since (well, I guess if you’ve read the book the entire film won’t be a surprise) we can see the event coming from miles away, and especially with the narration, any strong anticipation of what may be coming later is quickly squashed flat. It’s as though we are being told exactly how and what to think and feel in these moments.

There were realistically only two ways this 2013 version could have gone: truly spectacular or. . . well, truly unspectacular. I’d rather not write it off as a disaster, but I left with a rather hollow feeling in my gut when I was hoping to be elated by the charismatic power we always seem to get from DiCaprio, and Carey Mulligan is a reliably romantic dramatist as well. While the two did seem to have strong chemistry, the script did not allow us to ever really get close enough to these characters to truly care. So, I’m not going to write this off as a disaster, but I can’t say I was pleased. Maybe that is just the challenge of creating this kind of a movie, though. Based on a novel that was rather light on pages, it had to balance a good number of elements to please what has become obvious as a much wider, younger and more impatient audience.


2-5Recommendation: I cannot say that this in any way lived up to my expectations in terms of the intensity and intrigue of the storyline, but from what we were seeing in the weeks and months leading up to this film, that is exactly what we get for a majority of the film: people looking spectacular. Wealthy. Carefree. Strangely immortalized in their reckless abandonment. For a while this all works well, but for substance we need a little bit more and it’s probably been done better in earlier adaptations. Still, more than worth it for fans of DiCaprio.

Rated: PG-13

Running Time: 143 mins.


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Mud Banner Poster

Release: Friday, April 26, 2013 (limited)


You can just call him ‘Mud.’

Sporting a tattered white collar tee shirt, ripped jeans and a hairdo that hasn’t been attended to in some time, Matthew McConaughey delivers a performance that might have single-handedly won me over as a fan. His work of the past, while I’d never describe it as ‘bad,’ has just not interested me all that much — even his involvement in the spectacularly inane Tropic Thunder. McConaughey has just been so-so to me for years.

Well, along comes May 2013 and I’ve been proven wrong about at least one of his roles.

In this humble slice of Southern living, McConaughey resorts to the bare necessities as a man on the lam having shot and killed a man somewhere else — presumably not in the near vicinity. He’s managed to survive in the woods with little more than his confidence and a boat that somehow has been lodged high up in a tree. When two youngins, Ellis (Tye Sheridan) and Neckbone (Jacob Lofland) discover the brilliant new ‘treehouse’ on this island that’s pretty far down river from where they both live, they also discover a man living in it.

Mud succeeds on a number of levels. As a character study, it is the most successful. The entire cast turn in performances worthy of an Oscar — the young Sheridan and Lofland are especially enjoyable, possibly even break-outs. The character development that occurs is remarkable and intimately documented, and this is helped by the boys’ precocious nature and the fact that they are suddenly interacting with a homeless man named Mud.

He has stories to tell out the wazoo, and along the way can’t help but try to impart upon the boys some of his rusty (or is that, rustic?) knowledge about getting along in life. His plight — he tells them while rigging up some kind of fishing device — involves meeting up with his long-time girlfriend (or perhaps ex by now, it’s not ever very clear) and escaping the island he’s currently living on and to go live in peace, away from everything. What exactly ‘everything’ means here, you’ll have to wait and find out. While Neckbone and Ellis are keen to listen to this, they continue to dart between trusting and doubting the man’s intentions.

But not only are these three great to watch, the strong silent type presents itself in the form of one Sam Shephard, who plays Tom Blankenship, a widower who lives across the river from Ellis. He’s simply wonderful as the quiet, mysterious neighbor, who turns out to be as much of an enigma as Mud himself.

Reese Witherspoon, while not as involved, turns in a solid performance as the tattered and torn Juniper, the love interest for the estranged Mud.

The film is also intimate in its setting and beautifully shot. Along the gentle curves of the mighty Mississippi we focus in on one particular branch where Neckbone, Ellis and Tom live, and so we never are distracted by the outside world, as it were. The fast-paced and technologically-dependent city life is shrouded by the Southern tincture of Mud. It is even actively avoided.

The crux of the boys’s stories revolves around their current lifestyle. When Ellis’ father is concerned that the government may come and seize their property on the water following an impending divorce, he tells his son that he may have to go live with his mother for awhile, who will now be in town. Ellis hates the idea and is fully opposed to moving off the water. Not only that, but the main conflict of the film (without revealing anything, of course 🙂 ) is coming from out of town. But we only get the part of this that occurs locally, we almost never leave the river. We feel as if we too, are neighborly.

