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Matthew McConaughey has truly been on a roll lately. After scene-
stealing roles in Killer Joe, Bernie and Magic Mike, he followed up
with a brilliant lead performance in Jeff Nichols' Mud, another scene-
stealing cameo in Scorsese's Wolf of Wall Street, and a potentially
Oscar-winning lead role in Dallas Buyers Club, one of the best films of
Somewhere in among all those projects he managed to film this HBO miniseries with old pal Woody Harrelson. The result is revolutionary and gripping: an eight-episode miniseries with two huge actors, with a relatively small cast and crew behind it. This is essentially a movie split up into a mini-series but with the concept that each 'season' will feature two new A-list actors. HBO continues to set the bar high for cable programming and storytelling in general.
True Detective just finished up its fourth episode, the strongest yet, which featured an epic six-minute-long one-shot camera take (they may have used some clever editing a la Children of Men but the end result is impressively seamless). This is a great mix of wonderful acting, solid script-writing, and impressive technical direction. The tone of the show is hauntingly eerie and makes good use of its southern locale.
All in all, this could easily go down as one of HBO's premier programs and two of the best performances of its lead actors' respective careers. Who would have ever thought McConaughey would have been in this position a few years ago? Talk about a career revival.
I enjoyed "Pitch Black" when it came out in 2000 but admittedly never
got around to seeing the higher-budgeted sequel, which was both a
commercial and critical under-performer in 2004. There probably never
would have been another sequel if the Fast and Furious franchise hadn't
reinvigorated Vin Diesel's star power -- he is if nothing else quite a
wry businessman, and, as a producer of the 'Fast' series, which has
been hugely successful for Universal, part of his contract stipulation
for signing on to films six, seven and eight was that the studio would
fund a third Riddick movie.
Thus, after many years, we have another film featuring the character Riddick. Listening to fans who were underwhelmed by the PG-13 wannabe- franchise over-reaching of the second movie, Riddick apparently returns to the roots of Pitch Black, with plenty of foul language, ultra- violence and full-frontal female nudity within the first 20 minutes, all basically just to titillate fanboys who cried afoul of the PG-13 rated first sequel.
The beginning of the movie is quite good, as it features Riddick (Diesel) trying to survive on an alien planet. This extended sequence eventually comes to an end, which is a shame, because it's the best part of the movie.
Then we get a very fan-oriented you-won't-understand-it-if-you-are-a- casual-fan storytelling device that thrusts Riddick into a man-vs-team- of-mercenaries scenario reminiscent of the original movie. Problem is, it's never quite as thrilling or fun as the first movie, and the glaringly poor CGI (it was funded on a relatively low budget with plenty of obvious green-screening) really detracts from the experience.
Riddick is by definition a vanity project for its star, as he literally demanded the studio fund it in order to star in another one of their pictures, and it's clear that both Diesel and director/writer Twohy love Riddick and attempt to truly mythologize the character, framing him stoically and often displaying his actions in a kind of prophetic slow- motion glory. At a certain point it becomes increasingly laughable and kind of awkward and it's clear that Diesel and Twohy were both surrounded by too many yes-men (in fact, they probably were each other's yes men) and someone should have intervened to bring them down to earth a little bit.
The action isn't particularly great, the effects are atrocious, and it's never as simplistically fun as the original Pitch Black because it tries to tie in waaay too many mythologies and story lines within its own universe.
What this all means is that, for the minority of die-hard fans of the franchise/character, "Riddick" the movie will be exactly what they want. But for casual fans like myself and the majority of movie-goers -- who perhaps saw the first one or two films in the series but don't recall every minute detail of the franchise's universe -- it will prove to be a frustratingly alienating experience, akin to a non-Trekkie watching one of the lesser "Star Trek" movies from 15 - 20 years ago, when they were so self-reliant upon their own closed world that they completely failed to connect with the mainstream.
I'm not bashing Riddick for being fan-serving -- it is, after all, a vanity project made almost exclusively for fans, and I'm happy for them if this is the movie they waited 10 years for. I will say, however, that for casual filmgoers, it will prove to be a frustrating experience, and many recent sci-fi series (like the "Trek" reboot) have proved that it's possible to make great entertainment that panders to die-hard fans while still pleasing the casual movie-goer. "Riddick" may have done better financially and critically if it had attempted the latter.
