Monthly Archives: May 2013

The Iceman Review

The Iceman cometh...and he killeth.

The Iceman cometh…and he killeth.

I read the book on which this film is based as well as watched the volumes of interviews which can be seen on YouTube here. The book was a page turner and was a great story, which is a little weird to say, given it was all about a cold-blooded killer. So when I heard that this was being made into a film starring Michael Shannon, and given that two of my top ten all time favorite films are Goodfellas and The Godfather (I like gangster movies…well, ones that don’t star Ryan Gosling), I couldn’t wait.

The film opened in limited release and I was ready to get in line once I found a theater that was showing it (oddly enough, it was playing in a little theater here in the small village of Cranford, New Jersey). I had read a couple reviews and they were mediocre at best. Well, after seeing this film, I have absolutely no idea why those reviews were so tepid. Well, not to say that the film is free of flaws, but there’s nothing here that Michael Shannon, Ray Liotta, Chris Evans, John Ventimiglia (Artie Bucco from the Sopranos), James Franco, Stephen Dorff, Robert Davi and yes, even Winona Ryder and David Schwimmer (Ross from Friends!) can’t overcome.

Let me first say that Michael Shannon is a BEAST. He also beats out Christopher Walken as the creepiest looking actor on the planet. Even though I was disappointed that Man Of Steel would be revisiting Zod as an antagonist, I cannot wait to see what Shannon does with that part. But I digress. I haven’t seen a lot of Shannon’s work outside of Boardwalk Empire, but I put him in roughly the same category as DeNiro, Denzel and coincidentally Terence Stamp (Superman 2’s Zod); they all do pretty much the same character but they do it so well, it doesn’t matter one bit. In Shannon’s case, it’s all about that rarely blinking, focused scowl, and that tight pursed lip, a countenance that could turn water into ice. This time, that stoic hardly changing scowl which he puts on display through much of the first half of the movie while on his killing spree serves him well, because he pretty much nails Richard Kuklinski a.k.a the Iceman dead on. There’s a scene early on where Kuklinski confronts James Franco’s character. The calm with which Kuklinski comports himself while holding a gun to Franco rivals that great scene with Javier Bardem at the gas station in No Country For Old Men. But as the movie progresses and things start to go off the rails for Kuklinski, we get to see Shannon play rage and it’s as frightening as you would expect. Shannon alone makes this film worth seeing.

What also makes the film worth seeing is the cast, as I mentioned before. I mean, come on, go back to the second paragraph above and re-read that cast list. I don’t believe there’s a sour performance anywhere to be seen. Since the last Fantastic Four movie, Chris Evans is on a mission to prove he’s much more than the Human Torch. As Kuklinski’s brief partner in crime, he was unrecognizable for most of his onscreen time, due to his makeup and his spot on performance. And Winona Ryder…talk about someone who should’ve continued acting over the last decade instead of shoplifting. As Kuklinski’s wife, she blew me away with her performance. Where has she been all this time? David Schwimmer, who I think doesn’t get a lot of respect as an actor, was good, too. I admit I’m a fan but even I was scratching my head at the thought of casting him as a mobster. But the more you learn about his character, the more it makes sense. And in just a little under five minutes of screen time, Stephen Dorff manages to steal a scene right from under Shannon. It’s a completely throwaway scene and Dorff’s character is never touched on again once the scene passes, which is a HUGE  mistake because Dorff KILLS it. It’s just poor development when a scene that good could be excised without any consequences to the plot.

From what I remember, a lot of events are added, and few things are touched upon from the book. I recall vividly from the book that one of Kuklinski’s methods of dispatching enemies was to tie them up, dump them in a cave in a remote area of Jersey, set up a light, a video camera (for proof of kill), set bait around the victim, and allow hordes of rats to eat the victim alive. So, it’s understandable that some things were changed (although I recall reading that this claim from the actual Kuklinski was widely thought to be false). Perhaps the fact that the film veers away from the book is why during the third act, it gets a little muddled in terms of who’s stalking who, who’s out to kill who, and so on. My only other nitpick, which I think would have earned the film a solid five stars from me, is that the film only shows us scant glimpses of Kuklinski’s past, establishing how he became such a monster. As it is, those who haven’t read the book might not understand how a working schlub dubbing porno films in a rundown Jersey City theater could quickly make the leap to becoming a cold-blooded killer.