Even if what concerns the boys is still only a subplot to what’s going on with Mud, the directorial treatment that both are given make the stories of Neckbone, Ellis and Mud become so naturally intertwined it was as though footage of real life were unfolding. What ultimately faces Mud will test the mettle of the unlikely friendship that has formed on the muddy banks of the Mississippi. It is a wonderful, fully-focused story that asks important questions about the true meaning of friendship, maturity and doing what’s right.


4-5Recommendation: For the many Matthew McConaughey doubters that are roaming around out there, it’s high time you wander into a theater and check out this film. It’s one of the official selections of  the Cannes International Film Festival, one of the best from director Jeff Nichols, and certainly far and away the best featuring McConaughey. I know I’m saying it quite a lot here, but if you don’t go see this film you likely won’t ever understand my gushing. . . .

Rated: PG-13

Running Time: 130 mins.

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Iron Man 3


Release: Friday, May 3, 2013


“Did you see that?!” Yinsen, the doctor, implored a despondent Tony Stark to try and grasp the severity of the situation that lied before both of them, “Those are YOUR weapons. . . in the hands of those murderers! Is this what you want? Is this the last act to define the great Tony Stark…?”

All those years ago, back in that damp, dark cave the character and morality of one Tony Stark was called into question as his own company’s precious goods wound up in the hands of a terrorist organization. How he would respond to such a moment — whether to take action or to just sit by while terrorists reaped the benefits of his life’s brilliant and ambitious work — would not only come to define our lead character, but it would set the tone for our future enjoyment of Marvel’s latest creation: the Iron Man trilogy.

Indeed, Stark has come a long way since then. His character over the last four or five years has been idolized; his iron — okay, fine, his titanium alloy suit —  adored and dissected by fans and critics alike. But with the arrival of the third and final installment, Stark is faced with new challenges — ones that seem to echo the sentiment of that one question Yinsen had asked, before Stark made his first stab at being the high-tech hero in 2008. With the threat of the dreaded Mandarin, he must again look within himself for a way to not be selfish, to put what matters the most before him. Can he change? And what kind of events are going to transpire to make him want to?

Iron Man 3 is a departure from the previous two for a few reasons, while managing to cling on to many of the qualities that have made Downey Jr’s Iron Man the lovable character that he’s become. One difference is who’s in the director’s chair: Shane Black takes over for Jon Favreau, who this time is in front of the camera playing Pepper Pott’s hilariously overzealous body guard, Happy Hogan. Another deviation from the other films is this one catches Tony at his most introverted. He will have to look inside himself to find a way to fight the evils that face him here:  his home comes under attack, as does Pepper and Stark now finds himself having to revert to basics to protect that which matters most to him now. Whereas in the first, and in particular the second one, most of the story was spent developing the world of Tony Stark, what he had within his physical capabilities.

The third iteration of the Iron Man is no novel idea, however. We’ve seen a plot like this in many other hero stories that have been converted to the big screen. Being the capstone to one of Marvel’s more successful franchises, Iron Man 3 pretty much necessitated that the plot be more formulaic than original. This is not to say it’s boring, or that the story is baseless. With a few exceptions, the Marvel comic’s story is well-adapted. As the audience for the contemporary story, we’ve reached a point where we feel we intimately know the man behind the suit, and with Black’s brand of humor infused in virtually every element, we get a script and story we not only like but deserve. Black’s tongue-in-cheek is a great send-off for Stark and while we can’t help notice the well-worn territory we walk through, the hilarious and heartfelt nature of Black’s storytelling is well worth the entry fee. And then some.

Extremis, a miraculous breakthrough ‘medicine,’ developed by another brainiac named Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce), gives people the ability to regenerate body parts that have been lost to injury, birth defect or disease. Originally applied to plant life by another doctor years ago, Extremis is the latest business enterprise peddled by the overly excited Killian who is now trying to convince Pepper Potts, now CEO of Stark Industries, to invest in his think tank’s genius new idea. Seeing the obvious drawbacks to the methodology — in order for this to work, one has to have their DNA encoding manipulated, and you know, that just sounds kinda risky — Pepper turns Killian’s offer down. This sets in motion a series of events that will pit Stark’s love for himself against his love for another person in what can only be described as a battle of epic and laugh-out-loud proportions.

While the nature of being the final chapter in a trilogy tends to drown a piece in sentimentality, perhaps more than it rightfully should, the way Iron Man 3 closes out is surprisingly understated — despite the requisite gigantic action sequence at the end. I suppose that could easily be identified as a weaker ending than some might expect, but I honestly thought the conclusion fits quite well.