Alan Partridge has been through a very interesting evolution, both as a
character and in terms of the comedic format he is presented in. He
began as a kind of sleazy talk-show host on radio program The Day
Today, which carried over into the extremely funny (and uncomfortable)
talk show parody "Knowing Me Knowing You" on TV, before transferring to
a sitcom format for a 30-minute scripted series following him after the
cancellation of his TV show. "I'm Alan Partridge" tweaked the character
a bit, presenting him less as a young and greasy talk host and as more
of an older, failed dimwit, retaining his trademark narcissism but
making subtle changes to his attire. This was, for my money, the
pinnacle of Partridge, as those two series -- the first in '97, the
second in '02 -- were comedy masterpieces. Coogan has failed to ever
create another character as unforgettable as Partridge, despite the
But something interesting happened within the past few years: Armando Iannucci, reeling from the success of his political comedies The Thick of It and Veep, changed the format for Partridge again. Alan re-emerged in the format of an online radio podcast for Folgers beer, which was called Mid Morning Matters. Lacking the laugh track or the typical broad strokes of Alan's humour, this could have been a huge backfire -- but it actually presented a very interesting new side to Alan, a dryer, more subtle side.
The shift in tone may be jarring to some viewers who are coming to the movie fresh from the old TV show, but rest assured, Alan is still very funny. The movie is a smashing success. Hilarious from start to finish, it's framed in a way that assures -- as it parodies action film tropes - - it will be very funny even to casual audiences...but particularly more-so to longtime Alan fans (how refreshing it was to see Lynn and Michael back again!).
I hope this spawns another film or at least another series. I haven't quite gotten my fix of Alan.
For fans of the movie looking for more, check out Alan's audiobook (read by Coogan in character) which was released a year or two ago. Very funny stuff, and a great companion piece to the movie.
I'm confused by the reviewer (whose comment was featured on the IMDb
page just now) who seemingly despised this program and wrote it off,
apparently, because he or she felt Andre Braugher deserved better.
I find this review odd, because "Brooklyn Nine-Nine" - if nothing else - comes across as a very likable show.
Thankfully spared of talking-head interview segments that have dominated the American comedy scene since The Office, this show also thankfully features no laugh track. Thus, it both has the feel of an old-fashioned sitcom without the dated quality of one. It's actually quite a clever premise: it's a "cop show" but set in the workplace environment. This is a clever move as the show is able to subvert some of the stereotypical police procedural elements while also keeping stuff grounded and relatable by keeping the majority of the antics constrained to the police station.
The cast is talented all across the board. One thing you might find as the show grows is that Andy Samberg will become more subdued in his approach. I say this because as of now he is clearly the "star" of the show and, as such, he's often given a lot of LOUD dialogue -- but this also happened to the Leslie Knope character in "Parks and Recreation," and she ended up organically evolving into a much smarter and more likable character. I think once Brooklyn Nine-Nine finds its own footing and more firmly establishes its characters, things will settle into place. It's still a bit shaky but it's just the freshman season flaws. Very few comedy shows are at their best in their first seasons.
I'm enjoying this quite a lot so far - it's not must-see-TV or anything of the sort, but it's likable, entertaining and shows a lot of promise. The talented cast really elevates the material and the show manages to subvert cop show clichés and workplace TV comedy tropes without seeming overly cynical or snide about it. That's really the best word I can think of summing it up with: likable.
When I saw ads for "Hello Ladies" in a men's magazine, I was pretty
excited. I have a love-hate relationship with Ricky Gervais and Stephen
Merchant: I think "The Office" is brilliant, "Extras" unfairly
maligned, and am most of all a fan of their podcast series with Karl
Pilkington. But they can also be off-putting: Gervais at times seems
like he has transformed into his egotistical character David Brent, and
Merchant has seemed suspiciously detached from their last few outings
together (I'm not into rumor-mongering, but I'd be remiss to mention he
was absent from the last series of An Idiot Abroad altogether, as well
as the "Learn English with Ricky Gervais and Karl Pilkington" web
series -- not to mention they haven't released any new podcasts in a
few years now, all signs pointing to a desire on his part to leave the
Merchant seems like he's struggling to break free of the Gervais association, and so this HBO series (which is co-produced, incidentally, by Eisenberg and Stupinsky, the guys behind the American adaptation of The Office) finds him running solo. Merchant, like Gervais, excels at awkward situational humor. This series at times is extremely cringe-worthy, just like the greatest moments of The Office and Extras.