After seeing this, seeing Shannon’s performance, I must watch Take Shelter before seeing him in Man Of Steel. Any actor portraying a killer of reportedly over 100 men that can make you sympathize for him because he is also such a loving family man is an actor worth seeing, no matter the other minor flaws in the movie.  Much like the Sopranos focused as much on Tony’s family life as his life in the mob, this movie makes you feel for Kuklinski because he genuinely loved and cared for his family and closest friends. Take the dichotomy of family vs. mob, the slow build and ultimate crescendo of  Donnie Brasco, and to a lesser extent, Carlito’s Way, but amp it way high, you’ve got this movie here. 4/5 reels

The Wolverine Latest Trailer

The original Edward Scissorhands

The original Edward Scissorhands

Now the summer is getting interesting. I’ve bathed multiple times to get the stench and bile of Into Darkness off me. No, I won’t use the words “Star” and “Trek” with that film anymore. But I digress.

Let me first say that after the disappointing outings of X:Men: The Last Stand and X-Men Origins: Wolverine, and then after the onslaught of Captain America, Hulk, Iron Man and Thor, leading up to the release of The Avengers, I had considered Wolverine to be kind of on the decline.

But here’s a trailer that looks awesome. I love the fact that Wolverine is in Japan, adds a dynamism to a superhero movie that I don’t recall seeing ever. Yeah, Batman was in China in Dark Knight, but that was for a hot minute. Either the filmmakers are sourcing more from the Wolverine comic character’s past (as I recall, Wolverine spent years in Japan, even had a lover named Yukio, I believe)…OR…they want to pull in more of those overseas dollars. So this is the perfect storm of verisimilitude and Hollywood greed.

Also looks like we’ve some Kill Bill action and if I’m not mistaken, there’s a quick shot where it looks like Wolverine has bogarted Batman’s batglider.  I just don’t want to see Wolverine getting his ass kicked in every fight. Wolverine, with his foot long claws, has very little recourse but to kill when he fights, so it usually means he has to take a beating from the bad guy, and killing characters left and right isn’t good for the longevity of a movie franchise. But I hope they can work around this problem. Have him engage more henchmen, they’re expendable.

So, after seeing this trailer, I’m looking forward to this movie.

Last Words On Man Of Steel “Fate Of Your Planet”

Kneel before the Space Jockey...uh, I mean Zod!

Kneel before the Space Jockey…uh, I mean Zod!

Okay. I don’t usually allow myself to get hyped up for summer movies any more because nine times out of ten, I walk away disappointed. But you know what? I am all IN for Man Of Steel after seeing this new trailer. I’m begging the powers that be to let this movie live up to what I’m seeing here.

There’s no question this will be filled to the brim with action. I only ask three things:

1) Show me a more human Superman. As great as Christopher Reeve was, and is still the gold standard, I always felt his Superman was written too much as a hero and not enough of a human being (I know Superman’s an alien, but he was raised from infancy on Earth). Reeve’s Superman was a boy scout, with a child-like innocence and wore his emotions on his sleeve. “For the first time in my life, everything’s clear,” he says, his eyes moist as he takes Lois to bed in Superman 2. Ok, that’s sweet and nice, but now it’s time to see more of a regular guy who’s a hero in the blue costume.

2) Again, as much as I appreciated Reeve’s performance as Clark Kent, the physical humor he adeptly played, I want to see less of a clown and more of a normal person who’s just a bit socially awkward. Not a comic character (yes, I realize the irony in that statement).

3) Let the movie be as much about the action as it is about the characters. Looking at the previous trailers, it looks like Snyder will give us some characters that aren’t just contributing to action set pieces. Kevin Costner’s delivery of the line, “You are my son,” is heartwarming (I hate that word, but it always works so well). And I like how he suggests that maybe Clark shouldn’t use his powers even when others are in jeopardy. Little things like that indicate that the script gets it right. I just hope that by the 2nd act of the film, these little character beats aren’t jettisoned for all balls-to-the-wall action.

To me, Superman as a movie property stands above and beyond any other superhero movie. I never read Superman regularly growing up. I thought the character was silly and juvenile, what with Krypto, Superboy, Supergirl, Kandor in a bottle, Mxyzptlk, red K, green K, yellow K et. al. But when I saw Superman: The Movie and heard the John Williams score, I was all in as a little kid. Then I saw Superman 2 and it blew my head open. Superman was fighting super bad guys on screen! The president kneels before Zod! Superman flies up the Eiffel Tower and saves Paris! Granted that film is a little hard to watch now and a little boring, maybe because I saw it SO many times. As embarassing as it is to say, that movie did for me what the original Star Wars did for many filmmakers today: it was what inspired me to go into video/film production as a career. And ever since Superman 2, I’ve gone into a Superman film hoping to relive the magic of the first two films. Hasn’t happened yet. Bryan Singer came close, but went off the reservation ultimately. So, that’s why I say, at least for me, Superman stands above any other superhero movie. And if I’m going by the trailers, this new movie has the potential of making me feel like a kid again.