Along with a few rather large surprises, there is opportunity aplenty to go see this film multiple times in theaters and discover some new fun within its warped and twisted metal and gadgetry. In particular, Downey Jr.’s interaction with a Tennessee boy when he crash lands there on part of his mission to discover where and when the Mandarin has been attacking, is particularly entertaining, despite also being the movie’s most cliched moment. Thanks to the new director, it is actually these otherwise cheesy moments that wind up being some of the more humorous and attention-keeping. Black saw the second film, then realized that a Transformers-esque action-sequence that lasts forever does not a good movie make. He decides to play to his strengths, and fortunately, his strengths play much to our appeal.


4-0Recommendation: As a whole, the new Iron Man films have been very well received the world over. This third edition is as reliable as any of them for the thrills, laughs and commanding screen presence from Robert Downey Jr. Iron Man 3 also marks the reuniting of actor and director from the tongue-in-cheek 2005 murder-mystery Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. If that is any kind of marker, it is a decent predictor of the comedic rapport we’re going to experience between Shane Black and the Iron Man. Those who loved the first two are likely to not change their mind with this. And, of course, the story’s ultimate armor  is that even non-fans of the comic are apt to take warmly to this farewell.

Rated: PG-13

Running Time: 130 mins.

Quoted: “All right? Just play it cool, otherwise you come off grandiose.”

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Release: Friday, March 22, 2013 (U.S.) (limited)


Although the title might mislead (no, this actually isn’t about the expensive coffee….), what this film offers is nonetheless a hearty and warm mixture of comedy and paternal love. Starbuck, featuring charming performances from Patrick Huard, Antoine Bertrand and Julie Le Breton, is an uncommonly smooth cup-o-Joe.

It’s also been a while since yours truly has seen a foreign film (rather, a film where none of the dialogue is in English), and having to split my attention between reading the subtitles and what was happening at the time was actually refreshing. I suppose it helps having a script that is both hilarious and heartwarming as well. And French-Canadian Ken Scott’s new film possesses more of these qualities than I’ve seen in a good number of films as of late.

A bit farcical, the film centers around 40-something David Wosniak (Huard) who is quite an amiable fellow but has yet to really get his shit together. More importantly, what you need to know about David is that in his earlier years he was quite the prolific sperm donor, making frequent visits to the clinic annually under the alias ‘Starbuck.’ One day a representative of this clinic walks into David’s life with the news that he is being sued. . . . .and that there are 140-plus plaintiffs to face.

Then he’s reminded of his previously puerile lifestyle, and of the quality of his sperm samples — David’s inadvertently become father to 533 children, of whom 142 are interested in meeting their father. By going through the legal system, these kids hope for the chance to finally know his identity. Of course, David is at first reluctant to step forward, in knowing how weird the story will play out publicly. And somewhat predictably, yes when the news gets out about the lawsuit, the name ‘Starbuck’ instantly becomes a nefarious term to throw around. In fear of having ruined his own life forever, David decides he wants to become actively involved with these kids  — he’s tired of being a screw-up and wants to change his fortunes, once and for all.

While he’s strangely floating through the lives of his kids, the tension fueled by media and the public outrage at such a situation begins to wear on David and he’s ever reluctant to reveal his identity. Especially since he’s trying to rekindle lost love with his former girlfriend, Valerie (Le Breton). When she tells him she is now pregnant, our lovable but scatterbrained Starbuck finds himself more conflicted than ever.

The film’s tone might be misconstrued as being a bit sappy or too pat, but if anything, those seem to be general misjudgments on the part of anyone who strictly defines ‘family’ based on the mother-father-and-three-kids blueprint. Certainly, we’re dealing with extremes here in Starbuck, but that doesn’t mean it’s any less enjoyable. In fact, the extremes are what makes the film such a treat to watch.


3-5Recommendation: Interestingly enough, an American version is slated to be released late 2013, possibly early ’14, and will star Vince Vaughn as the ‘David’ of this version. Originally going by the same name, this new release is now titled Delivery Man. Now, I’m going to make a bold prediction and say that even with the same director behind the camera, it will fall short of the heartfelt schmucky-ness found in Starbuck (which, by the way, was actually first put out in 2011 to Canadian audiences). With all that said, I fully recommend experiencing this version. . . at least, before you see Vince Vaughn trying on the role for size.

Rated: PG-13

Running Time: 109 mins.

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