Here are some problems, though:
Merchant's character, as many critics have noted, is fairly unlikeable. This worked for Gervais as Brent because he was first and foremost a supporting character in the larger picture -- Tim and Dawn's relationship was what gave the series a backbone and a heart, and Brent was allowed to kind of seep into the program through the corners and find his own emotional core. But if The Office had just been about Brent being a miserable boss every episode, I do think the show wouldn't have resonated quite as strongly. Brent was also unaware of his own horrible actions, whereas Merchant's character in Hello Ladies seems happily self-aware.
The key to making a series like this is to have the main character be relatable to audiences. As a single 20-something young professional, I can relate to the single club scene and the frustrations of a bachelor lifestyle. Merchant wisely exaggerates the pathetic underbelly of the Los Angeles nightlife, with aspiring actresses and sleazy guys trying to work their way up the social ladder.
But instead of allowing his character to find himself lost in this haze, Merchant actually makes his character even more unlikeable than many of the people he's ostensibly doing social battle with.
This produces a stream of inconsistency in the character which is hard to shake. An example: in the first episode of the show, Merchant's character, creepily trying to hit on a beautiful woman way out of his league, inadvertently spends hundreds of dollars ordering drinks at a swanky nightclub. This is played for laughs, but never for a moment does he hesitate the way a normal person might: he puts the drinks on his tab and keeps trying to hit on her.
But in episode three, he takes a really cute girl out on a date (a girl many might say is out of his league, mind) who keeps trying to initiate conversation with him. But he can't focus on the conversation because he's too distracted by the high price of the wine bottle (he frequently excuses himself to privately tell the waiter that the $70 bottle is too expensive).
OK, let's consider this for a moment. Is it funny? At face value, yes, because all of us can relate to a situation where we've been casually forced into spending way more than we want to, especially during something like a first date. But it doesn't jibe with the character, because just two episodes earlier, he was willing to spend hundreds and hundreds of dollars on a girl who he had far less of a chance of sleeping with.
In another episode, Merchant's character is doing yoga and cockily hits on a beautiful woman next to him. But in other episodes, his ineptitude and shyness around women is played for laughs. So which is he? An arrogant jerk or a timid geek?
Merchant is so overly focused on making situations awkward that, as a result, his character doesn't ring true, and often the comedy feels quite contrived.
Having said all that, I do enjoy it, and I think there's room for improvement. The leading co-star, played by Christine Woods, really steals the show from Merchant with her easy charm. She's essentially the "straight man" from a comedy perspective and, honestly, her character and her plights are waaay more interesting (and consistent, and realistic) than Merchant's. I like Merchant, but the roles should be swapped if he's not going to develop his character further or make him more likable. I'm four episodes in, and at this point I care way more about Woods' character than Merchant's.
The show is entertaining, though. It's just not anywhere near the level of perfection of The Office or really even quite as funny as The Office. I think Merchant is simply trying too hard and needs to re-evaluate both his character, and where he wants to take the show. If it's just a sleazy, opportunistic guy trying to pick up women every episode (and being cruel and sadistic to his friends in the process), then it'll get old really fast. He needs to give his central character a more empathetic core, and a greater consistency in tone, and allow the awkward situations to evolve organically rather than force them to happen.
I could see these improvements taking place, and hopefully by the end of its first season the show will have evolved into something greater than just a reasonably entertaining program.