We’re The Millers Trailer

Hey, Kelis, Jennifer wants to know if your milkshake is better than hers.

Hey, Kelis, Jennifer wants to know if your milkshake is better than hers.

There are a few things going for this…it looks funny. Jennifer Aniston looks amazing at 44. Jason Sudeikis, Ed Helms and the actor playing the son looks like he could be destined for bigger things. Problem is, it’s not a good sign when a film resorts to sex right off the bat to sell itself (let’s be real, the only thing guys are keying on is Aniston stripping), and speaking of Aniston, she’s a great actress, great comic timing, but she played an oversexed boss in Horrible Bosses and now she’s playing a stripper. Makes you wonder where her career’s going. But the real problem is that this trailer is so funny and so long that it’s almost a sure bet that all the stuff worth seeing is right here.

 

42 Review

So here's to you, Mr. Robinson.

So here’s to you, Mr. Robinson.

I would recommend this movie as it’s not a BAD film, but it could’ve been much better. Good performances all around, particularly from Nicole Beharie (also seen in Shame with Michael Fassbender), Harrison Ford as the owner of the Brooklyn Dodgers and a really ugly but riveting performance by Alan Tudyk as a racist manager of the Phillies. The main problem with the movie is, even though the producers chose to focus on a specific period in Jackie Robinson’s life, when he first broke the baseball color barrier, he doesn’t come across as a three dimensional character, yet everyone around him does. Jackie Robinson is portrayed only as an icon, as opposed to a person who becomes an icon. The movie Ray did it right; I felt like I was watching a character who was a person first, warts and all, who became a legend despite that. But again, it’s worth seeing. 3/5 stars

Star Trek: Into Darkness Review

I'll chase J.J. Abrams 'round the moons of Nibia and 'round the Antares Maelstrom and ' round Perdition's flames before I give him up!

I’ll chase J..J. Abrams ’round the moons of Nibia and ’round the Antares Maelstrom and ‘ round Perdition’s flames before I give him up!

Maybe we were all too hard on Bryan Singer when we complained about how much Superman Returns cribbed from the Richard Donner Superman movies. Because Abrams got away with it in spades.

J.J. Abrams returns with the second installment of the Star Trek reboot. Well, let me just say that any true Star Trek fan should not accept that this is truly Trek; being a true Trek fan, I’ll be the first to say this is not Star Trek. But I decided to go into this movie with no expectations that this was going to be the Trek that I grew up with, all I was looking for was a good sci-fi action flick. But here’s the problem…Abrams kept throwing callbacks to the original movies in my face that I couldn’t help but make the connection back to MY beloved Star Trek because he constantly cribbed from the original movies. And the result is easily one of the most disappointing films of the summer so far.

I will say this: in today’s slapdash ADHD style of summer movies, this film will do very well. For the non-Trek initiated, this film will probably do well. But I contend that our expectations have been lowered so much that things like logic, economy of story-telling, and proper characterizations don’t mean anything anymore. In the same leap of logic that transformed a real Hispanic family into a British family in the film The Impossible, so here a dynamic ethnic character from the past somehow becomes a Brit. Economy of story-telling is thrown to the wind as there are no less than three antagonists in this movie. Light spoiler: one of Star Trek’s richest densest alien cultures, the Klingons, make a debut here and anticlimactic doesn’t begin to describe their appearance (they also seem to be rather metrosexual, what with the blue contact lenses). Lack of proper characterization is on show here as well: if you go to see this, ask yourself if you would follow this iteration of Kirk to the grocery store, much less into any battle. This is a movie where Kirk is a whiny brat, Spock cries, Chekhov runs the engine room, Spock and Uhura squabble in front of their captain and the most fun character, Bones, is shunted off to the side. In short, this isn’t your father’s Star Trek, it’s the CW’s Star Trek.