Man, what happened to Rourke? After "The Wrestler," he had a second act
career resurgence that appeared to be another great Hollywood comeback
story. He had a string of high-profile blockbuster films --
"Expendables," "Iron Man 2" among them -- and a whole list of films on
IMDb that were slated in pre-production, many with large casts and
He swore in all his cover story interviews around the release of The Wrestler that he'd "learned his lesson" the hard way by bad-mouthing Hollywood in the '80s and '90s, and that he wouldn't allow his career to become ruined again, as he had resorted to straight-to-video flicks in the late '90s and early '00s when his career was in truly dire straits. (He claims a narrative that he was out of work entirely for a decade, but the truth is, he was just appearing in really crap films.)
But he didn't heed his own words of wisdom. Within a couple years, these things had happened: he publicly dissed The Expendables 2, claiming he wouldn't return unless they paid him more. He was never cast in the film, and the plot was re-written to involve a younger character in his place. After the worldwide success of EX2, which could have been another franchise for Rourke, a producer on the film was asked whether he'd be back for round three. "Maybe if he doesn't act so crazy," was the reply from the producer. As of September 29th, the third film is in production, and Rourke's name is absent from the cast.
He also publicly bad-mouthed writer/director Martin McDonaugh (In Bruges), claiming he wasn't being paid enough by the "creep" to star in the film Seven Psychopaths; he dropped out, and was replaced by Woody Harrelson. The film wasn't a big hit financially, but critics loved it, and it had a huge ensemble cast. Instead of starring in that film, he starred in a straight-to-video movie with Kellen Lutz...if you don't know who that guy is, it's because he was one of the shirtless vampires in Twilight.
Then he bad-mouthed Marvel Studios, claiming they butchered Iron Man 2. Not a huge deal since his character had no chance of coming back anyway, but it's more burnt bridges. He also annoyed the crap out of Robert Downey Jr on the set of the film (RDJ went out on a limb for him and fought to have him cast in the film after Rourke's pay demands were deemed too high by Marvel, btw); apparently his Method Acting routine was hugely obnoxious to cast and crew, as he demanded odd flourishes such as blaring Gnarls Barkley's song "Crazy" at full volume before filming every one of his scenes.
My point of this long-winded rant is that Mickey Rourke has essentially ruined what could have been a golden opportunity comeback to fulfill his early potential as one of the great actors of all time, and now he has resorted to starring in utter dreck like this film, which is an absolutely abysmal production and something that any actor should be embarrassed to list on their resume.
It's a standard revenge flick, set in a western atmosphere. It is poorly made (the low budget stands out at every turn), poorly acted (Anthony Michael Hall is the villain - enough said), and poorly shot (the lighting is atrocious at times). Danny Trejo has experienced some kind of grindhouse-type career revival thanks to Robert Rodriguez, but he's best buried as a minor character in ensemble films, and he does not have the charm or charisma to carry a full-length picture.
The only remotely interesting thing about this film? Rourke plays the devil incarnate. Which, if you've ever seen his 1987 psychological thriller "Angel Heart," is an interesting twist. Unfortunately this film isn't remotely similar to Angel Heart in any other regard, which was one of the best films of the 1980s in this humble critic's opinion; Dead in Tombstone, by contrast, is Dead On Arrival (har, har) and a truly bad film.
Rourke, you only have yourself to blame for this.
"The Michael J. Fox Show" is about as generic a sitcom as its title. It
sucks to admit this, since Michael J. Fox is such a likable talent, and
solely on the basis of his returning to television, I *wanted* to like
this new show -- but it just isn't that great, and barring a huge
revamp of its approach, I doubt there will be much room for
It is a modern sitcom, which is to say it has been inspired by Modern Family with its talking head interviews, which don't flow very naturally with the procession of the storyline.
Obviously there's no dismissing the elephant in the room, which is Fox's battle with Parkinson's Disease, but...the show goes the opposite route, by embracing it and poking fun at it a little too much. We're supposed to feel comfortable with the sitcom put-downs and quips at his expense because he's cool with it, but that doesn't make them any less uncomfortable, to be totally honest. Honestly, they'd have been better having a couple jokes in the beginning of the episode, then moving on. Instead, they've worked the entire NARRATIVE of the show around his disease -- his character, Mike Henry, is a hugely famous broadcaster who had to quit at the peak of his career due to his Parkinson's struggles. Sound familiar?
The show keeps beating you over the head with this, which, I guess, I could put up with more, if the supporting cast - and writing - compensated. Neither does. From the promiscuous aunt character to the precocious teenager, these are all tired caricatures and none of them quite feel real.
Perhaps most disappointing is that in struggling to overcome all these obstacles he's faced with, Michael J. Fox isn't even given much to work with. He carried Spin City with his easy charm, but with this program he's basically the brunt of a lot of jokes about his physical ailment and playing an exasperated dad whose family is constantly ribbing him -- it's just not that funny or amusing.
I hope it improves, but frankly, they'd have to revamp the whole show and its format, I think, to overcome these problems. I'd be very surprised if this lasts beyond a single season.
"The World's End" is receiving rave reviews from fans of the Simon
Pegg/Nick Frost/Edgar Wright trilogy, but I have to wonder how much of
that is based on fondness for the other two and what the overall arc of
the series represents.
You see, I loved the first half of The World's End almost as much as the other two, Hot Fuzz and Shaun of the Dead. But halfway through it begins to fall apart; the over-the-top comic violence (involving Stepford Wives-style robots infiltrating a small town) gets tiresome, and the big preachy moral message at the end is nailed in with a huge hammer, something the other two films (both of which also had moral messages about friendship, among other things) managed to avoid.
I feel like this is, for lack of a better description, the 'geekiest' of the trilogy and the one most likely to be salivated over by the die-hard fans of programs like Doctor Who...which isn't to say Doctor Who is a bad thing by any means, but it breeds a certain sort of fanatical blind love at times, devotees of sci-fi who are so engaged in their own little world that it can be difficult for them to accept anything other than what they are accustomed to. And I feel like The World's End falls victim to indulgence and excess at the end, as well as a lack of subtlety, that perhaps some of those die-hard sci-fi fans are willing to ignore in favor or the film. I also say that it is the geekiest of the trilogy for the simple fact that, well, Shaun tackled horror and Hot Fuzz tackled action/cop-buddy genres; sci-fi inherently courts a more fanatical breed of viewer. (Just look how many people are hating on the new Star Trek movie because - gasp! - it dared to attempt to connect with mainstream viewers.) Anyway, I don't want to turn this into a rant. So let me get back on track:
Honestly? I think I would have preferred the story if it placed less emphasis on the big action sequences, CGI robot battles and focused more on the pub tour shenanigans. When the story is at its most human, it is most involving; when Pegg, Frost, and others (including Martin Freeman, whom I adore as an actor) are playing characters reconvening for the first time in many years, and Pegg is for the first time possibly playing a true jerk of a character, the story zips along and is very engrossing.
They should have spread that part of the film out before moving on to the comic mayhem. I think instead of the entire second half being dominated by robotic mishaps, the first 3/4 should have been more focused on the characters, and the last quarter would have been a FAR more emotional - and convincing - payoff.
I won't ruin anything for those who haven't seen the picture, but the existential (borderline-monologue) discussions Pegg and Frost each have at the end of the film with another entity was where I really felt my interest waning.
Ultimately this is a fair, but frustrating conclusion to the Cornetto Trilogy. I loved the first half but wish they hadn't let the higher budget they'd been afforded this go-round affect the quality of the second half and thrown their engaging character-arc narrative out the window, no matter whether it was intentionally done so to parody sci-fi invasion flicks or not. It just didn't work as well as the other two movies.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I wasn't a huge fan of the original "Kick-Ass" and thought it fell
victim at times to its own satire, but for the most part it was a
pretty enjoyable, stylish, witty spin on the comic book genre. It came
out right around the same time as the less acknowledged and underrated
"Super!" starring Rainn Wilson, and both films transplanted the hyper-
violent, stylish appeal of comic books into a startlingly realistic
setting: the finale of Super ended with Wilson's character going on a
killing spree, and the level of realistic carnage was both off-putting
and kind of impressive. Matthew Vaughn did something similar with Kick-
Ass and often contrasted the silliness against hyper-violence, which
turned off some critics but was mostly seen as refreshing.