Much like Iron Man 3’s Mandarin, there is a character reveal here that almost made me leave the theater. It’s one of several callbacks to iconic moments in Trek lore that are horribly replayed here. And there is one line, a line ingrained in pop culture that is screamed in this film that you have to see/hear to believe. It’s so bad.

The saving graces of this movie are Benedict Cumberbatch, who, if allowed to be a more original villain, as opposed to being reduced to yet another unbelievable callback, he could’ve been one of the best villains in Trek history. And a surprise appearance by Robocop’s Peter Weller as a Starfleet admiral was a great bit of casting. Other appearances by Alice Eve as Carol Marcus (future creator of the Genesis project) and Leonard Nimoy in a cameo as Spock, are once again, pointless callbacks to better films.

From a purely filmmaking standpoint, I had a headache when I left the movie. I felt as pummeled by the relentless action and quick cuts as I did when I saw Transformers, or even worse, Armageddon. If you’re looking for non-stop action, I’ll admit this is the movie for you.

At the conclusion of this film, we hear Pine’s Kirk intone those famous words, “Space, the final frontier.” Problem is, he’s a total liar when he utters, “to boldly go where no one has gone before.” Yes, we HAVE been here before, and it was done much better. 2/5 reels

Iron Man 3 Review

My name is Stark...Tony Stark.

My name is Stark…Tony Stark.

 

To paraphrase a well-known saying, this movie as a whole is not greater than the sum of its parts…but some of its parts are pretty damn good. That’s what makes the movie a little frustrating. For every scene that blew me away, there were two or more scenes that made me scratch my head.

Iron Man 3 picks up where the Avengers left off, and Tony Stark is suffering from PTSD, after having been in a battle with alien invaders, a demi-god and after having flown into another dimension with a nuclear bomb. The problem is, this subplot, which could’ve been very interesting, is never really developed.  Rather it’s shoe-horned in merely as a callback device to  tie it to the Avengers and thereby remind us that Avengers 2 is on the horizon. Now that Stark has incorporated artificial intelligence and autonomous mental control between himself, his suits and JARVIS, there’s a great moment between a sleeping Tony Stark and Pepper Potts which demonstrates how dangerous Stark can be when mentally unstable. But again, it really goes nowhere. But mentioning JARVIS and artificial intelligence raises another conundrum I had with the film.

There were times in this film when I thought the title should have been Iron Suit as opposed to Iron Man. I mean, there are long stretches of this film where Tony Stark uses JARVIS’s AI to control the suits remotely, which begs the question, at what point does Tony Stark cease being a superhero and rather becomes a Rockem Sockem Robot player? Is it fun to watch a superhero control his suits from afar, out of harm’s way? Does it beg the question, if the suits can perform so well autonomously, why would Stark ever wear them in the first place? And, by the way, Stark should forget about designing Iron Man suits and patent JARVIS, who has one hell of a wifi network.

There are also stretches of this film where I felt like Robert Downey, Jr. must have lobbied to have a James Bond/Jason Bourne action set piece, because there are scenes where Stark takes out bad guys so efficiently without the use of his armor, you wonder if he could’ve chopped it up with Captain America on the heiicarrier in Avengers. Really out of character and one scene in particular plays like a parody of Bond. There is also an interminable middle act that features Tony Stark trapped in Tennessee (??) with the aid of a 13 year old boy who apparently comes from the Charlie Brown universe because we never see nor are given any indication that his parents exist.

Then there’s the biggest, most egregious error this movie makes: the Mandarin. Chances are you know what I’m talking about by now, but I still won’t spoil it. What I will say is that, even though Iron Man was not one of the comics I read or collected growing up, I was still furious over the portrayal of the Mandarin. What Shane Black did to this character is unforgivable. And it’s irreversible. Again, not spoiling it, but let’s just say now the Mandarin can never exist in the Marvel movie universe. And no, he doesn’t die. But despite the unfortunate turn that the Mandarin character experiences, Ben Kingsley kills it.

Having said all this, there are scenes that are incredible. Tony Stark’s house being blown up by the Mandarin, the standout scene of Iron Man rescuing passengers of Air Force One, a scene where Tony Stark acquires his armor piece by piece during an escape. The climactic scene at the end is cool, but is an exercise in overkill and bad guys become nothing more than videogame targets much like the Chitauri in Avengers. GREAT scenes. This, along with some pretty cool bad guys, makes the movie worth seeing. But you might find yourself wishing than Tony Stark would get the hell out of Tennessee and get back in the suit. 3/5 reels, 3D not recommended