However, I think something novel like Kick-Ass inherently doesn't work well when you try to stretch it out beyond a standalone entry. It's a big challenge to re-do that film's narrative and excess without seeming redundant and crass, which unfortunately is exactly what happens to Kick-Ass 2.
From the onset it lacks Vaughn's talent behind the camera (newcomer Jeff Wadlow, who also wrote the script, is a subpar stand-in). While it carries the same stylistic flourishes, everything here is more extreme than the original, and, because it lacks the freshness and novelty as I mentioned above, it often comes across poorly.
I think part of the problem in moving past the novelty of Kick-Ass's premise is that the filmmakers feel inclined to up the ante on everything to increasingly create shock value situations. In this film they just come across as exploitative and vile. The violence mostly lacks the gravity of Vaughn's film and falls victim to the first film's entire criticisms -- often the violence you see in Kick-Ass 2 is solely to look cool and make teenage boys giggle, but to anyone who appreciated the entire point of the violence in the first film, I think it will come across as pathetic and disgusting: there are super-stylized scenes such as a lawnmower being used to chew apart a couple of police officers, Jim Carrey being tortured and decapitated (the latter admittedly occurring offscreen); a Russian supervillain being slow-motion stabbed-to-death with shards of glass, and so on and so forth. (These are the extent of the spoilers in my review.)
I just found it all to be very crass, and it left a foul taste in my mouth. There's supposedly a scene in the graphic novel where a female character is raped, but the filmmakers don't even really have the nerve to follow through with it in this vile movie: they show the set-up and then leave the rest to the imagination in a perversely casual manner, almost playing it for laughs, which frankly is one of many things wrong with this movie that tries to out-shock and out-kill the original Kick- Ass but ultimately finds itself completely void of the predecessor's wit and ethical implications.
Much has been made about Jim Carrey boycotting the movie in post- production and refusing to do promotional rounds for it. Honestly, after seeing the finished film, I don't blame him. As scene-stealing as his extended cameo may be, ultimately this is a film that comes across as missing the entire point of the film that it followed, and one that has been created almost exclusively to pander towards teenage boys who will no doubt find the witless ultra-violence to be quite exhilarating.
"Oblivion" launches headfirst into its seemingly complex story, and to
be completely honest, I found myself struggling to keep up with the
plot at first. I won't rehash it here, because other reviews will do a
better job, but essentially this is an old-fashioned, '70s-styled
sci-fi flick with Tom Cruise playing a drone repairmen on Earth, which
has become a post-apocalyptic wasteland by 2077.
The reason I say the story is seemingly complex, is that I think the director, Joseph Koskinski, who also wrote the unpublished graphic novel the film is based upon, tries to over-compensate somewhat for the fact that the story is rather derivative of other titles. While his future world can be distinct at times, it's also reminiscent of other popular science fiction fare, whether it's the obvious like "Star Wars" and "2001" to the less-renowned, like the underrated "Moon" starring Sam Rockwell (one of my favourite science fiction films of the last decade, I think).
Cruise gets better with age, and even though his films are rarely masterpieces or acting showcases, he has a knack for choosing reliably entertaining spectacles. He carries this movie as well as you might expect him to, and though the posters showcase Morgan Freeman for added box office potential, it's really Cruise's movie, and he nails it.
Kosinski, after his debut "Tron: Legacy," is still struggling with the narrative side of filmmaking, but his visuals are superb. I hesitate to refer to Oblivion as a "low budget" movie, but it is relatively so: in a year where $130 million buys you crappy-looking flicks like "R.I.P.D.," it's pretty impressive that Kosinski has made the best-looking special effects experience of the year with a budget almost half of "Iron Man 3" or "Man of Steel" (both of which were less impressive effects-wise, and less distinct in their tone).
The movie isn't great, it can be a bit confusing at times due to its messy storytelling, but it's worth it for Cruise and the special effects alone. And while it may not do as good a job as "Moon" at raising its existentialist questions, it's still a tad more thought-provoking than most big budget blockbusters.
The score by M83 is also pretty great, and one of the highlights of the picture.
I recommend Oblivion based on the merits of its star and visuals, as an overall Motion Picture Experience, but hope Kosinski places a bit more emphasis on the storytelling in his future films.
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